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Council, east Portland endorse bike plan


With widespread encouragement, including that of several Mid-county activists, the Portland City Council unanimously approved a new Bicycle Master Plan last month. The 30-year plan would add 900 miles of new bike routes to the city over the course of 30 years.

Project Manager Ellen Vanderslice said there will be an emphasis on bike boulevards (routes along low-traffic-volume streets where cyclists and motorists informally share the road); cycle tracks (where bike lanes are separated from traffic by a physical barrier) and off-road trails. The intent is to lure the large number of Portlanders classified as being “interested but concerned” to bicycling.

“We're seeking to create low-stress bikeways that will make new riders feel safer and more comfortable,” Vanderslice told council. The intent - on full build-out - is to ensure that most Portlanders live within a quarter-mile of a low-stress route. More than half of all trips in Portland are three miles or less in length, making them ideal for bicycling. “We want to make the benefits of cycling available to all Portlanders,” she said.

Other aspects of the plan call for continuation of the Safe Routes to School program, which uses education and public improvements to encourage children to ride to school, and use of community policing programs to change bad behavior by bicyclists or motorists.

Transportation Planner Roger Geller extolled the virtues of the plan, which he argued benefited all Portlanders. “A sedentary lifestyle is associated with the aging process. On average, you save a dollar in health care costs for every mile you cycle. Vehicle emissions are responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gases. Bicyclists make good customers and, not surprisingly, we now have bike corrals in all major shopping districts. The less we drive, the fewer very, very expensive transportation projects will have to be built. If we can make this work, we will achieve all these measurable benefits. And, did I mention, it's fun.”

The plan is both thorough and flexible, he said. “It gives you all the tools to implement it in a modest or aggressive manner. It will make us not just a great bicycle city, but a great city, period.”

Several people who testified argued that increasing bike ridership benefited the city as a whole by reducing the number of cars on the roadway. Two members of the industrial and freight community, Corky Collier and Jeff Swanson, said they favored the plan in general, as long as it didn't interfere with designated freight routes.

East Portland residents were strongly represented among those who testified for the plan. Jim Chasse of Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood said that, during a gasoline shortage, “Suddenly people were riding bikes everywhere because they couldn't afford $4 a gallon.” Chasse himself started riding, and the money he saved allowed him to buy a new bike. He praised the city for extending the Sunday Parkways event, where traffic is blocked off on a six-mile route of local streets, to east Portland; it will occur on July 18. “I urge council to adopt this plan,” he said.

Another Powellhurst-Gilbert activist, Chair Mark White, urged early creation of a bike boulevard on Southeast Bush Street from 108th to 113th avenues. “It goes by three schools with a total of 1,900 students who will all potentially benefit. The piece of mind of their parents would increase exponentially. I look forward to the coming years as the plan is implemented throughout Portland.”

Parkrose School Board and East Portland Action Plan Citizen Advisory Committee member Katie Larsell said that EPAP was “one of the best things that ever happened to this part of town. When it comes to bikes, the outer east side needs help.” Implementation of the bike plan here “would have a disproportionately positive effect. It would put more eyes on the street. Because of our difficult infrastructure, we need build-out.” However, she said, this area, with 25 percent of the city's population, stands to receive only $1 million in federal stimulus implementation dollars, while the central city would get $10 million. “We need proactive investment.”

Mayor Sam Adams, who has direct charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, explained that some stimulus money can only be used for shovel-ready projects. In the future, he said, there will be a more equal distribution of expenditures by geography. He had mentioned earlier the proposed Sullivan's Gulch trail, which would connect Gateway to the East Bank Esplanade without intersecting a street.

Susan Dean, another EPAP CAC member, thanked the city for Sunday Parkways and said she commutes by bike daily but added, “Women make up just 19 percent of east Portland bicyclists, the lowest percentage in the city. Please don't make me wait until I'm 75 (to) ride on a low-stress bike route.”

David Hampsten of Hazelwood likewise gave thanks for Sunday Parkways and said he supported the plan “not because it will make Portland a bike utopia, but because it will encourage people not to use their cars for short trips. It will make it unnecessary for us to build a 20-lane bridge,” a reference to the proposed Columbia River Crossing. “This is one step in the right direction.”

The plan had some opponents. Recent press coverage mentioned that the total cost of build-out would be between $500 and $600 million, and some who testified apparently assumed this would be a lump-sum appropriation. Rose City Park neighborhood activist Terry Parker had more fundamental objections. “Most bicyclists are your basic freeloaders that act like spoiled children who want all the frills of specialized and exclusive infrastructure as long as someone else pays for it. Any bicycle infrastructure and any bicycling indoctrination agenda must be funded with licenses and fees directly assessed on bicyclists only, not from siphoning off motorist-paid taxes and fees and not with any other taking such as a backdoor tax on utility bills or bond measures that must be paid by the general public. Things like public golf courses, swimming pools, tennis centers, etc., are all funded with user fees, and so must bicycle infrastructure be funded with user fees coming directly from the wallets of the bicyclists that use it - not from other rustled sources…

“Additionally, there should be no taking away of existing motor vehicle infrastructure and/or parking to accommodate bike infrastructure. Reducing motor vehicle capacity and thereby creating more traffic congestion is unacceptable…

“Currently, the majority of bicyclists clearly demonstrate they are not ready to accept responsibility when they arrogantly refuse to follow even the simplest of traffic rules and safety control devices. Strict enforcement with hefty fines, and not just education, is needed to keep bicyclists in compliance with the law.”

Donna Cohen complained of bicycle-pedestrian conflicts, saying that in her experience bicyclists that follow the rules of the road regarding pedestrians are the exception rather than the rule. Conflict with seniors could result in injuries that could permanently affect their health and well-being, she said.

Michelle Poyourow of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, responding to the charge that the plan is too expensive, asked, “Compared to what? The plan (cost) compares to one mile of freeway, one light rail line, health care costs. We urge you to accept this excellent plan. It's the best step we can take to make Portland a safe, hustling, livable city. Find new funding sources and build it.”

Asked by Commissioner Amanda Fritz about Cohen's charges of bad bike behavior toward pedestrians, Poyourow said, “We can do more outreach and education on how to properly operate a bicycle. I was a terrible bicyclist and now I'm much more careful and polite, and others are too.” As more people bicycle, riding etiquette will be established through peer pressure and culture, she said.

Longtime bike advocate Mia Burke said the plan “isn't anti-car, it just makes bicycling more irresistible.”
Adams said he and his staff would look under every rock to find funding for the plan, but that it didn't currently exist. He then added, “One thing is certain: you don't get funding until you have something to sell.”

A week later, Adams suggested allocating $20 million in cost savings from the Big Pipe sewer project. Other council members said they were interested in the idea but wanted to study it before approving it. “The devil is in the details,” Commissioner Randy Leonard said.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman said, “I need to see the details, but I fully embrace the concept. If we waited until we had funding before we did something, we'd never have a streetcar.”

“Some have said we can't afford to do this,” Adams said. “I say we can't afford not to.”

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