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Rick Browning, hired to manage major bikeway project, says he was fired by PBOT

Posted by on February 11th, 2016 at 3:11 pm

browning
Rick Browning back in May.
(Photo: M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Rick Browning, the veteran architect and urban planner that was hired back in May to lead a high-profile bike project, is no longer working for the City of Portland.

“I was told by PBOT management I made certain unspecified staff members ‘uncomfortable’ and that I didn’t fit in. I did not quit. I was fired and given one day to leave.”
— Rick Browning

Word that he was leaving his position leaked out of the bureau of transportation on Tuesday. The City hasn’t released a statement yet, but we confirmed our initial tip and can say with certainty that Browning is no longer employed by the City of Portland.

Browning lasted just over eight months in his position. With an annual salary of $80-90,000, he was hired as a Capital Project Manager. According to the job description, his initial focus was supposed to be on PBOT’s “Central City Multi-Modal Safety project”. That project is meant to improve biking and walking access downtown and establish a network of protected lanes. However, despite winning a $6 million federal grant three years ago the project has yet to break ground. PBOT’s latest promise is that the public process won’t start until this summer.

While waiting for that project to materialize, PBOT had Browning working on other things. He was listed as the manager of a project on West Burnside we wrote about just last week and a line in the Mayor’s current budget has Browning as the manager of a $4.5 million paving project on East Burnside.

Based on an interview Browning gave us when he was hired, it’s clear he was looking forward to working on the downtown bikeway project. He said his goal was to make downtown a nice place to ride for people currently too afraid to give it a try (an urgent need with bikeshare coming soon). Browning said he was inspired by Janette Sadik-Khan, the former director of New York City’s transportation department. After hearing her speak in Seattle, Browning said her work was “transformative.” “If we can do that here, I think that’d be fantastic.”

The city won’t comment on personnel matters, so it’s unclear why Browning is suddenly gone before the project he was hired to do ever even got started.

UPDATE, 2/12 at 8:23 am: Browning says he was fired. Here’s what he told us via email last night:

“I was told by PBOT management I made certain unspecified staff members “uncomfortable” and that I didn’t fit in. I did not quit. I was fired and given one day to leave.

Disappointed. But wish PBOT and the project well.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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44 Comments
  • Jim Lee February 11, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Is anyone minding the store at PBOT?

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • J_R February 11, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Well, certainly. PBOT has an equity manager and a director of strategic communications and several other managers.

      Recommended Thumb up 16

      • middle of the road guy February 15, 2016 at 9:15 am

        I have noticed that PBOT seems to be disproportionately ‘alternative’ and unrepresentative of the population in general.

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  • dwk February 11, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    The city leadership from top to bottom is a disgrace.
    Yet Amanda Fritz will be unopposed, Wheeler will be the next in line, the next in the old school network, nothing really changes.
    The last 5 years were a huge waste in this city, boom times with no one in charge. Things are not looking good for the next 5 years.
    You would think there would be people clamoring to run this city, yet no one seems to care……
    One of the best cities in the country with some nagging problems and so much potential and no one with any real vision wants to step up?

    Recommended Thumb up 37

    • J. E. February 12, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      As more people become disillusioned with both Bailey and Wheeler as being too status-quo political, Sarah Iannarone is becoming the non-establishment standout. She also lives and owns a business somewhere other than SW, Eastmoreland, or Irvington. Whether she can run a successful campaign in time for May, however, waits to be seen. She also has a bit of a sharp edge reminiscent of Novick in his pre-street fee days.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley February 11, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Wow. I admit it: I’m really curious to know what happened. The City isn’t famous for recruiting top talent, and in my experience, it was always infamous for not being able to retain it.

    Recommended Thumb up 19

  • Todd Hudson February 11, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    “a line in the Mayor’s current budget has Browning as the manager of a $4.5 million paving project on East Burnside.”

    You mean the paving project east of 82nd, where they ground down the old pavement, over two months ago, and didn’t finish the project? It’s been stalled for so long that they re-striped the ground-down pavement. No bike lanes though, and lots of huge holes all over.

    You know your workplace is hilariously dysfunctional when well-paid project managers won’t even stick around for a full year.

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    • Beeblebrox February 11, 2016 at 11:35 pm

      No. That’s just a regular maintenance project. He was managing an upcoming repaving of E Burnside from 20th to 32nd or so.

