Monday, March 08, 2010

Cronyism and Lavish Funding Explain Portland's $2.5 mil/mile Bike Lane Plan

Apologies to those who expected this post to be up two weeks ago when I mentioned this on my show on KPAM.
Cronyism reigns at Portland's City Hall. Government gives $$ to bike lobbyists who turn around and lobby the government for more money. And we pay for with our water bills or "green streets" $$. Really. In any other city this is a scandal. In Portland ineptitude and profligacy are de rigueur.

The lobbyists came away with quite a payday recently when they talked the city into going forward with $1.5 billion in bike paths. That represents 20% of the current ~$5.6 billion in transportation infrastructure. That works out to $93 million per paid employee by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance if you're keeping book.
I sure wish car and truck owners had our own lobbyists because we could sure use improved roads. Our only advocates, AAA, give us info on gas prices and places to go on vacation. Oy.

All we're looking for is a bit of sanity. There's little chance of that because as Mayor Sam Adams pointed out a couple of weeks ago when the council unanimously passed the $1.5 billion bike plan, the first down payment for the plan will come from our water bills. That's right, our water bills. As we pointed out at the time, Sam said that he'd "kick start" the bike plan from the Big Pipe project "communications" budget.

As the Portland Tribune reported recently (here), our water bills are on a glide path to DOUBLE in the next few years due to EPA fines. Instead of bringing down the costs for the overly burdened taxpayers, Sam has doubled down on our future liabilities and has purchased new infrastructure without taking care of the old.What recession? What 11% unemployment rate?
Since 1991, average residential sewer bills have increased from $11.40 per month to about $50 a month. Approximately half that growth has gone to pay for the $1.4 billion-plus project to keep sewage out of the Willamette River and Columbia Slough — a project deemed necessary to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
Now, water bills are projected to increase as the city complies with a new a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule. Among other things, the rule requires the Portland Water Bureau to either cover the open reservoirs in Mount Tabor and Washington parks or treat all of the water coming out of them to eliminate contaminants

Since he made that announcement in council chambers Sam has walked it back slightly after all the criticism. He now wants to use $20,000,000.00 from the "Green Streets" program. Oh, that's sooo much better. It's a misappropriation of funds. Period.

How did the bicycling community get so powerful that's able to convince politicos to throw Joe taxpayer under the $100,000,000/mile light rail train and give over their hard earned money to the bicyclists in a disproportionate way?

According to Willamette Week in a story published a couple of weeks ago,

Anchored by 5,000 dues-paying members (current fee: $40) and contracts with the City of Portland and the Oregon Department of Transportation, the BTA built a solid financial foundation. Although BTA is a statewide organization, about 80 percent of its membership lives in Portland

And where do they get this influence? We find out in WW:
BTA’s political influence is evident in ways large and small. In 2007, the Legislature approved a “Share the Road” Oregon license plate, which yields BTA more than $40,000 a year.
Unlike most small nonprofits, the BTA employs a full-time lobbyist.

A FULL TIME LOBBYIST? C'mon, $40 bucks a year isn't going to buy a guy with this much juice at the legislature? There must be something more. And there is. In addition to the private folks giving the fruits of their own labors to help the bicycle there are plenty of GOVERNMENTS giving OUR money away to them.

Portland office of Transportation
Oregon Department of Transportation
Tri Met
The City of Ashland
Albany Public schools
 No, I do not stutter. We pay the government to pay the bicycle lobby to lobby for more bicycles and paths to ride on.

And how do they get such influence? The Willamette Week tells us a few of the players:

