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As a low-car generation rises, youth organizers step up transportation activism

Posted by on April 22nd, 2014 at 9:42 am

Kelly Hansen of the Community Cycling Center, Nicole Johnson of OPAL, Camille Bales of Grant High School and Adriana Rangel of De La Salle High School at a panel on youth transportation advocacy Monday.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Few Portlanders rely more on low-car transportation than teens. And as many factors have made car use by young people dramatically less common, some are getting more sophisticated in advocating for better public transit, biking and walking.

A panel on the subject at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit Monday was enough to make city staffer Janis McDonald call herself “embarrassed” on the city’s behalf that it isn’t doing more to tap youth advocates’ opinions and expertise.

“Here we are, planning the City of Portland, and we’re not actually taking any ideas from the youth, who are going to use the things we build,”
— Janis McDonald, City of Portland

“Here we are, planning the City of Portland, and we’re not actually taking any ideas from the youth, who are going to use the things we build,” McDonald told the session, adding that she’d been deeply impressed by a recent trip to the Multnomah Youth Commission.

At the panel, two MYC members, both high school juniors, discussed their advocacy for YouthPass, the endangered program that gives free TriMet passes to most Portland Public Schools students during the school year.

Though she said “I really just bike everywhere” herself, Camille Bales of Grant High School said she focuses mostly on YouthPass because that’s not an attractive option for everyone, especially at schools further out than Grant, which is on Northeast 36th at Tillamook.

“It costs more than a lot of people think,” she said. “I don’t like to wear a backpack while I ride, so I need a bike bag. I need maintenance for my bike. Also, I think learning how to ride, a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity any more. … Also, there’s no bike lanes, and cars move really fast, so it’s really scary.”

Bales added that even Grant offers only 14 or 15 covered bike parking spaces, so students have to put up with wet seats if they ride during most of the school year.


Adriana Rangel, of De La Salle High School, said many students don’t know how to bike, and many others aren’t encouraged to. But for De La Salle, a private college-prep Catholic school at N. Lombard and Interstate, most students are coming from so far away that bikes aren’t a realistic option. Rangel said maybe three students arrive at the school by bicycle.

Next month, the MYC and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon are co-hosting a free, half-day Youth Summit on Transit Justice at David Douglas High School, focusing on YouthPass, how to preserve it for PPS students and expand the benefit to other districts.

Nicole Johnson, OPAL’s youth organizer and another person on Monday’s panel, was especially eloquent Monday in drawing on her experience growing up in Portland in the 00s to explain the importance of non-car transportation to young people:

This is important to youth, because they can’t drive; even if you’re 16 you have to pay for a car, you have to pay for insurance. If you don’t have transportation, then you can’t be actively involved in that community, in that environment.

During summer and after school, I walked home and I sat in my room and read. Because I really couldn’t go anywhere else. My mom wouldn’t allow me to ride in other folks’ cars, because she didn’t know if they had insurance. But that cut me off from being independent, from just learning my environment. In the beginning years, I was cut off from a lot of opportunities that I wanted to be involved in.

We don’t want that. We want all of our youth to be successful, to reach their potential.

Cases like that were enough for McDonald, who said the city’s new Safe Routes to School program for middle schools has been struggling to find adults willing to work with them. McDonald said Monday’s panel had given her a new idea: “a focus group of middle schoolers.”

Correction 9 pm: An earlier version of the photo caption misspelled Bales’ name.

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  • 9watts April 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Inspiring but also dispiriting.

    “most students are coming from so far away that bikes aren’t a realistic option. Rangel said maybe three students arrive at the school by bicycle.”

    “I walked home and I sat in my room and read. Because I really couldn’t go anywhere else. My mom wouldn’t allow me to ride in other folks’ cars, because she didn’t know if they had insurance. But that cut me off from being independent”

    Perhaps it would be worth organizing one day a month when everyone bikes to De La Salle? Including those who live far away. Not that it matters one way or another, but when I was a junior in high school I biked 12 miles to school each way, rain or shine.
    As for the kid who sat at home and felt lonely, some of us got on our bikes and went everywhere. I don’t think there are a priori reasons we can’t focus on making that more common again.

