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Oregon Senate confirms ODOT director who says freeway widening is a climate change strategy

Posted by on December 5th, 2019 at 12:47 pm

Director Strickler.

It’s official.

Kristopher “Kris” Strickler was confirmed by the Oregon Senate last month to become the leader of the Oregon Department of Transportation. Strickler was picked and vetted for the position by the Oregon Transportation Commission, (the Governor-appointed body that oversees ODOT) who offered him the director position back in September.

Beyond activist circles, Strickler — a fan of freeway expansions who once managed the failed Columbia River Crossing project for Washington’s DOT — was anything but a controversial pick. His confirmation was a formality. Even so, given the importance of his position, I thought it worthwhile to share his confirmation hearing — in particular an exchange with a legislator around how ODOT will address climate change.

On November 19th, Strickler sat down in front of the five-member Senate Interim Committee On Rules and Executive Appointments.

Here’s what he said in his prepared remarks (emphases mine and edited for brevity):

…I’ve got a little over 20 years in the transportation industry. I am a civil engineer, although I ask you not to hold that against me. I’ve worked for other state departments of transportation both in the consulting realm as well as directly as a state employee, so I have background in the public administration roles.

I’m excited to be considered. And I think part of my consideration has to do with my delivery background. I have a background in delivering both projects and policy at the department of transportation and other areas where I’ve worked. And I come from a background of partnerships. I have a core belief that the public really doesn’t care whose system they are on, what they care about is their trip and their ability to get there and their having choices within those trips that they need to make so that they can make the one that’s most convenient for them.

My background also has sort of a common sense approach to delivering improvements and projects, rather than a standards-based approached that you often hear about. So my approach going forward and my goal for the agency is to continue that effort and really expand upon those efforts within the Oregon Department of Transportation. 

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I have an eye toward diversity and equity and workforce development. I believe we have opportunities in front of us to operate the system and the underutilized capacity within the system, and we need to embrace technology as we do that and move forward. I also feel as though we need to deliver on our promises and I think the agency has done that and will continue to. What I mean by that, specifically, is addressing the congestion issues associated with more of our urban centers, as well as other areas across the state.

House Bill 2017 put a charge in front of us to deliver, and that is our target. And we have to deliver on other priorities as well, which includes embracing our environmental impact, embracing the work we have in front of us specific to the Statewide Transportation Strategy.

Senators then made comments and asked Strickler questions.

Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) asked him about “pedestrian safety, particularly where state roads go into local roads,” and how he’ll use his position to “battle the ravages of climate change”.

Strickler on climate change:

“It’s clear that about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, so it’s an important aspect to the work we do. I believe there’s no silver bullet. There is no single answer to being able to address the greenhouse gas emissions overnight. And it’s something that we have on our task list and our to-do list as we go forward. It’s a priority for us as an agency and we need to attack it on multiple avenues.

One is clearly through design decisions that we can make that can help free up and move congested areas. Because we know that, cars sitting in traffic, emitting the emissions is not necessarily the best way to manage greenhouse gas reductions. The other is element is around electrification of the fleet and other statewide priority-based decisions that are coming forward and that you’ve been discussing for the past two sessions. And so all of those things really do contribute to the overall strategy and we want to do our part in helping support that. As well as being leaders as a state across the country to the extent that we can.”

Strickler on safety:

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“For safety, that’s a really important topic for me because, as I mentioned before, the public really doesn’t have an opinion most of the time about which system they are on, what they really care about is what choices do I have available to me. So that includes multimodal choices, that includes active transportation, are we making communities walkable, those types of things. They don’t care necessarily whether or not it’s a city street or a county road or a state facility, they care about their ability to get there. That becomes very important as we start to work with our partner agencies. I’m a partnership based and a relationally based individual and it’s really important we foster those partnerships because those are the inflection points of where safety – especially pedestrian safety – come into play. We have to prioritize the ability of our pedestrian community to access the facilities and the land uses we have around transportation facilities. And again that’s regardless of whose system they are on.

