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Portlanders divided sharply by geography on the local gas tax

Portlanders divided sharply by geography on the local gas tax

The paving and safety projects scheduled to be built with Portland’s proposed gas tax will be spread quite evenly across the city.

But votes on the gas tax definitely weren’t.

Of the 81 Multnomah County precincts in the City of Portland, only 19 tallied “yes” votes between 45 percent and 55 percent. In more than half of precincts, the vote on the 10-cent local gas tax, one of the country’s largest local fuel taxes ever approved by popular vote, was a blowout victory or loss by 20-point margins or even more.

The southeast Portland precinct that includes the Sunnyside neighborhood gave the “Fix our Streets” proposal its strongest margin in the city.

Disregarding two tiny precincts that had fewer than 100 voters (one of those voted yes, the other no) the “Fix our Streets” campaign was most popular in Precinct 4207, the Sunnyside district along Belmont Street and Hawthorne Boulevard on either side of Cesar Chavez Way. More than 69 percent of voters there supported it.

But the tax went down hard in every precinct east of Interstate 205. The further east, the more “no” votes it saw. In Precinct 5009 along the Gresham border (which also happens to be the eastern endpoint of the 4M Neighborhood Greenway that will be funded by the tax) only 20 percent of voters voted “yes.”

In all, 43 precincts voted “no” on the tax and 38 voted “yes.” But (unlike in national presidential elections, for example) every vote cast in the city has equal power, and precincts that voted “yes” generally had more residents. The tax slid into a 4-point victory (52.1 percent to 47.9 percent) on May 17.

Did votes split along income lines? By the amount of driving people do? By the perceived viability of alternatives to driving? By environmentalist or social justice sentiment? By trust in local government? Those are all possibilities but without exit polls, it’s hard to say.

Here are three two details worth noticing in the map above, though:

1) Southwest Portland said “yes” even though east Portland didn’t.


Safety advocate Roger Averbeck on SW Capitol Highway, which will get a $1.7 million for repaving and $3.3 million for sidewalks thanks to the gas tax.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Two parts of Portland, outer east and outer southwest, were built mostly on Multnomah County roads, without sidewalks, in the era after 1959 when the city had banned multifamily housing from most areas, required on-site parking for commercial lots and avoided street grids. Decades later, all those decisions shape transportation habits, development patterns, housing prices and culture.

People who live in east and southwest Portland alike will tell you that their streets need a lot of work.

But last month, one of those two areas — the richer one — voted something like 55/45 “yes” on the gas tax and the other voted more like 70/30 against. What happened? One possibility is that it’s related to this map from a recent city study:

columbia corridor jobs

Southwest Portland is far from homogenously rich and east Portland is far from homogenously poor. But east Portlanders’ job market is hugely dependent on the city’s most important jobs center that’s virtually inaccessible except by car: the industrial and port land along the Columbia River. East of Interstate 205, transit lines and bikeways to central Portland and Gresham are scarce and mediocre, but they do exist. Transit and bike routes to the Columbia Corridor, though, basically don’t exist at all.

Southwest Portland, by contrast, can also be unpleasant to navigate on foot or bike, but it’s likely that more people there work in areas such as downtown that are relatively well-served by transit — or if they car-commute to Washington or Clackamas County, will be easily able to avoid the tax. Maybe that’s part of the reason the proposal did better in southwest.

2) Central Portland said “hell yes.”

Bike traffic on N Williams Ave-15.jpg

Parking at New Seasons Market on N Williams Avenue.

If we assume that in the long run the gas tax will be a smart, money-saving and justice-advancing policy (as, presumably, most people in Portland government do), then we can’t ignore the single most important thing about this ballot measure: It passed.

Why did it pass? In part because of the 20 to 30 percent of east Portland voters who backed it despite their neighbors’ disagreement. In part because it broke 50 percent support in the southwest. But more than anything, it was because the proposal, which was very explicitly organized around the narrative that walking and biking should be safe and pleasant, racked up massive support in central Portland.

This support wasn’t limited to people who don’t buy much gasoline. Far more than half of people in central Portland drive to work, and almost every precinct in and around the central city saw more than 60 percent “yes.” Whatever the reason — some of it probably in self-interest, some of it probably cultural, some of it probably ideological — a gas tax that was once assumed to be politically impossible was successfully sold to overwhelming majorities in these neighborhoods.

Political action requires coalitions. Against odds, the gas tax built one.

Correction 3 pm: Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of the map and post reported an incorrect figure for inner northwest Portland, conflating it with the results from outer northwest. Since the revised figure is less surprising — inner northwest Portland voted overwhelmingly for the tax, like other central neighborhoods — we’ve deleted a section discussing this.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Portland’s 10-year quest for transportation revenue: A short historical recap

Portland’s 10-year quest for transportation revenue: A short historical recap

Safe Sound and Green press event-2.jpg

Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams makes the case for local transportation funding in 2008. Ted Wheeler, then the Multnomah County chairman, is in the background.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Tuesday’s vote to create a local gas tax, coupled with the previous week’s new fee on large trucks, marks a milestone for the City of Portland.

Though it’s only a small share of what it’ll take to achieve the city’s goal of making car ownership fully optional by vastly improving its walking, biking and transit systems, revenue from the gas tax will triple the city’s standing budget for new walking and biking infrastructure, from $3.5 million to $10.5 million per year. Those investments will demonstrate that this stuff works — and, as we argued last week, they’ll help deliver further economic growth that Portland will be able to reinvest in itself.

It’s enough to make you wonder what might have happened if the city had gotten this burst of new investment the last time it tried to: in 2008.

That wasn’t the first time the city has tried to raise significant new money to preserve and improve its streets. But it was the first one BikePortland covered in detail, so we’ll start our recap there.

Adams speaking with reporters
in 2008.

