How do you maintain a stranglehold on what type of streets an entire state can design? Find wealthy business owners with direct access to decision-makers, create an opaque bureaucratic framework you can exploit to make sure you have oversight of every major project, then make your own rules, overstep your authority and scare agency staffers into going along with you.
That’s a recipe we have some experience with in Portland and the same situation has played out on the statewide level for nearly two decades.
Following years of concerns from inside and outside the agency, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s top brass has finally responded to a formal complaint about how one advisory committee dominated by freight industry representatives has wielded undue influence over projects throughout the state — often at the expense of pedestrian and bicycle safety.
All about the MAC
ODOT’s Mobility Advisory Committee (MAC) was formed in 2003 as a forum for stakeholders to share feedback with ODOT staff about how state highway projects impact drivers (freight and auto), and to sign off on major work zone and detour plans. The group was also meant to offer input on Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 366.215, which states that the Transportation Commission, “may not permanently reduce the vehicle-carrying capacity of an identified freight route when altering, relocating, changing or realigning a state highway unless safety or access considerations require the reduction.”
But over the years, the committee’s influence grew way beyond what lawmakers intended. With the encouragement of ODOT leadership, who issued a directive requiring the freight industry be included in agency discussions of roundabouts and other projects in 2012, the MAC became dominated by freight industry business owners and advocates. What started as a forum for ODOT staff to learn how projects might impact truckers had become a de facto decision-making body with veto power over the design of projects.
In 2012 freight interests within the MAC tried to amend ORS 366.215 so that it would apply to all ODOT projects, not just those on “identified freight routes.” Thankfully, due in part to pushback from The Street Trust, that effort failed.
In response to that attempted power-grab, Oregon passed an Administrative Rule in 2013 to create a legally-binding “Stakeholder Forum” where discussions about ORS 366.215 could take place with a broader set of representatives. But without proper oversight or transparent processes in place, the MAC remained a powerful committee that has had a chilling effect on ODOT staff and project design that remains to this day.
The most important statute you’ve probably never heard of
Decisions about “reduction in vehicle carrying capacity” as outlined in ORS 366.215 are very consequential. The law was meant to ensure that changes to street designs and lane striping don’t have an excessively negative impact on freight traffic. The statute requires state planners and engineers to take into account any reduction in vertical or horizontal width of a roadway cross-section — a.k.a. the “hole-in-the-air.” Here’s how ODOT describes the concept in their latest implementation guide:
Although not in rule, the term “hole-in-the-air” describes the area needed to accommodate legal and permitted over-dimension loads. The hole-in-the-air refers to the entire roadway, not just the load on the road at any particular moment. We need to think of a reduction in vehicle-carrying capacity the same way the freight stakeholders do – if they can get through the highway segment today, they want to get through there tomorrow.
That means every time ODOT wants to narrow a general travel lane to add bike lanes or curb extensions, or other features on a major state highway and freight route, they have to share their plans with the MAC. In a healthy agency culture, ODOT staff could listen to MAC input and weight it among other factors like the need to improve safety for other road users.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works at ODOT because a large majority of MAC members, and the agency staff and leadership that have enabled them for years, believe roadway space is a zero-sum game where freight truck needs should always come out on top.
Why the MAC is wack
It wasn’t until the Oregon Secretary of State audited ODOT in 2020 that these problems with the MAC became public.
The audit found that the MAC’s power had grown considerably in the decade between its creation in 2003 and the establishment of the Stakeholder Forum in 2013. The Stakeholder Forum was supposed to mitigate the MAC’s influence (it was launched, the audit said, “in response to concerns voiced by bicycle advocates that the agency was relying heavily on non-technical feedback from freight stakeholders to make decisions about highway capacity”), but instead, the MAC subsumed it.
“While the MAC started as a series of informal meetings,” the Secretary of State wrote in the audit, “… internal ODOT documents indicate that the MAC is now considered the base stakeholder group for the Stakeholder Forum. MAC members are also the only identified members of the Stakeholder Forum.”
This was especially problematic because the audit also found that the MAC was made up mostly of people from the freight industry and that, “other key stakeholder groups had not been actively encouraged.” At the time of the audit, there was no bicycle or pedestrian representative on the committee, despite the existing Administrative Rule that requires it.
And auditors learned that it wasn’t just the safety of bicycle riders and walkers these freight reps were putting in jeopardy. The MAC would also request changes to projects and work zone traffic control plans that, “may be inherently riskier for workers than what was initially proposed.”
What makes the role of the MAC even more galling is that there is no ODOT agency policy, statute, or rule, that gives them this broad authority. But, as the audit found, “internal ODOT policy” requires staff to get their sign-off on project designs. “This essentially grants the MAC ‘go or no go’ decision-making authority over state transportation projects, despite lacking legal and formal standing,” the audit found:
This has reportedly led to long delays and to decisions being made on some projects that emphasize mobility over safety. Staff also said that committee decisions are rarely, if ever, overruled by ODOT leadership.
In the end, the Oregon Secretary of State decided more work was needed to make sure feedback from the MAC is, “appropriately balanced with the professional expertise of ODOT designers, engineers, and consultants, and does not negatively impact worker or transportation user safety.”
