Portland, Oregon is already a model city in many ways, including an impressive public transit system and a high rate of bicycle commuting. Now, reports Joseph Rose of The Oregonian/Associated Press, Portland’s City Council is poised to approve a $613 million plan that would build 681 new miles of bike lanes over the next two decades.
Rose collects a couple of different perspectives on the plan. Mayor Sam Adams thinks it’ll be hard for the city to reach its goals of increasing neighborhood livability and transportation affordability while slashing greenhouse gas emissions. John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute (which “promotes property rights, incentives, markets and decentralized decision-making”) expresses skepticism about the plan’s ability to meet its goal of making cycling more attractive than driving for trips of under three miles.
That’s an ambitious goal, but it’s based on years of research. Rose explains that the Portland Transportation Bureau has been conducting surveys and outreach for years, and now categorizes 60% of the city’s residents as interested in cycling but concerned about their ability to do so. New bike lanes and altered road designs in the plan will make cycling safer, and more attractive to those who may be reluctant to brave biking in traffic.
Then, there’s the question of cost.
The initiative will require new tax funding, some of which will fall solely on cyclists and some across the city as a whole. Asking all taxpayers to pitch in is fitting, since each person who rides a bike rather than driving reduces congestion, road wear-and-tear, and either parking space usage or public transit costs for everyone else. Shifting from driving to cycling can also allow for denser development, which can also bring environmental and quality-of-life benefits, and promote business growth in high-density areas.
Rose compares the plan’s 20-year cost of $681 million to the one-year cost of $630 million for all metro-area transportation projects. Devoting slightly more than one-twentieth of an annual transportation budget to the cycling plan sounds like a good investment to me. Portland bicycling transportation coordinator Roger Geller also notes that the project will have several opportunities for future federal funding, so the city may not be on the hook for the total cost.
Geller also estimates that the money going to the cycling plan could only build roughly 12 miles of urban freeway. By contrast, a plan that will get people out of their cars and onto bicycles seems like a smart investment.
Most cities can’t compare to Portland in terms of cycling enthusiasm and already-existing bike infrastructure. (Their relatively mild climate probably helps, too.) But they can follow Portland’s example of researching residents’ feelings towards cycling and setting long-range goals for sustainable transportation.