member of the Oregon
Bicycle and Pedestrian
(Photo courtesy Daniel Ronan)
This article was written by contributor Daniel Ronan
Over the past four years, substantive changes have happened at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Through the pages of BikePortland, active transportation advocates have had the opportunity to view larger organizational changes such as the creation of ODOT’s Active Transportation Section and, more recently, the agency’s response to pavement on the shoulders of Highway 101. From my vantage point as the student member of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (OBPAC), I’ve witnessed these changes as the committee’s youngest member.
While this transition is far from complete, ODOT has made bold steps as it seeks to reshape its identity from “the highway department” to a truly multi-modal agency. To continue this momentum, it’s vital that OBPAC has the perspective of a young, student member — and as I leave my position there’s a great opportunity for a new student to step up.
Since the fall of 2009, when I was appointed as the student member of OBPAC, I have had a seat at the table when discussing how to award the $1 million Urban Trails Fund, the committee’s biennial $5 million grant program, and, finishing this year, the selection of projects through the Transportation Enhancements-OBPAC joint solicitation grant program. This seat at the table has proved critically important for making a mark on transportation decision-making, especially for youth in Oregon. Through each grant process, there are several opportunities for members of the committee to have an impact in setting grant priorities, through setting criteria, ranking projects and monitoring geographic, as well as social equity.
While in some rooms the voice of a student or a young person may be undervalued, I have rarely been faced with a room unwilling to listen to the perspective of a now-recent college graduate. I share a strong sense of camaraderie with other members of OBPAC and ODOT staff that value the best ideas for solving pressing challenges in active transportation, and indeed the diverse viewpoints that make our decision-making that much better.
In this vein of diverse viewpoints I have also worked to increase representation of people of color on the committee as well as the communities in which we award project grants. Through valuing narrative-based questions in project applications, OBPAC has begun to consider projects through a lens of equity (in addition to its successful geographic equity lens) which I hope it continues to value and apply in future grant selection processes. It’s my firm belief the more we try and address historic lack of access to active transportation and its related inequities, the more important it is to have a committee which reflects and appreciates the diversity in Oregon today and the diversity in Oregon fifty years from now.
As the ORS mandates, my particular seat on OBPAC must be filled by an individual under the age of 21 the time of appointment, which has made finding replacements for my position a little more challenging. A selection process earlier this year for the committee’s other four positions yielded great interest, and led to a pool of incredible talent. But now I pitch it to you: how do we round out this talent? Who can you help find to replace me? Here are a few considerations for helping select a student member with staying power: While the statue mandates the student member must be under 21 at the time of appointment, anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult when renting a hotel room. This is a potential inconvenience with OBPAC’s meetings and workshops occurring across the state. Of note, appointees do not need to be students in order to serve.
A governor-appointed term on the committee lasts four years. It took me about half of my term to understand the jargon of engineers, and how to contribute to conversations in a way people could readily understand the message I was trying to communicate. Thus, I believe it’s crucial for the appointee to stay the duration of the four-year term.
As I alluded to earlier, I believe increasing diversity on OBPAC is necessary to its success and would strongly encourage women and individuals of color to apply.
Taking a step back, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues past and present on OBPAC who have helped shape my activism as an advocate for walking and bicycling. Moreover, and perhaps less apparent, they have given me the ability to look beyond just walking and bicycling and see the broader world of advocacy as my oyster. (With an impending move to Chicago, I am excited to see where this experience will take me!)
I would particularly like to thank to Sheila Lyons, ODOT’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Manager, Patricia Fisher, the Programs Manager at the Active Transportation Section, and Jenna Stanke, the new chair of OBPAC – without these three women, ODOT would have a lot to make up for. I am confident these players, the new members of OBPAC and my future committee replacement are the right hands to help shape ODOT into the truly multi-modal organization it aspires to become.
— If you’re interested in becoming the next student member of OBPAC, see this page on ODOT’s website to download an interest form and/or find contacts for more information.
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