How Will We Fund the Bicycle Master Plan?

As the “Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030” moves toward City Council adoption, the question that moves front and center is “how do we pay for it?”

The estimated price tag runs into hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years – but is still small in comparison to our other transportation investments. In a discussion on Bike Portland, editor Jonathan Maus lamented that

“… this is about a game of politics and money and so far it looks like bike people are simply being outplayed… which is too bad because we all agree bikes are the best investment and they have the most beneficial impact on our city.”

I do agree that bikes have the greatest potential to reshape our transportation landscape at the lowest cost – and have vocally said so as the plan moved through the Planning Commission, even to the point of saying that I would give priority to bicycle funding over Streetcar funding (but I also believe that they will very seldom be in direct competition).

So if we need to play a better game, what are the lessons we can take from Streetcar and other transportation initiatives that have been successful in attracting funding?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from what I’ve observed over the last decade advocating for a variety of transportation projects:

Federalize the Effort

Roads and Transit have dedicated federal funding from the Highway Trust Fund (gas taxes are the primary source of these funds, but Congress is now getting into the habit of supplementing this with general revenues as gas tax buying power declines).

This is a critical factor, because elected leaders will quite rationally invest local dollars where they will leverage new money into the community. If $40 of local funds will bring in $60 of “New Starts” federal money for Light Rail, guess how hard leaders will work to find that $40.

Where is the advocacy for a Federal bike funding program? None existed for Streetcar, so we helped create a national Community Streetcar Coalition (former Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad chairs it) with over 60 cities looking at streetcar investments advocating for federal involvement. This resulted in the creation of the “Small Starts” program from which Portland just received $75M for the Streetcar Loop project – the first Federal Transit Administration Streetcar grant.

For cycling, we won’t need to invent a national advocacy organization – the League of American Cyclists has existed for more than a century. Portland advocates need to get busy with the League to plot a congressional strategy for a dedicated funding program for bicycle infrastructure. Then let’s get our projects in at the front of the line.

[BTW – why is there no one from the USA’s premiere cycling city on the board of the League?]

There’s an interesting immediate opportunity emerging here. Transit projects have previously been allowed to use Federal funds for bike and pedestrian improvements that help get folks to the transit line, but those improvements had to be relatively close to the transit line. Now, under the auspices of the joint urban livability effort between HUD and the US DOT, the definition is being expanded. According to a proposal in the Federal Register (PDF, 59K), FTA is seeking comment on extending the ‘catchment area’ distances to one half mile for pedestrian improvements and 3 miles for bicycle improvements.

How much of Portland’s proposed bicycle network is within 3 miles of proposed high capacity transit corridors? A lot. Portland advocates should:

  1. Immediately comment favorably on the FTA proposal. (I have)
  2. Get out their compasses and figure out the 3-mile envelope around the Milwaukie LRT and Lake Oswego Streetcar corridors (the next two projects that will seek FTA funding). Let’s try to get all the improvements in those areas matched 60/40. Yes, you’ll have to convince TriMet and others to expand the project definitions and help assemble more local match, but as I said before, local leaders are all about bringing home more Federal dollars.

Regionalize the Effort

The history of transportation funding in this region suggests that Portland-specific efforts are always met with a degree of skepticism at JPACT. Projects that reach all parts of the region do better.

It’s not a random occurrence that the most recent Light Rail project, and the next one, both touch Clackamas County – it’s “their turn”. It’s also not coincidental that the next Streetcar line in the pipeline will go to Lake Oswego.

Portland advocates need to work with the rest of the regional and get cycling projects moving all over the region. Metro’s Intertwine effort is an ideal framework for this.

This will also help with the Federal effort. JPACT travels back to DC and speaks with one voice to the Congressional delegation, and that voice better talk about bikes if we want to be successful in creating a significant Federal funding program.

Localize the Effort

Every successful rail transit project has a local stakeholder committee, including prominent representation from businesses along the alignment. We are beginning to see this kind of advocacy around major trail projects (Sullivan’s Gulch, North Portland Greenway) but we need to deepen this and get it going for more projects – probably in ways that are less about linear corridors and more about local networks. Can we get a stakeholder group formed for strengthening the bike network in a whole neighborhood or sector of a the City?

