“Since Metro seems to be easily cowed by the minority nowadays, and we have mayors who think its okay to flout the law, its time for a lawsuit.”
— Rex Burkholder, former Metro councilor
As we shared on Wednesday, the mayors of 21 of the 25 cities represented by Metro have signed a letter that calls for changes to a draft version of the Regional Active Transportation Plan (ATP) that would render it powerless. They say the wording in the plan is too strong, that it’s a “mandate”, and that if it’s absorbed into the all-powerful Regional Transportation Plan, the biking and walking projects in the ATP would wrestle precious funding from other road projects.
Yesterday that topic came up again at a meeting of regional leaders at Metro headquarters. Remember, at issue here is only a non-binding “resolution of acknowledgment” for work done on the plan thus far. Since the plan is being developed with some federal funding, a vote by Metro council to acknowledge its progress is required by the feds. But this vote has struck fear in the hearts of mayors from suburban cities surrounding Portland. What are they afraid of? Why do they want to delay this plan and weaken its language?
There’s more to this debate than just whether or not these mayors support more investment in biking and walking. While some of them surely oppose the thought of “taking away” money from more traditional road projects, others likely just don’t trust Metro. This tense relationship was clear in a meeting of Metro’s transportation advisory committee on August 1st.
At that meeting, Lake McTighe, Metro’s point person on the ATP, spoke about the urgent need for this plan: “While our roadway network is fairly complete, our regional bike network is only 50% complete and on major pedestrian corridors only 62% of them have sidewalks. Our trail network is only 30% complete. It’s hard to expect substantive outcomes for biking and walking when you have an incomplete network.”
During a comment period following McTighe’s presentation, Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers singled out those comments. “The only correction I would make is when you say we have a fairly complete transportation system that’s not something we think we have. We cringe. If you want to come out to Washington County and change that wording a bit it probably would resonate a little better than telling us we have a complete network.”
But raising the flag about the word choice of a Metro staffer is one thing. Attempting to delay and neuter a major transportation plan is another. Rex Burkholder, a former Metro Councilor, says the mayors are simply doing whatever they can to avoid constructing bike infrastructure in their cities.
“The true intent of those who propose “weasel” words like “should,” “encourage,” “seek to” etc [referring to the mayors’ attempts to change the wording of the plan’s recommendations] is to avoid providing bike facilities required by state law,” Burkholder wrote in a comment here on BikePortland this week. Burkholder then cited the Oregon statute (ORS 366.514) that stipulates the federal mandate that requires transportation funding “shall be expended” to provide “footpaths and bicycle trails.”
“Note use of the word “shall.” No weasel word here. Since Metro seems to be easily cowed by the minority nowadays, and we have mayors who think its okay to flout the law, its time for a lawsuit,” Burkholder wrote.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has also now responded to this flare-up at Metro over the ATP plan. According to a Metro News story, Hales didn’t sign the letter because, “he didn’t think the plan is prescriptive, and that people who are walking or riding bikes don’t pay attention to city boundaries.” Here are more of Hales’ comments as reported by Metro:
“They want to get from here to there, so Metro’s doing what it needs to do in this case, which is lay down those maps of existing conditions and needed improvements in each mode,” Hales said. “I’m not interested in any erosion of that basic principle.”
He said some of his mayoral colleagues have an “underlying fear of Metro’s authority.”
“In this case, it’s just the authority to get us to work together,” Hales said. “I was just talking to a couple of the mayors after the meeting, and I think the revisions we’ve made to the draft have calmed those fears enough. I hope so.”
Metro Council is scheduled to hold a vote on the plan next month. We’ll keep you posted how it turns out.