Portland promotes urban cycling, but costs will be high
The eco-conscious city plans to build more than 680 miles of new bikeways in the coming two decades at a cost of $613 million.
The 2030 Portland Bicycle Plan, envisioning a future when 25 percent of trips are made by bike, is expected to coast to approval when it goes before the City Council today.Skip to next paragraph
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It's easy to green-light America's most ambitious investment in bicycling when it would be funded down the road. But according to city transportation officials, the plan to build 681 miles of new bikeways over the next 20 years will eventually cost $613 million.
By comparison, the MAX Green Line cost $575 million, and all transportation projects in the metro area add up to about $630 million a year.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams doesn't flinch at the estimated cost. He talks of making neighborhoods more livable, transportation more affordable and reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
"Can we do those things without this bike plan?" Mayor. Adams says. "I think it would be very difficult."
Critics think the mayor and cycling advocates are dreaming. For starters, the plan would require a new steady revenue stream.
"They want to make bicycling more attractive than driving for all trips of three miles or less," says John Charles, president of the Cascade Policy Institute. "Nothing they do is going to make that happen for most people."
The plan calls for an expansive interconneted bicycle network, new street designs and an array of education programs. It also mandates studying funding concepts in coming months.
Some ideas — licensing and registration fees for bicyclists, a citywide sales tax on new bikes and advertising in bike lanes — would target just cyclists. But a proposed "green transportation" bond would ask everyone to pay.
Even with the economy dragging, the bike plan is optimistic about property-tax increases because "Portland residents have repeatedly shown strong support for funding sustainable or green spaces initiatives."
With hope, some city officials point to Washington County. There, voters have repeatedly approved new property taxes to build 123 miles of bike lanes through the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program. Of course, that 25-year-old road tax has always benefited more than one mode of commuting.
From the widening of Oleson Road to the Verboort roundabout, every improvement includes sidewalks for pedestrians and bike lanes (or at least wider shoulders) for cyclists. "Everyone chips in," says county spokeswoman Anne Madden, "and everyone benefits."
By 2012, the Washington County program's $555 million in property-tax revenue is expected to have completed 111 projects on what were narrow farming roads a century ago.
By contrast, the 2030 Portland Bike Plan for the most part calls for separate funding sources for two-wheeled commuters.
Portland's first Bicycle Master Plan was adopted in 1996. With only modest investment, the bicycle network has since doubled to more than 300 miles, and bike commuting has boomed.
Last fall, the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey data showed 6.4 percent of Portlanders reported bicycling to work in 2008, a big jump from 4 percent the year before.