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Meeting on Williams project turns into discussion of race, gentrification

Posted by on July 21st, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Portlanders came together last night to discuss the Williams project and the conversation quickly turned to race.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A meeting last night that was meant to discuss a new outreach campaign on N. Williams Avenue turned into a raw and emotional exchange between community members and project staff about racism and gentrification.

It was the first public meeting for the North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project since the Bureau of Transportation decided to delay the project last June.

PBOT was on a path to remove one vehicle lane in order to create a wider bikeway; but some people in the community expressed concerns with the idea, on the grounds that the voices and input of black residents were not being adequately considered.

Lower Albina — the area of Portland just north and across the river from downtown through — was a thriving African-American community in the 1950s. Williams Avenue was at the heart of booming jazz clubs and home to a thriving black middle class. But history has not been kind to this area and through decades of institutional racism (through unfair development and lending practices), combined with the forces of gentrification, have led to a dramatic shift in the demographics of the neighborhood.

The history of the neighborhood surrounding Williams now looms large over this project.

Williams project meeting-7-7

Williams project meeting-9-9

There were large poster boards detailing the cultural past of the Williams area.

A brainstorming session was on the original agenda last night. Since engineering fixes are on hold until at least next summer, PBOT hoped to get input for an outreach campaign to promote “respectful traveling” on Williams. After about 30 minutes of group discussions and reports back to the full group, that discussion was derailed.

Michelle DePass felt that it was time to stop avoiding the race issue.

Michelle DePass, a woman who was born in the hospital where the meeting was taking place (Legacy Emanuel) and has lived in the area around N Williams all of her life, brought up the elephant in the room — racism.

Here’s what she said that dramatically changed the direction of last night’s meeting — and possibly the entire project:

“We have an issue of racism and of the history of this neighborhood. I think if we’re trying to skirt around that we’re not going to get very far. We really need to address some of the underlying, systemic issues that have happened over last 60 years. I’ve seen it happen from a front row seat in this neighborhood. It’s going to be very difficult to move forward and do a plan that suits all of these stakeholders until we address the history that has happened. Until we address that history and… the cultural differences we have in terms of respect, we are not going to move very far.”

Ms. DePass’s comments received applause from several other people at the meeting.

Donna Maxey was very animated in sharing her feelings on the importance of understand the racial injustice and history that defines the Williams area.

Donna Maxey, co-creator of Multnomah County’s Race Talks series, told PBOT staff that the project could be a golden opportunity to deal with an unjust history that has plagued Portland for decades:

“Before you can get into the racial issue, you have to get into the history. This has been going on since the ’20s here in Portland and so this is just a continuation of it. You can go ahead and move forward on this, or we can really come to grips with it and have an open discussion that makes Portland move forward in a different manner.

I mean, it’s been going on for 90 years, being pushed under the carpet. We’ve got to sit down and stop and talk; and maybe Williams ave is the vehicle to make that happen.”

Michelle Poyourow, the consultant hired by PBOT to manage the public process, at first tried to stick to the agenda; but quickly realized the time had come for the race discussion.

“I honestly don’t understand how a safety campaign on Williams is an issue of gentrification or racism.”

One man, Jack Olsen, objected to throwing out the agenda, saying he came to the meeting to discuss a safety campaign. “I came here for a discussion of the safety issues,” Olsen said, timidly, “I’m worried I might offend people with this statement… but I honestly don’t understand how a safety campaign on Williams is an issue of gentrification or racism.”

“The fact that you don’t understand it means there are a lot of other people who ride up Williams that don’t get it.”

Olsen’s question was met with shock by some people in attendance.

“The fact that you don’t understand it,” Ms. DePass responded, “means there are a lot of other people who ride up Williams that don’t get it.”

“I totally see these issues being integrated,” another woman replied, “It’s so integrated that it’s kind of disheartening to me to think that there are some folks in the room that really understand that and some folks who don’t. We need to have a basic, common understanding of what the history means and how it plays out in crosswalks and interactions between people.”

The woman (I failed to get her name), advocated for getting a group community leaders together to shape the project outcomes. “I think there’s a need to bring the African-American leadership forward to make sure that that voice is there in the outcome.” She then continued, “It’s sad to think that we have to protest to have our voices heard. We should be at the table making decisions about the outcomes.”

Another theme that emerged last night was a feeling among some people that the only reason safety is a major concern from the City now is because white people are the ones who are in danger.

Sharon Maxwell-Hendricks put it this way:

“You say you want it ‘safe’ for everybody, how come it wasn’t safe 10 years ago? That’s part of the whole racism thing… we wanted safe streets back then; but now that the bicyclists want to have safe streets than it’s all about the bicyclists getting safe streets.”