Last thing I’d say is we’ve seen an uptick in the construction industry for the number of intrusions in the work zones and things like that. And while I wouldn’t necessarily categorize that as a pedestrian safety element, it’s certainly one of those safety lenses I would bring forward as part of this discussion. Any time you have a 70 mph vehicle moving next to an individual who is unprotected and within close proximity you have a safety issue. All of those factors are part of our safety efforts as we go forward. And candidly, as an agency, it’s something we take as our number one priority.”

Then Dembrow asked him about the I-5 Rose Quarter project (which is near his district). “I’ve been hearing concerns from constituents about the middle school that’s located just adjacent there, the Tubman School, and how we can make sure we’re mitigating impacts on those young people. I’m wondering what sorts of conversations you’ve been having — or you would commit to have — with Portland Public Schools about how to overcome that challenge?

Strickler replied that ODOT is already having conversations with PPS and will continue to do so. “What you have in that area is a population or community that has historically been disadvantaged by some of the transportation decisions, and other government-based decisions in the area as you well know,” he added. “Those conversations will be ongoing. We don’t have necessarily all of the answers for each of those today, but we want to have continued conversation.”

According to the PPS Board, those “conversations” aren’t going too well. They passed a resolution this week saying, “Neither ODOT nor the City meaningfully engaged with PPS during the planning process to assess the potential impacts, either short- or long-term, on the health of students and staff from environmental hazards of the freeway,” and that despite five meetings (where these “conversations” took place) they’ve, “Made no substantial progress to substantially address issues raised by Portland Public Schools… or offer alternatives to the current project plan.”

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Then Strickler once again shared his belief that widening I-5 with new lanes would reduce emissions. “We have traffic stopped there for several hours out of the day and when the traffic is stopped there we are increasing the emissions, or at least the localized emissions, in that area,” he said. “So the efforts that we’re putting forward as part of the [I-5 Rose Quarter] project to get the traffic moving a little bit better will actually help to improve that.”

Strickler’s confidence that getting traffic “moving a little bit better” will lead to emission reductions is surprising given that research on the topic gives reason to believe otherwise. A 2012 study published in the journal Transportation Research, found that simply reducing congestion will not lead to reduced emissions. “In the long run, capacity-based congestion reductions within certain speed intervals (e.g. 30–40 mph) can be expected to increase emissions… through increased vehicle travel volume,” the study’s authors noted. “Applying hypothetical level-of-service improvements [increasing vehicle throughput] reveals that large percentage speed increases lead to comparatively small or non-existent net reductions in emissions… Comparing these capacity-based mitigation strategies with alternative approaches indicates that the same or more emissions benefits can be achieved by demand or vehicle based emissions reduction strategies.” (Strickler’s belief about idling was “debunked” as an “urban myth” by City Observatory in 2017.)

Senator Brian Boquist – a Republican who made national headlines for threatening violence on Oregon State Troopers during a walkout over a climate change bill last session – lavished praise on Strickler. “I think Kris is the right person and the right change agent for the right time.”

Strickler was confirmed 5-0 in a block vote for dozens of other positions.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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PDXCyclist
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PDXCyclist

Nice to see we as a state, through the appointment of Mr. Kris Strickler, are rivaling republican led states in climate denial and loosely sourced assertions

rick
Guest
rick

Deomcrats control the governorship, house, senate and what else? No republican has been governor since the mid 1980s.

rick
Guest
rick

Who are the people trying to block construction of a second freight / Amtrak bridge in Sandpoint, Idaho? Republicans ?

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

Sen. Boquist — “I think Kris is the right person and the right change agent for the right time.”

Anyone Boquist thinks is the “right change agent” ought to scare the bejeezus out of you.

Aaron Brown
Guest

We’d love for folks to welcome Kris at the No More Freeways / Sunrise rally outside ODOT next week on Tuesday, 12/10!

information on the NMF website
http://www.nomorefreewayspdx.com/demandaneis

and here’s a facebook event:
https://www.facebook.com/events/2693004004055154/

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Good to see that ODOT is boldly moving forward in to the last century with this pick.

Brighton West
Guest

If we electrify the fleet of cars, then all those cars sitting on I-5 are not a problem.

I think that’s what he was suggesting, right?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Not going to happen any time soon. And what about all of the pickup trucks?

