Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Area Commission on Transportation Learns about Bike/Walk Liaison at ODOT

Our Area Commission on Transportation meets tomorrow the 6th, and while there are no particular action items to note, there are some informational items that look interesting.

The ACTS are a regional branches, as it were, of the Oregon Transportation Commission, which is the "Board of Directors" for ODOT. From here, they sit awkwardly between the urban level of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the State. In many ways they seem formulated for rural interests and to focus on the highway system. Yet they weigh in on urban matters and vet urban projects. But the MPO is mainly a Federal creation, responsive to the requirements of each Federal Transportation Bill, and the ACT is a State creation, reporting to the OTC and participating in the STIP, and so there is something of a dueling power structure. Maybe there's an important check-and-balance function here, but the ACT seems like a redundancy in many ways. Its members, even, overlap considerably with the MPO's. The ACT is just an odd duck.

Part of the inaugural agenda, 1997
Anyway, on the 6th, they will be celebrating their 20th anniversary. The meeting packet includes a reproduction of their first agenda from 1997. This is hardcore "inside baseball"!

Mostly it seems like cheer-leading, but there could be something more self-aware and reflective. How well, really, does the ACT work? It would be nice to see more self-assessment and even criticism on this anniversary. Certainly, for the interested public, it has been much easier to see things at the MPO that deserve comment and criticism and advocacy. But the ACT rarely seems very important or relevant. Insiders may say that the ACT has a critical role on some matters, but for outside observers, these have not always seemed very important at all.

ODOT Management Review
Another item on the agenda is the somewhat infamous "management review" on ODOT. (Some previous notes here and here.) ODOT personnel will be reporting on it, so it is likely that the ACT will receive the most favorable interpretation of its findings, and that its omissions and criticisms of ODOT will be minimized.

Finally, in what might be her first major presentation outside of the agency, the relatively new Active Transportation Liaison for our region will introduce herself and her work program:
Active Transportation Liaisons are relatively new to ODOT. This agenda item provides you an overview of work in Region 2 to date, of ODOT’s active transportation efforts statewide, and of resources for furthering local community goals. Jenna Berman was hired as the Region 2 Active Transportation Liaison in June 2016.
Region 2 is a large area.

Region 2 is most of the valley plus north coast
(This may be an old map, as Columbia County
is also in Region 2, I think - but its largeness is clear)

A question for ODOT's use of the Liaisons will be whether they stay in the background as an administrative function and more "inside baseball," or whether they are able to advocate for and grow ODOT's still-paltry commitment to non-auto mobility. And if there is a real opportunity to grow things, then the current geographic areas are likely too large to be fully responsive to local conditions and local needs. When we are able to hear the Liaisons say things like "The proposed Salem River Crossing is an extraordinary waste of resources" then we will know they finally have sufficient power and a path to success!

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
The Portland metro, Region 1, piloted the Liaison program and has a few more years of history with it. It is also a smaller, more urbanized area. It is possible it will function better there than in the larger, more diversified geographies elsewhere.

The development of the program will be something to watch.

MWACT meets Thursday the 6th at 3:30pm. It meets at MWVCOG/SKATS at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

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