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Guest opinion: Central City in Motion passage a historic moment for Portland

Posted by on November 19th, 2018 at 1:41 pm

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

[This essay is by Go By Bike owner and Portland transportation activist Kiel Johnson, who was in City Hall when council passed the Central City in Motion plan on Thursday.]

Thursday’s passage of the Central City in Motion plan will be remembered as a crucial moment in Portland’s history. I was sitting in the back of council chambers on Thursday with Ryan Hashagen from Better Block and during the testimony we both reflected on the passage of the Portland Bicycle Master Plan eight years ago.

In 2010, I was fresh out of college and having given up on finding a job had started interning at PBOT. On the day of the passage I wore a shirt with a bicycle and the words “revolutionary” under it, which a PBOT employee told me to change for fear of setting the wrong optics. His concern reflected how anxious PBOT was about the plan and what council would say about it.

After the 5-0 vote it was like someone had won the lottery. The mood throughout the office was elated. You couldn’t walk down the hall without a high five. The Bicycle Master Plan was important not just for the policy it created but how it raised the morale of the many people working within PBOT to achieve that same goal.

The passage of the Central City in Motion plan feels just as good — and it comes with the emergence of a new champion for transportation reform.

The long halls of Portland’s bureaucracy can be isolating and complex. Bureaucracy does not embrace change. That is why it is so important to have elected officials in city government who are advocates for change. On Thursday, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly very clearly said that we need to change how our streets are designed so more people can walk, take transit, and ride a bike.

In her remarks before the vote, Commissioner Eudaly thanked walking and cycling advocates before giving the most eloquent, truthful, forceful, and thoughtful speeches on transportation I have ever heard.

She said,

“For too long we have only been addressing one end of the spectrum, which are car drivers, while neglecting the other end. So if it seems like we are dedicating a lot of resources to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, we are, and it is completely warranted.”

She went on illuminating the history of our cities,

“It’s only been about a 100 years since streets were thought of as strictly conduits for cars. But for a millennia before the invention of the combustible engine streets were used for a variety of uses and by many different users.”

If that wasn’t enough I nearly fell out of my seat in excitement when she started talking about critical mass. She quoted the “We are the streets” motto and ended my saying her motto towards single occupancy drivers who complain about congestion is, “you are the congestion”.

She closed by saying how it is imperative for climate change, public health and safety, equity, and collective quality of life that we make improvements for biking and walking.

Since the passage of the Bicycle Master Plan, Portland has been waiting for a leader to embrace the goals and values in that plan. If Commissioner Eudaly continues the tone she set on Thursday she will be remembered as one of Portland’s greatest public servants. If anything I feel PBOT has failed to sell the Central City in Motion plan. Once all these projects are built it will fundamentally change how people think about getting around in the central city.

Thank you for your leadership Commissioner Eudaly. Portland’s transportation advocates heard you last week and we are ready to spend our time and passion to turn the vision you laid out into reality. And to the PBOT employees sitting in your cubicle: Get to work, we finally have a commissioner who is ready to lead.

— Kiel Johnson @go_by_bike on Twitter

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34 Comments
  • Catie November 19, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    I have been thinking a lot about the 2030 Bike Plan recently. It was passed just a year before I moved to Portland. I can see one annual report from 2011 then nothing. What happened with it? Why do we have to implement new plans with justifications for road changes when the previous plan already had future bike facilities on the same routes? How will CCIM be different? This is a major issue, not just with transportation plans, but all sorts of city plans that promise yearly oversight and then fall off the map until its been long enough to start a whole new (expensive) public engagement process around a plan update. Accountability for 10-20 year plans through different administrations and budget cycles seems to result in a lack of accountability.

    People still refer to the 2030 Bike Plan to point to potential upgrades, but I am wholly unsure what weight it actually has anymore. From my perspective, it seems like we will still not accomplish nearly the mileage of a bike network that was set forth in the 2030 plan, even with CCIM fully implemented.

    I am feeling optimistic but also remembering a phrase I heard once: “never tip a waiter before the meal”. A clear message was sent on Thursday, but now its all in the follow thru.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 19, 2018 at 2:33 pm

      This is a big topic Catie! For one thing the 2030 plan was a traditional plan with a 20-year planning horizon that people simply cannot relate to. It doesn’t feel like it matters TODAY. The CCIM is so different because the projects will break ground next year (they better!).

