PORTLAND'S AMBITIOUS new Bicycle Master Plan envisions that in 20 years, the city could have 600 new miles of bikeways—but one question lingers: Will Portland put its money where its mouth is and actually fund the much-lauded plan?
The first paragraph of the 200-page plan says bikes must become a "fundamental pillar" of Portland's transportation system by 2030, but currently bikes in Portland receive only a toothpick's worth of funding.
"We could maybe squint our eyes and if some earmarks came through, we could maybe see $70 million," project manager Ellen Vanderslice told the planning commission last week. The price tag for just the first 123 miles of improved and new bikeways laid out in the plan is $100 million.
That's still relatively cheap, says City Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller, who pointed out to the planning commission that one mile of urban freeway costs $60 million to build. Though six to eight percent of Portlanders use bikes as their primary mode of transportation, Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) plans to spend two percent of its capital budget on bikes over the next two years. Geller is optimistic that number is on its way up.
"My sense it that under the mayor's direction, PBOT is now more focused on bicycling," says Geller, noting that the city recently won a $1 million federal stimulus grant for bike programs that it might not have pursued in previous years. "Locally we're never going to have enough money, so we're looking at where the money is and that's the federal level," Geller continues.
Money for painting bike lanes and building new paths comes primarily from the state gas tax and city parking fees, the revenue from which is worth less than it was a decade ago, according to city number-cruncher John Rist. Meanwhile, a 2006 study from Alta Planning and Design says bikes pump about $63 million into the city's economy every year.
Bike advocates have suggested a few ways to dig up more money for bikes, including pressuring the state for funds or seeking sponsorship from heath agencies like Kaiser Permanente.
In addition to building 600 new miles of bike paths and lanes, the city's first Bicycle Master Plan since 1996 suggests turning areas like Gateway and the Lloyd District into "bicycle districts" and promoting more bike education in schools. If the planning commission approves the plan, it will head to city council in November or December.