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Portland’s “whiteness” cited as reason for bike-friendliness


“…the City of Portland is 450,000 people. It’s a homogeneous community that is very white… We are a very diverse, disjointed city of 4 million people… So we’re a step behind Portland in what we’re trying to do.”
— Michelle Mowery, bicycle coordinator for the City of Los Angeles

We’ve discussed how race relates (or doesn’t) to bicycling on several occasions in the past here on BikePortland, but a story out of Los Angeles takes the conversation in an entirely new direction.

According to “LA’s hyper opinionated bicycle blog” Westside Bikeside, the bicycle coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation made some interesting comments at a City Council Transportation Committee meeting last week.

Mowery, speaking in defense of L.A.’s Bicycle Plan Update (which has come under fire from activists and advocates) said that the outreach process behind it was not as robust as Portland’s in part because Portland is “very white” as opposed to L.A. being “very diverse”. (It’s important to note that L.A.’s bike master plan update is being managed by Portland-based Alta Planning and Design.)

Riding on Melrose Ave.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Westside Bikeside transcribed the exchange between City Councilor Bill Rosendahl and Mowery (emphasis mine):

BILL ROSENDAHL: Alta Planning is reportedly one of the finest consulting groups in the world for bike planning. How is it that the City of Los Angeles kicked off the Draft Bike Plan process with Alta but did not incorporate the robust Bike Plan process that Portland used/is using to develop their own Bike Plan? For example in Portland Alta maintained eleven working groups, and they used community bike rides to engage and survey.

MICHELLE MOWERY: With all due respect the City of Portland is 450,000 people. It’s a homogeneous community that is very white, and very progressive with respect to transportation. They have a trolley system that works very well, as well as their transit overall. We are a very diverse, disjointed city of 4 million people. They are 30 years ahead of us in the development of their, well, they’re not quite 30, they’re more like 20 years ahead of us in the development of their bikeway. So we’re a step behind Portland in what we’re trying to do. Granted, several of us would like to see a lot of changes in the city happen very quickly, but again we have a very diverse city with a lot of needs.

Westside Bikeside author Alex Thompson claims the real reason the L.A. plan doesn’t stack up to Portland’s is that too much of the project’s money was spent on things “other than community outreach”.

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About Mowery’s comments on race, Thompson wonders, “What possible connection can racial diversity have to it?” and he points out that both New York and Chicago — both examples of racially diverse cities — are “making huge strides toward bike friendliness.”

Here’s Thompson on Portland’s “whiteness”:

It all comes back to, why highlight Portland’s WHITENESS? The homogeneity argument isn’t convincing, but at least it’s color neutral. I don’t really think it has anything to do with bikes at all.

Read more at Westside Bikeside. [Hat tip on this story goes to Joe Bike.]

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