      Also, the 2030 plan was mired in political baggage and controversy from the day it was passed. Mayor Adams — the figurehead of the plan — was politically very weak given his major scandal just one year prior. And his (actually very smart) policy idea to use BES “green street” project funding to build some of the bikeways in the plan got twisted in the media to “Sewer money for bike lanes”… That was really a huge hit not just to the plan but to bicycling in general in Portland.

      When Hales came in after Adams he ran as the anti-Adams… and since bicycling was one of Adams’ top priorities, Hales basically ignored it and that was that.

      All this being said, the 2030 Bike Plan has had a big impact on what has been built. Just because it doesn’t have a list of projects we can go down and cross off doesn’t mean it’s not an important document internally at PBOT. The priorities and policies and projects listed in the plan have extra weight because they’re in the plan.

      Also, a plan is only as good as the politics around it. And politics are in large part shaped by the advocates. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the lack of strength around cycling in Portland and the plateau of cycling rates came at a time when the BTA/The Street Trust was struggling for leadership and was in transition as an organization. We’re past that phase now (hopefully), and it’s time to build cycling back up again.

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      • Catie November 19, 2018 at 3:22 pm

        Thanks for your take Jonathan. Its quite difficult for the public to see how these things work and more importantly,*why* projects with extensive public outreach seem to change course once approved. From the timeline I see, the One Year Progress Report was published in April 2011, just after the bioswale/bike boulevard hit the news, and almost two years before Hales took office in Jan 2013. Why did we stop reporting results to the public? And who got to decide?

        It seems to be a problem that reaches far past transportation: Recently the Oregonian published a follow up to the OldTown Chinatown Action plan from 2014 that concluded that we had failed every goal that was set. Similarly, the 2015 Climate Action Plan has only released one annual report as of now and does not seem to have one coming.

        Maybe I’m just looking for successful examples of plans that actually did go according to plan, and what efforts are needed to succeed. I am coming up short though.

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  • David November 19, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Something to keep in mind with Commissioner Eudaly’s support, and even some of her wording, is the impact of the Traffic and Transportation class she has been taking. At this point it would be hard to overstate the impact of the class and its participants on the growth she has experienced since taking the helm at PBOT. It doesn’t hurt that there are several prominent advocates also enrolled this term who have made an impression on both her and her Chief of Staff.

    The line about people in cars being the congestion came a week after listening to Gordon Price speak about the work done in Vancouver, BC and uttering a similar line. She was also exposed to Roger Geller’s presentation a few weeks ago with the famous graphic showing when we will finish bicycle facilities compared to auto and transit. Being among Portlanders without the normal filter also provides an opportunity to get a sense for what people support and are looking to see in Portland’s future.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 19, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      EXCELLENT POINT DAVID.

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    • William Henderson November 19, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      I took this class a few years back , pre Ride Report when I was just getting started working with cities. It really is an amazing civic resource.

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  • Shoupian November 19, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Know what else PBOT supports in the Central City? The I-5 Rose Quarter Expansion with a price tag of $450 million. It’s more than 10 times the budget for CCIM. It’s a nice speech from Eudaly, but I am getting conflicting messages from PBOT. What exactly is the agency’s priority?

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    • paikiala November 20, 2018 at 9:34 am

      Confusing PBOT and ODOT, again…
      I suppose you’d prefer ODOT did their thing without any benefit to surface transportation in Portland?

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      • Shoupian November 20, 2018 at 12:10 pm

        I am not confused. You misinterpreted my comment. I said PBOT supports the I-5 Rose Quarter Expansion (which is true); I never said it is a PBOT project. You assume that the expansion is an inevitability, which is a typically logical fallacy among transportation engineers. To answer your question, I prefer PBOT actually take a stand for what it purports to value by opposing expanding a freeway in the Central City. Making driving easier by investing millions in freeway infrastructure is directly against the City’s goal to get more people to walk, bike and use transit.

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      • Steve B. November 20, 2018 at 1:33 pm

        While ODOT led the project, PBOT is a major partner and champion of the project. It is entirely fair to say PBOT support the project, though I understand there are staff within PBOT who are not personally supportive.

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    • soren November 21, 2018 at 11:54 am

      The ability of commissioners to effect change at bureaus has political constraints that are not always apparent in media coverage. Wheeler’s office is infamous for applying strong pressure on a commissioners to not stray too far from his “business as usual” politics. And the threat of having a bureau yanked away is omnipresent.

