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Mayor Adams weighs in on Williams Ave project

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 28th, 2011 at 9:13 am

"... if the community doesn’t have the power to choose a solution, it doesn’t matter how good the solution is... To empower the community and find a way forward, I pledge that my staff and the Portland Bureau of Transportation staff will support you and work with all stakeholders to make progress."
— Mayor Sam Adams

As PBOT's North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project has evolved from just a small transportation project into a full-blown, community-wide discussion about gentrification and community power (or lack of it) in the decision-making process, Portland Mayor Sam Adams decided it was time to weigh in.

In a letter sent out yesterday to the project's 18-member Stakeholder Advisory Committee, Adams addressed the many sensitive topics that this process has brought to the fore. I am working on a recap of an important meeting that took place last night. In the meantime, I've posted Adams' letter below:

Street Smart campaign launch event-7-6
(Photo © J. Maus)

Thank you for working to make North Williams Avenue a safer, more efficient transportation corridor. Your commitment to extend your service and expand your committee to achieve the first objective of the North Williams Traffic Operations Safety Project – to conduct an open planning process through which all voices can be heard – is appreciated and commendable.

As with many of the city’s major projects, this one began as the reconsideration of a public space and quickly evolved into a community-wide discussion about the history of a neighborhood and its historical treatment by government, changing demographics and the nature of decision-making. Although these issues may not sound like the transportation problems you signed up to solve, they are important to me, as well as all Portlanders.

In addition to welcoming the new members on the stakeholder advisory committee I’m very pleased that Debora Leopold Hutchins has accepted the responsibility of acting as chair. I know that Debora brings to this task an understanding that bridges many perspectives, and, as a committee member, she has demonstrated significant leadership in helping the project staff navigate community concerns. I ask that you support her.

As a committee, you have the chance to model the kind of respectful listening and thoughtful deliberation that we need for all our public processes. I encourage and applaud you opening yourselves to this honest conversation to explore intersections of this project with gentrification, privilege, community power and historic disenfranchisement. I want to acknowledge that this is hard work, and express how grateful I am that you are willing to undertake it. I ask you to bring your whole passion and creativity to this open, engaged process.

Portland has a long tradition of community involvement in public decision-making. It’s by no means perfect, but I ask you to draw on and improve that tradition in this process. As one participant has said, if the community doesn’t have the power to choose a solution, it doesn’t matter how good the solution is. I couldn’t agree more. To empower the community and find a way forward, I pledge that my staff and the Portland Bureau of Transportation staff will support you and work with all stakeholders to make progress.

Thank you for choosing to spend your time and energy to serve all Portlanders, and for your commitment to inclusive, respectful public involvement.

The meeting last night was a positive step forward. Stay tuned for a full recap (and The Oregonian had a videographer, photographer, and reporter their too, so expect to see some coverage from them as well).

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  • lyle July 28, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Great to see the mayor get involved. An inclusive approach to a solution is by far the best. Now everyone can be heard equally and racial issues, bicycle/pedestrian safety and gentrification can all get equal time in the discussion.

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    • cold worker July 28, 2011 at 9:47 am

      super. i'm hoping bike and ped safety is viewed as the most important issue to consider since this is a PBOT project and the whole idea in the first place was to make williams safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

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      • Joe Rowe July 28, 2011 at 10:21 am

        Smug cloud warning. Beware of labeling any issue as most important. As MLK said, a true leader does not seek consensus, one builds it.

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  • Allan July 28, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Last night we talked about a 2-pronged approach
    1 for safety and traffic changes
    1 for development/neighborhood inclusiveness/other issues

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  • wsbob July 28, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Good letter. Particularly, if Adams wrote that all on his own...realistically, he probably couldn't have...he deserves extra acknowledgement.

    These two excerpts especially:

    "...As with many of the city’s major projects, this one began as the reconsideration of a public space and quickly evolved into a community-wide discussion about the history of a neighborhood and its historical treatment by government, changing demographics and the nature of decision-making. ..."

    "...I encourage and applaud you opening yourselves to this honest conversation to explore intersections of this project with gentrification, privilege, community power and historic disenfranchisement. ..."

    And maybe this one:

    "... As one participant has said, if the community doesn’t have the power to choose a solution, it doesn’t matter how good the solution is. ..."

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    • Opus the Poet July 28, 2011 at 10:35 am

      Sometimes you have to force a good decision on a group, otherwise you would still have segregation in the Deep South, no same-sex marriage, no bike lanes...

