Comment of the week: A close look at street fee alternatives

Comment of the week: A close look at street fee alternatives

Today’s BikePortland comments, tomorrow’s news.

Reader MaxD’s Tuesday afternoon comment looking closely at the stated goals and options for the city’s per-household and per-business street fee plan didn’t hit on the same alternatives Commissioner Steve Novick’s office turned out to be looking at, but his detailed analysis anticipated them.

Here’s what MaxD wrote:

If the purpose of the Street Fee is to maintain roads and increase safety, then the causes of damage and threats to safety must be identified, and strategies for mitigating these must be considered. In my opinion, there are many synergistic ways to approach this problem that reduce damage and minimize threats while raising money.
Causes of road damage
1. Heavy vehicles
2. Studded tires
3. Slow-moving turns
4. Rain

Threats to safety
1. Speeding
2. Distracted drivers
3. Drunk drivers
4. Road rage
5. Unsafe intersections or lack of traffic control/lighting
6. Unsafe lane allocations/traffic control; not enough space or instruction for all users

Potential sources of funding for maintenance
1. Local Gas Tax tied to inflation; simple to administer.
2. Parking: increase meter fees, expand collection times, expand metered areas, raise fees for permits, and expand permit areas.
3. Tax surface parking lots to raise fees or encourage redevelopment.
4. Add fees to vehicle registration based on vehicle weight; more weight = higher fee.
5. Massive surcharge to use studded tires.
6. Work with legislators to get speed/red light cameras, and spread throughout City.
7. Work with judges to stop reducing fines for traffic violations, and increase fines (double or triple)

Ways to increase safety that does not cost or raise money
1. Get rid of “beg buttons” throughout the City; allow pedestrians to cross at every signal and every phase.
2. Eliminate traffic movements on red signals to encourage drivers to wait before the stop bars and protect pedestrians
3. Eliminate slip lanes and on- and off-ramps at all local bridges forcing traffic to use the street grid to navigate.
4. Remove lanes from the bridges and convert to bike lanes. Bridges are used as speedways now, and bikes and pedestrians are forced to share sidewalks. Slow traffic on bridges and create safe, comfortable ways to cross the rivers.
5. Resist highway expansion within City limits that will lead to increased air pollution in urban neighborhoods.
6. Provide crosswalks at the foot of each bridge
7. Remove on-street parking to close the many gaps in the City’s bikeways.
8. Start a City-wide, monthly street-sweeping program. Tow and fine all cars in the way to help offset any costs. This would remove disabled vehicles, create streets better suited to pedestrians and bikes, and protect our rivers from harmful pollutants.

Reasons not to employ the Street Fee
1. Regressive tax: adds a disproportionate burden on poorer citizens and low-car households.
2. Potential net loss for PBOT’s budget: With a funding stream for PBOT, the City’s general fund could allocate less to PBOT, The Street Fee becomes a larger percentage of the budget, other projects get prioritized, safety needs remain unmet, and we are back to square one.
3. The Street Fee encourages sprawl by not actually being a user fee (suburban subsidy!)
4. Unhelpfully double-taxes schools, parks, TriMET, other bureaus; this is counter-productive and a waste of administrative resources and public money.
5. Does not charge daily commuters from suburbs or freight-haulers. These are necessary for Portland, put they place a huge burden on our infrastructure and they should pay instead of getting subsidized.

Motorized vehicles cause the damage and pose the threats to safety. The City has everything it needs to improve safety today by slowing traffic and increasing enforcement. New revenue streams for transportation must target street users and reward alternative transportation, fewer trips and smaller vehicles. With population forecasts of hundreds of thousands of new Citizens in the next 20 years, it is incumbent on the City now to create policy that supports alternative transportation and discourages Single-Occupant Vehicle trips within Portland. The Street Fee is a step back in Portland’s trajectory of good Urban Planning because it supports and subsidizes personal automobile use. The consideration to decrease the spending on safety is moving this conversation even farther in the wrong direction.

It’d certainly be possible to rebut many of MaxD’s points here — asking a school to pay the costs of its operation isn’t the same as “double-taxing”; several of these would require state action rather than local — but his basic point that there are more ways that one to skin a cat, is pretty powerful.

As Novick considers a local income tax, or at least threatens business executives with one, let’s hope he’s also hearing critiques as thorough as MaxD’s.

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