October 15, 2007: Then-Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams unveils a new revenue plan called “Safe, Sound and Green.” “The Portland component will consist of two revenue sources: a new 3 cent City gas tax and a SMF (pronounced smiff, Street Maintenance Fee),” Chris Smith explained on Portland Transport. “The SMF will average $4.50 per month for residents and run from a $10 or $20 for small businesses to $1,000+ for large retail sites. The SMF will be collected on water bills and both residents and businesses will be able to earn discounts by voluntarily undertaking certain ‘green’ activities.”

December 2007: A city flier makes the case for the program. “The last gas tax increase was in 1993. This means that funding for transportation safety and maintenance has not kept pace with the increasing demand or inflation and as a result, the City of Portland faces a $422 million maintenance unmet need. Multnomah County faces a $485 million shortfall for their bridges. In addition, our community faces an estimated annual economic impact of $412 million associated with needless deaths and injuries on Portland’s streets.”

Oregon Petroleum Association director
Paul Romain at city council in 2008.

January 9, 2008: Adams brings the proposal to city council. “Many neighborhood, business, and transportation activists are here to testify on the proposal,” BikePortland reports from City Hall. “Most will lend their full support but there are others in the room who plan to testify against the proposal. Among them will be noted alcohol and petroleum industry lobbyist Paul Romain.” Romain threatens to gather signatures take the issue to the ballot in 2008 alongside Adams’ anticipated run for mayor.

January 14: Adams tactically breaks the proposal into three separate actions, an attempt to triple the cost the gas industry would face for gathering signatures against it.

January 23: Romain backs down, agreeing not to put the fee on the ballot in exchange for some rate cuts from Adams.

January 30: The city council votes to pass Adams’ plan. “The plan would be a huge boon to bicycling in Portland, with nearly $30 million (out of $400 million total) going toward bike safety improvements,” BikePortland reports. But that same day, Romain and the Oregon Petroleum Association change course and say they will take it to the ballot after all.

Feb. 5: Mayor Tom Potter says the council should put the issue on the ballot.

Feb. 6: Adams agrees to do so, promising a high-profile fight to November.

July 24: After a city poll shows only 55 percent support for the street fee measure, Adams (by this point the mayor-elect) kills the proposal. “We will wait for the economy to get better,” Adams tells the Mercury. “In the meantime hopefully we will get some help from the state.”

A 2012 Oregonian headline essentially
blamed bicycles for potholes.

More twists and turns followed, including a 6-cent statewide gas tax hike in 2011 that ended up delivering less money than expected because driving declined so quickly during the recession. The city of Portland found new revenue in parking meters and a leaf collection fee; it also found new expenses when Adams committed millions to Tilikum Crossing and a new Sellwood Bridge.

All of this set up the bewildering saga of 2014, which essentially resurrected the Safe, Sound and Green concept, then retooled it as a progressive income tax, then scrapped the income tax in hopes of another statewide gas tax hike, which fell through, which led finally to Novick’s decision to return to probably the simplest possible proposal: A voter-approved gas tax.

Then, this week, after 10 years of internal and external rhetoric and countless news articles on the subject, voters got to vote.

Then, this week, after 10 years of internal and external rhetoric and countless news articles on the subject, voters got to vote.

And they voted for it.

After inflation, the four-year, $64 million package Portlanders approved this week is 40 percent smaller per year than Adams’s original proposal, and it’ll last 73 percent less time before returning to voters for possible renewal. But it’ll have essentially the same results — pavement preservation, walking improvements, biking improvements.

And unlike Adams’s proposal, every cent will come from a new tax on an activity that it is the city’s official policy to discourage: driving a car.

It’d be easy to see this saga as a pointless circus, and it’s certainly resembled one sometimes. But here’s something else to remember: 10 years is a long time in the life of a city like Portland.

This is a city where low-car households (more adults than autos) have been accounting for 50 to 60 percent of population growth for years. It’s a city that added 5,000 new apartments in 2012 and 2013 — and reported an estimated 5,000 additional daily bike commuters in 2014. It’s a city where auto registrations per resident are down 8 percent since 2007.

We are the Portlanders we’ve been waiting for. This week, we proved it.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Ted Wheeler is Portland’s next mayor; new local gas tax will improve streets

Ted Wheeler is Portland’s next mayor; new local gas tax will improve streets

Sunday Parkways September 2015-7.jpg

Ted Wheeler crosses Tilikum Crossing during Sunday Parkways in September 2015.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland

Portland’s next mayor is a Multnomah County commissioner turned state treasurer who embraced protected bike lanes and more neighborhood greenway traffic diverters from almost the start of his run for office.

Ted Wheeler was drawing 58 percent of Portland’s primary vote Tuesday night, easily defeating opponents Jules Bailey and Sarah Iannarone, among others.

Wheeler also set himself apart on transportation issues by endorsing a local gas tax to improve Portland streets on the day he announced his campaign — a position that rapidly became conventional wisdom among local politicians and won a narrow victory Tuesday night.

“Portland is unique,” Wheeler said in his victory speech. “Portland’s on the move. Portland’s best years are still ahead of it.”

Bailey drew 16 percent of the vote, Iannarone 10 percent. Bruce Broussard, who didn’t make it to any candidates’ forum we saw but distinguished himself on transportation issues by speaking out against a redesign of Foster Road intended to improve safety by replacing two passing lanes with a center turn lane and bike lanes, was in fourth place with 4 percent, followed (in descending order) by Sean Davis, David Schor and Patty Burkett.

Novick will head to runoff in November

novick brown others

Portland Transporation Commissioner Steve Novick, right, with Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry and gas tas campaign manager (and Oregon Walks board president) Aaron Brown.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The gas tax package, which included promised biking and walking improvements in every quadrant of the city as well as pavement repairs for various crumbling streets, was up by 4,268 votes as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, enough for 51.6 percent of the vote and enough for The Oregonian to call the race.

With 43 percent of the vote in his race, Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick looks to be headed to a runoff with either architect Stuart Emmons or bookseller Chloe Eudaly. Emmons was slightly ahead of Eudaly Tuesday night, with 15 percent of the vote to her 13 percent.