Despite nearly two years since the audit was published, the MAC and its members continue to have an unfair, outsized influence on transportation projects.
How the process works (or doesn’t)
BikePortland has been contacted by several ODOT staffers in the past 12 months. They all wanted to raise a red flag about the conduct of the MAC and its deleterious impacts on safety projects — especially those within urban areas.
One person said they disagreed with the MAC’s opposition to their project, but worried about job security if they didn’t go along with what the committee wanted. “There’s always this fear that MAC members will run to their legislators,” the person said, who requested anonymity due to fear of backlash. “When I started this job, I wondered, ‘Why do they have all this power?’ and it was like, ‘Oh, they’ve got legislators in their back pocket.”
You don’t have to go far into MAC meeting minutes to find an example of the source behind these concerns. I randomly clicked on the March 2022 minutes and found a presentation about an intersection project in Banks, just yards from the popular Banks-Vernonia State Park Trailhead.
The project is to change the intersection of Highway 47 and Banks Road to make it safer and better equipped to handle growth in the area. The ODOT staffer who presented it to the MAC and sought their approval explained the intention to narrow both of the main travel lanes from 13-feet to 11-feet wide.
The ODOT staffer said the 11-foot lanes would make room for a median divider and four-foot shoulders (there are no bike lanes here, but there’s a high volume of riders due to proximity of the state trail route), but he immediately ran into objections from MAC Member Steve Bates, president of Seattle-based trucking company V Van Dyke, Inc. Bates said he wanted 12-foot lanes and ODOT should narrow the shoulder to just three feet.
MAC Member Nick Meltzer, who represents bicycle riders, said he’d prefer to maintain the four-foot shoulder, “and if a truck needed the extra width, it could just hang over the paint line,” he said (according to meeting minutes).
The Oregon Trucking Association rep also wanted 12-foot lanes and proposed trimming six inches from the buffer and another six from the median to get the extra foot.
Bates then added that if the narrow shoulder isn’t a bike lane, bike riders should take the lane and share with other highway users. That’s a preposterous suggestion, given the speed and size of trucks (many of them notoriously dangerous logging trucks) that regularly drive on Highway 47 and the Banks-Vernonia is a magnet for riders of all ages and abilities. At this point, ODOT Region 2 Active Transportation Liaison Jenna Berman spoke up in support of 11-foot lanes, saying it’s a downtown area and ODOT’s design guidance says they should be 11-feet. “We know there are cyclists out there, and whether they are in the lane or on the side… if those cyclists get hit at a slower speed, they will be less severely injured,” Berman said. “This is why we are looking to narrow the travel lanes, because they help to control speeds… even if there is room for 12-foot travel lanes.”
A vote was taken at the end of the meeting (even though it’s non-binding since the MAC has no voting authority), and the project was opposed 4-1. That means staff had to go back to the drawing board and the intended safety changes will be delayed. The project isn’t on the MAC agenda again until November — eight months later.
This process has happened numerous times. ODOT sources we talked to for this story say even if the MAC is amenable, sometimes ODOT upper leadership won’t have their back and will side with the MAC for wider lanes or other freight-centric designs.
The Oregon Administrative Rules state that if a proposal cannot be agreed to by the MAC and ODOT, it should come to the Oregon Transportation Commission for a final decision. One ODOT source we interviewed for this story said they’ve heard MAC members boast about how no projects have ever had to go to the OTC. “From my point of view internally,” our source shared. “The reason why they never go to the OTC is because we roll over because the group has always had so much power!” The staffer said the MAC has such an influence that some engineers and planners have been “brainwashed” and are known to change elements of a project proactively to make sure it gets past the committee.
It’s all about lane widths
Most of the tension between the MAC and ODOT staff revolves around lane widths (and to a lesser extent, roundabouts, which are often contentious). Freight interests push for lanes to be at least 12-feet wide, if not more (ODOT leadership once claimed they needed 19-foot wide lanes on the St. Johns Bridge), while ODOT staff often push for narrower lanes in order to reduce speeding and improve safety. ODOT staff also say their own Blueprint for Urban Design (PDF), adopted in 2020, clearly states that 11-foot lanes are preferred to 12-foot lanes in business districts.
Staff are trying to implement what their own rules recommend, and they still get rejected by the MAC. And the width of bike lanes are often a sticking point, despite the OAR that governs 366.215 clearly stating, “Street markings such as bike lane striping or on street parking are not considered a reduction of vehicle-carrying capacity.”
To help break the logjam over lane widths, ODOT has held two work group sessions with their Safety and Mobility Policy Advisory Committee (a committee with no bike or pedestrian representation and one I didn’t even know existed until I worked on this story). The work session involved 10 freight industry reps and three ODOT engineering staffers, including State Traffic Engineer Mike Kimlinger.
Kimlinger asked the group for their thoughts on 11-foot travel lanes.
