Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

PBOT expands ‘engagement with black community’ to hear concerns around greenway project

Posted by on October 30th, 2018 at 12:14 pm

After extending the public outreach phase for their Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway project last month, the Portland Bureau of Transportation says more listening is necessary to learn, “if and how the project can work for the Black community.”

Who’s weighing in on the project.

As we reported in September, the project was called out in an article in The Skanner newspaper that reported outreach was, “slow to reach households of color.”

This project aims to create a low-stress, family-friendly bikeway that connects I-84 in the Lloyd to the north Portland neighborhood of Woodlawn. PBOT has shared two basic options — either using 7th or 9th avenue as the north-south route. Since the designs were first unveiled in July, a large majority of strong and enthusiastic support has emerged for the 7th Avenue alignment.

So far, all of PBOT outreach has shown that the NE 7th Avenue alignment is the overwhelming favorite. But that’s only if you measure by quantity of respondents. And as we’ve experienced in the past, it’s not just how many people speak up, it’s who speaks up.

The project includes major changes to 7th Avenue — including the expansion of a park that would create a cul-de-sac for drivers.

PBOT’s latest stance on this project was explained in a letter from Senior Transportation Planner Nick Falbo that was published with a summary report of project feedback. This issue deserves clarity, so instead of explaining or paraphrasing PBOT’s letter, I’ve decided to share all of it below:

In July 2018, PBOT introduced two design concepts for a new neighborhood greenway street in Northeast Portland connecting the Lloyd and Woodlawn neighborhoods with route options primarily on either NE 7th Ave or NE 9th Ave. From July to September 2018, PBOT conducted outreach in the community to help make an informed and community-supported decision about where and how to build the new neighborhood greenway. After engaging with dozens of businesses and community organizations and hundreds of community members, the PBOT project team prepared the attached summary report to capture the themes, preferences and concerns raised about the project proposals to date.

The data misses what some community members – specifically the Black community – have told us about their concerns for this project.

At the August 1st Open House event, project staff heard from many Black community members who expressed strong concerns about the NE 7th Ave route option and raised larger concerns about how the benefits and burdens of the proposal for a new neighborhood greenway are distributed across Portlanders based on race, income and geography. There was high attendance of Black Portlanders that lived in the neighborhood and/or frequented neighborhood destinations (including schools, churches, social services and family homes) regularly. They engaged project staff to understand project goals and proposals and to express concerns about the NE 7th Ave route option. Many expressed that the street provided connectivity and accessibility and that prioritization of 7th for a neighborhood greenway would impact their travel patterns, but would not increase their travel options – which is also a central goal of the project. PBOT staff also heard concerns about how Black families have been burdened by transportation and other City investments for the “greater good” and that there was little confidence that their input could actually influence the future of this and other transportation projects.

The dialogue that occurred between and amongst PBOT staff and Black/ African American Portlanders was powerful, significant and has generated internal discussions about the City’s outreach strategies and planning processes. This moment has led to increased efforts to better understand the unique perspectives and priorities of Black Portlanders with connections to the Historic Albina community. Participants shared frustration about how information about the project had been previously disseminated and expressed concerns about the direction the project seemed to be going. Many community members view NE 7th Avenue as an arterial street for driving and as a crucial way to get around in a community they feel is less and less theirs; we heard concerns that making transformative changes to NE 7th Avenue will continue the decades-long trend of the City making changes for groups other than their own. Community members expressed the fear these changes could contribute to continued displacement of long-time community members from Northeast Portland.

We felt it was important to elevate this information because when the feedback from the in-person forum is combined with the responses from the Online Open House, some of the potency of messages we heard from this population can become diminished in this summarized format. While the summary report accurately describes the combined content heard in both in-person and online outreach efforts, we want to make it clear that the lessons learned at the in-person open house and the urgent need to better understand the perspectives of Black Portlanders will not be overlooked.