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  • are July 28, 2011 at 10:33 am

    after the very first meeting of the SAC, i suggested to some of the committee that they organize themselves, agree on a decisionmaking process, set up mechanisms for communicating outside the monthly meetings, etc. so far as i know they have done none of that. but now they have a chair. question: was she appointed by the mayor/city/PBoT, or was she chosen by the committee?

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  • Dabby July 28, 2011 at 10:39 am

    So,
    In his letter he basically is gladhanding and saying nothing productive except that he agrees with the reason why this project is stalled...

    Boring...

    THis process has gone beyond fixing Williams.

    Control of this process should be in the hands of qualified planners, not upset neighbors.

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    • peejay July 28, 2011 at 11:02 am

      I hear you, but just remember when "qualified planners" put the I-5 right down the middle of Minnesota Avenue, which is why we're in this mess now. The planners were qualified by power structures from outside the community, and planned accordingly.

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      • Dabby July 28, 2011 at 11:15 am

        Those were qualified planners of past...

        I am sure we can do better with the ones we havenow.

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      • cold worker July 28, 2011 at 11:20 am

        sure, but you're comparing 2 things that don't deserve to be compared. this is a traffic safety issue and i see no reason for race to play into it. safe travel is safe travel.

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      • BURR July 28, 2011 at 11:26 am

        the history of the interstate highway system is that by original design it was going to bypass most urban area, but the cities cried foul and insisted on bringing the interstates right into the urban core. low income neighborhoods and low value waterfront land typically was where the freeway right of way ended up being located.

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  • Jim F July 28, 2011 at 11:11 am

    A daily reminder of why I am glad I moved out of Portland. Race/gentrification has no place in this discussion, IMHO.

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    • Dabby July 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

      Exactly JIm.

      Race/ gentrification issues are ruining this project.

      It is like fixing Williams finally gave some **word deleted by moderator** residents a platform for complaining..

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      • dmc July 28, 2011 at 11:56 am

        lol.

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      • Thomas Le Ngo July 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

        I think your comments belong on OregonLive.

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      • Nancy July 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm

        Comments like this are exactly the reason why this discussion has evolved as it has. Evidently you believe you have the right to have an opinion of what should happen on Williams, but you resort to negative rhetoric toward residents who have lived here for decades because they do not agree with you.

        I know some of you mean well, but for long-time residents the holier-than-thou attitudes permeating from many new residents of numerous inner N/NE neighborhoods is truly off-putting. Please drop the attitude.

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        • LGM July 29, 2011 at 10:11 am

          Thank you Nancy. Very well said. As one of those longtime neighborhood residents, I find Jim and Dabby's comments extremely insulting, and a fine example of why Portland will probably NEVER move beyond it's racist present (notice I didn't say past).

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 29, 2011 at 10:19 am

          Nancy, LGM, and Thomas,

          Dabby and Jim are expressing their opinion about this issue. Yes, Dabby used a directly insulting word and I have deleted it; but I feel their opinions are just as valid as yours.

          Isn't everyone deserving of a forum to express themselves... even if goes completely against your perspective?

          I actually think an ability for people to speak freely — on all sides of the issue — are what will allow this discussion to evolve.

          Again, I won't tolerate insults, but I feel like these are more opinions than insults. Maybe I'm wrong. I welcome your feedback. Thanks.

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          • Dabby July 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

            Didn't I use the term "bored resident's"?

            As it is deleted I cannot confirm...

            But directly insulting?
            I do not see that.

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          • Dabby July 29, 2011 at 11:53 am

            If I was insulting I surely apologize.

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  • BURR July 28, 2011 at 11:22 am

    that letter says nothing substantial, it is just wishy washy politician speak.

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    • aljee July 28, 2011 at 11:43 am

      agreed. he could of said "poop" over and over again, and there would be no difference.

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    • wsbob July 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

      "that letter says nothing substantial ..." BURR

      ...that you want to hear. Which, also because of other people's unwillingness to hear and do something to positively respond to issues raised by residents that are hesitant to support the plan, is exactly the problem that's been holding up completion of the plan.

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      • BURR July 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm

        where is the substance? there is none. all he's doing is making nice, a favorite pass time of the warm and fuzzy crowd in Portland, which guarantees that nothing gets accomplished due to lack of political will.

        meanwhile, bicyclists continue to endure substandard unsafe conditions on N. Williams. When a cyclist gets seriously injured or killed there, I hope they sue the crap out of the city for failing to upgrade a proven substandard, unsafe cycling facility.

