Where Does The Money Come From?

I’ve mentioned in the past that cities should think of things from more of a systemic mindset. Currently however that’s almost completely impossible considering how funding and Government is organized in the United States. Even within groups things are pitted against each other that shouldn’t be. Let’s take a look at some.

For Oregon the main transportation organizations that handle budgets, building, and planning are ODOT and Trimet. You might thing, oh, but Trimet is Portland’s transit system. Well, this is true and false. It’s actually headed up by a board and the Governor who mandates much of how they operate. It also is responsible for transit over a three county area: Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington. Portland, actually has little control over anything Trimet does besides some tactical issues around capital project design and maybe funding some of the service. Most of the service falls on the back of income taxpayers. Actually about 78% falls on the backs of the income tax and those who pay it. Only about 22% of operations comes from fares. The remaining bulk of capital projects, which is as much or more than operational costs, rests primarily on state budgets, federal injections of cash, and incurred debt on the back of tomorrows taxpayers (i.e. bonds/loans and related funding structures). Here are some of Trimet’s budget documents.

ODOT is funded out of the gas tax and other miscellaneous funds. The bulk of their money going to road construction and encouraging auto-dependency. Some minor funds go to freight, passenger rail, and related matters. Keep in mind, ODOTs bucket for auto related things is the vast majority of their budget. Here are some quick links to ODOT budget information.

Let’s not forget the feds. The Federal Government provides a large influx of transportation infrastructure spending. Also, they spend the largest amount on auto-related transportation infrastructure and auto-dependency programs (i.e. subsidies for parking, funds for roads, etc) The Federal Government also gets a large chunk, but not all of their money from the federal gas tax. Here are some of the documents if you want to educate yourself on the Federal Budgets and funding from the FHA (Federal Highway Administration).

The other parts of Oregon’s transportation, since almost half the population of the state lives in the Portland metro area, is PBOT, or the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Here are some of the budget documents of their’s.

Stockholm

Portland, Gateway to Copenhagen, Amsterdam…

…Gronningen, Greifswald, Lund, Assen, Münster, Utrecht, Västerås, Ferrara, Malmö, Linköping, Odense, Basel, Osaka, Bremen, Bologna, Oulu, Munich, Florence, Rotterdam, Berne, Tübingen, Aarhus, Tokyo, Salzburg, Venice, Pardubice, York, Dresden, Basel, Ghent, Parma, Bern, Cambridge, Graz, Berlin, Strasbourg, Turku, Stockholm.

Stockholm

Stockholm

All cities that have 10%-55% biking mode share and it’s growing. They all have vibrant music scenes, from heavy metal to jazz to classical. They all have extensive art, museums and places of learning. They all have exceptional standards of living, and livability that’s off the charts. Continue reading →

Division Street

Town Centers, Lents, Division Street and Portland Chaos Machine, Nobody’s Happy (Which Isn’t True)

Today I dove into the middle of a conversation on twitter. Twitter, it seems to be the conversation machine of short blurbs and broken context. So this blog entry is actually dedicated to the conversation that started off, at least for me, with this tweet.

The Mount Hood Freeway Gave Us Modern Day Division

Continue reading →

Portland Meeting w/ The City on Street Deaths, Maintenance and What To Do

Thursday night at 6:30 kicked off a public meeting at the Sunnyside Environmental School. This topic concerns everybody from the motorist who wants better roads and roads to last to the cyclist who wants to be able to ride peacefully down a greenway into work to the pedestrians who would like to walk down the street with their children and not fear that one of them may be killed or maimed by an errant driver. Ok, so a few stats to start this article off. The first are few from this image and derived information (ie, I did some simple math after speaking with one of the street engineers on hand and also others that work for the city, they know this material very well).

