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Posts tagged "Rebekah Scheinfeld"

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

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Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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CDOT & CPD Launch Annual Crosswalk Safety Stings

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A plain-clothes police officer (blue top) crosses the street. Photo: John Greenfield

You might have noticed many square, black bases bolted in the center of Chicago streets, which held “Stop for Pedestrians” signs before they were taken out by motorists. These testify to the fact that many local drivers don’t operate safely around crosswalks.

In an attempt to change that behavior, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Police Department once again launched a pedestrian safety campaign, including crosswalk stings and ads reminding drivers to stop for people in crosswalks. As part of last year’s campaign, the police department wrote more than 1,200 tickets to motorists who failed to stop, resulting in $120 fines.

Earlier today, the city held a press conference at Clark Street and Germania Place in Old Town, where the police were conducting a sting. There’s a pedestrian island here, with chunks of concrete missing due to careless drivers, and “Stop for Pedestrians” signs were installed a while ago at crosswalks on the north and south legs of the intersection. Signs further north and south of the intersection warned drivers of the crosswalk enforcement event. Unfortunately, one of them was partially blocking the bike lane on Clark.

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What would Alanis Morisette have to say about this? Photo: John Greenfield

Plain-clothes police officers repeatedly crossed the street, while another officer in a squad car stood by, waiting to chase down drivers who failed to yield. In general, motorists were stopping when pedestrians were in the crosswalk, and sometimes even when the crosswalk was empty. Occasionally, the cop in the car would zoom out of his spot with lights and siren on to ticket an offender.

A nearby resident I spoke to said that drivers are generally pretty good about yielding to people on foot at this location. However, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said this intersection was chosen for the sting because there have been some crashes here. Similar “crosswalk awareness initiatives” are planned citywide at 60 crossings near schools, senior housing and business strips. The program is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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Active Trans’ Ron Burke, Scheinfeld and IDOT’s Bola Delano face the cameras. Photo: John Greenfield

“On average, roughly 3,000 pedestrians are hit by motor vehicle [drivers] every year in Chicago, resulting in an average of 30 deaths per year,” Scheinfeld told reporters. “This is unacceptable. Our goal is to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent over the next five years, and to eliminate pedestrian fatalities within ten years.”

Scheinfeld cited CDOT safety initiatives like bumpouts, speed humps, and countdown walk signals as part of that effort, along with the Safe Routes Ambassadors program, which educates school children about safe walking and biking. 800 “Stop for Pedestrians” PSAs are going up on CTA buses, 100 are being installed in bus shelter posters, 50 are being displayed on news racks, and 40 are going up on solar garbage compactors. Notably, each ad includes an image of a bicyclist, which implies that lawbreaking behavior by bicyclists is a comparable threat to pedestrians as dangerous driving, when that’s obviously not the case.

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No Central Loop BRT in 2014 as CDOT Delays Launch Indefinitely

11,000 people ride the J14 Jeffery Jump each weekday

The 11,000 people who ride the J14 Jeffery Jump daily, plus 20,000 on other bus routes, will have to wait until 2015 — or later — for a speedier trip through downtown.

Construction delays have pushed back the Central Loop BRT project, from a projected 2014 start until next year or even later. The causes of the setback remain troublingly vague, and there is no clear timetable for the improvements proposed for four downtown streets, which are supposed to speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes with a combined ridership of 30,000.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the CTA said that improved transit service would start in 2014, but the Sun-Times reports that construction has been delayed. While the Sun-Times said the project might proceed next year, the city is not providing a specific timetable.

CDOT and CTA plan to run the six routes via bus-only lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington, and Madison Streets, so that bus riders won’t get slowed by congestion downtown. Combined with off-board fare collection at distinctive bus stations, along with priority at certain traffic signals, the improvements will reduce ride times across the Loop by 3 to 9 minutes. That would save a commuter going from Union Station to Illinois Center up to 75 hours over the course of a year.

