One rationale Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps and Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Millicent Williams used to justify their attempt to make major changes to the bike lane on Broadway through downtown, was that it simply looks bad.
“Concern regarding aesthetics of street, bike lane, parking signs,” was one of eight concerns noted by Williams in a PBOT staff meeting on August 21st.
And one month later, when Williams was forced to apologize for pushing the plan through over objections of staff and without any public notice, she said one of the reasons for doing so was because Broadway bike lane was funded through the bureau’s Quick Build program. That program is used to, “fill gaps in the multi-modal transportation system through small projects” that generally cost under $500,000.
“The fact is, that this bike lane was built as a Quick Build project,” Director Williams said while reading her apology from prepared remarks at a meeting of the PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee last Thursday. “And as you all know, the budget for those projects are very limited and doesn’t always result in our best work.”
It’s unclear if Williams came up with that herself, or if someone wrote it for her. Either way, it’s not true.
According to PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera, the protected bike lanes on Northwest and Southwest Broadway (along with several other projects that were part of the Central City in Motion plan) were funded by the federal government, through $4.5 million worth of Regional Flexible Funding Allocation (RFFA) grants, which were administered by Metro. PBOT also chipped-in $600,000 in local matching funds from their General Transportation Revenue pot (which is made up of State Highway Fund and parking revenues).
In an email this morning, Rivera said, the project was, “Built in the style of a Quick Build, with the plastic posts and other elements you’d expect in a Quick Build, in order to deliver the project as soon as possible. But there was no funding from our Quick Build program in the project.”
To be clear, despite Williams’ statements, Quick Build program funding was not used to build the Broadway bike lanes.
And when it comes to Metro’s role, they have more than just a financial investment in the Broadway bike lanes. As the primary funder, they’re obligated to follow strict federal rules for how their grants are spent. While researching this story, I asked Metro about the potential reversal of the Broadway project — a move that would have been counter to the goals of Metro’s RFFA program.
A Metro spokesperson told BikePortland that,
“We are monitoring how PBOT implements grants awarded by Metro and paid for through federal funds. These are competitive grants that help address our region’s limited transportation funding, and it’s imperative that jurisdictions that are awarded grants follow through on the grant commitments.”
And Metro Councilor Duncan Hwang, who represents downtown Portland, said in an email to BikePortland,
“These are competitive grants and other jurisdictions in our region like Oregon City or Beaverton also would have liked to see increased bike/ped infrastructure. Jurisdictions that don’t follow the grant terms may damage their credibility in future grant cycles and noncompliance also reflects poorly on our region when it comes to federal funding.”
And in City Council testimony last week about a separate US Department of Transportation grant PBOT has applied for, The Street Trust Executive Director said the Broadway situation, “Raises a significant question.” “Why would the federal government fund an infrastructure installation that PBOT might later just decide to remove?”
All of this underscores just how recklessly Commissioner Mapps and Director Williams acted. And making a misleading statement about funding to cover-up for a mistake only serves to confuse the public and further erodes trust. Thankfully, this misguided attempt to rip out an important and safe bike lane appears to be on hold. But the damage to PBOT’s reputation is done.
UPDATE, 12:22 pm: After reading the post, PBOT PIO Dylan Rivera emailed BikePortland: “Clearly Director Williams was referring to the project as a quick build style installation, not the funding source. If you look at the context of those statements, it was in light of the concerns we heard from people about the materials and design and her statements about it not being the level of work we are used to building when we have funding for more permanent improvements. Please correct your post.”