Statements made yesterday by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and its current leader, City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, are at odds with an internal staff email written by PBOT Director Millicent Williams last week.
PBOT and Commissioner Mapps issued statements yesterday after facing pressure from the public that came in response to a BikePortland story Monday where I reported that Director Williams emailed PBOT staff on Thursday, September 14th and instructed them to revert the protected bike lane on a 0.7 mile segment of Northwest and Southwest Broadway to a previous design that is less safe. They gave no clear justification for the move and rank-and-file PBOT staff were shocked at the news.
As numerous Portlanders flooded PBOT and Mapps’ office with emails and phone calls to express concerns, they responded in a way that doesn’t match that email from Williams and appears to intentionally mislead the public and the local media. Both offices said no decision about Broadway has been made and that public outreach will happen before they move forward with any changes.
And Mapps’ office in particular, says they have not been briefed on the issue at all.
“It is important to note that there are no imminent changes planned for SW Broadway,” wrote Mapps Policy Assistant Jackson Pahl in an email to a concerned Portlander Tuesday evening. “At present, we have not been briefed on any plans that include changing the design of the bike lanes on SW Broadway.”
When asked by BikePortland why he wanted to change the Broadway bike lane design, Mapps emailed, “I have asked PBOT to come back with a list of recommendations, and we look forward to being briefed on them,” and that, “change is not imminent.” Mapps also wrote in an email to BikePortland that, “We plan to have an open and robust engagement process before any decisions are finalized.”
Unfortunately, those statements from Mapps and his office are not true. Mapps had been briefed on this issue and had already signed-off on the plan — that was prepared by Williams — to revert the bike lane to its previous configuration.
And yesterday, PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera issued a statement to the media that said agency staff were asked by Director Williams (at the behest of Mapps) to evaluate options for possible changes to Broadway and that, “PBOT staff will be preparing these options, offering additional insights and engaging in public outreach in the coming months.”
But I can now confirm that a full evaluation of the options had already taken place and Williams made a clear choice to revert Broadway back to its previous configuration.
My initial story Monday was written without full knowledge of that internal email from Williams to PBOT staff. I was aware of the email and confident about its general contents, but I had not seen the full text. Now that I’ve seen that email, the picture about what happened is more clear.
Below is the full text of the September 14th email from PBOT Director Williams to PBOT staff (bolded and bracketed comments are mine):
Good Morning Gabe [Gabe Graff is Central City in Motion (CCIM) project manager] and Team,
Thanks for your continued attention to this issue and for offering alternatives for consideration. After reviewing all of the information and consulting with the Commissioner, I would like to ask the team to do the following:
- Move forward with installation of parking pads in front of the Heathman and Vance Hotels (unless you recommend something to the contrary. Just trying to make sure that there is consistency where the platform already exists and I would rather not have us take out the one that has already been established). [“Parking pads are the concrete loading platforms similar to the one PBOT has already installed in front of the Arlene Schnitzer Concern Hall.]
- Maintain parking protected bike lanes from SW Salmon to Clay (and beyond to accommodate PSU area cyclists)
- Return curb-tight parking to Broadway from Burnside to SW Salmon
- Maintain parking ‘as-is’ on the left side of the street.
- Figure out the best way to transition from unprotected to parking protected bike lane at the intersection of SW Broadway and SW Salmon. My guess is some kind of distinct striping. Please provide a recommendation
- Leave contra-flow bikelane on Broadway (on east side) from Harvey Milk to Burnside (Question: Is there currently still parking there? If so, please ‘clear the corner.’)
- Return bikelane to 2018 configuration (to the left of the parking lane)
- IF POSSIBLE paint bike lane green and put the cyclist icon in the lane
- IF POSSIBLE place some kind of low barrier on the outside of the bike lane so that motorists will be able to detect if they are swerving into the lane. Not too big. I recognize that we might not have this in the inventory. If we don’t please let me know what is possible (even if there isn’t a real option) [This makes it clear Williams and Mapps supported making the bike lane less safe and unprotected.]