Advertisement

In response to these comments, PBOT extended the feedback period for the project design concepts from mid-August until the end of September 2018 to invite more participation. Since then, PBOT has broadened its engagement approach for this and other projects in North and Northeast Portland; PBOT has initiated a number of conversations and focus groups with Black/African American community members and organizations in the project area around what they feel the important transportation issues are in their communities. The intent of this expanded phase of engagement is to understand if and how the Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway project can work for the Black community. No final decision will be made about the project route and design until after continued engagement with Black community members and organizations has occurred.

PBOT is making this decision in the context of neighborhoods that are the center of Portland’s black community (and historically even more so). Today 14 to 22 percent of the residents in the project corridor identify as black. Compare that to the percentage of respondents to PBOT’s online open house for this project. Of those 253 people, just four percent were black and 81 percent were white.

Five of the six letters PBOT included in their summary of comments publication voiced strong support for the 7th Avenue alignment. Those organizations include: Sabin Community Association, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, the Eliot Neighborhood Association, and the Lloyd Community Association. PBOT’s own Bicycle Advisory Committee stated in an August 14th letter PBAC letter that, “The 7th Avenue Greenway alignment outperforms 9th Avenue in every measure that correlates to successful greenway design: safety, simplicity, intuitiveness, and cost efficiency.”

Feedback thus far has clearly favored 7th Avenue.

The one letter that opposed 7th Avenue came from the Soul District Business Association (formerly known as the Alberta Business Association). In their letter dated August 6th, Chair John Washington wrote, “We are concerned about the sincerity of PBOT to listen to our opposition to using NE 7th Avenue as a Greenway. We feel that the impact on our community of using 7th Avenue as a Greenway would perpetuate the negative effects of institutionalized racism and social engineering that has occurred in our African American neighborhoods and business community.”

Washington said they would rather see the greenway on 9th Avenue in part because, “We are deeply concerned that dramatically changing the NE 7th Avenue street pattern will continue the “whitewash” of the neighborhood resulting in more gentrification, as exemplified with the radical changes on Interstate Blvd., North Williams, and North Vancouver Avenues,” and that 9th will have, “Less impact to the street pattern, street use and street historical context, thus less gentrification.”

These concerns about how the project might change the neighborhood were echoed in comments left by some attendees of the open house and respondents to the online survey:

“I’ve spent my whole life in Woodlawn and every time y’all come in and change something it 1. raises the prices and forces my longstanding neighbors, friends, and family out and 2. makes the area more and more welcoming to the area’s new residents at the direct cost of the longstanding community. Please leave Woodlawn alone until you learn how to work with longstanding community members to address the actual set of problems we face. As things stand now, your projects are a barrage of neocolonial ‘development’ that — regardless of rhetoric or intent — pushes us out and destroys our community.”

“Again, getting into what, through my lifetime, has been a rich and white neighborhood and that is who these projects cater to and who they make comfortable so I’m sure they’ll love this minus a few NIMBYs who would be against you doing just about anything. NOTE: Prior to this if you were thinking this was from a NIMBY pov you would be wrong — I’m all for development that is wanted by the longstanding community that addresses historical inequalities and fixes or helps with structural problems that we face. What I don’t like is a bunch of neocolonial projects that, by design, destroy my community and our comfort in our home.”

“I want PBOT to prioritize and elevate feedback from the African American community on this decision. This community has been impacted by neighborhood improvements that have caused significant gentrification and displacement. I think that should be considered as a major factor in how feedback from different communities is weighed for the final design. I understand that there are significant concerns about the 7th Ave. option negatively impacting parents, caregivers and operations of the Albina Head Start program – these should be listened to and weighted in any greenway design decision.”

Projects that improve bicycling are no stranger to conversations about racism. How these concerns impact this specific greenway proposal remain to be seen. PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera said today that, “We are fully expecting to deliver a safety improvement project in this corridor.”

Kiel Johnson, a newcomer to the neighborhood who has worked hard raise awareness of the project, shares in a comment below that, “I think this is a good choice as long as there is a clear direction for this process will go in. My advice to PBOT is to make a clearly timed plan or you will lose the support that has been growing for this project.”

If you want to understand more about this topic, Dr. Adonia Lugo — author of Bicycle / Race will be in Portland for a reading and discussion this Thursday (11/1).

