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Nonprofit leaders say Portland streets aren’t ‘open’ for all

Posted by on May 19th, 2020 at 10:30 am

Seen in north Portland.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

While some Portlanders ride bikes and walk around their neighborhoods with relative ease, that ostensibly simple act isn’t so easy for many others. Local nonprofit leaders who work with immigrants, people of color, and families that rely on social services, paint a much different picture of neighborhood mobility.

In the case of Oregon Walks, Executive Director Jess Thompson said in a recent member newsletter that many people they serve, “Are not feeling safe leaving home during the pandemic.” “Too many folks do not have enough (or any) access to face coverings or reliable information about how to walk ‘Covid-aware’ and more safely when they walk out the door.”

Think about that the next time you head outside for a run or a bike ride: There are people who feel trapped inside their homes because of fear of the virus, fear of authorities, fear of the unknown.

To help ease anxieties, Oregon Walks has created “walking kits” they’ll distribute via partners in food boxes, at health clinics, and homeless shelters. According to Thompson, each kit has a face covering, safety light, literature on public health and walking safety guidelines, and links to local services and resources.

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“They’re struggling with economic fallout and don’t want to engage on this topic because we’re trying to survive.”
— Duncan Hwang, APANO

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Duncan Hwang is associate director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and transportation justice is one of his priority policy areas.

I spoke to Hwang earlier this month. While we hosted a debate about open streets and pushed the city to move forward with them, Hwang said the community he serves was reeling. Unemployment, xenophobia directed at Asian-owned businesses, health fears, the digital divide that impacts families with schoolkids and adults who don’t have reliable access to news and other information — those are the issues faced by many Portlanders whose voices are underrepresented here and in other local media outlets.

“No one’s really going anywhere, so it’s hard to have transportation conversations,” Hwang said when I asked him for his thoughts on open streets. “Vulnerable communities are suffering right now, they’re struggling with economic fallout and don’t want to engage on this topic because we’re trying to survive.”

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“No walking kit can erase the terrorism white supremacy culture inflicts.”
— Jess Thompson, Oregon Walks

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

For Oregon Walks, Jess Thompson says the murder of Ahmaud Arbery helped crystalize their mission. “[News of his murder] shook us to the core,” Thompson wrote in a newsletter this week. “It was a stark organizational reminder that no walking kit can erase the terrorism white supremacy culture inflicts. This, along with the anti-Asian racism many of our community members are experiencing in the public right of way, give us deep pause as an organization and make us more committed than ever to engage mainstream active transportation professionals and public planners in expanding the focus of our work to create a more broad understanding of ‘safety’.”

For Thompson, safety isn’t just about infrastructure or lower speed limits or sidewalks. “Safety is uprooting white supremacy culture that permeates every system in the US.”

Thompson says Oregon Walks is planning a series of virtual conversations in late June dubbed “Talk the Walk, Walk the Talk” that will be about equity and safety in the public right-of-way. If you’d like to get involved contact her at jess@oregonwalks[dot]org.

———

CORRECTION: I regret that I didn’t accurately relay Jess Thompson’s statement. It’s important to note she wrote in her newsletter that safety is not just about infrastructure. I unintentionally left out the “just” part and that omits a very important nuance. I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding my mistake caused.

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

For those who are still having trouble with face coverings, try this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1FHPI4XpRs

It’s easy, it works, and the components should be nearly universally available.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Keep telling people they are victims and they will continue to be victims. You aren’t helping them.

dwk
Guest
dwk

This is so condescending, minorities not intelligent enough to deal with Covid?
Do they think they are all children?
Amazing article.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> For Thompson, safety isn’t about infrastructure or lower speed limits or sidewalks. “Safety is uprooting white supremacy culture that permeates every system in the US.” <<<

This is a surprising statement for an organization nominally dedicated to walking. Does this mean that Oregon Walks thinks we should not lower speed limits or build sidewalks?

Are there any Portland-area organizations still focused primarily on pedestrian safety and access?

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

In the part of Washington County where I live the Asian folks all have the good masks (N95) while the white supremacist looking folks don’t wear masks or wear bandana’s with skulls and such on them. So perhaps this problem is self correcting in the long run.

nerpaderp
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nerpaderp

***Hi nerpaderp. You seem to be new here. Welcome! If you want to have your comments posted, you’ll have to be nicer and more productive. I don’t object to your points, I object to the way you are making them. Please don’t insult anyone. Thanks. – Jonathan***

casual observer
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casual observer

It would be important to understand the % of the people they are interacting with that feel this way, is it 100%, or 10%? I have two kids in an outer NE high school with many friends and acquaintances from immigrant families (Vietnamese and Somalian mainly). What they are hearing, along from what I’m hearing from the school Principal is that the main concerns are about food, paying bills and internet for school work. No issues of fear and aggression have been reported as far as I know. I’m not saying that the quotes in the article aren’t true, but if the feedback is from a select few that would be important to understand. My point isn’t that this is terrible to hear about, but I just want to know if it is coming from one or two bad apples out there and not from an entire community of white supremacists which is how I read the article.

