Opinion: Mapps’ version of Broadway ‘debacle’ is a disservice to the city he wants to lead

“I feel like the press coverage in BikePortland… was not consistent with what I experienced as the commissioner of public transportation, which is kind of a problem because I very much am the guy in charge.”

– Mingus Mapps, Portland city commissioner

Commissioner Mingus Mapps was asked about the “Broadway bike debacle” (a term he said he embraces) at his town hall event this past Sunday. His response left out key details and did not accurately reflect what happened. If the only thing someone heard about it was what Mapps said at that event, they would be misinformed and confused. They would also be likely to make incorrect assumptions about the nature of community concerns, the quality of reporting on BikePortland, and the nature of the commissioner’s own involvement in the scandal.

Despite clear facts available to the public in our detailed reporting that no one at the Portland Bureau of Transportation or Mapps’ office has offered to correct (even after given the opportunity), Mapps is misrepresenting what happened. He’s gaslighting the community by presenting a version of the story that is incomplete, he’s implying that what was reported on BikePortland isn’t accurate, and he’s telling the story in a way that absolves him of responsibility — despite the fact that, after facing tremendous pressure from the community, his bureau director was forced to scuttle plans she said he signed off on and she ultimately apologized for how it all went down.

I’ve let this story die down in recent weeks because I want PBOT and its Director Millicent Williams to have the opportunity to turn over a new leaf, learn from the mistakes, and move forward with their important work. But when Commissioner Mapps, in a public forum, represents the story in such a troubling way — and when he mentions BikePortland specifically — I feel compelled to set the record straight and share more information about what happened.

In his response to someone’s question at the town hall at Alberta Abbey in northeast Portland on Sunday, Mapps said, “I feel like the press coverage in BikePortland… what I saw printed there, was not consistent with what I experienced as the commissioner of public transportation, which is kind of a problem because I very much am the guy in charge.”

I agree with Mapps that this is a “problem.” If he’s the “guy in charge” then he should have known exactly what Director Williams was doing (he says he didn’t) and he should take responsibility for her actions — actions she said in an email he had signed off on.

It’s not clear if he’s saying BikePortland’s reporting was the problem or the actions of Director Williams were the problem (or both?). Regardless, if he’s going to mention a media outlet and say the words, “not consistent with what I experienced,” he should be much more clear what he’s talking about. And after saying that, he could have pivoted toward an embrace of the mistakes made by himself and/or Director Williams; but he didn’t do that.

He then laid out his version of what happened with the “debacle.” He made it seem like there was a big, public “conversation” going on around the design of the Broadway bike lane. That’s not true. The only conversation was between Mapps, Director Williams, and several downtown hotel owners and influential business interests.

Emails from Jim Mark to Commissioner Mapps office obtained by BikePortland through a public records request.

We know from a public records request that Melvin Mark Investments (MMI) CEO Jim Mark was leading a campaign against the bike lane for months before Mapps gave Williams the order to make something happen. Mark is a former president of the Portland Metro Chamber and was recently named to Oregon Governor Tina Kotek’s Portland Central City Task Force. The Portland Metro Chamber (formerly Portland Business Alliance) is a group that endorsed Mapps’ city council bid, has donated to his campaign, and whose current president was opposed to the protected bike lanes on Broadway.

In October 2022, just one month before PBOT installed the parking protected bike lane on Broadway, Mark’s company purchased the Alderway Building on the northwest corner of SW Alder and Broadway. Commissioner Mapps was given PBOT leadership in January 2023. In May of 2023, Mark spoke strongly against the bike lane in a meeting where Mapps was present. A source who was at that meeting and asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, said Mark “just went off on the bike lane” and lambasted PBOT for spending money on them because he feels bike lanes are bad for business.

We also know from emails received in a public records request, that on August 4th, Mark emailed Commissioner Mapps about a proposed remodel of the Alderway Building (see above). “We are attempting to do a significant remodel to the exterior of the building to attract new retailers,” Mark said. “As you know we struggle with street issues in this area and the investment is tenuous at best at this point. The costs are significant, and we potentially might have to cancel the renovation if we can’t work through the cost issues.” Mark then laid out a list of things PBOT was requiring MMI to do as part of the remodel. “We need the City of Portland to work with us to eliminate and help with the fees,” Mark wrote.