Steve Bates said ODOT should not even consider 11-foot lanes in any new construction project. Trucking company COO Erik Zander said ODOT’s guidelines should remove bicycle lanes entirely from “main highways” so that 12-foot lanes can be maintained. Oregon Trucking Association President Jana Jarvis also spoke against 11-foot lanes. “When you provide bicyclists with 6 feet of width and freight with 11-feet of width, there is no equality in the conversation,” Jarvis said, according to ODOT meeting minutes. “She said she hopes that ODOT would value freight to the point where we would have very few of these discussions about reducing travel lane widths.” To add heft to her comments, Jarvis also suggested that freight industry demands should be weighed heavily in these conversations because they “pay for the system.”
Disagreements remain, but change might be afoot.
On July 26th, 2022 the Interim Chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (OBPAC), Emma Newman, wrote a letter to ODOT Director Kris Strickler and other top ODOT brass. It included scathing critiques of the MAC:
“The MAC is holding up important complete streets projects that have strong community support. This includes projects that will save lives and reduce serious injuries when they are built and are designed using approved ODOT standards… The delay of these projects is counter to the safety, health, and economic values of the State. Some of these delays are lasting 3-6 months in the planning and design phases, which can then trigger even further overall project delivery delays. The MAC is interfering with ODOT’s duty to serve Oregonians… This is harmful to ODOT’s mission and the public interest, especially while pedestrian fatalities continue to increase in Oregon.”
Newman blasted the committee for its lack of transparency and its chilling effect on staff and project designs. She requested that OBPAC be notified of project changes that would negatively impact bicycling or walking and she asked for a high-level meeting between OBPAC and MAC members, and ODOT staff.
Nearly two months later, on September 21st, Newman got a reply. Strickler said he’d set up an executive meeting in early October with top ODOT staff and a separate meeting with committee members.
Newman spoke about the letter at the OBPAC meeting yesterday. “I think we’re getting traction in ways that we haven’t up until now,” she said.
Newman seemed skeptical that anything would change. So do we. Until someone outside of ODOT cares about this enough to do something about it, we’ll be stuck on the side of the road.
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11, or even 10 foot travel lanes are not going to prevent goods from being delivered. Portland has mostly 10′ travel lanes and I’m not seeing bare shelves in stores.
The example of the Banks improvements getting vetoed by this committee was a particularly personal one for me. That exact spot referenced in your article is where a group of myself and five women were blasted by a coal-rolling diesel passenger truck on a ride out to Stub Stewart a few years ago. We were fully in the shoulder, not hindering truck travel one whit, but were subjected to an intentional cloud of black smoke by a driver, putting us at risk of crashing or at least, some pretty nasty particulates in our lungs. The road design as it is clearly communicates to freight (and other road users who feel entitled to harm vulnerable users) that cars and trucks own that space and should feel comfortable punishing anyone who deigns to use it outside a car. Something like the width of a lane or the presence of a bike lane matters.
I appreciate you bringing these powerful — and yet hidden from the public understanding — committees to the forefront.
That is some excellent journalism. It also cast The Street Trust in a favorable light
In relation to this article, they made their impact 10 years ago when they were still called the BTA.
This is part of the problem that will destroy the North section of the 122nd plan to give more preference to freight instead of pedestrians.
Excellent reporting, Jonathan. Thank you! Also nice to see a glimmer of hope. Hopefully, some mainstream outlets pick up your story so it gets the extra exposure it deserves.
Bravo for local journalism! This is a big reason I became a subscriber to BikePortland. I want local journalism to continue to exist. Honestly, I don’t think stories like this will “go viral” or get a big amount of popular attention, nor do I suspect them to pull in big advertising dollars. But cities and communities need local reporting because stories like this take a local person who is deeply rooted in the community to even be able to understand the landscape and sniff out what isn’t obvious on the surface. BikePortland has long committed itself to this work, both on a state-wide/regional level, and also on local neighborhood concerns. Who cares about how wide a shoulder is in Banks, OR? Or how a state system works behind-the-scenes to determine that shoulder width? Or who is responsible for fixing the dangerous tree-root damage to a local stretch of Portland bike path? Or where a traffic signal is needed at a certain notorious intersection? It matters to the people who live there, walk there, ride there, both now and in the future. The stories that BikePortland covers have real, serious, and long-term impacts on local life (and sometimes far beyond the local too). But is the NYTimes going to report on this? I doubt it. As a result, I’m a serial subscriber to many news outlets, which I can’t really afford, but I don’t think we can safely afford to lose local journalism. So I try to chip in where I can. I wish more people would. (Hint: If you want to keep BikePortland going strong, subscribe people!) And I don’t want to think that another news outlet needs to “pick up” BikePortland stories. I like to think that Portlanders and transportation advocates know where to go to get the best reporting on transportation issues around here.
Also, I would like to say that being a subscriber doesn’t mean you always/mostly agree with BikePortland angles or Jonathan Maus opinions. It simply means you value the work BP is doing, you want that work to continue, and for those who do it to be able to earn a living. You’re supporting a news outlet. And in the comments section, you can chime in, agree or disagree. But BP provides this platform for news, education, whistle-blowing, discussion, and even a bit of community support and encouragement.
That’s my soapbox. Become a subscriber.
