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Category: 2013 legislative session

‘Outer Powell’ project gets $4.9 million for street safety improvements

‘Outer Powell’ project gets $4.9 million for street safety improvements

People walking - SE Powell at 93rd-1

Walking on SE Powell Blvd is set to get easier thanks to funding recently approved by the Oregon Legislature.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

SE 136th Press Conference-7

State Rep. Shemia Fagan has put state
money where her mouth is when
it comes to east Portland.

In a significant show of state support for safety and walkability on Powell Boulevard in East Portland, Oregon’s legislature has voted to devote $4.9 million to “sidewalks, crosswalks, and lane widening” on Southeast Powell Boulevard between 111th and 174th avenues.

It’s the work of State Rep. Shemia Fagan, who back in June memorably described her constituents’ infrastructure needs as “sidewalks, sidewalks, sidewalks.” After the death this spring of five-year-old East Portlander Morgan Cook, Fagan promised to pursue funding to improve safety on nearby streets.

She’s about to get it. The money will be awarded to the Oregon Department of Transportation in the annual “Christmas Tree” bill approved by both legislative houses and currently awaits an expected signature from Gov. John Kitzhaber. It’s part of the same passage that will, with additional funding from the City of Portland, put sidewalks and crosswalks on Southeast 136th Avenue by next fall.

The Powell improvements will be a down payment on the Outer Powell Boulevard Design Plan, approved by Portland City Council last year, which aims to eventually add 12-foot sidewalks, a center median and 8-foot buffered bike lanes to the state highway from Interstate 204 to the city limits at 174th.

Here’s what the corridor looks like now, for example at 150th Avenue:


View Larger Map

“This money allows ODOT to begin planning actual projects,” Fagan’s legislative aide Eric Franz wrote in an email. “The timeline will be a little longer than 136th, but it’s real money going to a real project, not just planning.

It’s heartening to see this money start to improve the scene on a highway that’s sometimes used as a cautionary example of the sort of road Portland doesn’t want any more of.

How much money is $4.9 million? Well, for context, it’s:

UPDATED: ‘Outer Powell’ project gets $4.9 million for street safety improvements

UPDATED: ‘Outer Powell’ project gets $4.9 million for street safety improvements

People walking - SE Powell at 93rd-1

Walking on SE Powell Blvd is set to get easier thanks to funding recently approved by the Oregon Legislature.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

SE 136th Press Conference-7

State Rep. Shemia Fagan has put state money where her mouth is when it comes to east Portland.

In a significant show of state support for safety and walkability on Powell Boulevard in East Portland, Oregon’s legislature has voted to devote $4.9 million to sidewalks, crosswalks, and wider bike lanes on Southeast Powell Boulevard between 111th and 174th avenues.

It’s the work of State Rep. Shemia Fagan, who back in June memorably described her constituents’ infrastructure needs as “sidewalks, sidewalks, sidewalks.” After the death this spring of five-year-old East Portlander Morgan Cook, Fagan promised to pursue funding to improve safety on nearby streets.

She’s about to get it. The money will be awarded to the Oregon Department of Transportation in the annual “Christmas Tree” bill approved by both legislative houses and currently awaits an expected signature from Gov. John Kitzhaber. It’s part of the same passage that will, with additional funding from the City of Portland, put sidewalks and crosswalks on Southeast 136th Avenue by next fall.

The Powell improvements will be a down payment on the Outer Powell Boulevard Design Plan, approved by Portland City Council last year, which aims to eventually add 12-foot sidewalks, a center median and 8-foot buffered bike lanes to the state highway from Interstate 204 to the city limits at 174th.

Here’s what the corridor looks like now, for example at 150th Avenue:


View Larger Map

“This money allows ODOT to begin planning actual projects,” Fagan’s legislative aide Eric Franz wrote in an email. “The timeline will be a little longer than 136th, but it’s real money going to a real project, not just planning.”

It’s heartening to see this money start to improve the scene on a highway that’s sometimes used as a cautionary example of the sort of road Portland doesn’t want any more of.

How much money is $4.9 million? Well, for context, it’s:

Update 1 p.m.: ODOT spokeswoman Shelli Romero writes with some more details on what exactly this will pay for: “The funding will be applied toward project development which means public involvement, alternatives analysis and environmental work. The corridor is complex and the amount secured is not the full amount needed to get us to full design and to the point where the project would be ‘construction-ready.’ ODOT estimates that it will likely take about $10m to design the entire Outer Powell corridor from I-205 East to SE 176th so that it will be construction ready. The $4.9m gets us started, but it does not get it finished.”

Biking/walking projects now eligible for $42 million in state lottery funds

Biking/walking projects now eligible for $42 million in state lottery funds

Text in bold shows new additions to Senate Bill 260, which passed both chambers of the Oregon Legislature today.