Donna Maxey told the story about her best friend in first Grade who was killed on Williams because of a lack of safety:

“What is causing the anger and resentment is that it’s only an issue of safety now that whites are the ones who are riding bicycles and walking on the streets. Because we have been in this community for years and it has not been an issue and now it’s an issue. So that’s the resentment you’re hearing… years of people being told, you don’t count, you don’t matter… but now that there’s a group of people who’s coming in that look like the people who are the power brokers — now it’s important. That’s the anger. That’s the hurt.”

Olsen, who asked the initial question about why race is connected to a safety project, then said,

“I can begin to comprehend why that resentment is there; but if we delay this safety campaign and project for a year, and in that time another first grader is hit and killed, I’d feel that it was a huge failure on our part as a community.”

Ms. Maxey responded by repeating earlier statements. When Olsen said he must not be explaining himself accurately, Maxey interjected with, “I understand what you’re saying, I’m just pissed.”

This was the kind of candid exchange that exemplified the meeting last night.

At this point, PBOT seems to be going with the flow of the discussion and has plans to continue this discussion at their next meeting on July 27th.

The project has touched a nerve for some in this North Portland community who have deep distrust of the City and anger borne from decades of institutional racism and ongoing struggles in the community.

There’s a lot more I have to say about his topic, but I wanted to get this recap of the meeting out so I’ll leave my other thoughts for another post. For now, listen to the OPB Think Out Loud show that aired this morning (I was a guest). There’s also a robust discussion about the issues going on in the comments from a story I posted yesterday.

CORRECTION: This story as initially published said that Donna Maxey was “an assistant professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University.” I have since found out that Ms. Maxey is not currently on PSU’s faculty. I’ve edited the story and I regret the error. — Jonathan Maus

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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dan
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dan

So, the net is to do nothing because making any changes turns a blind eye to / tacitly excuses Portland city government’s (current?) racist policies? I don’t know what the right answer is, but I don’t think that’s it.

Of course, I ride Williams maybe once or twice a year, never during rush hour, so this is NIMBL (Not In My Bike Lane) and I’m not that invested in finding a solution.

Andy Trail
Guest
Andy Trail

It’s kinda interesting to me that so much development and gentrification is occurring on Williams ( a one way road which leads out of the city) rather than on Vancouver (a 1 way into the city). I wonder how much of that is due to the large number of Vancouver folks who use Williams as a shortcut to I-5. Seems like this may be the first time a minority community stood up for the rights of rich Washingtonians to have an eclectic dinner at Tasty&Sons before scooting home.. Just saying.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Jonathan: I hope that this talk and future talks will help you understand why there’s a need to compromise on this issue. You’re inability to understand that previously was more than a little unsettling.

Jack
Guest
Jack

The man who’s name you didn’t get is Jack Olsen. I think he’s a frequent commenter on BikePortland.

I spent a couple hours after the meeting last night talking with Mrs. Maxey and the discussion definitely opened my eyes a bit. To greatly summarize, I gathered that the black community often associates continued gentrification with cyclists simply because cyclists are the most visible new element in the area. Whether resenting cyclists and delaying safety projects because of that is rational or not, the resentment is there and Mrs. Maxey fears that projects that appear as accommodating bicyclists will only increase that resentment.

Though our discussions were anything but hostile, I was occasionally offended — not just by Mrs. Maxey but also by others I spoke to after the meeting — by there assumptions that I was an active participant in intentionally driving black people out of the neighborhood. These assumptions were evident through leading questions, to all of which my answer was, ‘No’, such as ‘Did you tear down someone’s house and rebuild?’, ‘Oh, so you bought a house that was flipped?’, ‘You must have bought a foreclosure from the bank then?’, and ‘Were the previous owners black?’. I was somewhat frustrated that Mrs. Maxey and other apparent leaders of the black community seemed to want me to be the bad guy.

I was greatly frustrated by the continual demands that PBOT, the city, or anyone hold a meeting where we could discuss these issues of race and gentrification. Michelle Poyourow did not once object to throwing out her agenda and having last night’s meeting be that meeting. But even after that, no one seemed interested in actually discussing the subject, rather they just continued to reassert the need to discuss the subject.

Late last night when Mrs. Maxey and I were parting ways in the parking lot I asked simply, ‘Is there anything you think I, or other neighbors could do to help move all this forward?’ Mrs. Maxey’s only suggestion was that I attend Race Talks.

marshmallow
Guest
marshmallow

Get a roomful of mixed blacks and whites that ain’t a sports venue or a chris rock show, and the inevitable race “issue” rears its ugly head.

kww
Guest
kww

I understand the need for the context of the institutional racism issue to be included in the project scope, but the project needs to go on. It is a shame that the city can’t go back in time to right those wrongs, so let’s work for the future.

A bicycle lane does not discriminate. On the contrary, it is an enabler for economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and a traffic calmer. It will have residual benefits for residents and pedestrians who don’t bike as well.