Portland General Fund (Click for full size image)

Portland General Fund (Click for full size image)

First thing to note, because it escaped me for about 2 seconds until my friend Tony pointed it out, public safety actually translates to police and fire. So let’s just put that out of our minds as anything that we’re allowed to be “flexible” with. But the real kicker, is we get down to actual road budgets in the general fund. The transportation and parking budget is a mighty whopping 2% at $8.7 million dollars. When it comes to road maintenance and other such things, that isn’t a lot to work with. Now keep in mind there is still the gas tax, which in Portland isn’t a huge amount of money but it adds a few million more. But a lot of that goes to other roads too. ODOT takes a cut, the Feds of course take a cut of gas taxes, etc. The gas tax however is NOT a large amount of money and does NOT fill the gap between needed roadway work and related things. The simple fact is, gas tax plus general budget funds don’t really cover but about 20-30% of our roadways. More on that in a moment. The second image I took is of a little budget pie chart split out.

Pavement System (Click for full size image)

Pavement System (Click for full size image)

Up in the left hand corner (click if you can’t see it in the regular sized image) of the image you’ll see a few stats.

  • 4,827 lane miles in Portland’s road system. (that’s 1 lane that is 1 mile long, it does not include ODOT roads like 82nd, Powell and others, nor does it included Interstates (federal/state/ODOT) or related roads that happen to come into Portland)
  • 1,871 of busy streets. These are basically arterials where there are buses, trucking, etc. These are the arterials, sometimes including neighborhood arterials like Division, Hawthorne and other such extremely busy streets.
  • 2,971 lane miles of neighborhood streets.
  • $5~ about 5 billion in value.
  • 52% of busy streets are in fair or better condition.
  • 46% of neighborhood streets are in fair or better condition.

Simple Math, We’ll Have to Give Up Some Roads Soon

As I spoke with one of the city engineers about this information I asked, “based on the budget or even doubling the budget, how many lane miles can the city of Portland maintain?” He did some quick math in his head. I then confirmed that number based on some extremely conservative estimates the city could maintain about 1300-1500 miles of roads. As shown above on the chart, there are 4,827 lane miles in Portland, which leaves somewhere between 3,327-3,527 that can’t be maintained. Looking at things another way, Portland has enough money to cover most of the maintenance of the busy streets in the city but not the neighborhood streets. The city has 3,327 to 3,527 miles of streets that will continue to fall into disrepair.

But what about the unpaved streets? They measure approximately 60 miles of unpaved streets in the city. Most cities have somewhere around the same to dramatically more unpaved streets than Portland. Many of the streets are short blocks that lead immediately into a paved street, alleviating much connectivity issue. All of the unpaved streets are used rarely by anybody but the people that live on the street or a few others that might pass by. Emphasis on a “few”. So the question really is, “so what about em’?” With that I’m going to drop this point for a few, because while a few people fuss about 60 miles of unpaved streets there are 3,327-3,527 miles that are merely years away from becoming unpaved. Priorities here people, priorities.

So there seems to be some options here that are going to take place no matter what we do. No significant money is going to become available. The feds aren’t exactly swooping in to save the disappearing gas tax revenue. It’s up to the cities, and the only options on the table for streets are to let some of them disappear from the cities list of streets to maintain. In New Orleans I recall seeing those notorious signs “This Street No Longer Maintained”. That sign meant the city of New Orleans was done with that street, it was up to the local community to do anything with it. Most people on the street and surrounding areas were actually fine with that. They didn’t care.

What to do with all these streets we can’t maintain? As road budgets get strained even further there is going to be increasing pressure to abandon the notion that a street must be provided to every single doorstep in America. It just isn’t possible, never was, and never will be.

So the question is, with well over 3,327 miles of of road miles about to be left untouched, why keep wasting them as mere roadways. What should we do with them? Some neighborhoods have even reclaimed low yield streets and planted mid-road gardens, turned them into neighborhood parks and other such wonderful additions. Why not officially start declaring some streets as off the books and let the neighborhoods really, truly take back their streets!

There’s a lot of potential in this issues to reclaim the streets and make our neighborhoods more livable, safer for our families, friends and children and make our city more efficient in the process. What are your ideas for these 3,327 miles of roadway?

NOTE: The Oregonlive also published a wrap up with some good quotes from attendees @ http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/02/city_asks_residents_where_do_w.html

US Oil Imports Falling

It was reported just today that oil imports are falling in the United States. I might add, it’s about damn time. After years of cold war nonsense, illogical Government manipulation from subsidies for exploration to dictatorial control about where we are or are not allowed to buy oil from the resource has been poorly utilized and poorly brought to market.