Last year, in his first year as mayor, Adams hired Catherine Ciarlo, a former BTA executive director, to be his transportation adviser. Adams’ chief of staff, Tom Miller, is a keen cyclist and former BTA board member.
At Metro, in addition to Burkholder, Councilor Robert Liberty is an avid cyclist, and communications director Jim Middaugh is a BTA board member. Clackamas County Chairwoman Lynn Peterson and Washington County Commissioner and chairman candidate Dick Schouten are both dedicated riders and BTA members.
In 2009, Bricker’s successor, Karl Rohde, took an ambitious legislative agenda to Salem. Rohde, a former two-term Lake Oswego city councilor, pushed bills that would increase state funding for bicycling and increase penalties for motorists who collide with cyclists.
Business taxes have gone up 300% in the last few years. Garbage bills are going up and garbage pick up is going down to accommodate Dan Saltzman's dearest wish to compost our leftover food. The cost of the city's payroll computer is out of control, going from $15 million to now $65 million, even though the city calls it a "success". The Portland Tribune reports today that water and sewer rates will DOUBLE in the next couple of years. You'd think that with all this gouging of the taxpayers Adams would use that "kick start" money to REDUCE OUR TAXES and FEES.

The thought never occurred to him apparently. It should.


  1. I understand many of your points, though I do believe there is an obvious bias against cycling. 20% of transportation funds seems to be very fair if cycling is treated as a serious option for transportation, which it is. If 1/4 of your population commutes via bicycling, then 25% is certainly fair.

    Also, I'm not sure why you point out that the number equates to $93million per paid employee of the BTA, but that figure is more FUD than anything. What does that have to do with with *anything*? Many other organizations get equivalent or significantly greater per paid employee. This sounds like a sleazy argument tactic. From reading the rest of your post, that's not exactly characteristic of your other points. :(

  2. You sound like a very sad and bitter person. What' preventing you, Victoria, from getting off your complaining arse and getting to work to hire your own lobbiest? I guess it's easier to sit in your car, composing blogs and b!tching as the world passes you by.

  3. Thank goodness YOU aren't involved in leading our city, Victoria! Talk about a place I wouldn't want to live.

    Instead we're lucky enough to have a city and Metro government that exhibits foresight in its decision making. I recommend that you just stick with your radio blather!

  4. You just make numbers up, don't you? Because that's the only way you can make the points you try to make. Sad.

  5. I'm under the impression that the BTA uses what government funding it gets, to fund the Safe Routes to Schools program, where they teach elementary school kids how to safely ride their bicycles to school.

    Matter of fact, Safe Routes to School is the biggest single expenditure of the BTA.

    Last I heard, riding your bike to school was something we wanted to encourage. It's good for kids to get some exercise and helps them feel independent. And having kids learn traffic rules at an earlier age may make them better car drivers later, if they choose to do so.

  6. Try reading some facts and then get back to us. What a waste of space.
    Here, i'll help you. This is the BTA's I990:
    Their volunteer board lists one unpaid guy in Salem and their staff lists one new guy whose job may partially entail legislative work.

    Don't like it? Start your own not for profit. You could give micro loans to ignorant bloggers so they can post complete crap on a daily basis.

    The 2030 plan is only a plan. it has no funding and it is estimated if completely built to cost 600 million over 20 years. At least they have a plan.

    Perhaps you'd rather have that non existant funding go toward a half mile of freeway instead.

    The creative idea to jointly handle water runoff and traffic devices from one budget is the sort of stuff I wish more politicians could come up with. These are not restricted funds and nobody is reaching in your pocket Ms representative democracy.

    You are actually upset that the state of oregon pays the BTA to teach kids and adults how to safely ride and walk to school? You are certainly the same one complaining that people on bikes don't follow the rules as you stuff your face with drive through food on your pollute to work.

    You wish car and truck owners had their own lobbyists?!? Are you high? What the hell do you think created the system of roads we have now? Pavement fairies? You should be demanding your precious tax money back from the motor lobby from the last 80 years of so-called development.

    Get stuffed. Enjoy the diabetes.

  7. If bike riders want to "share the road" they should need a license, license plate with tags and liability insurance!

  8. Perhaps bicycles should have tags and insurance. But the cost of such tags and insurance should reflect the impact (potential impact) of the bicycle.
    They put much less wear and tear on the road. They are much less likely to cause injury to other people while riding.

    As a walker, who often waits at corners for lights to change, I often observe cars not following the law, as they rush through lights that turn red as they are rushing through the intersection.
    I observe far more violations by cars then by bicycles.
    Even as a percent, I observe far more cars breaking the law then I do bicycles.