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

What is the Sprockettes position om Mr. Kris?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

So the entire 5 person Senate Interim Committee On Rules and Executive Appointments voted in favor of him? Even Michael Dembrow and Ginny Burdick? If so then I made a horrible mistake and need to change my vote next year.

Roberta Robles
Guest
Roberta Robles

“The public doesn’t care”…. of course we care we care that we are provided with non toxic solutions. WTF does partnership or relationship based if he can’t even acknowledge the basic premise of his argument is completely wrong. He is providing high level “fluid” advice that is wrong. The entire OTC should fired for this Trump level bureaucrat. That’s why Boquist likes him. Really hard to believe Brocklin and co could have duped high level elected officials with this bureaucrat. TRUTHINESS! And now we know why HB2020 failed, no real transport package.

Tonya
Guest
Tonya

Has he heard of induced demand? Those “improvements” will be short lived. Given the cost, it seems like a lot of money to spend for months or even a year of suburbanites shaving 15 minutes of their commutes. We need long term solutions, not quick (expensive) fixes.

rick
Guest
rick

How would the Rose Quarter I-5 project eventually save any time? The construction will cause delays on nearby streets and on I-5.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Right, so after a year or so of construction delays, there will be a glorious few months of “improvement” (until demand catches up), and then it will be just as bad as it was before anything started.

David
Guest

“battle the ravages of climate change”.
Has anyone ever shown REAL evidence that man’s CO2 is causing serious global warming.
Note that relying on the claims of alleged experts is NOT evidence
Correlation is not evidence of causation.
Majority view is not evidence that they are right.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

The tobacco industry held that same public stance for decades, so maybe it isn’t the best strategy to follow. I’ll also trust 98% of all climate scientists who know this stuff better than you or I. In the same regard, I also don’t try to tell my electrician how to do their job since I’m not an electrician.

David
Guest

Concordia Cyclist —“I’ll also trust 98% of all climate scientists who know this stuff better than you or I.
I suggest you look at the source of that claim. It is based on the Cook survey which is on line. He surveyed about 14,000 abstracts, the tossed out 64% because they did not assign a cause for global warming. That means the highest honest number would be 36%. But he went further and ended up with a few hundred that supplied the 97% number.
see http://iopscience.iop (.) org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article

David
Guest

“I’d suggest you reread that paper.”
The most important part is that 66% of the papers expressed NO OPINION, so one cannot say 97% agree …… And, in fact, Cook did not. He actually said “Among abstracts expressing
a position on AGW”
So it is NOT correct to say 98% of scientists WITHOUT saying “of those who expressed an opinion on AGW.”
You should also consider the many claims that there are other flaws in that survey. google: notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress watch-the-pea This more detailed analysis of Cooks data claims only 8%. A survey of members of the AMS came in at 25% and another 50%.

Of course all this is just hand waving – all that really matters is the actual evidence and a survey is NOT evidence of the correctness of the postulate. In fact it is one of the classic logical fallacies. One web site puts it at #2 of 15 and calls it “2) The Bandwagon Fallacy”. Other common climate related fallacies include “3) The Appeal to Authority Fallacy” ; “7) The Correlation/Causation Fallacy” and “11) The Burden of Proof Fallacy”

Caelin
Guest
Caelin

There *IS* material evidence for global warming. By drilling into earth and glaciers and radio-carbon dating the samples, we have consistent evidence of global extinction events that directly co-incide with high levels of greenhouse gases. It is a predictable enough pattern to know that we are moving into another of these cycles much faster than ever before.

David
Guest

Caelin — “There *IS* material evidence for global warming”
Of course there is. The issue is whether it is part of natural cycles like the Minoan warm period, then 900 years later, the Roman warm period, then 900 years late the Medieval warm period, the 900 years later our warm period. Or is it different this time and caused by man’s CO2.

As to the ice cores, you are correct that they show natural cycles in climate, but they show we are now cooler than the above warm periods. They also show that CO2 rises a few hundred years AFTER the temperature increases, only to decrease AFTER temperature decreases.
See DebunkingClimate dot com for links to primary sources for these statements.

