A funny thing happened on the way to the City of Portland’s Transportation System Plan update: The Bureau of Transportation proposed to downgrade their goal for the percentage of commute trips made by bicycle users from 25 to 15 percent.
Huh? Aren’t we a “Platinum” bike-friendly city? Shouldn’t we embrace this challenge and not cower away from it?
That “target mode share” is a key performance measure that helps city planners set priorities. The “25 percent by 2035” mantra has been a rallying principle for bike advocates since it was formally adopted as the goal for all bicycle trips (not just work trips) in the Bike Plan and subsequently in the Climate Action Plan. Drafters of the TSP update initially copy-pasted the number. Then the city’s Planning Commission asked PBOT to analyze a new “work from home” mode share target which had never been used before. This spurred a new analysis of the biking mode share targets and PBOT began to feel the 25 percent goal was unattainable and proposed the downgrade as a result of a new “evidenced-based approach” that would be more “realistic and achievable.”
But many bike policy insiders and advocates cringed at the idea. Regardless of the details and policy underpinnings, on the surface it seemed like a capitulation — especially for an agency that continues to struggle with complacency and stagnation.
We’re happy to report that they’ve reversed course and the 25 percent goal is back. That might be because PBOT’s own advisory committee opposed the change.
On August 11th the Bicycle Advisory Committee wrote a letter to PBOT Director Leah Treat. “The BAC believes that reducing the commute mode share goal for bicycling from 25% to 15% may diminish the priority that should be placed on investing in bicycling infrastructure as the most cost-effective way to meet the City’s goal of reducing drive-alone trips,” read the letter (the goal for non drive-alone trips is 70 percent).
Here’s more from the BAC letter:
“Reducing the goal mode share for bicycling detracts from the fact that bicycling has made further strides towards meeting these mode split goals since 2000 than any other mode of transportation. Commute mode share data from the US Census Bureau shows that Portland’s efforts to increase bicycling have been more effective than other other modes, at a relatively low cost.
Between 2000 and 2015, bicycle commute mode share in Portland increased dramatically from 1.8% to 7%, while transit mode share increased slowly from 12.3% to 13.3%. Carpool mode share decreased from 11.9% to 8.2%, while walking mode share increased from 5.2% to 6%. The BAC supports investment in all non-drive alone modes, but believes the City should develop goals and policies that support and prioritize the most effective and efficient investments. A basic comparison of capital investment and changing mode choice by Portland residents in the last two decades shows that bicycling infrastructure has been, dollar for dollar, the best transportation investment strategy by the City of Portland.”
PBOT appears to have taken the BAC’s feedback (and likely the emails and comments from others) to heart. One week after the BAC’s letter to Director Treat the latest draft of the TSP update was released (PDF). They’ve dropped the 15 percent idea, restored the higher 25 percent target, and have included some rather inspiring language about what it will take to get there…
PBOT Communications Director John Brady shared with us today that Director Treat led a conversation at the bureau about the issue. “She felt the 25 percent target was important as a stretch goal for the bureau to work towards,” Brady said, “And thus she directed staff to retain it.”
From here the TSP update will go back in front of the Planning & Sustainability Commission on September 26th. You can testify at that hearing and/or email comments to the PSC until that date. Learn more at the TSP update website.
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