Novick has been a solidly pro-biking vote on the Portland City Council, though he’s never made it one of his signature issues. He’s also established himself as probably the most vocal progressive on parking policy, speaking in favor of demand-based pricing, and on housing infill, which he has called essential to affordability in the city.

Emmons and Eudaly haven’t gone out of their way to stake out positions on bicycling, though Emmons did send us a photo of himself biking the Eastbank Esplanade a few months ago. On his website, his only stated position on transportation is that “our streets need attention.” Eudaly has made housing affordability, especially for tenants, her signature issue. Whichever of them comes out ahead, expect more coverage of this race in the coming months.

“It looks to me like I’m probably going to a runoff in November against the Oregonian editorial board, which is fine,” Novick told attendees of his election-night party. The newspaper’s editorial board has been a particular foe of Novick’s, endorsing Emmons and being the only local significant media outlet to oppose the gas tax he championed.

Wheeler win could start to reshape City Hall this year

Safe Sound and Green press event-3.jpg

Then Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler at a
2008 event calling for new local transportation funding.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Wheeler’s election is likely to immediately reduce Mayor Charlie Hales’ influence on the city council as commissioners maneuver for good relationships with Wheeler. In Portland’s unusual system of government, the mayor’s only significant power over his other commissioners is the ability to assign them administrative power over the city’s various bureaus.

Last year, Wheeler reportedly told an Oregonian columnist that he wanted to take the city’s transportation bureau for himself. In a March interview with BikePortland, he described that as an “offhand comment” and that he wouldn’t make any such commitements.

Also at stake: the city council is approaching a series of crucial votes on its comprehensive plan this summer. The plan, which shapes the city’s zoning maps, pits advocates of infill and housing supply against people who oppose changes to Portland’s physical appearance.

Here’s how we summarized our 45-minute conversation with Wheeler last March:

• Like his opponents, he supports expansion of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. Though he backs the gas tax ballot issue, he thinks it won’t raise enough for those projects to make the investments he thinks are needed.

• Though the Portland Business Alliance, the regional chamber of commerce, announced its endorsement of Wheeler the day we spoke, Wheeler said he’s never discussed transportation policy with them. He said he does not agree with the notion (sometimes expressed by the PBA) that auto capacity should not be reduced on major arterials.

• He stepped back from a previously reported statement that as mayor he would take the transportation bureau; he said that was an “offhand conversation” and he’s made no decisions.

• His plan for transportation funding is to pass a gas tax in the short run, then get the 2017 state legislature to allocate more state and federal road taxes to cities like Portland. In the long run, he doesn’t think the city should let any of its pavement degrade, and thinks the city needs incremental steps to improve its credibility among voters.

• His first priority for all transportation investments is safety improvements east of 82nd Avenue. He doesn’t think all new transportation investment should happen there but he thinks East Portland should get the large majority to make up for decades of underinvestment.

• Though he supports increasing housing density by re-legalizing duplexes and garden apartments in residential zones, he thinks there’s some validity to the argument that new tall buildings can make nearby housing more expensive. He doesn’t see a tradeoff between “historic preservation,” which he values, and keeping housing affordable.

• Unlike his opponent Jules Bailey, Wheeler sees “training” as inadequate to addressing apparent racial profiling of people biking and walking by officers in the Portland Police Bureau. Deeper cultural change in the bureau is necessary, he said.

Other races

bob stacey

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, up for election Tuesday but unopposed, paid early respects at the election night party for Steve Novick and the gas tax but said he had to get to a Richmond Neighborhood Association meeting.

Also Tuesday, Commissioner Amanda Fritz and incumbent Gov. Kate Brown won in anticipated landslides, Fritz with 70 percent of the city vote. Jessica Vega Pederson, who had a pro-biking record as state legislator, was elected to the Multnomah County Commission in an uncontested race in southeast Portland. Karin Power, who won a seat on Milwaukie’s city council two years ago on a pro-biking platform and has helped lead that city’s recent political embrace of biking, won an uncontested Democratic primary in the 41st legislative district.

Brown, a Democrat, will face Bud Pierce, a Republican legislator who has promised to “end gridlock once and for all” by adding lanes to every “major freeway.”

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, a longtime bike commuter who is maybe the single most pro-bike politician in the region, was elected to a second four-year term to represent southeast Portland in the regional government. His colleague Sam Chase, who represents inner northeast, north and northwest Portland and took the lead on Metro’s recent work to approve mountain-biking trails on public land north of Forest Park, coasted to reelection with 77 percent against Colby Clipston.

In Bailey’s county commissioner district in inner southeast and west Portland, Sharon Meieran and Eric Zimmerman are headed to a runoff. The same is true for Lori Stegmann and Amanda Schroeder in Gresham and east county. (Expect BikePortland coverage of these county races, which will shape the future of the Burnside Bridge and Sauvie Island, in the months to come.)

Gas tax work could start in fall

treat bike

Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat with her official city vehicle, an e-bike, outside the gas tax election party.

The four-year, 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax will raise an estimated $16 million for each of the next four years, of which 44 percent would be earmarked for safety improvements to local streets — mostly improvements for walking and biking.

Among other things — including various sidewalk and crosswalk upgrades around the city — the project list includes new funding for protected bike lanes in downtown Portland; two neighborhood greenways connecting much of East Portland to the Gateway Transit Center; a neighborhood greenway on NE 7th and/or 9th Avenue in inner northeast Portland; a neighborhood greenway on NW/SW 20th Avenue connecting the Northwest District to Goose Hollow; and $2 million a year for biking and walking improvements near schools, which would be chosen in partnership with local school districts.

In an interview Tuesday night, Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat said that gas tax money will start to arrive in “late fall.” The city will then be able to start paving selected streets and to start planning the first round of safety improvements.

“We’re ready to get to work,” Treat said.