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    • paikiala February 12, 2016 at 11:29 am

      If you’re new to street maintenance, grinding can take place just about any time, but paving needs drier and warmer weather.

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    • CaptainKarma February 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm

      Seemed well paved last night when I drove it. Needs striping though.

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  • ethan February 11, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Gets hired to work on a bike project. Spends all of his time working on general road projects and then bails before the bike project even starts. A very sarcastic round of applause all around for PBOT and Browning.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • Todd Boulanger February 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Well let us all wait until more facts come in. It could be a million reasons to leave so quickly from a job…

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  • Dwaine Dibbly February 11, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I wonder if he got an inkling that Wheeler isn’t going to be bike-friendly & decided to bail now. I hope not.

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  • Jim Lee February 11, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    They ground off 52nd between Woodstock and Steele, which was in good shape and with new bike lanes, and let it lie for a while. Now repaving seems to have begun. In my view the whole process was unnecessary.

    Meanwhile, when riding from the Hawthorne Bridge onto SW main what few fillings I have left get severely rattled. Horrible paving and has been so for a long while. Why was nothing done there?

    Blame Novick.

    Then blame Treat.

    They’re the ones responsible.

    Recommended Thumb up 12

    • Jeff S February 11, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Jim, I know what you mean – streets that don’t seem to need attention are torn up and repaved ( SE 52nd), while ones that apparently have been carpet-bombed into oblivion (SW Main) are ignored. There is a pretty sound reason for this, which the graph helps to explain:

      http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/453877

      Essentially, if you repair a street early enough (SE 52nd) it’s relatively cheap, but if you wait too long (SW Main) it’s really, really expensive. This might not be an entirely satisfying explanation, and it certainly begs other questions.

      As for why streets are ground up and then left sitting for months until the pavers come ’round, there’s a reason for that, too: it takes substantially longer to do the grinding than it does to do the paving, plus certain weather conditions are needed in order to pave (dry, not too cold). So the grinding crew has to get well out in front of the paving crew this time of year. Hence a number of streets that are left in a torn-up condition for a long while during the wet months.

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      • joebobpdx February 11, 2016 at 10:14 pm

        Thanks for the above. Always nice to see facts and reason rear their head on here. But really, get the damn money already for the necessary repairs. Way too much sacrificing the good/demanding the perfect going on around these.

        As to the topic at hand – as noted above, there could be a million reasons. Not everybody is good at negotiating a labyrinthine outfit like City of Portland, not everybody is a good fit at a given job. Personal issues come up. On and on.

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        • joebobpdx February 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm

          “around these parts.” apologies

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      • paikiala February 12, 2016 at 11:32 am

        PBOT has explained this many time. minor maintenance early in the life span of the road goes much farther to keep it functioning longer, for a lower lifetime cost. minor maintenance on a road in bad shape does little to lengthen its life, so is truly lipstick on a pig.

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    • Beeblebrox February 11, 2016 at 11:43 pm

      SW Main needs a complete rebuild, and is therefore not eligible for regular maintenance funding. It is on the gas tax project list, though.

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  • soren February 11, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    “In May 2015, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray made a surprise announcement that a protected bike lane would be on 2nd Avenue in time for the bike share launch. Four months later, a half-mile bidirectional bike lane was on the ground, complete with bike signals.

    The lack of progress on this project is shameful.

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    • Beeblebrox February 11, 2016 at 11:40 pm

      Have you actually ridden that bidirectional bike lane? It kind of sucks. If you ride in the contraflow direction, you hit every red light. Two way on a one way street just doesn’t work as far as signal progression goes. Plus it doesn’t connect to anything. All that to say, I would rather we do this right than rush out a half-ass bit of bike lane like Seattle did.

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      • soren February 12, 2016 at 9:31 am

        I agree that bidirectional bike lanes are not ideal but the speed with which that lane was installed is a striking contrast to the lack of progress here.

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      • Paul H February 12, 2016 at 10:02 am

        I stayed in a hotel on 2nd several months ago. Bike traffic was very light on 2nd, but much heavier down on Alaskan Way, where the infrastructure is far worse. I didn’t come away thinking that Seattle riders were very impressed with their new lane.

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        • Todd Boulanger February 12, 2016 at 11:06 am

          Depending on the time of day…that bike traffic might have been generated by the ferry docks etc…

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    • Al Dimond February 12, 2016 at 9:56 am

      There were two timely reasons that got done so fast:

      1. The city literally didn’t have one non-terrible bike lane downtown to that point, and they were trying to head off bad publicity around launching a bike-share system in this environment.