For the first time ever, with the passage a few minutes ago of Senate Bill 260, the Oregon Legislature has agreed to open up the state’s lottery-backed Multimodal Transportation Fund (a.k.a. ConnectOregon) to biking and walking projects. Even though it’s always been referred to as multimodal, the ConnectOregon program has funded only air, marine, rail, and public transit infrastructure improvements — everything but bicycling and walking.

ConnectOregon was created in 2005 as a way to fund “non-roadway” transportation projects that cannot receive funding from the state gas tax or from vehicle registration fees. Much like bike paths and trails cannot use these revenue sources, so too is the case for air, marine and various types of rail projects. In its first three years, the legislature approved $100 million for the ConnectOregon fund, which is doled out every two years. The fund received $40 million in 2011 and this year the legislature has freed up $42 million.

The push to give biking and walking projects a piece of the ConnectOregon pie was a priority this session by both the City of Portland and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said this new eligibility will be crucial to funding some of the top trail project priorities in their recently released Blueprint report. “What we’re seeing is dwindling funds from the feds and from the state. There’s a lack of opportunity to have dedicated funding for bike/ped projects because we’re competing for fewer and fewer dollars.”

As to whether he thinks projects like a new path between Portland and Lake Oswego could compete with traditional ConnectOregon projects, Kransky sounded very confident: “Yes. I think it’s really clear looking at the Travel Oregon study that shows bike tourism is returning an annual revenue of $400 million to the state. We’re confident we’ll be able to win some of this funding. It’s clear there’s an economic benefit.”

BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky
back in January.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The idea of giving biking and walking projects a crack at ConnectOregon funds was first brought up back in 2009 by grassroots advocates. In 2011, it emerged as a top priority among Governor Kitzhaber’s Non-Roadway Transportation Funding Working Group. Since then, the BTA and other supporters of the idea have been working to build a coalition of support.

Heading into the 2013 session, the BTA was pushing for a bill that would have increased the amount of money that flows to ConnectOregon (with the rationale that it would be an easier debate if biking and walking projects weren’t “taking money” from the other modes), but that bill never gained steam. The BTA continued to fight and push for the eligibility aspect of the concept and today’s victory is the result of that work.

The bill’s passage in the Senate wasn’t without opposition. Seven Republican Senators voted against the bill. They included Senators Brian Boquist (Dallas), Larry George (Sherwood), Fred Girod (Stayton), Jeff Kruse (Roseburg), Doug Whitsett (Klamath Falls), Jackie Winters (Salem), and Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli (John Day).

In his floor speech this morning, Sen. Jeff Kruse urged his colleagues to vote against the bill, saying ConnectOregon was “designed and structure for business interests and not for bicycle projects.” “This is taking us in an absolutely bad and wrong direction,” he added, “And there is plenty of other money for bike paths. Let’s keep ConnectOregon in industry where it belongs.”

But no one in the Republican caucus stood up to support Kruse (Democrats have a 16-14 edge in the Oregon Senate). Sen. Alan Bates (D-Medford) spoke up to point out that both the City of Medford and the Medford Chamber of Commerce both feel the addition of biking and walking is “an appropriate potential use” of ConnectOregon funds. Key to Bates’ (and others) support was that the bill doesn’t dedicate any money for biking and walking, it only opens up the possibility of funding by making them eligible for the grants and loans. “It doesn’t grab the money,” is how Sen. Bates put it during his floor speech, “There are lots of things a project must go through to get funded.” Bates said the bill is “a wise thing” and he even made the point that some biking and walking projects could have the business benefit of relieving congestion.

Bates was supported by Sen. Chris Edwards (D-Junction City). Edwards said he was skeptical at first of adding biking and walking eligibility, but he heard “rational explanations” in favor of it during a recent work session on the bill. And besides, Edwards said, “It’s still a competitive grant process, so if that bike or pedestrian project doesn’t rise to the top it doesn’t get funded.”

In a phone conversation earlier today, Kransky said after so many behind-the-scenes emails and conversations with lawmakers, “It’s almost surreal to see people talking about it in public.” “I’m really thrilled.”

The 2013 legislative session is now over. Read more of our coverage here.

Biking/walking projects now eligible for $42 million in state lottery funds

Biking/walking projects now eligible for $42 million in state lottery funds

Text in bold shows new additions to Senate Bill 260, which passed both chambers of the Oregon Legislature today.

For the first time ever, with the passage a few minutes ago of Senate Bill 260, the Oregon Legislature has agreed to open up the state’s lottery-backed Multimodal Transportation Fund (a.k.a. ConnectOregon) to biking and walking projects. Even though it’s always been referred to as multimodal, the ConnectOregon program has funded only air, marine, rail, and public transit infrastructure improvements — everything but bicycling and walking.