Correction 10 am: A previous version of this post got Ted Wheeler’s current job wrong. He’s the state treasurer. We regret the error; it was a long night.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Our opinion: Vote ‘yes’ on the gas tax

Our opinion: Vote ‘yes’ on the gas tax

Sidewalk to nowhere-2

(Photos by Jonathan Maus and Michael Andersen for BikePortland)

Three years ago, before launching his long, awkward crusade to raise money for Portland streets, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick made a really good point.

According to the city’s business tax records, he said, Portland residents, businesses and governments spend $844 million every year on auto maintenance and gasoline at local shops.

That’s not even close to the full cost of local auto use, which also includes buying cars, financing them, insuring them, parking them and so forth. Even without all that, it comes out to $3,270 per year per Portland household.

Almost everyone who bikes also drives, so almost everyone who bikes would pay. We should jump at the chance.

The 10-cent gas tax on the ballots that arrive this week in Portland mailboxes would very slightly increase that cost. Like the other costs of car use, this gas tax would be paid by rich Portlanders and by poor Portlanders. It would be paid — lest anyone forget — by Portlanders who bike, because the vast majority of Portlanders who use bikes also use cars.

It’d bring in $62 per Portland household per year, $5.18 per month. Per resident, the figure is $25, or $2.08 per month.

With that $62 per household, Portland would raise $16 million a year, or about one-fiftieth of the amount of money that Portlanders are already spending to fuel and repair their motor vehicles. Of that, $9 million go toward Portland’s budget for keeping its major streets from crumbling, increasing the paving budget by 64 percent. This would save taxpayers $90 million over the next 10 years because road maintenance now is far cheaper than repairs later. That’s a 1,000 percent return on investment — a $90 million payoff that Portland will be able to reinvest in making its streets better because it won’t have to throw every available penny into keeping them functional.

But that’s not all your $62 would do. It would also triple the city’s standing budget for new biking and walking infrastructure.

It would fill out a downtown protected bike lane network, finally delivering on the promise of our downtown bridge bikeways, all of which end before reaching the places people actually need to go.

sw broadway right turns

(For beginning riders, Southwest Broadway’s door-zone bike lane may as well be a wall — and right now it’s one of the best bike routes in downtown Portland.)

It would devote a similar amount of money to 122nd Avenue, the most important street in east Portland and the key to making low-car life in the area not just possible but pleasant.

(122nd Avenue is often the best way because on a fractured street grid, it’s often the only way.)

It would build the Mill-Millmain-Main-Market and Holladay-Oregon-Pacific neighborhood greenways through east Portland, connecting David Douglas High School and thousands of new Portlanders to the I-205 path, Gateway Transit Center and the citywide bike network.

east portland neighborhood greenways

(Planned greenways for east Portland, marked in green.)

It would fund a 7th/9th neighborhood greenway, the crucial north-south connection to the Lloyd District, a first step in turning the Lloyd into the bike-friendliest dense neighborhood in the United States and an anchor for thousands of tomorrow’s pro-bike, pro-transit voters.

tough crossing weidler 9th gal

(A neighborhood greenway on 7th or 9th might improve the crossing of Weidler.)

It would put a new neighborhood greenway on NW/SW 20th Avenue from Raleigh to Jefferson, connecting the fast-growing neighborhoods of the Northwest District with Goose Hollow, Portland State University and the employers in downtown and (via MAX) Washington County.

NW Portland Week - Day 5-18.jpg

(Northwest Portland is the only quadrant with no modern neighborhood greenways.)

It would finally build the sidewalk on Southwest Capitol Highway from Multnomah Village to West Portland Town Center, a walking route to transit and shopping that has to be upgraded for southwest Portland to graduate from countryside to city.

SW Capitol Hwy-44

(Southwest Capitol Highway has been the quadrant’s top-priority project for many years.)

Almost every day on BikePortland, we write about something the city could spend money on. This ballot issue is the best chance we’ve seen in 10 years to substantially increase the amount of money that goes toward making Portland a better place to ride a bicycle.

If a $5-per-month gas tax sounds expensive, an auto-dependent city is costing us much, much more.

The best argument against the gas tax — against spending $62 for each of the next four years to get everything above and more — is that it is regressive. Rich people drive much more than poor people, especially in cities like Portland, so they will pay more. But poor people who drive will still have to pay a disproportionate percentage of their income, just as they do with all gas taxes.

That’s why it is so essential that a gas tax also deliver disproportionate benefits to low-income Portlanders. The initiative on Portland ballots (unlike any conceivable statewide gas tax) does this. If it passes and if these projects are built, they will make driving significantly less necessary for Portlanders.

Yes, most Portlanders will still basically need to own a car. It’ll take many more years to change that, though the change is already underway. But these projects and the others funded by this tax will help many more Portlanders drive less. And less driving means fewer miles on car engines, fewer timing belt replacements, fewer fender-benders, fewer trips to the gas station.

Yes, $62 per year for the average household is regressive. But $3,270 per year for the average household is far, far more regressive. There is only one path to escaping it, and that is to make Portland a better place to get around without a car.

A “yes” vote wouldn’t be a gift from Portlanders to their city government, which regularly makes mistakes and will continue to. If it passes, it will be up to Portlanders (all of us on BikePortland included) to collect on the promise of this vote by making all these projects as good and smart as they can possibly be.

But without a “yes” vote on this ballot, most of these projects and the others that would follow them simply will not happen for many years to come.

A “yes” vote would be a gift from Portlanders to themselves. Let’s do this.

Ballots are due May 17 at 8 p.m.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Correction 2:30 pm: A previous version of this post gave the wrong annual spending figure for pavement maintenance.

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Gas tax ‘Yes’ campaign says it’s got $17,000 in pledges, will aim to raise more

Gas tax ‘Yes’ campaign says it’s got $17,000 in pledges, will aim to raise more

fix our streets

The campaign named a committee of backers

Five months after a poll showed a slight majority of likely Portland voters would support a temporary 10-cent gas tax to improve local streets, some donors are hoping cash will lock that lead in for the May election.

