When Oregon’s landmark “Bike Bill” passed in 1971, America was in the throes of a major bike boom. 50 years later a group of Portland bike advocates think our current cycling resurgence is the right time to update it
The nonprofit Street Trust has announced plans to seek an amendment to ORS 366.514. This law states “reasonable amounts” of the State Highway Fund must be spent by the Oregon Department of Transportation, “to provide footpaths and bicycle trails… wherever a highway, road or street is being constructed, reconstructed or relocated.” That “reasonable amount” is further defined as a minimum of 1% of the Highway Fund each fiscal year.
“The intent of the Bike Bill is to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians in all road projects, but the vague statutory language gives the agency the discretion to determine reasonable amounts.”
— Hau Hagedorn, PSU masters candidate
This would be the second time The Street Trust takes aim at the bill. They (as Bicycle Transportation Alliance) sued the City of Portland in 1993 when construction plans for streets outside the Moda Center didn’t include bike lanes. The city argued it had met its obligation by spending 1% of project funds on biking and walking facilities. The Street Trust disagreed and won the lawsuit two years later. “The court concluded that the 1% figure is a floor, not a ceiling, for government spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects,” The Oregonian reported on March 11th 1995.
“This ruling says loud and clear that local governments have to consider everyone’s mobility needs when they build or rebuild roads,” said former Street Trust leader Karen Frost in a 1995 press release.
In an emailed newsletter today, Street Trust Co-director Tia Sherry wrote, “We are thrilled to be working on an update to the Oregon Bike Bill… Our amendment will aim to ensure that adequate sidewalks and bike lanes are included in every road or highway project in Oregon.” The amendment language has not been finalized, but the plan is to introduce a bill in the 2021 legislative session.
Street Trust Co-director Greg Sutliff shared with me earlier this month that the decision to amend the bike bill was informed by the work of former Street Trust board member Hau Hagedorn. Hagedorn, who’s currently associate director of the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University and chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, wrote a paper titled, “Policy Implications of the Oregon Bike Bill” (PDF) as a capstone project in her pursuit of Masters of Public Administration at PSU.
Hagedorn outlined several weaknesses of the law. She says ODOT uses loopholes to create substandard cycling facilities, isn’t spending nearly enough on biking and walking facilities to meet the state’s needs, and that there’s a lack of transparency and accountability in how the law is implemented.
“The intent of the Bike Bill is to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians in all road projects,” she writes, “but the vague statutory language gives the agency the discretion to determine reasonable amounts.” Hagedorn’s analysis of ODOT budgets revealed that in the past 30 years, ODOT has spent an average of just 1.1% of state highway funds on biking and walking infrastructure and did not meet the 1% requirement for eight of those years.
Hagedorn recommends boosting the legal funding requirement to 3%, removing vague language from the bill, creating clear design standards, and setting up an advisory board and performance metrics to make sure ODOT stays on course.
Sutliff with The Street Trust says the draft language of their proposed amendment will include all those recommendations. The proposal is currently in the office of State Senator Floyd Prozanski who plans to sponsor the bill. Prozanski is a long-time supporter of cycling issues. He was the chief sponsor of Oregon’s safe passing law for bicycle riders in 2007 and he successfully rolled the “Idaho Stop” law across the finish line in 2019.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.