Oregon’s cycling and pedestrian advisory committee put on notice for lack of diversity

Some attendees of the OBPAC meeting on Zoom yesterday.

“I’m addressing a system of recurring underrepresentation and the continual exclusion absence of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] communities in decision making bodies across the state of Oregon.”

– André Lightsey-Walker, committee member

A member of the State of Oregon’s bicycling and pedestrian advisory committee says the body has a diversity and inclusion problem.

André Lightsey-Walker (bottom right in photo above), a volunteer member of the governor-appointed Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (OBPAC), spoke out about the issue at the end of the group’s meeting Tuesday.

“This may be a subject matter that’s not super easy for people, but it’s important to me,” Lightsey-Walker said as he addressed the online meeting, with nothing but white-presenting eyes peering back at him. He made it clear his comments were directed at the system and not individual members of the committee. “I’m addressing a system of recurring underrepresentation and the continual exclusion absence of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] communities in decision making bodies across the state of Oregon.”

Lightsey-Walker in 2021. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A chief concern of Lightsey-Walker (a transportation planner at Metro who worked for two years as program and policy manager at nonprofit The Street Trust) is that OBPAC (like many advisory committees) purports to hold the well-being of lower-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color as their top priority — yet the people who make decisions about them are overwhelmingly white. Not only that, but the negative impacts of traffic crashes and many systemic transportation issues, fall disproportionately on BIPOC Oregonians.

“Nothing about us, without us,” Lightsey-Walker explained in his remarks. “If we’re thinking about ourselves as a body who is committed to making Oregon a safer place to walk and bike, I think it would be important for us to have members of that community be foundational and participating in those conversations.”

Lightsey-Walker ended with questions for the committee:

“Is this a place committed to welcoming and elevating the voices of BIPOC communities? What will OBPAC be doing to actively engage BIPOC participation? And what is OBPACs commitment to not only creating but maintaining a diverse committee?”

He then made it clear does not want to continue as a member of the committee unless significant progress is made.

Co-chair Mavis Hartz said diversity and inclusion is a subject OBPAC has, “Wrestled with a lot,” but that the work to make progress on it has been left undone. “André is right, we are kind of dropping the ball,” Hartz said. She added that an ODOT staffer started an initiative to improve the committee’s diversity, but never followed through. Now, Hartz said, “I personally I don’t know how we’re going to shift from from what we know, to making [more diversity] actually a functioning thing.”

The committee shall consist of eight members including an employee of a unit of local government employed in land use planning, a representative of a recognized environmental group, a person engaged in the business of selling or repairing bicycles, a member designated by the Oregon Recreation Trails Advisory Council, and at least one member under the age of 21 at the time of appointment.

– Excerpt from OBPAC bylaws

“We need to continue on this subject because it has been why one of our past chairs stepped down — she didn’t feel like she was being heard,” Hartz acknowledged.

Hartz was referring to former OBPAC Chair Hau Hagedorn, a daughter of immigrants from Vietnam who stepped down from her role with similar misgivings as Lightsey-Walker. “When you are asked to sit on a committee but not given the agency to decide who should represent the committee or asked to participate in meaningful decision-making processes, is that tokenism or representation?” Hagedorn shared with BikePortland today. “There’s a fine line.”

Another OBPAC member pointed out that the committee just added two more members (both of whom are white), “But we’re not increasing the diversity of the committee.”

Then ODOT Bicycle and Program Manager Jessica Horning spoke up to say she wants more flexibility around how members are added. She pointed out that OBPAC was formed via Oregon statute and their are specific requirements about the size of the committee (eight members), where they must live, and which interest groups they must represent. “I would love to have a conversation about how we meet those requirements and find ways to expand representation,” Horning said. “Do we actually need to work with an elected official to propose statutory changes… to make good on those commitments?”

OBPAC Co-chair Emma Newman also acknowledged the problem and urged fellow members to take ownership of Lightsey-Walker’s questions, “So that we’re walking the walk and talking the talk.”

There was talk about difficulties recruiting BIPOC people to the committee, despite efforts to do so. The conversation reminded me of the interview with Will Cortez on our podcast back in December. I asked Cortez, a member of many advisory committees and one of the founders of BikePOC PNW, about the ongoing problem of transportation advisory committees being too white.

“I’m unsure how to proceed. At this point I really think we need an action plan, not another presentation.”

– Mavis Hartz, OBPAC co-chair

Cortez said many Black and other people of color simply don’t have more energy to expend in spaces like advisory committees. “We’re trying to take care of ourselves. We’re trying not to expend energy where it’s like beating our heads against the wall,” he said. He also pointed out that many committees are too “extractive” and not mutually beneficial to volunteers who serve on them. Paying for attendance would be a welcome step forward, he said.