I find this expose kinda odd. On the one hand “freight interests” is being represented by a bunch of well-paid trade lobbyists who seem to be doing exactly what their employers would hope for. But it is also showing the ODOT staff do in fact listen to what MAC members are saying and adjusting policy or projects accordingly. And while there is a lack non-freight representation, it more reflects a total lack of creating a systemic statewide pool of bike/walk/ADA/transit representatives, and not just those from Portland-based organizations.
The problem is that we tend to think of freight as those huge trucking firms, loggers, and whatnot, but it is in fact all of us, and that makes us uncomfortable. We all want well-stocked grocery shelves, cheap paper, cheap wood, packages delivered on time (specifically our packages!), quick emergency services (fire, police, ambulance), a cheaper Uber trip, and so on, all of which are dependent on cheap efficient freight networks. But we also need safer biking, walking, transit, and ADA access, the latter two not even being listed in the representative groups, and such representatives need to come from across the state, not just from one city.
It’s not an expose.
Also, I really object to the popular retort of “well we want to buy stuff in stores right?! So we must have freight.” It’s as if we shouldn’t have a choice about that? I mean, there are many other better ways to set up our system and just because we happen to use a terrible system doesn’t mean we have to just accept it or bow down to it and obey those who maintain it.
And if I was given the choice, I’d be happy to opt out of this system and live in a world where I had small stores and farms w local goods in my neighborhood.
These freight interests are taking advantage of us and they’re largely motivated by greed and self-interest. They don’t care about getting stuff in the hands of needy people. It’s a business to them. And it’s good business for them to say they’re doing an essential, irreplaceable public service because that framing allows them to maintain their stranglehold on street design and power, which is how they make more money.
And all the above of course applies to some – not all! – people in the freight industry, so don’t go twisting my words around.
Have you been to Amsterdam, though? They don’t have grocery stores at all, because they won’t let 60ft articulated semi-trucks drive down surface streets.
Yes, and yet the thousands of people that live there somehow don’t go hungry and have enough stuff to buy. Any time I take my bike to the corner of SE Gladstone and 22nd I risk my life riding with huge frightening trucks.
Chris was being sarcastic. I mean obviously, it’s even called out with a “/s” imitation closing tag. If you look at results of an online map search of Amsterdam for “grocery,” there’s an average of one grocery store for every four blocks in the downtown core. When the map is zoomed out to show the metro area, the icons for stores (at least in Google Maps) block out the whole area.
Because there is *no possible way* you can have grocery stores without 60ft articulated semi-trucks!
Every time you eat a banana, avocado, or orange, buy a part for your bike, or even eat a loaf of bread, you are making a choice and voting for freight.
Could that stuff be delivered by smaller vehicles? Certainly. A typical large truck has a volume of 3400 cubic feet; a large delivery van can carry about 500. That means it would take roughly 7 van trips for every truck trip. That’s a lot of additional pollution, congestion, opportunities for collisions, expense, and logistics overhead. Stores would need more loading bays, or would need to be able to hold drivers to complex schedules.
Smaller lanes might also mean smaller buses, garbage trucks, and construction equipment among other things.
And loads more drivers, some of whom might drive too fast, get high, check their phones, or do other things that might put people in danger.
Did you think people were doing logistics work or building hauling companies for fun or passion?
I’m not “voting for freight” when I do those things any more than I’m “voting for freeways” when I drive on one. These are systemic issues and I’m caught up in the system under no fault of my own. Sure, I could go live like a monk on an island, but that’s not the reality we live in. As it goes for many other systemic issues, just because I reluctantly participate in a system, does not mean I support or “vote” for that system. It means that the people who control the system are so good at it, they hold a lot of people captive to it against their will.
And the only reason I point out the greed and self-interest in these freight folks is because they will often concern troll other issues – like bike safety or bringing people essential goods – as a way to mask their financial interests.
“Voting with dollars” is the primary way we all get to choose the world we live in — eat bananas and support the shipping infrastructure required to deliver them to you — or don’t. I personally make plenty of decisions on this basis, a big one being that I don’t eat meat in part because I don’t want to contribute to the infrastructure required to produce it. You don’t need to go full “monk on island” to vote; I buy a lot fewer bananas than I used to, but still eat one on occasion. Perhaps you vote differently.
Things are the way they are because of basic realities — people want to live in cities, and cities need to import lots and lots of stuff to work. All that stuff, much of it heavy and cumbersome, needs to get here somehow, and people, voting with their dollars, have expressed they will reward those who can get it here cheaply. All of that drives things in a certain direction. If people were willing to pay more for goods delivered by bike, there’d be a lot more bike deliveries.
As with driving, I believe automation will fundamentally change the face of our freight systems in the coming decades. That could present a generational opportunity to change the way our street network is used. The economics of small vs. large vehicles in cities could change. Safety will likely improve, and pollution and noise will almost certainly be reduced.
PS I should make it clear that I am generally supportive of infrastructure improvements that slow drivers to posted speeds. These sorts of changes, often opposed by freight interests, are not the type of changes I imagined when I read your comment mentioning different ways to set up our system. It sounds to me like you are thinking big.
You should explain all of that business about “voting with dollars” to economists who evidently erroneously study what they call “information asymmetry”. Apparently, they don’t understand your theory properly.