Backers of a local gas tax have so far pledged $17,000 for the effort, campaign strategist Stacey Dycus said Tuesday.

“We’re going to ask some local electeds to help chip in,” Dycus said. “We’re going to ask businesses to chip in. We’re looking for help from organizations. … Hopefully organizations and businesses and individuals are going to step up and help us tell the story.”

The Fix Our Streets campaign is expected to announce a committee of supporters Thursday. We’ll update this story with the full list of committee members once it has been made public.

Dycus, who has specialized in smaller-budget campaigns, said that though this one might raise enough for a targeted mailing or two, she didn’t think they’d be the best use of its money.

“I’m not convinced that mail is the best way to have impact on a small-budget campaign,” she said. “We’re going to be really counting on earned media, digital and social media.”

Dycus said the campaign has hired her frequent collaborator Jef Green of Polity Group as its fundraising consultant. She added that Mayor Charlie Hales, who isn’t running for re-election, has promised to help the campaign raise money, and that it’s welcoming people who’d like to volunteer to host house parties or recruit volunteers.

“It’s obvious that the petroleum industry is gearing up to fight this; they filed a ballot title challenge in court yesterday,” Dycus said. “Small contributions count, because this is a grassroots campaign. We have to have the support of folks who just want to help us get the word out.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Council sends gas tax to ballot behind wide range of supporters

Council sends gas tax to ballot behind wide range of supporters


Marion Haynes with the Portland Business Alliance
offered conditional support.
(Photos from City Council live feed)

Advocates of a 10-cent local gas tax joined up to form quite a list of endorsers Wednesday for a midafternoon hearing at Portland City Council. Council heard a presentation and testimony about the idea ahead of adopting a resolution to send the tax to the ballot.

“I feel like a possum on I-5 during rush hour right now,” said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for Oregon gas retailers who was one of only two people to speak clearly against the measure.

Offering support was everyone from a freight advocate to a business advocate to an environmental justice advocate from East Portland to a frequent City Hall testifier who goes by the name of “Lightning.” While almost everyone seemed to like the idea, a close look at their testimony reveals mixed feelings that could offer clues to future debates.

“It’s not every day that we have a panel that has the diversity of views that have come in before us,” said Commissioner Nick Fish, who cast one of the council’s five unanimous votes in favor of sending the $16 million annual tax to Portland voters on the May 17 ballot.

“We want to make sure that vehicle road capacity is not impacted as a part of this.”
— Molly Haynes, Portland Business Alliance

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, whose office pulled the various interests to agree on this concept over the last year, was another of the five votes. He said the city estimated that 54 percent of the revenue would go toward projects mostly associated with road maintenance and 46 percent toward projects mostly associated with road safety.

Here’s the list of people who testified in favor Wednesday (as well as I’ve been able to assemble it):

Fiona Yau-Luu, Oregon Walks
Kari Schlosshauer, Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Kristi Finney-Dunn, Families for Safe Streets
Mychal Tetteh, Community Cycling Center
Marion Haynes, Portland Business Alliance
Andy Shaw, City Club of Portland
Leah Benson, Gladys Bikes
Rebecca Hamilton, Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Chris Smith, Portland Planning Commission
Matthew Mičetić, Red Castle Games
Amy Subach, Vision Zero USA
Ophelia Miracle, Grant High School student
Vivian Satterfield, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
Corky Collier, Columbia Corridor Association
Chris Rall, Transportation for America
Ruthann Bennett, Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (city workers)
Charles Johnson, Oregonians for Food and Shelter and Compassionate Wisdom
Chau Phan Mende, parent of student at Robert Gray Middle School
Kem Marks, East Portland resident
Hau Hagedorn, North Portland resident
Craig Rogers

Here’s a list of people who opposed it:

Paul Romain, Oregon Fuel Association
Terry Parker, Northeast Portland resident

Many of those who said they were in favor offered conditions. For example, Mychal Tetteh, executive director of the Community Cycling Center, was one of several who said he was taking the city at its word that it would spend the next four years working on a more progressive way to pay for streets.

The regressive nature of the mechanism adds to a long list of transportation fees and taxes and fails to protect our lower-income households from higher transportation costs, much less divides the revenue more fairly between residents and businesses. Thankfully, the projects listed in the proposal steer revenue to the areas of the city that have long been neglected and unsafe. However, these projects alone do not solve the existing structural challenges either in the way the Bureau of Transportation allocates existing funds or determines overall transportation policies. During the regressive nature of the temporary tax on gas, our support of this effort is conditioned on the city and PBOT’s commitment to identify and pursue less regressive future funding sources and an ongoing commitment to increase transportation improvements in our most dangerous neighborhoods.”

Collier, the freight lobbyist, sounded similar notes of support but added that $16 million a year is very little compared to the $100 million a year cost of fully preserving every street in the city, plus the unknown cost of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Collier noted that if Oregon’s 1919 gas tax had been adjusted for inflation, it would now be at 70 cents per gallon, not the 30 cents people pay today.

“We have a lot more expensive road system than we did in 1919, but we’re only spending half as much to maintain it. If we could get away with it, that would be something to be proud of, but we haven’t been getting away with it. It’s deteriorating and it’s going to cost us a lot more in the future. … This is just the beginning. This is a drop in the bucket for how much we’re going to have to come up with in the future. … A few years ago, a gas tax was an obvious good solution. But that was before the arts tax, the library bond, the school bond and a number of measures that have weighed more heavily on the poor.”

Haynes, of the Portland Business Alliance, said her group saw a lot to like about gas taxes:

“It’s user-based, it’s very low in its overhead, we appreciate the voter approval that the gas tax requires, and the gas tax couldn’t be diverted to other uses. So we know that it’s going to go to its intended purpose of the maintenance issues and the safety issues.”

