Oregon’s DOT and the Banality of Evil

Sooo, this happened yesterday. The great progressive state of Oregon’s Department of Transportation tweeted out its expert opinion that dangerous driving is a behavior problem that cannot be attributed to road design. How any person working for a DOT, let alone the person tasked with representing the department via social media could be so ignorant is truly alarming.

Unfortunately, ODOT has proven a track record of reinforcing ignorant attitudes with ignorant agendas. From pushing freeway expansions to butchering bicycle infrastructure to using woefully antiquated design guidelines to failing to act while the death toll rises on state managed roads, ODOT’s banality of transportation evil is well known. This, however, is beyond the pale. I won’t detail why this level of incompetence is unacceptable. If you’re reading a blog about livable streets and tactical urbanism, you get it. And you know there is no excuse for this.

The responses received were understandably a mix of frustration, shock, and I-can’t-believe-we-have-to-explain-this-shit-to-you attempts at teaching the agency what every responsible planner already knows. Driving habits are the product of the built road environment. If you want safer streets, you need narrower lanes, and less of them.

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 11.25.40 PMAny questions, ODOT?

When the bureaucrats refuse to enact sensible laws to make streets safer, it’s up to regular citizens to step up their game. More and more, the only way the job is getting done is through direct action. Such is the case with the New York City group Right of Way, who’ve been grabbing headlines by breaking the law to ensure the streets of NYC are a little less lethal.

Right of Way first made it’s name known painting guerrilla sharrows and ‘vigilante’ bike lanes throughout Midtown this summer. Said organizer Keegan Stephan, “It’s been proven time and time again that if you install a bike lane, it lowers the number of crashes. We’re doing something for the public good. So I think it’s OK, even if it’s illegal.

Then this past weekend, the group defied the city’s potential plan to only reduce speeds on select streets to 25pmh by erecting their own 20mph signs on a number of blocks. 20mph is considered to be the fastest speed a motor vehicle can safely travel, as collisions with people have less than a 5% chance of causing death at this speed.

Sadly, predictably, a NYDOT spokesperson confirmed the signs had already been removed by city employees on Monday. Can’t have the people making the local DOT look bad! The silver lining? Should Right of Way choose to erect more of them, a sympathetic sign-making company has promised they’ll print them up, free of change. How’s that for solidarity?

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 11.47.10 PMCourtesy Liz Patek

If this is the kind of action that it takes to get the job done, so be it. If our local and state transportation agencies are content to squander funding on studies to prove what we already know instead of spending money that could otherwise go towards building safer infrastructure, then it’s time to bust out the stencils and paint rollers ourselves.

ODOT’s dismissive attitude about its responsibility to ensure road safety for all users is deplorable and deserves to be shamed. Ultimately, though, we’re the one’s who live along these streets. We owe it to ourselves to shape them how they need to be to ensure our own safety and ability to enjoy fulfilling lives. Whose streets? Our streets!

Conversation with an Engineer

A resident has a conversation with a project engineer about the proposed improvements to her street. We’ve heard of, seen or taken part in thousands of conve…

Ghost bike of Brett Jarolimek pictured at top copyright Hart Noecker.


  1. I have long been convinced, having lived in the Northwest for 35 years, that if you want a job that allow you to maintain a heavy recreational drug habit during work hours you should become a traffic engineer. Are PDX’s engineers junkies, stoners, or do they prefer acid and/or shrooms?

  2. I’m looking at the Traffic Calming 101 pictures. In the “before” picture, I would happily take the right lane. Any motorists who want to drive faster than me can easily use the left lane to pass. In the “after” picture, there is a door-zone bike lane. What idiot would ride in the door zone? That leaves me with having to take the only travel lane available, which in turn means that overtaking motorists must illegally pass in the turning lane. That’s a design that gives cyclists the choice of the danger of the door zone (25% of Chicago’s cycling injuries are due to dooring) or having angry motorists furious over the fact that they won’t ride in a hazardous bike lane. No thanks.

    Maybe it’s not just ODOT that doesn’t know what it’s doing.

  3. amen, brother carfree. (though passing in the turning lane isn’t something to worry about, since it would usually be quite a safe maneuver) the turning lane isn’t ‘traffic calming;’ the turn lane prevents left-turning traffic from hindering the flow of forward-moving traffic. it seems like the ‘traffic calming’ picture is a design for faster throughput, with a bike lane! (a bike lane it would be inadvisable to use when cars are parked alongside it). they tend to call this approach ‘the road diet.’

  4. Tactical urbanism!

    A good way for DOTs to start getting it.

    We don’t accept that people have for us all to get to Wal Mart!

    Transportation planning needs to take in the mind the consent of the governed.

    I have some issues with the imperfection of the traffic calming example posts in this article. Many details go into traffic calming. Bulb outs, nekdowns narrower lanes, speed bumps, rumble strips being used as speed bumbs, roundabouts, raised pedestrian crossings, street trees, parked cars, bike lanes, pedestrian islands, blah blah blah…. There are better examples than the image used, although it is still an improvement.

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