Portland Advocates Won’t Settle for Business-as-Usual Highway Spending

Even Portland still pours most of its regional transportation money into highways. But a new advocacy coalition is calling for change. Photo:  Bike Portland
Even Portland still pours most of its regional transportation money into highways. But a new advocacy coalition is calling for change. Photo: Bike Portland

Advocates in Portland are challenging the region’s business-as-usual approach to transportation planning. They’re sick of roads getting most of the funding pie, while transit gets a small slice and biking and walking get crumbs.

The region’s big players — including the state DOT and Portland’s major transit agency, TriMet — are working behind closed doors on a funding measure that would reportedly pay for three highway widening projects and one transit project. But a new, broad-based coalition is not going to settle for table scraps.

They’re demanding “‘dollar-for-dollar’ investment in biking, walking, and transit projects,” reports Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland:

This new letter is a serious ratcheting up of opposition to the mysterious funding proposal. Its signatories include: 1000 Friends of Oregon Deputy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy; AARP Oregon State Director Gerald Cohen; Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon Associate Director Duncan Hwang; Associate Director; Community Cycling Center Communications and Marketing Manager Steph Routh; OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon Deputy Director Vivian Satterfield; Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry; Safe Routes to School National Partnership Regional Policy Manager Kari Schlosshauer; The Street Trust Policy Director Gerik Kranksy; and Welcome Home Coalition Director Jess Larson.

The collaboration of these groups marks a significant step forward in regional advocacy for active transportation.

It’s important to note this coalition doesn’t oppose the freeway expansions. They say they’ll only support a package that also funds biking, walking and transit at commensurate levels with highway projects.

The coalition then highlighted four local funding measures that recently passed in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and Atlanta. The common theme in all of them was significant investment for biking, walking and transit.

“Yet, the Portland Metro region appears,” the letter continued, “to only give serious consideration to spot freeway expansions and one new light rail line that will serve a portion of the region, neglecting a broad focus on our shared climate, livability, equity, and safety goals.”

More recommended reading today: Streets.mn calls on professional planners to make public meetings less awful for the average person. And Darin Givens says Atlanta leaders are failing to deliver walkable development along the streetcar route on historic Auburn Avenue area.

  • TakeFive

    So, they’re comparing a (needed) highway proposal with a light rail component to transit measures in four different cities? Admittedly Measure M has a freeway component but it’s primarily transit. BTW, both the states of Washington and Georgia added a $billion annually to their state DOT’s in 2015.

  • MR Mr

    Any city needs to base transportation costs on usage. Most people drive so that’s where the money should go. You can’t base everything on just being fair. I know the snowflakes like that theory but that’s not how the real world works.

  • John French

    You are ignoring the fact that usage patterns are influenced by infrastructure. Basing transportation spending on usage has the effect of reinforcing existing usage patterns. Build more roads, and people will drive more.

    Cities need to decide what their future should look like, and build the infrastructure that leads to that future. The relationships between transportation usage and infrastructure, and between urban form and transportation systems, are not one-way.

  • Guy Ross

    ‘the real world works’ by paying for what you are using. Especially if its use is optional. If you wish to have the budget used for your use, then pay the appropriate taxes/fees to support it. Park on the street? Pay for the time you stored your property on a public space. Drive on the roads? Pay for the cost of that activity. Until this happens and you advocate for it, don’t come to us speaking of ‘snowflakes’.

  • MR Mr

    Cars rule the road snowflake. Sorry you can’t have your bike utopia but it’s never going to happen.

  • Eric Crookston

    I missed the part where drivers don’t pay taxes, parking, etc. Please explain.

  • Miles Bader

    Easy solution: ban cars.

    Then nobody will drive, so there’s no excuse to spend any money on subsidizing auto transport like most U.S. cities do today.

  • Miles Bader

    I look at it this way: systems have a way of getting stuck in local minima.

    To get out of a local minima you need to occasionally take a temporarily non-optimal route, in return for big future payoff.

  • Kevin Crawford

    “Most people drive”. Yep. And most people don’t have any safe alternatives, so no wonder.

  • Guy Ross

    Oh, some pay for public parking once in a while and reg for a hundred or two… no one is disputing that. It is just that if you really want to actually pay for what you are using, you would need to pay over double in direct costs (infrastructure build and maintenance and add to that indirect costs of medical care for injuries, massive policing budgets, property value loss, pollution, wars, etc…

    There is a reason gas in Europe is 5 bucks a gallon, and it’s not because governments are getting rich off drivers….

  • Guy Ross

    You win with ‘snowflake’. Thanks for your constructive engagement.

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TriMet's Neil McFarlane is perfectly willing to undermine transit with highway expansions. His agency will get a light rail expansion in the bargain. Photo:  Bike Portland

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