Portland City Council is voting today on whether or not to approve the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2010. This plan has been getting a lot of media attention in main media outlets for its "extreme" cost. The 20 year plan, which aims to increase ridership in Portland to 25% of all trips by bicycle in the year 2030, has an estimated price tag of around $600 million, for about 600 miles of bicycle boulevards, separated paths, and trails.
Here are a few reasons why I think it is imperative that this plan not only be voted in, but implemented.
We have too many cars already. People are afraid to travel on our roads outside of an automobile, and what this causes is extreme congestion. Particularly on our freeways and main arterial roads, there is just too much traffic for the roads to handle. Commute times increase, and in the case of inclement weather, like we had a few weeks ago, our transportation system comes to a grinding halt, and nobody gets anywhere. People abandon their cars on the roads because they cannot move them. When 80% or so of trips are by single-occupancy cars, we just don't have the space to accommodate them, not to mention to accommodate the growth we expect in the next 20 years. We cannot afford to destroy our neighborhoods and communities in order to build roads which would accommodate that kind of traffic, it would simply be a disaster for the city.
40% of all trips in America are 2 miles or less. In Portland, that percentage is even higher. Even a person who is not accustomed to exercise can make a 1-2 mile trip by bicycle, even if there are hills involved. People simply do not feel safe doing so on our roads as they are. If we could get those 40% of trips by bicycle, imagine what that would do to the traffic congestion on our roads. The people who actually *need* to drive would be able to do so more conveniently, and those who don't would save money, time, and stress.
$600 million for 600 miles of bikeways over 20 years is a cheap investment. Our 10 mile MAX (light rail) Green Line just cost around $500 million. A single interchange on the planned Columbia River Crossing freeway bridge was estimated at $1 billion. 1 single mile of urban freeway costs around $40-60 million dollars.
Sustainability - not only do the miles of bikeways cost next to nothing to build, compared with freeways and other road projects, but they will be considerably lower-maintenance. Simple physics - bicycles do exponentially less damage to the road than cars. A system in which trips by foot and by bicycle are evenly balanced with trips by car will save the city huge amounts of money repaving roads all the time, repainting lines, filling pot holes, etc. Our roads (which aren't in great condition, I have to say) will stay in better condition longer.
We haven't even gotten to the more aesthetic benefits yet, such as better community, better health, quieter neighborhoods, cleaner air... the list goes on and on. Where Portland has implemented bicycle boulevards so far by implementing traffic calming measures and redirecting traffic to other streets, property values have gone up, more people are seen out in the neighborhood, these areas become destinations, both for travel and leisure, because they are pleasant places to be.
So there is much of why I feel it is not only important, but imperative that Portland build a world-class bicycle network. Because it will better our city, at a very low cost to the city. It will raise people's actual standard of living (which is how much they enjoy life, not how much money they have), and it will make Portland a destination for people all over the country who want something different than the freeway-centric America we have all come to know and dread. We already have a lot of people here who are experiencing life differently than much of the rest of the country, and a lot more who say they would love to do so if it were safer, objectively and subjectively. Let's give them that chance.
There is a rally today at 1:30 at City Hall just prior to the city council vote, if anyone is interested in going and showing support for this plan. This could be a major turning point for the city. Here's hoping!