What’s the Bike Plan Worth?

November 12, 2009

As reported on BikePortland.org, while adopting the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 earlier this week, I encouraged (unsuccessfully) my colleagues to also recommend prioritizing full funding for the plan. In the process, I made a few comparisons that I thought I would share here. The full cost of the plan (over 20 years of build-out) is equivalent to:

  • 15 miles of Streetcar
  • 1 1/2 Sellwood Bridges
  • 40% of a MAX line
  • 1/8 of the Columbia River Crossing

I suggested that in my opinion the benefit to Portland for getting 25% of all trips onto bikes was greater than the benefit offered by any of those comparable investments (not that I’m saying we shouldn’t also make some of those other investments). Among the benefits I called out:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reducing reliance on uncertain supplies and exposure to unpredictable prices of fossil fuels
  • Improving air quality
  • Reducing roadway congestion
  • Creating safer streets
  • Increasing active transportation resulting in better community health and lower health care costs

For those of you who know me as a Streetcar supporter, I also said that if I had a dollar of unrestricted capital construction funds for transportation I’d spend it on bike infrastructure before Streetcar infrastucture! [Note that unrestricted transportation funds are a rarity.]

Just to be clear, this post is NOT sour grapes about my colleagues choosing not to make a statement about funding – Planning Commission is not a budgetary body. I am very grateful for their enthusiastic support for the plan. I just wanted to share what I said as some folks have asked about quoting me.



  1. Actually $500 million would buy about FIVE replacement bridges at Sellwood.

    The present proposal, courtesy of Ted Wheeler, Mike Pullen, et. al., acting at the behest of the Oregon Department of Transportation, seems aimed at a full four-lane connector between Highway 99 and Highway 43, right through Sellwood along Tacoma Street.

    Otherwise, would anyone in his/her right mind allocate 37 feet for “pedestrians and cyclists?” It is a full four-lane bridge, five at the west end.

    To understand what a proper replacement bridge at Sellwood ought to be head out to the new span to Sauvie Island: plenty of room for motor vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists; cost of $38 million; about half the length required for the crossing at Sellwood. Double the length and the cost and it still is less than $100 million.

    • Jim, you can have that debate with Ted…

      The bike plan is about 1 1/2 times the estimated Sellwood cost of about $300M.

      Of course, getting the Sellwood done is an important to the bike plan, it’s a key connector.

      • You are egging me on, Chris!

        I doubt if Ted wants to have that debate, because he would have to explain why his bridge’s interchange with Highway 43 ALONE costs $30 million more than TriMet’s entire new span of the same length, which must carry twice the loads as Sellwood.

        I have followed CRC, Sellwood, and TriMet’s bridge projects. ODOT funds and controls planning for CRC and Sellwood, and–surprise–both are bloated beyond any realistic needs. TriMet’s design keeps getting better and cheaper; Fred Hansen and Vera Katz are running a very tight project indeed.

        Nice to have you on the Planning Commission. Keep up the fine work!

      • Sorry, Jim. I was just trying to be clear that the cost of the Sellwood is not the point of this post…

  2. It seems to me that the transportation funding priorities in the city are rather wonky. For instance, pedestrian signals on 4 lane roads that are essentially highways are “too expensive.” So apparently the cost of the human lives lost without them is cheaper than the cost of the signals.

    Point being, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is dirt cheap, a drop in the ocean compared to the money we spend on automobile-specific infrastructure, it saves human lives, makes our city more equitable and enjoyable for everyone, and yet it’s still “too expensive.”

    I think somehow we have to get over that idea.

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