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Portland promotes urban cycling, but costs will be high

The eco-conscious city plans to build more than 680 miles of new bikeways in the coming two decades at a cost of $613 million.

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If approved, the 2030 Portland Bicycle Plan will be the nation's most ambitious urban cycling project. When completed, city planners hope the hundreds of miles of new bikeways will dramatically cut carbon emissions and promote a more active lifestyle.

Don Ryan/AP

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The 2030 Portland Bicycle Plan, envisioning a future when 25 percent of trips are made by bike, is expected to coast to approval when it goes before the City Council today.

It's easy to green-light America's most ambitious investment in bicycling when it would be funded down the road. But according to city transportation officials, the plan to build 681 miles of new bikeways over the next 20 years will eventually cost $613 million.

By comparison, the MAX Green Line cost $575 million, and all transportation projects in the metro area add up to about $630 million a year.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams doesn't flinch at the estimated cost. He talks of making neighborhoods more livable, transportation more affordable and reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

"Can we do those things without this bike plan?" Mayor. Adams says. "I think it would be very difficult."

Critics think the mayor and cycling advocates are dreaming. For starters, the plan would require a new steady revenue stream.

"They want to make bicycling more attractive than driving for all trips of three miles or less," says John Charles, president of the Cascade Policy Institute. "Nothing they do is going to make that happen for most people."

The plan calls for an expansive interconneted bicycle network, new street designs and an array of education programs. It also mandates studying funding concepts in coming months.

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