    I think there are those with a bias against bicycles.
    I also think there are those with a bias against motor vehicles.

  9. Darrin said...
    "If bike riders want to "share the road" they should need a license, license plate with tags and liability insurance!"

    Ok, sure. Fine. Even though municipalities, including Medford, OR have found that registering bikes costs more than any perceived benefit (and have done away with the requirement to register your bike). Is that how you want to spend Portland $$$? But maybe you mean a license without registration. What benefit will that provide? Be sure to tell your little 10 year old neighbor that he needs to "register his bike" before he can go outside to play. Sounds kind of Scroogish to me and counter productive to encouraging healthy, active youth .

  10. I already have a license and insurance which give me the privilege of driving and cover me (and you) when I am on my bike.
    What we need is education and enforcement which is accounted for in Portland's 2030 bike plan. You may consider actually reading it: then telling your city council you support that part. See section 4.2 Safety Education and Enforcement.

    Licensing plans have historically failed for many reasons including:
    Too expensive to municipalities, agencies, families and taxpayers.
    Discouraging to new riders, active transportation, commerce and tourism.

    Whether in my car or on my bike (or on foot for that matter) if I break a traffic law, I am subject to a ticket. If I collide with someone or something, I am responsible to the extent the collision was my fault. The only people that benefit from a bike license and insurance scheme are insurance salesmen.

  11. Welcome to the blog BTA!
    Because I have to get to work I just want to say to the first commenter that "if" that many people actually commuted by bike we'd have a different situation, but fewer than 6% do --and even that number is inflated.
    If we improve the streets then everyone can ride on them.

  12. JR,
    The BTA gets funding from government and individuals. Why is government funding lobbyists?
    If BTA wants to give bikes away at school you should be able to do that. Leave the government out of it.

  13. I am a volunteer/member so I do not speak for the BTA. (by "us" I meant the unfortunates who stumbled onto your original ill-informed post.)
    Your government, via ODOT, is contracting the Bicycle Safety Education program of Safer Routes to School to the BTA who implements it. (In other states, different groups perform the same function.) The BTA uses these restricted funds for that effort only. It (Bicycle Safety Education) is also made possible through a ton of volunteer hours like mine.
    BTA lobbying efforts are funded by annual memberships like mine. Government contracts do not fund lobbying.
    If you are concerned about inappropriate government funding, you should be asking why the government is directly funding corporations like insurance companies and auto makers or perhaps why the gov't is subsidizing fuel costs while fighting two massively expensive wars to keep strategic hold of dwindling resources we can't afford rather than worrying about teaching tens of thousands of kids annually to be healthier and how to behave in traffic.
    The BTA does not give away bikes at school.
    Bicycle Safety Education is not a handout. Giving away bikes to kids without teaching them the responsibility that comes with them is potentially where the "scofflaw cyclist" complaint originates.
    The BTA's program uses and reuses a fleet of bikes which gets transferred from school to school (again by volunteers), gets used by kids and teachers in 4th-7th grade classroom then gets brought back to a donated storage facility and maintained by more volunteers. I strongly encourage you to go participate in even one day of this program before pissing all over something you know nothing about. You could even talk to the people at the BTA to get the facts.
    Bicycle Transportation Alliance

  14. This move by the Portland City Council to take $20-million from the city's sewer projects, something needed by the city, and put it into their ridiculous bicycle plan, something NOT needed by the city, should be an obvious trigger to oust every one of the so-called "leaders" of the City.

    This makes me even more happy that I live in Vancouver. Why anyone, other than the bicycle anarchists of Portland, would want to live there is incomprehensible.

  15. You don't have to live here. You can always move to California.

  16. I don't think so, Paul. I've been to California more than a few times and there ain't enough money to get me to move there. I would move back to Montana, though, given the chance. But the cost of moving anywhere these days, even across town, is extremely prohibitive.

    BTW, Paul, are you related to the UnAbel Johnson that rants here daily?

  17. My point being if you don't like the way we roll, go back where you came from or find a new place to be: yield to the born locals or get the fuck out.

    As far as I'm aware, I'm not related to anyone else commenting.