And we MUST make the connection between good cycling environments and property values. Local Improvement Districts (where property owners levy a fee on themselves to pay for a portion of the project) are the cornerstones of Streetcar project funding. We need to get an economist hired to do a serious study correlating bike traffic volumes with property values NOW.

What Else?

Watch the evolving landscape. Some kind of carbon cap-and-trade system is in our future. Let’s position bike projects as effective investments for offsets. Transit leaders are already thinking about this.

Lottery Funds. TriMet has successfully lobbied to use bonding capacity from the State Lottery to fund first the West Side extension and now the Milwaukie line. The Governor and Legislature have also allocated $100M of Lottery bonding capacity to non-road transportation (“Connect Oregon”) in each of the last two sessions. Can we convince the Legislature to use some Lottery bonding for bike projects?

Think about how we sell this to the public. I made the comment during the Planning Commission work session that my family pays (happily) about $250/year for the library levy. That helps fund about a $50M annual budget (for the whole county). We need about $25M (for Portland) annually to build out the bicycle plan. If citizens will vote to fund the library, how do we convince them to vote to fund cycling at a comparable level?

So what are we waiting for?


41 responses to “How Will We Fund the Bicycle Master Plan?”

  1. Paul,

    Oregon has their own Scenic Bikeways Program, and with limited staff and money for bike stuff, i can understand why we aren’t more involved with the USBRS yet.

    on that note, I’m having one-on-one live interview with Ginny Sullivan, the US Bike Route System project manager, on February 3rd.

    As for Chris’s post…

    I think much of what you suggest is already in progress… but the DOING part is not happening fast enough.

    as for the League of Amer. Bicyclists… just because they exist doesn’t mean everyone will automatically be excited to join them. Unfortunately they are not the type of strong advocacy group that American needs for biking right now. They do fine work, but they have failed to capture the spirit and interest of the greater movement in America so their impact has been limited.

    Also, it’s easy to talk about federal lobbying when you’ve got massive public/private agencies for transit like TriMet. All the bike movement has is a bunch of loosely knit and small non-profit groups trying to change the world.

    why don’t cities have human powered transportation authorities?… like a TriMet for biking and walking? There’s an idea.

  2. Also,

    Chris. It’s important to acknowledge that transit advocates have been able to do many of the things you mention above precisely because of the institutional advantages it already has (and which bicycling does not have).

    Many cities/regions have Transit Authorities like TriMet. No similar bodies exist for biking.

    There’s also the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, etc… but last time I checked there is nothing like that for human powered transportation.

    LaHood and Obama’s bone to bike advocates is the Office of Livable Communities (it’s in the new transportation bill). Why not have an Office of Bicycle and Walking… or a Federal Non-Motorized Transportation Administration?

    It’s a bit disingenuous to ask bike advocates to just ‘get out there and try hard’ to make these things happen when you’re surrounded by a deep legacy of institutionalized power.

  3. Paradigm-shifting ideas here (at least, for me–relatively new to cycling and a total convert).

    Could you get us a little closer to the commenting place on the FTA proposal? Your link points to a search page, and I’m not sure what to search for.


  4. Could you get us a little closer to the commenting place on the FTA proposal? Your link points to a search page, and I’m not sure what to search for.

    It should be the search results page, with only one result – the page you want to click on to comment.

  5. Jonathan, my intent was not to criticize, but to help provide a roadmap.

    The key is to build NETWORKS of advocacy at many levels: project, city, region, state, national.

    There’s no question that existing institutions have an advantage, but I think that’s why Streetcar is a good example. It started without any institutional support, indeed, with active skepticism from the established transit institutions and had to go around them before eventually getting them at least partway on board.

    So we need to think about how we form our networks and what institutions we want to build. I’m not sure that a regional cycling delivery agency for example would be the best approach, but I could definitely see boosting the institutional framework at the City level.

    Nationally, if the League is not the right institution, I think Portland needs to either take a role in shifting the League into the right posture or in helping create a new organization.

  6. Looks amazing! They’ll finally put a bike lane o Cherry Blossom! No more drivers being able to honk at me for not going as fast as a speeding bullet, and no one being able to tell me to get the F-word out of the road!

    Go, bicyclists rights!

