(Photos © J. Maus)
As you can tell if you’ve been reading my many responses to reader comments, emails, and Twitter messages, the N Williams Avenue project has weighed heavily on my mind in recent days.
Many of us have shared thoughts about how institutional racism and gentrification intersect with bicycling in Portland and to what extent — if any — they should impact this traffic safety project. I want to keep that conversation going; but what about solutions?
How can we productively move forward from where we are today? Can we take our energy and concern about racism and gentrification and use it toward making things better? Should this traffic safety project even move forward? Or, has the racism issue completely superseded it? Is it possible to work on both things — the race issue and the traffic project — at the same time?
Personally, I don’t think this should be an either/or discussion. The community has a golden opportunity to deal with two major issues that everyone agrees need to be addressed: traffic safety and social injustices of the past that continue today.
I think we, as a city, can and should move forward on both of them… And we shouldn’t just kick the can down the road because the process and the conversations might get tough.
I’ve shared some of my ideas below. I’d love to read yours…
- PBOT should continue the great conversation that started Wednesday night and expand it into a larger racial understanding/listening project that includes more community members and opportunities for people to share histories and perspectives. Perhaps they can work with the Boise Neighborhood and the new Office of Equity to make it happen.
- Part of that new/renewed effort could include PBOT and the neighborhood coming together to host a series of street-based community events. The events would bring all road users together to hear speakers (black leaders, new residents, and urban historians), mingle and get to know one another — outside of their vehicles. One example would be a bike-by museum of the excellent “Portland’s Lost Black Neighborhoods” exhibit. There could also be guided rides for anyone to hop on a bike and experience the neighborhood on two wheels.
- To give both issues — racism and the road project — the space and time they deserve, wouldn’t it make sense to separate them? I’m not saying the roadway project should completely ignore the history of injustice in the neighborhood, it should continue to be a part of the process, but I don’t think it’s wise to make that complex issue the central driving force of the project.
- PBOT and the community should agree to a set of expectations about what exactly needs to be done before the traffic safety project can move forward.
- If it’s agreed that the traffic project should move forward, let’s re-start the effort to implement some of the changes that have been vetted out by the community.
- PBOT should immediately begin racism and gentrification sensitivity training for all project staff and consultants.
Those are just some ideas. This is an important project and no one has all the answers. If we’re going to get it right — and we absolutely must get it right — we need to continue to share our ideas and perspectives.
As always, I welcome your constructive criticism and feedback.