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  • sikoler November 20, 2018 at 8:07 am

    Chloe sure knows the dog-whistle slogans for best pandering.

    This is regressive, not progressive. Our problem is the entire mentality of “bad for cars = good for bikes”.

    Treating car commuters as some kind of evil enemy is hurting the cause, not helping. The whole thesis of anti-car activists is a logical error…a false dichotomy. We can design to encourage biking AND also design to make rush hour traffic flow.

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    • David November 20, 2018 at 8:49 am

      It is still a volume issue. Our roads work just fine, just not with the number of people who are choosing to drive. At some point a portion of the population will have to change how they are getting to their destination or the network will continue to fail at least twice a day.

      This is really about finding ways to incentivize people to utilize modes that are more appropriate for the amount of space available. If we make rush hour traffic flow then more people will switch to cars and it will jam up again due to induced demand. We know this because it’s happened around the world.

      Car commuters aren’t evil, however they are also not blameless when it comes to the congestion of our transportation network – they are the primary cause.

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      • paikiala November 20, 2018 at 10:31 am

        Nuanced, just a bit.
        more appropriate = more efficient. Much of the space used to move a single person in a standard vehicle is excessive.

        Also, the perception by many that the auto is the only way to get around, or even the best way to get around, is colored by the last 100 years of public investment almost exclusively on that mode. It’s like the fish not knowing it’s in water because it’s always been in water.

        Once informed, however, people that continue to choose large personal automobiles when an alternative exists (even for part of their trip), can then be fairly criticized. Continuing to place something you want (convenience) ahead of what others need (safety, health), is a definition of excessive selfishness.

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        • David November 20, 2018 at 10:53 am

          Agree on your points. It was a more nuanced response as I was making a concerted effort to respond to the comment without implicating the writer of the original comment.

          The only part I would challenge is about being able to fairly criticize those choosing to drive a larger personal automobile. This is the mentality that the original comment was attacking. If people want to drive a personal auto and bear all of the costs of that behavior then so be it, however we should be working to make it so that those costs are not borne by others. This means safety, air quality, carbon emissions, health, and congestion impacts should all be priced in to the cost of using a private motor vehicle. This will also help make transit better and more reliable by increasing demand and decreasing the congestion that currently slow down buses and trains.

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          • sikoler November 21, 2018 at 6:48 am

            “If people want to drive a personal auto and bear all of the costs of that behavior then so be it, however we should be working to make it so that those costs are not borne by others.”

            Exactly.

            Don’t make all drivers miserable with intentional congestion, instead use financial incentives on those who don’t need it but choose to use it anyway.

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      • sikoler November 21, 2018 at 6:43 am

        ” If we make rush hour traffic flow then more people will switch to cars and it will jam up again due to induced demand. We know this because it’s happened around the world.”

        No this is wrong. Thank you for your comment though I appreciate your balanced approach.

        First, this is Portland in 2018, one of the most liberal cities in the world. People here genuinely want to choose the less-polluting option. At least significantly more than other cities.

        It’s incorrect to compare behavior of Houston, TX residents in the 70s to how we would act now.

        If you care about pollution you should want to avoid traffic congestion at all costs. A car idling in gridlock for 10 minutes pollutes twice as much as a car that flows through in 5 minutes.

        Gridlock multiplies pollution.

        The way to incentivize isn’t to make driving miserable for everyone, but to make it expensive for those that don’t need it.

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        • idlebytes November 21, 2018 at 7:52 am

          Why are you talking about Houston, TX in the 70s? Texas is still doing everything they can to build their way out of congestion and failing miserably at it. The 26 lane Katy freeway was built in the 2000s and it only saw a moderate relief to congestion in one direction in the evening for a few years before it filled right back up again (induced demand). People in Portland still primarily choose to drive so I don’t think your unofficial survey that they care about pollution really holds up. If they did our mass transit would be packed all the time not just during rush hour. People care about their time. If you prioritize SOV road use and “make traffic flow” people will choose that mode as they have for the past 60 years.

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        • David November 21, 2018 at 12:26 pm

          Houston wasn’t mentioned anywhere in my response. It was actually more generic as I genuinely cannot locate a clear example of road capacity being increased in an area with prior heavy congestion and the resulting roadway not experiencing less than a comparable amount of congestion within a couple of years… or less.

          Looking locally however I would like to discuss a couple projects where some good data would be helpful.

