PSU and Metro study shows active transportation investment helps the economy

“Projects are more likely to reach their full potential when they reduce the effects of an auto-oriented environment.”

The PSU and Metro study looked at 12 projects spanning the Portland metro area. (Graphic: Metro)

Have projects funded with Oregon Metro’s Regional Flexible Funds provided an economic return on investment? In partnership with Metro, Portland State University researchers embarked on a study to find out, and analyzed 12 of these projects funded between 2001 and 2016 to evaluate if they had “significant effects on the local economy.” The results, released last month, confirmed what transportation and safe streets advocates have long been saying: when an area is safe for people to walk and bike in, they’ll feel more comfortable spending time – and money – there.

Researchers evaluated projects in Portland as well as smaller cities in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties including Milwaukie, Oregon City, Gresham, Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove and Tigard. Most of these projects focused primarily on improving conditions for people walking by widening sidewalks, making crossings safer and adding landscaping, lighting and public art, but some included bike infrastructure upgrades as well.

The active transportation improvements on Division St have made it safer and more appealing for people to walk and shop at local businesses.

These projects are part of Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept, the long-range plan for the region’s infrastructure. Analyzing the benefits of these projects to “clarify the relationship between these investments and economic activity” is important for determining which investments Metro should make going forward.

“One of the most important outcomes of the study is informing the region’s decision makers, business owners, and the general public in the recent public comment period for Metro’s Regional Flexible Funding Allocations (RFFA) for transportation projects. With 29 project proposals on the table, it’s important to have the context and data on what has been effective in the Portland region,” the report states.

PSU researchers used quantitative and qualitative methods to measure these 12 projects, which were chosen based on similarities making it possible to compare them. According to the PSU and Metro report, 75% of the project locations “saw measurable economic gains in the food or retail industries after implementation,” with the greatest benefits occurring in places with multiple complementary transportation investments, like layering a new light rail stop with nearby crosswalk enhancements. But in order to see the most improvement, projects need to explicitly tamp down on local car traffic speeds and volumes.

“Projects are more likely to reach their full potential when they reduce the effects of an auto-oriented environment and create places for walking that are also less stressful and more comfortable,” the report states.

The majority of the projects studied had positive impacts on local retail and food businesses.

One Portland project researchers analyzed is the SE Division Streetscape Project, which was completed in 2014 and included landscaping, transportation and general street improvements on inner Division St to “create a more pedestrian- friendly, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable corridor.” Though people surveyed would still like further improvements on inner Division, especially to make it safer to bike, researchers found this project was overall successful and “created favorable conditions for developers creating a high-density residential area and developmental sector and turning Division into a destination street and restaurant district.”

Division is almost unrecognizable from its pre-streetscape upgrade days. The report quotes Chris Eykamp, the Chair of the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood which encompasses inner Division Street, who said it’s “unimaginable” that you can now go on Division and get world-class food. Wider sidewalks and adequate crosswalk placement has made Division Street a street to casually stroll down with a Salt & Straw ice cream cone and with plenty of places to window-shop, which was not the case 10 years ago.

But the report makes it clear returns on active transportation investments are not limited to the Portland urban core. In fact, smaller communities may even benefit more from these projects. One of the places where investments were “layered” was at the Milwaukie Town Center with a project to connect the Milwaukie MAX station with Main Street and South Downtown Plaza in order to “help restore the Milwaukie historic downtown as a vital town center, strengthen the retail character of Main Street, and create a flow of pedestrian activity.”

People the researchers surveyed responded positively to these upgrades, with one respondent saying “downtown Milwaukie used to be a dump and not an interesting place to walk at all” but now it “seems livelier, more like a neighborhood.” This has created opportunities for businesses to move into the area.

Active transportation investments to improve safety for people walking, biking and taking transit are important even if they don’t provide measurable economic benefits. However, money can perk people’s ears faster. Local policymakers hesitant to support active transportation projects may be lured by the prospect they could bring economic benefits to an area, which will be especially appealing in the wake of the pandemic that devastated small businesses across the region.

“While this report only explores the effects of active transportation infrastructure on business trends, we are currently developing methods to help us measure other ways that active transportation infrastructure impacts the region by quantifying things such as travel cost savings and health benefits,” the report says.

You can check out the full report, which details the methodology and describes more case studies, here.

City of Portland asks Metro for $71 million to build bike paths, crossings, and safer streets

The nine projects.

It’s that time again when transportation agencies around the region turn their attention to Metro in hopes of winning a chunk of the Regional Flexible Funds Allocation (RFFA). This is a coveted source of funding for trails, paths, and bike-centric infrastructure. It’s “flexible” because, unlike the lion’s share of federal funding, it’s not tied to “highways” and local governments can spend it any way they want.

In the Portland region, this flexibility means leaders choose to fund blatantly bike-centric projects.

All told, Metro will hand out a grand total of $142.3 million this go-round (the 2025-2057 RFFA allocation); but the majority of that is already spoken for. The biggest set-aside, $65 million, will go to repay regional transit project bonds. Another $35.8 million will go toward non-infrastructure programs like Safe Routes to School and planning for transit-oriented developments. Metro says there’s a total of $61.25 million up for grabs which will be split between trail projects ($20 million) and projects that had previously been listed in the Regional Transportation Plan.

