The groundbreaking Bike Bill may get an update to continue to build and invest in walking and biking throughout the state. But opponents of the bill worry — as it’s not clear where the money would come from to make these changes.
When it passed nearly 50 years ago, the Bicycle Bill was known as the first of its kind in the nation, with the intent to make the state’s roads more walkable and bicycle-friendly. It set out to accommodate biking and walking on all new road projects and for transportation agencies to spend at least 1% of the State Highway Fund.
Senate Bill 395′s aim is to increase funds it receives to at least 5% for more footpaths and bicycle trails around the state. It would also update the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee to include more members from a diverse group of backgrounds, including those who work in the biking industry, as well as environmental groups and local government.
The fund collects money from a gas tax, heavy trucks tax, and license and vehicle registration fees. These funds are to be spent on roads, including bikeways and walkways within the highway right of way.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, an avid cyclist whose district covers parts of Lane and Douglas counties.
Advocates for the bill say the increase in funds will help fulfill the Bike Bill’s original intent and will also align with environmental goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by having fewer cars on the road and more walkways and bike routes.
The Street Trust, led by former Portland mayoral hopeful Sarah Iannarone, is one of the leading organizations pushing for the new bill. Iannarone, the group’s interim executive director, said the 1% of funds under the current law is not enough. She said the proposed changes are a much-needed update to fulfill the bill’s vision.
“The Bike Bill contributed to many successes, thousands of Oregon residents and communities around the state commute by bike,” she said during a public hearing. “Cumulatively, Oregon has the highest bicycle commuting to work rate in the nation.”
But she said not a single community in the state can operate fully by walking or biking.
Ashton Simpson, the executive director of Oregon Walks, supports the bill with hopes that it will create equitable access for bikeways and walkways for all communities. Simpson emphasizes that the Black community needs safe places to walk in the public right of way, as well as access to trails and recreational spaces.
“Investing in walking and biking is also a critical way to advance equity goals as we know BIPOC and immigrant refugee communities are less likely to be able to afford personal vehicles and are more dependent on walking to access public transit, shops, or schools,” he said.
Last year, Portland saw the highest number of traffic-related deaths since 1996, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Vision Zero Traffic Crash Report 2020. Fifty-four people died in traffic crashes in the city, 23 of those deaths were people either walking or biking. According to the data, as Gov. Kate Brown issued stay-at-home orders in early March, traffic deaths saw a drastic decrease but quickly increased as businesses slowly started to reopen in May and June.
The report also stated 65% of traffic deaths occurred in low-income communities and communities of color in 2020.
Opponents say the bill does not state where or how the highway fund will get extra money or how the changes would affect spending to maintain roads.
Some also argued that bike and pedestrian users are already not paying their fair share for sustaining the roads, and that places the burden on those who use vehicles.
Oregon Trucking Association lobbyist Mark Gibson said during a public hearing that although House Bill 2017, which passed four years ago, included a tax for the sale of bicycles valuing more than $200, it is still not enough.
“Senate Bill 395 proposes to increase the minimum amount spent on bicycle and pedestrian facilities from one to five percent without any increase in taxes to fund additional expenditures,” Gibson said.
AAA Oregon-Idaho Spokesperson Marie Dodds said during the hearing it’s documented that there is not enough money to preserve and maintain roads. She adds that 2020 was a rough year for gas-tax collections, with COVID-19 and wildfires leading to fewer cars on the roads.
“The acute reduction of revenues into the highway trust fund due to COVID-19 and wildfires, combined with chronic projections of reduced revenue over time into the fund from Oregon’s current system were relying on fuel taxes — make the work of this committee to look at alternative ways to generate revenue critically important,” she said.
Both the Oregon Trucking Association and AAA Oregon-Idaho said they support safe bike and pedestrian facilities and would be willing to participate in a workgroup to find ways to make changes that work for everyone.