BTW: essentially the entire history of government regulation of for-profit business interests full-stop is attributable to the fact that consumers do NOT get to vote in any meaningful way on any of the detailed production decisions made by companies. For example, try explaining to the farmer in West Virginia, who discovered his cows dropping dead in his fields near DuPont’s teflon feedstock production line, about how all he had to do to prevent his cow’s internal organs from being liquified due to exposure to high levels of PFOA/PFOS was buy cookware from a different company!
I’m not anti-regulation. In fact in the environmental arena, I am strongly pro-regulation, both for industrial chemicals and trucks. That is a different issue entirely.
Are you saying I should resume eating meat because my gesture is futile? If not, what is your point?
No you’re not. You’re voting for having access to those things. How it gets there is not what you get to decide, which is the whole point here.
“Voting with your dollars” is not something people can actually do, because it assumes perfect information and time and for that matter, that better options to “vote for” even exist. Better options are possible, but I can’t vote with my dollars to change infrastructure. This is one of the biggest willful blind spots of libertarians.
I’m surprised at the trucking defense popping up here. Nowhere will there be restrictions. Instead, truckers will be inclined to drive at sensible speeds in areas where safety is an of concern. A standard semi is 8.5 feet wide. Most of their movement is on freeways doing 70+mph. It’s only the last few miles or short sections where the speeds are lowered. Like if the St John’s Bridge were set to a reasonable 30mph, the incremental time difference would harm no one. And citizen’s sub 24 hour Amazon purchase desires or need for New Zealand apples would not be impeded. Asking drivers… and really all drivers, not just truckers, to slow down and drive more safely shouldn’t be a controversial ask.
On the trucker side, the concern is almost always safety; specifically, your safety. A standard semi is 10.5 feet wide including mirrors. That leaves 3 inches on each side in an 11 foot lane. In a 10 foot wide lane, the truck intrudes into the bike lane. No reasonable person wants that. (And yes, bicyclists have been hit by the mirrors–not fun.) The comparison would be for a bicyclist to have only thee inches of wiggle room on each side of your handlebars. Or to have two-way bicycle traffic in a 5 foot lane–no problem, you have an extra 12 inches which is 6 inches more than you’re giving the truck in an 11 foot lane!
Even in an 11 foot lane without mirrors (not safe, nor legal), you would still only have 18″ on each side, threading the oncoming traffic to your left and a bicyclist to your right. A bicyclist in a 5 foot lane also has 18″ on each side of the handlebars but doesn’t need to worry about threading oncoming traffic. Bottom line, we’re all after the same goal: the safest roads possible.
When possible, we should be creating a buffer space between the trucks and a nice, wide bike lane. Check out NE 47th, between Columbia Blvd and Cornfoot–this design came straight from the Portland Freight Committee. The N Greeley Ave. path was paid for by freight funds. We shouldn’t be arguing over inches, we should be finding funding for more separated bike lanes that are far safer, more pleasant and attract older and younger riders.
Totally agree Corky! But that’s exactly what people like Steve Bates, Jana Jarvis, and other freight industry folks are constantly doing. The fact is, we don’t always have the luxury of space and other factors that allowed Greeley and NE 47th to happen. And I feel like some freight folks will say they prefer more space and separation because it allows them to sound like they care (which I’m sure some of them do), but they know full well it’s not possible on some cross-sections, which makes the suggestion a de facto objection (google “concern trolling”).
Please stop making this seem like both sides “have the same goal.” Yes in some ways that’s true, but one side is literally fighting for their lives and putting their body on the line, and the other side is trying to make it easier to drive trucks faster with fewer impediments (including humans) so drivers can have less stress and their bosses can make more money. I know that sounds harsh to you, but I believe it is an accurate statement. Reality can be uncomfortable sometimes. I feel like we owe the community the respect of talking accurately about what’s going on!
“We shouldn’t be arguing over inches, we should be finding funding for more separated bike lanes that are far safer, more pleasant and attract older and younger riders.”
Yes, separated bike lanes can be far safer, etc. But that sentence could also have instead ended with, “..finding funding for more separated bike lanes so truckers can have the wide lanes they prefer”.
I do like seeing your discussing bike infrastructure as something that doesn’t just benefit people biking. So often, the attitude is “if bikes want bike lanes, they should pay for it themselves”.
It’s also good that some bike infrastructure is being funded as part of freight-movement projects. But “we should be finding funding for more separated bike lanes” should really be, “no freight-related road project should be approved unless it addresses and funds bike and pedestrian movement and safety”.
NIce, I came here to tell people to look no further than the Greeley Bike lane to see an example of freight interests leading directly to horrible bike infrastructure. The connection from Greeley to Going is criminal! The connection from the end of the separated path to Interstate- it is literally an unimproved driveway ending in single curb ramp. This bike “improvement” effectivly eliminated bikes from Greeley whichis exact design goal of the freight interests. I have commuted down Interstate since 2008, Merging with bikes at the bottom of Interstate at Greeley used to be a daily occurrence, now it is 2-3 times/month- no exaggeration! It is safe and there are no conflicts withthe people who drive on it BECAUSE people biking, jogging and walking no longer use it because it does.not.work. A bike route NEEDS connections, a safe segment is useless.
