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Guest Opinion: Losing the 7th Avenue greenway

Posted by on March 21st, 2019 at 9:51 am

This post from Kiel Johnson comes in response to news announced today that the Portland Bureau of Transportation has decided to route the Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway on 9th Avenue.

“9th Avenue will become the greenway.”

The words put finality on years of advocacy, countless hours spent knocking on doors, talking with neighbors, making yard signs, and writing letters. This past Sunday my living room was overflowing with my fellow neighbors and their children who live on 7th. They had come hoping to hear something different. Nick Falbo, the PBOT project manager, had come to deliver to news. A member of one family immediately walked out the door. No one knew quite what to do next.

Right now in Portland it feels like the push for a more livable city has been losing a lot.

Sometimes you get the outcome you want and sometimes you do not. The dream of a calm street outside our door where our children could safely go outside had come to represent something more than just an infrastructure project. It was a symbol of a changing neighborhood. “We aren’t against change, just not so fast” one of my African American neighbors said at a forum I attended where every African American person present resoundingly rejected a 7th ave Greenway.

There are two major African American organizations located on 7th, Albina Head Start and Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives. Both formed before I was born with the goal of helping right some of our society’s injustices. Neither of these groups saw how making 7th ave a greenway would help the people they serve.

In December my first daughter was born and I decided I was going to do everything I could to make the Greenway on 7th happen. I want her to grow up on a safe street where she would have the freedom to go outside. I wrote about some of my efforts in a series published on BikePortland this past fall.

Since hearing the news that the Greenway is not coming I have felt the entire rainbow of negative emotions. Anger, sadness, despair at a broken city process, and a looming sense that the world is inherently ruined. Losing is always hard and it is even harder to think that my daughter will miss the chance to grow up on a safer street when we had the designs and money all in place to make it happen.

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Right now in Portland it feels like the push for a more livable city has been losing a lot.

50 people showed up at an Ice Cream Social event we organized in September.

Whether it is the $500 million to widen a freeway or the well-worn 4-year-old plastic wands on the Better Naito pilot project that represent our cities lack of urgency to invest in real fixes. After watching the video Jonathan made of the I-84 path this week it is easy to wonder what is going on here. Why can we not solve these problems?

Part of it has to do with political leadership, part of it with the fraying and ineffectiveness of our advocacy institutions, and also a generational power struggle. We do not get to make our own history as we like, we have to make it in the reality inherited to us by past generations.

This past year I turned 32, over the past ten years I have started a nationwide push for getting kids to bike to school on bike trains and created a new business model that combines bike valet with bicycle repair that has helped make the aerial tram the most biked to place in North America. I have successfully advocated for better bike lanes on Willamette Blvd and have tried to be a useful part of the conversation on as many other projects in Portland as I can.

We may not get the greenway we wanted but we can still make a better community. And in the end that’s what this is all about.

For every win I can count many more disappointments. Just because you lose sometimes does not mean you give up or were wrong for trying. Losing never feels good but there are certainly worse reasons to lose besides my city prioritizing the requests of community groups that have historically not been listened to which is something we need to do.

At the end of our meeting my neighbors and I made a plan to host a series of block parties on 7th every Sunday this summer. One thing I heard from everyone is that there is a feeling of a lack of connectedness among neighbors. We also agreed to meet this Sunday to go on a neighborhood bus ride to experience the expanded 24 bus that crosses 7th and now goes over the Fremont Bridge to NW.

We may not get the greenway we wanted but we can still make a better community. And in the end that’s what this is all about.

— Kiel Johnson, @go_by_bike on Twitter

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MatthewErinM.Johnny Bye CarterGlenn the 2ndKiel Johnson (Go By Bike) Recent comment authors
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Matthew
Guest
Matthew

What is it, do you suppose, that pre-disposes our african american neighbors towards rejecting cycling infrastructure?

Why would an african american resident on this street be opposed to a safer community? Why do local african american organizations work to defeat these things? The VAST majority of the cycling community in this town is far-left and virtue signal their love for diversity and inclusion constantly. Why do you suppose this isn’t working?

Chris Smith (Contributor)
Subscriber

Keil, thank you for all your advocacy on this and your deep commitment to improving our community.

Daniel Amoni
Guest
Daniel Amoni

Kiel, your work and attitude are an inspiration! I’m glad to hear someone reminding us what it is all about.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

50 people attended the ice cream social; the 33 shown in the photo all appear to be young and white.

Greg Sutliff
Guest
Greg Sutliff

The history of white men leveraging their privilege to shape public policy to protect the “safety” of their white children and increase their property values is long and disgusting.

It’s particularly disgusting when such individuals are absolutely convinced that the people of color who disagree with them are just utterly confused about what’s in their own best interest.

PBOT’s decision to actually both listen to the historically marginalized members of the community AND actually make a policy decision that reflects the input that they received is something to be celebrated as a small but meaningful exception to the rule of white supremacy. If this is something that causes you to throw a temper tantrum and walk out of a meeting in anger, then you are part of the problem.

Gabrielle
Guest
Gabrielle

I am really troubled by the tone of these comments. I don’t live in that neighborhood so I can’t speak to the way the greenway effort reached out to the community or how the process felt from within. But what I’m reading here is that a largely white community of neighbors in a historically black neighborhood (where folks have been experiencing a long process of being priced and planned out of their homes) brought a fully-imagined proposal to local institutions serving communities of color and asked for their support after the fact.

