Friday, June 7, 2013

State Funding of Bike Pedestrian Programs Op-Ed

The Problem:
When we look at the current trend of the Federal Government they have gotten out of the business of funding large infrastructure project in United States. The current US Secretary of Transportation has had pressure put on him to make the budget for infrastructure funding even smaller at the state level. Programs like “safe routes to schools” and “National Transportation Alternative Clearinghouse” have been cut back drastically and are leaving the majority of the free money for investment in the programs that support bike and pedestrian infrastructure gone. This brings into to question whether our growing population of bikers in Portland will slowly begin to decline and our goals of becoming “Bike City, USA” will disappear as well.

The Solution:
 In our current budget there are many restrictive factors tying our state funds to other projects. With education, traffic infrastructure, public safety being a few the state is on the hook for a lot of funds and struggling to remain afloat. The Federal specific funds had enabled the state of Oregon to invest in bike and pedestrian with little effort and no change to our general fund are on the way out. With this being said it is time for use to make take the lead and pick up the programs at a state level that are good for the state and the overall bike and pedestrian environment. This could also mean expanding requirements of new development to include desired bike and pedestrian features as well as allotting funds from the general  budget for expansion of these amenities.  

2011-2013 General Fund and Lottery Funds
Total: $14.8 Billion | Total Education: $7.4 Billion

Source: Legislative Fiscal Office
Looking to the grants that come to the state with no strings attached from the federal government and how the funding is spent normally  shows that these funds do not normally make their way to non-motorized development. This is a strong indicator that the state needs to re-evaluate the worth of these programs. Then to make decision to fund even if from the states general budget and have goals that ave inbuilt accountable for the percentages of funds that are to making their way to these programs. While we have seen major development for bikes happen within Portland (four fold growth since 1990 [3]) to meet the 2030 Bicycle Plans goals of having 25% of all trips in the city be by bikes more work is needed. The large jump of funding on the chart seen below is due to the Recovery Act that allotted one time funds and some made their way to bike and pedestrian development. Now that these funds have been spent we need to decide how to fund these programs.

                                         Fig. 2. Annual federal funding for cycling and walking, 1988–2009.

                          Fig. 4. Bicycle share of workers and average annual fatality rate per 10,000 cyclists, 2004–2009.
                            SourcesUSDOC, 2009USDOC, 2010a and Statistics Canada, 2010; and injury data collected by the                    authors directly from the case study cities.

We can see that we have a good share of bikers on our roads in comparison to other cities as well as a relatively small number of fatalities. This trend has been attributes to the large amounts of bike planning and development of our bike networks. Without access to funding sources we will eventually reach capacity for some of these facilities, some people think we are already there at least in the summer, and this will lead to a decline in the safety. “The cornerstone of Portland’s policy package is the steadily expanding and improving bikeway network, consisting of bike paths and lanes as well as superbly designed bike boulevards through residential neighborhoods. The city has continuously improved the safety, convenience, and connectivity of its bikeways. Every year, many intersections are redesigned by installing bike boxes (advance stop lines), priority signage, and advance green lights for cyclists. [3]” There has been a new bike tax proposed but this will still leave us short of the amount of funds needed for expansion of bike infrastructure.  

With the funding sources for these programs at the axe what can be done beyond just the state stepping in to supplement funding? If we look to the idea of crowdsourcing it is becoming more and more popular in many different fields. Portland States own Ethan Seltzer recently published an article about crowdsourcing’s importance to the field of planning [2]. If we are creative though we can find a way to connect crowdsourcing to funding of infrastructure projects especially ones that are close to peoples residences. Members of the community are stake holders in development of projects and some projects have found a way to have them be financial providers as well.

There is a new pedestrian walkway in Rotterdam, Netherland that recently had success with this model.  “The walkway’s length, they were warned, depended on the volume of donations. Within three months do-gooders had stumped up a third of the cash needed to build its full 350-metre span (a government award has since topped that up). Had they left council bean-counters to plan it, says Kristian Koreman, its architect, Rotterdam’s residents might have waited two decades to get their bridge off the ground. [1].”  Keeping this in mind if the state took up some of the old role of the federal government by being the 50%-60% backer then individual cities with the help of citizens could possibly raise the remaining funds needed to expand some programs.

By involving a crowdsourcing method as well the individual cities would open themselves to a much larger pool of creativity when looking to the solving of some infrastructure projects. It all starts with the State making choices on the areas that they think are worth investing in, or channeling federal funds in these directions. We can hope to take notes from other European Nations or creative ways to bring the bikes home to Portland.     

[1] "Civic Crowdfunding Breaking Ground." The Economist 18 May 2013: 66-67. The Economist. Web. 6 June 2013.

[2] Seltzer, Ethan, and Dillion Mahmoudi. "Citizen Participation, Open Innovation, and Crowdsourcing: Challenges and Opportunities for Planning." Journal of Planning Literature 28 (2013): 3-18. Sage Journals. Web. 6 May 2013. <>.

[3] Pucher, John, Ralph Buehler, and Mark Seinen. "Bicycling Renaissance In North America? An Update And Re-Appraisal Of Cycling Trends And Policies." Transportation Research Part A: Policy & Practice 45.6 (2011): 451-475. Environment Complete. Web. 4 June 2013.

1 comment:

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