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


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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