Haynes also said that in addition to the deferred maintenance problems the group has focused on, “there are also pressing safety needs on the streets that need to be addressed.” But she said the group would only support improvements to those “pressing safety needs” on one condition.

“We want to make sure that vehicle road capacity is not impacted as a part of this,” she said. “We really think the focus needs to be on those critical safety improvements and also on the maintenance backlog.”

Haynes also seemed to call for future taxes or fees on people who don’t drive cars. “We would not like to see additional taxes and fees on this same user group during the period, recognizing that there may be others out there that aren’t contributing at this point,” she said.

Kristi Finney-Dunn testified on behalf of Oregon and Southwest Washington Families for Safe Streets, the advocacy group whose members have seen loved ones die or suffer life-changing injuries on streets. “It is imperative that measures be taken to improve safety on our streets as soon as possible,” she said. “We cannot stress enough the urgency that we feel on this matter … We don’t want any more people to qualify for our Families for Safe Streets group.”


Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon
Fuels Association has killed past attempts
to raise road use fees, and he’s not
happy about this one either.

Romain, the fuel retail lobbyist, warned that “there will be a very broad coalition of people opposing this at the ballot.” (You might recall that it was Romain whose opposition tanked former Mayor Sam Adams’ “Safe Sound and Green” effort in 2008.)

“This is a bad idea,” he said, observing that some people will choose to fill up their cars at stations outside Portland’s borders. “We can go up a lot with the state gas tax, we just have a hard time with a local gas tax.”

Romain said his allies would mount a legal challenge to the text of the city’s ballot measure to reflect that (although the state constitution requires that it be spent on roads) the money might not be spent on the projects the city currently plans.

“Anybody in the audience who thinks those projects are sacrosanct is wrong,” Romain said. “They can be changed at any time.”

Asked by Fish and Mayor Charlie Hales what alternative measures his members would support, Romain mentioned the statewide gas tax and a proposal by Clackamas County to raise annual auto registration fees by $25 per year.

If this tax passes, we could have a very interesting summer here in Portland. Just as the City makes driving more expensive, Portlanders will see 1,000 bike share bikes hit the street. If both programs work as advertised, it could be a strong one-two punch from transportation reformers.

If you missed the hearing, you can watch it here.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Low-income households drive much less than high-income households

Low-income households drive much less than high-income households

miles driven

Source: 1995 National Household Travel Survey via Purdue University.

We’ve explored this issue various times over the years, but you often hear people claiming otherwise so let’s share the information in a new way.

It’s relevant as the city gets ready to vote on a 10-cent gas tax that would go toward slowing the crumbling of Portland’s streets and improving their safety.

Who pays gas taxes?

Generally speaking, people who drive more pay more gas taxes. (No, this correlation is not perfect; vehicle fuel efficiency, which is largely a function of vehicle weight, matters too.)

The data is very clear that higher-income households drive more.

This is less true in “dense urban” areas (which refers in this case to everything denser than “suburban areas”) than it is in suburbs, small towns and in the countryside. But it is definitely also true in cities like Portland.

Generally speaking, urban households that make $20,000 to $40,000 drive 39 percent more miles than urban households that make less than $20,000. Urban households that make $40,000 to $60,000 drive 41 percent more miles than urban households that make $20,000 to $40,000.

If you get more income than that, your household’s driving tends to level off. But urban households that make more than $100,000 still drive 16 percent more, on average, than urban households that make $40,000 to $60,000.

Portland’s median household income is about $55,000.

Does this mean that a gas tax is “progressive”? No, not necessarily. Progressivity means “poorer people pay less as a share of their income than richer people do.” Because the United States is heavily auto-dependent (including Portland and especially including many cheaper parts of Portland) lots of poor Portlanders are still spending money on gasoline.

Although many poor people own and use cars, poor people drive cars much less because poor people do less of everything, including getting around.

But there’s another factor here. Although many poor people own and use cars, poor people as a group drive cars much less because poor people do less of everything, including getting around. Households that make more than $100,000 a year travel 39 percent more miles than households that make $25,000 to $50,000. Households that make $25,000 to $50,000 travel 36 percent more miles than households that make less than $25,000. (These figures are from a federal analysis of the 2001 National Travel Household Survey.)

In the United States, being poor generally means not moving around much. Getting places costs money.

We’ll go out on a limb and say that immobility is not good.

So as voters think about the “progressivity” of a local gas tax, one question to ask is “Would this money be spent in a way that makes it easier and/or cheaper for poorer people to get around?”

We’ll see how well the backers of this ballot issue will be able to answer this question.

Update 1/26: In the comments, BikePortland reader Soren links to a study of 2013-2015 credit card data, showing that (a) yes, rich people drive much more than poor people, and (b) gas taxes are still a higher burden on poor people than on rich people as a share of income, because income inequality is more extreme than gas use inequality.

gas tax regressivity

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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‘Fix Our Streets’ gas tax campaign prepares to launch Wednesday

‘Fix Our Streets’ gas tax campaign prepares to launch Wednesday

fix our streets

The new campaign logo.

After a long pause to gather its strategy and thoughts, Portland’s city council is expected to launch its latest plan Wednesday to raise money for the city’s streets.

The new concept, a public vote for a temporary local gas tax of 10 cents per gallon, comes endorsed by a 93-page report from the City Club of Portland and at least two mayoral candidates (Jules Bailey and Ted Wheeler) as the least bad way to slow the city’s deepening pavement problem while getting some high-priority safety improvements on the ground.

And in a new development, it looks as if some resources have been found for one of such a ballot issue’s biggest needs: an organized “yes” campaign.

If approved by voters on May 17, the tax would raise $16 million each of the next four years.

It’s not nearly enough to stop all the city’s roads from falling apart further; that’d require $50 million a year, according to the City Club. Nor is it enough to achieve the city’s “Vision Zero” to eliminate preventable traffic deaths.