ODOT’s OBPAC isn’t the only committee struggling with this issue. The Portland Bureau of Transportation recently completed a detailed evaluation of its three modal committees, and their lack of diversity was one of the chief reasons for doing so.

Ligthsey-Walker knows he’s up against something much larger than just this one ODOT committee. At the end of his comments yesterday he reiterated that he’s just trying to call out the larger system to stop it from perpetuating itself. “We can’t let [the system] continue to reinforce itself. And maybe it will. Maybe it will prevail.”

Even though committee Co-chair Hartz said she was “unsure how to proceed,” she sounded sincere in wanting to make progress. “If this is a recurring issue, then we need to figure out the root… At this point I really think we need an action plan, not another presentation.”

Another discussion about this issue is on the agenda for OBPAC’s next meeting.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Matt P
Matt P
9 months ago

Ah the wonderful world of rampant progressivism.

Seth
Seth
9 months ago

A transportation committee that represents the community with 8 people on it is apparently more worried about having 7 white faces staring back at 1 POC face than doing their primary job. Most recent census for Oregon “Race: White alone: 85.9%” 7 out of 8 people being white is perfectly mirroring the population of Oregon.
Trying to push for disproportionately more representation for specific races over others is exactly the kind of racism the progressive movement has become synonymous with in recent years.

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
9 months ago

“And I personally would really like to see the number of BIPOC people in Oregon go way up, so I think it makes sense for our gov’t committees to reflect that.”

I don’t have an argument with your viewpoint but rather a serious question:
Who determines what ethnicity breakdowns we aspire to be as a community for DEI purposes and how do you reach consensus on that? This has always been the problem with DEI initiatives because they rarely (if ever) have objective measures. It’s always something along the lines of “I’ll know diversity when I see it”

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
9 months ago

And there’s never a point at which they’ll say “that’s a success”.

Donny
Donny
9 months ago

Jonathan Maus,

Maybe the primary issue we should be discussing when we address diversity should be class rather than race and sexual orientation. How many construction workers, factory workers, farm and agricultural workers, timber workers, and fisheries workers are on the Advisory Committee? Or are we supposed to be submissive to those who are members of the professional class?

Even in your own community the people who act as spokesmen like yourself aren’t reflective of blue collar working class viewpoints. In fact there are no individuals reflecting their views.

Maybe it’s just easier to ignore the class issue while expanding the diversity of the professional class and continuing to ignore working class issues but keeping those roles exclusively to one economic class metric.

aquaticko
aquaticko
9 months ago
Reply to  Donny

Seriously. There’s no denying that historically, black people were specifically excluded from the upper classes, and obvious barriers–racism in job and mortgage applications, bias in education, etc.–continue to exist. However, much like racial exclusion of minorities helped to ultimately weaken unions in the past, the contemporary emphasis on the primacy of race in determining socioeconomic outcomes can just as easily be used to distract from the material situation of lower-income people of every color.

Class isn’t the only determinant, but it is the final determinant.

Cooper
Cooper
9 months ago
Reply to  Seth

Seth,
What percentage of Oregon is Asian American? Is it 1/8th? Even if it is less, shouldn’t there be at least one person representing that community on this committee? What about other ethnicities? What about people with disabilities? Do we need 7 seemingly similar people to represent one group? Wouldn’t a large group (white people) still benefit from a diverse committee of individuals to bring different perspectives?

David Hampsten
9 months ago
Reply to  Cooper

How do we “know” that all 7 are actually “white”? Do they identify themselves as such? Might they simply look “white” on video but are some Latinx, American Indian, or of mixed race?

Del
Del
9 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

There is one Native American representative on this committee and one hispanic who just completed his term and moved out of state.

cp_1969
cp_1969
9 months ago
Reply to  Del

Is Native American not indigenous (The “I” in BIPOC)? And isn’t Hispanic a “Person of Color” (The “POC” in BIPOC)?

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  cp_1969

Hard to say. “Indigenous” is an under-specified term.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/02/27/its-time-to-rethink-the-idea-of-the-indigenous

Is Rene Gonzales a “POC”?

cp_1969
cp_1969
9 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

FYI. Most surveys on the matter conclude that the overwhelming majority of Latinos/Latinas do not like the term “LatinX’. And even find it offensive.

Jenaye Willard
Jenaye Willard
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt P

Time and time again these individuals have proven that they know how to tear institutions down. Drive a wedge, turn participants against one another and make threats (stepping down, etc).

What has Lightsey-Walker done to build this board UP? What are his accomplishments so far? I’d honestly like to know what he’s contributed during his tenure.

Nick
Nick
9 months ago
Reply to  Jenaye Willard

Who would you say “these individuals” are?

