Disability rights activist pushes bill for more diversity on ODOT committees

Posted by on March 22nd, 2021 at 11:34 am

People who ride these have a very different perspective.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A bill working its way through the Oregon Legislature seeks to add new faces to state transportation advisory committees. The man behind the effort also happens to be the first Oregonian to get a disabled parking placard for his bicycle.

Some of you might recall our 2018 story about Forest Grove resident Chris Billman. After being denied twice, Billman, who has scoliosis and other physical challenges, pushed the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to issue him a disabled parking sticker for his tandem recumbent.

That experience introduced Billman to the state’s transportation advocacy process — much of which revolves around various advisory committees. “I went to the OBPAC [Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian and Advisory Committee] and you look at the makeup of who’s on that committee, and I don’t think they were very receptive to my issues,” Billman shared in an interview this morning. “It’s because nobody on the committee is there for people with disabilities. Period.”

“When I asked, ‘Why can’t we have a person with disabilities on there?’ I was told because it’s not required by law. They told me to make it law, so off and running I went!”

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“Ensure that the membership of advisory committees reflects the racial and ethnic and ability composition of this state as determined by the most recent American Community Survey.”
— Text of HB 2985

Chris Billman.
(Photo courtesy Chris Billman)

Billman worked with Oregon House Rep. Susan McLain to draft House Bill 2985. He picked a strong ally because Rep. McLain is co-chair of the Joint Transportation Committee. The bill got its first public hearing in that committee on February 25th. If passed, the bill would require ODOT to, “Ensure that the membership of advisory committees reflects the racial and ethnic and ability composition of this state as determined by the most recent American Community Survey.” The bill would apply that standard to all ODOT advisory committees.

[RELATED: TriMet says denial of tricycle as mobility device is supported by federal regulations.]

So far there’s no major opposition to the bill. At its public hearing last month, lawmakers heard strong support from nonprofit Disability Rights Oregon. “Persons with disabilities will bring to light accessibility concerns with respect to the regulation of bicycle traffic and the establishment of dedicated lanes of travel that keep both pedestrians and bicyclists with disabilities safe and welcome within our communities,” testified DRO Managing Attorney Matthew Serres. The bill is also supported by the City of Forest Grove and the Forest Grove School District.

ODOT Government Affairs Director Lindsay Baker told lawmakers the language of the bill is “somewhat vague” and “very broad” (given the huge number of committees that report to ODOT), but she appeared supportive of it. Baker testified that ODOT would enact the new guidelines if the bill was implemented and said it wouldn’t negatively impact committee work.

For Billman, this is just the start of his work to expand the definition of a bicycle and mobility device beyond the two-wheeled diamond frame and a traditional wheelchair. He told me about a friend with a handcycle who can’t use TriMet because he can’t lift it onto a bus rack or a MAX light rail hook. “We have a lot of new emerging technology but our policies are still stuck 30 years ago. I think the time is right for this.”

HB 2895 will receive a work session and possible vote in the Joint Transportation Committee March 25th. Other sponsors of the bill include Representatives Karin Power and Jeff Reardon and Senators Sara Gelser, Chuck Riley, and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward. Track the bill here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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SerenityMark WheelerKarl MoritzRobertaThe Dude Recent comment authors
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The Dude
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The Dude

Wow, this is looooong overdue. Great work, Chris!

Roberta
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Roberta

“[‘Why can’t we have a person with disabilities on there?’ I was told because it’s not required by law. They told me to make it law.]”

Sadly, the only way ODOT is going to do the right thing is if the State Legislature makes them do the right thing. ODOT does not care about these vulnerable voices, and routinely sacks committees that disagree.

Car free representatives should be on all committees, they know the best ways to reduce trips and therefore are the “low hanging fruit” in the fight for transport justice. Heroes!

Serenity
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Serenity

I applied for a spot on a Bicycle Advisory Committee once… and was rejected. My application probably said I was a disabled cyclist, I don’t remember. This makes me wonder if that was the reason “I was not considered,” as they put it

Karl Moritz
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Karl Moritz

Good job and well overdue!

Serenity
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Serenity

because it’s not required by law.

Such bullshit, and so unsurprising. Oregon, you’re supposed to be better than that.

Mark Wheeler
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Mark Wheeler

Brian Willson in the cover photo!