Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 17th, 2020 at 10:53 am
When Oregon’s legislative session begins on January 19th, the Portland-based nonprofit Street Trust will embark on an effort to make the first major update the Bike Bill since it became law in 1971.
The draft bill will go even further than we reported on Tuesday in boosting the amount of money the state, cities and counties would be required to spend on bikeways and walkways. The Bike Bill’s most powerful language is the minimum expenditure clause, which states that all major road projects paid for by the state highway fund must allocate a minimum of 1% to “footpaths and bicycle trails.”
According to a copy of the draft bill (LC 2604, for “Legislative Council” a nonpartisan office in Salem that provides legal and publication services for legislators), the Street Trust will push to expand the 1% to 5%. They initially had the number at 3%, but Street Trust Co-director Greg Sutliff said yesterday they decided to make a “last-minute” change.
That change was recommended by former Street Trust board member and current Portland State University graduate student Hau Hagedorn. Hagedorn’s Bike Bill research (as part of her Masters of Public Administration capstone) was used as the basis of these reforms. According to her data, 1% of the state highway fund averaged about $7 million per year between 2014 and 2016 and ODOT spent about $7.7 million (slightly over the 1% minimum). A jump to 5% would boost that annual amount to $35 million.
“We got to the end of session and we needed a number, so someone just threw a number out. It was almost kind of random in a way.”
— Michael Ronkin, former ODOT manager recalling a story from Bike Bill creator Don Stathos
Over the past 30 years, Hagedorn used ODOT’s own internal analysis to determine the agency spent an average of about 1.1% of state highway fund dollars on bicycling and walking. She initially recommended 3% which would match how much ODOT spends on biking and walking from federal sources (which make up about 23% of ODOT’s total budget).
Here are the other changes to ORS 366.514 proposed in the draft bill:
– Would add “resurfaced” to the list of construction types that trigger the law. The law currently says the bike bill only comes into play when a highway, road, or street is “constructed, reconstructed, or relocated.” Paving projects often raise debates as to whether or not they rise to the level of “reconstructed”. Adding “resurfaced” is an attempt to expand and clarify the law.
– There are several exemptions in the law. One of them is that bikeways and walkways do not have to be funded if they, “would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use.” The Street Trust’s proposal would clarify that definition to, “would exceed twenty percent of the cost of the project.”
– In the section of the law that allows ODOT, cities and counties to choose what types of users are allowed on “footpaths and bicycle trails,” the draft bill would expand the list of allowed uses from “pedestrians” “nonmotorized vehicles” and “motorized wheelchairs” to include “electric assisted bicycles and motor assisted scooters”.
– In a bid for more oversight and transparency of how the law is implemented, the draft bill adds a new section that calls on ODOT to submit an annual report to the Governor that includes any requested exemptions to the law, the total expenditures made, and any “Information necessary to determine if the department is in compliance with the requirements of this section.”
– The bill would amend the definition of “bicycle trail” in the bill by adding, “‘Bicycle trail'” does not include the highway shoulder, as defined in ORS 801.480.” This is in response to Portland State University graduate student Hau Hagedorn’s research that found ODOT has used highway shoulder bikeways to fulfill bike bill requirements.
– The bill update would also expand the power of the Oregon Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a body created by the legislature in 1973. The Street Trust wants to expand the committee from eight to 11. The current law also limits the committee’s oversight role to, “advise the department [ODOT] regarding the regulation of bicycle traffic and the establishment of bicycle lanes and paths.” The new language would add more advisory responsibilities including: “… improving the processes and procedures used in implementing ORS 366.514 [Bike Bill],” “improvements to the department’s bicycle infrastructure design guidance,” “improvements to the department’s pedestrian infrastructure design guidance,” and “provide recommendations to the Oregon Transportation Commission on bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects, as provided by ORS 367.093 [an ODOT grant program that funds biking and walking projects].”
With the session about a month away, the Street Trust will have their work cut out for them to make such a substantive revision to this important law. While the session will move fast and present many challenges, in some ways The Street Trust has time on their side: 50 years is plenty of time to wait for an update.
And no lawmakers can argue that the 1% meant much to begin with — financially or technically-speaking. Michael Ronkin, a 22-year ODOT employee and former Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manger, shared with me in an interview this week that the figure was nothing more than a whim. He relayed a conversation with Don Stathos, the late father of the Bike Bill, who once told him, “We got to the end of session and we needed a number, so someone just threw a number out. It was almost kind of random in a way.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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