          I-5 Southbound between Victory Blvd and Lombard was bottlenecked as the bridge only had two lanes while the rest of the highway had three. During rush hour this caused backups for miles. ODOT spent a long time on a project to expand the bridge to relive the bottleneck, however the bottleneck merely moved without traffic being relieved in any appreciable manner. It could be argued that in the decade since the project finished more people are using the road which is why it still backs up for miles, but that is the point of induced demand – solving a bottleneck encourages more people onto the road to create the next.

          Another is the just completed two year long expansion of Highway 26 between 185th Ave and Cornelius Pass Road where a third travel lane has been added (link: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=18806). During construction, traffic has been heavily congested and while there might be short term benefits this project is almost certain to fail, though I hope that this is wrong and the $34.5 million was well spent.

          Not sure where the pollution numbers are coming from. Some data would be nice (pollution is about more than the amount of time a car is in a certain stretch of road, efficiency varies quite a bit based on the type of driving and vehicle). As an aside, even if widening highways worked and the increase in demand did not keep up with capacity, you’re still left with more capacity than before while means an increase in pollution as more vehicles will be able to pack onto the highway and all of the smaller roads albeit at faster speeds than what we experience in every day life. In that dream scenario the air is still not clean enough to breath for extended periods without suffering serious health consequences.

          Portlanders want to feel like they’re polluting less. Whether or not the actions back that up is another matter. Sure there are a lot of Teslas, Leafs, and other plug in vehicles around town but how many owners verify that green energy is used to charge the battery? Are they evaluating the environmental cost of producing that vehicle, including the battery, vs driving less to decrease their environmental impact? Do they have a small house that is energy efficient and close to work to minimize their environmental footprint? I do not have the answers to these questions, while I would hope that this is all part of the decision making process it something I would bet against.

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    • idlebytes November 20, 2018 at 9:09 am

      “We can design to encourage biking AND also design to make rush hour traffic flow.”
      What does this mean? You say this all the time but never elaborate. How do you make traffic flow? How do you address induced demand? What major city in the world can you point to that’s solved rush hour congestion or induced demand?

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      • Matt S. November 20, 2018 at 1:24 pm

        Roads still need to be accessible for first responders, truckers, and construction workers carrying tools. There’s always going to be some traffic, we just need to make it cost prohibitive for single occupancy when other options are available.

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        • sikoler November 21, 2018 at 6:50 am

          “we just need to make it cost prohibitive for single occupancy when other options are available”

          I think this is a workable approach.

          We shouldn’t cause intentional congestion for all cars, but instead use financial incentives on those who drive but don’t have any need to.

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          • idlebytes November 21, 2018 at 7:37 am

            Still waiting on the design to encourage bicycling that allows rush hour traffic to flow. What does that look like? How do you encourage bicycling without making changes to our transportation network that doesn’t negatively effect the SOV road user? The only thing causing intentional congestion for cars is other cars. The idea that prioritizing other modes is some kind of plot to make driving harder is ridiculous. It’s not causing congestion it’s prioritizing one mode over the other. Even with the last 30 years behind us of adding bike boulevards and light rail the SOV road user still reigns supreme. You say you want to use financial incentives to encourage other modes, what better financial incentive is there then time?

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            • Catie November 21, 2018 at 10:25 am

              One example would be protected intersections that have separate signal phases for bikes and turning autos. In Chicago for instance, it is much faster for a car to make a turning movement on a protected bike lane street because bikes & pedestrians gets to cross at a separate time. At a regular intersection cars have to wait for the crowds (or edge through) and less cars make the turn within their light signal. It was very powerful to see it in action. Huge improvement for all users.

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            • sikoler November 25, 2018 at 6:38 pm

              “Still waiting”

              I’ve addressed this from you several times and you never respond.

              If you want to converse on this topic, go back and read the multiple times I answered this for you and then respond here. It will help if you copy and past my comments that you are responding to.

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              • idlebytes November 26, 2018 at 10:02 am

                “I’ve addressed this from you…” I think you’re confused. I may have replied to you one other time on here. While I appreciate the offer to open every one of these articles and search for your comments it doesn’t really seem to be worth my time. And I did copy and paste your comment I had questions about. Feel free to scroll up and read my original comment again.

