Archive for May, 2015

Why Portland Can’t Afford to Axe its Bike-Ped Coordinator

You’ve probably heard, but the Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator position was axed from Portland’s city budget for next year – and local advocates have been trying to push back on the decision before it’s finalized.  (Which can be tough, considering positions and funding are about to be cut for the homeless, New Mainers, school dental care, and other much-needed services as well.)

Rock star former Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator, Bruce Hyman at center - now the city's Transportation Program Manager.

Rock star former Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator, Bruce Hyman at center – now the city’s Transportation Program Manager.

It been fairly clear from different Councilors’ comments over the past several weeks that they believe Bruce Hyman (the former Bike-Ped Coordinator – who is, granted, a rock star) will somehow be able to keep up with all the bike-pedestrian work he used to do, as part of his 175 new responsibilities as the city’s Transportation Program Manager.

It’s also apparent that once the position is lost as a line item in the budget, it will take an Act of Congress (well, not really – but likely some kind of long-shot grant funding) to bring it back.

This isn’t a frivolous position – it’s damn important – for all the reasons we know:

  • you need someone advocating all the time for the inclusion of bike-ped accommodations in every infrastructure project  – In fact, other city staff have expressed deep concern about meeting bicycle and pedestrian project needs without a staff person specifically assigned to tend to those pieces.
  • Projects like this crossing improvement on Washington Avenue don't (or take forever to) get built when you don't have a City Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator.

    Projects like this crossing improvement on Washington Avenue don’t (or take forever to) get built when you don’t have a City Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator.

    the coordinator can (and does) bring in far more in bike-ped planning and infrastructure funding than the cost of the position itself – City staff have put together a list of bike-pedestrian infrastructure projects that were brought in over the past 4 years of the coordinator position and it was about $1 million. And that’s just infrastructure – it doesn’t reflect different study monies like the EPA Bikeshare Feasibility Study, etc. that the position secured as well. Cutting the cost of this position actually means cutting long-term planning and infrastructure revenue.

  • a dedicated bike-ped staffer makes things happen – I had been doing Safe Routes to School consulting work in the region for a year before the Bike-Ped Coordinator position was created and for 11 months I tried to track down a bike rack in the city’s inventory for one of its elementary schools.  I finally got a “no, we don’t have anything.”  Within two weeks on the job, Bruce had found three racks in deep storage and made one available to the school.
  • walking and bicycling are low cost transportation options that many city residents don’t just want to use, but need to use – This winter, I was biking in the dark early one morning on West Commercial to catch a bus to Boston at the Portland Transportation Center and I was passed by a crew of workers on bikes leaving their shift at Barber Foods. I suspect they weren’t on bikes just for the fun of it but because they need them to get to work. The position also advocates for equity and access improvements for all, including those of us who are disabled. And there’s no doubt that every city resident, worker, and student is a pedestrian at some point in the day.
  • Last but not least, bike-pedestrian improvements are a boon for economic development – drawing both businesses and customers.   As one city staffer shared, “There is no doubt that Portland does well economically when we are multi-modal.” In late April the city hosted a visit with the national Bicycle Friendly Communities Program. Its representative was clear with city staff that Bicycle Friendly Community status has become a standard draw for everyone from families to corporations.  And that the loss of the bike-pedestrian coordinator position would be a real step backward for the City and the City’s Bicycle Friendly Community status.

Portland LogoJPGThere is some hopeful news that’s just surfaced amidst all this.  (After testifying at budget and Finance Committee meetings a couple of weeks ago I thought we were at a dead end.)  There are a number of already funded bicycle and pedestrian projects in the City’s queue that are not moving forward due to a lack of staff to manage them. A bicycle-pedestrian coordinator could be funded via those projects and complete them. While that might limit what the person could do, that would at least maintain the position on the books and keep it moving forward.  Even if it means reduced output, we would be incredibly fortunate for this to be the case.

What’s that mean for those of us who live in the great City of Portland?  It’s fairly simple. We need to show up in numbers at the City Council’s budget discussions meeting on June 1st, 5:30pm in the Council Chambers on the 2nd floor.  And, during the public comment period you can keep it brief: state your name, your street address and your request that the city maintain the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator position, even if only part-time. If for some reason you can’t make it (but please try!) then definitely e-mail the Mayor and Councilors the same request.

May 26, 2015 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Steve Clark Visits Portland: input from the Bicycle Friendly Communities Program

Steve Clark - League PhotoThanks to Tyler Kidder, the Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Southern Maine and Nancy Grant of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Portland hosted a visit in late April from Steve Clark, specialist with the Bicycle Friendly Communities Program (an initiative of the League of American Bicyclists).

There are designated Bicycle Friendly Communities in every state in the country (Bath and Brunswick are listed as Bronze). Places like Boulder, CO and Davis, CA are at the highest Platinum level (not a shocker) – but other cities like Chicago, which lagged behind in bicycle improvements for a long time, have shot up in the rankings due to concerted on-the-ground infrastructure and programming efforts in recent years. It’s clear that a community’s Bicycle Friendly Community status has become a standard economic and liveability draw for everyone from families to corporations.

IMG_0890 (2)The application is lengthy and then followed up with on-site 3rd party assessments – one of which I’ve done here in Maine.  Portland was disheartened to apply twice for Bicycle Friendly Community status and only get Honorable Mention both times.  (And I’ve personally questioned how Bath – where I’m from, so I’m a supporter! – and Brunswick have Bronze and Ogunquit received Honorable Mention and yet Portland hasn’t moved up in the rankings.)

IMG_0892 (2)The meetup with Steve involved a group ride to review built projects and places needing improvement and we really covered some ground (route map here).  Staff from the City of Portland, PACTS metropolitan planning organization, and the local Federal Highway office also participated in the tour.

This was followed by an in-office consult session with Steve at the Bicycle Coalition. Steve has a broad biking background – including serving as the Bicycle Coordinator for Boulder, Colorado and program manager for the Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program in Minneapolis. (I went on a bike facilities tour that Steve led around Minneapolis at the 2011 National Safe Routes to School Conference.)

IMG_0897 (2)He had plenty of input to offer on ways for Portland to grow more visible in bike friendliness. Even more helpful than I thought it might be – sometimes I feel like we’re all talking in an echo chamber and to the choir – and I admit to a bias of thinking mid-westerners have way more land and right-of-way to build what they want. I found Steve a good mix of grounded and no-nonsense – offering multiple perspectives from his trips around the country and fresh, concrete ideas.

Steve was impressed by all that’s going on and/or planned and funded for Portland, too, and he encouraged us to share more about it all in our next application.  He also made clear that the proposed loss of the City of Portland’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator position would be a real step backward for the City and the City’s Bicycle Friendly Community status.  Here’s hoping we can bring the position back asap!

May 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

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