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        • davemess July 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm

          I'm pretty sure "standard" would be to have no bike lane on WIlliams (if we're talking about American "standard"), and even by Portland "standard" I would put it at about "standard", and not "substandard".

          Again, I think some perspective of other bike infrastructure throughout the city would be good. Yes Williams can be better, but compared to many neighborhoods it is pretty decent.

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          • BURR July 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm

            the bike lane is over capacity during rush hour. That's substandard.

            If they were evaluating the capacity of the bike facility on N Williams the same way they evaluate road capacity for motorists, it would not meet level of service standards.

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        • wsbob July 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm

          "where is the substance? ..." BURR

          Adams's remarks appear to be intended to be a brief, summarizing, expression of appreciation and encouragement letter, rather than a detailed multi-page dossier of the varied issues surrounding this plan.

          It's the responsibility of the SAC and involved community members to sort out and resolve issues associated with the plan. In his letter, he's emphasizing the general direction of their efforts to which his support exists. I think Adams expects and hopes the committee, as part of moving the plan forward, will come up with ideas that address secondarily related issues to the plan, raised by people of color from the neighborhoods surrounding Williams Ave.

          Could Adams strong-arm the plan, and move it forward despite significant citizen opposition to it, as, by a previous mayor was done with a particular street re-naming of past? I don't know the particulars, or if so, how that would play out, but I think it might likely be 'not good'.

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          • BURR July 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

            and by 'not good', I assume you mean 'not good for Adam's reelection'

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          • wsbob July 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

            "...and by 'not good', I assume you mean 'not good for Adam's reelection' ..."

            You assume incorrectly. That's not what I meant. Adams strong-arming the plan, process, would be 'not good' for the city, for people biking on Williams, for residents. Just one example: a wider bike lane may in one sense, be easier and safer for people that ride bikes to ride on, but if construction of the bike lane in a manner that's indifferent to residents of the neighborhood happens to cause a lot of Williams Ave residents to resent the bike lane and people that ride on it, that's not going to be good.

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          • Dabby July 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm

            LOL...

            He said re-election...

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        • was carless July 29, 2011 at 10:20 am

          BURR, "political will" is something you build up through the goodwill and cooperation of others. You clearly have never had experience with politics - on any level. You can't just bulldoze over others just because - thats the fastest way to lose support on a project. Compromise is what allows democracy to work!

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  • wsbob July 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Dabby
    Exactly JIm.
    Race/ gentrification issues are ruining this project.
    It is like fixing Williams finally gave some bored residents a platform for complaining..

    Except that, they've been complaining, or more accurately...requesting assistance for decades, and those requests have fallen on deaf ears.

    Now this safety improvement project...which is kind of a pet project for some of the folks riding bikes...comes along, and those residents you derisively refer to, inevitably realize...'Hey! Once again, money, some of it...our money....gets spent on a fine and dandy road feature passing through our neighborhood, but built for mostly other people, while our community continues to go wanting. How about a little balance here? '.

    The bike lane may not be directly linked to long standing social problems, or to some people unhappy that the bike lane isn't rushing towards completion...may not seem to have any link at all to it, but it does. For anybody hoping to see the bike lane proceed ASAP, at this point, that should be the first thing to recognize.

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    • davemess July 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      But it could be used by them as well. It's a public street. They could use it for comfortable commuting from downtown just as much as anyone else.

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    • Dabby July 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Well, This is well my third decade in the neighborhood, and I see less race issues and gentrification than ever before.
      (I could expound on that but this is not the place)

      There is no way of denying that these improvements are the best thing for everybody.
      Some just have not realized it yet.
      When they (as in all of us) realize it, it will make it easier for the right thing to be done.

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      • LGM July 29, 2011 at 10:22 am

        You see less race issues because you see less race period. The numbers out of the recent census are ASTONISHING as it highlights the sheer number of African-Americans who have been forced from this neighborhood. As an African-American and longtime resident of this community, your comment sounds like this to my ears: the displacement of generations of African Americans due to gentrification was actually a "good thing" - those poor Black folks just don't know it yet. When they "see the light" they'll feel so much better.

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        • davemess July 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

          As a serious question what is the main thing driving this "forced flight"? Is it the increase in property taxes that home owners can't pay? If they outright own their homes, or even have a fixed mortgage, this is the only real thing that is "forcing" homeowners out? Am I wrong in thinking this? Or are we talking about renters? I am just having trouble understanding why people who want to stay in the neighborhood are being forced to sell their houses. I'm sure there were some who left by their own choice after their property values increased, and they took their money and moved somewhere else.

