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Good news: ODOT just added four new staffers to head up active transportation efforts

Posted by on May 18th, 2016 at 2:09 pm

N Williams Ave Community Forum.JPG-11

Susan Peithman speaking at a community forum in 2011.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The need for culture-change at the Oregon Department of Transportation is something we talk about a lot here at BikePortland. So we were thrilled to hear that the agency is on something of a hiring binge in their active transportation section. And it comes at an important time — ODOT’s advisory body is set to adopt a major update of the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Mode Plan tomorrow.

The big news is that former Bicycle Transportation Alliance and PSU Transportation Research and Education Consortium staffer Susan Peithman has just been hired as the Active Transportation Policy Lead. This is a welcome injection of fresh perspective into an agency that’s trying shed its cars-first reputation. Peithman isn’t just a whip-smart advocate and former consultant (with Alta Planning + Design), she’s put her volunteer time into the policies she’s now going to help steer. Peithman, who lives in northeast Portland and is a relatively new mom, had been vice-chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the past three years.

You might also recall Peithman’s past cycling exploits from coverage here on BikePortland. There was the time in 2012 when she was part of the winning team at the Rapha Ladies Prestige race in San Francisco, and she was also one of three Portland women who attempted to ride the entire Tour de France route. Also in 2012 Peithman was the BTA’s representative on the controversial North Williams Avenue Traffic Safety Project.


In an email to employees, ODOT’s Active Transportation Section Manager McGregor Lynde said Peithman is taking on a “critical position within the agency.” “With the updated Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan going to the Oregon Transportation Commission this week for adoption, the timing of Susan coming on board could not have been better, as we begin the efforts of implementing the plan.”

Peithman will start her new position on June 7th.

Lynde and Peithman will also benefit from expanded ground troops. ODOT hired Jessica Horning as an active transportation liaison in Portland’s region (Region 1) back in November 2012. Now they’ve announced the expansion of those positions to all five regions with recent hires being made in Salem (Region 2), Bend (Region 4) and Eastern Oregon (Region 5). Hiring for a SW Oregon (Region 3) active transportation liaison is expected to start soon. These positions will also interface with ODOT’s long-time Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shelia Lyons.

To give you a sense of where Peithman and Lynde operate within ODOT, check out the organizational chart below. You’ll note that the Active Transportation Section is housed within the Transportation Development Division:

The impact of these new hires will rely on their ability to navigate the waters of ODOT — an agency that’s constrained by outdated federal guidelines, whims of the legislature, internal politics, and a penchant for highway-building.

We’ve shared promising news of organizational change at ODOT several times in the past; but you still have to look very hard to notice that the agency is indeed changing their ways. These new hires should bring things into much clearer focus. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Steve B. May 18, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Great hire, ODOT! Congrats to Susan!

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  • shannon May 18, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Yeah, Susan!

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  • Jim Lee May 18, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    The organization chart for ODOT is worth perusing in some detail.

    Such charts are faint images of the real flow of power within organizations.

    Likely the actual nexus of ODOT is somewhere within the descending branch labeled “Office of the Director.”

    Surely there are strong functional lateral connections between that office and every nook and cranny of the organization.

    I wish we knew what they were!

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    • Eric Leifsdad May 18, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Highway Division – because that’s what they actually build and maintain. Note that while there is a “motor vehicle services” department, they probably have little involvement in keeping travel lanes clear and connected.

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  • ethan May 18, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    How does this translate into new / better places to ride bikes and walk on state owned or maintained roads?

    Will we see improvements on Lombard, Barbur or 82nd sooner?

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  • Jessica Roberts
    Jessica Roberts May 18, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I had the pleasure of having Susan on my team for many years. She is so smart, so dedicated, and really committed to policy and system reform. I can’t imagine a better hire.

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  • Jim Lee May 18, 2016 at 6:23 pm


    Could you tell us what Susan has actually accomplished in addition to where she has worked?

    In addition to being a very good cyclist?

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    • Bontrager May 18, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      ***This comment has been deleted because it was mean and insulting. Please treat the subjects of our stories with more respect – whether you agree with them/like them or not. – Jonathan ***

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 19, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Hi Jim,

      I’m not going to play this game and answer such a BS question. I know your intention and I think it’s mean-spirited and not appropriate. I deleted Bontrager’s comment because I don’t know who that is and it was even less tactful than yours.

      Peithman isn’t a politician, she’s an employee/consultant/advocate. It’s not like she does something and is able to take full credit. And she’s a policy person, someone who works to shift a conversation toward a better outcome for cycling/active transportation — which is not something that you can easily point to a tangible “accomplishment.” I do recall that she helped the BTA navigate the very stormy waters of the N Williams Avenue project (that photo of her above is taken from a community forum she spoke on for that project).