      2. There had just been a high-profile cyclist death on 2nd Ave. In Murray’s first few years as mayor he took a bit of a “let no crisis go to waste” attitude, getting quick-and-dirty safety projects implemented in the wake of deadly collisions (here and NE 75th St are the major ones that come to mind).

      Murray has generally done a good job, including on cycling projects, as mayor of Seattle. But Seattle’s downtown cycling network on the whole is delayed, too. We were supposed to have a network designed by 2015, with work on the ground starting this year. Now the network design has been put off until completion of another “center city mobility plan”, which sounds a lot like an opportunity to water down the promised bike network. (There are basically three critical mobility problems near downtown: pedestrian safety, an incomplete bike network, and traffic congestion; the only way to fix traffic congestion is to reduce the amount of office parking available, but instead we permit more parking garages with every new building, and we’re so obsessed with the resulting congestion that we fail to fix our other problems.)

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      • maccoinnich February 12, 2016 at 10:40 am

        “The city literally didn’t have one non-terrible bike lane downtown to that point, and they were trying to head off bad publicity around launching a bike-share system in this environment.”

        Portland currently has exactly the same issue.

        Recommended Thumb up 7

        • Art Fuldodger February 12, 2016 at 3:59 pm

          SW oak & Stark not ok?

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    • was carless February 12, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Note that Seattle, like most US cities and unlike Portland, has a city government that is ran by the mayor – a strong mayor system. Portland’s governance has the mayor as essentially someone who delegates city bureaus to city commissioners (who are incompetent) and has a single vote against the other commissioners. Thus, the mayor has no power and is barely even a manager.

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  • PBOT Insider. February 11, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    Steve Szigethy was hired this week from the PDC to take over as Capital Project Manager III title. The same title as Rick Browning.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Beeblebrox February 11, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    No. That’s just a regular maintenance project. He was managing an upcoming repaving of E Burnside from 20th to 32nd or so.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Buzz February 12, 2016 at 12:26 am

    I’d leave too if I was hired to do a bike infra project and then got stuck with a bunch of paving projects instead.

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    • Todd Boulanger February 12, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Annual paving maintenance projects is where the “gold” is found to get bike lanes [and pedestrian ADA] infrastructure retrofitted into our existing arterials…assuming one can wait the 20 to 30 years between pavement work cycles.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 12, 2016 at 8:26 am

    UPDATE, 2/12 at 8:23 am: Browning says he was fired. Here’s what he told us via email last night:

    “I was told by PBOT management I made certain unspecified staff members “uncomfortable” and that I didn’t fit in. I did not quit. I was fired and given one day to leave.

    Disappointed. But wish PBOT and the project well.”

    Recommended Thumb up 8

    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley February 12, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Wow.

      I’m kind of boggled. The discomfort must have been coming from someone pretty high up.

      I once got a consultant dismissed because his overt sexism/misogyny made it impossible for me to work as closely with him as I needed to on the project at hand. But that was a consultant, one of a huge, rotating roster of available talent: he didn’t lose his job, just the assignment.

      Getting an actual employee fired…wow. All my avid, gossipy, career-bureaucrat antennae are swiveling.

      Recommended Thumb up 10

      • Adam H. February 12, 2016 at 9:15 am

        **comment deleted by moderator – jonathan**

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 12, 2016 at 9:28 am

          Wait, what?! how can you even speculate about the nature of the “uncomfortable” allegation? Did I miss something? Let’s not jump to conclusions about why Browning was let go.

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          • Adam H. February 12, 2016 at 10:22 am

            Yeah you’re right. Sorry about that.

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          • Beeblebrox February 12, 2016 at 11:31 am

            Rick’s a great guy, but he is rightly forceful with his opinions. I don’t know what Adam wrote before it got deleted, but I would just say my best guess is this was just a personality or work-style conflict between Rick and management, and wasn’t anything more sinister than that.

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        • dwk February 12, 2016 at 9:48 am

          Come on, this is the kind of crap that gives all internet forums a bad name.
          Unless you have inside info, I would shut up……

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  • Jim Lee February 12, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    As of 12 February S. E. 52nd between Woodstock and Steele has been completely repaved and restriped.

    Even the bike lanes are back.

    Looks to be worth riding.

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  • Dan Packard May 29, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Browning was an excellent advocate for bicycle issues in the 1990’s while serving on Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.

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