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More details emerge on PBOT’s ‘Plan to Become an Antiracist Organization’

Posted by on August 19th, 2020 at 5:40 pm

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

For an agency that once made traffic safety their number one priority, recent protests in support of Black Lives Matter have exposed a hard truth: Initiatives like Vision Zero are meaningless if they don’t address the root causes of racism, harassment and discrimination people of color face on our streets every day.

To their credit, the Portland Bureau of Transportation was working on this issue long before protests flared up in the wake of George Floyd’s death. In 2011 PBOT did an about face on the North Williams Avenue project when local residents raised concerns about gentrification and legacy of racism. They also changed course on a neighborhood greenway project in the King Neighborhood when some Black residents raised similar concerns, ultimately leaving it up to them to decide whether or not a diverter should be installed.

Back in June PBOT Director Chris Warner vowed to steer the agency to becoming an “antiracist organization”. But as we saw with the rollout of the Safe Streets Healthy Business permit program, this organizational shift is a work in progress.

So what exactly will it entail? Details were slim until a July 30th meeting of the Central City in Motion Working Group where a PBOT staffer shared a bit more about what we can expect.

Here’s what we know so far about PBOT’s “Plan to Become an Antiracist Organization”:

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1: Workforce Support and Accountability
– Required equity and antiracist training for managers and supervisors
– Revamp talent recruitment strategy and enhance existing internship program
– Antiracist speaker series

2. Transportation Policy Intervention
– Complete transportation justice framework and refresh Racial Equity Plan*.
– Review and revise (if necessary) existing policies, plans, and practices.
– Conduct regular focus groups with Black community organizations.

3. Supporting and Empowering Black Portland
– Black Portland Matters art initiative and COVID-19 frontline communities partnership
– Complete History of Racist Transportation Planning in Portland
– Black Transportation Academy

4. Re-imagining the Right of Way Using a Racial Equity Framework
– Street renaming in coordination with other citywide actions (statues, parks, etc.)
– Evaluate PBOT program outcomes to ensure alignment with racial equity goals.
– Assess and address infrastructure priorities with Black-serving organizations.

It’s good to see a few more specifics emerge on this plan. Stay tuned for more coverage and details on various elements like the speaker series, art initiative, transportation academy, and so on.

— 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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Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

How is an organization like PBOT in a ultra liberal city like Portland currently a “racist” organization?

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
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Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)

Black Transportation Academy sounds pretty cool but what does it mean? A masters in planning program at PSU and provide full scholarship to black portlanders?

One of the things PBOT could do to help get more black portlanders involved with the bicycling economy would be to offer scholarships to UBI bike mechanic school or help start one at Portland Community College. If they asked local bike shops we would also contribute.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

It will be pretty funny when it is determined that BIPOCs want more parking, less congestion, and more pavement capacity.

RudiV
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RudiV

A speeding car killed my beloved dog on the quiet street right in front of my house last friday afteroon. But yeah lets abandon vision zero in favor of some meaningless woke bullshit that makes us feel good. Vision zero is too hard!!! Leftists are garbage.

casual observer
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casual observer

This all looks very good and will be great to see how it develops and is implemented. Might be a good structure for other business to follow. This isn’t meant to be an all lives matter comment, but is there any plan for multiple items #3 for Empowering Hispanic Portland, or Empowering Asian Portland? Or, conducting focus groups with other minority community organizations around the city? Seems like a logical next step or phase, especially around projects in east Portland or SE Portland.

Hello, Kitty
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Hello Kitty

For an agency that once made traffic safety their number one priority…

Is safety no longer PBOT’s top priority? If so, that would represent a very disappointing turning point for the agency.

Brendan
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Brendan

PBOT will struggle with this. How can they prioritize the traffic flow of all people and especially black/brown/native communities when they already prioritize the traffic flow according to business/wealthy demands?

It’s akin to what is happening at many organizations. We are in a dire financial depression and attempting to correct 100s of years of social ills at the same time.

PBOT would completely have to change their algorithm for how they design traffic and allocate resources.

It’s a worthy cause, but they just mean their HR and recruiting department are changing to not be racist.

bike ped planner
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bike ped planner

“Initiatives like Vision Zero are meaningless if they don’t address the root causes of racism, harassment and discrimination people of color face on our streets every day.”

Really? Nice dichotomous thinking going on there. Indeed, VZ can and should be cognizant of how the specific policies and actions may have inherent bias, or may enable bias. But to claim they are meaningless otherwise? Not to mention that things like “equity” are highly subjective and can be manipulated to advance specific agendas which in turn can in fact be shown to be inequitable, and thus the whole thing caves in on itself, failing under the weight of do-gooder machinations that take initiatives so far off track of their core aim.

Jonathan Krall
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FWIW, one of Kendi’s main points is that racist outcomes, regardless of intent, are immoral. I would have been very encouraged to see “measure and correct racially disparate outcomes” as part of the PBOT plan. Perhaps pro-active anti-racist action (versus anti-racist teaching/training or reaction to BIPOC community pushback) is too much to hope for.

Champs
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Champs

What it means for me is that after lobbying for traffic calming on my street, then joining a neighborhood coalition and finally getting through, PBOT now wants a Black community group to co-sign our request. I don’t see what is racist about speed bumps, but never mind that.

The problem I’m seeing is that this is a neighborhood coalition with multiple Black households like mine. We don’t need the blessing of a group led by people who don’t know or even live near us, we can speak for ourselves.

The minds at PBOT don’t seem to have considered this in their rush to antiracism, maybe making the point that the wrong people are drafting policy there.