“As a progressive Black man growing up in Houston… he has seen firsthand the unequal development present in our pedestrian infrastructure.”
— Oregon Walks
Ashton Simpson has been chosen as the new executive director of Oregon Walks, the Portland-based nonprofit that has pushed for better walking conditions since 1991. Simpson, an east Portland resident who recently finished third in a campaign for Oregon House District 47, will become the first Black leader of the organization.
Simpson moves to walking advocacy with experience in community organizing and the inner workings of Portland’s transportation bureaucracy. He volunteers as vice-chair of the City of Portland Fixing Our Streets Oversight Committee and is also a member of the Pricing Options for Equitable Mobility Task Force and the Rose Lane Project Committee. Simpson will leave behind his job as community asset director at Rosewood Initiative, a community development nonprofit focused on people who live along the Portland-Gresham border south of I-84.
“As a progressive Black man growing up in Houston, and now living in Portland, he has seen firsthand the unequal development present in our pedestrian infrastructure, and the dangers this presents for vulnerable communities,” reads an Oregon Walks statement about the hire.
In a Q & A with BikePortland back in September, Simpson was outspoken about transportation issues. He called the I-5 Rose Quarter project a “a waste of money that will not achieve any of the stated goals.” He also shared feelings of blatant racism he’s experienced as a Black man using the streets of Portland that, “encompasses everything from rudeness to overt acts of hostility.”
The choice of Simpson is a natural next step for Oregon Walks. Previous executive director Jess Thompson made a concerted push to make transportation justice and civil rights top priorities. “We’ve tried to expand away from just transportation policy and really look at what the experience of walking is like for a wide variety of people,” Thompson shared with me in a recent interview following the organization’s choice of a member of Don’t Shoot PDX for a Walkstar award. And back in October, Oregon Walks Board Member Timur Ender made it clear racial justice would continue to be a guiding priority.
Simpson takes over at Oregon Walks as Portland two other major bicycling nonprofits undergo leadership changes of their own. In August The Street Trust’s executive director stepped down. Instead of hiring a new one, the organization named three existing staffers as co-directors. One of them, former Advocacy Director Richa Poudyal, left the organization two months later and is now a policy director for Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Last week the Community Cycling Center announced that Momoko Saunders, a former Biketown general manager, would be their executive director.
We expect to hear a lot from Simpson in the next few months as Oregon Walks readies one of their most ambitious initiatives in years: an in-depth analysis of three years of walking fatalities conducted by board member and attorney Scott Kocher. Chief among the findings is people who identified as Black were nearly three times more likely to be killed in collisions while walking compared to other groups.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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