Rod B
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Rod B

I sure hope Oregon Walks is not just focusing on undoing White Supremacy Culture and is still working toward advocating for safer pedestrian infrastructure, as this is a critical issue that needs advocacy and especially impacts communities of color in places like East Portland. As a son of an immigrant from Asia and as a human, I am totally for working against White supremacy, when this is defined as a belief in the supremacy of the “White race” over all others and actions to continue this. However, some activists have defined White Supremacy very broadly, equating it with actions that promote or continue “White culture,” which some equate with Western culture or “White settler culture.” This can be seen as including most everything about the way we live – industrialized society, the education system, speaking English (or Spanish – another colonialist language), or even riding bikes. Sorry folks, but due to a history we cannot undo, we will for the foreseeable future have a society with a strong Western basis, although I think our society can become much more inclusive and will be shaped by other cultural traditions. In a global world, we are all becoming hybrid cultures. Go to Japan or Korea and you will see vibrant Asian cultures, but you will also see many things with origins in the West, like industrialized economies, universities, rail systems, steel and concrete high rises. They are hybrid cultures. Nothing inherently bad about taking on some aspects of other cultures. It’s a human thing. My basic point is that there is nothing wrong with having our society permeated with Western cultural traditions, as long as it is inclusive of a diversity of people and we are open to its continuing evolution as a hybrid culture. So, don’t worry about whether your bike is a product of White Settler Culture. Just ride.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

I think there are some less enlightened members of society that are angry that this Corona Virus outbreak has been something of a Suez moment for white male leadership. The UK, NYC,Brazil, Italy and the U.S. government are seen by all as the losers in Pandemic leadership race, while the stars have been led by women ( New Zealand) or women of color ( San Francisco, Hong Kong, Taiwan ). I think the time for settler culture has passed and the Virus is making that abundantly clear to all.

Noel
Guest
Noel

I highly, highly recommend that folks read this article: A Tale of Two Truths: Transportation and Nuance in the time of COVID-19.

https://medium.com/at-the-intersections/a-tale-of-two-truths-transportation-and-nuance-in-the-time-of-covid-19-9bc99ff8c005

It is possible to hold multiple truths, multiple perspectives, and multiple approaches to safety at once. To say that Oregon Walks is no longer working on pedestrian issues because they are holding space for safety concerns that go beyond pavement is really limiting for our collective efforts to advocate and build meaningful change for all people in public space. And I’ll add that Jess’s newsletter did not say ‘safety isn’t about infrastructure or sidewalks’. She said it isn’t JUST about that. Nuance is important!

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

I live two blocks west of 82nd in the Jade district. We never walk east. Narrow sidewalks, no ADA ramps for strollers, lots of weeds and gravel along sidewalks, limited crosswalks, you run into I205, abundant campers, etc.; it’s just not inviting. I don’t doubt anyone for not wanting to go for walks if you live around 92nd and Division. The I205 path should be a wonderful asset to the neighborhood, but we all know the current condition the trails in, unfortunately.

RudiV
Guest
RudiV

So according to bourgeois white leftists, black and brown people are too stupid to WALK without their help? Nice.

RudiV
Guest
RudiV

“No walking kit can erase the terrorism white supremacy culture inflicts.”
— Jess Thompson, Oregon Walks

Is that really true? It’s an open carry state. I can pretty quickly design a “walking kit” that can erase the terrorism white supremacy culture inflicts.

Chuck D
Guest
Chuck D

Racism is now ascribed as the root cause of all adverse social interaction confrontations and conflicts among diverse Americans, but other culturally homogeneous countries also deal with the same type of adverse social interaction confrontation and conflict scenarios within their populations. Is the foundation unequivocal racism or more so a negative byproduct of human interaction.

Hickeymad
Guest
Hickeymad

This is by far the most ridiculously social justicey article I’ve seen on bike portland. How embarrassing for this site.

hickeymad
Guest
hickeymad

For those confused about what whiteness (And “white supremacy”) has to do with transportation, walking and cycling there is a wonderful Critical social justice dictionary being compiled that can help one understand the perspective of the critical theorists and activists who use these terms.

I think it’s important that we understand how these terms are being used if we are to counter their inherent illiberalism. This dictionary is a fantastic resource because the language of the critical theorists from which these concepts arise Is sometimes hard to understand from a laypersons perspective. There are many linguistic traps set in these theorists redefinition of language to suit their ends. It is exceedingly difficult to counter these trends without being branded and dismissed as a “white Supremacist” or some other such nonsense. These are dangerous labels in these time to be stuck with.

Here’s a link to the definition of “whiteness”; https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-whiteness/

Here is a link to the definition of “white supremacy”;

Critical theory has been saturating many of our institutions and is have extremely deleterious effects. I am heartened to see so many people here on bike portland starting to push back. Critical social justice is NOT liberalism. It is a radical way of viewing the world with end goals of tearing society apart such that it can be rebuilt along utopian lines; with utopian being defined by the critical theorists. I myself see this as a very dangerous phenomena.