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Bike plan needs more specifics

Our Opinion

Making bicycling safer and more appealing to a greater number of people will bring Portland environmental and economic paybacks - for both riders and non-riders.

But while we support the objectives of the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 that goes before the City Council today, adopting such a plan is far from enough.

For all of its heft, and for all of the valuable work that went into it, the plan is mostly a vision of what Portland bicycle advocates want. Within the next two decades, they aim to make this city one of the most bicycle-friendly in the world. That's a worthy goal, but its attainment requires some essential specifics, including answers to these questions:

• How will Portland pay for at least $600 million in improved bike facilities during the next 20 years?

• How, specifically, does this vision for more bicycling infrastructure fit in with an overall multimodal transportation plan for the region?

• How can this push for greater use of bikes be integrated into a regional economic strategy that depends on the smooth flow of goods and services?

A lofty vision

A master plan for bicycling, of course, isn't intended to answer all questions related to transportation and the economy. But nor should it be developed, implemented and funded to the exclusion of other modes of transportation.

The 2030 plan offers an attractive vision of a future Portland that is the hub for 'a connected regional bicycle network that includes bike lanes and bicycle boulevards, paths, trails and greenways, as well as protected bikeways separated from traffic on busy streets.' The plan also anticipates that 25 percent of all daily trips in the city will be conducted by bicycle, and that the cycling population will expand to include 'children, women, immigrants, seniors and other populations that have historically not bicycled in large numbers.'

These are lofty ideas that many people may support in theory. But one drawback to setting such high-level expectations is the real possibility that the city will fall short of its stated goals and disappoint citizens who already are skeptical of government's ability to follow through.

Keep it realistic

So how can Mayor Sam Adams and the Portland City Council improve upon the master plan that they likely will adopt today? By listening to and fully engaging a broad spectrum of transportation and economic advocates - many of whom are calling for more details about this plan.

Adams answers these critics by saying that, while the city hasn't figured out how to pay for the ambitious bicycle plan, neither has the region identified how it will pay for its highway, freight and transit needs. Adams also argues that Portland's economy is uniquely tied to bicycles, and that anything the city can do to promote bikes - as opposed to automobiles - will support local jobs.

We agree that Portland's emerging economic niche in bicycles deserves nurturing. But again, such emphasis can't come at the expense of existing jobs and other economic opportunities. The automotive industry, which employs thousands in Oregon, is reinventing itself in an age of carbon restraints with plans for electric and other environmentally friendly vehicles. And Oregon, partnering with Nissan and Portland General Electric, has been a pioneer in promoting use of electric cars.

Adams is only partially correct on overall transportation funding. The mayor knows that many needs are partially funded. On the flip side, he knows that funding is the largest stumbling block facing any new initiative, including green-oriented programs.

In total, there likely won't be enough money available to build and improve all the roads, transit lines, freight routes and bike lanes that are needed and that advocates support. That's why it's important to talk about bicycle planning with realistic, measurable expectations - and with concrete notions of how to pay for Portland's biking dreams.