  7. Jonathan’s post totally rubs me the wrong way.

    “Also, it’s easy to talk about federal lobbying when you’ve got massive public/private agencies for transit like TriMet. All the bike movement has is a bunch of loosely knit and small non-profit groups trying to change the world.”

    I’ve never heard anything out of Jonathan’s mouth about what bikers are doing wrong. All of his criticism is focused outwards. I suppose that’s a function of the fact that he runs a bike advocacy website and if he started directing criticism inwards he’d lose readership.

    Nevertheless, it’s disingenuous for him to claim that the bike movement has a bunch of small, loosely-knit groups trying to change the world. For one thing, Earl Blumenauer (sp?) is a tireless advocate for bicycling, and has steadily gained power in the House as he’s gained seniority. We’ve also got the BTA, whose stature has grown incredibly over the course of the decade as the number of bikers in Portland has increased.

    Now you might say, “Oh, but the BTA hasn’t been very effective.” Well if that’s the case, maybe Jonathan should focus on why the BTA isn’t effective and either work towards changing the group. Or maybe work with the community to form an entirely different (and more effective) organization. If Earl isn’t putting forth the type of legislation that Jonathan wants to see put forth in Congress, maybe he should meet with Earl (or start a push to get the BTA to do so) in order to make their feelings known.

    Unfortunately, rather than question the BTA, Jonathan’s site basically just posts their press releases without analysis. Take this example here:

    Or an article on today’s front page. Scott Bricker is out as the BTA director, Jonathan posts a statement by the BTA and nothing more.

    It’s time for Jonathan to ask himself why he’s not critically examine the institutions that have failed to bring the progress he desires to see. Maybe putting a little heat on the likes of the BTA and Earl Blumenauer will help, rather than hinder his cause.

  8. I’m aware of the Scenic Bikeway Program, though I’m thinking it would work more effectively if the “scenic” was turned to “state” and built as a comprehensive statewide system similar to the Regional Cycleway Networks found in the UK and Europe, under ODOT, not Oregon State Parks. For example, the “WV” cycleway here in Oregon adds several dozen miles and some difficult hills between Salem and Eugene compared with the relatively flat, and far more direct, Interstate 5. “1” would probably be a good reference for a utilitarian cycle route paralell to WV and the 99s, owing to the original state highway number for what is now I5.

    Someone wasn’t thinking (or perhaps was hoping on reversing the popular negative connotation) of “OC” when they gave the Oregon Coast Scenic Bikeway that reference symbol (“101” would have been more neutral and better reflect it’s status as following a major route not suited for casual riders).

    Portland’s local cycleway network is similarly hamstringed by the mentality that bicycles are recreation, not transportation, when in reality, they’re both, but primarily transportation.

    The US National Cycleway Network is under USDOT, and for good reason: Parks departments solve transportation problems about as well as a bricklayer can lay pipe.

  9. Doug, I think you’re being awfully hard on Jonathan. While he and I don’t always agree 100% he’s doing both journalism and advocacy in what I find to be a very effective way.

  10. Jonathan Maus: Good points about the ineffectiveness of present lobbying efforts. Perhaps now is the time to think about opening a Sustrans branch here in Oregon. What did Sustrans do in the UK? They successfully lobbied to get local, regional and national cycleway networks established, with some seriously high standards (the entire network is said to be “safely traversable by an unsupervised 12-year-old” with at least half the mileage grade-seperated from surface streets, on it’s own dedicated roadways) compared to Oregon Scenic Bikeways (our RCN equivalent), paid for using charity and lottery dollars.

    If you need a visual aid of this accomplishment, consider comparing western Oregon’s cycleway network map to Greater London and vicinity.

    Why did we revolt fro the UK if we’re not going to run our country as well or better than what we departed?

  11. Cameron Johnson: Write a detailed message including driver description, vehicle description and plate number to the OSP, the county sheriff and the local police as applicable. Also consider publicly shaming them on Platewire.

  12. Doug,

    your criticisms are well taken.