Jess
Jess
9 months ago
Reply to  Jenaye Willard

Andre has made incredible contributions to walking and biking in Oregon through his volunteer work on OBPAC and countless other committees/boards, as well as through his professional work at Street Trust and Metro. The folks on OBPAC are continuously tackling big challenges, and how to represent the diversity of Oregon with this small committee is one of them. I’m thankful for Andre’s willingness to share his concerns and to challenge OBPAC/ODOT to do better.

And for anyone who is interested in tackling big challenges with OBPAC and helping us expand representation around the table, you can learn more about the committee’s work, find the links to join them for future meetings and/or apply to be a member here: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/get-involved/pages/obpac.aspx

Steve
Steve
9 months ago

Couldn’t agree more with Will, POC are struggling to get the basics done, I have seen similar lack of diversity among volunteers both at my place of employment and the schools my kids have attended. Stepping down doesn’t seem to be a productive way to move forward.

victor
victor
9 months ago

Thanks Jonathan for elevating Andre voice on this matter. I resigned from PBOT BAC for exactly the same reasons why Hagedorn stepped down.

I also had similar experience Andre had at PBOT, those in position of making decisions were almost exclusively white and lacked the professional skillset to interact with BIPOC recommendations. 

PDX bicycling scene in general, has a diversity problem and it is simply reflected in these committees. 

To co-chair who is “unsure how to proceed”, you can start by listening to BIPOC voices. The root is that we have been vocal all these years, we are just not heard.

David Hampsten
9 months ago

In PBOT, there are two classes of people: Engineers and non-engineers. Engineers have all the power and resources, regardless of race or gender (that fact that many PBOT engineers are women and people of color is not at all important to engineers in my experience – only that they are right). And then there’s everyone else…

aquaticko
aquaticko
9 months ago

Inability to embrace, understand, and communicate with confidence is a sign of inadequate mental capacities. I can understand not knowing about particular cultural differences, but knowing that those differences are real and being unable or unwilling to try to embrace/understand/communicate means that people have too little intellectual flexibility and strength to be useful in guiding public policy.

People like that should be fired/removed from their positions; they’re not up to the job. I (sort of) hate to be so blunt about it, but far too much credence is still given to education/experience/interest when innate personal capacity for compassion and comprehension plays such an important role.

Roberta
Roberta
9 months ago

Maybe all the white folk step down in solidarity? Then the replacements can be POC? I’m sure they are all individually wonderful people, but together they could step down and make a bold move.

It’s hard to know w when you’ve said enough, time to hand the baton over. The last two POC have said the same thing. Instead of them stepping down how about you Step down hand over the baton.

If you aren’t doing that then who are you helping out or training to be the next POC leader. If you don’t have someone you are mentoring or supporting it’s all lip service. Do the work.

zuckerdog
zuckerdog
9 months ago
Reply to  Roberta

Having all of the white folk resign in solidarity would definitely make a statement. Without a better understanding of the advisory board’s recruitment/selection history, its not clear if that would change things.

I am also not sure that stepping down to “make space” or “passing the baton” is the best solution for all boards/committees/organizations. In some situations, a “dance” may be more appropriate and effective.

Big Fun
Big Fun
9 months ago
Reply to  Roberta

Yes let’s dissolve an organization doing good work to accommodate ambiguous racial quota metrics. Who cares if the work improves or not, just as long as long as it’s diverse. Also, do t hear much rumblings about the lack of representation for the 348 other identities out there. No trans member? Korean? Disabled? Bisexual? Deaf? Over 80 years old? Dominican?

PeeWee
PeeWee
9 months ago
Reply to  Big Fun

I think that’s exactly what the first comment on this post from “Matt” was hinting at. The check-the-box diversity we seem to cherish so much in Portland doesn’t seem to be doing squat for anyone in terms of quality of life improvements.

J_R
J_R
9 months ago

If the committee were dissolved that would resolve the diversity issue, but would that improve anything for any pedestrians or bicyclists?

Maybe we should have a task force and another study. Spend the money on research instead of doing anything. That way nobody benefits more than anyone else. Proclaim success and move on to the next equity issue.

Dave Fronk
Dave Fronk
9 months ago

From the state website:

OBPAC is a governor appointed advisory committee with 8 members:

1 Local Goverment/Land Use representative

1 Environmental representative

1 Bicycle Business representative

1 Oregon Recreational Trails Advisory Committee representative

1 Under 21/Youth representative

3 At-large members

So not only do they have the acknowledged difficulties recruiting BIPOC members to this completely volunteer advisory group, 5 of 8 positions also need to meet specific criteria relevant to the board’s mission.

That sounds like a pretty tall order.

J_R
J_R
9 months ago

I served on a city bicycle committee (not Portland) when I was a young white guy (now I’m an elderly white guy).