      All this being said I actually don’t know all the details of her record (and it’s a fair question to ask); but I’m not her spokesperson nor am I going to let you put me in the position of having to vouch for her career. You don’t like her. You don’t think she deserves the job and/or won’t do well at it. That’s your opinion. My hunch is she’ll be good at it. Let’s see what happens.

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  • eddie May 18, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I’m just glad there’s a bicyclist up in there somewhere.

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  • 9watts May 18, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    “an agency that’s trying shed its cars-first reputation.”

    I’m excited to hear about these hires and want to believe the quote above is a fair representation of what is going on but I am curious how you came to that conclusion, Jonathan? From everything I’ve seen there is zero interest in shedding its cars-first reputation, along with a bit of window dressing and a whole lot less follow through. I’d love to be proven wrong.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 19, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Hi 9watts,

      We hear from a lot of sources inside the organization that there is a real push to change. But there are well over 500 employees at ODOT so it takes a LOT to turn such a large ship. Not to mention the fact that ODOT is not even captain of the ship. They must follow federal and state law – which can run counter to what they would prefer to do if they could choose. It’s complicated… but as with nearly every issue/story there’s much more nuance than the public discourse usually gets into.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 19, 2016 at 11:03 am

        Given how top-down ODOT is, I’m concerned that the bicycle coordinators won’t be able to do enough to create real tangible change, however well-intentioned they may be. I have no doubt they’ll try, though! It would definitely help if the leader of ODOT would embrace cycling and public transport, and stop pushing for more highway expansion. After all, it is possible to turn down federal money for road widening!

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      • 9watts May 19, 2016 at 12:27 pm

        Thanks for your reply, Jonathan. I realize that there is lots to this sort of transition, that it takes time, etc.
        But… I also have to push back: For ODOT to say they’re sorry isn’t complicated in the least. Hiring people with mellifluous titles doesn’t take much courage, but admitting you were wrong—that your policies and priorities shafted everyone not in a car for generations, right up to the present—does, and is essential to begin reclaiming any sort of credibility or moral authority on these issues.

        I will exhume a post of mine on this very topic almost three years ago:

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      • Gerik May 19, 2016 at 1:26 pm

        I’m pretty sure there are over 7000 employees at ODOT and I know from personal experience that Susan P. is about to be one of the best of them!

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    • wsbob May 19, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      “…but you still have to look very hard to notice that the agency is indeed changing their ways. These new hires should bring things into much clearer focus. …” maus/bikeportland

      I’m willing to give Peithman and the other hires some vote of confidence that they’ll attempt to levy an increase in emphasis on expansion, improvement, and maintenance of superior walking and biking infrastructure that are part of roads under ODOT’s jurisdiction…however, I think people could use, and need a little more substantial description of what form that emphasis is going to take.

      What are Horning, Lynde, and Peithman going to do, or what are they going to be able to do, to significantly shift the provision of ODOT resources towards providing infrastructure, superior to what’s been standard for the department to provide in past for walking and biking?

      I’m reluctant to really blame ODOT or its staff for the character of roads and highways it constructs and maintains…given that I believe, and think it’s true that the department does so consistent with the will and need for road use priorities expressed by majority Oregon residents.

      Still, whether it wants to or not, ODOT in many instances under its jurisdiction, particularly notable in high population metro areas, builds big, ugly roads and highways that no person in their right mind wants to on or very near to, outside of a fast moving motor vehicle. I’d like to have available to read, that the hire-ees are working on ‘this, this, and this’, projects…to have walking and biking infrastructure on or along roads and highways in the departments jurisdiction be safer, quieter and more enjoyable to use than it ever has been to date.

      Unfortunately, that kind of information doesn’t seem to be available here to read. Will there any of this kind of thing in the mentioned update of the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Mode Plan? I’m hoping so.

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  • Jonathan May 19, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Cool Susan story- While on a wet morning commute down Williams, my rear wheel skidded out over a wet manhole cover on the left turn onto Flint. My face and shoulder were pretty wrecked up and my helmet broke. Disoriented, bruised, and bloodied, Susan stopped and helped me get back on my feet. After a few minutes, she escorted me to nearby Legacy ER and lent me her U-lock for the day while I was getting checked out.

    After returning the U-lock the next day, I haven’t run into her since, so great to see she’s still out there continuing her mission to improve safety and cycling! (bonus- the manhole cover I slipped on was relocated away from the center of the lane a few months later… coincidence?)

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  • Elliot May 19, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Congrats Susan!

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  • Jeff Monson May 23, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    The ODOT ship IS changing course. Susan will do great and you will be reading about her accomplishments.

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