Bicycling advocates lobby city for funding

Group wants council to find money for safety improvements

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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More than two dozen local bicycling advocates took to two wheels to lobby the Vancouver City Council to restore eliminated bicycle and pedestrian program funding in the city’s long-term transportation plan on Monday night.

Following an afternoon workshop where the seven council members heard a grim forecast for the city’s six year Transportation Improvement Program — the document that officially outlines capital projects and their financing — the cyclists took to the council chambers to plead their cause.

The city’s capital budget for new projects contains little money for new projects beyond 2010, transportation staff said. However, advocates zeroed in on a line item in the 2011 transportation program that showed there was $200,000 in uncommitted revenue.

Before the council votes on the final Transportation Improvement Program document on June 21, they said they hoped that money could find a home in bicycling improvements.

“I’d like to see that dedicated,” said Gerik Kransky, advocacy campaign manager for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, a Portland nonprofit that works to promote bicycle use and safety in the metro area. “Dedicate that funding so you can indicate the importance of biking to the community.”

City Manager Pat McDonnell said that $200,000 is kept open just in case there are cost overruns on other projects, and also noted that bike lane striping and other improvements are often folded into other projects, not broken out as a separate line item.

“That there’s just $200,000 floating around out there with no place to call home is a bit of an inaccurate assumption,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said.

The transportation document itself says that “if all capital programs (in 2011) come in on budget, it is possible that some funding could be available” for activities like bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.

But the council was receptive to the comments from the cyclists, who arrived with helmets buckled to their packs and waistbands as they gave their testimony.

Members of the Clark County Bicycle Advisory Committee, Clark College Bike Club and dedicated bike commuters all had a take on the topic.

Gordon Leckie, owner of Bad Monkey Bikes Board & Skate at 17th and Broadway streets, noted that the city’s been able to leverage $135,000 over two years into $353,000 with grants. He said while great strides have been made, there’s still a lot that needs to be done to make nonmotorized transportation safer in Vancouver.

Many others pointed out the health benefits for adults and children, the need for safe routes to school and the reduction of carbon monoxide from alternative transportation. Others still said that increasing bike access to downtown was key to solving parking and congestion issues.

“It’s too important not to fund it,” said Hough neighborhood resident Amy Horstman, who estimates she commuted 1,600 miles last year. “Look at the bike program not as a line item or overrun, but as a key focus and strategy.”

Following the lengthy comment period, the council expressed its support for bicycling programs and asked McDonnell to go through the transportation projects and find what money was already going toward alternative transportation and what other opportunities may exist. They also encouraged exploring grants and other funding options.

Standing outside of the council chambers, Kransky said the city council was simply echoing city staff in saying that $200,000 is for cost overruns, saying the money could and should be dedicated toward their cause, rather than sit without a designation.

“It’s an uncommitted pot — it could be used for overruns, but it doesn’t have to be — there’s a big difference,” he said. “I think it’s the most affordable investment in transportation we can make.”

Councilor Pat Campbell thanked the group for their impassioned, but reasoned, presentation to the council.

“This is one of the most interesting sessions I’ve had,” Campbell said. “Each of you had a fresh angle. I felt refreshed instead of pummelled.”