Baltimore Department of Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau resigned today, four days after The Sun reported the Office of the Inspector General is looking into the operation of the transportation department, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Lester Davis, spokesman for Ex Officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, confirmed the news, and said senior advisor Frank Murphy will serve as acting director. Asked for comment, DOT spokesman German Vigil would only confirm Pourciau’s departure.
City Councilman Ryan Dorsey released a statement calling Pourciau’s resignation “among the best things that could happen for Baltimore right now.”
“Transportation is the deepest disparity Baltimore’s population faces, and the number one problem we face in terms of population loss and economic potential,” he said.
DOT controls a third of land in the city, Dorsey noted.
“The position requires visionary leadership that commands competent and efficient operations,” he said. “Director Pourciau exhibited none of the above as she stalled progress and created nothing but discontent through her two years.”
In a statement, the cycling advocacy group Bikemore said both Pourciau and Mayor Catherine Pugh failed to live up to the “ethos of progressive transportation both claimed to embody.”
“This lack of leadership has cost the City millions in lost grant dollars, resulted in poorly managed projects, led to the attrition of talented staff, and has sown deep distrust in communities,” the organization wrote. “When communities don’t trust DOT to do its job, it blocks all progress toward building a city connected with high quality transportation choices.”
Dorsey told The Sun earlier this week that he’s spoken with three dozen people interviewed for the investigation and said he expects the report will find Pourciau proved to be a barrier to attracting and retaining top talent.
“Professionals across the country have become significantly aware of how devastating this director has been to progress on transportation in Baltimore,” he said. “There is nobody I know of who believes this director is serving the city well.”
Pourciau’s confirmation hearings in 2017 proved contentious when council members raised concerns about communication with the transportation department. Young, then serving as city council president, delayed the confirmation vote for a week so Pourciau could meet with council members to address any concerns. She was eventually approved unanimously.
In her time at the helm of DOT, which per The Sun has a $207 million budget and more than 1,200 employees, there’s been contentious fights over bike lanes, the collapse of the city’s own docked bike share program and the arrival of dockless e-bikes and scooters furnished by start-up companies.
During the spring of 2017, the city attempted to remove a bike lane on Potomac Street in Canton citing a rarely used fire code restriction that requires 20- and 26-foot street clearances for fire department vehicles. The cycling advocacy group Bikemore and two residents successfully sued the city to keep the lane.
One year later, the council repealed that part of the fire code–without Pugh’s signature–and passed a Complete Streets law that would overhaul design guidelines to cater to pedestrians, cyclists and public transit over cars. Both measures were sponsored by Dorsey.
Up in Roland Park, a similar bike lane battle has played out in recent years over a cycletrack on Roland Avenue, stretching from West Cold Spring Lane to West Northern Parkway. The lane was reconfigured in 2015 to place parked cars in between the lane for bicycles and the lane for vehicular traffic. Some residents complained this design created traffic outside of schools when parents went to pick up their children and caused damage to cars when cyclists hit them.
The city last year launched a survey and held a public meeting to collect feedback on five options for re-working the lane.
A “road diet” reducing a stretch of Roland Avenue to one lane to make more room for cyclists and parked cars was deemed the “preferred” option at the time and earned the most support in a non-scientific survey of locals.
But DOT decided to ignore the results of the poll and delayed its decision, even though the department later teased an experiment with the road diet option. In one of her final acts as mayor before taking an indefinite leave of absence in the wake of the “Healthy Holly” scandal, Pugh ordered the lane to be removed. Curbside parking will be restored at an estimated cost between $600,00 and $750,000.
Then there’s the matter of the bikes the city supplied to encourage ridership. A July 2018 investigation by Baltimore Fishbowl found the Baltimore Bike Share, which had closed once before in 2017 after problems with vandalism and theft, was due to fail again. Of the 500 bikes in the city’s fleet, only a handful were available, and among those, even fewer were able to be checked out, our reporter found. Some 200 were still waiting to be fixed at the maintenance facility run by Bewegen, the company that designed and installed the bike share system.
That August, the city decided to scrap Bewegen’s $2.4 million bike share program and shift its focus to dockless e-scooters and bikes, some of which had quite literally been dropped off in the city without the knowledge of officials.
DOT drew up a pilot program that permitted dockless companies to deploy 1,000 vehicles of each type. Those providers pay a fee of $15,000 and $1 per vehicle per day. In January, a draft proposal of regulations for scooters and e-bikes called for 30-day jail terms for riding too fast. Department officials amended the proposal so that riders would instead face $20 citations.
Before the roll out, Matt Warfield, who oversaw the scooter pilot program and shut down Baltimore Bike Share, resigned, citing “a work environment of bullying, intimidation, and outright harassment, originating from the highest level of leadership,” The Sun reported at the time.
His departure followed an exodus of four senior officials from the Department of Transportation in 2018.
This story has been updated.