But the campaign’s backers say it’s a start, one that would give the city a burst of new revenue that could address pressing problems like damaged pavement on Southeast Foster Road and Southwest 4th Avenue; missing sidewalks on Southwest Capitol Highway; car and bike traffic that mixes haphazardly downtown; and speeding traffic near schools like Lents Elementary and David Douglas High School.

Gas taxes are always a hard sell politically. But unlike other ways of raising money, a gas tax would let the city get some revenue out of people who use Portland’s streets without living here.

Because richer people tend to drive more than poorer people, backers say, a gas tax is also modestly progressive.

Finally, the gas tax proposal comes after a long and lasting drop in the actual price of gas.

In Oregon, the average gas price is down more than $1 since winter 2014. For context: It’s actually fallen by 10 cents, the amount of the proposed tax, in the last 10 days.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 9.45.18 AM

You can read the city’s full description of how it would spend the gas tax on this PDF that auto-downloads from its website.

In an interview Saturday, Fix Our Streets campaign manager Aaron Brown said he thinks the campaign will appeal to a wide number of local institutions.

“I don’t want to speak ahead of other organizations that wish to come out and make their own announcements about this, but I am optimistic that this is a proposal that a variety of organizations with different interests in Portland can and will get excited about,” Brown said.

Brown said he couldn’t yet share details about the funding of the Fix Our Streets campaign but that “we’ll have a full release about where the money’s coming from and that sort of stuff on Wednesday.”

Brown, who also serves as the president of the board of Oregon Walks, also said that to pass, the campaign will need a lot of volunteer support.

“This is it,” said Brown. “We’re going to vote on it, May 2016. Everyone who has ever sat around thinking about how great it would be that they had a chance to tell elected officials how they deeply care about road safety and maintenance and show that they care about investing in their infrastructure, should save May 17, 2016, as the day they need to get their ballots in, and should prepare to help out with the campaign.”

He hopes people will be able to show up to city council on Wednesday to support a council vote to refer the issue to the ballot.

“If you’re interested in providing electoral support for livable streets in Portland, we need you Wednesday at 2 o’clock,” Brown said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Owner of Foster storefront wrecked by drunk driver was already a leading voice for street safety

Owner of Foster storefront wrecked by drunk driver was already a leading voice for street safety


Matthew Mičetić, owner of Red Castle Games,
in front of the boarded-up window smashed
by a car on April 2.
(Photo courtesy Mičetić)

The owner of a game store on SE Foster Road whose front window was destroyed this month by a speeding car also happens to be one of the most prominent backers of safety improvements to Foster Road, and also of a citywide street fund.

In fact, Matthew Mičetić of Red Castle Games was one of two small business owners that Portland leaders invited to speak at the press conference where they launched their currently paused street fund effort last spring.

He’s also head of his local business association — a group that he said surprised Portland City Council last summer when its members showed up in force to support redesigning their street to add a center turn lane and bike lanes by removing two passing lanes.

Unfortunately for Mičetić’s storefront, the redesign won’t happen until next year. That meant that when a man named Myles Nees was allegedly drunk and fleeing from police during the early evening rush hour on Foster April 2, he had enough room to veer his car from lane to lane. Mičetić said Nees reached speeds of 60 to 80 mph before losing control and running onto the sidewalk into Red Castle’s building.

“If you were on Division at 5 o’clock, you’re never going to hit 60 mph,” Mičetić said in an interview Tuesday. “Whereas Foster or Sandy, at that time you can weave around vehicles.”

Mičetić later posted his security camera’s video of the collision on YouTube, as seen from inside the store:

Mičetić praised the employee pictured here, who can be seen diving immediately for the telephone to report the crash and then dashing out the front door in pursuit of the fleeing driver.

“She was pretty shaken up later, and is still a little shaken up now when she hears brakes screeching,” he said. “But within seconds she was on 911 to report the guy.”

No one was seriously injured in the collision. Nees was arraigned Tuesday on a battery of charges related to the incident. His next court date is in May.

Storefront crashes are common; the Storefront Safety Council calculates that 60 happen every day in the United States.

“It’s just sort of a hidden epidemic that’s happening all the time, and it’s not cheap,” Mičetić said. “My father used to own a 7-11 at 148th and Division, and he had the same thing happen to him when I was a kid. … I’ve Been Framed, down there at 51st and Foster, that happened to them.”

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Mičetić estimated that the total cost of his storefront crash may be around $20,000, including $6,000 in lost revenue from time the shop is closed for repairs. Because Nees’ auto insurance coverage is unclear — Mičetić said a police detective told him it may have been purchased under false pretenses — Red Castle isn’t yet sure how much money it’ll be out.

He said he’s grateful for a community of customers who’ve put up 7,600 in online donations to support the store, plus made other gestures of support.

“People brought us ketchup,” he said.

Street fee needed for maintenance and safety, Mičetić says

inside of store

View of the damage from inside the store. The white labels are messages of support from Red Castle Games customers.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

I reached out to Mičetić for a conversation last week, after my boss Jonathan Maus saw news coverage of the storefront crash and realized that he’d met Mičetić at last spring’s street fee launch event.

“How can the need be so apparent but the will to fix it be so small? … I really hope that Commissioner Novick and Hales really keep this on their plate.”

Mičetić said his support for the street fee has always been largely financial: as a longtime Portlander, he’s watched the city’s attempts to raise money for road maintenance fail year after year, with the estimated repair bill climbing higher and higher each time.

“This is the third or fourth go-around,” he said. “I sort of did the math, back on the previous fees, of how little it would have been if we’d started back in 2002, or 2008. … Every time we talk about it again, it’s not like my monthly fee doubles. It’s like my monthly fee goes up six times! Because the infrastructure gets so much worse.”

Mičetić said he’d welcome citywide safety investments, too.

“I go over Foster and 82nd every day, and that intersection is awful. it is really really bad,” he said. “How can the need be so apparent but the will to fix it be so small? … I really hope that Commissioner Novick and Hales really keep this on their plate.”

