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Comment of the Week: A good review for Director Treat

Posted by on August 22nd, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Street fee press conference-2

Transportation Director Leah Treat at a city
press conference in April.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Like her predecessor Tom Miller, Portland’s top transportation bureaucrat is part of a class of bike-friendly Generation Xers who, after working up the ladder for years, are moving into the top perches of government.

Hired last year, Director Leah Treat turned out to be the first of three such faces on the West Coast alone. Last month, Seleta Reynolds of San Francisco’s livable streets division was tapped to lead the vast Los Angeles transportation department and Scott Kubly, who like Treat was a top lieutenant to fellow Xer Gabe Klein in Washington and Chicago, was named to the same role in Seattle.

As we wait to see how these youngish, multimodal, digitally connected folks bring to leadership, it’s nice to see praise this week for Treat’s interest and dedication from BikePortland reader Terry D.

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On Monday’s post about a tour Treat and Commissioner Steve Novick led of the city’s street troubles, Terry wrote:

I met Leah Treat at the 82nd ride hosted by Sen Dembrow, and considering that I am transportation chair for [only one of] almost 100 Portland neighborhoods, I was really impressed by her.

Not only did she remember me from a public speaking forum where I spoke for less than five minutes then introduced myself afterward as a “community greenway activist” right when she got into town, but when I started talking bike lanes on Burnside when the pavement needs a grind down, and greenway conductivity/MAX access in North Tabor she was interested and responsive. I e-mailed her the next week, and she spent significant time on her end getting me information, sending requests out to department heads and responding to me personally with a very long and detailed email on a Saturday morning.

She wishes “all neighborhoods were as proactive with their needs.” When she say she needs to hear voices for active transportation from the community, she is speaking the truth. The biggest thing we can do right now is speak up, and defend, a new local transportation income stream that we can use to retrofit our city for safety/bike conductivity.

I personally think the residential side will take the form of a progressive income tax. This way everyone pays, there is a low income threshold and locally we can make up for, if only by a few percent, the nearly flat state income tax and the federal tax system where the upper incomes are getting away with highway robbery….literally in this case.

Treat has publicly suggested several times that under Portland’s commissioner-based government, her ability to make policy changes depends on support from Novick and the rest of city council. And every indication is that for whatever reason, Portland’s city council (and Treat) are willing to postpone all significant changes to Portland streets — bike share, parking reform, neighborhood greenway expansion, even a few crosswalk improvements — until new money has been found.

For people who believe in improving Portland’s human-powered transportation, the question is what sort of revenue plan, if any, would deserve support. But until that question is resolved, it’s good to know that Treat is up on Saturday mornings to build connections and help solve problems where she can.

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  • Bjorn August 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Oregon’s income tax rates are not a flat tax, the top tax bracket pays nearly 10% where as the bottom bracket is only 5%. I continue to hope that if a new tax is passed that they make sure that those who commute into portland also pay into it rather than like in the case of the Selwood bridge where those who use the bridge the most didn’t contribute at all.

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    • Alan Love August 22, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      I don’t remember if this idea has been floated yet, but why not an income tax similar to TriMet. I’m self employed in the city of PDX, and pay a specific fee to TriMet every year. Employees with W2s also pay this fee AFAIK whether it’s a line item on their paycheck or the employer pays it indirectly. If you live in the city, you will most likely pay it (You live in the city so you can be close to your job, yes?), and if you live elsewhere and commute in to your job, you pay it. Even if it was a simple percentage, it would still be a far more equitable tax than the current proposal.

      Regarding Ms. Treat, the PR sounds wonderful, and it certainly seems like she has a balanced view of transportation needs. Still waiting to see what actual action ends of happening. Regardless, it’s a tough job, and I don’t envy the delicate balance she has to walk.

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      • Alan Love August 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm


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    • davemess August 22, 2014 at 3:55 pm


      the breaking point is essentially $8k!!!
      Going to go out on a limb and say a majority of people are over that sum.
      it’s actually pretty close to a flat tax.

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      • Bjorn August 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm

        8k of taxable income, real income to pass that is significantly higher, and while most people are over that level they still pay the lower rate up until that point. It is not a flat tax.

