Hardesty weighs in on Rose Quarter project and traffic enforcement concerns

Posted by on May 20th, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Commissioner Hardesty at the Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday.

One week after her comments at the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee created a stir of debate in advocacy circles, Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty dropped into the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC). Like its cycling counterpart, the PAC is a group of volunteers who advise the Portland Bureau of Transportation on projects and policies.

At their meeting Tuesday night, the commissioner answered a range of questions from committee members and the public. Her answers revealed where Hardesty stands on key issues including the I-5 Rose Quarter project, the recent dissolution of the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division, and more.

One committee member asked Hardesty, “What is your plan to reimagine traffic enforcement and how will you use the disbandment of the traffic enforcement unit as an opportunity to build something in its place?”

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“We have to reimagine what community safety looks like,” Hardesty replied. “And safety looks different to different people.” She then claimed the PPB was playing politics with their narrative about traffic enforcement. “The disbanding of the traffic division was more a tactic, than a reality. Every police officer is a traffic cop. Every police officer has the ability to write tickets for for breaking traffic law… The reality is that police can and do [enforce traffic law]… So I disagree that we have less people with the ability to enforce traffic. The question is, why are they not doing it?”

“I disagree we have less people with the ability to enforce traffic. The question is, why are they not doing it?”

When asked about the potential of a new class of unarmed civil servants to replace traffic officers, Hardesty said she’s actively working on the issue. The current city budget includes funding for 26 additional Public Safety Support Specialists (PS3s), but Hardesty is skeptical about how they’re being used. “What they’re doing is administrative work. Why don’t we just hire administrative people to do the administrative work rather than pretending that we are creating a non-police presence, when in fact what we’re doing is creating police secretaries that have no interaction at all with the public.”

To further push on this issue, Hardesty was able to get an amendment into the budget that will assess the day-to-day responsibilities of PS3s. “I’m concerned about adding people into a system that really is dysfunctional at the moment.” She added that she has no problem with police in general. “I think we just need to make sure that police are focused on the work that they are required to do, like solve crime. And violating traffic law is a crime, and that’s what their job is so expect them to actually provide tickets and hold people accountable for traffic infractions, with or without a traffic division.”

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Since taking over PBOT in late December, Hardesty has been a strong critic of ODOT’s work on the I-5 Rose Quarter project. In a February interview with BikePortland she said she was against widening the freeway and wants congestion pricing instead.

In the three months since, ODOT has failed to win her over.

Asked about the project at the PAC meeting, Hardesty said, “ODOT is not a good partner, they don’t play well with their community.” Despite being in communication with ODOT, Hardesty said she’s learned more about the project from media reports than from ODOT staff. She has also met with PBOT staff and leaders of Albina Vision, the nonprofit that’s working to rebuild the Rose Quarter as a residential and cultural hub for Black Portlanders.

“The honest answer is I just don’t know where I am yet. What I know is that it’s a problem that has to be fixed, and I’m trying to figure out a path to do that.”
— Hardesty on the I-5 Rose Quarter project

Hardesty has yet to meet with Portland Public Schools, whose board members have become increasingly distrustful of ODOT. “When I talked to ODOT, ODOT says, ‘Portland Public Schools is fine,'” Hardesty told the PAC. “Well PPS is not going to have kids breathing in the exhaust that’s going to come from that project. Any project that assumes that middle school kids will be inside all day and therefore the toxic nature of the project won’t matter, are fooling themselves.”

It’s clear Hardesty doesn’t trust ODOT (which puts her in an ever-growing majority of Portland-area elected officials and community leaders). She said she wants to “work my way back” and rejoin the I-5 Rose Quarter committee (that her predecessor Chloe Eudaly walked away from), but only if ODOT meets a set of “very specific demands” her office will share in a letter to the agency sometime in the next few weeks.

These demands, Hardesty said, “Will be the only vehicle to get me back to that table.” As for what those demands will be, Hardesty only said, “It’s really about making sure they are undoing the community harm that they did in the past, that they actually make sure that they are fixing the problem and not actually exacerbating the problem.”

When I asked Hardesty’s Policy Director Derek Bradley for an outline of the letter yesterday, he said, “Given the rapidly changing landscape of the conversation around the Rose Quarter, I’m not sure when the letter will be completed as we’re considering a number of factors that have recently changed.” I haven’t learned what those factors are.