ConnectOregon was created in 2005 as a way to fund “non-roadway” transportation projects that cannot receive funding from the state gas tax or from vehicle registration fees. Much like bike paths and trails cannot use these revenue sources, so too is the case for air, marine and various types of rail projects. In its first three years, the legislature approved $100 million for the ConnectOregon fund, which is doled out every two years. The fund received $40 million in 2011 and this year the legislature has freed up $42 million.

The push to give biking and walking projects a piece of the ConnectOregon pie was a priority this session by both the City of Portland and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said this new eligibility will be crucial to funding some of the top trail project priorities in their recently released Blueprint report. “What we’re seeing is dwindling funds from the feds and from the state. There’s a lack of opportunity to have dedicated funding for bike/ped projects because we’re competing for fewer and fewer dollars.”

As to whether he thinks projects like a new path between Portland and Lake Oswego could compete with traditional ConnectOregon projects, Kransky sounded very confident: “Yes. I think it’s really clear looking at the Travel Oregon study that shows bike tourism is returning an annual revenue of $400 million to the state. We’re confident we’ll be able to win some of this funding. It’s clear there’s an economic benefit.”

BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky
back in January.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The idea of giving biking and walking projects a crack at ConnectOregon funds was first brought up back in 2009 by grassroots advocates. In 2011, it emerged as a top priority among Governor Kitzhaber’s Non-Roadway Transportation Funding Working Group. Since then, the BTA and other supporters of the idea have been working to build a coalition of support.

Heading into the 2013 session, the BTA was pushing for a bill that would have increased the amount of money that flows to ConnectOregon (with the rationale that it would be an easier debate if biking and walking projects weren’t “taking money” from the other modes), but that bill never gained steam. The BTA continued to fight and push for the eligibility aspect of the concept and today’s victory is the result of that work.

The bill’s passage in the Senate wasn’t without opposition. Seven Republican Senators voted against the bill. They included Senators Brian Boquist (Dallas), Larry George (Sherwood), Fred Girod (Stayton), Jeff Kruse (Roseburg), Doug Whitsett (Klamath Falls), Jackie Winters (Salem), and Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli (John Day).

In his floor speech this morning, Sen. Jeff Kruse urged his colleagues to vote against the bill, saying ConnectOregon was “designed and structure for business interests and not for bicycle projects.” “This is taking us in an absolutely bad and wrong direction,” he added, “And there is plenty of other money for bike paths. Let’s keep ConnectOregon in industry where it belongs.”

But no one in the Republican caucus stood up to support Kruse (Democrats have a 16-14 edge in the Oregon Senate). Sen. Alan Bates (D-Medford) spoke up to point out that both the City of Medford and the Medford Chamber of Commerce both feel the addition of biking and walking is “an appropriate potential use” of ConnectOregon funds. Key to Bates’ (and others) support was that the bill doesn’t dedicate any money for biking and walking, it only opens up the possibility of funding by making them eligible for the grants and loans. “It doesn’t grab the money,” is how Sen. Bates put it during his floor speech, “There are lots of things a project must go through to get funded.” Bates said the bill is “a wise thing” and he even made the point that some biking and walking projects could have the business benefit of relieving congestion.

Bates was supported by Sen. Chris Edwards (D-Junction City). Edwards said he was skeptical at first of adding biking and walking eligibility, but he heard “rational explanations” in favor of it during a recent work session on the bill. And besides, Edwards said, “It’s still a competitive grant process, so if that bike or pedestrian project doesn’t rise to the top it doesn’t get funded.”

In a phone conversation earlier today, Kransky said after so many behind-the-scenes emails and conversations with lawmakers, “It’s almost surreal to see people talking about it in public.” “I’m really thrilled.”

The 2013 legislative session is now over. Read more of our coverage here.

New state law makes walking more welcome on narrow streets

New state law makes walking more welcome on narrow streets

Steph at Oregon Walks benefit-2-2

Stephanie Routh with Oregon Walks, played a
key role in the bill’s passage.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A new state law signed Tuesday will let Oregon cities name narrow side streets where, for the first time in decades, people on foot won’t be required to yield the roadway to drivers.

The bipartisan bill sailed through the statehouse this spring with backing from the City of Portland, the League of Oregon Cities and advocacy group Oregon Walks.

“The law is the first of its kind in the nation,” Portland pedestrian coordinator April Bertlesen wrote in a celebratory email Wednesday.

“When I was young… we would walk side by side, which technically is not lawful. But when you’re eight, you’re going to hold your grandma’s hand.”
— Stephanie Routh, Oregon Walks

“It memorializes in law what Oregonians have come to do on their home streets anyway,” Oregon Walks Director Steph Routh said Thursday in an interview. “When I was young and visiting my grandparents in Wheeler, Oregon, we would walk side by side, which technically is not lawful. But when you’re eight, you’re going to hold your grandma’s hand.”