That same day, Mapps’ former Chief of Staff Katie Meyer (who left his office at the end of September) emailed PBOT Director Williams and referred to a meeting with “Downtown stakeholders (led by Jim), the Commissioner and PBOT.” The “Jim” in that email was Jim Mark.

That meeting happened on August 14th. A source told BikePortland that a high-ranking PBOT staffer left that meeting saying, “Jim Mark’s got all the mics,” which they understood as a reference to Marks’ prominent role in pushing for changes on Broadway.

And one day after that meeting PBOT Director Williams emailed staff to say, “We need to meet about Broadway. Doing nothing is not an option.”

What we know is this: Mapps was aware of Mark’s dislike of the bike lane; Mapps had been pressured by Mark and his group of “downtown stakeholders” to help with his Alderway Building renovation project; the Broadway bike lane was discussed at at least one meeting; and that Mapps gave his PBOT Director clear orders to make changes happen quickly.

Given all this, Commissioner Mapps should be honest with the public: The changes he wanted to make on Broadway came as a direct result — not of a general “conversation” or concerns from the community made up of various road users — but from pressure and complaints from business interests.

At the town hall, Mapps then said, after having this “conversation,” he looked at a set of plans he felt would “both make the bike lanes safer, and at the same time, make that space work better for local businesses.”

The plan Mapps refers to here is the second (and much better) plan, the one that was revised after the first one caused such uproar and concerns from the community. Glossing over that detail is revisionist history and conveniently allows Mapps to portray himself as a much more reasonable actor in the story. It’s also notable that Mapps had no problem recalling the details of this plan; but vociferously and repeatedly denied ever even being aware of the first, more controversial, one.

“I know it’s very challenging and triggering when the Commissioner of Transportation goes in and tries to fine tune transportation projects,” Mapps continued. “But this is part of my responsibility as the guy in charge of our transportation system.”

To be clear: No one was triggered because Mapps wanted to “fine-tune” a project. Saying that within the context of his revisionist comments at the town hall makes is appear as if safe street advocates (and BikePortland) were simply overreacting to a small tweak. That’s gaslighting.

What Mapps’ leadership caused Director Williams to do was rip out 16 blocks of a major, high-profile protected bike lane that PBOT staff and advocates worked years to implement, and that was paid for by a federal grant (despite the director’s misleading statements to the contrary). What triggered so many people was that their city leaders were about to sacrifice their safety and reverse the design to an older, more dangerous version, and were ready to spend up to $500,000 of funding the agency doesn’t have to make it happen. And now we know they planned to do it “within the next 30 days” — according to an email from Director Williams to Mapps’ office on September 14th — without any public input and over the strong warnings of PBOT staff.

Then, when their plan was exposed, they gave the community PR spin instead of the truth. That’s why so many people were “triggered.”

Mapps wants to be mayor of Portland. He owes it to our city to be forthright and to carry out the policies of his bureaus — even if it goes against the wishes of powerful people who have his ear.


— For a video version of this op-ed, see this video on our YouTube channel or on Instagram.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Ex Pat
Ex Pat
5 months ago

Still bickering about minutia while the world burns I see.

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Ex Pat

What topic do you request a news site called Bike Portland to discuss if not a rebuttal to a city commissioner obfuscating and mischaracterizing his attempt to dismantle a protected bike lane on an important downtown corridor in Portland?

It is Mapps who references Bike Portland in a way intended to discredit this news site. He provides no specifics regarding the reporting, but clearly wants the audience to take away impression that there is something amiss. He then proceeds to recite a revisionist version of events.

So, I’d say you’ve come to exactly the right place to have a dedicated Portland biking news site set the record straight once again.

Charley
Charley
5 months ago
Reply to  Ex Pat

Ex Pat,

Lying politicians don’t need you to defend them: they have enough power as it is. Who do you think is lighting this world on fire?

Cyclops
Cyclops
5 months ago
Reply to  Ex Pat

Yes, I would like bike lanes and honest politicians in Portland and a free Palestine. However, seeing that this website is called Bike Portland, I’ll mainly raise my concerns about bike infrastructure, the city’s multi modal goals and the politicians trying to undermine said goals and infrastructure here.

Vans
Vans
5 months ago
Reply to  Ex Pat

Minutia is fire starter so yeah, gloss over it and scorched earth follows.

SD
SD
5 months ago

This is completely consistent with Mapps’ approach to governing and should be completely disqualifying for him to hold public office.