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

171
Leave a Reply

avatar
27 Comment threads
144 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
43 Comment authors
Hello, KittyCharley9wattsMark smithMichael Andersen (Contributor) Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
PATRICK B
Guest

This is maddening. I saw the same pattern on the Williams St improvements. Compromises were made months late and the project suffered in the safety of ALL road users. Flyers are sent out asking for participation; for some reason this demographic ignores outreach and waits for the project to be in it’s final planning stages to derail it. Good citizenship requires paying attention and participating. Simply complaining and using race to poison the discussion is ineffective in obtaining a good outcome for all.

Our city is continuously growing and changing. Stopping change that benefits many people for the few is not the solution. I would be in favor of late outreach to address concerns of this project, however, just using it to derail hurts everyone. If there is historical injustice, there needs to be some effective way to address the grievances but simply trying to stop the city from growing is short sighted and lazy.

SD
Guest
SD

The disintegration of African American community in N and NE Portland was largely contributed to by the creation of freeways through those areas. Dangerous through traffic streets, including NE 7th, are a legacy of this destruction. Keeping 7th as an MLK bypass is maintaining the legacy of institutional racism in these neighborhoods.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

** Close Lester; but you’ll have to try again if you want to read your comments here. I don’t appreciate the tone of your comments. – Jonathan **

Jon
Guest
Jon

According to Wikipedia: The 2010 census reported Portland as 76.1% White (444,254 people), 7.1% Asian (41,448), 6.3% Black or African American (36,778), 1.0% Native American (5,838), 0.5% Pacific Islander (2,919), 4.7% belonging to two or more racial groups (24,437) and 5.0% from other races (28,987). 9.4% were Hispanic or Latino, of any race (54,840). Whites not of Hispanic origin made up 72.2% of the total population.

Based on the above stats which are approaching 9 years out of date the data in the responses to the outreach whites are over-represented by 5%, Asians under-represented by 3%, Blacks under-represented by 2%, Native Americans over-represented by 2%, and Hispanics under-represented by 4%.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Do those who oppose public outreach on bike projects, is this another example of “too much process”?

mark
Guest
mark

N Williams, version 2. Why would anyone not want safer streets in their community?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I very much agree that a great injustice was done when I5 went through these neighborhoods in addition to the blocks that were cleared and demolished for Emmanuel Hospital and its surround parking blocks. I would be in favor of doing the right thing and reversing these tragic decisions by blocking and filling I5 back in and offering all the land created preferentially to members of the traditional community on a subsidized basis, ( after all happy motoring is on its last legs and climate change needs addressing so lets make a bold move). Lets also demo the hospital and return the land to its original residents. I think our health dollars would be better spent setting up Cuban style neighborhood clinics all over town. Fighting over bike lanes is just a proxy battle for the real issues. Climate change is upon us, Our health care system is the worst and most expensive in the world and the people of a great neighborhood in Portland were ripped off let fix it all in one fell swoop that shows we are still a great people and a great city.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

I think this is a good choice as long as there is a clear direction for this process will go in. I was recently watching the streetsfilm for super blocks in barcelona (closing off entire neighborhoods to cars) and was struck that one of the advocates said that they were comforted that neighborhoods were being choosen partly because they had rent control to limit displacement.

What if PBOT used some of the road way and built affordable housing on it? Using that as a diverter? Or provided some system development excemptions to encourage more affordable housing on 7th? Or started loaning out affordable electric cargo bike and tricycles to people living nearby?

My advice to PBOT is to make a clearly timed plan or you will lose the support that has been growing for this project.

Evan
Guest
Evan

I disagree strongly with the statement that “this demographic” ignores outreach. In the case, it’s clear that PBOT staff didn’t do appropriate outreach; they didn’t learn their lesson from Williams!

ComradeAzure
Guest
ComradeAzure

I’m seeing a really paternalistic attitude from some commenters here, which feels quite a bit like the Williams Ave conversation years back. Depressingly so.

