The Leah Treat era at the Portland Bureau of Transportation is over.
The PBOT director hired in June 2013 announced today that she has taken a job with Nelson\Nygaard, a California-based transportation consultancy. Treat will be the managing director of the firm’s 130 employees. Nygaard is a frequent contractor with the City of Portland, working on a range of projects including the Foster Road Streetscape Plan.
In a statement about the hire on their website, Nelson\Nygaard’s current managing director Paul Jewel said, “We have found in her, hands-down, the most qualified, most capable, and most dynamic leader to take our firm to the next level—and to help deliver to our clients the most progressive transportation solutions in the world.”
For her part, Treat said, “My experiences and broad exposure to urban politics will help both Nelson\Nygaard and the firm’s clients achieve their goals of safe, smart, and equitable transportation.”
“Leah’s talent, combined with her passion and enthusiasm for her work, make her indispensable to the community she serves,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler added. “The citizens of the City of Portland —myself included — are fortunate to have benefited from her leadership over the past five years. She has helped our city to become the global exemplar of urban mobility and the gold standard for transportation innovation.”
Treat has many accomplishments to point to when looking back on her tenure. Chief among them are placing Vision Zero atop the city’s transportation priority list and sealing a deal with Nike to launch a Portland bike share system.
It’s worth remembering that when Leah Treat first started to talk about Vision Zero in early 2014, her previous boss, Commissioner of Transportation Steve Novick, had never even heard of the phrase. 15 months later it was Novick who led the charge as Portland City Council voted unanimously to make Vision Zero an official city policy.
The announcement of Biketown was likely the high point of her career with PBOT. Treat oversaw a $10 million contract with Nike and was able to launch a world-class system after years of stops-and-starts. To date, Biketown has been a very successful program by many measures. Most importantly, it has avoided major controversies and scandals.
Treat was a breath of fresh air when it came to progressive transportation policy. She was a big believer in parking reform (even appearing in a launch video for PBOT’s new parking payment app with a cat rapper), she ferried PBOT’s autonomous vehicle policy across the finish line, and she set a standard for building protected bike lanes by requiring them (or a good argument against them) on all new developments.
Treat was also relentless in her pursuit of lower speeds, doing everything from dusting off a little-used state ordinance to establish an “emergency” speed reduction on a major arterial, to helping pass speed camera legislation and installing several of them on high crash corridors around town.
In one of her last major public appearances, a Business for a Better Portland event back in January, Treat urged the public to step up and support transportation reform.
“At the City of Portland, we have so many amazing projects lined up. So many things that we can deliver. We have tons of stuff we want to do,” she said. “What we need is support from the business community, from Portlanders everywhere, to help our council make some really hard decisions… If you showed up in front of council your voice will be 100 times more important than mine over the course of the year. So show up!”
Treat leaves PBOT at a time when the agency has significant funding to deliver projects for the first time in many decades thanks to a local gas tax increase and new funding passed by the Oregon Legislature last year. At the April Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, she acknowledged the challenges that come with that. “We are having capacity issues both internally and externally,” she shared. “We are having a hard time hiring engineers because the private market is snatching them up.”
Treat is set to begin her new job on August 1st. No word yet on the search for her replacement.
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