Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Millicent Williams just apologized for her role in the Broadway bike lane scandal.
Here’s the audio, followed by the full text of the statement she read at the start of today’s monthly PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee:
“As you may have heard in the media last week. I sent an email directing staff to make modifications to the Broadway bike lane. That email understandably has led to a lot of concerns for people who are dedicated to making our streets safer, both PBOT staff and the general public, including, I’m certain, many of you.
I want to apologize to you. I moved too fast. I often do that… I moved too fast on this and have heard all of the many, many voices who’ve reached out and expressed their concern for slowing down now. Thank you for your feedback. And we’re going to evaluate our options.
It’s been over a year since we finished the project and we continue to hear concerns from hotels and business owners and recognize we need to make this bike lane and corridor better. The fact is that this bike lane was built as a Quick Build project, and as you all know, the budget for those projects are very limited and doesn’t always result in our best work.
There are several other items that informed the decision. But what you will likely hear, as we continue to discuss some of the things that I shared with the team, is that it’s not just about bike safety. It’s not just about all of the automobile drivers’ safety. It’s not just about pedestrian safety, but it’s also about our ability to maintain that road. And what we’ve heard from our maintenance crews is that it is incredibly challenging for us to maintain the road in a way that reflects the best of what PBOT has to offer.
And so we’re encouraging the team to go back and evaluate the opportunity to reimagine the corridor to make sure that it becomes the corridor that you would like for it to be and that we expect that you would want for it to be. So what this will look like is an opportunity for us to explore and we’ll be engaging the community to ensure that we are making the best — and the right steps — as we move this work forward.”
BBAC member Kara Helgren was the first person to respond to Williams. “Unfortunately Director Williams, I don’t feel that under your leadership, PBOT is really committed to finding safer ways for people to use streets,” Helgren said. Here’s more from Helgren’s comments:
“We’ve had so many deaths this year, and now there’s discussion about taking out a protected bike lane? I have ridden in that section of Broadway and I have been doored in that section of Broadway prior to this lane existing and it was incredibly dangerous. It feels like the input that’s being taken into consideration isn’t, you know, the riders or other users of the road, but these hotels who have complained. I’m not sure how giving huge carve-outs to hotels will make the general public in Portland safer.
It seems like there’s been a lot of bowing to pressure from some really adamant, anti-cyclist, anti-pedestrian voices when it comes to most of these projects. And I honestly would like a list of all of the projects that have been in the background that you’ve decided, maybe didn’t warrant as much input from the rest of us, because I would not be surprised if there were others that were just in the background that we’ll wake up one morning and there will magically be another bike lane removed or a Rose Lane painted over. I’m extremely frustrated with how PBOT has been so adamant that you have no budget — and you’re wanting to spend the budget on removing safety measures in light of the 40-plus deaths we’ve had on the road this year — to centering cars. I am just really, really frustrated and really angry about it.
I’m also really concerned about what looks like dishonesty coming out of either PBOT or out of Mr. Mapps’ office. I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to trust you that our input, when it comes to the budget, is going to be respected, or if there’s going to be money used to dismantle things and then PBOT will continuously tell us how poor they are.
It’s incredibly, incredibly frustrating and I feel like there’s been a lot of broken trust now between BBAC members, and PBOT, and especially you, Director Williams.”
In response to Helgren, Williams said, “I recognize the weight of the responsibility of the role and do not intend to use that opportunity to provide leadership irresponsibly.” She also said, “There are no other projects in the background… There are no other efforts to dismantle large swaths of any of the work that we’ve done… I have no intention of dismantling the work of the bureau.” (Rumors continue to swirl about removal of bus priority “Rose Lanes” on W Burnside, NE Couch, and SW Capitol Highway.)
Next up with a response Williams was BBAC member Ignacio Simon. Despite Williams’ contention a few minutes earlier when she told the committee, “There hasn’t been anything that’s been hidden,” Simon expressed that, “It is very clear that this whole thing with the bike lane on Broadway has been done behind closed doors.” Then Simon said he thinks Williams should resign:
“I think the truth is that if it weren’t for the great journalism of some wonderful individuals in the Portland bike community, this would have proceeded and you would have had no qualms and doing it without any public input. I think that there’s also strong allegations that this specific removal was done to politically benefit Commissioner Mapps and I think that you should answer to that. Because again, your emails suggest this political motive. I think that you have, as a recent director who started about two months ago, you have broken the trust of a lot of members of the BBAC and the larger Portland community. I don’t see how you could possibly regain that trust.
I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t have any other intentions of doing things behind closed doors. I don’t believe that your apology is sincere. I wish I was in that room to be able to look you in the eyes and tell you that I think that you should resign.”
In response, Williams said, “I was not directed by the commissioner to do anything that I’ve done… I don’t consider myself to be political in the ways that you’re suggesting.”
One BBAC member, Mariah Dula, offered a different perspective:
“I’m a cyclist. I’m a driver. I’m a pedestrian. Broadway has never been a great solution for anyone. I think you’ve rightly identified that downtown is a changed environment the past few years, and I do want to see PBOT projects be responsive to that going forward — including the needs of businesses. It is hard to access hotels safely whether you’re a cyclist or driver.
I have a little bit of an alternate perspective. I live on a greenway. I bike a lot. But I personally prefer not to bike on Broadway. I don’t think it’s the best option, and I hope to see alternatives and move away from Broadway. So I look forward to continued engagement.”
Also at this meeting, Williams announced a major shift in her stance on the 70s greenway project and there were some other important exchanges about what the future could hold for Broadway. I’ll save those for separate stories. Stay tuned.