Hardesty is clearly weighing her options around this controversial project very carefully. At the end of her response Tuesday she said, “I guess the honest answer is I just don’t know where I am yet. What I know is that it’s a problem that has to be fixed, and I’m trying to figure out a path to do that.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Simone Rivera
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Simone Rivera

“….Every police officer has the ability to write tickets for for breaking traffic law… The reality is that police can and do [enforce traffic law]… So I disagree that we have less people with the ability to enforce traffic. The question is, why are they not doing it?”….”

That is just not true and she knows it. Patrol officers are so busy “putting out fires” they don’t have time (nor as much expertise) as dedicated traffic officers in enforcing our forgotten traffic laws. Once again she is attempting to castigate law enforcement by implying patrol officers are not doing their jobs.

Hardesty is just trying to obfuscate the damaging effects of her efforts to cut police funding.

squareman
Subscriber

And does she want just any PPD officer pulling people over? I thought that was where much of the trouble with PPD starts – too many pretextual stops based on race.

Steve Scarich
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Steve Scarich

You’re correct. Either she is lying (most likely) or she has no understanding of what a patrol officer does on an hourly/daily basis. Their job #1 is Respond to 911 calls! You cannot do that well if you are standing on the side of the road, writing a ticket. That said, every cop should pull over a dangerous/drunk driver regardless of what they are doing.

George
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George

Hardesty doing politician things. Wish we had an true transportation advocate in her place, but I guess a true transportation advocate would never get elected in the first place. Sigh.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

And if “a true transportation advocate” did win, they would probably get appointed to run the water department, so why bother?

Chris I
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Chris I

“And safety looks different to different people.”

It would seem so. Many in this city don’t seem to think traffic safety is an issue. They blame pedestrians for getting hit, regardless of driver speed or behavior. Some people in the city clearly have different priorities.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Many motorists feel entitled; look at the bigger picture and don’t be surprised by this!(?) ‘entitled’ cyclists is just double-speak for them.

squareman
Subscriber

Those that wield it never understand the irony of how they use “entitled” in such situations. For one WNBR I had, “Yes, I’m literally entitled to use the road!” painted on my back and backside.

Nicholas Papadakis
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Nicholas Papadakis

I’m assuming Jonathan will censor this because he protects Hardesty as apparently he doesn’t feel she should be criticized. But here goes.

“…..Every police officer has the ability to write tickets for for breaking traffic law… The reality is that police can and do [enforce traffic law]… So I disagree that we have less people with the ability to enforce traffic. The question is, why are they not doing it?”

“I disagree we have less people with the ability to enforce traffic. The question is, why are they not doing it?”…..”

Hardesty is once again doing a disservice to pedestrians and bicyclists in the city. She is sending up a smokescreen of blame to cover up the negative impacts of the police defunding that she orchestrated. We now have no dedicated traffic officers and limited to nonexistent enforcement of traffic laws. Patrol officers are so overworked they do not have the time or the specialized expertise that dedicated traffic officers would have. It’s time to bring back enforcement to keep pedestrians and bicyclist safe.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

“And violating traffic law is a crime…”

Nope.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Clearly that wasn’t precisely worded. But some traffic violations are criminal infractions (reckless, criminal driving while suspended, failure to perform duties…).

Edit: I see below you’re distinguishing between “traffic law” and other rules of the road. I’m not sure that’s an accurate distinction, but I understand your point.

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

Install traffic cams everywhere. You get a bill for speeding in the mail. And make those fines high enough to pay for it (plus the rest of the police budget).

Fuzzy Blue Line
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Fuzzy Blue Line

Portland needs legislative authority from the Oregon Legislature to expand their photo radar camera installations beyond the current criteria which is limited to high crash corridors or photo red light cameras that can also be used for speed enforcement. Several bills in the 2021 session have already died including expanding Portland’s authority to install more cameras or allowing law enforcement staff other than sworn police officers to issue photo radar citations.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Indeed. And remind me, which party controls the Legislature?

soren
Guest
soren

Also, people who have habitually voted for the so-called “democratic” party that has funded generations of CARnage and ecosystem desolation should not complain too much about the Departments and Bureaus they have electorally supported.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

FACT: All the traffic laws that impact road safety (eg, speeding, running red lights, etc) can be enforced more fairly and less expensively without police officers.

