North Williams project delayed to address community concerns – Updated

Conditions on Williams-7-6
Williams process will take more time.
(Photos © J. Maus)

After it seemed like strong community support helped PBOT move forward with an enhanced bikeway and the reconfiguration of roadway space along Williams from Broadway to Killingsworth, they will now step back and take more time to assess the public outreach process.

At the monthly meeting of the North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project Stakeholders Advisory Committee Meeting today, PBOT and project consultants announced that decisions about how to move forward with the project will be delayed until at least this fall. The reason is to work through the complicated issues of gentrification and inclusiveness with all members of the adjacent community.

At the meeting, community member Sharon Maxwell Hendricks (whom I interviewed back in April ) addressed the room with serious concerns about how the process for this project and the changes in the Williams neighborhood in general have had an “unfair” impact on black residents.

“We’ve been waging war against poverty, violence, and a lot of things I feel a lot of cyclists really don’t understand*.”
— Sharon Maxwell Hendricks

Hendricks has lived in the area all her life yet says today she feels “like a newcomer” in the neighborhood. She likened her community’s struggle with violence, drugs, and poverty over the years to a war zone.

“We’ve been waging war against poverty, violence, and a lot of things I feel a lot of cyclists really don’t understand*.”

Saying she and her childhood friends rode bikes all over the neighborhood, Hendricks added, “I’m trying to paint the picture that we’re not against bicyclists, we’re not against change, but we as a community of color, we want to be involved in the change, we want to be participators in the change.”

Sharon Maxwell Hendricks

“While we’re on the front lines, doing all the battling, we feel like you guys are coming in and taking all the spoils and benefiting from all the changes. It’s not fair.” (She also equated her experience living in the North Williams area with living among the Rwandan genocide.)

Hendricks urged committee members and the public in attendance to put themselves in the shoes of long-time residents. She also said the idea of her church, Life Change Christian Center, losing parking isn’t fair. “To have on-street parking taken away from our membership because now all of them can’t afford to live in the community… if we have to park 4-5 blocks away, than we need to have a shuttle. It’s just not fair.”

As a solution, Hendricks urged PBOT to instead make improvement to N Rodney, which is a few blocks to the east.

You can listen to the audio of Hendricks’ speech below:
[audio:WilliamsSAC_Hendricks.mp3|titles=Sharon Maxwell Hendricks at the Williams project meeting]

A member of the SAC, Jerrell Waddell (who represents Life Change Christian Center) supported Hendricks’ comments. “I love the reality that the community is growing, I love the business coming in, but… taking away one lane of traffic you’d have a lot of outcry and people frustrated by that and crying foul.

Waddell said he feels like bicycle traffic is “taking precedent” in discussions about the project. “This room is made up of predominantly a particular population who wants to see bicycles come in.”

In recent months, PBOT and project consultants have also met with other neighborhood groups and they have heard concerns about parking removal and well as the sentiments expressed at the meeting today.

PBOT project manager Ellen Vanderslice met with the Albina Ministerial Alliance about the project. Here’s how she characterized their comments:

“Green is good, but cyclists seem to have a big voice and it’s irritating. They seemed to hear “one lane, yield to bikes, one lane, yield to bikes,” there needs to be more sensitivity to the fact that the community has been invaded… There is anger, distrust, and skepticism in their congregation about the N. Williams project.”

With these complicated and sensitive issues looming in the air, PBOT’s Vanderslice said they have decided to extend the project timeline. “We’d like to extend the process and do more outreach and engagement and truly make this an inclusive process so we have a project that reflects that.”

Vanderslice said the committee would take a break for July and meet again in August. In the interim, PBOT and project consultants will meet with more neighborhood groups and hopefully, “Have a better idea of where we are.”

A second open house for the project tentatively set for July has been cancelled postponed.

With the committee not meeting again until August, a recommendation about what to do to Williams isn’t likely to happen until fall at the earliest. Given that a dry weather window is needed to re-stripe lanes, it’s possible that changes to Williams won’t happen until summer of 2012.

[For what it’s worth, we brought up PBOT’s framing of this project, gentrification, and other issues when it launched back in January.]

Also significant at today’s meeting were statements from PBOT Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield that a left-side bikeway will be put back on the table. This is due to major concerns about how a cycle track on the right side of the street would impact access to driveways, motor vehicle flow, and TriMet service.

Learn more about this project on PBOT’s website and read our previous coverage here.

-*Please note a key edit made to this story at 2:50pm: I mistakenly left out the word “don’t” in that sentence. I apologize for any confusion.
– I added audio of Sharon Maxwell Hendricks’ speech at 3:46pm.
– This story initially said Maxwell Hendricks was a member of the SAC. She is not. She was an invited guest. Correction was made at 4:10 pm on 6/8.]

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