Next month will be the one-year anniversary of City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty being in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. In that time she’s gone from leading a bureau she had almost no experience with (the fact that Mayor Ted Wheeler assigned it to her was even seen by some as a punishment), to referring to herself in this interview as “the big dog” in city transportation.
It took a year for her and I to sit down together and I’m excited to finally share this interview with you.
Jonathan Maus: Why are more people choosing to drive instead of choosing to bike?
Jo Ann Hardesty: Because honestly, we don’t charge people for the use of our roads with automobiles. People get a free ride and that free ride is going to end relatively soon. And that’s the reality.
We spent over an hour in her City Hall office on Thursday (12/2) discussing a wide range of issues. We talked about everything from automated enforcement cameras (she supports them but said PBOT might have to fire the current vendor for delays), to the decline of biking in Portland (which she attributes to driving being way too cheap), her position on ODOT’s freeway expansion projects in Portland, the role of police in transportation safety (she is “appalled” at their press conference last week), her feelings about a new “civilian traffic force”, what she considers an ideal street design, and much more.
You can view the full transcript here or scroll through the PDF below.
[pdf-embedder url=”https://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/DRAFTpod-hardesty.pdf” title=”Hardesty-Transcript”]
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“This particular city council has four people who are elected by the people in the city of Portland, grassroots, small donor campaigns”
Critical hit on Ted Wheeler, whew.
By and large I loved what Hardesty was saying throughout this interview, but I disagree that Montavilla is a “perfect neighborhood,” at least w/r/t transportation. It’s solid for that one ~8 block stretch of Stark, but it’s pretty bleak outside of that. There’s no decent north-south bike route (yet), the door zone bike lane on Stark ends suddenly at 75th, and the Burnside lane is harrowing, with drivers going 40+ and a super-sketchy bend after 74th. The 15 bus line lets you off at 80th, which lacks a marked crosswalk — most people scramble across Washington to get to the commercial drag. E Burnside, Stark, and Washington are all top-30 high crash streets. Not an ideal neighborhood imo.
I thought Jonathan’s last question, about what transportation improvements Hardesty would make to her neighborhood, what an ideal street design would look like, was one of the most revealing questions in the interview.
She didn’t really answer it, except to mention the coffee shop and the space w Sunday concerts. That told me a lot. Anybody on this thread could run with that question, you’d have to be shut up.
To me, her response said that, although she has gotten up to speed quickly with transportation issues (as presented by PBOT), she has not made the subject her own, she’s not thinking creatively about it, or showing vision.
We need charter reform.
Your analysis is that the leader of PBOT lacks creativity and vision. Charter reform won’t fix that.
What charter reform would do would be to remove the bureau from one specific commissioner’s portfolio. It would open opinions about the issues up to the full council early in the process.
I’d like to see charter reform increase the size of the council, and give it geographic representation. I think all that might improve governance, and also stop the merry-go-round of a bureau having to dance with an arbitrary new partner/boss every four years.
If the new charter finds a way to make bureaus answer more directly to the public, I’ll support it. The proposals I’ve heard would seem to insulate it more, which I think would be a mistake. I agree that the current system is not serving us well, but that doesn’t mean that change can’t make it worse.
Right now, I get to vote for/against a specific commissioner that is personally responsible for a bureau. With a larger district-based council and city manager, I get to vote for one commissioner who is one voice among many (10?) vying for the ear of a manager who may or may not be doing what I want with PBOT (and who may or may not stick around longer than a commissioner — look how fast we go through police chiefs, for example). How does that make the bureau better reflect my priorities?
“PBOT’s own bike coordinator who’d been here for 30 years, he pinned a lot of the sort of blame for the flatlining of bike usage on what he calls a hidden bicycle network that Portland has put so much focus on side streets and neighborhood greenways.”
Thanks for doing the interview and bringing Geller up Jonathan. While you got close, I wish you had also asked why there is no plan for a separated bike network (assuming the 2030 bike plan is dead). Hardesty understands that one of the biggest reasons for the downward trend in modal share is related to the cost/convenience of driving.
But she hasn’t exhibited much understanding of how PBOT has invested almost entirely in greenways. Hence Portland’s current stagnation/decline in bike modal share. Hardesty appears to get her transportation information almost solely from PBOT, whose ideology is sort of baked into its priorities and has no plan/intention of building a separated network. This is odd, because, for example, it is now commonly agreed upon in places such as New York that filling in the gaps in a separated network takes priority. It is puzzling that the most important way of increasing bike modal share often is not even a topic in Portland.
