Monday, June 14, 2010

City Council, June 14th

Council this evening contains lots of bits and pieces. No direct decision on bicycling matters, but many with implications for the way the City will continue to approach transportation.

The finalized City Budget comes before Council, and it's sad to read the $136, 500 whacked for sidewalks and employee transit.

"Free" Parking
The Downtown Parking District is up for renewal. The total budget is $2,617,710 for 2314 parking spots. That's an annual cost per spot of $1,131.25. Over a thousand dollars per year per spot is the cost of "free" parking.

Transportation Enhancement Grant Proposal
This year the City appears poised to use both the Oregon Transportation Enhancement Grant and the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant to complete the railroad "quiet zone" on the Union Pacific line.

In particular, Public Works is bringing the Transportation Enhancement proposal to Council tonight. Because of the location of the Union Pacific switching yard, just south of the railroad station and adjacent to the historic cannery sites, the quiet zone project and railroad safety improvements for the Hines Street crossing is especially complicated. The bond measure allocated $1.2M for the crossings, and this crossing alone is currently estimated at $1.5M. Public Works proposes to apply for a TE grant to complete this crossing work.

We expect Public Works to propose a similar project for Mill street at the RR crossing (and perhaps with other pieces on 12th, 17th, and other cross streets - which would be a significant bikeway upgrade) for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant.

It is disappointing that a signature bicycle or pedestrian project must compete with the railroad quiet zone for these same dollars. We wish a better funding source could have been identified, and regret the missed opportunity to pursue a high visibility connection for people who walk and bicycle. At the same time, creating the quiet zone and improving the rail crossings for people who walk and bike is an important step in improving our city's relationship with rail. This is an example of where our auto-centrism forces other transportation activity to the margins to compete over scarce dollars.

2011 Legislative Agenda
Finally, the City is starting work on identifying their legislative priorities for the 2011 Oregon State Legislative session. Since Salem does not employ its own lobbyist, it works with the League of Oregon Cities. The legislative committee is sending to Council their preliminary list of priorities for the League to weigh as it forms its League-wide legislative agenda. Three of the seven priorities for the City involve transportation directly or indirectly:
E. Reauthorize the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) to leverage local investments in energy conservation, fuel conservation, renewable energy projects, as well as recruitment and expansion of renewable energy resource equipment manufacturing facilities.

A. Support an urban growth boundary agenda that would provide for a more efficient urban growth management.

T. Ensure that transportation land use planning requirements, especially those established to address greenhouse gas emissions and other air quality issues are developed with certain caveats:
1. Cities are stakeholders in the policy-making process and are to be included in all discussions.
2. A sense of proportionality should be maintained, taking into account the transportation sector's contribution to the problem.
3. There must be a committment to identifying and collecting new revenue to assist cities with compliance.
4. There is clarity with regard to governance authority and accountability.
5. Recognition that "one size does not fit all," meaning that rules must be flexible enough to allow cities the right to determine and respond to local and regional needs.
6. Requirements are based on outcomes rather than formulas and honors regional transportation planning efforts.
7. Rules factor the effect of market forces (cost of fuel, availability of alternative technology, etc.) in achieving goals.
8. Attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality while stil supporting economic development.
The land use planning preferences here tend towards weakening current land use planning and greenhouse gas goals. In a "city's rights" sort of argument, the City asks for greater autonomy to set urban growth management and greenhouse gas goals, regulations, and compliance. But in an environment that generally resists these goals and values, the request for greater autonomy is a request for things to stay the same, rather than a desire to undertake the harder work of change. Things are more complicated than this, of course, but the trend is to ask for weaker rather than stronger action on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and changing energy costs and sourcing.

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