PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Mayor Charlie Hales – with just two weeks left in his tenure – defended how city agencies responded to Wednesday’s snow storm that caused a nightmarish commute for many people and left cars abandoned around the city.
“I think the city was unprepared in the sense we don’t have a lot of practice as drivers around here in dealing with snow. Our crews of course were ready to go and did, and they’re still out there working these problems,” Hales told KGW’s Laural Porter Thursday during the taping of the station's Straight Talk program.
The complete show airs at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and can be seen after that time here.
Many local residents have contacted KGW since the storm hit to criticize city and state agencies for what they viewed as a haphazard response. Thousands of people took to the roads at once on Wednesday afternoon as the snow started to fall, leading to massive, multi-hour delays, and forcing many people to leave their vehicles overnight on roads and highways.
Hales, who will be replaced on Jan. 1 by incoming Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler, brushed off criticism that he should have been more vocal in encouraging people to stay off the roads.
“I’m not sure why they wanted to hear from me, frankly. I was on the phone with people like the police chief, our transportation director and our emergency management director making sure our workers were getting the job done,” Hales said. “I’m frankly not sure what I could have added by being out in the snow as the guy on the street.”
Hales urged personal responsibility from every Portland resident during snow storms. He said people should not have assumed that they would be able to drive home when snow was in the forecast, as it was on Wednesday.
“Some people in other parts of the country might be amused that we consider this a ‘snowpocalypse.’ What I did is what I think a lot of people did: I brought my boots to work and walked out to the train and went home. Didn’t try to drive,” Hales said.
At times residents seemed to get mixed messages from city and state agencies, including where or when it was appropriate to leave stranded vehicles.
On Wednesday just before 6 p.m., the Portland Bureau of Transportation urged drivers to "Stay in place! Delay all travel," one of many such messages from local agencies. By that point, thousands of cars had clogged area roadways leading to nightmarish traffic tie-ups.
“We have to deal in a dynamic environment out there, and also an environment where there are lots of different agencies involved. It’s completely reasonable people to leave their car on a city street in a parking space instead of driving it,” Hales said. “But leaving your car in the travel lane of an interstate highway is a completely different proposition.”