Planners moving toward regional look at active transportation
Bicycles are common in downtown Portland, but odds are you're more likely to spot a deer munching than a cyclist commuting along the region's urban edge.
Metro's 25 cities and three counties have a patchwork of policies and plans for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and getting around without a car can be cumbersome in spots without sidewalks, bike lanes and highway crossings. To connect cycling and walking routes with buses and trains, Metro planners are developing the region's first standalone active transportation plan.
METRO FILE PHOTO
While some regional active transportation planning efforts, like the Springwater Corridor, have been successful, the region has yet to develop a comprehensive strategy for pedestrians and cyclists.
Defined simply, active transportation is using human energy to get around. Riding public transit is also considered active because it usually involves walking or cycling as an essential connection between stations and other locations.
Metro's Active Transportation Plan will identify a main network of on- and off-street bicycling and walking facilities, as well as develop policies that support active transportation. The plan will also prioritize projects and recommend a funding and implementation strategy.
"We're looking at (creating) the kind of high-level, regional network that is going to be the backbone of the entire web" of bike lanes and small, community trails, said Lake McTighe, a Metro planner tasked with managing the $336,000 project, which is supported with a $280,000 Oregon Department of Transportation grant. "It's going to be knitting together a lot of facilities."
The region's network could integrate major trails, such as the Springwater Corridor, with bike boulevards and other facilities that link up with MAX trains. The goal is for commuters to be able to get across the region without the use of a car.
McTighe is scheduled to brief the Metro Council on the plan during a Feb. 9 work session. On March 15, she plans on convening a stakeholder advisory committee of bicycle, pedestrian, trail, transit, youth and elderly issues advocates.
During the ensuing year, McTighe and other Metro planners will draft the Active Transportation Plan based on policy recommendations from public forums and the agency's standing Executive Council for Active Transportation. A visualization tool, to be posted on Metro's website this fall, will enable residents to evaluate the costs and benefits of active transportation network options.
"Our investment so far has been very piecemeal and opportunistic," McTighe said. "We've been able to accomplish a lot with that strategy. But because we don't have any dedicated funding, beyond the 1 percent gas tax from the state, we don't have a pipeline of projects ready to go."
Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky, who will serve on the stakeholder advisory committee, said his Portland-based bicycle advocacy organization would like the plan to build policymaker and community member support for a dedicated funding source for regional active transportation projects. The BTA would also like the plan to include sample design standards and policies that municipalities could use to improve street safety.
"So many people are dying on roads, so we need to make streets safer; that means slowing traffic down," Sadowsky said. "When you start talking about slower streets, you start talking about bike lanes" and other active transportation infrastructure.
McTighe and her colleagues plan to hand the Metro Council the plan and amendments for adoption in spring 2013. The plan would be amended into Metro's Regional Transportation Plan in 2014, as well as help shape the agency's climate change mitigation efforts.
Metro would have several options for putting a prioritized list of active transportation projects into place, said Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder. The agency could reallocate roadway space to accommodate bike lanes or reallocate money for bigger projects. Yet another alternative would be to raise new money through a bond measure, much like the agency did to restore natural areas, Burkholder said.
"Because of the demand for (active transportation), you could do a similar thing and have a regional pot of money used by local governments to go out and do this kind of work," he said.
Increasing active transportation could boost the region's economy, Burkholder said, by reducing the amount of local dollars spent of imported petroleum as well as attracting new businesses. Keen Footwear, bike makers and other companies have clustered in the region, he contended, because of its active lifestyle brand.
"Look at almost any advertisement of Portland; there's a bike in it," he added.
Other active transportation advocates say that simply getting people out of their cars and moving has quantifiable social benefits. During a presentation at Metro last fall, University of British Columbia transportation professor and Brookings Institution fellow Larry Frank cited primary and secondary research that suggests investments in bike, pedestrian and transit infrastructure induce active transportation and reduce healthcare demands and costs.