According to Ray Thomas, a local lawyer and expert on walking laws, “The old law gave no legal standing to pedestrians in the roadway relative to motor traffic and required them to always yield the right of way unless in a crosswalk.”

The new law, which cities will be able to apply only on residential streets that are no more than 18 feet from shoulder to shoulder, requires signs alerting road users that pedestrians (a term which includes people in wheelchairs and similar mobility devices) may be present. It also forbids pedestrians from creating a “traffic hazard.”

Routh said the new law lets cities legalize many other activities, too – not just transportation.

“I think we can all easily remember a moment in the recent past when we have seen a parent pushing a stroller down the roadway to the corner grocery store, or when we have passed a few kids shooting hoops on a side street,” she said in her testimony prior to its passage.

In general, Routh said Thursday, the new law “looks at narrow residential roadways as places that connect people.”

Though the law extends the humans-welcome spirit of Portland’s neighborhood greenway network, it won’t apply to most neighborhood greenways, which are wider than 18 feet. Routh said that in Portland, it’s likely to be a better fit for narrow and unpaved streets in parts of Southwest and East Portland that were developed when still outside the city limits. In the legislature, the bill’s sponsors were Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Southwest Portland), Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River, whose district extends to Portland’s eastern suburbs), Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) and Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale).

The City of Portland prioritized the bill as a key part of its “Street by Street” program, a recent effort to help neighborhoods make themselves more pedestrian-friendly without having to find money for sidewalks, which cost $1 million or more per mile to install.

Routh said Oregonians shouldn’t see the bill as an reason not to create better sidewalks or roadways, but rather a reason to look for new ways to design and think about streets where sidewalks are, out of necessity, absent.

“In a financially constrained environment, we can’t assume that we’re going to see sidewalks on every street,” Routh said. “Innovative solutions are needed, and sharing the roadways just makes sense.”

Senate committee takes no action on new bike helmet laws

Senate committee takes no action on new bike helmet laws

Vancouver Helmet Law Protest Ride-14.jpg

A bill to increase the minimum
helmet age was discussed in a
Senate hearing earlier this week.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The two bicycle helmet bills in the Oregon legislature made more waves in the media than in actual debate from lawmakers during a hearing held in Salem on Monday. The bills garnered media attention because they were an opportunity to pit the safety of our children (who could be against that?!) against bicycle advocates who feel mandatory helmet laws are not always what they’re cracked up to be.

At the hearing on Monday even the Senator behind SB 741 and 742, Chris Edwards, seemed a bit uncomfortable with all the attention they’ve gotten. Toward the end of the hearing he said, “This bill is getting a disproportionate amount of focus.”

In a nutshell, SB 741 would mandate that people of all ages wear helmets while riding a bicycle (or scooter, skateboard, and so on) in competition and SB 742 would raise the minimum mandatory helmet age from 16 to 18 years of age.

At the outset of the meeting, Edwards described the visit with a friend that led to his drafting of the bills. The friend’s son fell while riding his skateboard and during a discussion of the incident the Senator learned that some competitions don’t require helmets. That conversation also led to Sen. Edwards’ realization that kids under 16 aren’t required to wear a helmet. “I had assumed it was 18,” he told members of the Senate Business and Transportation Committee.

“Ultimately, I’m wanting to encourage a culture of safety among kids riding skateboards and bikes.”
— State Senator Chris Edwards

SB 741 isn’t too controversial because every sanctioned bicycle competition I’ve ever heard of already has mandatory helmet laws for participants. For that reason, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) testified in support of the bill. But the language of the bill is very problematic and could have unintended consequences. It calls for helmet use while in “organized exhibitions” but it doesn’t clearly defined what that means. Thankfully, Sen. Edwards is already aware of that issue and said he plans on striking that text from the bill. During his testimony, the Senator also made it clear he’s heard concerns that helmet laws reduce ridership which works against the safety in numbers phenomenon. “To the extent a helmet decreases ridership,” he said, “it hurts the critical needed to achieve that [safety in numbers].”

So, while Edwards says, “Ultimately, I’m wanting to encourage a culture of safety among kids riding skateboards and bikes,” it seems he has learned a few things about helmet policy of late.

When Senate committee members got their chance to speak, it was a textbook example of how the helmet law conversation always goes. “I’m a bicycle rider and I always wear a helmet,” Sen Rod Monroe proclaimed, “I had a pretty bad crash 10 years ago and if I didn’t have my helmet on I would have had a severe concussion at the very least. I believe in helmets.” (He then questioned the validity of the claim that helmet laws reduce ridership.) In the end, Monroe acknowledged that even though raising the minimum helmet age wouldn’t “make a huge difference,” he would still vote for the bill. “I just believe in safety and I support it.”

Senator Bruce Starr made the point that education and cultural awareness alone might be all we need to increase helmet use, saying he remembers when very few adults wore helmets. But now, “Almost everyone does even though there’s no law.” (He’s right, about 80% of Portland riders where helmets according to the most recent numbers.) Committee Chair Lee Beyer added “He’s right. It’s accepted now. It’s cool.”