Prediction: Road diet will be “phenomenal” for Foster

front of store on foster

Red Castle Games is looking to expand by adding a cafe next door to its game shop; at the next storefront, a boiled bagel shop is preparing to open.

Then there’s the future of Mičetić’s own corner of Portland: the Foster Streetscape Plan. Though that plan’s bike lanes will be far from great — they’ll be paint-only, sometimes running in door zones and zigzagging off course at one point in order to preserve a few parking spaces — removing the passing lanes will be a huge improvement to the area, Mičetić said.

“For our business and the neighborhood in general it’s going to be phenomenal,” he predicted. “Any time you get them to go a little slower, there’s always that marginal chance they’ll remember you at Christmas or they’ll stop in for a birthday present.

“When you slow everything down it just becomes more pleasant as well,” Mičetić said. “I’m not very sympathetic, honestly, to those people who are upset that it’s going to add a minute or two to their commute. It’s not a road that should have been set up for people to go 40 or 50 mph down like they do now.”

Mičetić said his personal dream would be to once again have a streetcar line running down Foster, though he said he fears few would agree.

“The other benefit to us I think is going to be the bike lane,” he added. “I bike occasionally, but let me tell you I never bike on Foster.”

Mičetić, who is planning to open a cafe in the vacant storefront next to his current shop, has asked the city to convert one of the auto parking spaces outside his building to a bike corral.

“This morning we just got two more staples,” he said. “They’re always filling up, and geez, for the summer we want to have adequate parking. … I am just looking forward to that because it’ll bring up the bicycle commuter traffic. It’ll come right by my store and if I get that corral…”

Mičetić trailed off happily.

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5 lessons for Portland in Seattle’s big bike-friendly ballot issue

5 lessons for Portland in Seattle’s big bike-friendly ballot issue


A few miles up the road, Portland’s big-sister city is doing something Portland hasn’t yet: charting a viable path to paying for its transportation goals.

The nine-year, $900 million “Move Seattle” property tax levy proposed Wednesday by Mayor Ed Murray would include (among many other things) 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 60 miles of neighborhood greenways over nine years. That’s about half of the projects that Seattle’s 20-year bike plan refers to as parts of the “citywide network.”

For comparison’s sake, Portland’s “paused” street fund proposal included, at one point, an estimated 14-20 miles of protected bike lanes and 40-50 miles of greenways over 10 years. But the possible lessons here for Portland aren’t just about scale (Seattle is bigger by most measures, after all) and the story here isn’t just that Seattle is succeeding where we aren’t (Seattle has a long way to go, after all).

As we all wait, somewhat confused, to see when Portland City Council will again decide to take up this problem (Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick says he plans to take it back up after the Legislature adjourns), here are some notes about Seattle’s proposal that Portlanders might find useful.

It’s going straight to voters. Despite calisthenic attempts to keep their street fund proposal off the ballot, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick couldn’t find a city council majority that could do so. By framing the issue from the get-go as a choice for voters, Murray is greatly simplifying his messaging around a public vote that probably would have been inevitable anyway.

It’s a big risk. This isn’t likely to be an easy sell. Murray is asking voters to more than double their expiring transportation property tax levy, from $130 a year to $275 a year for the median home.

The virtue of this is that it gives voters a chance to make a big decision with big payoff. Seattle Transportation Director Scott Kubly has been noting, correctly, that both of those cost figures are dwarfed by the thousands of dollars each year that the median Seattle resident has to spend on car transportation. Small investments in transit and biking benefit mostly the people who already use those modes. Big investments benefit everyone, because they actually reduce car use.

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Seattle is framing biking and transit as benefits to everyone. Politically speaking, there are two ways to see bicycle transportation improvements: as a tool for appeasing a tiny interest group of bike advocates, or as a tool for preventing a city from drowning in its own congestion. Murray’s administration is being very clear that it sees bikes as the second thing. From Wednesday’s coverage in The Stranger:

The future of this city is not in cars. As SDOT director Scott Kubly pointed out multiple times today, if all the people moving to our city—60,000 new people by 2025, according to the mayor—have to drive their cars everywhere, we’ll descend into an awful hellscape of traffic jams even worse than what we have now.

Portland politicians seem to have lost track of this narrative. Which is odd, since Portland is maybe the best evidence in the country that this works.

Scenes from the streets in Seattle-1.jpg

Portland active transportation staffer Linda Ginenthal on the streets of Seattle in 2008.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

It’s a boring old property tax. Why has 87.4 percent of Portland’s public conversation been about the street fund about how the money would be collected rather than all the neat stuff it would buy? Because Portland was trying to create a new sort of tax. By using an existing tax, Murray is starting the conversation with the benefits rather than the costs.

The main problem here is that Oregon’s property tax system, unlike Washington’s, is both conversation-killingly unfair and designed to pit ballot issues against each other before they even get in front of voters. Property taxes aren’t perfect, but they’re simple, broad-based and (under Washington’s constitution) relatively progressive. Novick has yet to float a Street Fund proposal that hits all three of those marks.

It’s a compromise. When it comes to transportation ballot issues, the conventional wisdom seems to be that unless local business advocacy groups are on board (and therefore, usually, the local newspaper’s editorial board), no one will be shouting “yes” loud enough to persuade voters to raise their taxes.

It’s not yet clear whether Murray got a sign-off from the Downtown Seattle Association or Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, though Cascade Policy Club Policy Manager Brock Howell said Wednesday that he didn’t expect either group to oppose it — adding that the plan falls well short of advocates’ stated goals for 250 miles of new bikeways by 2024. With Seattle City Council yet to act on Murray’s proposal, the compromises up north are sure to keep coming.

But if Seattle business and biking advocates end up teaming up to support this issue, it won’t be mostly because they’ve each secured an appropriate share of goodies. It’ll be mostly because business advocates in Seattle see bikes and transit as ways to increase the capacity of the road system. Until Portland can once again see transportation investments that way, compromises are likely to remain something biking advocates can only dream of.

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