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We need a great PBOT Director: Please spread the word

Posted by on March 28th, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Sue Keil, then Tom Miller, then ?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland is hiring a new Director for their Bureau of Transportation. The fact that there’s been relatively no buzz about the job in the various networks and circles I monitor is a major concern. Why? Because this job is extremely important (understatement) and if the right people aren’t aware of the position, we won’t get the right person in the position.

Since I’ve been doing this blog (April 2005), I don’t think we’ve ever had the right person for this job. The past two PBOT Directors have had limitations — both in policy perspective and political baggage — that prevented them from success. With vast changes in how we get around in recent years, and with major economic, social and environmental imperatives that require us to perpetuate those changes, it’s never been more important to finally get this right.

Mayor Charlie Hales asked former director Tom Miller to resign because he was hand-picked for the job by former Mayor Sam Adams (Miller was his chief-of-staff for many years). Politically speaking, Hales’ move was completely understandable, but it’s worth noting that his choice for interim director, Toby Widmer, holds an outlook on transportation (maintenance first, other stuff if/when possible) that isn’t in line with what Portlanders want and it won’t allow us to reach the goals of our city and region.

There are people who hold power in Portland (both elected and special interests) who like that perspective. They would like to turn back the clock when it comes to our transportation future. They see a city that is too “anti-car” and that needs to sacrifice bicycling access in the name of being “business-friendly” while letting motorized freight vehicles run roughshod through our commercial districts and neighborhoods. Those same powerful people want a PBOT Director who is in line with their thinking (or who lacks strength and can become their puppet).

Under direction from Mayor Hales to conduct a national search to find the best-qualified candidate, PBOT posted the job listing online March 18th. However, I have yet to see it pop up anywhere on the lists and networks I spend time on. My assumption is that human resources staff at PBOT are simply posting it to the usual places. If that’s the case, we’re likely to get only the usual suspects to apply. That would not be good.

And this is about much more than finding a solid transportation thinker. The PBOT Director is often more engulfed in politics than policy. The job description itself says the person (who will be paid between $129,834 to $186,056) must have, “Strong political acumen, tact and diplomacy in dealing with complex, sensitive and confidential issues regarding multiple and conflicting agendas and positions.” And that’s putting it mildly.

There are only two weeks left before the application period closes on April 12th. If you care about the future of transportation in Portland, please share this link with all your contacts and networks.

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jim Lee March 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    I am available and I could use the money.

    Also would commute to worked fixed–most of the time.

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  • dwainedibbly March 28, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I nominate Jonathan. Mrs Dibbly seconds the nomination.

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    • TOM March 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      Sorry, but job requires ‘tact and diplomacy’.

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  • Brad March 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    The writing is already on the wall. Mayor Hales is likely looking for a pragmatic bureaucrat well versed in infrastructure maintainence and budget cutting – filling potholes for less. They are not looking for a Jeanette Sadik-Khan type with far reaching visions and plans.

    We all want a PBOT director focused on alternative transportation but Hales is, astutely in my opinion, re-focusing PBOT on boring nuts and bolts issues rather than visionary planning. I believe there is a strong institutional and political backlash against the Adams administration and its policies right now. Politically it makes more sense to appeal to the 85-90% of Portlanders that do not ride bikes. I fear the next four years are going to be lean ones for bikes.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 28, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Good points Brad,

      But I disagree with how you frame this. Why does making the right decisions about transportation always default to thinking that means we must continue to support the auto-dominated status quo? Improving our street network so that bicycles are easy, safe, and efficient to ride can be “boring nuts and bolts.”

      It makes sense to appeal to the 85-90% of Portlanders who want to live in a vibrant, healthy city where streets are welcoming and efficient and productive for everyone.

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  • dwainedibbly March 28, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    What we need is someone who gets the concept that all roadway users are in this together. Cycling infrastructure benefits motor vehicle traffic by reducing the number of motor vehicles using the road, and it is cheaper than building new roads or widening existing roads. We need a PBOT director who will shout this from the rooftops.

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    • TOM March 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      “Cycling infrastructure benefits motor vehicle traffic by reducing the number of motor vehicles using the road.” No it doesn’t! Truck volume is driven by population and the only alternate is rail, not bikes. Car drivers may shift to public transit, certainly not in any appreciable numbers to bikes, but their place will soon be filled by other drivers seeing the new available supply of road space. Only affordable and convenient public transit will satisfy that demand.
      If you get a director who will shout anything different ‘from the rooftops’ that will be unfortunate and you should prepare to advertize the position again.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Jonathan – perhaps you should do a follow up interview with the mayor on what “his” ideal candidate would be: skill set and outlook.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Jonathan – additionally, part of what you are seeing in transportation circles is likely due to the shift nationally in where rising transportation leaders are seeing where the leadership cities to work at…NYC, Chicago, and others have taken the limelight and momentum from Portland…and this is very clear in how the current administration is potentially mishandling the reaction to the carless/ car lite apartment buildings. This is no longer 2006.

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  • Jim Lee March 29, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    DD & MsD can only be seconder and thirder, because I nominated JM months ago.

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  • TOM March 29, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Why can’t you say ‘trucks’. Why must you say ‘motorized freight vehicles’? Do you say ‘trackless trolley’ when we all say ‘bus’?

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