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    • El Biciclero November 24, 2018 at 10:35 am

      I tend to think of roadways and other public resources as free ice cream (or donuts, or whatever. I like to use ice cream because it is not only an “expensive” resource per se, it requires maintenance (freezing) for it to be any good). If we put out one gallon of ice cream and put a “FREE” sign on it, will it last any less time than if we put out 5 gallons? Or will more people just dig in and consume it in the same 14 minutes, no matter how many gallons we set out? If the ice cream runs out, what do the people that didn’t manage to get any do? Even people who know ice cream is generally bad for you will likely be constantly tempted to grab a scoop, as long as it’s just sitting there for free. Also, word will get out that, “hey, they’re giving out free ice cream!” and more people will show up to get their “fair share”.

      I further imagine that when it comes to roadways, drivers (particularly single-occupancy drivers) are taking giant double-scoops of the free ice cream (carpoolers are sharing their scoops, but they’re still giant scoops), while those who walk, bike or take transit are taking more of one of those little, wooden sample spoons (or in some cases, saying “no thanks” or even donating more ice cream). So, how much free ice cream do we need to set out each morning for it to last the whole day? If free ice cream doesn’t last all day, how much do we charge? Do we only hand out sample spoons and declare “no outside scoops allowed”? Do we put some free kale chips next to the ice cream and hope people will choose those instead? What to do?

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  • Territorial Glennings (when I was an alien) November 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    sikoler
    Treating car commuters as some kind of evil enemy is hurting the cause, not helping. The whole thesis of anti-car activists is a logical error…a false dichotomy. We can design to encourage biking AND also design to make rush hour traffic flow.

    Assuming land and capital are finite, the way you make rush hour traffic flow, is precisely by putting those people on bikes. So you’re not wrong. But it means spending money on bike infrastructure for a while, not continuing the crippling spending binge on the infinite auto-infrastructure treadmill.

    And for the record, saying basically “We already used up an awful lot of money and land on this and it didn’t work; now it’s time for something else” is not treating anybody as an “evil enemy,” and the accusation sounds a bit like a tantrum. But as a matter of fact, those people who insist on driving are literally in the way, acting as obstacles to progress in this direction, not to mention selfishly advantaging themselves at the expense of everyone else’s safety, convenience, quiet, health and prosperity every time they get in the car. So they actually do fit the definition of both “enemy” and “evil.” Willful ignorance of your own wrongdoing doesn’t somehow absolve you of the contempt of those from whom you’re stealing. “Hey guys, why’s everybody mad at me? All I did was show up late, drunk, and break the vase in the foyer! Stop treating me like an evil enemy! Can I borrow $100,000?”

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    • Matt S. November 21, 2018 at 6:27 pm

      What if all that car infrastructure isn’t for naught. Imagine a transition where tens of thousands go from driving single occupancy vehicles to electric mopeds. I think that’s the revolution waiting to happen. If someone is going to pick a mode of transportation that includes weather exposure, guarantee they’re going to pick the option with the least amount of work.

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    • soren November 24, 2018 at 3:21 pm

      capital is a human creation (e.g. fiction) so it is an infinite resource. our darwinian and malthusian future is a sadomasochistic *choice*.

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      • X November 26, 2018 at 12:49 pm

        That was pretty deep.

        Capital is infinite in the sense that you can always put another zero on the dollar bill but it only has meaning when you set a price on things, i.e. a barrel of Brent crude is $60.51, a hotel on Boardwalk costs $1000. Life is not a Monopoly game but it’s similar in that nothing within a mile of the earth’s surface is now safe from utilization by (largely) capitalist human enterprise, just as there are only so many houses and hotels in a Monopoly game. Thing is, the rents are so high in Monopoly that game will end, usually in a matter of hours, and it all goes back in the box.

        Since in real life we can indeed print more money, we breed exponentially, and apparently stable government requires at least six percent growth in the economy each year, the implication is that what some of us sentimentally think of as the natural world is all grist for capitalism. It’s a common SF scenario, a totally industrialized race of beings leave their mined-out home planet for–what?

        There are so many layers of irony in that bumper sticker, “Earth First: we’ll log the other planets later”.

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  • mark smith December 2, 2018 at 10:30 am

    It all comes down to money. Let’s see how the next budget cycle plays out.

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  • Ray December 3, 2018 at 6:46 am

    Yay Portland. It’s nice to see Portland government do something right in the transport department. Looking forward to seeing these projects! did you link the pdf? https://sightline-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Final_CCIM-Final-Report_Digital_LowRes.pdf

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