As the elected official leading the Portland Bureau of Transportation for the last two years, Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has spent time as City Council’s voice on all things transportation and infrastructure. But since she was ousted in November by incoming Council member Rene Gonzalez, Hardesty will soon be leaving her spot in city leadership and at PBOT.
Hardesty was given the PBOT assignment in January 2021 after serving on Council for two years. So, after this time navigating the ins and outs of PBOT, what does Hardesty think about where Portland transportation is — and where it’s going? She gave us some insights at last night’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, and even included a few hints about her future plans. (Former PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly gave a similar address before she left Council in 2021.)
As will be no surprise to anyone who paid attention to City Council dynamics over the last two years, Hardesty isn’t entirely optimistic about placing the fate of her assignments in the hands of the current local elected officials. She said Mayor Ted Wheeler and the rest of council will spend time, money and energy on moving Portland’s homeless population into massive outdoor encampments, potentially ignoring other areas.
“PBOT will continue to do the great work they’re doing, and hopefully won’t be pulled away from that work to do things just for downtown special interests,” Hardesty said.
Hardesty was an advocate for people in east Portland during her time as PBOT commissioner. Now that Council will lose its only member who lives east of 82nd Avenue, Hardesty is concerned city leadership will ignore everything outside of the central city.
“The way the council operates, no [commissioner] is supposed to represent an individual community. Their goals are supposed to be citywide,” she said. “But honestly, that just doesn’t happen unless they’re advocates or electeds who actually live outside of the downtown core and who care about other parts of the city.”
But Portlanders voted in November to change our government structure and create a system with more elected policymakers on City Council representing different parts of the city, which Hardesty (and transportation advocates generally) is looking forward to.
“I think the charter change will be good for transportation in the long-term, because there’ll be one-stop shop for accountability,” Hardesty said. “What I believe will happen is there will be more grassroots people who live in the community, and who will be bringing your voices to the City Council. So I think…we will actually end up in a better place to be able to have communities truly represented.”
Though Hardesty has earned praise from transportation advocates for her work creating carfree public spaces around the city and speaking up for east Portland, her relationship with activists hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Bike advocates will recall her heated May 2021 meeting with the BAC when she revealed she didn’t know about Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030. To BAC members, this was indicative not only of a personal lack of familiarity of bike issues, but also demonstrated that PBOT was letting the once-glorified bike plan fall to the wayside. Hardesty reflected on this experience at the meeting last night.
“The first time I came and talked to [your committee], I didn’t know we had a 2030 bike plan. Who knew? Nobody told me as the transportation Commissioner,” she said. “I’m happy to say that I left that meeting and went and went online and found that 2030 Bike plan…are we making progress? The answer is yes. But as you know, covid really just sent everything into a tailspin.”
Perhaps the achievement Hardesty is most proud of from her time overseeing PBOT is getting 82nd Avenue transferred from the Oregon Department of Transportation to the City of Portland and set for big infrastructure projects coming down the pike. She said she plans to continue working on the 82nd Ave project — as well as weighing in on plans to expand I-5 at the Rose Quarter and with the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program — after she leaves office, though she didn’t say in what capacity.
“I’m pretty sure what I do next will continue around transportation. Because I don’t want to leave the I-5 Bridge, Rose Quarter and 82nd Ave to newbies,” she said.
As far as whether or not she’ll run for a spot in our larger city government in 2024? That’s not yet clear.
“I still have a lot of knife wounds in my back from the last campaign, so I’m not ready to commit to any public service at the moment,” Hardesty said.
The other big piece of news in Hardesty’s future? Possibly inspired by Rad Power’s recent product announcement, she wants to get an electric tricycle. “Just so you know, I stopped driving in March of 2020,” she said. “[An electric trike] is my next vehicle.” (Hardesty said since she weighs just 100 pounds, standard e-bikes are too heavy for her to handle.)
It’s still unclear who will be the next commissioner to lead PBOT. (Some suspect it will be Mingus Mapps — Hardesty said Wheeler has plans to reveal this next week.) Whoever gets the assignment has a big job ahead of them. With massive maintenance and budget concerns, Portland’s transportation bureau is a giant ship to steer.
At the end of Hardesty’s talk, BAC members thanked her for her work as PBOT Commissioner. Some people asking her to join their subcommittees and other groups. She didn’t commit to anything yet, but said people will still be able to tune into City Council meetings to hear her thoughts.
“Just be assured, I’m not going anywhere. You may not know this, but I have been I’ve been testifying at city council for 25 years,” Hardesty said. So if [the mayor] thinks I’m not going to still yell at him, he’s in for a rude awakening.”
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comm Hardesty purchasing an e-trike is an excellent example of prefigurative politics. If I had a place to store an e-trike, I would probably purchase one too.