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        • davemess August 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

          It’s technically not a flat tax, but if say 80% of the population pays 9-9.9% it’s pretty close!

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    • meh August 23, 2014 at 7:41 am

      As for the bridge, politifact put that to rest with regards to use by drivers by county.

      “79 percent of traffic would start or end in Multnomah County, and 76 percent would start or end in Clackamas County.”

      The bridge is in Multnomah County, they’re the ones that let it get to the state it’s in, they get to pay for it. I’m sure the people of Woodburn want the people of Portland to cough up for infrastructure upgrades they need because everyone goes to the outlet mall.

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      • 9watts August 23, 2014 at 8:00 am

        “I’m sure the people of Woodburn want the people of Portland to cough up for infrastructure upgrades they need because everyone goes to the outlet mall.”

        Two questions for you, meh:

        (1) Who is paying for the new interchange on I-5 at Woodburn?
        – Any reason to think it isn’t us, the tax payers?
        (2) Does the Woodburn outlet mall owner pay property taxes?
        – I haven’t been able to find the answer. Perhaps someone here knows?

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      • J_R August 23, 2014 at 9:50 am

        Meh: So do you really believe that the Sellwood Bridge needed to be replaced merely because of deferred maintenance?

        Have you considered the fact that when it was built the design vehicle was a Model T that weighed 1200 pounds? Or that a big truck of that era weighed little more than a new Chevy Suburban?

        Have you considered that the science on geotechnical and seismic engineering have advanced a bit in the last 90 years?

        Are you still driving your great grandfather’s Model T and living in a house with 60-amp electric service protected by fuses? Undoubtedly, you are still riding a single-speed “safety bicycle” or maybe you’re riding a high-wheeler.

        The claim that Sellwood Bridge’s replacement is due to neglect is horsefeather and poppycock.

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        • rick August 23, 2014 at 2:23 pm

          there was a slow landslide on the west side of the Sellwood bridge.

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      • davemess August 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm

        I don’t think i’m understanding your argument (or your use of the stats). You basically just said that almost 80 of trips on the bridge are coming to or from Clackamas county (and we all know there aren’t that many jobs in Clackamas). How is this any different from the claim that Clackamas county residents make up almost 80 of bridge usage?

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        • RJ August 25, 2014 at 10:39 am

          Since you’re counting origins AND destinations, the numbers have to add up to 200%. It’s not contradictory to say that 79% of trips start or end in Multnomah County and 76% start or end in Clackamas County.

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          • davemess August 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm

            Which could still support the 80% coming to Portland from Clackamas idea. Those are just weird stats.

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  • leah treat August 22, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I am humbled and inspired. Thank you Terry D and all the activists who spend countless hours pushing a progressive transportation agenda focused on multi-modalism, livability, and safety for everyone.

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    • Adam H. August 22, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      As a fellow recent transplant from Chicago, I appreciate all the hard work you’ve put in. I just wish city council shared your enthusiasm.

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    • 9watts August 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Good to hear from you here on bikeportland, Ms. Treat. I sometimes wonder how many of the folks at PBOT read the comments here. We do talk about you quite a lot here, have high hopes for you, wish you/us well.

      But so far, I’ve got to say, things seem decidedly mixed.

      Vision Zero – that sure got our attention; can you tell us what steps you’ve taken in that direction, hope to take?
      Speed Enforcement – you mentioned this as a priority in your recent City Club speech*. Fantastic! Anything to report on how that is coming along?
      LOS – You mentioned the need to deemphasize it when it comes to prioritizing safety. Hurrah! How is that going?

      Street Fee – lots of banter about it here on bikeportland. This single topic has taken up a huge amount of time and energy here, not to mention at PBOT, I’m sure. I’d be curious to hear your response to some of the questions about and criticisms of it folks here on bikeportland have, and some of the counter-proposals. If we’re hoping to become more multimodal, one way to kill at least five birds with one stone would be a stiff hike in the local gas tax:

      * reduce driving, which itself has about three dozen salutary side effects;
      * nudge some folks over the edge who are considering chucking their car;
      * raise way more money than any Street Fee proposal;
      * conform to our Climate Action Plan goals;
      * no extra overhead required;
      * oh, and it works the world over.
      To my knowledge, the much ballyhooed Street Fee is not expected to achieve a single one of those goals.