BTA lobbyist Jonathan Manton testified that they are opposed to raising the helmet requirement age. The BTA has concerns because they say the law could reduce ridership, that some of its members think such regulation is “the improper role of government,” and the law would have a disproportionate impact on low-income populations. “Some people can’t afford a helmet so they won’t ride,” he said. “What we find is that education of middle school students through our Safe Routes to School programs are more effective in increasing helmet use than a state law that requires it.”

As for the age itself, Manton said the BTA feels 16 is appropriate, “Because it’s the same age you get a driver’s license and at 16 you’re able to operate a 2-ton car and drive down the road very fast.”

“It seems it’d be safer to make the driver’s license age 18,” chimed in Sen. Monroe as a light seemed to go off in his head, “I remember when I started driving at 16 and we’d drive like hell all over town!” Monroe is on to something, and there’s actually a grassroots movement afoot in Eugene to do just that.

The final person to testify was Nick Oliver, the executive director of BikePAC, a rights group for motorcycle riders. He said helmet proponents use scare tactics and his group worries that helmet laws are “about nanny state mentality.”

By this time in the hearing it was clear that neither bill seemed urgent enough to committee members to vote on. “We will allow Senator Edwards to think about it,” said Chair Beyer, before closing the discussion.

Browse more coverage of the 2013 legislative session in our archives.

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Senate committee takes no action on bike helmet bills

Senate committee takes no action on bike helmet bills

Vancouver Helmet Law Protest Ride-14.jpg

A bill to increase the minimum
helmet age was discussed in a
Senate hearing earlier this week.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The two bicycle helmet bills in the Oregon legislature made more waves in the media than in actual debate from lawmakers during a hearing held in Salem on Monday. The bills garnered media attention because they were an opportunity to pit the safety of our children (who could be against that?!) against bicycle advocates who feel mandatory helmet laws are not always what they’re cracked up to be.

At the hearing on Monday even the Senator behind SB 741 and 742, Chris Edwards, seemed a bit uncomfortable with all the attention they’ve gotten. Toward the end of the hearing he said, “This bill is getting a disproportionate amount of focus.”

In a nutshell, SB 741 would mandate that people of all ages wear helmets while riding a bicycle (or scooter, skateboard, and so on) in competition and SB 742 would raise the minimum mandatory helmet age from 16 to 18 years of age.

At the outset of the meeting, Edwards described the visit with a friend that led to his drafting of the bills. The friend’s son fell while riding his skateboard and during a discussion of the incident the Senator learned that some competitions don’t require helmets. That conversation also led to Sen. Edwards’ realization that kids under 16 aren’t required to wear a helmet. “I had assumed it was 18,” he told members of the Senate Business and Transportation Committee.

“Ultimately, I’m wanting to encourage a culture of safety among kids riding skateboards and bikes.”
— State Senator Chris Edwards

SB 741 isn’t too controversial because every sanctioned bicycle competition I’ve ever heard of already has mandatory helmet laws for participants. For that reason, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) does not oppose the bill. But the language of the bill is very problematic and could have unintended consequences. It calls for helmet use while in “organized exhibitions” but it doesn’t clearly defined what that means. Thankfully, Sen. Edwards is already aware of that issue and said he plans on striking that text. During his testimony, the Senator also made it clear he’s heard concerns that helmet laws reduce ridership which works against the safety in numbers phenomenon. “To the extent a helmet decreases ridership,” he said, “it hurts the critical needed to achieve that [safety in numbers].”

So, while Edwards says, “Ultimately, I’m wanting to encourage a culture of safety among kids riding skateboards and bikes,” it seems he has learned a few things about helmet policy of late.

When Senate committee members got their chance to speak, it was a textbook example of how the helmet law conversation always goes. “I’m a bicycle rider and I always wear a helmet,” Sen Rod Monroe proclaimed, “I had a pretty bad crash 10 years ago and if I didn’t have my helmet on I would have had a severe concussion at the very least. I believe in helmets.” (He then questioned the validity of the claim that helmet laws reduce ridership.) In the end, Monroe acknowledged that even though raising the minimum helmet age wouldn’t “make a huge difference,” he would still vote for the bill. “I just believe in safety and I support it.”

Senator Bruce Starr made the point that education and cultural awareness alone might be all we need to increase helmet use, saying he remembers when very few adults wore helmets. But now, “Almost everyone does even though there’s no law.” (He’s right, about 80% of Portland riders where helmets according to the most recent numbers.) Committee Chair Lee Beyer added “He’s right. It’s accepted now. It’s cool.”