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
5 months ago
Reply to  SD

Mapps has cooked his own goose on this. Dishonest politicians on the take are nothing new, I suppose, but Mapps is so bumbling and inept at it that his supporters will drop him as both ineffective and a liability. 

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

Mapps has cooked his own goose on this.

Have you seen any reporting on this issue outside of the BikePortland bubble? I suspect that only a tiny minority of voters are even aware of this issue, and only a fraction of those understand it in any depth. And of those, how many will see it as a deciding issue in the election?

I believe Mapps’ goose is still very much raw.

9watts
9watts
5 months ago

You rock, Jonathan. Keep up the excellent work.

Jamal Henderson
Jamal Henderson
5 months ago

This “scandal” has been, from day one, an attempt to harm Mapps’ mayoral campaign by dishonestly characterizing him as an enemy of bikes, green infrastructure, democracy, etc. Put enough “buzz” out there and it’s the one thing that low-information voters will remember about him come 2024.

In short: it stinks of coordination with Mapps’ rivals. In fact it stinks to high heaven.

I’ve disagreed with a lot of BikePortland’s politics over the years, but what I can’t ignore is a steady and obvious shift away from objectivity. It’s like bizzaro world Fox News sometimes.

Ray
Ray
5 months ago

IMO, this is no longer about bikes at all. It’s about accountability and honesty with the people you are elected to represent. Which is something I wish politicians had in any small amount.

clay
clay
5 months ago

Are there, like, facts you plan to offer to rebut any of Jonathan’s documented evidence?

maccoinnich
5 months ago

Who are these rivals of Mapps that you’re thinking about? So far Mapps is the only credible candidate who has filed to run.

Amit Zinman
5 months ago

What rivals? So far, I haven’t heard of anyone who is running. This sounds exactly like what a Republican would say when caught doing something shady. It’s the media, it’s the political enemies, etc… Right out of the Trump/GOP playbook.

TonyT
TonyT
5 months ago

Low information voters aren’t going to know anything at all about this story. And do you have any evidence to support your claim that Mapps is being “dishonestly characterized” by Jonathan? Please lay it out for us here. What actually happened and how is Jonathan unfairly reporting about it. Be specific.

It seems that you just don’t like that Mapps got called out for what he did. Mapps is the one to blame for any blowback that Mapps is suffering from.

Me
Me
5 months ago

I can’t recall exactly but I probably voted for him. But there’s no way I will vote for him for Mayor.

socially engineered
socially engineered
5 months ago

I guess being a “stakeholder” means owning property here. Apparently those who wish to simply use the public right-of-way have no stake in whether they can do so safely or not.

Nick
Nick
5 months ago

Darn fine reporting

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
5 months ago

Melvin Mark’s numerous interactions with a sitting Commissioner and/or their staff precisely fit the city’s definition of lobbying:
https://www.portland.gov/code/2/12#toc–2-12-020-definitions-

However, no lobbying activity for Melvin Marks is recorded here:
https://www.portland.gov/lobbyist/reports#toc-lobbying-reports-2023
.

I wonder whether Melvin Marks a registered lobbyist with the City of Portland and, if not, why not?

Vans
Vans
5 months ago

The rich get rich……

John
John
5 months ago

The “30 days” email isn’t ringing a bell. Did you report on that earlier or is this a new one?

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
5 months ago

Jonathan, I’ve lived near Union Station for 20 years while trying to influence travel-transit-transport policy. There’ve been many bikeway investments I dislike, including the Broadway. I’d rather cyclists were directed to the Park Blocks. I dislike most of the “lane-reduction” street paint signals to motorists to stop or change lanes or pull into traffic when a safer lane is available without the street paint warning. I dislike the Federal Post Office redevelopment plan for an elevated bikeway to the dangerous 3-way stoplight where Broadway meets Lovejoy at the Broadway Bridge.

