Picture of I5 Bridge

Oregonians deserve transportation options that are safer, greener, more accessible, and more equitable than in previous generations.

 

By Sarah Iannarone, Executive Director

Passage of President Biden’s long-awaited $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”), earlier this month set the transportation sector atwitter with words like “once-in-a-generation,” “transformative” and “climate game-changer.” When added to money already coming Oregon’s way from the Feds, the IIJA means the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) stands poised to spend about $4.5 billion over the next five years. 

As the 2022 election cycle heats up, candidates, electeds, and agency heads are banging the git-er-done drum in unison. They argue we should leverage this deluge of dollars to break the political gridlock and push through a suite of major interconnected highway expansions around the Portland metro region. The drum beating has reached a rapid tempo. One director is pushing for action while the “stars align,” as he said in his update to the bi-state legislative committee overseeing a proposed I-5 bridge project across the Columbia River.

It’s hard not to match the drumbeat, but ODOT is plagued by cost overruns on major projects alongside a half-billion-dollar annual maintenance backlog. The chance to increase revenues through tolling, now expanded thanks to the passage of HB 3055, has distracted ODOT from pursuing good policy and centered its focus on trying to find a way out of a financial pothole. 

The fact is ODOT is severely overextended, yet wants Oregonians to trust them as they embark on a speculative freeway widening scheme intended to address congestion and get Portland-area traffic – especially freight – flowing like it’s 1966 when I-5 construction was completed. Even if ODOT’s new Urban Mobility Office – created expressly to coordinate the freeway expansions and concurrent tolling project – could successfully execute its mission, the logic behind its policies is fundamentally flawed. 

We cannot build ourselves out of the congestion hole with freeway expansions, so ODOT needs to put down its shovels and stop digging.

On top of the climate and racial justice impacts of interstate freeway widening, the projects simply cost too much and fail to deliver on the congestion relief or free-flowing freight mobility they promise. ODOT’s insistence on these projects is especially worrisome because we know that better policies exist. For example, we need to be dynamically pricing the system to manage demand (for example, by increasing the cost of driving at peak hours). And, we should be investing in walking, bicycling, micromobility, and transit to unclog our roadways and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every lane mile of highway ODOT builds costs taxpayers millions of dollars while  adding drive-alone trips  to the roads when we need to be reducing the number of cars on the road and the miles they travel. 

Instead of dancing to ODOT’s beat, legislators and the Oregon Transportation Commission need to seize this opportunity and direct ODOT to start banking on the ROI of active transportation and transit investments if they hold any hope of unraveling gridlock and getting our state’s green leadership back on track. (And no, electric vehicles will not save us.) 

We have less than a decade remaining to change course and preserve this planet for future generations. At COP26 in Glasgow this month,mayors from across the globe announced that investments in public transit must double to meet our climate goals. Those investments should not perpetuate the status quo.

Oregon’s transportation system contributes 40% of Oregon’s GHG pollution,and serves as the setting for the deaths of hundreds of people every year, while injuring exponentially more. It fails to serve people who don’t drive or own cars – approximately 30% of Oregonians don’t drive, according to a recent presentation to the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee. The maintenance of the status quo will only increase the ongoing impacts of systemic racism that have resulted in people from Black, Brown and Indigenous communities being more reliant on walking, biking, and public transit to get where they are going and more vulnerable to danger. The disproportionate burden borne by already trauma-impacted and vulnerable members of our community is unacceptable. We cannot continue to invest in a system that leaves so much of our population underserved and behind.

The health impacts and disparities of our current system should be argument enough for ODOT to change course from status quo investments. Oregonians deserve transportation options that are safer, greener, more accessible, and more equitable than in previous generations. Unfortunately, for every good dollar in the infrastructure package dedicated to climate resilience, active transportation, and transit, there are two more that incentivize driving alone and perpetuating an unjust and outdated system. This is no time to be taking one step forward and two steps back with our mobility investments. 

The windfall to Oregon from this infrastructure package (along with Build Back Better Act, should it pass) is a rare opportunity to make equitable, climate-smart investments. These are the investments that the Oregon Legislature, Transportation Commission (OTC), and local DOTS previously told transportation advocates were not possible because “we just don’t have the money for that.” Now, that excuse doesn’t have a wheel to drive on.