We could opt out of heavy freight but we would be emitting more greenhouse gasses (the numbers have been crunched and are clear) and prices would be higher. The question is, will you offset the increases that you ask for? If so, great, go do it and encourage others but don’t bash those that don’t like the offset solution or can’t afford the price increases.
One of the cool things about freight is that it aligns very well, though not perfectly, with environmental and safety interests. A truck owner wants very much to save fuel, which reduces emissions. And a truck driver wants to be safe in order to keep their commercial license. I do not understand why a bicycle advocate wants trucks to “hang over the paint line.”
Jonathan, you’re a skilled writer and do us all a service. However, your perspective in this comment is disturbing. One one hand, you bash “these freight interests” for their greed. Then you say, “not all…so don’t go twisting my words around.” I don’t need to twist your words; I’m dizzy from you own statements. Please be a little more specific.
Nice to hear from you. (I know I owe you a conversation from my last post about the Portland Freight Advisory Committee.)
I have never said we should “opt out of heavy freight.” I’m afraid you misunderstood my comment. I’m saying I wish the system were better. I have no problem with heavy freight! But, like many issues I talk about on here (like car overuse for instance), I have a big problem with how far the pendulum has swung in favor of it over other things (and to the detriment of other things). And I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m “bashing” anyone. I’m sharing my opinions. I have no interest in personal attacks whatsoever, but I will not hesitate to call out powerful people by name – especially if they sit on public advisory committees and wield a lot of influence on stuff that affects me and the issues I care about.
You and I seem to agree that freight trucks can be a force for good. That’s not what this is about though! This is about specific behaviors from specific bodies and people that are not OK and that need to change.
Thanks for your compliment about my writing. I stand by my work. I think my comment is clear. It’s important to me that when I share perspectives on a group of people, that folks don’t assume I mean “everyone” and that I don’t paint with a broad brush (I will often try to inject the word “some” in front of people, as in “some people” or “some groups.” Put another way, my point was for people to understand that I’m critical of just “some” of the freight voices — not all.
If you have specific critiques of anything I’ve reported here, I’d love to hear them. Thanks again.
Sometimes people have influence because they have insight. I put you in that group, along with Steve Bates. I think you’re more alike than you may want to admit! On the other hand, we completely agree that influence, even altruistic influence, needs to be kept in check.
I really object to that too, Jonathan.
The greedy and self serving interests of Freight at the expense of the public good are displayed in the following 3 examples: 1, in the 90s Freight lobbied legislators to loosen weight limits on bridges so heavier loads could be hauled. With the safety buffer removed bridges throughout the state started cracking. The resulting bridge replacement blitz cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. 2, Freight likes large radius turns at intersections so they can make their turn faster. The result is wider pedestrian crossings and faster traffic. 3, Freight persuaded legislature to allow dirty engines, illegal in California, to be used in Oregon, essentially a big F-U to our state’s environment.
Although truckers may not be white knights of the open road, they work hard in a necessary field. Lobbyists on the other hand are worthy of journalistic scrutiny
Cracking bridges strikes me as less a tale of greedy lobbyists (who are not entrusted with the public interest) and more of engineers and policymakers (who are) unwilling to hold the line.
The same is true of your other examples. Hold DEQ and the legislature (led by Kotek at the time) responsible for our dirty air, not those who are presenting the case for keeping the rules loose.
Yes, the legislature in the pocket of Freight lobbies
This document might be helpful. It explains the genesis of the mobility committee.
“Trucking will continue to be the dominant mode for freight transport reflecting the shift towards higher value products, greater time sensitivity in product movements, and the ability of trucks to reach all parts of the state. This will create increasing demand on the state’s highways and local roads, and metropolitan congestion will become an increasing concern for key industries.” Oregon Freight Plan, June 2011
I worked with this subject matter for 20 years of my career. I am very aware of the conflicting opinions that surround this subject matter. For what it’s worth, I think what has transpired to date reflects a good faith effort to honor the sentiment often repeated amongst policy makers, “Freight moves the Oregon economy.”
I’m 7 years removed now from managing that process. With the benefit of hindsight I now more fully understand the competing arguments. I don’t have a silver bullet to offer. I do think of “the hole in the air” as a valuable natural resource and once it is eliminated it is gone for good. I think back and remember the large goods manufactured in Oregon that had to be trucked to their final destination and how that became more and more difficult as wide and high delivery routes were slowly lost to communities asking for pedestrian islands, tree lined boulevards, bike lanes, traffic calming features, etc., etc. Should such products no longer be manufactured in Oregon? Do we not want those manufacturing jobs and income tax revenue? Think about it — when the lights go out and you have to replace a steam generating vessel in a power plant what do you do if you can no longer get something that size trucked from where it is to where you need it? How do you get a mobile crane to a train derailment? I’ve had to deal with such issues in the middle of the night.
It’s all about balancing competing needs and interests. It may seem simple but it really isn’t. And of course lobbyists, associations and politicians get involved on both ends of the discussion. Most ODOT staff are trying to follow legislative direction and internal policy direction from agency leadership. Looks like some others are taking their disagreement with their direction to outside interests they think may be in a position to press their case.