As late as November, the plan was still to launch service this year. After CDOT acknowledged another Sun-Times report that water pipes under the proposed bus stations would have to be relocated, former commissioner Gabe Klein said (after he announced his resignation):

“As far as I know, the project will be done in December of 2014, just like it was supposed to be. You build in time for minor moves and changes. I’m not aware that there’s going to be a significant delay.”

The timeline began to slip one month ago, when CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said that construction would start this year but added that service wouldn’t start until 2015.

Now the timeline has been pushed back again. Scheinfeld told the Sun-Times the design is taking “longer than expected to complete” and that, as the paper put it, “the Emanuel administration is more interested in getting it right than rushing it through.” However, she did not give the paper a new construction timetable.

It’s good that CDOT says it won’t sacrifice quality to get shovels in the ground, but the lack of a specific project timeline is troubling. Without knowing when the project is supposed to get built, it’s hard to know whether the department is still committed to this important improvement to the city’s transportation system.

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Scheinfeld Lauds Chicago’s Bike Gains at Rally; Pedicabbers Protest

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Members of the Chicago Pedicab Association protest at this morning’s rally. Photo: CPA

Despite the gloomy weather this morning, hundreds of people pedaled to Daley Plaza for the annual Bike to Work Rally, where city officials provided an update on Chicago cycling initiatives. Among the cyclists were pedicabbers defying the city’s recently enacted ban on rush-hour pedicab use in the Loop to protest the ordinance but, happily, no $500 tickets were issued.

Unlike last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not speak at the rally, but he did stop by for a few minutes near the end of the event to greet cyclists and take photos with them. Instead, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld gave the traditional “state of the union” speech on local bike efforts.

Scheinfeld noted that before Emanuel took office in 2011, Chicago’s reputation as a great cycling city had declined. In 2001, Bicycling Magazine rated Chicago the best big U.S. city for biking, but by 2010, New York City had claimed that honor. She argued that Emanuel’s support for cycling has brought our city back to the forefront.

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The Crowd at Daley Plaza. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

The commissioner noted that, under the current administration, the city has built roughly 40 miles of buffered bike lanes and 16.5 miles of protected lanes. The number of people riding bikes to work has tripled since 2000, and Chicago now has the second-highest total number of bike commuters of any American city, behind only NYC. She added that, on some Chicago streets, the number of bike trips is almost the same as car trips. For example, Milwaukee sometimes sees upwards of 7,000 bicycles a day.

The commissioner also touted the success of Divvy: in less than a year, the system has racked up 22,000 annual members, over 220,000 day pass sales, and 1.5 million rides, covering more than 3.3 million miles. She added that the recently announced $12.5 million Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois sponsorship of the system will help fund the expansion of bike-share into new neighborhoods, as well as bikeway maintenance and bike education programs.

However, Scheinfeld acknowledged that Chicago still has a long way to go before it is truly bike-friendly, noting that the city has seen two bike fatalities this year. The goal of the city’s “Zero in Ten” initiative, announced in 2012, is to eliminate all traffic fatalities. She argued that city efforts like innovative bikeways, safety education, and traffic cameras are helping to make this vision a reality.

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Scheinfeld Talks About Divvy, PBLs, Traffic Cams, and Long Term Goals

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Scheinfeld with Mayor Emanuel at the groundbreaking for the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: John Greenfield

In this final installment of my interview with Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, we talked about the Divvy expansion, traffic cameras, protected bike lanes, and her overall goals as CDOT chief. Read the first and second parts of the interview here and here.

John Greenfield: We’re slated to get 175 more Divvy stations this year. Do you think that’s actually going to happen, what with the Bixi [aka Public Bike System Company] bankruptcy?