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    • Justin April 22, 2014 at 11:35 am

      De La Salle is on the corner of Lombard and Interstate. Two of the worst streets for bicycling in PDX.

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      • 9watts April 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

        Perhaps now that Janis McDonald and Adriana Rangel have met they can team up to improve that state of affairs?

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        • nuovorecord April 22, 2014 at 2:20 pm

          Lombard is also US 30 Business, i.e. an ODOT facility. And we all know how responsive ODOT is to safety.

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      • el timito April 22, 2014 at 4:31 pm

        True enough, but it is also flanked by the Concord Neighborhood Greenway (on Fenwick n. of Lombard), and sits within 1/4 mile of Bryant and Terry, also N’hood Greenways. Not to say that there are no problems with the built environment, but rather that efforts have been made.
        My guess (having missed this session) is that an even bigger obstacle for many teens is the expense of buying a bike (that is up to the challenge of daily use), as well as maintenance, lights, rain gear, etc. Biking is cheap compared to owning a car, but it’s not free.
        And yes, there may be status questions about biking, but don’t draw too many assumptions about De La Salle as “a religious private school”. They are very diverse, and their mission statement says,
        “De La Salle North Catholic High School provides a faith-based, college preparatory high school education to underserved students from the Portland area. … We don’t turn away any capable, motivated or interested student because they cannot afford our tuition.”

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        • paikikala April 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

          The City hasn’t completed the Concord Greenway yet. They still need to improve the crossing at Lombard.

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      • paikikala April 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

        But transit rich. I think it’s even called a transit center due to the number of buses and the light rail stations.

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  • 9watts April 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

    From Ivan Illich on The Industrialization of Traffic:

    “People move well on their feet. This primitive means of getting around will, on closer analysis, appear quite effective when compared with the lot of people in modern cities or on industrialized farms. It will appear particularly attractive once it has been understood that modern Americans walk, on the average, as many miles as their ancestors — most of them through tunnels, corridors, parking lots, and stores.”

    “To ‘gather’ for him means to be brought together by vehicles. He takes freedom of movement to be the same as one’s claim on propulsion. He has lost faith in the political power of the feet and of the tongue. As a result, what he wants is not more liberty as a citizen but better service as a client. He does not insist on his freedom to move and to speak to people but on his claim to be shipped and to be informed by media. He wants a better product rather than freedom from servitude to it. It is vital that he come to see that the acceleration he demands is self-defeating, and that it must result in a further decline of equity, leisure, and autonomy.”

    http://ranprieur.com/readings/illichcars.html

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  • Chris I April 22, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I used to ride to Wilson HS back around 2002. A few of us would ride to school, then ride down to the waterfront for Dragon boating. It was kind of a trial by fire experience given the infrastructure in SW. My classmate was right-hooked just in front of me at Hamilton. I guess the rest of us were just lucky, because we didn’t really know much, and no one was there to teach us.

    High Schools should have workshops every fall for new students. Discuss the basics, route finding, etc. I think it would help bring the numbers up, and keep people safe.

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    • El Biciclero April 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      “…Route finding…”

      That this is even something that needs to be taught is a shameful indictment of the state of transportation equity. It makes bicyclists out to be a mouse in a shopping mall.

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  • grimm April 22, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Justin
    De La Salle is on the corner of Lombard and Interstate. Two of the worst streets for bicycling in PDX.
    Recommended 2

    Yes. But it’s quite close to Denver for N/S travel and Bryant for E/W travel. Not to mention on the Max line.

    I think the issue is that being a sort of specialty school they get kids from further away than typical public schools. And I’d wager there may be a status thing as part of it too as a religious private school.

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  • dwainedibbly April 22, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Young people are fantastic at re-inventing things. They don’t know any better, so they aren’t afraid to try ideas that older folks immediately disregard as unworkable. We need their energy and ideas. Transportation activism is something that can produce tangible results right where they live, and thereby stimulate a life-long pursuit of working to improve living conditions.

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  • Gabbi April 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Please note that Camille’s last name is misspelled in the photo caption. I know her mom; Camille’s a great girl!

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