Building goodwill – and accessibility to the transportation system – through listening and teamwork

(Watch the video for this story.)

ODOT has made steady progress in bringing the state system up to current Americans with Disabilities Act standards. There are still many curb ramps and pedestrian signals out of compliance; nearly all are planned for improvements in the next few years.

But sometimes ODOT needs to address an issue sooner.

ODOT hears about these issues in several ways, including through its comment, question, concern or request form, or CQCR, available on the agency’s website. And sometimes, it’s a phone call.

Recently, Highway Region 2 Active Transportation Liaison Jenna Berman took a call from a concerned citizen about several access issues in McMinnville. Barb Jones uses a mobility device and felt unsafe crossing at several intersections on OR 99W, such as at McDaniel, 27th and Lafayette. Berman discussed the challenges with her, as did Region 2 Traffic Signal Operations Specialist Darren Lawrence.Barb Jones

“After speaking with Ms. Jones, it still felt like we couldn’t quite tease out the issues,” said Berman. “Was it signal timing or was it the design of the older ramps making it more challenging for her to hit the button and then get positioned with enough time to cross?”

Next, Berman and Lawrence brainstormed potential solutions with other ODOT colleagues – Jamie Schmidt, traffic signal operations engineer, and Scott Cramer, state traffic signal engineer. The pair also met with Sarah McCrae, traffic signal systems engineer, and Valerie Greenway, Highway Region 2 Area 3 manager, to get an overview of a paving project scheduled for next summer that will make ADA improvements at all three intersections.

Seeing the problem firsthand

Then, Lawrence and Berman met Jones at one of the intersections in McMinnville.

“With help [from these other ODOT employees], we were able to provide our citizen with specifics on the design,” said Berman. “I also brought some photos to show her an example of what it will look like with the new pedestrian poles, push buttons and countdown pedestrian signal heads. In addition, David Morrissey (ODOT’s Title VI/EJ/ADA Program manager) coached me on some strategies that were very helpful in teasing out her actual barriers.”  

On the day of the on-site visit in McMinnville, Lawrence and Berman observed Jones crossing one of the intersections on the highway after they explained to her how the current signal timing works.

“With those numbers in her head, she realized that she actually had enough time to get across,” said Berman. “The real issue is that the current system starts to flash the red ‘stop’ after only 8 seconds, making it feel uncomfortable and rushed when she still has five lanes of traffic to cross. This is understandable.”

Berman explained that the red “stop” hand is intended to prevent people from starting to cross the intersection and told Jones that when she sees the light begin to flash red, she actually has 28 more seconds to cross.

Understanding the perspective

“I’m ecstatically pleased,” said Jones. “Jenna has bent over backwards. I feel like I’ve got a friend. The ODOT engineer, Darren, was there too, and the fact that they watched me maneuver through the intersection and that they truly listened to my concerns, I mean, when does that ever happen?”

Jones is excited for the improvements to the intersections coming next year and especially thrilled about the new countdown pedestrian signal heads showing exactly how much time you have left. She believes it will make her feel more comfortable.

“I also met with the McMinnville city planner, which Jenna set up, and he has already contacted the Safeway shopping center property owner who agreed to build a ramp from the parking lot to the new curb ramp when ODOT does the overlay project,” said Jones. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”

Thanks to the great teamwork by ODOT staff, Jones considers the issues at these intersections resolved, and all those involved from our team consider the interaction a success.

“This citizen is very engaged and a strong advocate for the differently-abled community, with a strong focus on older adults,” said Berman. “She was so appreciative to have us meet with her and listen to her concerns. It meant a lot to know that our agency is listening to her and others like her who experience our system in a very different way.”

Although it was fortunate to have the paving project already planned, it’s a great example of how listening and outreach are key to resolving issues. It’s also a great demonstration of working together as one ODOT for successful outcomes.