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        • Dabby July 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

          LGM,

          If I see less race, it is only because I am not running around looking for it.
          I see many "people" in my neighborhood though.
          Upon reflection, it is a wide variety of people still to this day.

          Maybe it comes from my parents, upbringing etc., but I just see people?
          A resident is a resident.....

          As a person and longtime resident of this community,
          your response to me is disheartening.

          You do not know me, but you have assumed somehow what my race must or must not be. (Thanks for the help, as I am adopted and have no idea myself)
          From that point you move on to assume my feelings towards my own african american (your words not mine) neighbors are feelings of pity and woe, combined with a satisfaction of sorts.

          This could not be farther from the truth.

          So your response, while self discrediting, has helped highlight what just may be the big issue here on Williams.

          Assumptions.

          Have a good day!

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      • wsbob August 1, 2011 at 12:44 am

        Dabby
        Well, This is well my third decade in the neighborhood, and I see less race issues and gentrification than ever before.
        (I could expound on that but this is not the place)
        There is no way of denying that these improvements are the best thing for everybody.
        Some just have not realized it yet.
        When they (as in all of us) realize it, it will make it easier for the right thing to be done.

        So you say: "...less race issues and gentrification than ever before. ...". Compared to? What? The past, within the neighborhood? To other neighborhoods across the city?

        Is it not correct that residents in the neighborhood around Williams Ave and MLK are predominately black, that they're notably poorer than residents in most neighborhoods across the city, and that it's not generally they that are getting the high paying jobs that allow people to bring back to their neighborhood, the capital/money necessary to fix up and build new homes, grow businesses?

        davemess, commenting July 29, 2011 at 11:50 am, asks:

        "As a serious question what is the main thing driving this "forced flight"? Is it the increase in property taxes that home owners can't pay? ..."

        I don't know exactly how it all works, and what leads people to have to leave their neighborhoods. Taxes could be a big contributor though, especially for people that are renting. Myself as an example...I just learned my rent is going up $30/mo. Not much you say? That's $360/yr more...a chunk of change for me, and from all units added together...a lot more for the landlord to distribute in ways vaguely known to us tenants. Why's it going up? Sure as heck isn't because my complex is getting any significant improvements. It's because cost of services and property values are increasing. So the city hits the landlords and the landlords turn right around and sock it to the tenants.

        Soak people for money like that, and sure...if they can't come up with it, one way or another...they've got to leave.

        "...There is no way of denying that these improvements are the best thing for everybody." Dabby

        Sure...for everybody that can continue to afford to stay.

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  • kiel johnson July 28, 2011 at 11:36 am

    this project is astonishing for having lots of things happen without having anything happen

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  • David July 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I was hating on the direction this project seemed to be taking for a while. But I have to admit that I'm a full-blown convert now.

    I don't think you can overstate the benefit that future bike, pedestrian, and other active transportation projects in Portland could reap from a Williams project that successfully engages the long-disenfranchised members of that community. Doing the Williams corridor "right" makes this project as much about building the groundwork for future improvements as it is about responding to past injustices.

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  • Alain July 28, 2011 at 11:58 am

    This project needs to happen because it could be a catalyst for future developments of its kind. And I'm sorry, but what public process is not a little painful?

    I live on Williams between Alberta and Killingsworth, and I'm tired of seeing, hearing and riding by cars driving 10-15 MPH over the speed limit as they race toward the light at Killingsworth. It's not a street to be driving 35-40 MPH on.

    It's unsafe, and it's unwanted and unnecessary noise and air pollution.

    Down near Failing, cars barely stop at the pedestrian crosswalk. I'm surprised someone has been seriously injured there yet.

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    • are July 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      why would anyone race toward a light where there is a forced turn onto a street they cannot yet see? these people need to have their licenses revoked.

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  • rebar July 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I don't think you can overstate the benefit that future bike, pedestrian, and other active transportation projects in Portland could reap from a Williams project that successfully engages the long-disenfranchised members of that community. Doing the Williams corridor "right" makes this project as much about building the groundwork for future improvements as it is about responding to past injustices.

