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Eugene Weekly : News : 3.4.10

Bike Funding Detoured

Cycling safety money goes to repaving roads

by Alan Pittman

Local bike and environmental advocates had hoped this month that the Eugene City Council would change its policy of diverting money from bike safety projects to fund road re-paving, but that didn’t happen.

The council did, however, vote 5-3 on Feb. 8 to restore about $200,000 dollars of bike/pedestrian funding out of the hundreds of millions spent on car facilities.

But bike advocates expressed dis-appointment with the council meeting. On the GEARs website, a blog post called the opposition to the bike/ped projects by three councilors and level of funding “disheartening to say the least.”

Before 2005, the city had relied on federal Surface Transportation-Urban (STP-U) funds for bike projects. With almost all government money available for transportation improvements restricted to building new roads for cars and trucks, STP-U offered one of the few ongoing funding sources available for priority bike projects. STP-U funds are very limited with only about $1 million to $3 million dollars a year.

But in 2005 the council passed a motion to direct all the STP-U funds to fund “operations, maintenance and preservation of existing capital transportation infrastructure.”

Discussion on the motion centered on not spending money on new roads while existing roads needed repair. Bike and pedestrian facilities also need repairs and are part of “transportation” infrastructure. But city staff interpreted the council motion to mean no funding for bike projects. This year City Manager Jon Ruiz recommended the city’s share of the STP-U funds go for $2.8 million in repaving projects with nothing for bikes and pedestrians.

That raised the concern of the city’s Sustainability Commission. Joshua Skov, chair of the commission’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee, told the council last month that the commission had voted unanimously to ask the council to “prioritize bike and pedestrian projects for these flexible funds.”

Skov pointed out that cutting the little available funds for non-polluting bike and pedestrian transportation is “at odds with our City Council goals” to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and oil dependence. 

The GEARs bike advocacy group joined in with a call for cyclists to lobby the council for more funding.

But the citizen lobbying didn’t impress Councilor Mike Clark, who has questioned whether global warming is caused by humans. Clark pointed to a list of $12.5 million dollars in bike/pedestrian projects since 2006 and the city’s claim that it has a $170 million street repair backlog. “I don’t think we’ve kept up with this [road repair] as we’re leading in this [bike projects], so it doesn’t seem a high priority to me,” he said.

Half of the $12.5 million on the list came from one-time stimulus funds to mitigate the impact of Delta Highway walling off north Eugene from the riverfront by constructing a new bike and pedestrian bridge. Other money was less flexible, one-time and/or road-improvement related funds that could not be dedicated to the city’s highest bike and pedestrian improvement priorities. Only about $1.7 million was completed new bike/ped infrastructure projects.

City staff did not provide a similar list of funds dedicated to car projects since 2006. The city recently diverted $1.3 million in street repair funding to a project to connect Chad Drive to the I-5 interchange. The regional 20-year TransPlan document plans $1 billion in roadway improvements but only $23 million for bikes. 

“We do spend a lot of money on bikes, but we spend an enormous amount of money on cars,” Councilor Alan Zelenka said. Zelenka said he’d like about 5 to 10 percent of the STP-U funds spent on bikes and pedestrians but did not make a motion to that effect. Zelenka did make the motion to include about $200,000 in STP-U funding for bike and pedestrian safety improvements on Coburg Road and MLK Boulevard. 

Councilor George Poling argued against even that small funding for safety improvements for bikes and pedestrians. People “don’t want sidewalks, they want good streets,” he said.

No councilor made a motion to exempt bike/ped projects from the 2005 policy to take STP-U money for paving. City transportation staff presented an alternative to also fund $200,000 to $300,000 in new and improved bike boulevards, but no councilor made a motion to fund the project. 

The council meeting “makes it seem like the city feels it is spending enough on active transportation already,” the GEARs post said. “We still have an incomplete network that families are afraid to use.”

Bike and environmental advocates may get another crack at the decision with the Metropolitan Policy Committee, which has the final say on the STP-U funding allocations. The MPC has scheduled a public hearing for March 11 with final action set for April 8.

Cutting STP-U funding for bikes may violate the regional TransPlan approved by the MPC and state regulators. To reduce car traffic, the plan has a policy calling for the region to “give funding priority” to bike projects, and double bikeway miles by 2021. 

A longer version of this story first appeared at Eugenecycles.com