BTA lobbyist Jonathan Manton testified that they are opposed to raising the helmet requirement age. The BTA has concerns because they say the law could reduce ridership, that some of its members think such regulation is “the improper role of government,” and the law would have a disproportionate impact on low-income populations. “Some people can’t afford a helmet so they won’t ride,” he said. “What we find is that education of middle school students through our Safe Routes to School programs are more effective in increasing helmet use than a state law that requires it.”

As for the age itself, Manton said the BTA feels 16 is appropriate, “Because it’s the same age you get a driver’s license and at 16 you’re able to operate a 2-ton car and drive down the road very fast.”

“It seems it’d be safer to make the driver’s license age 18,” chimed in Sen. Monroe as a light seemed to go off in his head, “I remember when I started driving at 16 and we’d drive like hell all over town!” Monroe is on to something, and there’s actually a grassroots movement afoot in Eugene to do just that.

The final person to testify was Nick Oliver, the executive director of BikePAC, a rights group for motorcycle riders. He said helmet proponents use scare tactics and his group worries that helmet laws are “about nanny state mentality.”

By this time in the hearing it was clear that neither bill seemed urgent enough to committee members to vote on. “We will allow Senator Edwards to think about it,” said Chair Beyer, before closing the discussion.

Browse more coverage of the 2013 legislative session in our archives.

CORRECTION: This post initially stated that the BTA testified in support of SB 741. The BTA testified that they are not opposed the bill.

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House bill would make bike paths (and more) eligible for highway trust fund

House bill would make bike paths (and more) eligible for highway trust fund

Rep. Jules Bailey.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A bill in the legislature seeks to amend the Oregon Constitution in order to use gas taxes and motor vehicle fees to pay for biking, walking, transit and other types of projects. Gas tax and vehicle fee revenues — a.k.a. the highway trust fund — accounts for over one-third of ODOT’s total annual revenue; but it can only be spent in state highway right-of-way.

House Joint Resolution 9, drafted by Representative Jules Bailey (D-Portland), would do what many insiders have long thought to be impossible: open up the list project types eligible for this huge pot of funding to non-auto modes.

Specifically, the bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would, “allow revenue from taxes on motor vehicle fuel and ownership, operation or use of motor vehicles to be used for transportation projects that will prevent or reduce pollution and congestion created by use of motor vehicles.” The bill also broadens the definition of “transportation project” to include, “transit, rail and aviation capital infrastructure, bicycle and pedestrian paths, bridges and ways, and other projects that facilitate the transportation of materials, animals or people.”

Bicycle Transportation Alliance Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky learned about the bill today and said via Twitter it would be “a game changer.” “It would break open the highway trust fund for projects like N Portland Greenway and other trails!,” he wrote to a local transportation activism email list, “I think we all have a strong interest in seeing it pass, but it has an uphill battle in Salem.”

“This bill smply acknowledges that we can more effectively manage our transportation system by using transportation dollars not just for projects built for cars, but also for projects that reduce the need for cars.”
— Rep. Jules Bailey

The BTA and other bike advocacy groups have long dreamed of having access to the highway trust fund. In the 2011-2013 biennium, ODOT took in about $1.2 billion in gas taxes and assorted vehicle fees. According to ODOT, the State Highway Trust Fund accounts for 67 percent of the agency’s annual revenue. In 2009, the legislature used this money to fund a package of highway projects worth about $900 million while biking and walking projects continue to fight over budget crumbs.

Rail, aviation, and marine infrastructure projects are also ineligible for highway trust fund monies; but since 2005 they’ve benefited from the Connect Oregon program which sets aside State Lottery funds to to the tune of about $100 million per year. (Currently, bike projects aren’t eligible for Connect Oregon funding, but there’s an effort to change that as well).

While this bill excites active transportation advocates, to say making changes to the highway trust fund is an “uphill battle” is a major understatement.

In an interview in May 2012, ODOT Director Matt Garrett said any attempt at “busting the highway trust fund” would be a “very bloody and unproductive battle.”

Well it appears that Rep. Bailey is ready for that battle. In a statement today, he shared with us that the bill, “Simply acknowledges that we can more effectively manage our transportation system by using transportation dollars not just for projects built for cars, but also for projects that reduce the need for cars.”

HJR 9, says Rep. Bailey, “acknowledges the effect of automobiles on pollution, and would allow revenues to be used to reduce carbon pollution rather than building more roads. This is about giving people more transportation options.” (It’s worth noting that Rep. Bailey voted in support of the Columbia River Crossing bill last month and that’s a project that will very likely increase pollution and congestion.)

While the politics of this bill are bleak to say the least, the policy itself has merit. Even Director Garrett says he’s leading an evolution at his agency toward a less highway-centric outlook. In that May interview, I pushed Garrett to consider breaking free of existing funding constraints.

