What’s worth paying for? Take PBOT’s budget survey and let them know

Cyclists smiling on the bike path through Waterfront Park on Saturday, August 7th. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

It should not be news to anyone by now that the Portland Bureau of Transportation is in its worst budget crisis ever. Because funding politics always took precedent over sound funding policy, the bureau has been on a strict spending diet for decades. And as the transportation system has grown and taxes and fees kept up, PBOT is now so hungry for cash they have to go beyond carving the fat and might be forced to remove entire appendages.

As they map out a plan to dig out of the gaping pothole they’ve fallen into, they want to know what Portlanders want prioritized going forward. In other words, which parts of PBOT should they keep and which parts can they afford to cleave off.

PBOT has released a new survey that everyone needs to take. “Your feedback will be added to other input informing the development of budget and revenue strategies during this time of constrained resources,” reads the intro to the survey.

Questions from the survey.

When you take it, you’ll get to rate how well PBOT is doing their job. Fun, right? And there’s also an open question that asks, “What is most important transportation issue you’d like PBOT to address?” You’ll also get to rate the quality of bike lanes citywide and in your neighborhood.

But that’s the fun stuff. The meat of the survey is where they focus-group some messaging and then ask survey-takers to prioritize which services should stay and which should be cut.

It’s sad to see PBOT is considering reducing spending on things like Sunday Parkways, biking and walking projects, and traffic safety education in schools (among other things); but these are very lean times and without a major infusion from a new revenue source, something’s gotta’ give.

Please don’t waste this opportunity to share your input. Take the survey before Monday, August 14th.

Here’s the link – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PBOTCommunityBudgetSurvey

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Carrie
Carrie
10 months ago

The “rate the congestion” questions were so car biased! I was very torn on how to answer them — the car congestion in my neighbor is really quite terrible in the morning and evening, but I have found an easy and effective solution to that: I walk or ride my bike. Which I suspect at least 50% of my neighborhood could do as well (to give credit, many of my immediate neighbors do this!). Anyway, I couldn’t decide if I should rate the congestion using my travel mode or my observations of others. Also, Is a lot of congestion high or low? The question itself was confusing.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  Carrie

You nailed it, Carrie. That question is classic “push polling”: you ask a question in a way that elicits a specific reaction: “Why, yes – traffic congestion is bad!” Then it becomes a priority for policymakers to solve.

I answered the question the way you did: congestion is never a problem when I’m riding my bike. I ride right past the stopped cars and trucks.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
10 months ago

This is a lousy, biased and poorly written survey. It’s clearly aimed at the powerful and rich folks in the nice neighborhoods, IMO.

Question #2 leaves out ODOT which maintains the busiest stroads like I-5 and I-84, and the county which maintains several major bridges.

#8 & #14: Same question repeated before and after. Depends…

#11 (which you cite) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, clearly written by senior staff who seem to be stoned when they wrote it. None of the Above should be an option.

#12: For years PBOT kept saying they don’t do any vegetation trimming, but they lied of course – they do it, but only in the wealthy neighborhoods where they collect leaves, same with signage and street light maintenance.

Nick
Nick
10 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Notable lack of freeform questions, you could really feel that someone was trying to achieve a certain result to support their existing opinions.

ED
ED
10 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Yes! I took this survey earlier today and noted many of the same issues. I also disliked the way they created categories of spending like “maintain roads” and “host community events like Sunday Parkways” and asked you to rank their importance as if all the items were equally large chunks of the budget. It seemed like they were intentionally driving respondents to pick a handful of “nonessential items” like Sunday Parkways and vegetation trimming and bike safety education as things that could be sacrificed in the name of maintaining/improving existing roads. There was very little differentiation between what kind of maintenance and improvements would be done, as hamiramani noted below. Give me all the safety projects please!!!

Not to mention the “pop quiz” question about where PBOT gets most of its revenue from (gas tax and state highway fund, according to google search). Why would they ask that except to be able to conclude that “Most Portlanders have no idea where money comes from to maintain the transportation network!”

