A big part of the Broadway bike lane scandal is how it all impacts rank-and-file Portland Bureau of Transportation staff. If what’s been happening makes your blood boil, imagine if you were a dedicated PBOT employee who is eager and able to carry out all the lofty plans and goals the agency works toward every day.
The self-inflicted wound carried out by their own leadership, hit the agency when it was already at a very low point. They’re facing a budget crisis, record traffic deaths, a steep drop in bike commuting (but I predict neighborhood traffic is way up!), leadership turnovers, uncertainty about charter reform, vast amounts of (frequently unwarranted) criticism from all corners of the city, and so on.
Having their own director, Millicent Williams, make the decisions she’s made since getting the job just two months ago, has been another gut-punch. But Director Williams wants to make things right — at least that’s what her contrite tone at Thursday evening’s PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee expressed.
Right before that meeting, she sent an email to all PBOT staff. I’ve pasted the email (minus a few bits about specific projects that I’ve already covered) below:
This has been a hard week. I want to apologize to all of you, both in how I’ve communicated with you this week and the mistakes I made involving the Broadway bike lane downtown. I moved too fast on something and it cost us trust. I’ve heard directly how demoralizing the last two weeks have been for many of you, especially how this issue — and the public’s understandable reaction — has had a very real impact on you and the work you do every day to make our streets safer. For that, I am truly sorry.
For staff who feel out of the loop or are playing catch-up with news reports, we are talking about my decision to modify sections of the new parking-protected bike lane along Broadway downtown. Regarding my initial request for changes, I’ve heard your pushback and the public’s and have learned a great deal about how to avoid such quick decisions in the future.
Bottom line: we’re slowing down and evaluating the path forward.
It’s been over a year since we completed this project. This was what’s known as a Quick Build which, as the name implies, is cost-effective, but doesn’t always result in the best product. We continue to hear concerns from hotels and business owners and recognize we need to do something that will both keep people safe in the bike lane and make the bike lane and the entire street function better. Of note, we’ve gotten feedback not only from adjacent businesses but from our own street cleaning crews who find the current design hard to maneuver their equipment around.
In evaluating all options, we will consider investing more in this corridor to make it function the way our upcoming SW Fourth Avenue Improvement Project will.
In addition to this update, I want to reiterate how committed I am to the bureau’s goals around safety, climate, and mode-share and to working alongside you to build the safest network possible in our city. At the end of the day, I’m humbled by and immensely proud of the expertise and professionalism PBOT staff display every day. You help us stay true to our goals, and for that I am grateful. I will continue to listen to your guidance. In times like this, we’ll slow down. In others, we’ll try a different tack. Regardless, we’ll do this work together.
I own this most recent misstep. My sincere apology to the staff most impacted, both professionally and personally, as I know you were led to this work (as was I) to make a positive impact in our community.
Keep doing what you’re doing.
My door remains open for your feedback. Please talk to me if you have questions or concerns you would like addressed. This conversation will continue in our upcoming All-staff Meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3.
Millicent Williams (she/her)
If you’re wanting to hear from Director Williams directly, I’ve requested an interview with her. So far, PBOT says they are shifting to next week’s budget talks and she won’t be available until after that. We’ll see what happens.