Better to engage people from the beginning. Everyone wants a safer neighborhood, but we envision that differently depending on where we’re coming from. But if the goal is shared then a shared vision can be created–provided that all voices are heard at every step of the conversation. Kiel acknowledges that the community in that neighborhood is still fractured. That would have been the place to start–community-building that leads to advocacy, not the other way around.

This isn’t a radical concept. Community organizations, neighborhood groups, local activists are all really comfortable demanding a seat at the table when the city starts a project. Why would your neighbors feel differently at the neighborhood level? From my perspective, again without having witnessed firsthand any of this advocacy work, it seems really obvious why Headstart and PCRI chose not to support this proposal. If you’re not going to show up for their community why would they show up for yours?

Chris
Guest
Chris

Twice, in your commentary, you reveal that you have no idea what you are talking about, yet you still feel obligated to speak.

“I don’t live in that neighborhood so I can’t speak to the way the greenway effort reached out to the community or how the process felt from within. ”

“From my perspective, again without having witnessed firsthand any of this advocacy work, it seems really obvious… ”

How about if you read about the author and what JM says about him?

Those of us who actually do live in the vicinity should also have a say in what happens here. Instead, it feels like we got sidelined.

ChadwickF
Guest
ChadwickF

A little off topic, but the new 24 bus is pretty boss.
Hoping the service goes a little later, I think Trimet is going to extend hours in the future.

http://blog.trimet.org/2019/02/15/our-first-line-across-the-fremont-bridge/

Gadfly
Guest
Gadfly

I think this is symptomatic of a larger divide between the values of modern progressives, and some of the bases of the Democratic party. LGBT issues are notably a sticking point. Bike facilities seem to be a big one too.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

On the plus side, another street is getting a Greenway!

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Portland never has been and never will be a ‘great cycling city’. The political will simply isn’t there. I was personally mistaken about this for many years but more recently have come to understand the hard reality of the situation.

MARK SMITH
Guest
MARK SMITH

It’s about identity. Look around most cities. Cycling is largely a white dude, and somewhat dudette activity. Let’s be honest about that. Let’s also be honest about how black /brown neighborhoods have been sold to gentrify in that image of the day. And now, however, small, greeway’s have become that symbol of gentrification. Are they wrong? Really?

Chuck
Guest
Chuck

Here’s what I don’t get about this- Kiel bought (or rents) a house on an obviously busy street in one of the few African-American communities left in Portland. Then he has a kid, and suddenly his priority is to have a calm-traffic street, despite the fact that he knowingly (or completely clue-lessly) bought/rents a house on a busy street or that the community that he moved into does not share his desire. And he expects to change all of that? I think that’s when the man needs to decide to move to someplace that better suits his needs, rather than trying to make the community change for him. In my opinion, this is the kind of attitude that gives us white men on bikes a bad name (I guess the “on bikes” part is superfluous).

Chuck
Guest
Chuck

One more thing- do any of the folks supporting Kiel on this understand how gentrification works?

SD
Guest
SD

The people that are getting lost and ignored in all of this are the black residents who thought that the safe 7th design was the best design. The dichotomy that PBOT has created with their PR campaign erases their existence.

dwk
Guest
dwk

This is sad thread…
This is why people do not get active.. Why stick your neck out?
A person commits a ton of time for the greater public good (and his own admittedly) and is disparaged as a result?
A bunch of comments that are way out of line.
I know Kiel and his family.
He does not deserve this.

Jarrin
Guest
Jarrin

reading this all made me really sad, guys. so much divisiveness, and lack of trying to even connect is going to be the end of any real change and progress being made for this “cause” of building a more bikeable city. Breakdowns in communication street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood.

It is not a good look.

Shady Sheit
Guest
Shady Sheit

Trader joes on alberta & mlk was also rejected by the PUC which would have brought an affordable option to many in the neighborhood. However, now we have another expensive grocery store that doesn’t have the common courtesy of offering you a paper bag. This town.

Matt M
Guest
Matt M

Kiel for City Council!!

Glenn the 2nd
Guest
Glenn the 2nd

My willingness to bike is based at least partly on my good luck in being able to grow up without the constant presence of people with some kind of weird covert grudge against me. Somehow I just know I’ll be okay out there, and I’m fine with putting my life in the hands of all those strangers.

If I were black in America, I would want NO PART of that nonsense. A whole lifetime of feeling vulnerable to an arbitrary hatred… no: I suspect I would want the most private, most enclosed, fastest vehicle. The better to shut out racists, withstand certain types of attacks by racists, and get away from racists, respectively. (Though I might still get pulled over by racists.) Not only that, but the most luxurious as well, because hey, you all had it; why would I deny it to myself? Basically all the things cars offer, and let’s not lie about it, they do offer those things.

If a black or historically black neighborhood wants a bike route, and it’s their own idea, great; otherwise it’s just another white-people’s idea, no matter how well-intended. I didn’t use to see this… like with the Williams thing, I was all, “What’s not to like?” But you’re trying to take away something the neighborhood does value, to give them something they don’t value, and to top it off, the guy proposing it is the same one who’s been giving them crap for 400 years. I don’t care if it’s free gold bars with delicious cakes and Rolexes on top, you’re going to look at something like that with distrust.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter
Matthew
Guest
Matthew

This is exactly the problem with these weeklies that I alluded to above. They are activists, NOT journalists. We deserve better than this.