To defuze the situation, I think the city (not just PBOT) has to go to the community and ask what can be done in addition to the bike lane?

zenriver
Guest
zenriver

when there is pain, it’s the body’s signal that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. the same with conflict. we need to learn to see it as an opportunity to listen to each other, pay attention, and come together. i hope the organizers of the 7/27 meeting call in the people who raised the issue of race at tonight’s meeting to develop a process that will a) encourage long-time residents to tell their stories; b) publish and broadcast those stories to a citywide audience so formerly disenfranchised voices can now be heard; c) detail what’s involved for today’s policymakers to step up to make amends for the transgressions of the past; d) involve everyone in the N Williams community area in making proposals to address public safety in the bike lanes and beyond. it’s been a long time coming~

Ted Buehler
Guest

I was there.

It was a good meeting.

I would not describe the meeting as “heated.” Heated to me means tempers flaring, people making angry, pointed comments.

Instead, it was calm, civil, with different people expressing their own points of view. And everyone was heard.

Nor did “the conversation quickly turned to race.” There were three exercises, and all parties completed the first one (“What dangerous and disrespectful behaviors do you see on Williams”) it was decided to discuss racial and gentrification issues for the 2nd half of the meeting, rather than proceed with the other 2 exercises. This was half way through the meeting.

It was one of the more informative, interesting meetings I’ve been to.

Ted Buehler

Hugh Johnson
Guest
Hugh Johnson

I agree. What in the world does it have to do with race? The bike lanes are open to everyone. Cycling is as inclusive as you make. It’s not “white” thing. Anybody can swing a leg over a bike and ride. Too bad the race card always gets pulled when lack of a better argument exists.

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

Wow. This quite frankly is a very interesting turn of developments. Previously I was somewhat annoyed that the process for “improving the street” (in my opinion it would be an improvement) was delayed. But if community members feel they are not being heard or considered, then it’s the right thing to do.

However, I have to respectfully disagree with this part:

“Donna Maxey told the story about her best friend in first Grade who was killed on Williams because of a lack of safety:

“What is causing the anger and resentment is that it’s only an issue of safety now that whites are the ones who are riding bicycles and walking on the streets. Because we have been in this community for years and it has not been an issue and now it’s an issue. ”

I’m white, and grew up in West Moreland, a neighborhood that I would guess is 99% white. The street I lived on was a common cut-through for motorist trying to reach Bybee blvd. I remember my mom and some other neighbors trying to petition the city to do something about the speeders – cops with radar guns, speed bumps, etc. and could never get anything done about it. It just wasn’t an issue that even hit the city’s radar. There were several high-speed crashes at our house, which was on a corner – including one car that took out a tree of ours, and another which took out the metal railing to the stairs leading to the backyard.

I also had a friend get hit by a car when we were kids when he was skateboarding in the street. He didn’t die, but both legs were broken and he had a head injury, and spent quite a while in a wheelchair and then on crutches as he recovered. Kids get hit and killed by cars in every part of the city, not just the poor black areas.

So, I have to say it’s an issue now because the city is trying to build a comprehensive network of safe bike facilities across the city – almost every area is getting bike lanes, boulevards, etc.

Of course, the city could systematically deny these same facilities to neighborhoods in N/NE Portland – but then that would bring the same changes of racism that are being brought up now, I would imagine.

I have no idea what the answer to these issues is, and I am very glad to not be the project director on this, that’s for sure. Every community has it’s own needs, but as part of a larger network of neighborhoods that forms the city as a whole, I think improvements like these needs to be made everywhere.

I would also think that bike lanes don’t bring gentrification – bike lanes mean you have already BEEN gentrified. But they are one of the few ways someone in the community can have a voice, so at the same time I get the opposition – you don’t get a say over who moves in or what type of business come, but you can have some control over community projects like this.

Any ways, those are just my thoughts. Ramble mode off.

rider
Guest
rider

Not to mis-direct, but can we get the black community to start talk out against the CRC? That’s a project that will be truly detrimental to the community.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I still haven’t heard a good argument as to how this safety project is racist.

This project is happening because there is a demand for the service (increased pedestrian and bike traffic). If this neighborhood had not gentrified, and we were seeing the same levels of bike traffic among the minority community, I really feel like the city would still be doing the project. I invite suggestions as to why that wouldn’t be the case.

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

If you think about it, decent biking infrastructure is being RE-installed, just like streetcar access. etc. These are things that have been removed & *denied* for all those decades that Car was King. Cars and streetcars were here long before auotomobiles. Aren’t we trying to *restore* human scale & dignity and quality of life? But I guess that Williams can be put back at the end of the list, and get their infrastructure in 2032 when fuel will be what, $20 per gal? In the meantime, who to sue as people get injured or killed because willfully missed upgrades?

Rick
Guest
Rick

If someone is frustrated enough over an issue to hijack a public meeting over street improvements in order to be heard, then truly, the level of frustration must be high. But race issues still have nothing to do with traffic safety improvements that benefit everyone. I do not know what forums are available to address racial injustice, but traffic safety improvements ain’t the one.

