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ODOT Strategic Action Plan promises ‘ambitious transformation’

Posted by on January 7th, 2021 at 11:59 am

“New”? Maybe to ODOT, but cycling was popular in Oregon cities long before anyone drove or needed a highway to do it on.
(Graphic: ODOT Strategic Action Plan)

“In order to create this system and meet the demands ahead, ODOT must evolve.”
— from Strategic Plan introduction letter

The Oregon Department of Transportation is the largest barrier to significant reform of our transportation system. The agency holds the pursestrings and levers of power that dictate just how quickly we can move from a driving and highway-dominated infrastructure and policy framework, to a more humane and earth-friendly one.

The agency’s 2021-2023 Strategic Action Plan, adopted by the Oregon Transportation Commission late last year, is a window into what ODOT thinks of itself and what steps they’ll take to reform themselves. Part policy and part propaganda, it can also be used as a tool for Oregonians to hold the agency accountable.

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“Oregon’s transportation system of the future… will offer a wide range of mobility choices to promote a healthy environment and respond to the diverse mobility needs of those who use the transportation system, including those that the system has not served well in the past,” reads an introduction to the 26-page plan signed by OTC Chair Bob Van Brocklin and ODOT Director Kris Strickler. “In order to create this system and meet the demands ahead, ODOT must evolve. An organization with the tools, ideas, and perspectives of the past is unprepared to meet the needs of the future… Change starts now.”

A short video introduction to the plan (below) was released on Tuesday.

Amid a backdrop of droning meditative music, a graphic in the photo claims our transportation system was, “Born in 1913.” That date aligns with the formation of the State Highway Commission, but it glosses over the fact that several Oregon cities already had functioning transportation systems without cars or highways. Portland and Eugene had trolleys and streetcars long before the Highway Commission was established. And let’s not forget the detailed road network illustrated in the “Cyclists Road Map of Portland District” published in 1896. That’s the same year Portland’s Union Station opened for business.

This might feel like nitpicking (something I admittedly tend to do when covering government agencies), but the perspective that cars and highways are the foundation of Oregon’s transportation system reinforces their primacy. This is how the status quo maintains its power. It didn’t go unnoticed to me that the photo in the video accompanied by “We enjoy new ways of getting around,” showed a man on a bicycle, as if bicycle riders are some strange new interloper, when the reality is that bicycles dominated roads throughout Oregon long before the first car was ever sold.

To ODOT’s credit, the Strategic Action Plan calls for a “transformation,” and “change” which can (charitably) be read as an admission that the agency is currently on the wrong track.

The meat of the plan are three “Priority Areas” and 10 “Strategic Outcomes”.

The three priorities are: “Modern Transportation System” (and yes people likely have different ideas of what “modern” means), “Sufficient and Reliable Funding” (especially important if you like to build expensive freeways), and “Equity”.

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The 10 strategic outcomes include very admirable goals:

1. Increase Our Workforce Diversity
2. Implement a Social Equity Engagement Framework
3. Reduce Our Carbon Footprint
4. Electrify Oregon’s Transportation System
5. Improve Access to Active and Public Transportation
6. Reduce Congestion in the Portland Region
7. More Dollars to Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Women Owned Businesses
8. Implement Transformative Technologies
9. Implement Large-scale Road Usage Charging
10. Achieve Sufficient Funding

When it comes to reducing their carbon footprint, ODOT promises that by the end of 2023 they’ll “begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ODOT activities.” ODOT also says that starting next year they’ll, “Adjust investment programs to invest in lower emission projects (e.g. bike, walk, transit).”

As for improving access to active transportation and public transit, ODOT promises that by the end of 2023 they will, “increase the percentage of agency funding dedicated to projects and programs that improve equitable access to walking, biking and transit.”

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We’ve already seen some action from ODOT on both of these fronts. The new priority to reduce GHG emissions came into play with the latest Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funding allocation decision. Last month the OTC voted to spend a record amount on “non-highway” projects.

The biggest debates in the next three years are likely to be around how ODOT plans to “Reduce congestion in the Portland region” while staying true to the goals outlined in this plan. Undeterred by widespread local opposition, the Strategic Plan boldly proclaims ODOT will begin construction on the I-5 Rose Quarter project by 2023 and will, “Begin making investments in the Portland region to reduce traffic congestion as defined by the average number of hours per day a driver experiences congestion.”

If ODOT undertakes that work with the, “tools, ideas, and perspectives of the past” they won’t meet their goals. A planning document has never been enough for ODOT to make the real and lasting changes our state needs — it must be accompanied by pressure from outside leaders and the public.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Lindstrom John & DeanneChopwatchDavid HampstenFredGranpa Recent comment authors
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eawriste
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eawriste

“We enjoy new ways of getting around.” Invention of mass produced cycles: 1860s. Invention of mass produced car: 1910s. Wow ODOT.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Odot wasn’t formed until 1969, from a previous commission formed in 1913.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Department_of_Transportation

rick
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rick

Why anticipate changes in Oregon? They allow studded car tires.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

“The Oregon Department of Transportation is the largest barrier to significant reform of our transportation system.”

I’m sorry, but I disagree. It’s your state legislature and governor who are your biggest barriers to significant reform of your transportation system, as well as the voters who keep electing them. ODOT (and PBOT) are simply bureaucratic agencies carrying out the misguided policies given to them by your representative government.

 
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I genuinely don’t understand the vilification of ODOT that happens on this blog. Sure, they’re not perfect, but I have yet to see evidence that they’re actively inhibiting progress. Their recent Outer Powell project can only be viewed as a success, they’d like to transfer their urban arterials to PBOT (who is refusing to accept them), and their work on trails like the HCRH has been amazing. And compare them to pretty much any other state DOT and ODOT look like saints.

Chopwatch
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Chopwatch

Do the representative governments guide them to not address damaged fence for months after they are made aware?

Allan Rudwick
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I hope they take to heart “3. Reduce Our Carbon Footprint” and mean Oregon’s not ODOT’s

Granpa
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Granpa

ODOT has opened new Climate Business Line and given well intentioned people offices, but where power lies is demonstrated in where money is spent. Magical thinking like “more lanes = less pollution “. Is well funded. Decisive or innovative green infrastructure, not so much. New Climate initiative is empty rhetoric until it is funded beyond just supporting press releases.

Chopwatch
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Chopwatch

As far as Portland area is concerned, they missed a big one. Maybe try getting to cut fences and electrical device tampering in less than a few months and keep existing bike paths usable as intended when they were built. Before they build any more big stuff and do big projects, they need to triple the maintenance and enforcement efforts. Increase maintenance department. Spend money on private patrol to kick out unauthorized activities before they get too big. The plus side is that some of that cost would be covered by reductions in the IGA cleanup expenses they have to pay to the city by preventing the mess from getting too big in the first place.

It really would be nice if I-205 path and that path along Sunset highway were kept clear at all times of junk/debris and other hazards.

Lindstrom John & Deanne
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Lindstrom John & Deanne

New evidence shows that Congestion helps save lives, because cars are forced to go slower. Therefore, DO NOT reduce congestion! I recommend increasing it until cars cannot exceed 25 MPH inside cities. This would save $Millions! ALL Public Transit should have dedicated lanes where packed carriers could attain speeds of 50 MPH. Drivers would rapidly learn to ride Transit.