The ODOT Files is an occasional series that shares strange-but-true stories about how our state transportation agency is falling down on the job.
How bad have things gotten at the Oregon Department of Transportation? How about a letter admonishing the agency signed by every major elected office holder in the Portland region?
We just came across a letter (PDF) sent to Metro Council and the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) yesterday. It shares “serious concern” about ODOT’s lack of significant progress to improve the myriad problems that plague 82nd Avenue.
Here’s the full text of the letter (emphases mine) whose signatories include: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler; Portland City Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman and Chloe Eudaly; Oregon State Senators Michael Dembrow and Rod Monroe; Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson; and Oregon State Representatives Barbara Smith Warner, Alissa Keny-Guyer, and Jeff Reardon:
Dear Metro Council and the Oregon Transportation Commission,
The purpose of this letter is to express our serious concern that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has not included a transformational project for 82nd Avenue in the 2018 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). It is essential that a project that envisions and funds a full upgrade to City standards and facilitates a transfer of ownership be added to the RTP to ensure that 82nd Avenue meets current needs, meets our Vision Zero goals, and supports a jurisdictional transfer of 82nd Avenue to the City of Portland.
Every five years, the region creates a vision for our transportation system for the next twenty years with our highest priorities. A failure to include this project in the RTP, and follow-up with immediate funding for planning and design, could result in this critical improvement being delayed for decades. For people walking in Portland, 82nd Avenue is the most dangerous street, with 140 pedestrian collisions in a ten-year period, including seven pedestrian deaths and 25 serious injuries. In addition, 82nd Avenue is the sixth most dangerous street for bicyclists and twelfth most dangerous street for people in motor vehicles.
The City of Portland wrote to the Area Commission on Transportation (ACT) to request that this project be included in the constrained RTP. It is our understanding that ODOT has not responded to this request and has not included 82nd Avenue in the 2018 RTP.
The lack of stewardship and prioritization of state highways routed as urban arterials are why they are often called “orphaned highways.” These roads, including 82nd Avenue, are some of our most important and dangerous streets. 82nd Avenue is a critical transit route, with Line 72 having the fifth highest ridership in the TriMet system, more than either the MAX Yellow Line and MAX Orange Line. Many of these riders get on and off along 82nd Avenue. We urge the Department to add 82nd Avenue to years 1-10 of the constrained 2018 RTP and prioritize funding for planning and project development to ensure the project can be delivered as soon as possible.
As we better understand how historically marginalized communities are unfairly impacted by the dangerous streets in East Portland, this is one of the biggest equity issues facing the region. East Portland is home to roughly 20 percent of the City of Portland, including 13 neighborhoods and more than 150,000 Portlanders. East Portland is more racially and ethnically diverse compared to the city as a whole, with over a third of the population identifying as something other than “white.” Due to a larger stock of affordable housing, among other factors, this part of the City has seen significant population increase as compared to Portland overall. Between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. censuses, 44 percent of citywide population increase can be attributed to growth in East Portland. The need to serve this vibrant, diverse and expanding community in a better, smarter and safer way is urgent.
We understand that the 2018 RTP is quickly moving toward completion. Therefore, we request that you respond back to this letter as soon as possible and add this project. In addition, we would like to offer our assistance in making sure that there is significant funding for the required planning and project development to ensure that this project can move forward as soon as possible.
This is an astonishing level of official acrimony leveled at ODOT that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in the past 13 years. And notice it wasn’t addressed to ODOT staff or even ODOT Director Matt Garrett. It went above them to the OTC — the governor-appointed body who holds ODOT’s policy, personnel and funding pursestrings. Mayor Wheeler and other electeds aren’t just doing this on their own accord. They’re being hounded and pressured by local activists to make streets like 82nd safer; but their hands are tied. ODOT not only owns and manages many of our most deadly arterials — they have also repeatedly demonstrated a lack of willingness to manage them properly.
And it’s not as though 82nd isn’t on ODOT’s radar. They just wrapped up a lengthy planning process called the 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan. I never got around to posting about it, but I noted from afar how local activists were unimpressed by it. One of the people on the committee, John Mulvey, shared his frustration at the lack of significant projects that emerged from the plan.
“ODOT was never serious about making 82nd Avenue safer for pedestrians,” Mulvey shared via email today. “They were responding to growing safety concerns from the community and local legislators, and they were willing to waste two-and-a-half years of the community’s time in order to make it look like they were doing something without really doing something.”
Now it appears the frustration with ODOT’s unwillingness to move forward into the modern era of street design and management goes well beyond activists, well-meaning citizen advocates, and crazy bloggers like me.
Your move, ODOT. Or should I say, your move OTC Chair Tammy Baney? Or Governor Kate Brown? Is anyone listening? How long are you going to let this agency run amok?
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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Jack: “I don’t know about you, but I intend on writing a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all of this.”
— From the film Titanic
And because it’s a signposted state highway, OR-213, the folks at ODOT think in terms of a car oriented street, not in terms of something walkable or safe to ride a bicycle on. Many of the sidewalks (where they exist) are decades old, and many sections are too narrow by current standards. They could do better, but they’re thinking runs along the lines of: It’s a car oriented street, therefore a freight corridor, and therefore, odds and bikes should be discouraged. And bus stops should be bare minimum, meant for short distance waking connections off the 82 Av. alignment. There’s a good reason that foot traffic along it is all but nonexistent. They could do better, but their ignorance runs back 40 years, if not more.