Ted Buehler
Guest

My take on the meeting —

The original topic of “safe and respectful behaviors” was a good one.

There’s all sorts of structural conflict built in to operating a bike, car, bus, or sneakers on Williams.

These conflicts are not as acute anywhere else in the city. Buses and bikes playing switcheroo. Bicyclists riding in heavy bike traffic who have never been trained how to ride safely and courteously in such. Cars tailgating. And lots more.

I’d been to a handful of Williams meetings in the past, but this was the only one I’d been to where the black community had come in numbers. There were probably a dozen women, over 50, who had lived in the area their entire lives. State Rep. Lew Frederickson was also there.

So I think it was a fair change to have half the meeting on safe travel behavior, and the other half on race, racism, gentrification, etc.

It was fascinating to hear the dialogue.

In other meetings, racism is the elephant in the room. Yesterday it came out, and was discussed openly, civilly, honestly, sometimes eloquently, and with the intent to come to a better understanding by all parties.

Plainly, there is work to be done by the city to not disenfranchise the black community yet again. Whether N Williams lane allocation is a “good” place for this to surface or not is a valid question, but at this point it has surfaced, and it’s not going to go away, so we might as well take the opportunity to discuss it and figure out what the city needs to do in terms of housing, zoning, minority business and home loans, education, etc. to keep the black community here, happily, and fairly intact. These neighborhoods were built over the last 50 years to have all the urban and social services that they need, and its senseless on a bunch of levels to have gentrification steamroller them out of the neighborhood.

Is the bike lane project being held hostage? Some say yes, some say no, the jury is still out.

There’s still some elephants in the room. The “safety” question was the fundamental term in the discussion between Jack and Mrs. Maxey. Safety means different things — if we were really interested in safety we’d just cut the speed limit to 25, add crosswalks, and do a major outreach campaign to bicyclists to teach them how to ride safely and courteously in heavy bike traffic. Don’t pass on the right. Don’t share the lane. Don’t tailgate. Don’t cut off cars or bikes.

Part of the issue is that bicyclists would like to go “fast,” and everyone has a different speed for “fast,” so you can’t have both fast and safe in the current engineered environment.

And there’s compelling issues to make Williams a multilane “fast” bike facility — much of NE Portland is on/behind the Alameda Ridge, and Williams is the only street that goes north out of the downtown “loop” that doesn’t have a tedious climb up the ridge. Similarly, Williams is the only non-highway route to N Portland and St. Johns.

So it is about speed and comfort, as well as safety. And that ought to be on the table.

But also, the shorter and more comfortable the ride, the more people will take it. If the only access to NE Portland was up MLK or 33rd, and the only access to N Portland was on Greely or Interstate, people along Williams would have a lot more smog and road dust in their lungs, because fewer people would bike downtown.

Anyhow, since the 2010 census data came out and showed the level of gentrification and shrinking black population in N/NE, I think the city has to start countering it. There are many good things that they can do to support and empower the black community. But the city will have to step up to the plate and do them, and at the same time make a rational case for the benefits to all people and all neighborhoods of making Williams a 2-bikelane street.

Thanks for covering the meeting, Jonathan, and providing this forum for discussion.

Ted Buehler

Ali
Guest
Ali

I understand that people would become frustrated at seeing ‘others’ going through their neighborhoods to get somewhere else, and then seeing money set aside to facilitate that, especially after the area has been built up with businesses that aren’t aimed at people who have lived there for years.
I think that it’s a shame though, that bike issues are becoming the eye of this storm, partly because we are highly visible and because it has become such a hot button issue to talk about cyclists in this town – it’s guaranteed to create controversy.

What I’m sorry about is that no one seems to question the wisdom of encouraging so many traffic uses on one stretch of road – drivers coming to the neighborhood, drivers avoiding I-5, cyclists in one narrow lane, parking to the right of that, a trimet bus route crossing back and forth over the bike lane and development that encourages people to walk. It’s expecting way too much from one narrow artery. Why not have a route several streets over like the one on Going rather than concentrating everyone on Williams? Though there aren’t many options for getting from downtown to NE, I avoid Williams as much as I can while commuting by bike – it’s not worth the hassle. And it would be so nice if cycling was not part of this controversial and important conversation.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

This is pretty silly and really illustrates that Portlanders do not feel comfortable with African Americas. It is pure and simple Argumentum ad lazarum. Disliking someone because they are white and ride a bike and finding reasons to demonize them is no less rational that traditional forms of racism. If DePass cannot conduct herself sensibly and present a rational argument, she should be excused from the discussion.

Edie Spencer
Guest

Lets put this in blunt, easy to understand language:

What the women in that meeting were talking about was perception and their reality in living in the area. The fact is this: N Williams has turned into a mostly white corridor of businesses that do not serve nor does it seem to welcome the African American residents in that neighborhood. That Jack Olsen and others on the board don’t see that AND mostly importantly, refuse to see that is what is driving that resentment speaks to white, classist privilege. It’s about attitudes that are say “I am entitled, and your voice and experience does not mean anything.” In the course of my documentary research I have found a severe disconnect between members of the African American community here in Portland and bicyclists.

