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Portland’s bike advisory committee will apologize to Commissioner Hardesty for conduct ‘endemic of systemic racism’

“We want to apologize for our conduct at that meeting. It was unprofessional, endemic of systemic racism, and unacceptable. We will be holding ourselves accountable.”
— PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee letter

Two months after a heated meeting with Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, members of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee have penned an apology letter.

The meeting on May 11th was Hardesty’s first visit to the BAC since she was named PBOT Commissioner in December 2020. During a Q & A session following remarks to the committee, Hardesty, the first Black woman on Portland City Council, made some statements that left many veteran bike advocates shocked and frustrated. One BAC member, Clint Culpepper, become animated in his pushback against some of Hardesty’s comments — especially when she appeared to dismiss bike advocates’ demands because she doesn’t feel “the bike community” is an effective lobby group.

“I have one thing that I worry about every single day,” Culpepper said at one point during the exchange. “That my two small children are going to get hurt or killed on our roads. And I think that PBOT’s continued prioritization of building more room for automobiles is appalling. Pedestrian safety is the number one issue in the city and every single person in this room feels that it is being shortchanged at every opportunity. We have to fight for scraps out there, because PBOT has refused to prioritize safety first and foremost.”

“I hear your frustration Clint, but I certainly don’t agree with that,” Hardesty responded.

“Then why do we continue to have pedestrians die on our streets!?” Culpepper interjected loudly.

At their meeting last night, BAC members sought to make amends via a letter that puts an apology front-and-center.

“We want to apologize for our conduct at that meeting,” the opening paragraph of the draft letter reads. “It was unprofessional, endemic of systemic racism, and unacceptable. We will be holding ourselves accountable.”

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The BAC also promised Commissioner Hardesty that they will work harder to add Black and other people of color to their membership and/or elevate their voices more in the future.

In addition to the apology and acknowledgment that they lack diversity, the BAC sought to demonstrate support for Hardesty’s transportation platform (like carfree plazas and more automated enforcement) as well as counter some of Hardesty’s assertions made at the May meeting. While the letter acknowledges that bike lanes have, “typically been an indicator of gentrification and often represent spaces that are not inclusive of people for color,” the BAC took the opportunity to point out a national study that found new bike lanes did not result in the displacement of low-income or people of color.

One of the most surprising exchanges in the May meeting was when Commissioner Hardesty said she had never heard of the city’s bicycle master plan and that she doubts its main goal of 25% bicycle mode share by 2030 will be achieved. The BAC ended their letter by making a strong pitch for the bicycle plan:

“From outer east to North Portland, to Southwest and everywhere in between, we want all members of our community to be able to ride a bicycle (and walk and take transit) to get where they need to go affordably and on routes that are safe and comfortable to use. Combined with antiracist strategies the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 is the blueprint for making it happen and a critical element in achieving our shared goals to a safer, or equitable transportation system. We look forward to working together and implementing the plan, and new, innovative initiatives that make this vision for the future a reality in our city.”

Andre Miller, a community justice organizer who works for Commissioner Hardesty, attended last night’s BAC meeting. Once it’s finalized and sent, we’ll ask if he has a response.

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