Monday, July 16, 2012

Bikes and Buses May Lose at OTC on Wednesday

Normally meetings of the Oregon Transportation Commission aren't that interesting here. They're important, as the OTC is essentially the board of directors for ODOT, and they set high level policy for transportation, but they don't muck around bike stuff all that often.

The meeting on Wednesday is important, though, for a couple of reasons. One is a done decision, just interesting to note in passing. The other could represent a serious change to the way active transportation is planned and funded.

Cherrots and Connect Oregon

On the same front page as the tolling article, the SJ also ran a piece about a Cherriots application for ConnectOregon IV funding that didn't make the cut. (It was a transportation fantasia!)

The Cherriots grant proposal ranked 41 out of 49 (and about 16 projects seem to be tied in last place at 49th!), and projects ranked 1 through 38 look to be funded.

The whole ConnectOregon series is a little annoying because it says "multi-modal," but it excludes a whole range of multi-modal kinds of projects. It's about big air, rail, marine/ports, and a little bit of transit. It's about industrial mobility and logistics, not so much about personal mobility.

At their Wednesday meeting, the OTC will approve the recommended list of projects.

Hopefully Cherriots can figure something out for the transit mall.

(Now, an interlude. This next thing is actually pretty important, but it's also really wonky and dull. It was gray and sprinkling yesterday. So here's something colorful to bamboozle you a bit back to interest and engagement! While out over the weekend this old house caught my eye. The owners have keyed the housepaint to the purple flowers. For one month out of the year the color scheme for yard and house is totally coordinated! Crazy. And quite lovely. That's what you see when you walk and bike!)

OTC to Sideline Bikes?

The Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance posted an important note about some policy and rule changes the OTC is considering. The proposed changes are a result of the new federal transportation bill:
ODOT is about to rewrite the rules for how Oregon invests in biking, walking and transit and it doesn’t look good.

On page 192 of next week’s Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) agenda and packet you will find Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) proposed Funding Allocation and Project Selection Processes. This item is up for a vote on Wednesday, July 18th and could unravel years of work to establish commitments of funding to biking, walking, and transit. Please call and email the OTC to share your concerns.

Currently Oregon relies on programs such as the 1% set aside of state gas taxes to bike projects, the Federal Flexible Fund, Transportation Enhancements, and Safe Routes to School to fund transportation projects that reduce vehicle miles traveled and encourage biking, walking, and transit. Generally, the state sets up criteria within each program that encourages transportation projects to meet environmental, safety, sustainability, and livability goals. Though significantly underfunded, the current system works.

The proposal under consideration collapses all these great programs, much the way the new federal bill MAP-21 does, and allows local Area Commissions on Transportation (ACT) to spend those dollars on highway projects if they see fit. This is unacceptable. We feel as though the ACTs do not have adequate multi-modal representation or decision making structures in place to support active transportation projects.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is working hard to promote the following outcomes with OTC members before Wed. July 18th in order to preserve as much dedicated funding, environmental criteria, and prioritization of biking, walking and transit as possible.
  1. Preserve current funding levels for biking, walking, and transit. The OTC needs to provide direction to ODOT to ensure that programs such as the Federal Flexible Fund, Transportation Enhancements, and Safe Routes to School remain fully funded at current levels.
  2. Prioritize multi-modal projects. We are asking the OTC to create a project selection process that directs the ACTs to dedicate at least 50% of the new “Enhance” category of funds through a selection process similar to the very successful ODOT Flex Fund program criteria. These criteria need to help create healthy, livable communities.
  3. Fix the current system first. Under the new proposed process approximately 80% of funds will be allocated to fixing our current transportation system. This is fantastic policy direction from the OTC and we ask that they expand the list of projects eligible for “Fix It” funds to include completing our biking, walking, and transit networks.
  4. Adhere to Oregon’s statutory requirement to reduce green house gas emissions. The Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009 in ORS 184.610 to 184.666 directs “The Oregon Transportation Commission shall work with stakeholders to review and update the criteria used to select projects within the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. When revising the project selection criteria the commission shall consider whether the project:” … “Is consistent with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and reduces this state’s dependence on foreign oil.” The only way this can happen is if explicit policy direction is established now to ensure that future transportation investments reduce our reliance on the automobile.
  5. Require any new local decision making process to include adequate multi-modal representation. ODOT has been working to improve their stakeholder outreach and engagement process through the ACTs and we ask that they continue by requiring explicit representation in the form of one seat each for public health, bicycling, pedestrian, transit, and land use representatives.
If you are able, please join the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in delivering this crucial message to the Oregon Transportation Commission members before they vote next week, on Wed. July 18th.
(Here's the complete OTC packet, all 300+ pages of it! It's on the ftp site, so it'll probably disappear after the meeting.)

There's lots to absorb here. I'd like to see more talk about least-cost planning (though maybe it's not ready for prime-time yet) along with the green house gas stuff, and I'm not as psyched about the "set asides" as the BTA is. The Flex Fund model, however, has seemed like a win, and it would be great to see more of that.  Even though MWACT has an official advisory role to the OTC, they haven't seemed all that relevant to Salem area bicycling, and I wonder if the SKATS-MPO rather than MWACT would be better for an advisory role. But these are nits, things that don't matter in the short time frame. In fact a commenter from Washington has noted that WashDOT is taking all summer to consider the changes - and suggests that Oregon is really rushing things here. Maybe the most important thing is to ask for more time.

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