We can upend the status quo by taking a few, critical steps (in no particular order): first, completing the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan; second, exponentially increasing transit service and coverage across and between our urban areas; third, transferring our orphaned state highways to local communities; fourth, engage and learn from representative and inclusive organizations, such as those leading the Clean and Just Transportation Network; and, fifth, ensuring that we will have frequent high-capacity transit, local bus service, and active transportation infrastructure across the Portland-metro region, including along the I-5 corridor and across the Columbia River.  

Unfortunately, what we’ve heard from ODOT thus far is too much money planned for major highway projects and far too little committed to reducing and regulating greenhouse gas emissions — projects that would align with Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order on Climate Action. When asked by the media at a briefing last week whether ODOT’s future infrastructure spending would reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), Assistant Director Brouwer could not comment. 

When it comes to transportation infrastructure spending in Oregon, the only correct official answer should be, “Yes, it reduces VMT and GHG.” 

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to focus on building a future transportation system that works for all Oregonians — one that is equitable and safe for people of all races, genders, zip codes, ages, and abilities. When our descendants look back at us in this moment a century from now, will they thank us for blessing them with mobility that is universally safe and accessible – a human right, even – or did we leave them more of the deadly and polluting system that we unfortunately inherited from our forebears a century ago?

 

Note: This essay originally appeared in The Oregon Way, Nov 26, 2021 sign up for their mailing list for the first look at our quarterly contributions to their newsletter.

 

The Street Trust has a new business membership structure for organizations who support investments in safe and accessible streets. We have revised and remodeled our business membership to be accessible, equitable, and beneficial for organizations from all the different sectors. 

 

The Street Trust’s work is done in partnership with a wide range of organizations from non-profit, labor, business, health, education, and other sectors. The support from our business members makes our advocacy more powerful, by bridging communities across differences, issue-areas, and geographic focus.

 

You can choose to be a Friend of The Street Trust, with getting access to our network and your information on our website, to choosing to be a Champion where you can partake in training and education from experts in the field of transportation and sponsorship opportunities. Partner with us by being either a Friend, Builder, Sustainer or Champion. For more information please email [email protected]

 

Our welcome to new business partners Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC and Florin Roebig for joining The Street Trust Family. 

 

Become a Business Member today!

Board member speaks to other board members at annual mmeeting outdoors

 

The Street Trust has embarked on an ambitious mission to advocate for multimodal transportation options that prioritize safety, accessibility, equity, and climate justice in the Portland Metro Region. Our new Strategic Plan, Executive Director, and Board will usher us into the post-pandemic age with integrity and action. 

 

We are looking for six or more new Board Members to guide this important work. The ideal members believe in our core values and our priorities of Advocacy, Community, Impact, and Partnerships.

 

> Click here to view the Strategic Plan summary [PDF]

 

Our nominees will be chosen by the current board and voted on by our members. Board members serve a two-year term and may renew. The commitment is 2-4 hours per month.

 

> Please complete this brief questionnaire to apply (10 min)

 

Application Deadline: Aug 19, 2021

Board Members Chosen: September 2021

Onboarding and Training: October 2021

The Street Trust staff

From the desk of Sarah Iannarone:

To the #Community,

When I joined The Street Trust this January, our member-elected board gave me a very specific task: lead a strategic planning process to clarify how we serve the community and how we can have the greatest influence transforming transportation across the Greater Portland Region. Today, I’m proud to show you what #TST has accomplished these last few months.

First up: the plan. Together, we accomplished more than a strategic plan – ours is a measurable action plan on a tight timeline to achieve four top priorities: intensifying our advocacy, building partnerships, growing our membership, and increasing our impact. It is full of concrete steps that #TST is committed to taking this year and next (many we’ve already started) that will set us up for success. The plan says that by the end of 2022, The Street Trust will train candidates, build new and more inclusive coalitions, involve more -and more diverse- members in our work, and serve as a resource for the kind of data and information that drives transformation. All while maintaining the programs and partnerships you already know us for. But that’s not all it says – take a look for yourself!

With a renewed vision, mission and values, we’re taking on advocacy for the streets of our future. To make our plan happen, we needed to create some new positions, and I’m so thrilled we got such an incredible pool of applicants from across the country and across Greater Portland. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming André, Anouksha, Henry, and Zeyaad to the team.

These four join an incredible staff already in place – our Education Director Lindsay, Events & Engagement Assistant Madi, and Clackamas County Safe Routes to School Coordinator Nicole are a force for the streets, plus they’re three incredible women I’d trust to lead me on a walk, bike, or transit ride anywhere in our region.