Really, you can afford an e-bike? You could have fooled me!
I don’t know what’s worse in this case. Choosing to purchase a questionable brand like RadPower – or the photoshop job in the title photo.
hahahahaha! Thanks for the feedback. I’ll relay it to our graphics department.
“Masks are hard”
“I didn’t know we had a 2030 bike plan. Who knew?”
We knew. The Director of pbot should have damn well known too. I’m actually surprised that she is buying an e-trike give how she framed cycling as just something for rich elites. Oh and that bike lanes are not equitable, or something (see Hawthorne and 7th Ave disasters)
Bike enthusiasts knowing about a bike plan 99% of the city doesn’t know exists isn’t exactly shocking.
No one at PBOT telling Hardesty about the bike plan says more about how PBOT views it than anything about Hardesty. It was performative when they made it and irrelevant after it was created.
Having been a staff member (middle manager level) for a transportation agency (not the City of Portland), I can tell you that the agenda of what is presented to the commissioner is set by the commissioner or his/her chief of staff or policy/political advisor. There were plenty of times I had what I considered to be really important financial or safety issues that I thought deserved to be heard by the commissioner, but couldn’t get beyond the lower level people in the commissioner’s own office.
I’m not saying that PBOT staff couldn’t have done better to educate Hardesty about transportation issues and the bike plan in particular, but I don’t think transportation was ever high enough on Hardesty’s priority list even after she was put in charge of PBOT. That is why I’m so pleased she was not reelected.
Maybe they should have built out the previous bike plan before rolling out a new one? Now we’ve actually got two bike plans that have never been implemented!
Maybe she did, at one time.
I think it was a very positive aspect of Hardesty’s personality that she was able to change her feelings about various issues when presented with good evidence and lived experience.
“Now that Council will lose its only member who lives east of 82nd Avenue”. Interesting that Hardesty lost to Gonzalez in her own neighborhood isn’t it?
I hope she comes back a wiser person. The more she rides the trike (or bike) and walks, the wiser she will become.
Her “leadership” and East Portland bonafides created a situation in that area where the murder rate spiked, driving a new civic record. Many of the victims were black or brown lives. In response she championed what I call the Donkey Kong proposal to fix this situation with traffic barrels, starting with the assumption that the answer cannot be support for common sense policing, so anything else – no matter how obliquely related, must be preferable. Similarly, this lawlessness which her ideological rigidity precipitated saw increases in traffic deaths. With motor vehicle users emboldened by the same hamstrung justice system, that has facilitated the worst urges of the violent and anti-social among us more broadly.
What exactly is she hanging her hat on here? That she stuck to her promises, and carried out her perceived mandate, in the face of mounting evidence that it was negligently foolhardy? I mean, congrats I guess.
I think personally, her most impressive achievement in office was her sheer inability to have even one lucky day in all of her many trips to the casino. While also failing to balance her personal finances as a single person with no dependants, on a generous taxpayer funded salary!
Comment of the week.
No, I disagree.
Superficial-level political mudslinging definitely isn’t worthy of CotW. Hard pass, I hope.
My bet is that she will learn from her mistakes and get better. I sure hope so.
‘Common sense policing’ will never happen in Portland as long as the PPB ranks are filled with fascists, racists and an assortment of other antisocial Neanderthals.
That’s a lot of adolescent name-calling and broad-brush painting.
And you love the police b/c why? I know a few good officers, but my experience with the PPB has mostly been negative.
I get it, admitting a movement you were a part of, which had a very important point to make, yet still ended up causing material harm to the cause that animated it cannot be easy.
For 30 years between here and the crack cocaine 80s we enjoyed a crazy low murder rate for our size city. Suddenly in the absence of targeted traffic stops, which yes, did disproportionately target black and brown folks, but had the effect of hindering a small subgroups ability to carry illegal weapons with impunity, it spikes again.
Many angry young white activists took up this mantle, and it seems they did not consult with the diverse community they positioned themselves as the champions of. If they had they would learn that people in high crime areas don’t have a black and white, childish, abandon the good for the unattainable in the pursuit of perfect, anti-cop mindset you display here.
WTF are you talking about? BLM? LOL! I didn’t go anywhere near that hot mess. But I did have my share of run-ins with the PPB on other occasions, including during the antiwar protests leading up the Iraq war in 2003, during which PPB began honing the tactics they would later use on BLM.
And if you think using military grade crowd control munitions on peaceful protesters is just going to make them go away rather than riling them up, y’all need more help than I or any other BP reader can provide, you are nothing but an apologist for a corrupt police force that needs major reform.
Forgive me, but the rhetoric you use makes it hard to distinguish.