A majority of Portland city council attended Sunday Parkways last weekend. That might not seem like a big deal, but when you realize that the Parkways program is on the budget chopping block, it takes on a bit more significance.
Commissioners Mingus Mapps, Rene Gonzalez, and Mayor Ted Wheeler all ventured over to the hills of southwest Portland to take part in the last Parkways of the year. Mapps was there as part of his role as commissioner-in-charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), but the other two seemed to show up simply because it was a nice excuse to enjoy a perfect Portland day with their family. Yes, both Gonzalez and Wheeler rode to the event with their kids.
Gonzalez posted a video riding (15 miles there and back) to the event with his young sons and then shared a photo of he and PBOT Director Millicent Williams at the event. And Wheeler posted a photo on social media of his stop at a sno-cone truck, then said at a meeting last night he did the event with his daughter.
For Sunday Parkways boosters, having these elected officials show up could not have come at a better time. Despite being almost universally beloved citywide, the Parkways program has had to fight for its funding several times since it began in 2008. Believe it or not the City of Portland had to crowdfund to keep the program going in 2009, 2010, and in 2012. And on several occasions, the program has been passed over for budget help because it was not seen as a “core service.”
In 2010, the City Budget Office recommended against funding for Sunday Parkways. And in 2012, former Commissioner Dan Saltzman opposed a contract between PBOT and the company that runs the event and the program was ultimately scaled back as a result.
With this year’s budget negotiations set to heat up amid the most daunting financial reality the agency has ever faced, it’s conventional wisdom that Sunday Parkways could be cut as PBOT addresses a mandate to slash about 30% — or $32 million — from their discretionary budget. A PBOT budget survey released last month included an ominous question that asked people to rank the importance of “community events like Sunday Parkways.”
While Parkways has several major sponsors, my best guess is that the City of Portland is on the hook for about $80-$100,000 per event. While it traditionally had five events per year, PBOT hosted just three events this year.
When Gonzalez, Wheeler, and Mapps sit down in City Council chambers for a PBOT budget work session on September 26th, they’ll be eager to share how they rode in Sunday Parkways. Whether that translates into an eagerness to fund it, remains to be seen.