Push for bike/walk spending increase in Oregon “Bike Bill” headed for compromise

Posted by on April 13th, 2021 at 2:31 pm

Screen grab from Bike Bill 50th Birthday Party.

Well into the legislative session, a push to increase active transportation funding in Oregon is still in play.

The Street Trust, the Portland-based nonprofit and chief architect of Senate Bill 395, held a virtual 50th birthday party for Oregon’s “Bike Bill”. Along with an attempt at Zoom group karaoke (to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”) and fundraising pleas, dozens of supporters heard an update on the bill’s chances from lead sponsor Senator Floyd Prozanski.

Signed on the seat of a bicycle in 1971, Oregon’s “Bike Bill” (which also funds sidewalks and pedestrian crossings) requires the Department of Transportation to spend a minimum of 1% of Highway Fund dollars on active transportation infrastructure whenever they build major projects. The multiuse path alongside Interstate 205 is just one local example of a project built because of the Bike Bill.

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The Street Trust saw an opportunity on the bill’s 50th anniversary to increase the minimum requirement to 5%. Now dubbed the Safe Routes for All bill, SB 395 is in the legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee where it received a public hearing on March 4th.

Thursday’s party was a chance for the coalition of advocates pushing for SB 395 to connect and build momentum as the legislative session heats up.

Senator Floyd Prozanski.

Rob Zako with Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation was one of the emcees. He shared that the bill’s value goes way beyond bikes. “Bicycles are just machines, they’re made of steel or aluminum or alloys and rubber. This is really not about bicycles, this is about people. It’s about people getting where they want to go safely it’s about safe routes for all.”

Being careful to show the bill isn’t just an urban and Portland issue, The Street Trust has allied with champions like Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla who rose to prominence for his valiant attempt to save the Yamhelas Westsider Trail project. Kulla reminded partygoers that, “Safe shoulders and roads are the number one transportation concern of the people that I talked to in rural Oregon.” “Our county is an open space desert. Public land is distant, and it’s hard to access,” he shared. “This bill will accelerate the non-car infrastructure.”

According to Senator Prozanski, who said he’s made the bill one of his top two priorities, SB 395 might not build as much non-car infrastructure as advocates hoped. As he hinted at back in February, Prozanski thinks a 5% minimum might be a bit too much for his fellow lawmakers to agree to. Prozanski joined the party just after a 25-mile bike ride and said 5% is “A pretty big jump to go for.” “Based on feedback it’s probably not going to make it across the finish line at 5%,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a win.”

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“I look at anything above the 1% as a win. And right now we’re going to be pushing really hard for 3%.”

Prozanski hinted that a formal amendment to the bill is in works and that it might come directly from Joint Transportation Committee Co-chair Lee Beyer, a senator from Springfield and respected veteran of Oregon transportation politics.

“Even if we do have to make concessions down from 5% to 3%. When you’re only at 1%, that’s a pretty good increase.”
— Sarah Iannarone, The Street Trust

“He was more receptive than some people thought to a smaller number than 5%,” Prozanski shared on Thursday. “Based on the conversation I had, I do believe 3% is attainable.”

(It’s notable that when The Street Trust first launched this campaign in December 2020, the minimum was pegged at 3%. This was a recommendation from Hau Hagedorn, a former Street Trust board member and Portland State University graduate student whose Bike Bill research was the inspiration for SB 395.)

For any increase to pass it will take a considerable push. Lawmakers from districts outside major metro areas must also hear about it from their constituents. Political strategist Gregory McKelvey urged attendees to email their state reps and be sure to share a personal story about why it’s so important.

Because the bill is in a joint committee, the deadline for a committee work session (vote) isn’t until May 14th. If it passes the Joint Transportation Committee it could go straight to the Senate and House floors. (Because it’s funding related, there’s some confusion as to whether the bill would need to be referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which would add a significant procedural hurdle. Prozanski and others at the party assumed it would, but since the bill would not not create new revenue and is just re-allocation of existing funds, it might not be required. The official OLIS overview page makes no mention of a Ways and Means referral. I have a call into the Legislative Fiscal Office to learn more.)

The reason this bill exists is because ODOT has come under fire for its active transportation investments. According to data on funding between 1985 and 2016 supplied by ODOT, the agency has met its 1% minimum — but just barely.

ODOT has spent an average of 1.14% of the State Highway Fund on biking and walking infrastructure during those years, which is equal to about $8.7 million annually. The highest ever was 2.26% ($14.3 million) in 2007. (This funding source is not the only way ODOT invests in active transportation. It doesn’t include federal spending, grants, or other sources.)

As host of the party, The Street Trust Interim Executive Director Sarah Iannarone was optimistic about the bill’s chances and seemed fine with a potential compromise. “Even if we do have to make concessions down from 5% to 3%,” she said at the party. “When you’re only at 1%, that’s a pretty good increase.”

Learn more about the Safe Routes for All bill at TheStreetTrust.org.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Fred
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Fred

At the huge buffet of state transportation funding, VRUs get crumbs. And we’re happy about that.

X
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X

This reminds me of when the container deposit went from 5¢ to 10¢. The hypothetical person who makes their living by collecting cans got a 100% pay increase, right? (Except that people who weren’t collecting cans before are now out there competing for them)

What’s wrong with a 200% increase to 3% of the transportation budget? Just this: Instead of spending money on an active transportation project on its own merits the funding is still contingent on a much larger expenditure on (mostly) motor vehicle facilities.

