Tuesday, March 12, 2019

At Thursday Sustainability Lunch, Think on ODOT's Unsustainable Approach to Highways and Autoism

When ODOT remodeled the Transportation Building on the Capitol Mall, they focused on stormwater management rather than greenhouse gases or sustainable transport. Even the art was more about cars and driving than anything else. ODOT made it clear: They are a HIGHWAY agency. This continues to animate them.

Priorities! Swales for run-off dwarf the bike racks (in 2012)
On Thursday the monthly Sustainability Luncheon will feature ODOT:
Geoff Crook, ODOT Sustainability Program Manager, will provide a brief overview of ODOT’s recent sustainability efforts and how the agency is preparing for possible legislative direction on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the transportation sector.
As ODOT remains committed to road and highway expansion, it is interesting here to note the flipside, the language of waiting for "legislative direction." They aren't voluntarily going to do very much, it seems.

This has been noticed before.

Oregon Global Warming Commission 2018 Biennial Report
In the most recent report to the Legislature from the Oregon Global Warming Commission, they write
adoption [of the Statewide Transportation Strategy] is only advisory and has no specific programmatic implications unless the Legislature chooses otherwise.
Indeed, as we have seen on the SRC, and now Portland is seeing on the propose I-5 Rose Quarter widening project, ODOT wants to claim speeding traffic along is actually the green enterprise with lower emissions.* ODOT is more interested in greenwashing business-as-usual than doing what is necessary to reduce emissions in the transportation sector.

For a HIGHWAY agency, reducing driving is self-cancelling. So of course they are resistant.

Oregon Global Warming Commission 2018 Biennial Report
And as an "ODOT Sustainability Program Manager" addresses a group of Salemites interested in sustainability, it's important to remember that deeds, not words, are the important things. What does ODOT do? What ODOT says has proved too many times to be wrong, misleading, and irrelevant. What ODOT does do is very small and fringey. Sure, there's an Active Transport group, but their resources and institutional power are very small relative to the resources and power devoted to autoism. The big resources go to megaprojects like the CRC, SRC, I-5 Rose Quarter widening. The big resources support more autoism.

Generally, too, sustainability talk is often about consuming better gadgets and about technology. As we think about sustainability, even as it is important to decarbonize the auto fleet, electrification by itself is not enough. We have to drive less. So ODOT's efforts cannot focus on mere substitution, replacing the gas engines with electric motors. It must focus on reducing trip counts and trip lengths by car, and by shifting car trips to walking, biking, and busing trips.

EVs alone won't do it
(2018 Progress Report
on California’s Sustainable Communities
and Climate Protection Act)
This requires a bigger shift than a small "sustainability" group within ODOT can possibly manage.

So it is convenient that the State is looking for a new agency head. From ODOT:
SALEM — The Oregon Department of Transportation Director Search Committee will be holding a meeting on March 13, from 9 – 11 a.m. in the Gail Achterman Conference Room of the Transportation Building, 355 Capitol Street NE, Salem.

Current ODOT Director Matthew Garrett is leaving the department in June. The Oregon Transportation Commission, in coordination with Governor Kate Brown, will recruit and hire a new director. OTC Vice Chair Bob Van Brocklin is chairing the search committee and is leading the selection process. The committee includes OTC Chair Tammy Baney and Brendan Finn, Governor Brown's office. Committee members hope to have a new director selected by the end of June.

The search process will be inclusive, allowing the commission to hear from a variety of perspectives. Committee meetings are open to the public. Public comments about the process are welcome.
It is useful to remember this criticism from 2015. (See "Former Government Official Blasts ODOT in Today's Paper" and "David Bragdon's Reforms for ODOT and our Transportation System.")

Doubt about ODOT
More recently, a coalition of 14 groups wrote about what they'd like to see in the new agency head.

As one of the seven key requirements on the job they wrote:
Demonstrated ability to align transportation investments with environmental, environmental justice, and public health objectives, e.g., meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.
A new agency head could do more voluntarily and not insist on "waiting" for Legislative direction. We have to end the autoism, and this requires culture change and institutional administrative change in the agency.

So if you go to the luncheon, keep the Salem River Crossing, and other big projects like it, in the back of your mind, and use that reality to test all the lofty sustainability rhetoric you might hear. At ODOT, what is walk, and what is talk?

The luncheon is on Thursday the 14th, from 11:45am - 1pm at Willamette University Goudy Commons in the Wilson Hines room (on the left past cashiers). There is a buffet for $10 or bring your own lunch.

* For more on the I-5 Rose Quarter project see recent analysis at City Observatory:
And an update to the footnotes. April 2nd, the Oregonian ran a front-page piece on the Portland area MPO, METRO, and their criticism of the I-5 Rose Quarter project.

Front page of the Oregonian
BikePortland has more in "Metro: ODOT’s assessment of I-5 project is 'inadequate' and 'potentially misleading'." City Observatory continues to run a series of incisive critiques of ODOT's claims on benefits of the project.


Anonymous said...

Do you have a link for the "Monthly Sustainability Luncheon"?


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Sorry, don't know of any link or website!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

This is interesting. Even the Portland-area MPO, METRO, is critical of ODOT and the I-5 Rose Quarter Project.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The Oregonian had a front-page piece on the METRO criticism and added a clip on that to the footnote.