    I am not afraid to criticize bike advocates too… it’s just in this one thread i happen to be focusing outwardly in order to respond to Chris’s story.

    i know full well the many shortcomings and mistakes that i feel are being make by advocates. Should i share more of those thoughts on bikeportland? yes.

    covering the BTA is a very challenging proposition for me. it is at the core of my role as both advocate with trusting relationships in this community and the journalistic instinct to always press and share all the information I know about every topic.

    and thanks for your encouragement to change the BTA into what I think they should be doing. BikePortland is a publishing company that has many roles to fill. We are not here solely to make sure the movement is healthy and strong and always headed in the right direction.

    also, it’s sort of ironic you say that because i have expressed many of my feelings about the BTA’s shortcomings — not on bikeportland — but directly to people that matter when asked for my opinion.

    I agree with you about being more directly critical and perhaps that’s the direction I’ll start to go more often.

    I disagree that i haven’t offered analysis on the BTA and other topics. you link to one story… i’ve published over 7,000..there’s a lot of analysis in there…and some of it directly about the BTA/Bricker’s actions and politics.

    As for the Blumenauer reference. Yes. It’s great to have champions… but champions alone cannot do it (as we’re seeing in this country with about 1% bike mode split – if that!).

    And Chris, your points are well taken as well. I didn’t take your post as criticism, i just had some points/thoughts i felt needed to be shared.

    thanks for this post and for all the thinking you do about these issues. it’s very helpful to me and others.

  13. Chris,

    I may have been unnecessarily harsh, but I don’t believe the criticism was unwarranted. I’ve never seen an article of his that was in any way critical of the BTA. If he’s got a complaint about the efficacy of the bike community’s lobbying efforts, shouldn’t he be occasionally critical of them in print?

  14. A good bike tax could pay for the plan. Take the cost of the plan and divide it by the number of bike riders and mail em the bill. Problem solved.

  15. hey doug,

    yes! i should be more critical in print.. i agree. but i have always been careful (too careful?) about being critical because I want the tone of the site to be positive and inspiring… funny thing is that some people in this town are already sad that i am no longer the wide-eyed and always positive guy i used to be when i started doing the site.

    also, being critical, i think, in journalism has to be done very well in order to be credible and have an impact. i have a million things on my desk and i don’t often have the time to really put the thought I feel is needed into critical editorials and stories. it’s something i’m trying to get to do more (building a team, hiring interns, etc…)


  16. Jonathan,

    While you say that you’re trying to stay positive and inspiring, you’re often quite critical of other modes of travel. Is it fair for you to be positive and inspiring about bikes while simultaneously being negative about other modes? This seems like an issue of you trying to have it both ways.

    Regardless, I’d argue that publishing the BTA’s press releases without any sort of critical eye damages your mission, especially in light of your comment above about the efficacy of the bike community’s lobbying efforts. It doesn’t seem consistent to me that on the one hand you’d claim that public transit has much more effective lobbying arm and at the same time be utterly silent about the problems with the local bike community’s main lobbying organization.

  17. Anthony: Never mind that bikes cause little wear to roadways, and building bicycle infrastructure is pennies on the dollar cheaper than the motorist facilities that cyclists subsidize out of the general fund. Cyclists pay their own way through reduced maintenance costs. Gas tax and registration doesn’t even come close to covering half the cost to maintain motorist facilities.

    And if that’s not good enough, cyclists and pedestrians have a right to the road. Motorists do not.

  18. Jonathan:

    One more thing. If you don’t have the time to properly cover a story, in my opinion you shouldn’t cover it. Today’s BTA article is a perfect example. You posted their short explanation about what happened to Bricker without any sort of follow-up. It’s a newsworthy story, but your coverage falls so far short of what’s proper that it barely qualifies as coverage at all (it’s something you could pick up at prwire). If you think it’s important enough to put on your site why not drop everything, contact the interested parties (Bricker, BTA, etc), look into what you hear from them, and then post real coverage next week? It’s something the WW used to do well back when they were relevant.

    You’ve got Elly Blue to write puff pieces for you, and Adams Carroll’s little photo pieces are also nice for light stories that can be posted on short notice (Carroll’s Morrison Bridge photos were even informational). Have the two of them work on daily stories and spend your time working on stories with real meat.

    One man’s opinion.

