Guest Opinion: Job description for new PBOT leader isn’t bold enough

Jillian Detweiler is the executive director of The Street Trust.

“The successful candidate should value all modes of transportation.”

So reads the disappointing job description for the next leader of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The Street Trust hoped the recruitment would elevate the exciting and pressing challenge that awaits the new PBOT Director: leading and accelerating significant improvements in alternatives to driving alone. That certainly was the consensus of transportation activists invited to meet with a City Human Resources representative who gathered stakeholder input prior to producing the job description.

In that stakeholder meeting I heard “bold” repeatedly. “Bold” did not make the job description. Neither did “bicycle” or “bus.” A “b” word that made it, though, is “balance” as in “balance the competing uses” of our transportation system. Balance? That’s the code word that prevents real changes to high crash corridors that could save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists. Balance is the excuse that leaves thousands of bus riders stuck in traffic. We hope potential applicants, and those who will vet those applicants, recognize that our transportation system is wildly out of balance in favor of cars.

Sure, there are hints that leading PBOT could be an interesting and rewarding job. The position description calls for understanding the racial and socio-economic impacts of access to transportation. It says the candidate should have experience and knowledge addressing population growth and climate change. Yet, there’s nothing that suggests the urgency of these matters and that our City Council has adopted a body of policy that needs action now.



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The Street Trust is concerned this uninspired job description won’t attract the creative, accomplished, bold leader who will help Portland stop spinning her wheels on plans and platitudes and instead make the decisions that will dramatically expand use of alternatives to driving. There are exciting initiatives underway in Portland and this region that could attract the cream of the crop. There’s a plan to improve access in the Central City and we are beginning to expand the greenway network in East Portland. TriMet has significant new money to expand transit service. Metro has declared its intent to bring a transportation package to the voters in 2020.

If this recruitment is not attracting leaders in transportation, we urge Commissioner Eudaly and the City’s Bureau of Human Resources to reframe this opportunity to communicate the challenge and rewards that it offers. And it’s not too late to implement the recommendation from transportation activists to engage experts like Jeff Tumlin, Janette Sadik-Khan or Gabe Klein in the recruitment and vetting process.

The Street Trust will participate in interviews with finalists for the job. We welcome your thoughts on the experience and abilities we should be looking for.

— Jillian Detweiler, The Street Trust

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