City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has been given a new assignment by Mayor Ted Wheeler: the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Wheeler announced the bureau assignments via executive order this morning.
Saltzman has had his council seat since 1999 — the longest of any other member — and this is his first time having control of PBOT. The bureau was previously led by Steve Novick, who lost his re-election bid to Chloe Eudaly in November. In Portland’s form of government, each commissioner (and the Mayor) are given oversight of city bureaus. They then advocate for policies and funding plans that are advantageous to their bureaus.
Also as commissioner of PBOT Saltzman will represent the City of Portland on Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, a body made up of elected officials that sets transportation policy and priorities for the entire region.
With PBOT in his portfolio, Saltzman can now guide one of the city’s largest bureaus and one that has a vast impact on people’s everyday lives. It’s unclear where exactly Saltzman stands on major transportation policies since he hasn’t played a pivotal role on the topic for many years.
A quick look at the BikePortland archives however does give us some clues.
From a cycling and transportation reform perspective, the most interesting thing about this assignment has nothing to do with Saltzman. The commissioner lives in the Hillsdale neighborhood of southwest Portland and has driven his car into work for many years (his office didn’t comment when we asked for specifics in 2014). However, his long-time chief of staff, Brendan Finn, is a daily bike rider. When Finn ran for a council set in 2008 we shared some of his bike-friendly bona fides. (We most recently saw Finn on a bike at a ride hosted by Mayor Hales to drum up support for a reconfiguration of Naito Parkway.)
Saltzman popped up on BikePortland again in 2008 when he opposed Adams and other members of Council on a proposal to support a plan for the controversial Columbia River Crossing highway widening mega-project.
The biggest bike-related headlines Saltzman has made in the past decade or so was when he made a surprising pitch for bike infrastructure funding in 2010. Just before council was set to vote on an unfunded Portland Bike Plan for 2030, Saltzman walked into the monthly meeting of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (with Finn at his side) and laid out a proposal that would raise up to $1 million per year for projects listed in the plan. The proposal had support from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, but it caught other council members off-guard (and the BAC itself, which ultimately opposed it) and ultimately failed.
In 2012 Saltzman infamously opposed city funding for Sunday Parkways. He argued (over the objections of the mayor and other council members) that the popular open street event is not an essential, core function of PBOT. “It’s a great event and I love it,” he said, “But it’s not as essential to me as bike safety improvements or paving roads… The point is, we need more and safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists and a dollar spent there is more important to me that Sunday Parkways.”
Last month in a conversation at council about PBOT’s Vision Zero Action Plan, Saltzman said he believes we need more — and stronger — enforcement of traffic laws. “I believe in hardcore enforcement,” he said, before voting yes on the action plan, “We’ve become complacement and we are desensitized to the fact that people have 34 prior violations yet we still support people’s right to drive because they ‘have to get to work’… We can’t afford to do that… I think we need strong enforcement and more overtime patrols.”
Saltzman takes over a transportation bureau that is on a growth curve thanks to the gas tax increase passed by voters in May. The Fix Our Streets program is expected to raise $64 million for infrastructure projects over the next four years.
The new bureau assignments where part of a shake-up by Mayor Wheeler. He took the Office of Neighborhood Involvement away from Commissioner Amanda Fritz and gave it to Chloe Eudaly. Eudaly has also been given the Bureau of Development Services. Wheeler says he’ll re-assess bureau assignments and consider changes in the spring. Read more on the bureau assignments in the Willamette Week and read Wheeler’s executive order here (via Oregon Public Broadcasting).
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org