Hopefully Suzanne Carlson hasn’t forgotten her roots.
The newly-hired director of the Oregon Department of Transportation Climate Office got her start in the transportation world in the 1990s by starting Bike Works, a Seattle-based nonprofit that runs a community bike shop and teaches young people how to refurbish used bikes (similar to Portland’s Community Cycling Center).
Carlson will lead an effort to make Oregon’s transportation system less harmful to the environment. Or, according to the official job description, Carlson will, “… integrate climate considerations throughout Agency decisions, pursue climate actions that reduce pollution and adapt the transportation system to climate and extreme weather.”
Given the fact that cars and trucks make up 40% of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions (the largest of any sector), and that “extreme weather” has never been harder to ignore, Carlson has her work cut out.
After living in Seattle (one source said she participated in Critical Mass back in the day, but I haven’t been able to confirm that), Carlson went on to hold several positions that should make her a solid leader at ODOT: She was director of environmental affairs for Chicago Public Schools; pedestrian program manager for the Chicago Department of Transportation; transportation and sustainability program manager at Innovate Memphis; and most recently was director of the Multimodal Division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (where she developed the state’s Active Transportation Plan).
ODOT’s Climate Office was established via executive order in 2020 by Governor Kate Brown. In October of that year, Pietz said the state was “headed in the complete wrong direction” on climate change efforts. A new ODOT Climate Action Plan, due out later this month, should give us a clearer picture of where things stand.
Carlson takes on this position in a very interesting time. As the nation’s largest wildfire rages in Oregon, activists’ finger-pointing at ODOT has reached a fever pitch and the agency faces major headwinds (in large part from climate activists) on the I-5 Rose Quarter project, which is the state’s top priority project.
Carlson takes over Tuesday (July 27th) for former Climate Office Director Amanda Pietz, who was named Policy, Data & Analysis Division administrator back in April.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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