City assembles ‘sales team’ for street fee plan (updated)

Three members of PBOT’s standing Budget
Advisory Committee Tuesday.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Portland voters could decide as soon as November whether to approve a per-household and per-business fee that budget committee member David Hampsten said would raise about $25 million a year for street upgrades.

Alternatively, the proposal to pay for transportation infrastructure might simply be approved by the city council after extensive public outreach, a citizen committee member said Tuesday.

With that in mind, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales have created a new committee of stakeholders expected to vet the plan and, over the coming months, help persuade the city of its merits.

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Mayor Hales shares his thoughts on paving and the PBOT budget

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Mayor Hales

Mayor Hales at a City Council
PBOT budget work session yesterday.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At an event last night I was able to grab Mayor Charlies Hales for a few minutes to ask him for his thoughts on the major PBOT budget move that was unveiled yesterday.

At a City Council budget work session, Hales’ interim director of PBOT, Toby Widmer, unveiled a plan that would take $7.15 from existing budget items and put it all toward street paving and maintenance. Among the places Widmer “realigned resources” for more paving is a $1.2 million sidewalk project already funded and slated for construction this summer in East Portland on SE 136th between SE Powell and Holgate (about 0.52 miles). Another Widmer realignment victim is PBOT’s ADA curb ramp program which is being asked to give up $500,000. According to PBOT sources, that chunk equals about 30% of the entire program (which has annual budget of $1.7 million).

Asked about the proposal last night, Hales distanced himself from it. “It’s a bureau budget. It’s just a starting point.”

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Proposal looks to “realign” $7.15 million in PBOT budget for paving, maintenance

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Toby Widmer

PBOT Interim Director Toby Widmer
at a City Council budget work session today.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

With the ink on the paving audit barely dry, Mayor Charlie Hales’ interim director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation Toby Widmer, made a sweeping budget proposal during a City Council budget work session at City Hall today. They call it the PBOT Resource Realignment.

Widmer announced a $7.15 million proposal that would “realign” funds in the existing budget in order to do more paving and maintenance. The proposal includes:

  • $4.5 million is savings from debt service on Sellwood Bridge bonds (this money was originally slated for the City’s general fund, Hales is attempting to keep it all for PBOT);
  • $1.2 million from a sidewalk project slated for SE 136th Ave;
  • $950,000 from the Downtown Marketing Initiative program;
  • $500,000 from the City’s ADA curb ramp program.

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Editorial: Activism for safer streets underscores larger transportation debate

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“Demands for new biking, walking, transit, and other system improvements are common, but do you ever see activists clamoring for paving and street maintenance?”

Twice this week citizens of Portland have taken action to raise awareness about unsafe streets.

Benjamin Kerensa emailed us a video (watch it below) he put together of the crosswalk at NE 79th and Glisan. Kerensa witnessed a fatal collision last week involving a woman who was walking across that intersection in the sidewalk when she was hit by someone driving a car. The video, which shows numerous people failing to yield to people crossing the street, was featured on The Oregonian’s Hard Drive blog on Wednesday.

In his description of the video on YouTube, Kerensa pressured City Hall to improve the crosswalk:

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PBOT’s effort to cut budget could hit street lights, streetcar

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Outgoing PBOT Director Tom Miller led a meeting
of his budget advisory committee on Tuesday.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

When members of the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Budget Advisory Committee settled into their fourth and final meeting on Tuesday, they got some grim news. On top of the $4.5 million in ongoing cuts the bureau was initially told they needed to make, PBOT Director Tom Miller announced they needed to identify an another 10% — or $784,000 — in cuts. The way I understand it, Mayor Charlie Hales has asked for each bureau to come up with this 10% cut so that he can ultimately decide what stays and what goes.

The tricky thing for PBOT is that after years budget shrinkage, they have very little fat left to cut. Committee member and east Portland advocate Dave Hampsten put it this way: “We’ve gotten to the point where every cut is a core function.”

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$700,000 expected in PBOT budget now gone

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“We’re basically back where we started.”
— Tom Miller, PBOT Director, in an email to his budget advisory committee

Remember the $700,000 that was added back to the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s budget last month? Now it’s pretty much all gone.