This is what the women were talking by acknowledging that- and what Jack and others failed to do. There is a tactic by some when their lack of sensitivity is brought to make it seem as if they are victims. This is the tactic here. Jack Olsen and others on the board would greatly benefit from Race Talks- the comments here betray the need to examine how racist assumptions and attitudes play a part in life, even when we think we are not.

marshmallow
Guest
marshmallow

Whities want to build a bicycle freeway masked as a safety agenda through a historically negro part of town to be used almost exclusively by whites with unrealized feelings of entitlement.

Chris
Guest
Chris

What exactly is it that the community members saying racism want? I don’t get it, what exactly is their goal? No one is going to deny the absolutely terrible things that have gone on this countries history, but how does that affect this issue?

Instead of just saying “the problem is that you don’t understand” why not help people understand?

rootbeerguy
Guest
rootbeerguy

i dislike self-pityness/self-centeredness. it is totally time wasting. i gotta move on. it is hard sometimes but i need to keep going forward… i feel discriminated against many times anyway because i am deaf. i wont let this stop me. Cycling applies so much to my life journey.

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

Good Job on Think Out Loud, JM.

MIddle of the Road Guy
Guest
MIddle of the Road Guy

Just because a minority says something does not give it any more value than anyone else. People are scared to disagree with anything said by a minority for fear of being branded racist.

Has it occurred to anyone that this really is not a race issue to whites, who likely feel that minorities are totally welcome on Williams, whereas the minority perception (possibly incorrect) is that they are not?

I once took a black friend to the 5th Quadrant and he said he would never come in there himself for fear of having the police called on him. It was absurd and I told him that.

rider
Guest
rider

This has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with safety. Everything else is a distraction and misplaced feelings. Want to address race issues in Portland? Please do, there is a long, regrettable history. But neighborhoods change (how did N and NE Portland start?) so let’s look at how we can make this a more livable and safe place for all.

looking_in
Guest
looking_in

What they wanted was what they got: to be heard. It was probably not the most appropriate forum, but it was probably also the only one that they will get. So they showed up with their charts, they said what was in their hearts, and they went home feeling a little better because they got to vent their frustration. Even though they knew it wouldn’t make a difference, because there is no way to solve their problem and they know it even better than you do.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I have had 2 friends killed by cars in Portland, one a minority, one not. I was also nearly killed when I was hit by a vehicle traveling 55 mph in 1990. Car bumpers don’t care what color you are.

I was glad to see this quote: “I can begin to comprehend why that resentment is there; but if we delay this safety campaign and project for a year, and in that time another first grader is hit and killed, I’d feel that it was a huge failure on our part as a community.”

I was glad to see it because I was that kid albeit as a 7th grader with a relatively unsafe route to school, who nearly died in part because there wasn’t safer infrastructure, and before I read it I felt like I wished I had been at the meeting to ask the semi-rhetorical question “How many white people need to die or be seriously injured on Williams in order for the score to be even so we can make safety improvements. I am glad that at least one person at the meeting recognizes that preventing safety improvements will have real impacts to people who walk and ride on Williams, and may even cause someone’s death.

I know the whole area has a loaded history, but it seems counter-intuitive to try to force the neighborhood to stay in the safety dark ages because in the past it has been unsafe. If these residents are successful at blocking safety improvements the money will be spent in another, part of the city. Likely a whiter and richer area while this area which has a higher minority population will continue to be at a disadvantage from a safety point of view.

Finally, I’ve worked with Michelle a few times through the BTA, and I have never seen anything but the highest level of integrity and honesty from her. I really hope that anyone involved in these meetings will take a moment to separate the issues they are concerned about from the people who are working hard to facilitate the discussion. I can’t imagine a scenario where Michelle would lie in a public forum like this, it simply wouldn’t happen.

Bjorn

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

Clearly the city needs to conduct a broad conversation about gentrification. Sorry, I don’t buy into the argument that removing a lane of traffic to allow more bikes is really the main issue here. This is displaced resentment that their neighborhood is changing dramatically for the better without their direct consent or involvement. Progress is scary (and impossible to halt)

Dude
Guest
Dude

If the black community wants to have a respectful discussion about race, culture, and racism in Portland perhaps they could start by respectfully allowing the Williams process to move forward and not using it as a scapegoat for all of the bad history of their neighborhood. Hijacking the discussion is not fair, not respectful, and not appropriate. Given all the guilt-ridden liberals in Portland, I’m sure the broader community would be willing to create and support a far better forum for discussing Portland’s racist history.

cw
Guest
cw

This whole discussion is shocking. Except for a few well informed comments, I have never seen or heard so much white entitlement masquerading in the form of liberal open-mindedness. I ride to work on Williams and Vancouver 3-4 times a week, and yes improved bike infrastructure would make my commute more comfortable, but that doesn’t mean we can bulldoze a bike lane into a community that doesn’t see the benefit.