I recommend fully informed calm discussion. I hesitated to post because I know this is contentious. In the end, I thought a little historical perspective might help the discussion.
Thanks, Gregg, for your perspective, but I don’t think it’s an either-or situation. We can have freight hauled and delivered efficiently and safely, AND still have good infrastructure for people on bikes and on foot.
Thanks Gregg. Really appreciate your historical perspective. Although I think your obvious bias as a former ODOT freight division director and current director at OR Trucking Association really prevents you from seeing what’s going on here.
I don’t think this is a good time to say “just calm down everyone… folks are doing their best and have good intentions” (to paraphrase your comment) when there is clear evidence of repeated failure to behave in a fair and balanced way by these freight industry reps. In 2012, advocates raised the alarm about their conduct. Then in 2020 an ODOT Audit raised more alarms about their conduct. And now the interim chair of OBPAC has raised even more alarms about their conduct. That’s not an example of just a messy process with everyone doing their best to get along — that’s a clear example of a small group of people carrying out an intentional strategy to tip the scales in their favor. And I think it’s very telling that the City of Portland has a similar problem with their freight committee — and that there are even some of the same actors involved (including your boss, Jana Jarvis).
Many of these freight voices don’t want “balance,” they want to make sure their needs are met no matter the consequence to other road users. That’s not balance. That’s a dangerous game that puts real lives at risk — and yes I believe the safety of vulnerable road users is more important than the stress levels that a truck driver might feel when having to drive carefully through urban areas.
I appreciate your comment and hope you can appreciate mine as coming from someone who is deeply concerned by these issues and has been watching ODOT closely as an independent observer for 17 years.
Freight industry reps are not supposed to be “fair and balanced”. They are supposed to support their industry. I agree that safety of people is more important than ease of delivery, but the actual tradeoffs are usually less stark than that.
If we want more people advocating for safety at the margins, we need more safety people on the committee.
I have no problem with freight reps supporting their industry. And yes, go ahead and exercise bias for the mode you represent. Absolutely! I agree with that. But that’s not what is happening here. As the article clearly states, these folks have gone overboard and have placed their fingers firmly on the scales to tilt in their favor, they have resisted change even after being called out for it, and they continue to act in a way that is making staff afraid, uneasy, and angry.
Again, you’re blaming the wrong party. It is ODOT giving the committee too much power and not filling all the seats required by law and letting it intimidate staff. That’s all on ODOT. It’s their job to act in the pubic interest and keep the committee in check.
ODOT gives the body its power; don’t blame its members for using it.
Anyone high up in ODOT isn’t going to go against freight when they would be afraid of losing their jobs. Freight has their hands in politicians and if ODOT tries to change that narrative, there will be pushback from politicians.
That sounds like a problem with the politicians.
If we can’t get those we choose to lead us to look out for the public interest, why on earth would we expect freight lobbyists to do so?
Thanks, Jonathon. I sign my name to my comments here both to own them and to make no attempt to escape the observation that I may be biased based on my pre-retirement career and my current part time employment. I admit that my prior experience oftentimes involved lobbying on behalf of the then current interpretation of legislative intent. That has evolved over time. If I am honest I think I’d have to say in my role I was seeking specific outcomes as opposed to balance. I was always aware of conflicting perspectives. To me that means perhaps the people most likely able to find a “balance” that works for all might be folks who are not working day to day in the trenches seeking specific win/lose outcomes.
Today I do appreciate your comments as reflecting your views of issues for which you have a great deal of passion. And to be clear, don’t lose sight of the fact that I have observed ODOT as an insider for over 20 years. You might be surprised what I have witnessed from that perspective.
I hear you. And thanks for sharing this, especially with your real name. I think if we had more agency staff who were willing to engage like this, we’d make a lot more progress on these issues. I will never forget that it was an ODOT staffer — bike/ped program lead Michael Ronkin — who was the first agency person to engage in BikePortland comments (in 2005!). We covered a problem, he noticed it, then he did something about it. It was so exciting for me!
And I hear you about knowing what happens in the trenches, versus what most/all of the public knows. I can relate to that a bit, but not as much as you of course. I try to keep that type of compromise in mind when I do stories like this. I am open to the possibility that what I’m concerned about is really a reasonable compromise that just so happens to not be my favorite outcome. But I can assure you that that’s not how I feel in this specific case (for reasons I’ve already shared).
And yes I too am clearly biased! We are all biased, but the test is whether or not you are aware of how the bias influences you that I feel is most important. In this case, I don’t think what I’m saying has anything to do with “passion” (a term I get a lot which feels sort of dismissive to me). I feel like I’m sharing concerns that are based on rational thoughts, observations, and clear evidence.
Thanks again for engaging on this platform. I really appreciate learning your perspective and it informs my future work.
It is curious to me how quickly people in the business community end up saying stuff like:
But looking at the actual example of the changes near the Banks/Veronia trailhead, it seems like the worst impact on the freight industry is that they would possibly be mildly inconvenienced. So it really is quite fascinating how quickly the counter-argument devolves into this strawman argument of WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BRING INDUSTRY TO ITS KNEES AND MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR POWER PLANTS TO REPAIRED?!?!, when obviously no one is actually advocating for that.