      Removing onstreet car parking on 28th – That was a big disappointment, frankly. A lot of us felt like the whole thing was a setup; a kick in the gut to us who don’t drive; who bike everywhere. Certainly not anything to write home about. The folks at bikeportland certainly did a bangup job reporting on all sides of that issue as well. I learned a ton. Any thoughts about that whole debacle?


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      • Oregon Mamcita August 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm

        9 Watts, if Portland’s gas tax is too high people will fill up in Beaverton, Gresham etc. I agree that it is okay to raise the gas tax, it’s just that you
        could make things worse if you encourage people to buy gas in Clackistan.
        The gas tax increase needs to be statewide.

        If we want to soak some out-of-towners who wreck our streets we need to have a fee for every big truck/dozer etc. you bring to a Portland work site.
        The developers will either pay up or stay away. Win win.

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        • 9watts August 24, 2014 at 6:15 pm

          “9 Watts, if Portland’s gas tax is too high people will fill up in Beaverton, Gresham etc.”

          That is hardly the whole story, Mam(a)cita. Policy isn’t only about the first order effect. Let’s say we got our act together and passed a local, indexed, worth-its-name, gas tax here in Portland/Multnomah Co. We start raising real money; some of our problems start to seem more manageable. People are driving less. Our infrastructure acquires a shine it hasn’t had in a generation. Why, would you think, that the best Gresham or Beaverton could come up with is to sit on their hands? Why wouldn’t they also want a piece of the pie? Look at Hales – the best he could come up with for why we should have a street fee is that other municipalities already had one. I’m disappointed that folks are so willing to stop at the first effect they can think of: spillover. With that attitude we’ll never tackle much less solve any of our problems.

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    • Terry D August 22, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      You are welcome, Leah. You impressed me, which considering I have been cavorting with politico’s so to speak since my early activist days in Madison in the early 90’s….I felt you deserved the complement.

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  • J_R August 22, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    The best way to have a progressive transportation agenda is for those who put the greatest demand on the system pay their fair share or a bit more. That means a GAS TAX. Those who drive more pay more. Those who drive inefficient gas hogs pay more.

    A local option gas tax also means that those who buy gas in the locality, even occasionally, pay a portion of the bill.

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  • Terry D August 22, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Thank you for the comment complement!….I did say “Nearly flat state income tax”…a few very poor pay less, and a few very rich pay a percent or two more.

    We need a LONG term fix, that is why the gas tax is a dinosaur (as I have said before 9watts. 😉 The number of electric cars is increasing rapidity and new breakthroughs in hydrogen fuel cell technology are right around the corner. With the amount of political lift it will require to pas ANY tax increase we need to push for something that will work for a GENERATION at least.

    My first choice would be a carbon tax, but even in “Green Portland” this does not seem to have majority support. Hence, why I think a Portland Income tax… which will pass if it is truly progressive ..and let us wrap that regressive art’s tax into it, pretty please?

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    • 9watts August 22, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      “We need a LONG term fix, that is why the gas tax is a dinosaur (as I have said before 9watts. 😉
      I think you’ve got it backwards. That stinky black stuff that comes out of the ground may include a few bits of highly compressed dinosaurs. The *tax* meant to discourage its use dates only back less than a century.

      “The number of electric cars is increasing rapidity and new breakthroughs in hydrogen fuel cell technology are right around the corner.”

      Rapidly? Around the corner?
      0.28% of new vehicles sold in US are electric*; I’m having trouble finding any statistics on hydrogen vehicles, probably because there aren’t any sold here in any quantity.
      Electricity is made by burning fossil fuels, and hydrogen is still derived from fossil fuels. I’m not sure why you keep bringing this up. There’s nothing new here that could help us with our transportation funding shortfall.

      “With the amount of political lift it will require to pas ANY tax increase we need to push for something that will work for a GENERATION at least.”