I very much like the new Naito Pkwy bikeway, sidewalk, crosswalks. I supported it when temporary testing bollards proved it wouldn’t obstruct traffic. I like the Blumenuar NE 7th Ave ped/bike bridge over I-84. I oppose the Rose Quarter I-5 “widening” as proposed because ODOT directors, department heads and project managers think they can get away with Negligent Homicide.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
5 months ago

My previous post, Jon, reflects my cycling and transport planning experience over the years. There is good reason to oppose the Green Loop bikeway rerouted to the NE Broadway/Weidler couplet from NE 7th. I’ll bike on the next street north of Broadway. The Green Loop was to cross I-5 on a new ped/bike bridge at Clackamas Street, a block south of Weidler, but ODOT nixed that “safest” bike route with best access to both bridges plus Vancouver/Williams couplet. ODOT’s relocation of the I-5 south exit ramp with a hazardous hairpin turn there is cause for ALARM and criminal prosecution, thus the charge of Negligent Homicide as a prosecutable offense. Way too many ODOT proposals conceal worsened traffic hazards inherent in their design.

I’d like to see some version of the Green Loop go through both North and South Park blocks by removing parking spots on the Park side for a bi-directional bikeway. Wheeler’s plan for a Park Block bikeway cuts entire rows of trees down because that’s what the Wheeler dynasty does.

morganblee
morganblee
5 months ago

So… they purchased a building with full knowledge of the surrounding site, and then immediately tried to strongarm the City to spend public funds AND waive fees by threatening to hold a hypothetical retail project ‘hostage’. As if the retail project wouldn’t be feasible without their wish list? Either it isn’t true and they are playing dirty with our community, or it is true and they make incredibly risky and terrible business decisions – pick your poison. Now I have more questions and have to read through the land use review file (LU 23-069985): https://efiles.portlandoregon.gov/Record/16396505/

When I try to find the public notice of the land use decision, it is nowhere to be found. Could be a fluke, but I’m a skeptic and now I’m more suspicious of nonsense happening.

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago
Reply to  morganblee

You make a lot more money when you don’t play by the rules.

Julian Dunn
Julian Dunn
5 months ago

Really appreciate the clarity with which you’ve laid out the case for how and why Mapps is trying to mislead the public. I know Mapps is probably squirming because expects bike advocates to irrationally scream at him rather than engaging with detailed, irrefutable facts. So keep up the great work, Jonathan.

Pluke
Pluke
5 months ago

I guess I’d like to see the whole quote.

Lois Leveen
Lois Leveen
5 months ago

Interestingly, when (thanks to BikePortland’s extensive reporting), I testified about Mapps’s dishonesty at City Council, he did not contradict me, nor respond in any way. I think he hesitated because that would have been part of the public record, and so easily disproved, that he didn’t dare risk it.

Every time I’ve seen or heard or read Mapps’s public words, they have involved him blaming other people for whatever has gone wrong. (I pity Millicent Williams for not realizing he will pin anything and everything that is unsuccessful at PBOT on her, while taking credit for anything that goes right.)

Simply put, this is a politician who wants all the power but without taking responsibility or demonstrating any leadership. (Nor is this just a matter of an overactive individual ego: Mapps, like a number of other electeds, was put up for office by private business interests who have carefully chosen their candidates. Those same interests — and their chosen candidates like Mapps — still oppose the new charter system because it makes buying elected officials somewhat more challenging. We really need to engage in the 2024 elections to ensure progressive candidates who put the needs of the community, especially communities of color and those most harmed in our current economic state and climate crisis, first. Public servants, I believe is what they are called.)

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Lois Leveen

Mapps, like a number of other electeds, was put up for office by private business interests who have carefully chosen their candidates

Alternative explanation: Mapps chose to run to oust Eudaly, who fired him for petty and total BS reasons.

Damien
Damien
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

These are not mutually exclusive.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Damien

Perhaps, the only one has evidence.

John
John
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Not that we need evidence to read between the lines (which is what we must do given incomplete information), but your proposal has no more evidence than the one you’re replying to. They’re both taking a series of events and interpreting them. They’re both circumstantial. And I have more confidence in Lois’ version because it matches with the rest of his behavior in office.

Peter Detecto
Peter Detecto
5 months ago

raise your hand if you think Jonathan needs a new hobby

Serenity
Serenity
5 months ago

You know what would be really interesting… Is statistics of Portland leaders who have had members of their staff leave while they are in office

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

statistics of Portland leaders who have had members of their staff leave while they are in office

In fact, I have those stats handy… let’s see… 100%.

Clarissa P
Clarissa P
5 months ago

I heard Mingus Mapps is considering a run for Earl Blumenaeur’s seat. I think he’d be very good for that….unfortunately his hiring decision for PBOT director have made him a bit of a lame duck in Portland transportation circles.

FDUP
FDUP
2 months ago

Important info to know about the people we vote for, thanks!