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Unhappy anniversary: The bike/walk spending increase bill is dead

A bill that would have increased spending on bicycling and walking infrastructure on the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s legendary “Bike Bill” has died in committee.

“The basic reason is lack of funding.”
— Lee Beyer, Oregon State Senator (D-Springfield)

Senate Bill 395, dubbed the “Safe Routes for All Bill”, needed to be scheduled for a work session in the Joint Committee on Transportation by last Friday (5/14), but committee chairs didn’t make that happen. The bill sought to increase the minimum State Highway Fund spending requirement on bike/ped infrastructure from 1% to 5%. Given that ODOT spends an average of about 1.14% currently (which equaled about $8.7 million total) and the highest they’ve ever spent was 2.23%, the bill would have given a significant boost to active transportation.

The Street Trust (formerly Bicycle Transportation Alliance) launched a statewide coalition in support of the bill in March and had the backing of Eugene Senator Floyd Prozanski. Prozanski is a bicycle rider himself and has a long track record of supporting and passing bike-related legislation. After trying to manage expectations around the bill in February, he ultimately told supporters it was one of his two top priorities this session.


Given the steep challenges of passing a bike/walk funding increase, Prozanski said he felt a 3% spending minimum would be more realistic. But not even that relatively paltry sum could get members of the transportation committee to move the bill forward.

Sen. Beyer in 2013.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Oregon State Senator and Joint Transportation Committee Co-Chair Lee Beyer told BikePortland via email this afternoon that, “The basic reason [the bill won’t move forward] is lack of funding.” Sen. Beyer said ODOT and Oregon cities don’t have enough money to maintain what they have. “It is not that the state is not supportive of bike paths,” Beyer said. “We would like to do more. Our primary responsibility however, is maintaining the freight and intercity traffic routes. The intra-city roads system and priorities are left up to the cities.”

Beyer also said that cities and counties can opt to spend more than the 1% minimum already, and many already do.

Meanwhile, Beyer has been a stalwart supporter of freeway expansion projects and his committee is poised to vote on a bill that would greenlight hundreds of millions for ODOT to widen them in the Portland area.

Beyer’s reluctance also might have something to do with the very influential opposition he and other lawmakers heard at the bill’s only public hearing in early March.

The spending requirement is currently only triggered when a road project is “constructed, reconstructed or relocated”. SB 395 added “resurfaced” to that list. This led to a concern that it would siphon funds away from paving maintenance projects and led a representative for the Oregon Association of Counties to testify at the March hearing that, “It’s an unfunded mandate in the form of a diversion of 4% of county road budgets.”

In an email to supporters this morning, The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone wrote, “Like you we are sad, disappointed, and frustrated. Every day that Oregonians have to rely on unsafe routes to walk and bike puts their lives at risk… To honor the precious lives lost in recent weeks and months, we will continue to demand our elected and appointed officials take seriously their responsibility to our safety and quality of life.”

Iannarone said the Safe Routes for All campaign led to important steps forward for the active transportation movement. The education, media exposure, engagement, and coalition built for this effort, she said, will help when they return to the legislature in upcoming sessions.

“Like you, we are sad, disappointed, and frustrated.”
— Sarah Iannarone, The Street Trust

Specifically, Iannarone shared a promise to continue building a statewide coalition for bigger wins down the road. “We are going to work with counties and cities to prioritize these transportation solutions… And we need to keep growing this statewide movement to persuade resistant legislators and cultivate champions who will pursue that better transportation future.”

Hau Hagedorn, an advocate who served as Chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and whose master’s thesis on the Bike Bill was the inspiration for SB 395, told us she was, “disappointed, but not surprised”:

“This has been a recurring theme for many things in the past year. It speaks volumes to the ways in which transportation funding has been broken for decades which continually reinforces the modal wars pitting vehicles against every other road user. At the end of the day, if our roads were designed to be safe and efficient for all users in the first place especially for pedestrians and bicyclists we wouldn’t be fighting so hard for better accommodations. If the law was being effectively implemented over the past 50 years to create safer conditions for people to walk and bike, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen a record number of pedestrian and traffic fatalities this past year.

For Rob Zako, leader of Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST), it’s not worth getting too crestfallen by this news. “This has been a difficult legislative session. A lot of good bills did not move forward simply due to lack of time,” he shared in an email to BikePortland today.

“More broadly,” Zako shared. “SB 395 begs the question of values: What is the value of a human life? Is it as much as the value of preserving asphalt or or reducing the costs of travel delay?” Zako cited a recent ODOT boondoggle (the Highway 20 Corvallis – Newport project) that was estimated to cost $140 million but ballooned to $400 million. “The stated purpose of the project was to straighten out Highway 20 in order to save lives. But the $400 million represents over 50 years of what the Bike Bill currently requires ODOT to spend on walking and biking. Could that $400 million have been spent differently all across Oregon to save even more lives?”

One source close to the legislative process that contacted us on background, echoed many of these sentiments, and urged us to look ahead: “Passing any bill through the legislature is often a multi-year process and the push by the bike/ped community this session along with Sen Prozanski’s continued leadership have been good and necessary building blocks for future legislative efforts.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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