It also seems pretty obvious to me that this tendency to conflate mildly inconveniencing freight interests with the COLLAPSE OF INDUSTRY is why ODOT managed (and formerly ODOT managed) roads in Portland are wildly, disproportionately dangerous roads.
Jonathan, this may be the best piece of reporting I’ve read on your site. Thank you for your work.
Kudos to Jonathan for a well written article that pretty much captures this history of the MAC & ODOT staff frustrations. I will say you have to look no further than the political prowess of the Oregon Trucking Association lobbying group that roams the halls of the State Capitol in Salem. OTA’s long time Executive Director Bob Russell (he retired a few years ago) could work the hallways better than anyone. It didn’t matter whether it was a Democrat or Republican—Bob Russell & the OTA would get their way. That’s one of the big reasons this situation exists today.
Rather than like a previous comment, I want to join the chorus to sing the praises for the reporting in this article. Well done, Jonathan and BP!
BP has its own “Deep Throat” inside ODOT! What a great development. Let’s hear more about the nefarious goings-on within ODOT.
I want to take a minute to appreciate that we have a news source like Bikeportland in our community that would do the work and research to cover a story like this.
I drive a semi truck for a living. Have done it in tiny towns and cities. The max legal
Width of any vehicle without mirrors is 96 inches. 8.5 feet. 11 feet lanes is plenty. 12 encourages speeding. Freeways are 14 feet.
I have driven on 9 foot lanes. Guess what I do, i take both lanes to avoid crowding the sidewalk. It’s not rocket science. So to the person who says “if you want your Uber eats you better give us 12 foot roads”, maybe you aren’t that great of driver?
This mac should be disbanded by the legislature.
Mark, you drive “legal” loads. Trucks operate every day of the week over 8.5 feet wide under the authority of annual over-width permits. Non-divisible loads cannot be reduced and still need to be delivered. The freight industry is motivated to ensure that existing over width routes are not compromised. You can read more about annual over dimension permits at this website:
Selective approval of 11 foot lanes is likely OK as long as a statewide effective network of routes suitable for delivery of extra wide non-divisible loads is maintained.
Not every truck driver is comfortable driving with the minimum margins you cite.
Gregg I appreciate you being honest about your background working for the trucking interests but the frustration lies with the increasing tendency of manufacturers & shippers to push the boundaries on over-width and over-height permitted loads. Almost no one is opposing the standard WB-67 “legal” load trucks that deliver goods & services across the country. But in Oregon the OTA has been pushing the boundaries to increase oversized loads for years & you know this because you work for them. There is no such thing as a non-divisible load. It’s non-divisible because the manufacturers choose to manufacture in a way that maximizes profit which means bigger and fewer trucks to supply the product. That’s their prerogative & I’m not denying they need to make a profit. However it comes at a cost for other highway users in terms of large road cross-sections that decrease safety for vulnerable road users. Even mega loads like power generation equipment that gets trucked to Bonneville Dam on I-84 could be broken into smaller loads using more trucks then assembled on site but manufacturers & suppliers choose not to because it cuts into their profit margin. That’s the real truth here.
Well, FBL, I can partially agree with you. Where I disagree is your statement that, “There is no such thing as a non-divisible load.” Oregon adopted the federal definition of non-divisible load. The federal definition of non-divisible is given in 23 CFR 658.5 as:
Non-divisible means any load or vehicle exceeding applicable length or weight limits which, if separated into smaller loads or vehicles, would:
(i) compromise the intended use of the vehicle, i.e., make it unable to perform the function for which it was intended:
(ii) destroy the value of the load or vehicle, i.e., make it unusable for its intended purpose; or
(iii) require more than 8 work hours to dismantle using appropriate equipment.
Your statement reasonably could apply to loads deemed “non-divisible” by virtue of (iii), i.e., require more than 8 work hours to dismantle. Here’ I’d agree with you that dismantling and reassembly on site could eliminate the need for such loads to be issued over dimension permits. If someone were to petition ODOT for a rulemaking to eliminate part (iii) of this rule, many such permits would be eliminated. However, more truckloads would need to be dispatched. Transportation costs would increase. In an emergency situation (think of a wild fire) valuable time might be lost while fire fighting equipment (think of a D-9 caterpillar) is reassembled before going to work. There is a lot to think through here.
Loads described by (i) or (ii) are a different story. Think of a steel
I-beam intended for bridge construction. It cannot be “reduced” and reassembled. There are lots of loads that fall in these two categories.
I think this discussion has been useful.
Jonathan – You made a convoluted and potentially boring issue understandable and interesting. I appreciate the serious effort that went into this article.
Thank you! I appreciate you saying that.
ODOT should not even be taking conversations about lane widths to the MAC, because lane widths have nothing to do with the “hole in the air.” Over-sized high/wide loads can navigate using the entire curb to curb width, so lane widths don’t matter. Even bike lane protection and median islands can be made to be mountable.
Good example of how “fascism” – a public/private “partnership” – works. Are we bright enough to invent a different system?