Finally, has anyone see real evidence that man’s CO2 is causing serious global warming. Heep in mind that claims by some alleged expert is NOT evidence – it is just a claim. Same for a survey of scientist – it is just an opinion poll, not evidence. Evidence is what the alleged expert relied on for their conclusions same for those polled – what is the evidence they relied upon for their opinion?

David
Guest

John Lascurettes —–“Their informed, professional scientific consensus opinion is far more valuable than your Google-fu to find debunking sites.”
Truth is NOT A POPULARITY CONTEST – it is based on evidence. What is their evidence for making claims?

Look at the evidence. Apply rules of logic.
If all of today’s climate events were seen before, why do we think that whatever caused those earlier climate events stopped causing bad weather and suddenly CO2 took their place as the cause? Fact is that all of today’s climate/weather events have been seen before: floods, drought, more intense storms, less intense storms, more snow, less snow. Most are cyclic when you look at long history (100-1000 years).
Why do you think that man’s 5% of total CO2 emissions is causing global warming, while nature’s 95% has no effect?

dwk
Guest
dwk

This site publishes climate denial lies like this yet won’t print all kinds of other responses because it considers them ‘rude’ or something.
Nice editorial stance…..

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

It is much better to allow people to express themselves freely because that gives us an opportunity to provide a reasoned response. Also, debating scientific issues should never be characterized as lies. However, in this case, we should give a brief response to David as follows:

David, you are definitely right about one thing: science does not have the capability to prove anything with absolute certainty. For example, there is lots of evidence that the theory of gravity is correct, but it is not technically a proven fact.

Carbon dioxide has been known to be a greenhouse gas ever since the discovery was made in the nineteenth century. Greenhouse gases are those chemical compounds in the atmosphere which serve to heat up our environment. Without greenhouse gases, temperatures on the surface of the Earth would be as much as 10 Celsius degrees colder, which means that the human race would actually not exist. Most greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have accumulated through natural phenomena. However, since the beginning of the industrial age, the burning of fossil fuels has dumped huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which has caused its concentration to now exceed 400 parts per billion (ppb), when as recently as 1960 it was only about 310 ppb.

Since we know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and since we also know that human activity is causing a build-up of carbon dioxide, it seems to make intuitive sense that we humans are contributing to global warming. And our intuition has been confirmed by extensive testing, computer modeling, and sophisticated calculations. As you can imagine, global warming is one of the most intensely studied scientific issues of our time, and the evidence is absolutely overwhelming that human activity is causing the average temperature on Earth to be rising significantly. Even more worryingly, greenhouse gas concentrations (not just carbon dioxide) continue to be increasing, and will continue to linger in the atmosphere even if we were all of a sudden cut our emissions to zero. While scientific discoveries should always be rigorously cross-examined, there are some theories (such as the theory of gravity) that we know to be correct with a very high degree of certainty.

Dwk, doesn’t it make more sense to write a response like this than to call for censorship? I think next time you should keep that in mind no matter what kind of speech you come across, whether it be global warming denialist, neo-Confederate, or whatever else it might be.

David
Guest

dwk—“This site publishes climate denial lies like this”
Since when is asking for evidence, “climate denial”?
BTW: no one denies that climate exists.
Few, any, deny that climate chanages.
The issue is whether the current climate is within historical norms and if not is that due to man’s CO2 (~95% of annual CO2 emission if from nature, ~5% from man.)

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Yes, they have.

You have, for some reason, decided to buy into propaganda created by wealthy interests to maintain the status quo. Probably because it enables you to continue living life the way you do now, without feeling guilt for the damages your actions are causing.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

On a scale of 1-10, how much guilt should one feel?

Wylie
Guest
Wylie

the most accurate models we have say CO2 emissions are the cause and they are making things worse. I looked at those models as part of my undergrad, learning these concepts was a no-brainer.

Why the hell would I choose to do nothing knowing what I do

q
Guest
q

“Last thing I’d say is we’ve seen an uptick in the construction industry for the number of intrusions in the work zones and things like that. And while I wouldn’t necessarily categorize that as a pedestrian safety element, it’s certainly one of those safety lenses I would bring forward as part of this discussion.”

