In our view: Pedal Problems
Bicycling enthusiasts make a good point, but public can’t afford funding at this time
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Our community is a bike-friendly place to live, play and work. (Local bicyclist Amy Horstman told Vancouver city councilors on Monday that she commuted about 1,600 miles last year.)
One good source of local bicycling information is a page on the county’s website: www.clark.wa.gov/bikeandped. There, you can find details about the long-range Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that the county is developing, and participate in an online survey that helps decision-makers chart the future.
You’ll also notice that the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee has a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday on the sixth floor of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.
Still, our community is not as bike-friendly as many bicyclists would like. Their concern, their activism and their passion for promoting the many benefits of bicycling are both understandable and commendable. On Monday evening, Horstman and about two dozen other bicycling activists spoke to the Vancouver City Council about the need to restore bicycle and pedestrian funding in the city’s long-term transportation plan. As Andrea Damewood reported in Tuesday’s Columbian, their presentation was so impressive and meaningful that councilor Pat Campbell noted, “This is one of the most interesting sessions I’ve had. Each of you had a fresh angle. I felt refreshed instead of pummelled.”
It’s doubtful, however, that the bicyclists left the meeting feeling refreshed or even hopeful. Despite their abundance of good ideas, funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements in Vancouver remains scarce and in most cases scattered among piecemeal expenditures tucked away in various transportation projects. And despite the noble cause they’re pursuing, local bicyclists should acknowledge that now is one of the worst times — perhaps the worst time — to expect local politicians to free up funding.
Simply put, the money is not there. Vancouver city councilors are wrestling with a projected budget deficit of several million dollars and, as we noted in an editorial last year: “Clark County and various cities have done a reasonably good job of improving bike-travel infrastructure in recent years, but on the list of county duties, this probably doesn’t even rank in the top 10.” Nor do bicycling infrastructure improvements rank high among the city of Vancouver’s priorities.
But that’s not to say the subject should be dropped or that all revenue-generating efforts should be abandoned in the gloom of this Great Recession. As we’ve editorialized earlier, one of the most attractive money generators are “opt-in” commitments by bicyclists who would respond to bike shop owners asking customers to contribute to bike lanes; “rounding up” the change on purchases could be requested, with the money going to local bike improvements. Also, grants pursued by local governments and bike groups remain a funding source that’s gentle on cash-strapped taxpayers.
One bad idea that’s been kicked around by county commissioners is a bicycle licensing fee or registration fee. The uncertainties and confusion of that issue has kept the idea from catching on in other communities, and we don’t see any way it could work here, either.
The local bicyclists who appeared before Vancouver city councilors pointed to a $200,000 fund of uncommitted revenue that’s listed in the city’s transportation plan. But City Manager Pat McDonnell said that money is designed to be used in case of cost overruns on other projects.
We hope our community becomes even more bike-friendly. But at this critical time in our local, state and national economies, public funding expectations are poorly timed.
Perhaps later, if and when the recovery ever kicks in.