  19. Doug: Is it easy to be positive and inspired about modes of transportation that, by and large, uses the most space to transport the fewest number of people? Private vehicle traffic is, by nature, population sparse. Often single-occupant (leaving one to seven seats in most vehicles unoccupied), often on the same route. Reduce the number of empty seats before claiming the existing infrastructure can’t handle demand: As long as there’s empty seats, there’s unused capacity. We just need to provide sufficient disincentive against SOV trips on congested corridors before we need to think about spending money on proliferating the empty seat problem.

  20. Paul Johnson:

    Who said anything about wear and tear or motorists? This plan is seeking capital construction funds.. what better way to raise it is to divy up the bill between its users?

    Since bicycling is so popular here in Portland, I doubt any bicyclist will have any issue forking out their share, regardless of cost.

  21. Paul: I’m not sure what point of mine you’re specifically addressing. I suspect you disagree about my suggestion that it’s not fair that he’s uniformly positive in his bike-related news while sometimes being negative about other modes of travel (which includes public transit, btw).

    In my opinion if he defends his positive-only coverage of bikes by saying, “I want the tone of the site to be positive and inspiring”, then it stands to reason that this standard should apply to all stories, no matter what the subject, otherwise he’s just being a hypocrite.

    I bike to work every day of the week, I believe wholeheartedly in building out the bike (and transit) infrastructure in this city, and I know that bikers (such as myself) by and large pay their own way through payroll taxes (the aforementioned highway fund bailout) and through the registration fees and gas taxes that most bikers pay (because a large percentage of bikers also own a car). My complaint is merely that Jonathan isn’t being consistent or rigorous in his coverage of bike news.

  22. I have noticed many roads around here being repaved with an annoying frequency. I have suggested to METRO this could be an area for savings. I can understand something like I-5 having to be repaired after last winter’s snowstorm. But I have seen many thoroughfares undergoing extensive repaving—when, to my knowledge, there was no significant damage.

    Perhaps this could be a source of funds. Anyone know why this repaving is done so frequently? There is a lot that goes into repaving a road like 99E or Hwy 212.

  23. Anthony: Somewhere over 80% of bikers also own a car and pay a car registration fee (and gas taxes) that pay for road construction, even on roads that they can’t use their bikes on. Why should someone who rides a bike 5 days a week on an off-road trail like the Springwater or on a bike boulevard like Clinton have to pay for construction on MLK, 26, 39th, or Powell? Especially when you consider that the damage they do to the roads vis-a-vis cars and trucks is almost negligible? Perhaps because it’s for the greater good?

    I’ve never really understood why folks who drive wouldn’t get behind the funding of more bike facilities. Every person on a bike is one fewer person in a car, battling with you for space on 99e. If Portland does achieve a 20-25% mode share the roads are going to be a lot easier to drive, all for a fraction of what it would cost to expand I-5 by one lane in each direction.

  24. Jonathan,

    It sounds like you’re done talking, but I’d like to add that your update to the story does nothing to address my concerns. You interviewed the Board Chair and you printed his take on things without any opposing view or analysis of your own. The story acts more or less as a public relations article for the BTA.

    I don’t think you have to give both sides of the story equal weight, but shouldn’t you critically examine what the BTA says and at least pass judgment on whether it passes the smell test? Roberts says that Scott’s strengths were lobbying, advocacy and policy development, and he was let go because “those aren’t the strengths of running a bigger kind of organization.” Later on in your story she says:

    “they want to focus more on building public pressure on politicians and decision makers to get more funding for bikeways. ‘I think the day has come where we need to be a more aggressive organization… and get our members to speak out more, and make sure we are applying pressure in the right places.’”

    Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds like what they’re looking for is someone who knows how to lobby politicians and is a advocate for positions… strengths attributed one paragraph earlier to Scott Bricker.

    Like I said earlier, if your goal is to “stay positive” then you’ve got to be consistent and actually stay positive. In my opinion it’s much more interesting if you cast a critical eye at your subject, which means that you ask follow-up questions when the BTA feeds you an obvious bullshit line like the one above.

  25. Pointless to have a healthy debate with someone who dodges comments.

    No one said anything about motorists, wear and tear, and/or mode share.

  26. Ron,

    I was a little perplexed why they decided to repave 405 this year, it seemed perfectly fine to me before they started repaving.