Rebekah Scheinfeld: That’s still our intention. Obviously, our options are impacted by what happened with the PBSC bankruptcy, and we’ve been following that very closely. Our contractor is Alta [Bicycle Share] – we don’t have a direct relationship with PBSC. Now that the bankruptcy procedures are closed, we’re able to move forward to make some more certain decisions about the supply chain and timing. We are moving aggressively to try to still meet our goals for expansion this year, so I expect we still will.

JG: If Bixi’s not able to provide any more equipment, do we have equipment that’s in storage now that could be installed, so that we might get some of the new stations?

RS: Alta has been exploring alternative supply chains. PBSC doesn’t necessarily make all of those pieces. They assemble a lot of it into those packages. So there are other suppliers out there that are actually making the bikes or the different components for the stations or bikes.

Alta has been pressing as aggressively as possible, considering the bankruptcy process, as well as investigating alternative supply chains, so that they’ll be able to do the expansion. We’d like to end up in a situation where we’re able to continue working with PBSC, because we still think that’s going to be the most expeditious way.

JG: OK, this next question is probably going to annoy Pete [Scales, the CDOT spokesman who is sitting in on the interview.] [Laughter.] So you were involved in putting together the mayor’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan, right?

RS: Yes, I was part of the transportation and infrastructure committee.

JG: When you guys put together that document, the protected bike lane goal defined protected bike lanes as being separated from traffic by a physical barrier, such as bollards or parked cars. The current definition of protected bike lanes that the city is using includes buffered lanes, which the city is now classifying as “buffer-protected.” While the transition plan originally called for 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes in the mayor’s first term, it looks like a much higher percentage of the bike lanes are going to be buffered instead.

It’s awesome that we’re getting all these miles of buffered and protected lanes. But arguably, it’s a letdown that we were promised 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes and, due to reality setting in, this is the one goal out of the three major bike goals, including the Bloomingdale Trail and Divvy, that is not going to be accomplished. When it’s time to cut the ribbon on the hundredth mile, how will you respond to that question — will we have achieved the goal that was set out in the transition plan?

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CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld Discusses the Loop BRT Project

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Rebekah Scheinfeld. Photo: John Greenfield

I recently sat down with Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to discuss the city’s efforts to create safer, more efficient conditions for walking, transit and biking. We’ll be publishing the interview in a few installments, starting with this conversation about plans for bus rapid transit in the Loop.

John Greenfield: What’s going on with the schedule for the Loop BRT? I’ve heard there has been a little pushback from business owners. Some of them weren’t excited about the idea of having large bus stations in front of their storefronts, even though the design is transparent. So, when are you thinking that’s going to get rolled out and how many stations does it look like we’re going to get?

Rebekah Scheinfeld: We’re still planning to start construction this year. We have to finish the design process, and then it will go through the procurement process for the construction contractor, and there will be a full season of construction. So the expectation is that it will be operational by the end of 2015. And that also includes the Union Station Transit Center.

The design for the Washington and Madison corridors calls for eight stations at major connection points. We’re still working through the design. Obviously, it’s complex because it’s a major investment in the heart of the Loop, and it requires a lot of coordination with the different users: building owners, business owners, and other constituencies along both corridors.

So, we’re being thoughtful about the design and we’re working through concerns that are being raised through the outreach process we started last year, to reach out to stakeholders in the corridor, to make sure they’re aware of the project, and to talk through any impact concerns that they have about how the street is going to be reconfigured. That’s an ongoing process.

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The planned street configuration on Washington.

JG: What are some of the concerns the business owners have?

RS: One, it’s about understanding what the project entails, in terms of how the street would be designed and the way that there will be space allocated to bikes and pedestrians and transit and regular, general through traffic. We’re explaining that, just to get beyond any pre-conceived notions that people might have, like worries that the streets are only going to be only for buses, or something like that.

We’re explaining that this is going to be a corridor for all users, as well as explaining that there are going to be impacts in terms of where people can load or unload, for example. Obviously, businesses want to make sure that they can accommodate deliveries, for example. And there’ll be some minor offsets to parking. So a lot of it is about education, and each block is not cookie-cutter. On every block there are different kinds of buildings and different kinds of uses, so we take that very seriously.