This is good, but it seems a little rich for so many city representatives to be on their high horse about serving the community in East Portland. There are a great many deficiencies that PBOT is in charge of here, including a total lack of sidewalks in many neighborhoods, unpaved roadways, terrifying bike infrastructure (where it exists at all) and a major lack of enforcement of traffic laws. Mayor Wheeler and company would do well to listen to their own admonishments.
Indeed! Why not tack on Powell in the same letter. Same governing agency, and it’s the #2 problem on the list.
And Portland harping on ODOT for their lack of speed in effecting change seems hypocritical given that City Council passed a plan for Foster in 2014, for which a shovel hasn’t lifted.
Powell got $110mn for getting fixed up (and then very likely being transferred to PBOT) in last year’s transportation package. PBOT’s page here shows the planned fixes through 2020: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/61208 So while it’s not good right now, at least there’s a plan with funding for Powell.
Jonathan, thanks for keeping an eye on this important political news…Hey Street Trust (etc), it is time now to plan for the 2019 legislative session and what it will take to wrestle authority for [outdated / legacy] urban arterials away from ODOT and into PBOTs control…as has been done in Washington State.
[The state of these ODOT facilities is one of the main reasons why OR has been dropping down the LABs Bike Friendly State Rankings to #5 vs WAs continued #1 rankling…perhaps this may be “the way” to frame the issue locally…plus allowing ODOT shift resources to other regions with needs.]
I lived in Salem for 25 years and during that time many of our family friends were employees of state agencies. The most interesting were a husband and wife who were both phd psychologists and did mental health evaluations for one of the state agencies, and from time to time did consulting with most of the other agencies. They described ODOT as having the same management structure as the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. I think it will take some serious shaking-up to bring this operation in to the 21st century.
Except it isn’t. People walk along and across 82nd all the time.
I don’t know what metrics there are for such things, but I’d guarantee you that 82nd has more pedestrian traffic than most streets in this city.
I enjoy mountain biking on the sidewalks and dirt strips of 82nd. Lots of places to catch air and it feels like dodging trees.
(to be clear, I’m dodging obstructions, and obstacles, not people)
OTC does not run ODOT.
Matt Garrett runs ODOT.
Kate Brown LOVES Matt Garrett!
OTC is less than a rubber stamp.
…and Windshimer is Garrett’s poodle.
Glad to see so many people sign on to this important letter. I hope the people receiving it are listening. We are not going to stop until they start fixing our streets and get on board with their responsibility to protect all users on their roads and to stop hoping that people will not bike or walk on them.
“82nd Avenue is a critical transit route, with Line 72 having the fifth highest ridership in the TriMet system, more than either the MAX Yellow Line and MAX Orange Line.”
Wow. Well, let’s start planning a light rail line there!
We could call it the Green Line!
DefundODOT & return all streets to local Transporation departments
$450,000,000 could do so much for 82nd Ave in east Portland and also for SW Canyon Road / TV Highway.
This is more of a fund-raising/political letter, than outrage over safety. Remember, if Portland gets its way in this battle, some less powerful community not in the Portland Metro area will get screwed. ODOT only has a limited amount of funds. Oregon Politics 101.
Communities along 82nd Ave have been screwed for years. Politics 101 shows that will continue unless electeds raise their voice and demand better from ODOT.
Uh….this isn’t close to a list of “every major elected office holder in the Portland region”. Not even a list of every major elected in Multnomah County. It is a list of every elected office holder in Portland….and that’s it. Please make a note. Doesn’t diminish the point you’re making, but by calling Portland the “Portland Region”, you only make those outside of Portland hate it more. Hope this helps!
I’m just gonna leave this year. It has everything ODOT has been doing for 82nd Ave in the last three years.
I find it very interesting that the letter from regional officials (City of Portland) takes ODOT to task for lack of action on 82nd. Neighborhoods in NE Portland have been asking the City to take immediate steps to undertake safety actions along NE Broadway. NE Broadway has one of the highest crash rates with pedestrians and bicyclists in the city. There are opportunities for the city to start meeting the Vision Zero with very little financial investment. This includes signal timing to reduce speeds, crosswalk enhancement (painting crosswalks at non-signaled intersections), reducing speed limit and removing one lane of traffic.
It’s time for the City to step up to the plate and take real action, as they did in reducing speed limits on residential streets. The actions stated above cost money, but not much in the long run as they try to embrace Vision Zero.
Regional electeds lambaste but refuse to challenge ODOT. Same as it ever was.
With Portland schools breaking up the K-8’s and reassigning younger students to elementary schools, my family faced the prospect of having our second grader enrolled in a school that would require him to cross 82nd twice every day by bike or foot. No way!! We made calls and found a way to get him into a different school that could be reached more safely. I’d heard about some unspecified improvements that ODOT planned to make to pedestrian crossings on 82nd, but I was skeptical. This article makes it clear that ODOT’s talk about 82nd isn’t worth listening to.