Vagabond Shark

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Complete Streets a Century Away

Posted by Peter W on February 15, 2008

According to my calculations, it will take over 100 years to complete the bicycle and pedestrian network in Washington County. Read below for more info…

Washington County is currently working on a new transportation initiative that will fund some of their $2.8 billion dollars worth of desired road projects. They are planning to go to the voters in November ’08 and ask for $420 million over 6 years for transportation related projects.

They’ve recently decided to set aside $10 million for bike and pedestrian stand alone projects. That sounds pretty good, until you realize just how many specific bike and pedestrian projects need to be done before we have a complete transportation network, and how much they will cost. (Note that unlike Portland and many other cities, roads have long been built in Washington County without bike lanes or sidewalks, so we have a long ways to go.)

Consider the gaps in just the bike network. There are about 46 miles of county arterials that lack bike lanes or shoulders. (In terms of percentages, 43% of all arterial road miles have no bike lanes or shoulders). Its even worse for collectors (medium sized roads): the gap is 73 miles (that is, 96% of collector streets have no bike lanes or shoulders) [1].

So how soon can we expect to see those gaps closed? I wondered that myself.

The County usually follows the Oregon law that says that new or reconstructed roads will have bike lanes, so as the county widens (and later re-widens, as they tend to do) collectors and arterials, we can expect to see more bike lanes (albeit on larger, busier streets with faster traffic thanks to the car lane-widening projects, but that’s another story).

The problem is that there are lots of roads that just need bike lanes or sidewalks, and these projects aren’t prioritized as highly as projects which increase automobile capacity.

Digging into the Washington County transportation plan, in table 8 of the “System Funding and Financing Element”, I found that there are $176 million of standalone bike & pedestrian projects (in 2002 dollars) [2]. The current plan is to spend $10 million of the upcoming MSTIP program (which will last 6 years) for bike/ped projects. Assuming that those values hold, and we have a new MSTIP every 6 years, here’s the math:

     $176 million standalone bike/ped projects
  /  $10 million for standalone bike/ped projects per MSTIP
 = 17.6 MSTIP funding cycles

   17.6 MSTIP cycles
 * 6 years/MSTIP
 = 105.6 years

So it will be at least 105 years to fund all the standalone projects. Since multi-modal projects are funded at a higher rate and priority than bike/ped projects, we can be figure that the standalone bike/ped projects will be completed last, and so we can figure that it will be at least 105 years before we have a complete bicycle and pedestrian network in Washington County.

Could the County speed up the funding process? They are doing just that for rural roads. At a November 2007 meeting of the Washington County Coordinating Committee (the group that makes the big transportation funding decisions), the Commissioners decided that paving rural roads should be done in 15-20 years instead of 90-100. From the meeting minutes [3]:

Roy Rogers stated that he estimates it would take 90 to 100 years to meet all County needs, and that the issue is how to address all needs at a faster rate. Mr. Duyck stated that the eligible rural roads could be paved over a period of 15 to 20 years if $1 million per year was made available for that purpose. Mr. Rogers asked whether Mr. Duyck was suggesting that $6 million be provided from MSTIP, and Mr. Duyck said that he was.

For a number of reasons (including safety, decreased auto-congestion, and environmental benefits of increasing alternative transportation), completing the County’s bike and pedestrian network is at least as important as paving rural roads. The County should fund bike and pedestrian specific projects at a rate that is high enough so the bike/ped network can be completed within 15-20 years [4].

1: Source: Washington County Transportation Plan, Bicycle Element, Table 7

2: Specifically, the funding plan says bike projects would cost $106.3 million and pedestrian projects would cost $70.1 million.

3: October 2007 WCCC Meeting Minutes (pdf).

4: Washington County could complete the standalone bicycle projects in about 20 years by spending $5 million per year on bike projects, and complete the pedestrian projects in about 14 years by spending $5 million per year on pedestrian projects. With a population of over half a million people and growing, this works out to be less than $20 a year per person (note that Holland spends about 50 euros, or $75, per person annual on bike and pedestrian projects).

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