Oh and #2 is also misleading because it says the City maintains the bridges, when I think the County has responsibilities for several of them.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I agree there were some serious problems with the survey but what is your source that PBOT provides services to primarily “wealthy” neighborhoods? I live in Portland (you live in NC) and from what I’ve seen PBOT provides mediocre services to ALL neighborhoods.

cct
cct
10 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

PBOT apparently stopped doing regular maintenance and changed to complaint-driven a few years back (Parks told me much the same thing). I notice they continued ROW maintenance where vegetation and debris historically caused flooding if left uncleared, but that was it. The pisser is that several groups have been asking for the return of programs that let volunteers do it and have been told to get bent by PBOT and city attorneys.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  cct

Seems you are right about the complaint-driven nature of their efforts, and even then you have to fight tooth and nail to get your complaint heard and acted on.

hamiramani
10 months ago

Thanks for the reminder, Jonathan.

I wish there were more questions about reprioritizing the out of control spending on cars. While they call out biking, walking and taking transit in the survey they seem to not mention the word ‘car’. To me this implies that PBOT – as an institution – feels that the car is the default mode of transport; PBOT talks about streets and roads and their maintenance but somehow fails to inform the survey-taker that our roads are a mess because of cars.

PBOT and Commissioner Mapps ought to be devising a plan to close 50% of streets/roads to car traffic thus opening them to people and transit. This would prevent the precipitous degradation of pavement while introducing a people-centered approach.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  hamiramani

this implies that PBOT – as an institution – feels that the car is the default mode of transport;

That may be because for the vast majority of Portlanders, the car is the default mode of transport, and that’s much more true now than it was just 5 years ago.

I’m not saying it should be, I’m saying it is, and until new transportation technology arrives, I don’t think it’s going to change.

socially engineered
socially engineered
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

The city’s own Transportation System Plan includes the goal of decreasing drive-alone trips and prioritizing walking, bicycling, and transit. So if PBOT is giving people the impression that cars are the default, that’s probably an oversight.

https://www.portland.gov/transportation/planning/documents/tsp-101-two-pager/download

Watts
Watts
10 months ago

Yes, if it’s in the TSP, then it’s probably just an oversight. PBOT also promised they’d get us to 25% bicycle mode share. I expect them to get cracking on that any day now.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago

I DON’T want essential items cut like better, safer bike routes/paths, bike path/route maintenance , sidewalk and street maintenance , parking enforcement, street lighting and traffic signal maintenance, Sunday Parkways.

We have PLENTY of tax dollars for ALL of these , it’s just that we have decided spend it on inane wasteful programs and employees instead of city and county basics (police, fire, transportation and public safety). We spend millions on multiple highly paid diversity administrators, disability administrators and wasteful inefficient taxes like the homeless tax, preschool tax, excessive Police Accountability Commission spending and the PCEF tax.

Portlanders are tapped out and VERY frustrated that all these new taxes are collecting millions but getting virtually nothing done. It seems only the nonprofits are enjoying the windfall of the millions of tax dollars sent their way without accountability, oversight or performance metrics.

It’s time to go back to the voters and see if we can eliminate these nonessential taxes so we can adequately fund the basics that a city and county government should provide. MANY Portlanders I know (including me) have a serious case of voter’s remorse for passing this recent bevy od taxes and electing leaders that are ideologically driven instead of “progressive pragmatists” committed to providing the essentials. It’s time for change.

mc
mc
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

“Portlanders are tapped out and VERY frustrated that all these new taxes are collecting millions but getting virtually nothing done.”

What “all these new taxes that collecting millions” are you specifically referring to? What is your source?

PBOT is anticipating a $32 Million deficit.

There was a report, I can’t find it now, about the cost to PBOT for towing and disposing of abandoned and/or non-functional cars & RVs that people were living in. It wasn’t an insignificant amount of money, especially in combination with the loss of other revenue from taxes & fees.

