Last year, the City of Portland, OR adopted the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. Much has been said about the plan’s goals to make Portland a more sustainable and healthy city. From the perspective of public finance, the plan boils down to bringing supply for bicycle transportation in line with demand.
In 2007, the City of Portland conducted a survey about bicycle transportation, to answer the question “Why people aren’t cycling (and how to help them start)”. 60% of residents were categorized as “interested but concerned” in bicycling for transportation. This showed that demand for bicycling was high, but supply of low-stress bikeways was not adequate to meet this demand.
Portland’s bicycle plan is framed around getting that 60% of residents on bikes. The plan’s ambitious goal is to increase bicycle mode share (the percent of all trips) from 5.8% in 2009 to 25% in 2030. To get to 25% by 2030, the plan proposes expenditures of about $30 million a year, reaching a total of about $600 million by 2030.
So, isn’t that a lot of money to spend on bike paths and bike lanes? Well, it depends on how you look at it. Last year, Portland budgeted $17.9 million for non-motorized (bike and walk) transportation (estimated from Portland's FY 10-11 Adopted Budget) By effectively doubling the city’s non-motorized transportation expenditures, Portland’s bicycle mode share would quadruple. That seems like a pretty good return on investment.
You could also compare Portland’s non-motorized expenditures to non-motorized mode share. Bicycle and pedestrian expenditures can be difficult to separate in transportation budgets, which is why they are combined for this calculation. Non-motorized mode share is 11.4% of trips, while accounting for only 6.2% of transportation expenditures. If all goes according to Plan for 2030, mode share will be over 30%, while non-motorized expenditures will be 11 - 12% of Portland’s transportation budget. Again, Portland seems to be getting more for less.
A great chart from the Portland Bureau of Transportation confirms the high return on investment in bicycling and walking. Crunching the numbers, Portland’s auto trip increase was a bit over 2 times larger than the increase in bicycle trips. But Portland spent approximately 27 times as much on roadway improvements as on non-motorized transportation. Now that’s something to think about in times of tight budgets.