First of all, the comments about being shocked that so few people were interested in sticking to the original agenda just shows how wrong the agenda was to begin with. Who thought up the agenda? Was it created with input from the community? Or was it some planner at the city who decided what the meeting was going to be about? Some people might think of this as efficient meeting planning, others might take that to be the majority disenfranchising african americans by taking away their voice to set the agenda for a meeting concerning *their own neighborhood*. Just another example of the insensitivity with which this project has been approached.

Also, if people were truly interested in benefiting the neighborhood and improving safety, they should consider all options — clearly the community that lives around N. Williams has not embraced the bike “improvements”. So why hasn’t PDOT looked at other traffic calming measures that can address ped-driver interaction and re-route cyclists somewhere else? Why is cycling infrastructure persistently part of the plan, when the community that lives there clearly doesn’t care about improving bike lanes?

Williams is the quickest way for me to get to and from work and home, but perhaps MY convenience should be secondary to the needs and desires of the residents.

I think alot of the outrage comes from the fact that the neighborhood has been asking for safety measures to be put in place for years, and now they are being offered a safety measure that doesn’t really benefit them, with no option on the table that puts their needs first and foremost.

To say that race has nothing to do with this just shows the ignorance and privileged world view of the greater white majority. For the commenter that equated irrational hatred of race with irrational hatred of bicycles, that argument is a red herring — my skin color does not effect or impact your life in any way, shape or form. I live, breathe, and take up the same amount of room as a white person. However, your bicycle does have externalities that impact other peoples’ lives. “Hatred” of the two cannot be equated.

looking_in
Guest
looking_in

(Sorry for the double post, but I accidentally failed to hit “reply” the first time.)

Chris, great question. I think the key is outreach and education. To be blunt, in the black community, most people who have historically ridden bikes are drug dealers. Parents who have children think, I need someplace safe to keep my kids and a bike isn’t safe for my kids! People who want to spend time with friends think, I want to talk to my friends in the car and listen to music on the way to dinner! These are the opportunity costs of bicycling, at least in some people’s minds. At this point, most of the black community still drives or takes the bus. So enhancing bus services or an outreach program designed to meet the cultural (again, NOT racial) needs of the black community and change the image of who it is that rides a bicycle. Show people the advantages to their health, show them that it is cheaper, show them that they don’t have to sacrifice safety or fun to ride a bike. Of course, it’s hard to speak for people I haven’t met, so what I would suggest is that someone contact the people who came to the meeting and talk to them about bicycling. Ask them how many members of their community ride bicycles. Then ask them why, and design a program that’s tailored to meet their needs.

As much as it is a good thing that we have moved into a less-overtly racist society, it can also tend to make us get into that color-blind thing. Remember, this is culture not color. All people have been raised inside their own culture, which is why you can’t see that there is a white culture and that you have been pushing bicycling in a way that speaks to it. Teach about bicycling in a way that speaks to the black community, and they will respond positively. Because after all, that’s all they wanted, was to be included.

halfwheeled
Guest
halfwheeled

Maus, long time reader of BP, and admire your writing, but every postings about race from you have me conclude that you are out of touch with race issues. I was a bit horrified with some of your comments on Think out Loud. Prob best to stick with bikes and leave race out of your discussions. Thanks for your hard work.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Jon
Translation: The black community is the only race (?) in Portland worth talking about. There are no Hispanic, Asian, Indian, etc that should have much of a voice of their history.

Take a look at the demographic makeup of the neighborhood we’re talking about here. When you talk about gentrification in the area around N Williams you’re talking about white people moving in and black people getting pushed out. There’s a separate conversation to be had about what’s happening in the Latino community here, but it doesn’t really apply in this neighborhood.

looking_in
Guest
looking_in

This is just a general response to all the posters who keep asking what it is that the black community (or at least those members who showed up to the meeting) wants out of this. The answer is to be heard.

If that’s hard to understand, think of it this way. There has been, at least one time in your lives, one time when you were completely powerless to stop something that you saw as negatively impacting your life. You probably made a phone call to customer service (for most of us, this scenario involves a credit card company and a call to India) and complained to a person that you knew had no power to solve the problem. Maybe you said a bad word or two to them and hung up. Did it solve your problem? No, but you felt much better when you were done. This is what’s happening, but in their case we’re talking about decades of overt and unabashed racism and a clear policy to rid Portland of the black community that lasted so long there are still people alive in the community that remember it. It’s going to take a few more of those angry phone calls to help them feel better. And frankly, as those in the majority, the absolute LEAST you can do is listen, try to understand, and remember that you will get what you want because you are the majority. Maybe that will help take the edge off of having to listen.

Rico
Guest
Rico

1) Compared with non-Hispanic white adults, the risk of diagnosed diabetes was 77 percent higher among non-Hispanic blacks.