“It’s just that we have decided spend it on inane wasteful programs and employees instead of city and county basics:”

PBOT workers went on strike last Summer just to get a living wage and now PBOT is expecting to cut 50 to 100 people.

https://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/2023/07/portland-road-repair-budget-could-be-slashed-to-fill-32-million-shortfall.html

Chris I
Chris I
10 months ago
Reply to  mc
dw
dw
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

I mostly agree with you but I have to push back on the preschool tax. I work in education and can see firsthand how it is already changing lives. I’m sorry if you have preschool aged children who aren’t benefitting from it – I understand the frustration. It can’t roll out overnight. Investing in our youngest students will pay dividends for years down the line.

I think the heart of your comment is that the city/county have taken on a lot of “big” problems to the exclusion of the core functions that local governments carry out; transportation, education, emergency services, land use, etc. I can’t help but feel like too many local politicians over the last decade or so have tried to ‘solve’ homelessness at the local level instead of using their influence to push on the state and feds to help solve the problem they created. People are feeling the squeeze and it’s frustrating to have the city crying poverty when we pay some of the highest taxes in the country.

mc
mc
10 months ago
Reply to  dw

” I can’t help but feel like too many local politicians over the last decade or so have tried to ‘solve’ homelessness at the local level instead of using their influence to push on the state and feds to help solve the problem they created” — Agree

“People are feeling the squeeze and it’s frustrating to have the city crying poverty when we pay some of the highest taxes in the country.”

Everyone wants good schools, safe streets, cheap parking, great parks and all the other amenities of a good city without paying for it.

Taxes are supposed to hurt, that’s the very definition of the word, “burdensome, exhausting, draining.”

The problem is that taxes don’t hurt everyone equally in Portland.

For families with household income of $75,000, the study based property tax estimates on property valued at $254,737 in Portland the tax burden is 12.5%

The tax burden in Minneapolis is 9.5%. This same household would pay half the amount of income & property taxes. That’s significant.

But you have to ask yourself how can Minneapolis do what they’re doing with a lower tax burden?

Portland isn’t dying, it’s just broken.

Kangas
Kangas
10 months ago

As is the pattern for these surveys, they can be filled out multiple times from the same IP address, computer, browser, browser session, and even the same tab. They can be filled out from any IP address on earth, with no attempt to filter access from VPN or Tor.

I’ve never been able to find the raw results and methods applied to produce presented analytics from similar past surveys. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place? That’s where one might look first to get a sense for the quality of the data informing decisions. Is PBOT investing the effort necessary for the survey process to be relevant and useful?

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Kangas

As is the pattern for these surveys

You think an internet survey could somehow provide statistically meaningful data even without the issues you identified? The results will be used the way they are always used — to provide cover for unpopular decisions that would have been made even without the survey. It will at best affect things on the margin.

I’ll take it, but I also recognize it as a futile gesture. Fiscal and political reality always wins in the end.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
10 months ago

Sigh, they asked the wrong questions. I don’t mind spending more on the transportation infrastructure, I simply want it focused on active transportation and away from single-occupant vehicles. Uber/Lyft doesn’t count toward that goal; the driver is just part of the machinery in those cases.

Michael
Michael
10 months ago

Sad to see there were several questions on the quality of parking downtown and in the neighborhoods, but nothing at all let me inject the idea that maybe on-street parking isn’t a good thing.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Michael

Would eliminating on-street parking somehow help PBOT close its budget hole?

J_R
J_R
10 months ago

I filled out the survey yesterday. I agree with others who have pointed out that this is a poorly crafted, biased survey. It implies, for example, that the only planning being done is to assure access to federal and state funds.

There is only one open-ended response opportunity.

I think this survey is yet another example of how PBOT spends its (our) money ineffectively. What’s next? Another task force? Trips to far-away places to determine how other agencies use surveys? Study the results through “the equity lens?” Prepare a report? And finally, conclude that there’s no good option.