Last Friday, outgoing PBOT Director Tom Miller emailed the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee to announce that new, lower projections for parking garage revenue means only about $100,000 of that $700,000 is now coming back to the budget. “We’re basically back where we started,” read Miller’s email.

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BTA-led coalition seeks to restore active transportation cuts in City budget

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BTA’s Gerik Kransky (L) and freight
advocate Corky Collier after the PBOT Budget BAC
meeting yesterday.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

In the face of severe cuts to active transportation in the PBOT budget that came to light last month, a coalition led by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) presented a proposal yesterday to restore nearly half of them.

With dwindling revenue forecasts, PBOT has had cut their budget for several years now. This year’s gap was estimated to be $4.4 million. Of that, PBOT proposed $1.5 million in cuts to active transportation — $1 million from projects and $500,000 to programs and staffing. The cuts would impact programs like Sunday Parkways, Safe Routes to School, neighborhood greenway projects, and more.

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PBOT budget proposal cuts active transportation by $1.5 million

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Sunday-Parkways-SE-2012-3

A budget proposal by PBOT would end reduce
the City’s support of Sunday Parkways.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As PBOT grapples with a $4.4 million budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year, yesterday they proposed $1.5 in cuts that would directly impact biking and walking projects and programs.

Members of the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee heard about the proposed cuts at their meeting last night (the second of three meetings before the budget proposal moves into a public process phase). PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson confirmed the proposal with me today.

Of the $4.4 million in total needed cuts, $1.8 million will be slashed from projects and $2.6 million will come from operations/programs.

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Facing further cuts, PBOT floats new revenue ideas at budget meeting

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PBOT Director Tom Miller at a meeting
of his Budget Advisory Committee
last night.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The budget outlook for the Bureau of Transportation is a bit better this year than it was last year; but things are still grim. I attended the first of three PBOT Budget Advisory Committee meetings last night to get the lowdown and words like “triage” were being thrown around. But amid the doom and gloom, there are some interesting developments to report that could brighten the picture.

The big takeaway from last night is that PBOT is prepping for a $4.5 million budget gap in fiscal 2013-14 (which runs July-June). Those cuts are to be ongoing cuts, which means coupled with last year’s huge cuts, the bureau is seriously hurting.

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PBOT Budget Advisory Committee asks Council to look at new revenue sources

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It’s no secret that PBOT faces historic budget cuts. But there’s a big part of the conversation that hasn’t really gotten the attention it deserves: With gas tax and other motor vehicle-related revenues (like parking meters and registration fees) decreasing, more people choosing bikes and electric cars, and federal funding as unstable as ever, we need to figure out a new revenue stream.

Unfortunately, this discussion is hampered by politics. Raising the cost of using our transportation system is always makes for prickly politics, but especially in the current economic climate, elected officials around the region are loathe to propose new revenue streams. At the outset of this year’s budget talks at PBOT, Mayor Sam Adams — a man who pushed a major “street fee” initiative a few years ago — told his bureau director that he did not want to hear any ideas about new revenue. All talks about how to find more money, Adams said, were off the table.

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PBOT budget update: Cuts, consolidation, and no more ‘Options’

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Behind the scenes at SmartTrips

PBOT’s SmartTrips program is
among the cuts.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland’s Transportation Options Division — the group behind such popular programs as Sunday Parkways and SmartTrips — no longer exists as a stand-alone section of PBOT. The consolidation of Options into a new “Active Transportation” group within PBOT’s org chart — and the $350,000 cut that comes with it — is just one of the steps being taken to tighten operations and cut over $15 million in their ongoing discretionary budget.

Sunday Parkways and Neighborhood Greenways are also slated for significant cuts and 27 current PBOT employees will lose their jobs (most of the positions are labor/maintenance workers).

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Commissioner Saltzman questions City spending on Sunday Parkways

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Sunday Parkways NW 2011-32-31

Sunday Parkways is not a core
city service says Saltzman.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has fired the first shot across the bow in what is likely just a preview of what’s to come in bruising fight over next year’s budget.

On the agenda at the City Council meeting this morning was a two-year $248,500 contract expense for local company Good Sport Promotion to manage the hundreds of volunteers it takes to put on PBOT’s Sunday Parkways events. According to Beth Slovic at The Oregonian, Saltzman spoke out in opposition to the contract — and funding for the event in general — at the council meeting.

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