What if you could cut the strings attached to these dollars? I asked. To that he replied;

“If I could get rid of the strings, what I would suggest is, let’s focus on outcomes… If we can agree that the outcome of this investment is X, and you allow me the local flexibility to do that, I will get you to this outcome. But don’t bind me by saying, ‘With this dollar you have to spend it in this specific area’. Instead, say, ‘With this dollar, you have to meet this outcome’… I think that would be healthier for the system and it certainly would allow each state to tailor their transportation portfolio to truly represent the need of its citizens.

Just think how much money we could leverage if we put all of the money in the bank and said, ‘Let’s look at this and see what we can do.'”

Indeed.

HJR 9 is set for a public hearing in front of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development on April 1st. Learn more about the bill and follow its progress, here.

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Senate committee hears voluntary bicycle donation bill

Senate committee hears voluntary bicycle donation bill

“There are concerns that bicyclists don’t pay their fair share… This bill provides an avenue for those of us that support bike and pedestrian facilities to provide additional funding.”
— Sen. Jackie Dingfelder

Oregon lawmakers considered a bill yesterday that would allow Oregonians to make a voluntary donation to bicycle trail projects through their annual motor vehicle registration renewal. Senate Bill 756 didn’t get a vote, but it gave bike advocates and members of the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation a lot to think about it.

Senator Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland), the bill’s co-sponsor along with Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), told the committee that she’s, “Been concerned” over the years with legislators who have proposed various bicycle taxes and mandatory registration concepts. “That being said,” she testifed, “There are concerns that bicyclists don’t pay their fair share. I think we already do pay our fair share, and this bill provides an avenue for those of us that support bike and pedestrian facilities to provide additional funding.”

The bill seeks to funnel voluntary donations to the existing Oregon State Parks and Recreation Fund. The money would be directed specifically toward Parks’ Scenic Bikeways program via a check-box on vehicle registration forms sent out by the DMV. Dingfelder called it an “innovative approach” and said it’s a “ready-made program.”

Jerry Norquist, former executive director of Cycle Oregon and president of the Bicycle Tour Network, is the architect of the bill. Norquist has considerable experience in the legislature on a number of issues and he also spearheaded Oregon’s Share the Road license plate. During his testimony yesterday, Norquist wanted to paint a picture of massive popular support for bicycling in Oregon. He pointed out that the Share the Road plate is the “Most successful group plate ever issued in our state,” with over 17,000 plates sold so far.

Norquist pointed the major economic impact of bicycling on our state and told lawmakers, “I think we are poised to be the #1 bicycle destination in the country… Cycle Oregon alone contributes $5.5 million per year to the state’s economy.”

“We have this great activity,” he added, “but we don’t have the infrastructure to do it.”

“What can we do to get you the infrastructure you need? We’re getting a lot of tourism out of it.”
— Sen. Fred Girod

For Norquist, the passage of SB 756 would mean much-needed dedicated funding for the State Scenic Bikeway program, which has been runaway success in just a few short years despite operating on a shoestring (the program’s seed funding came via a Cycle Oregon grant).

Asked by a Senator how much he expects the bill to raise each year, Norquist estimated the annual contribution of between $50,000 and $6 million. He based his estimate on the 250,000 renewals sent out by the DMV each month (a figure that was contested by the DMV later in the hearing). Even on the low end at $50,000 a year in contributions, Norquist said the Scenic Bikeway program would return millions to the state in tourism and related impacts. “We need a consistent funding source,” he said, “and I think this bill would provide that.”

Throughout the hearing Senators seemed intent on sharing their own ideas about how to raise money for bicycle-specific infrastructure. Senator Fred Girod (R-Stayton) wondered why SB 756 is preferable over bicycle registration, an idea he thinks would raise much more money. Senator Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) proposed a tax on bicycle tires. One Senator jokingly suggested a spandex tax that could be levied by the square foot.

Ultimately, Sen. Girod said he likes SB 756 but questioned whether it would raise enough money to “get you where you need to go.” “What can we do to get you the infrastructure you need? We’re getting a lot of tourism out of it.” In response, BTA lobbyist Jonathan Manton explained to Girod that this bill isn’t intended as “an answer to the dire funding situation we face.”

“When folks say this is just adding a check-box to a form, that’s the front end, but the back end of it is quite a bit more complex than that.”
— Amy Joyce, Oregon DMV

Girod made it clear that he supports raising funds for bicycle infrastructure only if it comes directly from people how ride bicycles. “I hate to say it, but you guys need to put some skin in the game. It’s just a matter of figuring out how.”

The final person to offer testimony on the bill was Amy Joyce, a spokeswoman for the Oregon DMV. Joyce tamped down assertions by Dingfelder and Prozanski that the bill would be as simple as adding a checkbox to a few forms. The DMV is already on record as saying SB 756 would require 900 hours of staff time and programming to implement (a number scoffed at by several Senators). Joyce also spoke to the many logistical considerations this bill would bring up. “We send out 1.5 million renewals each year and we have about five different ways of processing them and all these different ways would have to be changed in order to receive a donation.”

