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POL Government Elected Officials Commissioner Amanda Fritz Blog
My vote against the bike rental project - August 22, 2011

I am out of town on vacation with my daughter, watching plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  Sometimes this means escape from reality, and we laugh great belly-laughs.  Sometimes a play brings reality so sharply into focus, tears run down my face.  Every day in the afternoon, I wander from our hotel to Louie's Sports Bar, to give my daughter some space.  The key to good family togetherness is not overdoing the together part, in my opinion.   So here I sit, sipping a refreshing beverage, glancing at the soccer on TV whenever a goal is scored, and working on chipping away at the backlog of emails in my work inbox.  I am not opening comments on this blog post, as I won't be able to respond in a timely manner.

 

One of the emails I read yesterday, captured perfectly the reasons I voted against the Regional Flexible Funding proposal the Council approved last Wednesday, in a hearing that was supposed to take 30 minutes and instead lasted 2.5 hours (hence my hurried departure at 1 p.m., since I had been scheduled to leave for Ashland at noon). 

 

Let me preface this by saying I wholeheartedly support three of the four projects in the Resolution.  Those three, the infrastructure improvements for all modes in the freight project and those on SE Foster and SE Division, definitely meet the criteria of safety and equity required by the federal and Metro mandates for the funds.  I asked that the proposal could be split into four, so I could vote in support of these three.  My request was denied, so I had to vote No on the whole Resolution.

 

The project approved by the rest of the Council, allocating $2 million in precious federal funds to a bike rental project downtown, does not meet the goals of improving equity or safety, in my opinion.  With permission, here is what my thoughtful correspondent wrote, explaining why.  I am not posting the writer's name because I get paid for reading and hearing vitreolic responses, the writer does not.  I endorse the following:

 

I support the inclusion of the Barbur Streetscape Project, the East Portland Active Transportation and Areawide Improvements, and the Foster Road Safety Enhancements in the City's Regional Flexible Funds (RFF) application to Metro.  

 

As you know, this year Metro has established equity as a criterion for the Regional Flexible Funds, and each of these projects will help move the region toward a transportation system with more equitably distributed resources. I urge you to take a deeper look at the proposed Bike Sharing Program, particularly in these times of scarce resources and lean budgets.  When the bike sharing proposal was introduced at a recent Metro Transportation Policy meeting , it received more criticism and doubt than ANY other RFF proposal that was presented.  Here are a few concerns and questions that I think need to be addressed regarding the Bike Sharing Program:

 

1. It is unclear who the target user is for this project?  People who own bikes or don't own bikes?  People who work downtown?  Bike commuters who ride the MAX?  "Interested but concerned" Portlanders?  It's not clear who this project is designed to benefit, therefore it's impossible to know whether or not this is intervention will lead to the desired outcome.  Is there any data to show market demand for this program? 

 

Personally, I consider myself one of those “interested but concerned” bicyclists.  I sometimes don’t ride places because it feels unsafe or I’m uncomfortable with a certain street I’ll have to travel. If the goal is to get more people riding bikes, it makes a lot more sense to invest in roads and streetscapes that are safe and bike-friendly.
  

2. Why should we have a bike sharing program that only benefits the Central City, particularly when we already have a "Free Rail Zone" in downtown Portland?

 
3. What are these public-private partnerships that are going to help support the program?
 
4. How will this project be financially sustainable?  Where will the ongoing operations money come from? 
 
5. How will the City control issues of theft and vandalism (documented as real problems in several other cities that have implemented a bike sharing program)?
 
6. Will a membership-based program such as this encourage or discourage certain populations from participation?  Will this be a barrier for underserved or marginalized populations? 
 
7. Has there been any type of community engagement or public participation around the creation of this type of program in Portland? 
 
8. What are the motivations for starting this program?  Just because we already have a fantastic image as a “bike-friendly city,” does not require us to have a bike sharing program.  Is this program simply to keep up with our reputation?
 
9. How does this project meet the equity criteria outlined in the RFF guidelines?
 
If, as a City, we are truly concerned with both the safety and the equitable distribution of our transportation resources, then the Barbur project is a clear choice for the Regional Flexible Funds.  Please consider replacing the $2 million Bike Sharing project with the Barbur project in the City's application for funds.
 

Thank you, thoughtful citizen, for sending your comments and giving me permission to post them.  I need to add, that this is NOT a "Bike Sharing" program.  It is a Bike Rental program, which will now be subsidized with $2 million in public money.  If it is likely to be successful as a business enterprise, it seems to me that private entrepreneurs would be providing the service.

 

I voted in support of an amendment that will perhaps direct other funds to projects on Barbur and in Sullivan's Gulch, both of which were deemed higher priorities for the here-and-now ederal RFF funds than the bike rental program.  If other funds are or will be available, I wonder why these other projects were not already on their way to implementation.  I also worry about what will not get done, if these projects now jump to the head of the queue. 

 

It is true that Mayor Adams has allocated more funds than any Mayor in recent memory, for sidewalks in all parts of Portland, particularly outer East and deep Southwest in areas annexed 40 years ago and still lacking basic city services.  I greatly appreciate his partnership in this endeavor, and his promise to have the Bureau of Transportation respond to my request for an estimate of the total cost to provide sidewalks where there aren't any, on all Major Transit Streets.  Still, we know the needs and cost are huge.  One mile of sidewalks in SW on Capitol Highway, a Major Transit Street, will cost over $19 million.  With such great needs, we simply don't have $2 million to spare on something that might be nice, but isn't essential and doesn't promote safety or equity.  And that's why I voted No on the Resolution for allocation of Regional Flexible Funds last week.


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