JG: You have heard some concerns from people worried that their storefronts are going to be obscured, right?

RB: That was an early question that was raised, so we’re doing a lot to make sure that there is transparency in the design, but also that any information panels in the shelters would be perpendicular to the sidewalk, so that it maximizes the view and the sightlines.

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Business Owners on Elston Won’t Fight Buffered Bike Lanes

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Biking on Elston, just west of Ashland. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s official: business owners along the Elston industrial corridor are giving up their fight against better bike lanes on the street.

In December, when Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” However, transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld wrote Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the industrial council, last month pointing out that there’s already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and 26 percent of crashes resulting in injuries involve cyclists. She also noted that ANBR would add half a mile to a bike trip downtown, and the infrastructure could cost 100 times as much as the buffered lanes.

At the end of March, CDOT project manager Mike Amsden presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, to North Branch Works, and now the council is grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes are slated for construction in late 2014 or early 2015.

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CDOT Is Moving Forward With Buffered Bike Lanes on Elston

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Biking northwest on Elston south of Cortland this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s good to see that new Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld is standing her ground on the Elston bike lane issue.

In December, when CDOT staffers discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance from local business owners. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, they argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders. When I spoke to Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the North Branch Works, he said cyclists should be encouraged to take Milwaukee instead, although there have recently been many dooring crashes on that street.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the industrial council lobbied CDOT to build a bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” This roundabout itinerary would connect the east end of the Bloomingdale Trail with buffered lanes on Wells, but it would also add half a mile to a trip downtown, plus numerous additional turns and three unsignalized crossings of major streets. While the route has merits, it’s not a practical alternative to simple, direct Elston.

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The ANBR route map.

Scheinfeld said all the right things in a March 21 memo to Holzer, also sent to local aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd) and Scott Waguespack (35th), which explained why CDOT wants to move forward with the buffered lanes. She pointed out that bikes sometimes make up 11 percent of all traffic on Elston during rush hours. “This high level of ridership indicates that many people find Elston Avenue to be a convenient route between their origin and their destination,” she wrote. However, while 5.2 percent of the reported traffic crashes on Elston involved cyclists, 26 percent of the crashes resulting in injuries did, so it’s clear that bike safety needs to be improved on the street.

Scheinfeld went on the acknowledge the concerns about safety, congestion, parking supply, lane widths, truck turning movements at intersections, and loading dock access. She then explained how buffered lanes will have virtually no negative effect on trucking operations, but will make bike crashes less likely. “Adding buffers on both side of the existing bike lanes would increase the lateral separation between bikes and motor vehicles (including trucks), and between bikes and parked cars, thus improving safety.”

The buffered lanes will not displace any on-street parking spaces between North and Cortland, although parking will be removed on the one block stretch between Cortland and Ashland. One concession CDOT is making to the business owners is widening the mixed-traffic lanes to 11 feet – the design proposed in December had 10.5-foot lanes.

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City Breaks Ground on the Long-Awaited Navy Pier Flyover

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Rendering of the flyover, looking north from near its highest point.

After more than a decade of planning, the Chicago Department of Transportation finally kicked off work on the Navy Pier Flyover, a $60 million project that will solve the problem of the dangerous bottleneck at the center of the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. “We at the city have discussed this, we have debated it, we have deferred it for decades, and now it’s time to build it,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a groundbreaking this afternoon.

The 16-foot-wide flyover will take pedestrians and bicyclists from south of the Chicago River, up to the level of Lake Shore Drive and around Lake Point Tower, then back down to Jane Addams Park. It will provide much more elbow room for trail users, as well as grade separation from the hazardous Illinois and Grand intersections. The most expensive single bike project in Illinois history, it will cost more than twice the pricetag of the $27.5 million, 3,000-vehicle Divvy bike-share system.

