ODOT opens old wounds from St. Johns Bridge

Last night I heard a presentation by Matt Garrett, Region Manager for ODOT. He came to the PSU Traffic and Transportation class to give an overview of how ODOT fits into the transportation picture.

As someone who is concerned about bike safety, and the livability of our cities, it was very unsettling to listen to Mr. Garrett’s talk and it’s obvious to me that bicycles do not figure into ODOT’s priorities at all.

The word “bicycle” did not even appear in his 26 slide presentation and he made only two mentions of bicycles. One of those was to say that bicycles, “probably shouldn’t be riding on Powell, they should take Hawthorne instead.” Hmmm. Then maybe cars shouldn’t be allowed on Tillamook or Clinton.

Now, I’m not an expert on these matters, but shouldn’t ODOT be more bike-friendly? After all, here is their mission statement:

“Proved a safe, efficient transportation system that supports economic opportunity and livable communities for Oregonians.”

They also list safety as their number one priority. Hmmm. I wonder about this every time I ride my bike over the St. Johns Bridge.

When pressed about why ODOT decided to make the bridge completely unsafe for bikes, Mr. Garrett said they could have had more “conversations” about it, but he made a decision and that was that. End of story. We should just get over it. Gee, some conversation huh?

When he tried to say they made the sidewalks on the bridge safer for bikes I raised my hand:

“But isn’t it true that the sidewalks are not even wide enough to be considered multi-use paths?”

He said:

“Yes that’s technically true.”

I said:

“So, even though you just mentioned how bikes could use the sidewalks, technically we are not legally allowed to do so! The bottom line is that bikes have no safe access the St. Johns Bridge at all!” (insert my emotions flaring and having the class facilitator step in to calm me down…oops).

Suffice it to say, it was very frustrating.

It was also ironic that while I’m listening to the most bike-unfriendly (yet most powerful) transportation agency in the state, a delegation of Portland planning and transportation advocates is in Amsterdam, where bikes are completely embraced, understood and respected as not only a viable mode, but one that shows great promise for a safe, efficient, healthy future for our cities.

Sorry for such a rant, but ODOT is very powerful and they are the gatekeepers to a ton of federal money. So when they show such a blatant disregard for bicycles I get worried. Hopefully I’m wrong and I can be educated about all the great things ODOT is doing (or plans on doing) for bikes. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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18 years ago

Quote: When pressed about why ODOT decided to make the bridge completely unsafe for bikes, Mr. Garrett said they could have had more “conversations” about it, but he made a decision and that was that. End of story. We should just get over it. Gee, some conversation huh?

It seems to me the “conversation” we should be having is with whatever powers that be in regards to finding a new regional manager for ODOT who is dedicated to the mission statement.

That kind of PR shouldn’t work for either Mike Brown or Matt Garrett. You can’t get good government without good people running it.

Who should we write to with our concerns about the direction of Mr. Garrett’s office is more likely the information we need, and not a better explanation of how he blows off bicyclists. Anyone have any addresses of his boss(es), and most preferably any elected officials who have direct oversight of ODOT?

18 years ago

I don’t think you’re wrong, Jonathan. This has been my impression of ODOT for a long time. As long as they are not held accountable for their bicycling apathy, they will continue to spend money to support motorized vehicles and ignore the consequences to bicyclists.

Who in Salem cares and has the authority to hold them accountable? I don’t know who that would be.

Is there anyone in the media who would be interested in publicizing this issue further?

Jeff S.
Jeff S.
18 years ago

Russell, here’s the ODOT organization chart:


ODOT’s Highway Division mailing address is:
355 Capitol St N.E.
Salem, Oregon
(no zip provided on their website..?)

phone # is: 888-275-6368

18 years ago

Thanks for the info, I will write a couple of letters as well as look for who has political oversight of the department, as I’m sure everyone has a story of going up against government bureaucracy that is unresponsive when the bureaucrats feel they don’t have to be.

I’m surprised that Mr. Garrett was allowed to make a sweeping decision like St. Johns (at least as how you said he tells it) when he’s at the bottom of the chart. I’m curious about the whole story and who made the final call on essentially signing the death warrant someday for a bicyclist brave enough to ride across.

While I can understand someone hostile to bicyclists being ignorant enough to say we should go a mile or more out of our way to another bridge when it comes to Ross Island, that sort of blow off just can’t apply with St. Johns since no one can say “just ride over to Hawthorn” or any other bridge from there.