I hear you about asking more detailed and specific follow up questions. I’ve thought a lot about that and IMO it’s pretty tricky to interview her! I didn’t want to ask detailed policy questions because I’ve noticed that she will often just answer with a general response or change the subject to something she already has in mind. I had so much I wanted to get to in this interview and only limited time to get to it all, so I tended to go for more depth on issues I know she could speak in more detail about (like policing and traffic violence/public safety stuff).
Also, this isn’t the last time I’ll be able to ask questions!
I have a totally unrelated ‘process’ question. The criticism of your interview technique is one that I have of many interviewers. why didn’t he/she ask this follow-up question? Why do you let them just go back to bullet points and meaningless generalizations? I’ve always wondered if journalists have to tip-toe a lot, and not ask the questions they really want to ask, because they fear (perhaps rightly) that the subject will freeze them out it the future?
That’s a great criticism Steve. It’s something I’ve asked myself and thought about a lot. It really is contextual to me. In some situations I feel like follow-ups are necessary and important and in others I don’t. That can have to do with a lot of factors. I plan to write a separate post of my takeaways and thoughts about this interview so stay tuned and I’ll address this question in greater detail there
This increasing antipathy to neighborhood greenways shows how cycling advocacy has jumped the shark. Somehow in Portland neighborhood greenways caused the cratering of transportation mode share while in Germany very similar infrastructure supports ~20% mode share.
IMO, much of this antipathy is a result of urbanist cognitive dissonance and the transference of this angst onto neighborhood greenways. As the inner SE has seen increased density* proponents of trickle down capitalism simply can’t fathom why there are so many luxury SUVs on our roads. After all, market urbanist dogma argues that every new luxury condo spontaneously generates 2 new transportation cyclists.
*Mostly on corridors — an exclusionary/classist/racist policy creatted by urbanists.
I don’t think the greenways “caused” the cratering ok bike mode share, but I think the PBOT operates is to blame. If greenways are well-maintained, have strong connections to other bike infrastructure and destinations, have good signage and lighting, provide direct routes, provide safe and fast crossing of arterial roads, and include robust diversion, they are amazing. Similarly a complete network of separated bike infrastructure that is safe and direct and well-connected would be great. Also, some combination of high-quality greenways and separated bike routes would be great. Unfortunately, PBOT does does neither. PBOT focuses on creating lineal feet of greenways, bike lanes, separated bike paths, etc. Not very useful! We need a true bike network (that includes greenways) that is direct (not meandering), well-connected with no sketchy gaps, well-signed, well lit and well-maintained, interconnected (so one can get anywhere). I strongly belive that our mode share is suffering because our bike “network” is nothing like a network- it is a collection isolated segments that do not connect to each other or to meaningful destinations. The next time Roger Geller brags about how many miles of protected bike lanes we have, he should be fired on the spot!
This would likely be easier if there were not so much trashing of neighborhood greenways in PDX advocacy circles. It was disappointing to see that Roger Geller has jumped on the greenways are bad bandwagon.
I vehemently disagree. I think what’s lacking in Portland is an anti-SUV/truck and anti-traffic violence political movement. Paris is currently being transformed because this type of revolutionary political movement gained power. And as Bruno et al argue it was not new infrastructure that led to the resurgence of cycling in the Netherlands but rather a violent and uncompromising anti-car and anti-carnage political movement:
As far as I can tell this kind of revolutionary transportation politics is dead in Portland and, even worse, has been replaced by insipid Fordist urbanism that seeks to “price” parking, “price” driving, and to “enforce” the rules.
I’m in Paris right now and have been blown away by the transformation in driving behavior. Drivers are actually stopping for me while I’m a good 10 ft away from the curb cut. Waving me through, making eye contact. Nothing like the raw aggression and game of chicken one runs into in Portland. Things are civil.
My husband has a 40 minute bike commute to work, his biggest conflict has been with motorcyclists going the direction of car traffic in the counter-flow bike lanes.