    I too am frustrated by this process and originally felt it was stalled to deal with issues that, while tangential, did not warrant stopping a safety measure when several community members said they'd been fighting to get safety measures for years. My take on the situation is more measured now and I really have to agree with David that this is a HUGE opportunity to get the process right and lay the groundwork for positive, inclusive approaches to projects/improvements in Portland.

    A number of cyclists have commented here that as they are in the minority as commuters given their modal choice, they have something in common with minority Portlanders. Not surprisingly, minority Portlanders have balked at this suggested common ground, not only because modality is a choice, but perhaps also because we as cyclists are pretty absolutist on how we want this project to look. You can't ask for someone to identify with you if you're not going to return the favor. As modal and racial minorities, we can come together. But we're not -- both sides see this as us vs. them right now.

    A lot of bad stuff has gone down in the name of development in this town. We can't change anything that's happened already, but here and now is an opportunity for a proof-of-concept approach to deciding this project that could provide a model for avoiding projects with such lopsided benefits in the future. And as any pilot project, it's going to be messy, it's going to take way longer than it should, parts of it will break, etc. But when it's done, we'll have a clearer sense of what works and what doesn't, and greater will to keep trying such an approach to project development in Portland until we get it right(er).

    Also, in the meantime, can we ALL be on our best behavior on Williams right now? Motorists, cyclists, pedestrians -- all of us. I am sick of having jerkwads on bikes next to me in the bike lane almost hitting pedestrians, taking the lane to pass without a signal or much, and generally making us look like a bunch of crybaby scofflaws. Not on this stretch of road, when tempers are high.

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    • rebar July 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

      Sorry -- that first paragraph is a quote from David, but I clearly can't work the internets and attribute correctly.

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  • Michael July 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    People are going to try to bypass congestion on I-5 during rush hour. There's no effective way to curtail that. If we want more bike capacity on Williams we should

    1. Reduce the car lanes to 1 and widen the bike lane
    2. Install timed traffic lights West to East from the Freemont Bridge offramp to MLK along Cook Street.

    We will end up with I-5, Williams, and MLK being over-capacity during the evening commute, but at least the timed traffic lights will encourage cars to travel north on MLK instead of Williams.

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  • wsbob July 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    davemess
    But it could be used by them as well. It's a public street. They could use it for comfortable commuting from downtown just as much as anyone else.

    Impression I'm getting is that those hesitant to moving the plan forward, understand and appreciate that an improved bike lane would benefit them personally, when riding a bike, but take exception to the fact that money somewhat readily gets spent on improvements like this one in the neighborhood, while deeper, long standing, more pressing issues in the neighborhood go unaddressed, for years.

    A number of people commenting to bikeportland's stories on the Williams Ave safety plan have distinctly remarked about their observation that not a lot of black people even ride bikes. Theories exist, but there doesn't seem to be a solid understanding of why that is. Still, if true that they don't, that means neighborhood residents are being asked to support infrastructure they're not even accustomed to using.

    If there were more people of color riding Williams, patronizing the street's businesses, seems likely that support for the plan might be greater.

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    • davemess July 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      I sometimes wonder if situations like this could be somewhat solved by having a local government that is based on representation of your location. As in there would be a city councilman from the Williams area looked after the interests of the Williams area. I wonder if the somewhat odd form of local government hurts Portland in situations like this.

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  • Ted Buehler July 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks, Sam.

    As an inner N/NE resident, I hope that the racial injustices that have been brought up in this project can become the focus of attention by the city, and that policies can be enacted to prevent further displacement of the black community.

    While also bringing to light the issues of bicycle congestion, safe riding in heavy bicycle traffic, respect, and the need for additional bicycle capacity between downtown and N/NE.

    Ted Buehler

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  • dwainedibbly July 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    What the N. Williams project needs right now is for cool heads, a tone where everyone can feel like they will be listened to and not threatened, so that all sides can get back to communicating in an environment of trust. The point of the Mayor's letter is to try to (re-)establish that trust. I think he did a great job.

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  • Dabby July 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    BURR
    the bike lane is over capacity during rush hour. That's substandard.
    If they were evaluating the capacity of the bike facility on N Williams the same way they evaluate road capacity for motorists, it would not meet level of service standards.

    I did pass like 40 people in a short stretch of Williams this afternoon.... LIke 5 minutes tops..

    Is overcrowded, I had to ride in the street much of the time.

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  • Hugh Johnson July 31, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Perhaps the best thing to do is for everyone to just pull out of NoPo and let it go back to the state of decay it was in for the last 30+ years. Put the money and infrastructure will it be appreciated.

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