Rising Portland Traffic Deaths Lead to Questions About Funding Priorities

According to a recent article in The Oregonian “the city had, as of Friday (April 1), tallied 12 traffic fatalities so far in 2016, compared with seven over the same period last year. Five of those killed were walking when they were hit by a car, and one was riding a bike.” This raises a clear and obvious public policy question: what is the best and most efficient way to fix this situation? Yet according to the newspaper, millions of dollars in federal funds that could be used for essential pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure upgrades are likely to be directed toward other priorities.

As The Oregonian reports: “The debate focuses on a $130 million pool of (federal government) money that comes with few restrictions and can be awarded by Metro over three years to a variety of transportation projects.” Specifically, the question is whether to focus those funds on upgrading pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure or to direct it toward other projects, notably mass transit. The money, “known as regional flexible funds, is important to bicycle and pedestrian advocates because most federal funds are earmarked for road or transit projects. The pool is expected to grow by $17 million compared with the last three-year cycle,” the paper writes.

The current plan is to direct most of that money toward “new high-capacity transit lines being planned connecting downtown Portland to Gresham and Tualatin.” There are, however, two strong arguments for focusing the money, instead, on safety upgrades for pedestrians and cyclists. First, those increased fatality statistics, which indicate a serious and rising problem here in the city. Second, the fact that because the sum – $17 million – will go much further and have a more dramatic effect if focused on pedestrian and bike projects. These tend to be small and inexpensive when compared with rail or highway-building which can cost tens of millions of dollars per mile.

As a Portland attorney focusing on bicycle and pedestrian accidents I hope our local and regional leaders will carefully consider the best way to spend these funds. There is a lot of money that, by law, can only be spent on roads and rail. Meanwhile, appropriating funds for pedestrian and bicycle upgrades can be difficult – despite the fact that these are very cost-effective, relatively speaking. We live in a growing region that requires a broad range of transit solutions, but we also live in a city known throughout the country for being pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. Anything we can do to further and improve that reputation is to be welcomed.

 

The Oregonian: Amid jump in traffic deaths, advocates say region missing chance to fund safety projects