2) Physical activity plays an important part in preventing type 2 diabetes.

*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse

It seems like not providing safe streets in which to walk and bike would be racist.

dirt_merchant
Guest
dirt_merchant

Very interesting problem and discussion.

I’ll agree that I do not know what it is like to be a minority in our society if “they” agree they don’t know what it’s like to be a second-class citizen while simply riding my bike.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

i’ve been commuting on williams since the last half of the 90s (off and on, depending on where i live). the traffic on williams isn’t what is was 10 years ago. bike traffic or car traffic. the street is broken and needs to be fixed.

pbot works on roads and engineering them to make them safe and efficient for road users, no matter what color your skin. they don’t work on feelings management and hugs.

lyle
Guest
lyle

I’m also disturbed by the lack of suggestions about how to make N. Williams more safe. Bicycles or pedestrians aren’t going away and they almost always tend to take the shorter, less hilly route. You can advocate for alternatives all you want but bicycles, like water take the path of least resistance.

If the community feels the need to vent, fine, but safety needs to be the priority. Past injustices should be taken into account but to allow them to derail the process is just wrong.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
cyclist, you are wrong in your interpretation of me. I am not the one making a deal and I’m not in a position to decide who should compromise on what.
Characterizing me as being unwilling to compromise on this project is simply not who I am and not how I go about my thinking.
The road is broken and it’s a public safety hazard that needs to be fixed. Yes, I don’t think we should simply give up fixing the road because of what I feel are unrelated concerns that are politicizing this project.
I think you’d understand me better if we could talk this out in person.

You absolutely ARE unwilling to compromise on this project, you’ve said exactly that in the past:

“Just because there are different positions on something, doesn’t mean a compromise is imperative.”

“Sorry I have not been clear. I don’t think PBOT should compromise in terms of the lane re-allocation issue.”

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
cyclist, you are wrong in your interpretation of me. I am not the one making a deal and I’m not in a position to decide who should compromise on what.
Characterizing me as being unwilling to compromise on this project is simply not who I am and not how I go about my thinking.
The road is broken and it’s a public safety hazard that needs to be fixed. Yes, I don’t think we should simply give up fixing the road because of what I feel are unrelated concerns that are politicizing this project.
I think you’d understand me better if we could talk this out in person.

And the claim that you can’t compromise because PBOT’s doing the actual construction is frankly bs. You can make a compromise in your position and advocate for change if you desire. You’ve got a lot of weight in this community because your’e the mouthpiece of the bike community, it gets you a lot of access that most of us don’t have. That’s why your issue with the Esplanade ramps got addressed so quickly.

Lastly, ” Yes, I don’t think we should simply give up fixing the road because of what I feel are unrelated concerns that are politicizing this project” is exactly why I don’t think you care about issues of race. Race is not an unrelated concern in this particular case, and unless your inability to sit down and understand why illustrates that race is unimportant to you. You seem to think that so long as they’ve had a chance to speak then they’ve been served. Well if you hear what they say and disregard it then you’re part of the problem.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
halfwheeled,
which comments “horrified” you?

” Yes, I don’t think we should simply give up fixing the road because of what I feel are unrelated concerns that are politicizing this project”

This, by the way, is a pretty horrifying comment.

Champs
Guest
Champs

To be fair, just coming from Minneapolis (don’t hate!), I’ve seen similar “community opposition” to “gentrification” over adding an off-leash dog area to Martin Luther King Park, citing the use of dogs against civil rights protesters.

I don’t know if it’s a “not invented here” mentality or what, but if you don’t want something in your neighborhood, you can just say that leave race out of it. Let them have their way, if they’re true representatives of the community, for that matter. But when they come back to say the city hasn’t done anything for them, note that it isn’t for lack of trying.

This is time and effort that hasn’t been applied to more wanting neighborhoods of every stripe.

Fronk
Guest
Fronk

Can’t we all just address the real issue here? It all comes down to lycra.

The Williams project might not even be an issue if it wasn’t for the lycra. Lets face it; cyclists are not thought of as regular folks of all shapes and sizes riding for all sorts of reasons. Instead they are perceived as an arrogant “community”, because they are 1) predominately young, white and well off enough to spend $1000 or more on a bike and 2) look egotistical as all get out wearing skin tight lycra even though they are on a 5 mile commute. And a lot of us ARE arrogant. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Every time a cyclist in lycra blows through a red light, the bike lane shrinks by a centimeter.

Please think of the children. Don’t commute in lycra.
An Australian study on how lycra is killing urban cycling:
http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20101410-21429.html

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

others have probably said this; this is a project that is not indicative of the future change of neighborhood demographics and needs, but a reflection of change that has already happened and what is now needed.

neighborhoods change. it happens.