If we decided that the State of Oregon needed a network of bike routes from border to border and it was going to cost about as much as the Rose Quarter add-a-lane project, we’d have to first spend 32 billion dollars on more motor roads. It’s like if I see a person who could use some help, first I have to buy and drink a sixpack because there’s no way to just hand them a dollar.

X
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X

How much is a billion dollars anyway? I have no way to relate to that number in daily life but I do have a calculator. A billion dollars would pay for 71 bridges like the one we’re about to have over I-84 at NE 7th Avenue. For that amount of money we could design and build engineered solutions for the top 100 bottlenecks, booby traps and network breaks that keep people from getting places on foot or by bike in Oregpn.

Instead, we’re getting 1000 yards or so of additional lane to forward motor vehicles to the next bottleneck and some freeway decks good for throwing heat back at the sky. We’ll perhaps avoid a few dozen fender benders, save no lives, and maybe shorten somebody’s commute by 2 minutes.

Todd
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Todd

With the nice weather I’ve resumed my bike commute, leaving my car at home. If past years are any indication, I’ll probably bike 50 to 60 times between now and October, leaving my car at home for two months’ worth of commutes. Not a lot by this community’s standards, I know, but I enjoy it. I ride from my home near Raleigh Hills up Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, through Hillsdale, down Capitol Highway to Barbur, and then downtown. I literally never see anyone bicycling on Beaverton-Hillsdale. Nobody does it.

For comparison, from my office window I can see the connector from I-405N to the Marquam Bridge. As I write this, it is heavily used. A rough guess is 1 car per second. So I figure bikes on B-H-H = 1 per 10 minutes (generous), cars feeding into I-5N = 600 per 10 minutes (conservative). It would be more if traffic moved more freely, since the line of cars feeding the Marquam is endless, nonstop, bumper-to-bumper. All of these people sitting in traffic, all the lost productivity—I’m all for biking, but improving I-5 through Portland is a no-brainer in my book.

Becky
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Becky

Lessening bumper-to-bumper traffic is a no-brainer. Sitting in traffic is miserable and unhealthy! But there are zero cases of cities making a long-term dent in their traffic problem by adding a lane to a section of highway.

We realize that not everyone can bike or walk everywhere. But $800 million (the current estimate for the proposed Rose Quarter project) would go a long way toward enabling more people to do so. This would free up traffic and parking and improve the air quality for everyone.

X
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X

If a bike bridge had a $500 billion (2008$) national network of restricted access bike routes feeding it there might be a little traffic there too.

Of course a local network on a 1 km grid that you could travel freely on without fear for your life would be more to the point. While I dream, let’s have smooth pavement on that.

Mike Owens
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Mike Owens

We must reduce emissions >50% in the next 8.5 years.

None of this makes sense.

Does anyone have knowledge of the best advocacy group pushing to shut down cars on streets? Build micromobility infrastructure? I don’t even know who the players are anymore. Is the Street Trust w Sarah our best hope?

We need hundreds of miles of protected bike/micromobility lanes. Not a block here or there. Not shared roadways. Not bikeways with cars backing out/pulling out. Not this massive failure that has become Portland infrastructure. So many have worked so long with so little to show for it. I want to celebrate every victory, sure! I don’t want to minimize the hard work being done.

I just can’t grasp why there isn’t a 5 year plan in the multi-Billion dollar range when NOT reducing our emissions will cost us much, much more.

Is there a legal course here, such that any further spending that does not meet emissions goals can be challenged? Do we need to get such laws in Salem strengthened? An executive order from the Gov isn’t enough. I’m just frustrated, sad and a bit hopeless about our prospects.

eawriste
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eawriste

Hey Mike. There is an effort to sue PBoT to hold them to the 2030 Bicycle Plan, the Transportation System Plan, the 2015 Climate Action Plan, the Climate Action Through Equity Plan, and the Vision Zero Action Plan. Who knows if it has any hope of success, but I see little chance for change in hoping PBoT will start prioritizing a safe and separated network of bike lanes without any legislative or legal impetus.

Zach Katz
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Zach Katz

Hey Mike and Eawriste,

Yeah, sadly, there really isn’t any bike/micromobility advocacy going on in Portland right now other than The Street Trust doing this Bike Bill thing (which could be huge—IF it passes *and* if PBOT is taken to task in court when they predictably fail to comply with it)…and the stuff I’m doing.

If the new Bike Bill doesn’t pass, we’re back to square one, which is why I want to make sure this TSP lawsuit is as strong as possible. It’s a moonshot, but I think there’s serious potential.

Absurdly, due to the slack advocacy scene in Portland right now, I’m pretty much working on this all by myself. If either of you (or anyone reading this) would like to get together and help strategize, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me: zzachkatzz at gmail – I would seriously love some help!

Bob
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Bob

The highway fund is a huge subsidy to the auto industry. If the state hadn’t built all the roads the auto industry would have been stopped in its tracks long ago and maybe we would have a better public transit system, more people would be riding bikes, the air would be cleaner and we wouldn’t have to worry so much about climate change (remember how the auto industry destroyed public transit in Los Angeles in the 1960s?). To accept 3% is admitting that the auto industry rules America.