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Students at Tubman Middle School wore masks to protest toxic air from I-5 drivers

Students from Harriet Tubman Middle School on the N Flint Ave bridge yesterday. Their classrooms are just 50 feet from freeway lanes.
(Photos: Aaron Brown/No More Freeways PDX)

The kids know.

On Earth Day yesterday, Portland-based nonprofit Neighbors for Clean Air organized a protest on the Flint Avenue Bridge. Dozens of students from nearby Harriet Tubman Middle School joined them. They wore masks, donned “No Dirty Diesel” t-shirts, and chanted, “Diesel is dirty! Diesel is dumb!”.


From their perch on the bridge, the students could see thousands of people driving fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks below. They could also see their classrooms. Tubman is just 50 feet away from I-5 and has a well-known history of bad air quality because of it.

The kids were there to support House Bill 2007, a proposal that would create stronger regulations for diesel emissions. But they were also a visible symbol of what’s at stake with the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway project.

The Oregon Department of Transportation and the City of Portland want to to expand the freeway so it — and the toxic driving it encourages — will be even closer to the lungs of these students. Despite their claims to the contrary, ODOT’s freeway expansion will lead to more drivers, more exhaust, and dirtier air. The plan is so harmful that the Portland Public School Board is vehemently opposed to it.

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“The potential impacts of the proposed project to Harriet Tubman Middle School are particularly troubling,” the School Board wrote in a letter outlining their demands for a more thorough environmental analysis.

The widening of the freeway would also require that ODOT demolish and remove the bridge the students stood on — a move even the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s own Bicycle Advisory Committee said is a bad idea. “The removal of the Flint Ave crossing… would have a negative impact on bicycle travel that cannot be replaced by any of the facilities proposed in the Build alternative,” the BAC wrote in their letter opposing the project. Currently about 3,000 people ride bicycles over the Flint Ave Bridge every day.

These Tubman students deserve better. We’re grateful for their courage in speaking out and we hope our local elected leaders take heed.

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

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