Anyone interested in more bike lanes, boulevards, and cycletracks should pay close attention to Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT). Right now JPACT is weighing especially important funding considerations, and we need to influence their decision to protect funding for bicycles, sidewalks, and trails.
Metro’s JPACT is a public entity that advises our regional government on hundreds of millions of dollars of transportation funding annually. It is made up of twelve local elected leaders and five transportation and state agency officials.
On July 8, they are planning to set funding targets for $20 – 24 million dollars in Regional Flexible Funds for the 2014-15 fiscal year. That might sound like a lot of money, but it’s actually just a small portion of the total amount spent on transportation in the region. For comparison, the annual amount of public funding that is spent on transportation infrastructure and maintenance in the Portland metropolitan region is about $630 million. Most of those funds go to for roads, bridges, freight, and transit; only 2% goes to bicycle facilities, trails, and sidewalks.
Regional Flexible Funds are one of the primary sources of funding for bicycle, pedestrian and trail projects. According to Metro’s Active Transportation Council, 21% of all funding for these types of projects in the region comes from Regional Flexible Funds.
Freight initiatives and active transportation projects are currently competing for the funds, and the outcome is vital to our region’s future. In the last two funding cycles, active transportation and complete streets projects have received an average of $19.9 million, reflecting the awareness that trails, sidewalks, and bike facilities have very few sources of funding relative to the huge allocations for roads, and that the small amounts available can make a big impact for biking and walking.
However, this time around, JPACT is considering shifting significant funding to freight. Freight projects are important, particularly multi-modal projects including rail projects and those that improve system operation. But freight projects receive funding from a wide array of federal, state and local sources.
At the current level of funding for active transportation, it will require 166 years to build out all of the trail, bicycle and pedestrian projects in Metro’s 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. The majority of these projects derive support from Regional Flexible Funds.
So, Regional Flexible Funds represent a small fraction of total regional transportation spending but they are nearly one quarter of all regional bike and pedestrian spending. We are left with one obvious question: Why spend these funds on freight?
The likely reason is political pressure. Powerful business groups have organized a campaign to leverage funding for freight, proposing that 75% of the available funding be used for freight, which would reduce active transportation funding by over $14 million.
It’s unfortunate that these groups don’t seem to understand the value of active transportation in our community enough to support funding it at a higher level. Not only do biking and walking boost our economy and reduce traffic congestion, they substantially improve our health and financial security.
Economic Growth – The annual local bike industry, with 1500 sustainable jobs, returns generates nearly $100 million into the local economy.
Reduce Traffic – Since 49% of all daily trips made in the US that are less than 3 miles it is easy to see how increasing access to biking and walking reduces the amount of automobiles on our roadways, and improves freight movement.
Improve Health – The US Center for Disease Control states that, “Expanding the availability of…health-enhancing choices into transportation policy has the potential to save lives by preventing chronic diseases, reducing motor-vehicle-related injuries and deaths, improving environmental health, while stimulating economic development and ensuring access for all people.”
Financial Security – Residents in the Portland region realize annual savings of nearly $800 million from spending less on transportation.
Investing in active transportation and complete streets is a win-win proposition. The only thing missing is political will. That is where we come in. We can urge JPACT members to demonstrate support for active transportation.
Now is the time to encourage JPACT members to support allocating Regional Flexible Funds to active transportation and complete streets projects at or above previous levels.
First, make a phone call to your locally elected JPACT representative. Let them know how important this issue is and that now is not the time to cut funding for beneficial active transportation projects.
Second, write a letter to JPACT. Send it directly to Metro staff member Kelsey Newell. Tell your personal story and be sure to ask for active transportation funding at or above previous levels. Refer to the BTA’s advocacy toolkit for tips on effective communication.
Third, tell a friend. Be sure to forward this message to others who want to protect funding for bicycles, sidewalks, and trails.