18 years ago

I’ve known for a long time that ODOT is anti-bike, anti-transit, and anti-pedestrian. I did some contract work with them and the only reason I didn’t get a permanent position is that the job required applicants to have a car. (ironically enough the same applicants were instructed to park at Lloyd center because there’s so little parking near their facility on NW Everett).
I spoke with the bicycle coordinator for ODOT about several choke points which limited bicycling in the region and he essentially suggested I write a grant or personally look for funds to develop a solution. They are only willing to spend the millions on highways.
PDOT has had a very difficult time negotiating with ODOT in efforts to make Portland safer and if you look at the road system, the only severely dangerous roads are ODOT controlled. Powell, Sandy, Foster, Burnside, and the highways. Below is an email I sent to the general rant page on their site.
Jonathan, I don’t suppose you obtained Matt’s card did you?

Mr. Mathew Garrett;
I would like to express my sincere dissapointment regarding ODOT’s complete disregard for safety and quality of life in contradiction to your mission statement. ODOT continues to create transportation systems for one mode only-the automobile-despite creating deadly conditions in every section of the state your agency has consistantly fought against all efforts to make Oregon’s roads safer by reducing vehicle speed and improving pedestrian/bicycle access. All ODOT controlled roads are on Portland’s list of the 100 most dangerous intersections in the city. If you are not willing to put safety and quality of life as a priority, than it’s clear that we need to find a director who can.

18 years ago

Well said, Aaron! Barbur Blvd is also managed by ODOT. If you want to see ODOT’s disregard for bicyclists, ride your bike north on Barbur and cross the Naito exit during morning rush hour, or ride south on Barbur and cross the Capitol Hwy exit during evening rush hour.

ODOT is well aware of the risks to bicyclists and they don’t care. There is no reason for ODOT to think or operate otherwise. They know they can do whatever they want, and they do.

18 years ago

Update: apparently ODOT is tranferring ownership of some of their streets (e.g. Powell, Sandy) to the City. Maybe someone from the City could confirm that?

It would be great if ODOT was reducing their presence in Portland.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
18 years ago

I’m curious where you heard that info about ODOT transferring street ownership. Very interesting.

Great comment and I’m glad you found their feedback page. No, I didn’t get his card because he left the room when he was done and there was another presentation right after his.

Chris Smith
18 years ago

The Oregonian reports this morning that the Governor will appoint Matt Garrett as the new director of ODOT, subject to Senate confirmation.

I have had the opportunity to work with Matt a bit at TPAC/JPACT and have found him to be a reasonable guy. I have NOT worked with him on any specific bicycle issues.

18 years ago

About street ownership changes: I heard about Sandy being transferred from ODOT to PDOT in…the very class you are taking right now! When I took it in spring, Rick Gustafson talked about it. I think it might have been in the ODOT presentation. You may have been too hot and bothered to notice! 😉
If you look at this link here:
you’ll see ODOT’s region one map. Note that Sandy is not on it, nor is Burnside. (I don’t think that Burnside (at least east of SE 12th) has been ODOT property for a long time, or maybe ever?)

And now to throw out something about the St. John’s Bridge: Has anyone thought that maybe one of the reasons that the bridge didn’t get bicycle facilities is due to the neighborhood’s indifference? I always get the feeling that St. John’s could care less about bikeways and bicycle improvements. (Note that I said, “get the feeling”, since I have no concrete evidence.) Many were hostile to the suggested improvements on Lombard awhile back, and I wonder if that feeling carried over. The neighborhood indifference combines with ODOT’s indifference…

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
18 years ago

adventure!: that’s a great point about the St. Johns community being apathetic towards bikes. In general I would agree with you. However there is a lot of new blood in the area that is very pro bike and hopefully things will be different in the future.

For one thing…the new head of the St. Johns Neighborhood Association is a big biker! and avid BikePortland.org reader!

18 years ago

Hey Jonathan, I agree that the new blood up in St. Johns will make things different with bicycles. But there is a definite old-time contingent in the ‘hood that doesn’t care about that type of stuff. I know that the opposition to the Lombard St improvements mainly came from them. Now if there was some way to show them how beneficial things like bike lanes and bus service would be for the district…

Oh! I’m impressed that you managed to get so flustered that Rick Gustafson had to step in. I had an incident like that in my class. But the person he reigned in was so chagrined she never came back…

18 years ago

“That kind of PR shouldn’t work for either Mike Brown or Matt Garrett. You can’t get good government without good people running it.”

Never expect the Government to do anything you want. Good people also do NOT make good government. George Bush to more than 50% of the country (and 100% of Texas) is “good people”. The only way to truly attain something that is spoken about here is to do two things, gain access to right of way (which is probably as easy or easier than begging the Government for money), and two find a company, corporation, or other entity that is bike friendly to find a compensatable way to create bike friendly pathways to travel on.

I gaurantee you if you get business support it will happen faster, with better efficiency, and be greater for all involved than if you involve the Government in anything aside from allowing license of the right of way. …in the end you won’t even have to ask for Government/Public money – which is already spread especially thin in Oregon.