If you’re reading this, you’re seeing it on our brand new website. We’ve restructured to make it easier to find the information you’re looking for, and aligned the branding with the new Strategic Action Plan. You can learn a bit about the new and existing staff on this site as well. Look around, explore, and let us know if anything isn’t working by sending us an email to [email protected]

Along with the new website, we have new database, marketing, and payment systems, among others. This means we will be reaching out to many of you to confirm you want to stay on our email list, or to move your monthly donation to a platform that saves time and money and works better for our members and our future.

Finally, I want to make an announcement I’ve been keeping under my bike helmet for a little while: The Street Trust Board has invited me to stay on with the organization as the Executive Director and lead our organization in executing this plan. No more “Interim” uncertainty – I plan on leading with grit and determination, and using the platform this position provides to advance the vision laid out in the plan. I’ll steer the ship based on what our team hears from the members, partners, funders, decision-makers, and street users who make up our community.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of #TST, and we can’t do it without your support. Right now would be an excellent opportunity to show your support for our new direction: please ensure your membership is up to date and renew your commitment to the streets of the future with a generous sustaining gift.

Thank you for believing in the future with us!

 

See you in the streets,

Sarah's signature, with a large Cursive "S" connected to the "arah"

Sarah Iannarone

Executive Director, The Street Trust

 

The Move More Challenge Banner

The Move More Challenge is on now and lasts all summer long. Create a team or participate as an individual, logging any and all non-car trips to earn prizes! This year’s event isn’t limited to people commuting by bike or to workplaces. Track lunchtime walks, log trips on transit and by scooter, form a team with your book club or neighbors, and even count your Pedalpalooza and other social rides. This year, every trip counts!

LEARN MORE!

A white sign with red letters langs at an agle. The Sign reads "We're Hiring."

We’re building a new team as we prepare to publicly unveil our new Strategic Action Plan – a roadmap to how we intend to win the future of transportation. Want to break the political gridlock to address unsafe and incomplete public streets that threaten lives and livelihoods? Want to win policy and investments that save lives, reduce barriers, and expand opportunities to the people and neighborhoods our current system neglects?

JOIN US!

Sarah Iannarone is pictures. She is in her 40s-50s and had short red hair and glasses.

We are thrilled to announce the hiring of Sarah Iannarone to lead our organization, effective immediately. 

An urban climate policy expert most notable for her candidacy for Portland mayor in 2020, Iannarone’s visionary leadership will help The Street Trust tackle unprecedented challenges facing transportation in the Portland region. Traffic fatalities are at a 24-year record high; the ongoing pandemic has gutted transit ridership and funding; and the current recession has also exacerbated disparities for BIPOC and low-income communities around jobs, housing, and transportation.

In hiring Sarah, all of us at the Street Trust are doubling down on our commitments not just to climate justice but our continued work to create safer streets where mobility, jobs and housing are accessible to all .

Portland’s new transportation commissioner, Jo Ann Hardesty, welcomed the announcement saying, “I believe in the power of advocacy to create a more just future. Sarah is the perfect person to lead The Street Trust and help bring Portlanders together for safer streets.” We couldn’t agree more. 
 
There is much to be done in 2021 and beyond and we can’t wait to get to work with Sarah at the helm. 

 Welcome to The Street Trust, Sarah!

A photo os Sarah standing with her bike and helmet at the Portland Marcado. She is wearing a "Sunrise Movement PDX" shirt and smiling at another cyclist who is wearing his helmet.

A list of Black people killed by police. A more complete and full list of names of Black people killed by police available at https://www.gonzaga.edu/about/offices-services/diversity-inclusion-community-equity/say-their-name

Our hearts break for George Floyd, his family, friends, and the Black community. We stand with Breonna Taylor and her community, and Ahmaud Arbery and his. Existing safely in public spaces as a Black person is a transportation issue and, more importantly, a human right.

Our heart goes out to the Black community who have, again, been denied the chance to fully heal from the wounds of anti-Black racism and the violence it elicits. We admire your resilience and will never stop fighting with you.

We are grieving, and we want to move together from grief to action. Please make a donation to these Black-led organizations on the ground in Minnesota and locally, and take action:

The Street Trust opposes the actions of City officials to limit peaceful protests against the killings of George Floyd and other Black bodies at the hands of the police. Streets are for people. If protestors want to use their public space to express their anger and demand change, then it is wrong for the police to demand they leave that space.

Darla Strudy and her two children.

