The City of Portland recently released results of a public opinion poll regarding transportation issues. Here at the BTA, some of the results were espcially interesting (emphasis added):
After road maintenance, improving MAX/TriMet and better/safer bicycle lanes were the two biggest transportation-related needs identified by respondents in a final open-ended question.
The final question of the survey shows a result that’s more complex than some media coverage. After respondents were mostly through the survey, having more information about transportation issues, support for better and safer bike lanes jumped into third place behind road maintenance and transit.
That is fantastic news and of course, at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, we intend to highlight this fact frequently. It makes perfect sense to us, but what are the implications regarding the city’s upcoming campaign at council or with voters?
By taking a look at the results of the opening question, some things become clear.
In looking at the first question compared to the last, you can see a striking indication of how far people’s opinion moved after thinking about all the competing transportation priorities. At the start of the survey, the top three priorities – road conditions, traffic congestion, and public safety – received 36% of the response.
That’s great news for our work here at the BTA: Every time someone chooses a bike over a car, they’re reducing the damage done to our roads, they’re clearing up space in traffic, and they’re traveling at a safer speed than they would on a freeway or high-crash corridor, such as SE Powell or SW Barbur.
At the end of the survey, and after having spent more time thinking about the needs of our transportation system, the top three priorities shifted – to road maintenance, public transit, and investments in infrastructure for bicycles – and gained more support, rising to 48% of the response.
If the city wants support for transportation funding, they could win that support by including projects that improve public transit and bicycling along with their current push for road maintenance and safety investments.
Another lesson from this data is that if community leaders want new funding to meet urgent transportation needs, there will need to be a robust campaign to educate people about the dynamics of our transportation system. The leadership at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) understands this dynamic system, and this recent poll shows they’re off to a good start.
What about the overwhelming support for sidewalks and crossings? In most questions on this poll, sidewalks and safe crossings clearly rank highest. We all want to be safe when we’re walking or crossing a busy road. That is no surprise, especially given the alarming number of deaths on our streets this year and the fact that everyone wants to be safe on sidewalks or crossing a busy road.
The top six items people want the city to “invest in now” are maintenance and safety projects. That seems to be a clear mandate that no one is enthusiastic about wider or new roads.
It is a welcome relief that city policies, like the goal of meeting 25% of Portlanders basic transportation needs by bike by the year 2030, are in line with where public opinion is headed. With no new money flowing into building wider roads it will be easier to give people the safe, practical options to get around in the way they want.
Unfortunately, over the last two budget cycles PBOT has made painful cuts to the active transportation program budget (see page 2) by an ongoing $851,275. These cuts hurt the Bureau’s ability to deliver traffic safety programs, like the High Crash Corridors and Safe Routes to School programs. These cuts hurt when they were made, and they continue to hurt because they are still in place.
The current budget proposal from PBOT to City Hall does not restore any active transportation program funding, and only makes a one-time investment in much-needed sidewalk and crossing improvements. While the BTA supports the current budget, in this context we think it is prudent to ask for more funding for active transportation programs as City Council pursues a solution to our dwindling transportation funding. It’s clear that constituents and voters highly value the safety benefits that these programs deliver.
Until we can all work together, towards solutions that address our shared challenges, we will continue to struggle, as we have for the last few budget cycles, to meet our region’s transportation and safety needs with sufficient resources.