Here’s how the authors of the new Bicycle Master Plan imagine Portland in 2030: Portlanders make twenty-five percent of trips in the city by bike, riding along 600 new or improved miles of bikeways, many of them comfy bike boulevards. Gateway and the Lloyd District are transformed into “Bicycle Districts” and NE Going and will look like present-day SE Clinton. Portland east of I-205 will have more bike lanes than the entire city currently has.
Dozens of people turned out to the Planning Commission room downtown last night to express support for the first bike master plan for Portland since 1996. "I look at it as more than a bicycle plan. It’s a green transportation plan," sums up well-known bike consultant Mia Birk. The plan aims to make biking a pillar of the city and encourages linking land-use policy to biking as it has been linked to cars and mass transit.
But how is biking supposed to be a pillar of a city when it receives only a toothpick’s worth of funding? The plan’s ambitious goals shine a stark light on the percent of the Portland transportation budget spent on bike projects: a measly .7 percent.
Though the plan looks awesome, right now the funding is not in line to actually build the majority of the bikeways so painstakingly mapped out across Portland. “We could maybe squint our eyes and if some earmarks came through, we could maybe see $70 million,” project manager Eileen Vanderslice told the planning commission. The pricetag for just the first 123 miles of improved or new bikeways is $100 million. And those first projects are the relatively easy ones. The next round of projects include are major Springwater Corridor-esque routes like Sullivan’s Gulch and the North Portland Greenway, whose costs in the plan are described only as “substantial.” Vanderslice tentatively estimates the cost of the entire plan at $500 million. At our current level of bike funding, the plan would take about 330 years to finance. The city's going to have to really put its money where its mouth is to make these plans a reality by 2030.
Thoughts on how to fund our glorious bike future below the cut.
Though that’s a big chunk of change for bike spending in America, think about it in perspective.
$600 $60 million is the cost of only one mile of urban freeway. Plus, there’s the economic benefits of bikes. According to a 2006 Alta Planning study, bikes create $65-100 million annually in business for Portland. Promoting bikes helps create a more socioeconomically equitable city, too. As Transportation Bureau bike guru Roger Geller pointed out while asking the Planning Commission to approve the plan, transportation is the second largest expense for American households, costing more than food and clothing. Since bikes are the cheapest mode of transportation, helping more Portlanders bike would help more Portlanders save money.
The world’s #1 bike cities have figured it out. Amsterdam and Copenhagen spend $40 and $25 per person annually on bike projects. Portland spends only $3. Not every planning goal can be achieved by just christening a part of town a “district”—some of this plan is going to take money. And achieving the goal of 25 percent of Portland trips by bike is going to mean getting the city’s transportation department and traffic engineers on board.
So will this become an all-too-typical Portland planning process, where stakeholders draft a bold and ambitious plan, only to see it fall flat? I hope not. Here’s a quick list of good funding ideas people brought up during the 90 minute public comment period last night—let’s hope the city is listening.
• Since biking creates a healthier population, get grants or sponsorship from people who fund health issues. Kaiser Permanente, for example, sponsors Sunday Parkways and Providence Hospitals sponsors the massive BridgePedal.
• Get more federal funding for alternative transportation projects.
• Pressure the state to increase the amount it spends on bike-ped projects statewide from its current 1% of the transportation budget.
• Make the amount of the city transportation budget spent on bikes match the percent of the population who ride bikes as their primary mode of transportation. That means upping the city bike budget to at least six percent.
Commissioner Irma Valdez spoke strongly in favor of licensing and registering bike riders, in part to bear a portion of the costs of infrastructure but also to try and create a safer environment since bikes would be regulated somehow. But Geller and Vanderslice pretty much shot that idea down, noting that model cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen don't license cyclists, but agreed that promoting safety and bike education is important. The pair pointed to Portland's Safe Routes to School elementary school education programs as something to expand rather than introducing bike licenses.
You can download the plan and page through it yourself. Public comment period is open till November 8th, when the Planning Commission will make revisions and decide whether to advance the plan to city council. The commission has currently received 67 comments about the new bicycle master plan, only 11 of which were firmly against the plan.