“When folks say this is just adding a check-box to a form,” said Joyce, “That’s the front end, but the back end of it is quite a bit more complex than that.”

Joyce did however, offer up one feasible option. One of the ways people renew their licenses is via the DMV website. Joyce said they’ve already begun discussions with State Parks about how an online donation could be implemented. “If we limited it to online registration renewal only, that could be done for next to nothing.”

The downside of the online-only option is that the donation solicitation would reach only about 16% of Oregonians. Joyce explained that only about 20,000 renewals a month — out of 120,000 a month — are done online.

Joyce also had another word of caution that resonated with the lawmakers: “If we do this, there’s no doubt there would be new comers with each new legislative session.” In other words, if SB 756 is passed, it would open the floodgates for similar donation requests (like the donation section of tax returns).

In the end, the Committee did not take a vote on the bill. “We will think about this for a while,” said Chair Lee Beyer. Stay tuned.

More 2013 Legislative Session coverage in the archives.

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Oregon Senate says cab drivers should be exempt from cell phone law

Oregon Senate says cab drivers should be exempt from cell phone law

“These are people who are struggling and their livings are made by whether or not they can pick folks up… This is their life.”
— Sen. Larry George, the bill’s sponsor

The Oregon legislature made a strange move on Monday that is very likely to make Portland roads less safe for everyone. By a vote of 19-11, the Senate passed a bill that adds yet another exception to the state’s existing cell phone law. Senate Bill 294, sponsored by Senator Larry George (R-Sherwood), allows a taxicab driver to use a “mobile communication device”, a.k.a. cell phone, while driving.

This is despite widespread evidence that using a cell phone while driving is very dangerous.

SB 294’s sponsor, Sen. Larry George (yes that Senator) got all 14 of his fellow Republicans to join him in supporting the taxicab exemption. The five Democrats who voted in favor of the bill included; Lee Beyer, Chris Edwards, Betsy Johnson, Ernie Roblan, and Chip Shields.

If this bill is passed by the House and signed by the Governor, it would be added to the already long list of specific usage exemptions to the state’s existing cell phone law. ORS 811.507 provides exemptions to police officers, public safety workers, farm equipment operators, transit workers, public utility workers, tow truck operators, HAM radio operators, and more.

Sen. George, speaking on behalf of his bill in the Senate Chamber today, sought to paint a personal picture of taxicab operators, saying they are facing increasing pressure to make ends meet. “There’s probably not a harder working group of folks than taxi drivers,” he said, “Every single lead is vital to them.” Here’s more from George’s floor remarks:

“These are people who are struggling and their livings are made by whether or not they can pick folks up… This is their life. If we can give them a little bit of flexibility to put a little more money in their pockets to take home with their families, than we should do that.”

Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) said he sees no difference between taxicab drivers and police officers. “Which is more dangerous, a police officer going down the road typing number in his computer, or a cab driver sitting at the curb calling his base station ans saying, ‘I’ve picked up this fare and I’m taking them to this hotel’?” Beyer also said he didn’t think there was a safety difference between a taxi driver talking into a hands-free speaker device (like the old CB radios) and using a cell phone. “I recognize the concerns people have about safety; but I think this is just a matter of what’s been going on for years, long before cell phones were ever created. Nothing has really changed here.”

“They’ve got anxious passengers in the back seat… I worry about the safety and their attention to the road. I’m very concerned about expanding the exemptions to this law.”
— Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward during her floor remarks

Senators in favor of the bill also spoke to the fact that taxicab drivers are “well-trained and high-regulated professionals.”

It’s not clear whether Sen. Beyer understands the bill. It does not require taxicab operators to pull over and the law already allows hands-free devices. To be clear, SB 294 would allow cabbies to hold a cell phone up to their ear and have a conversation while driving.

Three lawmakers spoke against SB 294 on Monday.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton) said, “There is no question that using cell phones interferes with safety.” Sen. Steiner-Hayward added that she felt taxicab drivers don’t know their way around as well as police officers or utility workers and that they work in an even more distracted environment. “They’ve got anxious passengers in the back seat,” she said. “I’ve been in cabs in Portland and even when they are using bluetooth devices I worry about the safety and their attention to the road. I’m very concerned about expanding the exemptions to this law.”

Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland) also spoke to the dangers of distracted driving and questioned why taxicab operators couldn’t simply use hands-free devices. “I say if taxicab drivers don’t have a handsfree device, they can do what I do. When my cell phone buzzes and I want to answer it, I pull over and stop. If the taxicab driver wants to answer his phone, he can pull over and stop.”

SB 294 will now head over to the House where it has yet to be assigned to a committee.

— For more on the taxi drivers’ perspective, check out this ride-along I did back in 2009 with a Radio Cab driver.

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