I guess I agree with you, Soren. We, as a City, have really embraced car culture, and car culture right now is bloated and scary. New cars are so massive! I have advocated to the State for years to increase registration rates based on weight/size/length- the bigger, the more you pay. There are so many people driving around in Bro-dozers, not to mention the SUV has become the standard family “car”. So yes, smaller cars, few cars and new culture is imperative, but it is not PBOT’s job. What PBOT CAN do, however, is focus on fixing gaps in our bike network, developing greenways to function as safe routes (safe surfaces, diversion, lighting, signs, prioritize safe and direct bike connections between segments of bike infrastructure (greenway, painted lanes, PBLS, MUPs, etc- they are disjointed!).
I n short, I agree with you, but I think the State and our society as a whole needs to change driving culture, while PBOT is uniquely equipped to work on the bike network in Portland
Is this what you want for Portland? After the violence, what then?
Are all “Fordist” policy ideas distractions from revolutionary praxis? Do you support any, regardless?
After the Portland-style “Stop de kindermoord” protests, I would expect the absolute horror of higher transit and cycling mode share.
I am pragmatic enough to admit that it’s probably too late to address ongoing ecocide without some degree of regulated Fordism. However, I think the goal of any regulation should be to phase out Fordism’s negative externalities (e.g. removal of parking in urban centers instead of pricing it; mandates instead of “markets”).
I appreciate Hardesty’s goals and ethos, but the idea of getting rid of the officer requirement on photo radar tickets is problematic. I’m paraphrasing, but she says, “We don’t need armed officers reviewing and issuing photo radar tickets so there’s a bill to get rid of that requirement that it be an officer. . . ”
I agree with her so much but she gets the wrong ‘solution.’ Yes, we don’t need armed officers doing most of the things we ask police to do. However, there’s a lot of reason to make sure that people who are doing basic ‘law enforcement’ tasks like issuing tickets and legal summons to court are BPSST certified. We need that aspect of State oversight for people who are going to be issuing tickets.
Instead of taking it away from the police and giving it to ‘regular’ civilians (I guess somebody at PBOT?) this is the perfect moment to create a new category of “unarmed police.” Definitely do not need guns to give out traffic tickets, or to go take a report, etc, etc. But such people should still be BPSST certified.
I welcome the creation of a special traffic enforcement officer who would be somewhere between parking enforcement and the traffic division. They could be paid less since they wouldn’t really be in harms way, and they could focus their education on the traffic codes, vision zero, etc. We all know the problems with the current traffic cops and their skewed understanding of traffic laws…
“a lot of reason…”
Can you list those reasons? You just say “they should be certified” a couple times.
What are you saying we’re gaining through that, and couldn’t we acheive those gains another, much more affordable way?
And DPSST doesn’t have a stellar record of actually holding anyone accountable. see the recent audit
Does Hardesty imagine that the cops sitting at their computer screens reviewing photos are carrying a weapon? And even if they were, is that somehow harmful?
“Current Oregon law requires that every citation issued by a fixed speed camera must be reviewed by a sworn police officer.”
Sworn police officers have arresting powers and among other things are trained to carry a gun.
“Trained to carry a gun” is not the same as armed.
Sure, and I don’t think we’ll agree here, but I understood what she meant. “Armed officer” is a simple way to say “sworn officer”.
It’s not any harder to say: “We don’t need sworn officers reviewing and issuing photo radar tickets”, and in fact is a lot clearer and directly addresses the point in question. Whether they are armed or not is utterly inconsequential.
Like so of the rhetoric that has been deployed recently in the name of “progress”, her line is an inaccurate distraction from discussing a legitimate policy question.
I’m a Portlander and a big big rider and I don’t support her ethos at all. Her lack of support for enforcement of laws has led to me not being able to ride my bike when and where I would like to.
It’d be nice if someone told her A) why bike lanes are so important and B) how cheap they are. She keeps bringing up the $4 billion backlog in maintenance as a reason why bike lanes can’t be built, but remember: the Hawthorne Pave and Paint was part of that maintenance backlog, bike lanes were a negligible additional cost, and they still weren’t built.
The weirdest part is how she clearly acknowledges how wildly unpopular it will be to make driving more inconvenient and expensive…and yet seems to think that those same frothing people (who presumably compromise “the community”) know what’s best for them in terms of redesigning major streets like 82nd Ave. How does she reconcile these contradictory beliefs?
I think it comes down to the fact that she doesn’t seem to have a working vocabulary/knowledge of best-practice urban design principles, so she defers to “the community” (and PBOT’s slick presentations) in absence of the ability to confidently assert her own ideas (or again, even just know global best practices, which is really all that’s needed). Then again, she seems to deeply, genuinely believe in community—it’s not just the typical cop-out politicians use to avoid making hard decisions. The problem, I think, is that she’s entirely unaware there are hard decisions to be made, at least in terms of bike infrastructure (she’s clearly aware of hard decisions w/r/t funding).