Back in 2012, when the flyover was estimated to cost only $45 million, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance proposed a much cheaper alternative solution, which would have involved converting a lane of Lower Lake Shore Drive into a two-way protected bike lane. He estimates the cost at $3-5 million, including metal bollards, street markings, signal improvements and other upgrades.

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Rendering of Steven’s alternative proposal by Erich Stenzel.

At the groundbreaking, I asked new CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld if she was familiar with Steven’s proposal. She wasn’t, but argued that the $60 million expense, which will largely be paid for via federal dollars, is justified. The first phase of construction, between Addams Park and the Ogden Slip, will cost about $26 million, funded by $18 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement money and other federal funds, plus $8 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“Millions of people use this section of the lakefront and the whole lakefront trail every year,” Scheinfeld told me. “It’s really important to continue to invest in the safety and the quality of the lakefront trail, which is a jewel of Chicago… This is everyman’s park, and this is where everyone should be able to come and recreate safety and enjoy what the lakefront has to offer, whether they’re walking or biking.”

Setting aside the question of whether this was the most cost-effective solution to the central trail’s safety problem, it’s certainly a great thing for Chicago cycling that the issue is being addressed. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said as much at the press event. “I’ve tried to ride my bike down this trail, and when you reach this point it is some combination of bumper cars, whack-a-mole, I can’t even describe it to you, but you take your life into your hands trying to move from this spot to the other side,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the completion, and the safe navigation of my bicycle through this path.”

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Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council Should Be More Than an Info Session

Rebekah Scheinfeld and Gabe Klein during Q&A

New CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld needs to lead the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council in a more engaging and meaningful direction. Photo: Ryan Griffin-Stegink

I recently moved to the Windy City from Portland, Oregon, where I had served as a member of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee at the state level for bike and pedestrian issues. So I came into last Wednesday’s meeting of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council excited to hear the breadth and depth of pedestrian advocacy and projects happening in Chicago. Based on my experience in Oregon, I expected a meeting structured around deliberate conversation and debate. Instead, what I saw was an information session.

In Oregon, I was appointed by the governor to my four-year term in the fall of 2009, and my tenure on OBPAC was marked by a significant shift in the way viewpoints of advocates and members of the committee were incorporated into broader policy change. What had at one time been more of a one-way arrangement, in which Oregon DOT staff came to present information in a “show and tell” format, became a real committee where the governor’s top sustainability and transportation advisors frequently dropped by to pick up ideas. Tabletop nameplates served to create a sense of professionalism and respect. The committee’s later decision to increase the number of meetings from four to six per year increased the stakes for committee member participation and staff preparation.

Sitting back and observing the room on Wednesday, it wasn’t clear to me who was on the committee and who wasn’t. With several presenters and members of the public nestled among the committee, the resulting dynamic was one of indecisiveness. What actions were going to come out of the meeting? Which players in the room were going carry out the action? What were the results of these conversations?

What should be an opportunity to press for changes to the status quo instead felt more like a rote list of ongoing projects and initiatives. We were told about Safe Routes to School projects and grants, the Safe Routes Ambassadors program, snow removal efforts, and pedestrian fatalities, but we did not exchange ideas.

While there is certainly value to informing advocates of current efforts, in Oregon the advisory committee also involved truly advising public agencies. At MPAC, there should be an opportunity for larger ideas and discussions. General questions should be posed of committee members, such as the best way to go about a policy change, which partners to include in reform efforts, or general concerns for pedestrians in the built environment. At the very least, a public comment period, which was conspicuously absent from the agenda, would be a good start.

While Oregon may be perceived as an anomaly in the amount of public process at each level of government, it has taken the concerted efforts of government staff and citizens to make it this way. If you believe in public process, creating a dialogue in which all topics are welcomed and encouraged is but a small step in fulfilling the potential of advisory committees. The result of this approach is more robust, vetted, and longer-lasting solutions.

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