Does anyone have any guesses about what he means? What’s an “intrusion in the work zone?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

This isn’t really a huge loss. ODOT is wholly owned by the shipping and freight industry, there was never really a chance of anyone good being given the job.

I do think there are important take-aways. The first is that ODOT can’t be viewed as a partner. They are an adversary for anyone who supports safe, walkable and clean roads. With that in mind, the City of Portland should focus on removing ODOTs presence as much as possible from the city. Streets (not highways) like 82nd and Lombard should be completely turned over to the city so that we can make the improvements that ODOT wont.

The second is that folks who care about climate change need to work harder to battle the idea that electric vehicles are going to make climate change go away. The shipping industry has fully embraced the PR talking point that freeway expansion is okay because the “electrification of the fleet” is coming, as Kris parrots here. Electric cars are not carbon free and never will be. Huge amounts of pollution is created when the car is created, poisoning the environment of disadvantaged people all over the world. Electric cars still user rubber. And the dams that generate our electricity are choking the rivers to death.

The bright side is that ODOT in its heart of hearts knows that it is on life support. ODOT in its prime would have been talking about building an entirely new interstate to “fix” traffic on I5. Now they are reduced to lying to the public to justify an ultra-expensive, low/no impact “fix” like the I5 Rose Quarter freeway expansion projects. The reality is that while people may want more roads or more lanes, they mysteriously don’t want those roads to be next to their house or go through their neighborhood. ODOT is left to these marginal expensive projects. It’s up to PBOT, Metro, and TriMet to actually solve our congestion problems.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

To say that the ODOT is owned by an industry is an exaggeration. Also, I think it is a mistake to completely give up on a new head of the Department of Transportation before he has even spent a single day in his new role. There are many examples in history where those who brought about genuine change were thought to be the least likely to do so; it is that whole “only Nixon can go to China” phenomenon. Whether you like it or not, the city of Portland will always be hugely affected by the policies of the state of Oregon. In fact, all states have a unitary system of government, so Portland only has those powers which are expressly given to it by the state, and the state can take away those powers at any time (legally speaking).

Perhaps most importantly, those who care about the environment should do a wholesale rethink of their marketing strategy. To expect that the average driver is going to modify his behaviors because of his marginal contribution to climate change sounds implausible to say the least. There are now over one billion motor vehicles on this planet, so if I drive less, the impact is going to be rather modest. How about we take a radically different approach? Why don’t we point out that if someone were to adopt active transportation options, they would be much less likely to be obese, which would boost their self-esteem and lower the likelihood that they would be impacted by a whole slew of nasty health outcomes, such as type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental deterioration and joint pain? Or why don’t we point out that if people were riding their bikes around more, the women that we see out in public would be prettier, something that is so obvious to anyone who has biked in Amsterdam or Copenhagen?

soren
Guest
soren

“Or why don’t we point out that if people were riding their bikes around more, the women that we see out in public would be prettier”

What an incredibly ugly comment.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Sorry, I’m too busy riding my peloton inside that my husband bought me for christmas. Don’t worry , i’m sure you’ll get the same desire outcome.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Like someone suggested, time to rebuild the Harbor Drive freeway?

Traffic pipelines
Guest
Traffic pipelines

Instead of focusing on protesting various fossil fuel pipelines through rural areas, why don’t all the climate activists go to bat against the pipelines of cars coughing carbon through our cities? Stopping all these wasteful freeway widening projects is fiscally conservative and environmental conservation. A 1000 active Oregonians focusing on low carbon transportation could make radical change in Oregon and it’s cities, saving the planet and billions in government waste.

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

Whole warming thing…is a dead issue with most people. Why? Because they don’t care. They get in their car every day and…what warm the earth? Now, I care because it’s a complete waste of money. They would be better off setting 500 million on fire. It will simply induce more demand. Every single freeway widening has show that. It’s so obvious. Someone should sue today for the lies they hand out like candy.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Apologies from a Vancouverite. Strickler is like another Vancouver export–he is the Joey Gibson of transportation.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Disappointing that climate change is just something “we have on our to-do list”, instead of the rather urgent priority the rest of us think it is.

I hope many folks make it to the No More Freeways / Sunrise rally Aaron mentioned above.