It’s each agency’s job to make sure they apply for projects that Metro is most likely to fund.

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Biking could score big in Metro’s latest ‘flexible funds’ offering

One of the projects on the list would add a new signal, sidewalks, and a multi-use path to the sketchy intersection of NE Columbia and Cully/Alderwood Road.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s that time again when our regional elected government needs help deciding which transportation projects to fund with a pot of federal dollars known as regional flexible funds. This opportunity only comes around once every three years, so it’s a golden opportunity to nab some cash for important projects.

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Portland wins $10 million in federal grants for biking/walking projects

This segment of NE 72nd in the Cully neighborhood will get a 12-foot wide walking/biking path.

Project locations.
(Graphic: Metro)

On Thursday the Metro Council unanimously adopted $30 million in grants for 12 transportation projects around the region. Portland won big by garnering $12.8 million of the total awarded. The funds will go toward five different projects — four of which ($10 million worth) are focused specifically on making it easier and safer to bike and walk.

Yesterday’s decision comes after a year of public feedback and analysis of dozens of projects that vied for the money. It’s part of Metro’s regional flexible funding process that happens every three years. Out of this pot of around $130 million, $33 was up for grabs in a suballocation that Metro decided to split 75/25 between “active transportation/complete streets” projects and freight projects respectively.

Although one of Portland’s projects was in the freight category, it also includes several elements that will improve biking and overall traffic safety.

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Metro gives east Portland bikeway and safety projects highest rankings for federal funding

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The top-ranked project would make walking and rolling to 82nd Avenue and Gateway much easier.

The Cully neighborhood would get a new biking and walking “parkway” and big roads that run through two major commercial districts in east Portland near I-205 could be updated and vastly improved for people on bikes and foot if the City of Portland is able to convince Metro to give them the cash to do it.

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Highway amendment fails, Metro committee adopts spending plan

JPACT meeting.jpg

Yellow signs urging investment in safe routes near schools loomed over local elected and agency leaders as they considered how to allocate $130 million in regional flexible funds this morning at Metro headquarters.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

A nearly two-year quest to raise funds for Safe Routes to Schools across the Portland region came to an end this morning. At the monthly meeting of Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, elected and agency leaders voted to support a policy direction that will inform how $130 million in federal “flexible” transportation dollars are spent.

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Metro proposal rejects Safe Routes to School, spends more on freight routes

A Safe Routes to School event in 2010. The Metro regional government is proposing to start supporting the program in suburban schools, but not to increase funding for accompanying street improvements near those schools.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A two-year campaign for regional funding of better biking and walking near schools, backed by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and other advocacy groups, is in tatters.

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Counting votes at Metro: Will the region invest in walking and biking near schools?

Beach Elem. School encourages biking and walking-2

Biking to school in North Portland.
(All photos by Jonathan Maus unless otherwise noted)

With Portland’s locally funded Safe Routes to School program seeming to pay clear dividends — biking, walking and rolling to primary school became more popular than driving in 2010 and have kept rising — the case for bringing the idea to other cities may seem strong.

But the For Every Kid Coalition that’s been lobbying the regional government Metro to put $15 million into a regional Safe Routes to Schools program is competing for cash with two major forces: public transit and private freight. As Metro continues to accept public comments on the subject, we wanted to share what its councilors are thinking.

So we called all of them.

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Advocates fear loss of dedicated biking and walking funds from Metro

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
JPACT meeting-2

A JPACT meeting at Metro.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Regional leaders are hinting that it might be time to stop dedicating a key funding source to biking and walking projects. And advocates are not taking it lightly.

The discussion is centered around what is known as the regional flexible funding allocation, a pot of money Metro gets from the federal government and then hands out to cities and counties. In the next round of allocations for 2019-2021, $38 million (out of a total of $125 million) is set-aside specifically for infrastructure. (The rest goes to transit bond payments ($48 million) and region-wide planning and program investments ($28 million). There’s another $11 million that might be available for infrastructure but that’s not decided yet).

Unlike the vast majority of transportation dollars (gas tax and other mode-specific loan and grant programs), local governments can spend flexible funds however they want — which means something other than highway widening, rail transit or bridge upgrades. That makes flexible funds extremely competitive. In the past, Metro has chosen to invest these funds into two categories: freight and biking/walking (a.k.a. active transportation).

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Path under construction will link Springwater system to central Gresham (photos)

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
gresham path lead

The new two-mile trail is funded mostly by regional flexible funds allocated by Metro at the request of east Multnomah County governments.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Though it’s possible to get between central Gresham and the Springwater Corridor by bike lane, there’s never been a truly comfortable link between the two, or first-rate bike connection between Gresham’s central business district and the dense Rockwood area. That’s about to change.

Gresham is building a wide new paved path alongside the MAX tracks between the Cleveland Avenue station, at the eastern end of the Blue Line, and the Ruby Junction station where many TriMet trains stop their runs to go out of service.

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