June 18th, 2013 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: City Hall, Transportation

New PBOT Director is Leah Treat from Chicago

UPDATE: Treat helped instate Alta Bike Share at both of her previous posts.

treatLeah Treat on a Divvy bike-share bicycle in Chicago - Twitter

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has hired a new director: Leah Treat, the chief of staff in Chicago's transportation department. City Commissioner Steve Novick announced Treat's hiring this morning in an email to Portland transportation bureau staff.

Treat, 42, served as chief of staff to Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein starting in 2010. Before that, she was the finance manager for Washington, D.C.'s transportation department. She's also a mother of four.

Treat's Twitter feed shows her to be an outspoken bicycle advocate and a proponent of new funding models for transportation. (A Treat tweet from this morning declares, "The gas tax model is indeed broken.")

That's crucial to the direction of a city department that's been castigated in two city audits this spring, and continues to be buffeted with media controversies over bicycle spending. 

UPDATE, 10:39 am: Treat tells reporters in a conference call that she's interested in increasing the percentage of trips taken in Portland on bicycle.

"I get around on a bike," Treat says. "We're working hard [in Chicago] to make the roads safe for them. I definitely will be interested in increasing biking's mode share in a way that's safe for everybody." 

She won't yet discuss new funding mechanisms for the bureau—such as a street maintenance fee, which was floated last year.

"It's my experience if you don't test your ideas, and get support on the ground, you'll never succeed," Treat says.

During the call, Novick pointed out Treat's record following Klein from D.C. to Chicago as a financial expert.

"When you look at Leah's resume, you'll see a heck of a lot of financial background," Novick says. "It's an extra bonus to be able to steal someone out from Rahm Emanuel. Take that, Rahm-bo!"

But Treat was unaware during her interviews that Portland has 59 miles of unpaved streets—a paving backlog far larger than other similarly-sized cities.

"I need to have a good understanding of the universe I'm entering," Treat says. "You just gave me some new information. It's not going to be cheap. I don't believe we can do more with less."

UPDATE, 12:06 pm: What do Treat's two most recent jobs—in Chicago and D.C.—have in common? They're two of the six cities where Portland-based company Alta Bike Share has started bike share programs. WW examined the company in last week's cover story

(Technically, Chicago's bike share launch is still two weeks away, while Klein is reportedly under investigation for giving Alta an unfair advantage in the vendor selection process.)

Treat was involved in both of those Alta Bike Share launches, she tells Bike Portland, which interviewed her during the selection process. "We were trying to implement the same things we'd done in D.C."

The Portland launch is a year behind schedule because Alta still needs $6 million in private sponsorships.

ORIGINAL POST, 10:05 am: Treat's hiring follows a national search that drew 44 applications. 

The job been a hot seat to occupy: Mayor Charlie Hales fired former PBOT Director Tom Miller before taking office in January after catching criticism for a backlog of street maintenance. Interim director Toby Widmer followed Hales' instructions to find money for road paving—but when Widmer cut a sidewalk project on Southeast 136th Avenue, he was caught in a furor after a 5-year-old girl was killed by a car as she crossed that road.

Here's Novick's email to PBOT staff this morning:

I wanted you to be the first to hear that I have chosen Leah Treat to be the new Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.  Leah brings a wealth of transportation and financial management background to the Bureau.
Leah comes to Oregon via the Chicago Department of Transportation where she currently serves as Chief of Staff and Managing Deputy Commissioner.  She also served as the Deputy Director for the District Department of Transportation in Washington D.C., where she managed the Department's $1.5 billion portfolio.  I've attached the announcement that describes more of her experience.
Leah will start on July 22.  Toby has graciously agreed to continue in the interim role until she arrives.
I'm very excited about working together with Leah and all of you as we ensure a safe and reliable transportation system for all of Portland.
 
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