Today when I read the USA Today article on falling oil imports. The article brings up a single point as to why our imports are dropping, which is “Experts largely credit new drilling techniques that have unearthed vast troves of previously inaccessible oil embedded in shale deposits in states such as North Dakota and Texas“. This again, brings up my frustration with so called experts. Especially experts that are likely some oil company employee spouting off how everything is fine and dandy. Well, here’s a few major reasons why imports have decreased and why we’re able to use more oil locally.

The first one, just to cover the bases, is the huge sacrifice the country is putting into shale derived oil. Even though we’re ruining massive volumes of drinkable water to mine this oil, it’s increased the amount of oil we’re producing in country by a fair bit. But that brings up the other huge reason why we’re able to use this new oil and decrease our imports. Let’s talk about all of these reasons, that combined, are making as much or more of a difference than the new shale oil we’re getting.

Driving is down by a large enough percentage that fuel usage has decreased across the nation. This isn’t a mere blip on the radar anymore either. As “US Driving Continues to Decrease“, dramatically “Study: Fewer Young People Getting Driver’s License” and some posit why “Fewer Teenagers Have Driver’s Licenses … Because of Gas Prices and the Internet?” but have no evidence. We know though that driving has decreased and continues to decrease. This started happening before the Great Recession and continues today.

Meanwhile more and more continue to move into urban cores, closer in suburbs and places that don’t require 100% auto-dependence. Some places of course, are still a disgrace to intelligence or intelligent lifestyle options like Houston, Texas or Phoenix, Arizona. However even those places have seen dramatic market demand for more livable, walkable, bicycle and transit friendly lifestyles. Albeit they’re orders of magnitude more difficult to attain in those cities. However others have seen a skyrocketing increase in demand; San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles even and many many others.

So why has our oil imports decreased? Sure, we’re producing a little more oil in country, albeit at great cost (shale oil is NOT cheap), but we’re also starting to live in a much more intelligent way than we have the last 50 plus years.

Here’s to hoping the United States continues to improve in this way.

Division Street is Looking Great! Let’s Destroy Division Street!

There’s new construction on Division & 32nd that has the road torn up and down to one lane. The construction gaurd is polite, offers me immediate passage across the street to the bus stop. I’m one of the many lucky souls in Portland that lives within a hundred feet of a bus, light rail, passenger rail or streetcar stop. Today I’m boarding the trusty #4 Route Bus into downtown Portland.

As the construction gaurd flips his sign from stop to slow, the traffic from the western direction, which is where my bus is arriving, starts to trickle through. I stand at the bus stop prepared to board. I check my smart phone to insure that I’ve purchased a day pass. I verify that I have and count the seconds. One car, two car, three car and four. The bus then pulls through and stops gingerly in front of me.

I step aboard to prevent any lingering wait that the cagers surely draw frustration from. The driver is already smiling and greets me with a “it’s really running the gauntlet today”. He refers to Division Street as a whole. From 39th to 10th or so it has been under construction from many months, if not more than a year now.

Division Street Grows Into Something Worthwhile

Four years ago Division Street was nothing but a small two lane arterial that switched into 4 lanes at random places. It is a residential street with front yards and children playing nearby. Now it is under immense pressure to become consistent, to grow in a smarter way than just acting as a naive arterial only for cars.

Division has grown sidewalks for the length of the street from 8th all the way to 82nd. Before there were gaps, dangerous gaps. Division has gone from inconsistency of two or four lanes to a solid two lanes from 82nd to 8th. At 8th is where something new is sprouting in the Portland & Milwaukee Light Rail Line. Between 12th and 30th there are fixes to and dramatic additinos of bioswales and other road amenities. These amenities are known to increase pedestrian and motorist safety. Between 60th and 82nd the lanes have gone from an unwieldy and dangerous four lanes to two, consistent with the rest of the street. Along the sides now are buffered bike lanes and other amenities for bus pull outs, timed traffic lights and other small items that help the flow of all traffic, not just cars.