KC
KC
10 months ago

My favorite was along the lines of “how are the sidewalks in your neighborhood?”, there was no option to select “we don’t have any”, so I had to put Very Poor.

The only thing that was remotely centered at cutting back cars usage was to suggest investing less in parking.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago

how about question 6. “How would you rate the quality of the following in Portland?”
If I want MORE congestion if it means safer/slower streets, do I choose Very Good or Very Poor for Traffic Congestion? If I think we should charge more for parking downtown, and we should be patrolling for illegal temporary parking of Uber/Amazon drivers, do I choose Very Good or Very Poor for Parking in Downtown and Central City?

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Congestion is very good.

We won’t see substantial mode shift until driving is a worse option than transit or active transportation so the more congestion, the better.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

In Portland, we won’t see substantial mode shift until we make the options of public transportation and cycling clean, safe and efficient.

mc
mc
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Not true!

“As Ton Welleman wrote in what’s now a famous study for the Dutch Ministry of Transport:”

“The construction of a network of bicycle routes is insufficient in itself for bringing about a sustainable increase in bicycle use. The simultaneous execution of a policy discouraging car use is deemed necessary.”

Reference – https://www.distilled.earth/p/how-the-netherlands-built-a-biking

Stephen
Stephen
10 months ago

I filled out my survey. There is only one open ended question about your most important PBOT issue. I gave them an essay on being serious about changing from driver-focused transportation infrastructure in the ROW to an active transportation-focused system.

Some questions were hard to answer given limited prompts. For instance how do you feel about traffic congestion? I put “very good” but I really wanted to say “very poor” but I couldn’t qualify that answer with “I think there should be road diets everywhere because there is not enough traffic congestion.”

socially engineered
socially engineered
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

Since this is a budgetary survey, I approached the prompts like this:

• Very poor: needs big investment ASAP
• Poor: could use more money
• Good: things are improving, keep spending as is
• Very good: spend less money on this

maxD
maxD
10 months ago

PBOT does not lack money, it is broken. Last night, after taking this survey, I rode form SW to North Portland. Along Naito, PBOT has placed and ENORMOUS sign in the bike lane, taking up a whole lane and significant part of the next lane to warn drivers of a detour 1.5 miles ahead! There is no warning or detour for the bike traffic. Then, 100 yards or so up the path, the bike lane is once again covered in a over an inch of sand. This is slippery hazard, especially for scooter riders. There are no cones, no warnings. This is not an unknown problem, it is caused by a broken irrigation line in the park. I happened in July and it took PBOT or whoever 3 weeks+ to clean it up. So every expense and effort is made to warn drivers about a diversion WAY up the road at the expense of taking up the bike lane, but the bike lane itself does not even get basic safety maintenance. On the way back to SW, I rode 7th and the Blumenauer Bridge. Years after completing the bridge, they are finally adding connections, and they are predictably quite terrible. Skinny bike lanes north of Broadway and not stop sign prioritization for bikes. The connection to the bridge on the north end is horribly convoluted to accommodate car turn lanes. They kept the stop signs FOR BIKES at NE 7th/Davis and south of Burnside. This is supposed to be part of the Green Loop, but is worse than substandard greenways we have all over town. Doing this correctly would not cost any more, it does not take more money. PBOT is 100% disinterested in bike infrastructure.

EEE
EEE
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Well, they mostly fixed the sand thing (or maybe you missed how much worse it was), but the sign in the bike lane is totally ridiculous. Why not put it in the parking lane on the other side of the street? It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the double-parking and encroachment from delivery drivers, contractors, and tent campers, but the optics are terrible. Right near a busy bike/pedestrian center. Embarrassing.

cct
cct
10 months ago

“We have to either get rid of one of the kids or raise taxes – which kid do you like less?'”

Did Detroit write this survey???