      These are not problems any of the countries I’ve lived in or that we here commonly look up to when it comes to transportation priorities seem concerned with. They just raise their gas tax and get back to work figuring out how to spend the billions they raise. We just need to get past this foolish impasse, this hangup we’ve developed around the gas tax.


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      • Terry D August 22, 2014 at 10:40 pm

        As I said I am ALL FOR a Carbon Tax, starts at 25 a ton and increases annually. Sweden instituted one in the early 90’s and they are now paying over $120 a ton. They are doing great. Their “gas tax” as you call it is actually mostly a carbon tax. Oregon will probably pass an increase in the gas tax indexed to inflation this session IF Portland also kicks in their own share in whatever way. Willamette valley politics…

        We need to STOP BURNING fossil fuels NOT just gasoline. This means natural gas, butane, coal or any other. The gas tax only targets a certain % of the carbon in the economy. If Portland raises it to the extreme you are asking, everyone on the edges…and ALL the Vancouverites that work here….will just fill up at home. Once a system wide carbon tax…based minimally on the state level, preferably federally, is instituted then gasoline will become expensive and electric cars will take off. They are very easy to maintain since there is little wear and tear, hence they last a long time. I am not saying we should not institute a local option gas tax, we should…but there is an economic price point where if you raise it any higher than people will just buy outside the city limit. Hence, we can not raise enough from it.

        More likely self driving taxi’s will come first since we have federal gridlock, and again your gas tax will only hit a small percentage of the carbon…or roadway users… in the economy. Hence a city income tax, like Chicago or New York or..name a successful city….is the most politically feasible, progressive and fair option since those who work here and commute from Clackamas or Vancouver will also pay.

        Keep in mind, that this combined with the business side only gets at HALF of the added income we need. The other half will have to come from parking meters and tolling (probably the Sellwood first I hope…).

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        • 9watts August 24, 2014 at 6:59 am

          How do you figure we’ll discover the gumption to pass a carbon tax if our elected officials are so scared of the (familiar) gas tax? Let’s walk before we run.

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          • Terry D August 24, 2014 at 10:32 am

            By the time the federal governmental gridlock is broken (this has happened multiple times in history…I.E. 1920’s (election 1932), 1890’s (1900), 1850’s (1860)…then tax reform will be high on the agenda. Federal “Tax reformers” have been talking about a federal consumption Tax for a long time, this will come as a carbon tax. It could take a decade or more, but it will happen as our climate becomes increasingly more unstable.

            Americans though do not do anything until it is critical. Hence why Portland did not pass the street fee that last three times it was proposed….causing the financial situation we are in. Until the feds get it together, then we have to make up the difference. This is happening locally across the nation. Hence, we need a PROGRESSIVE alternative. The city income tax is the best we can do right now that will PASS the Portland Populace.

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  • Christopher Sanderson August 22, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    How then do we tax all the people who drive in from Vancouver, Gresham, Beavertron, Hillsboro, Calackistan, and other outlying areas? Do you mean to tell me that my business activities on a cargo bike have as much impact as Joe Contractor driving over the river from Vancouver in a giant, black Dodge Ram 2500 tank machine of a truck (who of course is taking advantage of several tax breaks!), and takes his paycheck back to Washington with him? I say phooey to the street fee! Gas tax that man… Hell, make him pay a toll to cross that bridge!

    All that said… Yay Leah Treat!

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  • meh August 23, 2014 at 7:36 am

    If you are referring to those from Clark county, they do pay Oregon income tax and then go home and use their local services like schools.

    Oregon has been on the winning side of this equation all along.

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    • J_R August 23, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      While the Clark County residents don’t directly benefit from schools and social service, which are the big recipients of state income tax, they do benefit from LOTS of services provided by the state, cities, and counties during the 40 to 60 hours they spend in Oregon each week: police and emergency services (most of which is paid by local property tax), work place and building safety programs, food and restaurant inspections, roads, transit, etc. So, they actually are benefiting. Washingtonians may be slightly overpaying to the state, but they are paying very little to the local agencies that provide important services.

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  • John R August 25, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Funny how what started as a huge compliment to Director Treat turned into a discussion about taxes, money, and funding. Sad if this is what defines her tenure.

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