JRB
Guest
JRB

I think I have to go with Maus on this one.
Safety improvements and the marginalization of communities of color are separate issues, even if members of those communities and their self-appointed defenders can’t or won’t see them separately. I have no time or interest in debating with posters who insist that anyone who doesn’t see this as a racial equality issue is racist or an oblivious elitist. Demonizing people who have a different point of view may make you feel like you are striking a blow against discrimination but does nothing to move us towards solutions.

If we want more money for programs to prevent gang violence or to try and remedy the inequities of decades of racism, singling out traffic safety projects for criticism is not particularly productive. You have to look at the whole pie before deciding that a particular slice is too big.

It seems to me that some of the folks upset about the proposed traffic improvements are angry about other things and are tired of not being heard. The Williams project is one of the rare times that somebody is asking them their opinion about something and they are using the opportunity afforded. We need to hear their legitimate frustration and anger and be there when they ask us for our assisting them in crafting their own solutions. If nothing else, hopefully the racial element in the debate over the Williams project has raised some awareness in the larger community that racial discrimination is still a problem that all members of the community have a duty to help eradicate, and that we should be actively looking for such opportunities.

We have a long way to go before achieving racial equality in this country, but I just don’t see improved biking/ped facilities through a predominately black neighborhood as being symptomatic of racial inequality or discrimination. The fact that communities of color dispropotionately host polluting industries, that people of color are routinely discriminated against by the criminal justice system, that people of color do not have the same access to education or other opportunties, and that public and private investment in communities of color is disproporationately lower are all symptons that racism is alive and well and is what the conversation needs to be about.

Sorry for the lengthy post.

Diane Goodwin
Guest
Diane Goodwin

I am glad this issue is finally being tackled. There is a huge connection between our infrastructure investments, lack of affordable housing and the impact of African-American community in N/NE Portland. I ride these streets everyday and feel the tension between motorists and cyclists. We need to bridge this gap if we want safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians.

Chris
Guest
Chris

I never understood all this gentrification talk. People are going to move where they want to move, how would you ever stop this? A skin color/household income litmus test for home ownership? I am not being insensitive, I am being serious: how could gentrification ever be stopped?

Perhaps changing communities is something we need to find a way to embrace instead of fight.

Charley
Guest
Charley

For crying out loud. I guess it’s more important to these vocal few that Vancouverites (largely white) have their two lanes of I-5 bypass through the neighborhood, than that a black kid could ride on a safe bike lane from Broadway to Killingsworth.

How this would somehow right the centuries of wrongs, I do not know.

seeshellbike
Guest
seeshellbike

I am disappointed that the City has allowed this project to be the platform for what should be a wider discussion about equity, race, gentrification, and as Noah suggested perhaps housing, health care, violence, schools, community, etc. Mayor Sam and Commissioners, you have an issue that has engendered longstanding resentment and is probably shared by different communities throughout the City. Step up to the plate and provide an appropriate venue for this discussion.

outerspacebook
Guest

We are breaking new grounds every day, we have a black president, and still we choose to divide ourselves. Poor people are poor, it doesn’t matter which color you are. If we step back into the past and demand that the land was once ours we will have lots of problems. What about the Native Americans who were wrongfully kicked out of their land, we have been on stolen land from the forefront. All we can do is sit by and ask ourselves if we want to let go of the past and embrace a different future. If you are African American it is your choice to call the bicycle a white man machine, but it serves everyone all over the world the same, a very clean affordable form of transportation that should be taken seriously. Bicycles and gentrification don’t have anything in common unless you want to find the commonalities. Please look at what Safer Cycling offers to the human being and you will see that it allows the kids of today to get around and for people to pedal themselves all over town(especially those with low-income). Please try biking down Williams before you hate, Bicycling is something that is embraced all over this Cultured World, and Williams Ave. is a human death trap that needs an improvement.

Thomas Le Ngo
Guest

I’m glad that marginalized segments of our community are starting to be heard. They’ve been burned not just by the Robert Moses method of planning, but continually burned by the planning field and Portland’s leaders in general. The lack of socioeconomic diversity in how we do things and who calls those shots creates a serious lack of cultural sensitivity and understanding.

Jonathan, I love what you’ve done for cycling in Portland. However, you and other advocates for safe streets need to better understand the power dynamics of the communities you want to improve. The ideas pitched for Williams didn’t sell because it reflected a pattern of disenfranchisement. It’s not just the destination (safer streets) that matters, but how you get there (grassroots community support vs. shoving down of values).

The community not only needs to be involved in decision-making, but to feel empowered enough to function as decision-makers. Look at the communities that won and lost in the examples of: I-5 vs. the Mt. Hood Freeway and the closing of Marshall High School vs. Grant High School. Or even the families that lost a basketball court on the street when Going became a bike boulevard.

Imagine how refreshing it would be to build greater support and understanding, then reaping the rewards when folks from all communities, specifically communities of color and low income households, advocate for more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The Community Cycling Center is the only organization that does any work in doing that. Other than that, the cycling community is still thinking like Robert Moses and making him proud.