So, all this is politics. I don’t see anyone who even knows how to do what’s best for Portland, much less anyone actually interested in making it happen.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Are you going to sign up for the job where you, as an unarmed civil servant, get to pull over someone at 10pm on a Saturday night for suspected DUII? How about the group of 20-something guys street racing?

Certain traffic enforcement actions require armed police, because so many American criminals are armed. This isn’t London.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

I said “traffic” laws and all the situations you describe implicate criminal laws. I guess Hardesty isn’t the only person with a strong opinion on the matter who’s lacking understanding of this elementary distinction critical to the discussion.

And thanks for letting me know Portland isn’t London. That was a very helpful piece of information. My only response would be that it’s a shame Jonathan’s comment policy didn’t censor it.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Are you going to sign up for the job where you, a civil servant armed with a tazer and a pistol, get to confront someone at 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon? So many Americans have assault rifles and tactical gear.

Arming every civil servant for the most extreme scenario is nonsensical. This is the same mentality that arms specialized police units with military surplus gear and then, in an effort to actually use them, sends them to “monitor” every protest. Unarmed civil servants can be part of the solution; they obviously don’t have to be the only people enforcing road safety.

bbcc
Guest
bbcc

I’m disappointed to see how thoroughly vilified Commissioner Hardesty has become among the BP readership. I think she’s right, and the commenters blaming her push to “defund” the police (which was just a 3% budget cut, returning the bureau to funding levels of a few years ago) are buying into the PPB’s tactic to cut popular programs as a means to gain popular support for future funding increases.

The argument she’s making — which I totally buy — is that the PPB has the manpower to enforce traffic laws right now, but choose not to. This is a means of holding us hostage to their will. By no means does the PPB seem to be efficiently allocating its human capital to the point that it needs additional funding to enforce traffic laws. It simply prioritizes other things, many of which are not “putting out fires”. Consider reports of officers hanging out at Starbucks for hours to deliberately frustrate callers, or their overwrought response to welfare checks, which recently drew 8 armed officers to the scene of 2 unconscious men in a car, where they waited at a distance until a neighbor forced them to act. These are not the workings of an efficient Bureau that needs increased staffing to do the job we ask of it. They need to use their officers more efficiently, and prioritize enforcing the laws that the community cares about. We care about traffic laws. We should focus on demanding they enforce those laws, not disparaging 1 of 4 commissioners who voted for a small reduction in their budget.

Rob Godell
Guest
Rob Godell

bbcc,
I don’t think Hardesty is being vilified, just criticized. You probably have noticed more of this on the Bike Portland comments section and I suspect you will see more and more as Democratic, Biden loving, Trump hating Portlanders (like me!) are getting beyond wary of the policies being promulgated by the city of Portland and its leaders which are negatively impacting livability for everyone. Things such as lack of traffic enforcement, unsafe and unclear bike paths, trash everywhere, lack of maintenance of bike lanes, blocked sidewalks, inability to control street racing, slow 911 response times and lack of progress on safely and humanely housing the homeless in the City of Roses. Sorry to say but you’re probably going to have to get used to more criticism of Hardesty and other City Council members.

robw
Guest
robw

Traffic enforcement has many dimensions. The scale of the problem: speeding, not seeing bikes and peds, failure to observe signals, and ignoring controls is beyond the capacity of the police.

Perhaps a Sidewalk Labs could have detected problem areas to patrol. The video systems which monitor intersections will gradually be upgraded with image processing that can detect bad driver behavior.

If the state wanted to be radical, it would require mobile device technology to set car insurance rates, and, of course, eventually fine drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians for bad behavior!

We have a transition period until self-piloting cars make an impact.

Meanwhile we are waiting for those physically separated, safer by design, bike boulevards.

Relevant to your topic: https://komonews.com/news/local/seattle-inspector-general-urges-elimination-of-routine-traffic-stops-by-police

joan
Subscriber

Hardesty’s comment about policing sounds a bit like Jonathan’s take on the bike theft cops: PPB chooses where to allocate resources.