There seems to be this sense that, because (predominantly white) planners and (predominantly white) active transportation activists have designed a project that is “good” based on commenters’ criteria for “good” projects, that the Black community is obligated to feel the same way. Or, if Black folks don’t support the project, then they’re obligated to accept it because the (predominantly white) majority has decided it’s the right thing to do.

This is disturbing. As one of the public forum attendees says, it’s a fundamentally colonial attitude toward a community which has been disproportionately burdened by racism, gentrification, displacement, and “urban renewal” projects. It participates in the time-honored tradition that Matt Hern calls the “Portland Achievement” in his book, What a City is For:

“The more I study Portland, the more I encounter this particular civic strategy of power: liberal affirmations of tolerance, sincere apologies for historical traumas, listening sessions, broad mandates for consultation, and effusive evocations of solidarity, followed up with resolute inaction, re-entrenchment of white privilege, and business as usual. It’s a common strategy pretty much everywhere, but Portland has perfected it as a fine art. I suggest that this strategy henceforth be name the Portland achievement – the broadly branded maintenance of a liberal reputation despite compelling evidence to the contrary.”

Yes, I-5 did an incredible amount of harm to the Black community in North and Northeast Portland. Yes, the construction of Legacy Emanuel did the same – hell, there are some blocks where Black-owned houses stood that are STILL Legacy-owned empty fields today. But the solution to those historical injustices is not to ram a project down the community’s throat because it’s “good for them.” It’s to create deeply democratic, authentic public engagement processes that give ALL communities a chance to weigh in on what they’d like their neighborhoods to look like.

It sounds like that’s what PBOT’s doing. I’m overwhelmingly skeptical of the quality of city public engagement processes based on 10 years of experience navigating and participating in them. But hell, this is a step in the right direction.

SD
Guest
SD

I haven’t seen any evidence that the majority of the black community is opposed to the project. What I have seen is oversimplification of the black community, which like most communities has diverse needs and is complex. This is mostly due to easy headlines and lack of depth in understanding. However, like Williams, a few individuals with a vested interest in the status quo and maintaining car traffic speak out and claim to represent the entire community.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I strongly believe that the residents most impacted by this (or any) project should have an outsized voice in shaping it. I strongly believe that race is not what gives those voices legitimacy.

Michael Andersen
Subscriber

Good coverage! Thanks.

Personally, I don’t see a strong case that a 7th Ave route would have different effects on housing prices or cultural stability than a 9th Ave route would. (I’m a white guy who doesn’t live or work in the area, though I come through it regularly.) Personally, I do see a strong case that 7th is a better route for making biking useful to people who travel through this area, and also that a 7th Ave route would do more to disrupt people who are committed to driving through the area.

I think all of us humans have a strong tendency to take political positions based on our cultural affinity for those on one side or the other. I think the main antidote to this tendency is to find other affinities that crosscut or bridge those cultural divides.

This is hard.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Initially I thought it sounded like a good plan, but the more I think about it this feels like a very self-serving project for the mostly white cycling community. No wonder people in the African-American community feel apprehensive. Too many bridges have been burned.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Cars are the most important people so we’ll let cars use all of the streets while we talk about how best to build something eventually, maybe. I’m fine if everyone gets a say in how it should work as long as they would feel safe letting their 8yo kid or 80yo grandparent ride there. And ASAP. We need to have every street in the city be a place where normal people feel welcome on bikes, not this secret sparse labyrinth of greenways where “the cycling cyclist community” can sneak around on a bike and not interfere with any cars doing important car stuff.

SD
Guest
SD

Last time I checked, black children deserve safe streets just as much as white children.

soren
Guest
soren
Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

On an utterly unrelated topic, what is going on in the banner image at the top of this page? It looks like a cyclist is forcing his way through a crossing that appears well occupied. Or is that just a trick of perspective? And why are people crossing three car lengths past the intersection?

Inquiring minds want to know.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

The sins of the majority white in the past, in this case the freeway rolling through the poor black neighborhoods, comes back to haunt Portland and Oregon. Until the debts are paid, there will be trouble until this generation passes on.

Mark smith
Guest

Hello, Kitty
Who owes a debt to whom? Were property owners unfairly compensated?Recommended 0

Oh yeah, they were totally fairly compensated. Just like women in the workplace. Or sharecroppers. Or…you get the picture.