- Even though we are restoring parking, let’s move forward with clearing the corners throughout the corridor. Please do so with both signage and yellow tape on the curb.
- Identify and clearly mark the following zones: Passenger Loading Valet (If it’s 60 feet per hotel, so be it. Let’s just make sure that whatever we do is consistent as Gabe has advised); Drop-off zones (at the Schnitzer, Heathman and Vance)…we have A LOT of signs at those locations.
- Since we will be dropping from three travel lanes to two at SW Salmon, we will want to make sure that we provide some advisory signage. I know that you already know that but I’m just running through my list.
- From NW Hoyt to Burnside, please restore curb-tight parking and external bike lane
- Please remove wands, wand bases, and turn-controlling tough-curb. Given the shifts, all of those items will be misplaced
- To the extent possible, please remove phantom striping
- Anything else that we should be doing that I don’t know or haven’t thought about.
- I recognize that there is a ZICLA platform [“ZICLA platform” is a brand name of the modular bus loading island currently in place in front of Central City Concern and several other locations around the city] in front of that establishment on the corner of NW Broadway and Burnside. Please let me know what we will do with it. Should it stay? Will leaving it be confusing? Is it a choke point? I think so. Please advise.
- Who will put in the work orders? [“Work orders” are what PBOT gives the Maintenance and Operations group to start a project. It can be done without a long bidding process and can start almost immediately upon the orders being issued.]
- How long will it take for us to do the work?
- When can we start?
- How will we publicize/communicate about what we are doing?
- Is night work an option?
Finally, I recognize that this might be a fairly bitter pill to swallow and that there might be some politically charged discussions and advocate engagement. Please allow the Commissioner and I to handle those conversations.
Thanks for everyone’s consideration and cooperation. Looking forward to a favorable outcome.
Millicent Williams (she/her)
Based on that email, we know that Williams consulted with Commissioner Mapps earlier than September 14th, despite him saying otherwise. (I gave Mapps’ office a chance to explain this, but have not yet heard back.) We also know that before our story came out Monday, there was a clear plan to move forward with what PBOT now refers to as option 3 — reverting the existing parking-protected bike lane to the old door-zone bike lane with car parking at the curb that existed previously. PBOT staff say that design is less safe and the numerous crashes and complaints over decades are what spurred them to get rid of it in the first place.
The statements issued yesterday by PBOT (under leadership of Director Williams) and Commissioner Mapps leave out the important fact that they planned to move forward with this major change to the Broadway bike lane without sufficient public notice and without any clear rationale for doing so. (I’m working on a separate story about their justification for the changes.)
It’s only after the public became aware of this plan that PBOT, Mapps, and Director Williams changed their tune
On Monday night, after a full day of significant blowback from the public, Williams emailed PBOT staff again with a new plan:
“While I would still like for the team to devise a strategy to address the recommendations that I asked for, please make plans to perform the evaluation that you and the team have recommended [note that PBOT staff recommended an evaluation of options in their briefing packet to Williams but she initially opted against it] … I would also like for you to plan to perform a limited time community engagement period. I recognize that a great deal of engagement has been done – through CCIM and other complimentary efforts – but I ask that you spend more time on it.”
Williams also asked to see a sketch of a much better Broadway bike lane design. “One absent oddly-placed wands. One that functions smoothly – like I envision that 4th Avenue will,” she wrote. Her reference to 4th Avenue is the $17 million project PBOT plans to start early next year and that is considered a protected bike lane couplet to Broadway.
So who knows, maybe in the end we’ll get a plan for a major upgrade on Broadway — instead of the shocking downgrade they initially planned. Stay tuned.
— PBOT updated the Broadway bike lane project website last night. It says, “PBOT staff will be… offering additional insights and engaging in public outreach in the coming months.”