    One reason for the more-frequent-than-normal repavings might have to do with the amount of rain we get. Back when I-84 was repaved (5 years ago now?) the road surface was fine, except for the fact that there were little valleys in each lane where cars most often drove. They didn’t affect normal driving, but during the rainy season they’d fill with water and could cause people to hydroplane. That may have been the main issue driving the repaving, or maybe it was just normal maintenance.

  27. Anthony: My point was that the vast majority of bikers already pay for their infrastructure through payroll tax and car registration fees and fuel taxes. Why should they be taxed twice?

  28. Repaving an interstate where the speeds are high should have more priority than a street where the speeds are 35 or a highway with a posted 45. What I have seen goes on everywhere.

  29. Good point. Since I already pay payroll tax, registration fees, and fuel tax on one of my cars, I should be able to drive my truck tax free.

    Great planning!

  30. Anthony: I’m a cyclist, I don’t pay car tabs anymore. I, for one, would rather not have to subsidize some rich asshole’s plaything. Cars are a luxury item.

  31. Anthony: Fair point. You’ve dismissed my previous point about a cyclists negligible impact on road wear vs cars and trucks, though I still think it’s valid. Nevertheless, given the criteria I listed above you definitely caught me.

  32. I don’t like the argument that bikes pay taxes because they also drive–the taxes paid because of car use are paid for car use, not for bicycle use. But bicycles shouldn’t have to pay direct taxes for bicycling because:
    1) many rides, especially on specialized infrastructure like the Springwater Corridor, are for recreation and not transportation
    2) bike rides on low-traffic streets use the car lanes that are already there (and bike boulevards also benefit neighborhoods though street calming)
    3) bikes don’t pollute and car users often don’t pay for their pollution, oil defense or parking (which is much more expensive than bike parking)
    4) same for some road projects
    5) obesity is a real problem and Americans need exercise

  33. Doug: The I-405 repaving I assume was in large part due to the water pooling issues. It was pretty bad when significant rainfall happened.

    I also recently heard someone complaining about a street in NW being repaved, but it was utility work. The utility paid to re-pave it when they were done, but had to get under the street. It’s not always just repaving to do it.

  34. Funding infrastructure is a major issue. The gas tax has not kept up with inflation, etc. I’m not opposed to new taxes on bikes but the practicality of it is difficult as evidenced by the number of municipalities who have tried and gone away from bike registration fees. Think how many of us grew up in places where you registered your bike. How many still have them? College campuses seem to be the only ones that have the ability to enforce them.

    So do you tax bike tires, accessories, etc? Maybe. How about tolling the Hawthorne Bridge. Maybe that works but it ignores folks who don’t cross the river.

    Tigard has a street maintenance fee that is assessed in your utility bill. It is per household and doesn’t matter what type of vehicle you drive, how far you drive, how often you drive. Seems reasonably fair to me.

    We are all taxed for services we don’t use. I pay for the public school system at the same rate that someone in a comparable house with 5 kids pays. Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not. And then there are pedestrians, runners, wheelchair users, which ones of them should pay for the Eastbank Esplanade, Springwater Corridor, sidewalks and the shoulder of roads?

  35. Motorists, exclusively, for all of those, of course: If you can afford a car, you can afford higher car fees.

    The Springwater Corridor and the 205 cycleway proved that you can go 20+ years between repaves (or really, much of any maintenance at all beyond occasionally restriping the lane markings every summer).

  36. Paul Johnson,

    That’s a ridiculous assertion. I sold my previous car (in working condition) for $500, I purchased my last bike for $1200. Does the person who bought a $500 car have more money than the person who bought the $1200 bike? Does someone who rides a Vanilla have less or more money than someone who drives a Daewoo?

    Whether someone rides a bike–especially in a town like Portland where the used market is RIDICULOUSLY overinflated–does not correlate in any way to their income level.

    Put in the simple terms you prefer to use: if you can afford a Chris King headset, you can afford to pay bike fees.

  37. Not saying there aren’t luxury bike riders, just that they’re not exactly increasing the impact of roads. The 1200 pound $500 used car is, and you can live without the car. The big cost is maintenance, not so much the one-time cost of building the bicycle infrastructure.

  38. for whatever motorists do pay for, there are myriad other costs they do _not_ pay for. in the coming years, they will. yes, they will.

    and that’s all i have to say about that. :)

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