Slowly Division itself becomes something, with bioswales and a consistent two lanes for its length. Service on the road is getting an increase in just a few more weeks. The #4 Trimet Bus is increasing back to what is referred to as frequent service. This means 15 minute frequency or better throughout the day. Beyond frequent service there is also going to be an increase for rush hour.

Slowly the auto dependency of Division is becoming less violent and fading into a small nuissence that provides a meager enabler for the street. Already today, actively there are three transportation means that already rule over the automobile when looked at as a whole; public transit, biking and walking. Not only have these modes become the dominent form of transport for customers to the growing businesses along Division. These modes, now dramatically safer with the taming of traffic violence, are once again becoming of dominant use to those teaching, attending and maintaing the schools in the area. That’s thousands and thousands of trips that no longer rely on the automobile, decreasing the auto-dependency of those that now have this new freedom.

A True Place

Some screamed when all of this started. Capitalism was at play in a huge way taming the automobile here. Some hate that, some love it. The city gave liberty to developers and stopped forcing them by regulation and law to build parking. If they saw a reason not to or demand didn’t dictate they simply didn’t have to build apartments with parking. Some of the residents saw this as a massive problem. With multiple apartments open that are without parking, there is still no shortage of parking. With the largest of the apartments without parking ready to open in the coming month or two, there still is a growing sense that this will become an enabler to the area versus a detractor.

Along this corridor the city has seen a dramatic increase in businesses opening up. This is in addition to new homes, apartments and other domiciles for people to live in the city. Almost 5x as many businesses, many local, now exist compared to just two years ago. Most of these businesses are now doing a brisk trade too. When auto-dependency ruled the street the businesses popped up but then immediately suffered. These businesses, many catering to the automobile, had not only been hurt by the auto-dependency but also hurt the existing businesses that were there before. The street was a ghost town as the 60s and 70s rolled in.

Let’s Destroy It All

Years ago the shortsighted advocates of auto-dependency wanted to pave all of Division, forcefully relocate the residents, destroy the homes all the way out to Clinton Street and possibly as far as Lincoln street in some cases on the other side. What they wanted to do, to be sure anybody could drive as fast as possible from downtown Portland to I-205 and the suburbs was build a new Interstate. They wanted to destroy all of this under the false guise that it would somehow make the neighborhoods better if they have more auto-dependent access. We know now, and thankfully didn’t make this mistake, that Interstates and increased auto-dependency do not increase livability or the quality or value of one’s neighborhood. If anything it pushes people further away and creates a massive thing that most people don’t actually want to live anywhere near.

As I ride through and down Division today to run my errands, enjoy an espresso and head into downtown for a few meetings I’m extremely happy that Division and most of the respective southeast neighborhood wasn’t destroyed to make way for an Interstate. The thousands of people that live here and enjoy an extremely high standard of living would have been left with a dwindling and disused neighborhood. A neighborhood that would have had little hope for repair. Now the neighborhood is anything but that. The number one reason why is because the city and the people of the city didn’t allow an Interstate to be cut through the area!

Until later, happy riding.

Time to Up Our Game Portland

Vancouver BC went from zero miles of cycle tracks just a few years ago, to dozens and dozens of miles. They now cover all of downtown.

Seattle is now building cycle tracks, bikeways, trails and bike lanes like mad. Almost like their light rail, it seems they’ve jumped into the game really late and realized they’re vital to maintaining and growing their urban core and holding onto people and businesses that drive the Seattle economy.

San Francisco, also now building cycle tracks and bike lanes all over the place. Again, a bit late in many ways but better late than never.

Meanwhile, the biking capital of the United States is in a holding pattern around taking real leaps forward in progress. Portland, Oregon is in desperate need to a true step forward. Yes, we have 6% of the entire metropolitan area cycling, we have almost 30-35% of all trips in the inner urban core taken by bicycle. But we have a host of problems because our bicycling is driven more out of a revolutionary culture of changing things for the better, increasing livability and sustainable living than any actual investment in infrastructure.