Overall, I think the more cynical take would be that she doesn’t care at all about transportation and is just trying to have a good attitude about it while doing the bare minimum and entrusting PBOT to do whatever they want. The more optimistic take would be that she wants to do a good job, and that there are just a whole lot of unknown unknowns that activists aren’t doing a good job communicating to her.
I enjoyed her plug for Montavilla. It sounds like she and I share a favorite restaurant/coffee shop. Sadly, that “car free area” next to it has been given back to cars, at least for now. I hope we’ll get it back permanently one of these days. But I agree generally about the walkability here.
With respect to road funding, a number of cities in Oregon have street fees to help with maintaining the roads. The Portland City Council has looked at the idea several times over the past two decades, but kept backing away from it. Back in 2014, they were looking at $50 million a year in revenue. That’s a drop in the bucket against a $4 billion maintenance backlog, but it still might be worth revisiting.
Montavilla is such an amazing opportunity for both businesses and a separated bikway into the city. There is no reason for the current street design at 4 car lanes and a standard bike lane. Burnside is an incredibly dangerous 4 lane stroad with intermittent cars parked against the sidewalk. This could be a direct, safe route to East Portland done with bollards as an interim project.
Isn’t Burnside 2 car lanes, one each way with a bike lane, all through Montavilla?
Just trying to understand your comment.
I agree, Montavilla has an opportunity to make an already nice place that much better by improving pedestrian and bike infrastructure. I’d like to see wider sidewalks, safer crossings, slower traffic and less driving lanes on Stark and Washington.
I’m suggesting a separated, direct and safe way to connect Montavilla to the city, meaning the Stark/Washington couplet, Thornburn, Burnside/Glisan heading West. I have used the standard bike lanes on Burnside in Montavilla, but often avoid them.
Ah, got it. Totally agree, a direct bike highway from east Portland to downtown would be amazing.
I feel like Glisan would be a good candidate. But Burnside would work too.
Everett/Davis/Couch/Ankeny does the job pretty well. Gets you from NE 76th (or NE 80th if you don’t mind gravel roads) all the way to the Burnside Bridge.
I mostly avoid the Burnside bike lanes too.
It’s ok. It serves a different purpose. Meandering low stress greenway vs direct bike highway. I’m not worried about riding on Glisan myself, but I constantly hear that other people don’t feel safe on large fast streets. Those are the ones that need more separated or at least buffered bike infrastructure.
Right. If we want more than 5%ish mode share, we’ll need a protected network so OTHER (non road bike) people can bike. I ride on barely accessible mountain paths, but most people I know don’t. PBLs aren’t for most people on BP; they’re for the vast majority of people who aren’t willing to ride with cars, who carry their dog in a basket, or another person on the handlebar. IMO PBOT should have a plan for this, and prioritize “spokes” in a network, something like Burnside/Glisan, Stark/Washington. Sort of like NYC’s plan.
Today’s political cartoon from Streetsblog NYC that also applies to PBOT: ?w=623
Incidentally, BK borough president-elect Antonio Reynoso just proposed a bill to reclassify bike lane projects to be on the same timeline as other transportation projects, making them easier to implement. So the blue in the above circle might get a little smaller.
I was struck by Jonathan’s observation that more than 7% of Portlanders are out there on bikes. Intuitively, I doubt very much that is true. But, I’m open to being convinced. I have not lived in Portland since the mid-90’s when I commuted from Beaverton to NW via TV Highway. My recollection, nothing more, was that something well under 5% of local trips were done by bike. I’m thinking 2-3% max.
There’s a big difference between “percentage of total trips taken by bike” and “percentage of people who often use bikes to get around,” which I think is what Jonathan was talking about.
I don’t own a car, but I don’t go everywhere by bike, either; I often walk, take transit, or sometimes ride as a passenger in someone else’s car. I get a lot of biking in, but I doubt it’s more than 50% of my trips.
Does Hardesty’s campaign have to declare your softball coverage as an “in-kind donation”? Your support and publicity for one of the worst PBOT Commissioners in recent history continues to amaze me.
Thanks for the feedback.
– JoAnn Hardesty, after mentioning PBOT’s maintenance deficit as a reason not to do things roughly a dozen times