Portland transportation isn’t ‘stagnating’ after all, city director says

Portland transportation isn’t ‘stagnating’ after all, city director says

Ride-along SW Broadway-5-3

Riding on SW Broadway in downtown Portland.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Four months after taking charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Leah Treat is walking back an idea she shared in her job interview: the notion that the city’s bike infrastructure is “stagnating.”

“If I had to go through the interview process again, I would change that to say it’s more of a marketing issue,” Treat said, according to the edited Q&A on OregonLive.com. “We’re still way ahead of the country in the transportation arena, it’s just getting lost in the messaging somewhere. So we need to be talking more about the really exciting things that we’re doing.”

She described TriMet’s new light rail bridge, which will carry people in trains, streetcars, buses, ambulances and on bikes, skates or foot, but no private cars, as both “insane” and “really really cool.”

Here’s the quoted exchange:

Policymakers Ride - Gorge Edition-23

Leah Treat during a ride back in August.

A: Here’s something I’ve kind of changed my mind on, I said in my interview that I felt like Portland had stagnated. What Portland had done was so progressive at the time, and was seen as a national leader and other cities looked to Portland and said, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ They picked up what Portland was doing and took it home.”

Q: You’re talking about light rail?

A: “Streetcars, light rail, even bicycling infrastructure, pedestrian infrastructure the way that we build our streets. All of that stuff. (Other cities) went gangbusters with it and started beating us at our own game, so I said that Portland was stagnating. And that was a little bit of perception, I think. So since I’ve been here now for 4 months, if I had to go through the interview process again, I would change that to say it’s more of a marketing issue. We’re still way ahead of the country in the transportation arena, it’s just getting lost in the messaging somewhere. So we need to be talking more about the really exciting things that we’re doing. Like the Portland-Milwaukie light rail bridge. That is really cool. To our knowledge it’s the first bridge in North America that’s built to handle car capacity and won’t handle cars. That’s insane. That’s really, really cool.

About 6 percent of Portlanders currently bike to work year-round, and they use bikes for about 4 percent of all trips. In 2010, the city made a plan to increase that ratio to at least 25 percent by 2030 by making biking “more attractive than driving for trips of three miles or less.”

The city released a one-year progress report in 2011 and hasn’t released any related documents since.

The share of Portlanders using bicycles, meanwhile, has been essentially unchanged since 2008. In August we reported that the City’s own report shows a “stubborn plateau” in bike use and the most recent U.S. Census numbers show a clear slow down in the growth of biking in Portland. The share of Portlanders who use public transit to get to work, meanwhile, is down from 12 percent in 2010 to 10 percent, and the percentage who drive alone to work has risen from 62 percent to 64 percent.

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