Portland’s cycling infrastructure, except for all of 2 or 3 streets, has shared roads. There is only two cycle tracks, one on Multnomah Avenue and one by PSU. Both are often parked on and blocked. When I say often, I mean 2-4 times per week. Often at the worst times, such as during rush hour. Multnomah Avenue is so poorly marked in one segment that it almost always has cars parked on it except on the clearest days. We also have a lot of bike lanes, which are pleasant enough for brave cyclists, but it doesn’t encourage those with children and many others to really mix with traffic out of fear and threats from motorists.

Portland is starting to fall behind.

On several of the bike lanes, such as near Chipotle where the streetcar turns one lady blatantly parked in the bike lane. When I asked if she knew it was a bike lane, I received a strident, dismissive and aggressive, “yeah I know that!” almost as if to say “screw off”. I stated, “well, you could get a ticket, even by me which would see you in court.” Maybe next time the more effective solution would be to bust a window and ride on. It seems like solutions like that would be better since nobody seems to really want to stand up and say what a warped, perverse, self-righteous entitlement motorists like this tend to have.

Portland is starting to fall behind.

All of this is truly frustrating. I’m however, far from depleted of energy, far form demotivated and if anything, this type of disrespectful obliviousness that endangers lives, shows disrespect toward one another’s fellow Portlanders just encourages me to do something about it. But one might ask, what the hell is the solution?

Well, I don’t have a billion dollars to give the city to build real cycle tracks. But I’d bet there is motivation to do something about it! There are others out there and I intend to begin rallying riders to get something done about it.

To summarize, I intend to see some cycle tracks get built in Portland sooner than later. I intend to make it a priority that we don’t end up with more dead and buried because motorists get their entitlement because “cyclists run red lights” and other such nefarious absurdities. Red herrings don’t save anybody’s lives, and it’s about time that we wrapped our heads around this issue and started taking some real action.

Portland is starting to fall behind. But solutions await.

What do we need? That’s simple, it’s absurdly simple.

  • The cycle tracks (the two of them) that exist now need real bollards, real separations. Not some petty separation that is covered up with a light dusting of leaves or debris. These separations can be at grade but would be best raised, when that can’t happen there should be physical obstacles to vehicles running across and into cyclists, pedestrians and others that traverse the sides of the roads. Already this year in Portland over a dozen people; children, young people in their early 20s and even elderly have all been killed by motorists. Some of the motorists were drunk, most were just driving along obliviously as happens far to often. None of these people however should have been killed. Almost all of the motorists have received no charges. Only two, apparently drunk individuals, have actually received charges. The fact that we could have prevented this from happening, arguably even prevented the drunk fools form killing people, is disheartening. Let’s get this fixed.
  • There needs to be cycle tracks implemented along every major corridor into the city. Bike boulevards are wonderful, but as arterials get congested with more auto traffic (from more cars traveling down arterials) the bike boulevards handle the run off of cars, making the street dangerous for residents and of course for cyclists. Simply, every existing boulevard should have a comparable route with a cycle track on it and there should be additional blockages to prevent speeding motorists from using these as secondary arterials. This isn’t even so much something for cyclists, as it is something to protect the schools, the residents and the children that live in these neighborhoods.
  • The cycle *highways* as some have called them are starting to form. These are a great stride forward, but not only a stride forward they are the way forward. The increase in business and activity along these corridors will continue to make malls and suburban development seem like the most absurdly idiotic thing that it is. So this, this one space, we are actually moving forward on. We however as a city could be expanding our efforts around this – cycle-tracks, or highways, as they’re sometimes called should be expanded to travel into every major corridor in the city. Cycle-tracks should funnel into them, bike lanes should funnel into them, and other routes should funnel into these prospective cycle havens. The prospects of increased business, activity, social gathering and community involvement increase dramatically with all of these corridors.

In the future I’ll add a few blogging bits about how to create better hubs of biking, transit, pedestrian and living areas in the city. Hopefully I’ll have a few ideas of how to prevent gentrification screwing over people too. So this is a start. We’ve still got a long way to go to make this city everything it should be. Join in the effort, I’ll see you there.