Probably not best to whitewash this one kitty.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Hello, Kitty
Actually, I don’t get the picture. I’m not even sure if you mean a financial debt.Recommended 2

That’s typically how the white right responds “I just don’t understand”. Which is why everyone will continue to pay for the sins of the past until they are compensated.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Hello, Kitty
No, I literally don’t understand what you want when you say “compensate for the sins of the past”. Does this mean money? Is this a specific reference to people ODOT bought land from for its projects?Recommended 0

Partly.

Mark smith
Guest

Hello, Kitty
Now we’re getting somewhere. What are the factors we would use to make the calculation?Recommended 1

I am sure this is funny for you. But it isn’t for those who were displaced.

Charley
Guest
Charley

“There’s a convoy coming. It’s full of [people of a different race]. We can’t allow their kind in. They are dangerous to our culture, and will change our community. They speak different, they dress different, they have a different culture, their skin is a different color. We need to keep them out. Our community should not ever have to change because people would like to immigrate into it. We should instead prevent those other people from moving here.”
This sounds oddly familiar.

On the one hand, yes this neighborhood’s creation is a horrible history, and yes there’s a contemporary affordable housing shortage. On the other hand, do we really want to enforce racial housing rules so that people of color can only live in one neighborhood, or enforce rules so that only people of certain races can live in certain neighborhoods?

And, to me, even more salient: are black people less deserving of safety improvements in their neighborhoods than white people in theirs? Is it really *more* racially fair to deny safety improvements in black neighborhoods, for fear of making the neighborhood safer, and thus whiter? That’s a catch-22. The city either makes the neighborhood a pit of disfunction to keep wealthier (mostly, but not all, white) people out, or it gradually makes the neighborhood safer, as it does with every other neighborhood.

If a bikeway on 7th is a better option in terms of safety for the very people who live in this neighborhood, I think the solution is public art and more listening sessions and more touchy feely and, in the end, a bikeway on 7th. If we, as a culture, value black people’s bodies as much as we value white people’s bodies, we owe this neighborhood no less.

Charley
Guest
Charley

And another thing: if we had more elected black officials, and more black transportation planners and more black community outreach coordinators at the City, this would all be much better. When citizens do not feel that their government represents them, they don’t trust their government, and even innocuous decisions end up in controversy. So the City probably has some work to do in this regard.

Mark smith
Guest

You guys are mistaken in believing that this issue is about bike Lanes.

Charley
Guest
Charley

I may have been going about this wrong. It almost seems like, every time these things come up, I get a sense of “white cyclists or homebuyers have to pay for historic wrongs to black citizens.” That’s just the one-sentence version of how this reads to me. It’s like, since we can’t solve the real problems, let’s pile on to this little problem that’s become a symbol of a larger issue. (It’s relatively easy to do this, because, to posit some examples, the Police don’t have open houses where the community gets to decide whether officers are armed, or the Federal Government doesn’t have an open house at the community center to decide if banks lend to black people; PBOT, on the other hand, is always out there in the public, and basically always responsive).

So I made a list of several things that *actually could help black people* to lead healthier, happier, more prosperous lives. These are policy suggestion that I think would be a better focus for correcting what we all acknowledge are historic injustices; these would be a better focus than, say, killing a bike lane project.

1. Federal payment of reparations to the descendants of slaves.
2. Preferential lending policies or rates
3. Affirmative Action for employment opportunities
4. Affirmative Action for educational opportunities
5. Locally- just compensation for homes lost to I-5 and the hospital
6. Locally- ending the at-large city council system (though that might not have a huge impact)
7. Actually prosecuting police officers who kill black men without cause
8. Electing politicians who aren’t playing footsy with the Alt-Right.
9. Stiffen rules against no-cause eviction

I can already hear you: this list is enormous, and hard. You’re right! We’d better get started now, and we’d better focus! Don’t let the actual controlling parties of our country (hint, hint, it’s not the sinister “bike lobby”) get away with turning us against each other. Don’t fight the people. Fight FOR the people!