Eighty crosswalks and 45 light-rail stations made safer. That’s how Darla Sturdy sums up her proudest accomplishment to date. Sturdy, a Gresham mother and career bookkeeper, never imagined a second life as a transportation engineer, much less as a lobbyist. But this is the work she threw herself into after her boy was run over and killed by a MAX train.

Families for Safe Streets

On the evening of June 23, 2003, she got a knock on her door from a uniformed stranger asking if Darla was the mother of a boy named Aaron. “There were police there, and Aaron just didn’t get into trouble,” she recalled.

Darla told them yes she was Aaron’s mom and invited them in. One of them pulled out an ID card that showed a younger, hardly recognizable version Aaron, then a 16-year-old student at Gresham High. “It was completely out of date,” Darla remembers. But there was no question it was him.

That night, Darla’d been up waiting for Aaron to return from a church youth group meeting. But as she learned from her visitors — who also included a coroner and a chaplain trained in grief support — he’d been struck and killed in a crosswalk at the MAX station at Gresham City Hall, just five minutes from their house. Aaron was riding his bike westbound next to the MAX tracks and turned left to get across the tracks on the pedestrian crossing. He meant to cross behind an east-bound train that was just pulling out.

However, a second west-bound train was pulling in at about 35 mph and Aaron didn’t spot it until it was too late. The driver honked, but it was too late. Aaron’s bike left a 6-8-foot skid mark, according to the police report.

For months after her son’s death, Darla was in a daze. She lost weight and had to quit her job as general manager of the Spa Outlet. She says her mind just shut down. “I lost who I was. It’s kind of like when you lose a child, you lose you, too. And your family loses you, because you went with him.”

In her grief, she started taking daily drives from her home, to the MAX station, to the cemetery where Aaron buried — trying to make sense of it. At the MAX station, she watched trains coming in and out and saw several close calls with people crossing the tracks. A friend with a radar gun confirmed that incoming speeds were 35 mph. It settled in her mind that the crossings were unsafe — and that this is what killed Aaron. “It took me about three years, but I finally realized why God put me here.”

LOOKING OUT FOR EACH OTHER

Sturdy knew she could never bring back her own boy. But she could help other families avoid a similar fate. Having grown up in the small town of Milton-Freewater, Darla saw it as her duty. “In small towns, people look out for each other,” she said.

TriMet laid the MAX lines in Gresham in the eighties, when the Portland suburb was much less developed. Although a few newer MAX stations on Portland’s west side had gated pedestrian crossings, most didn’t, certainly not the legacy stations in Gresham, and by then Gresham had grown into a bustling suburb with schools, homes, and businesses right next to the tracks.

Sturdy began collecting data on MAX’s safety record, finding 505 crashes (including 108 with pedestrians or cyclists) between 1994 and 2006. She compiled photos of unsafe pedestrian crossings, including one in Gresham that lied just 25 feet from a public school. TriMet’s own internal guidelines called for protective gates for crossings within 600 feet of schools.

Darla took her growing folder of evidence to the Oregon State Capitol and began working there every Wednesday and Friday, meeting 12 to 15 legislators each visit to get support for a bill she dubbed Aaron’s Bridge to Safety. All the while, she pulled full shifts at the Spa Outlet on weekends.

It was no easy fight. After she’d collected the needed signatures in the House, the chairwoman of the transport committee refused to give the bill a hearing. “She was new, and she didn’t want to take on TriMet,” Darla explained. So she introduced the bill in the Senate, and “did it all over.

In 2007, the governor signed Senate Bill 829 into law, requiring TriMet to submit to an independent safety review of nearly 80 of its sidewalks. It took years of more lobbying– and the death of another pedestrian at the same Gresham City Hall crossing — but finally, the study’s recommendations were put into force. TriMet started carrying out the improvements in 2009, and they were at last finished in 2017 — 45 stations and 80 sidewalks made safer thanks to the tireless efforts of an angry mother.

TAKING IT NATIONAL

With that chapter closed, Darla has lately refocused her energy on family. But rail safety remains a huge concern, and Darla says she wants to take it national. In the meantime, she supports the local chapter of Families for Safe Streets and occasionally attends TriMet Board meetings along with another aggrieved parent, David Sale, whose daughter Danielle was hit and killed by a bus in 2010.

Looking back, Darla’s proud of her accomplishments but still struggles with the cost. “If I could go back in time, I’d want to have my son back,” Darla said. “Except for: I believe we have a purpose. God gave me this purpose, even with how hard it’s been.”