I lived in the south part of my city but dealt with issues in all parts of the city. I focused on being a bicyclist and doing what would make things better for bicyclists regardless of race, gender, geography or whatever. I think I did a good job because of what I accomplished for BICYCLISTS.

Jenaye Willard
Jenaye Willard
9 months ago
Reply to  J_R

If we are at the point where someone is claiming that people of race X ride bicycles differently than people of race Y then we have seriously, seriously lost the plot.

blumdrew
blumdrew
9 months ago
Reply to  Jenaye Willard

Surely no one is saying that race affects how someone literally rides a bike, but the general racial demographics of the city certainly play a role on how likely someone is to be a passionate bike rider (and thus willing to volunteer for something like an advisory committee).

Here is a map from the census of SE Portland’s racial demographics. You’ll notice that 82nd Avenue is a stark line dividing a predominately white (>75%) area from a not as predominately white area (<75%). Inner SE is well-documented as having both better cycling infrastructure and more bike ridership than outer SE.

People have different tendencies depending on the physical environment that they live in. Portland is a somewhat racially segregated city, so BIPOC folks have different tendencies because of this. Put another way – if Portland wants to diversify its cycling scene, finding ways to integrate inner neighborhoods should be something people are talking about.

dwk
dwk
9 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

My grandkids who are mixed race live in Beaverton which is just 62% white at this time and have little problems as their schools and neighborhoods are way more diverse than the East Portland neighborhood I live in.
Portland is not somewhat racially segregated, it is about as white as any city in America.
This board should not reflect the city of Portland which is becoming more white it seems, but reflect the suburbs where it is starting to look like America.
I hope Mr. Walker stays on and maybe can recruit some Hispanic folks who are the fastest growing demographic and have NO representation.

blumdrew
blumdrew
9 months ago
Reply to  dwk

I mean Portland is 69% non-hispanic white, not exactly far off from Beaverton there. Portland has some more diverse neighborhoods (like Kenton or Woodlawn), but they are by and large further from the city center (with the areas around PSU as a notable exception). I know I’ve gone into extreme detail on a comment reply to you noting that Portland suburbs in general are more white than Portland but let’s explore that one again, since you are still claiming that somehow the Portland suburbs are a paragon of diversity

Here are is list of all the incorporated cities in the Portland-Vancouver MSA by their portion of non-Hispanic, white alone population. Data is source from here (table B03002).

  1. Cornelius city, Oregon 46.3%
  2. Hillsboro city, Oregon 55.1%
  3. Beaverton city, Oregon 62.7%
  4. Gresham city, Oregon 63.9%
  5. Fairview city, Oregon 66.4%
  6. Happy Valley city, Oregon 66.8%
  7. Forest Grove city, Oregon 67.9%
  8. Tualatin city, Oregon 68.0%
  9. Portland city, Oregon 69.5%
  10. Vancouver city, Washington 70.0%
  11. Troutdale city, Oregon 71.5%
  12. Tigard city, Oregon 72.1%
  13. Wilsonville city, Oregon 73.6%
  14. Woodland city, Washington 74.2%
  15. Canby city, Oregon 76.9%
  16. Gladstone city, Oregon 77.8%
  17. Camas city, Washington 78.6%
  18. Lake Oswego city, Oregon 78.7%
  19. Milwaukie city, Oregon 82.2%
  20. West Linn city, Oregon 82.7%
  21. Sandy city, Oregon 82.9%
  22. Sherwood city, Oregon 85.2%
  23. Washougal city, Washington 86.4%
  24. Oregon City city, Oregon 87.7%
  25. Ridgefield city, Washington 88.5%
  26. Battle Ground city, Washington 89.4%

By population, 540k people live in the 15 cities more white than Portland while 414k live in the 8 cities less white.

dwk
dwk
9 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I never have said they are a paragon of diversity , I said Beaverton is more diverse than Portland and I am correct.
What exactly is your problem?
Have you been to any Beaverton high schools? They look nothing like Portland schools and i live by Grant High school.
It is amusing that you seem bent on somehow proving you live in a diverse city for some reason when you don’t.
Again, I have no idea why?

blumdrew
blumdrew
9 months ago
Reply to  dwk

No, every time I comment on diversity in Portland you are here saying “oh but Beaverton is so much more diverse”. It’s not really that different! The city of Beaverton is much more diverse than Grant Park or Irvington, but everyone already knows that. The city of Beaverton is not more diverse than Portsmouth, or Woodlawn, or Montavilla, or Cully, or Parkrose.

And also I am responding to you saying

This board should not reflect the city of Portland which is becoming more white it seems, but reflect the suburbs where it is starting to look like America.

I’m not bent on “proving to myself that I live in a diverse city”. I literally am quoting to you the demographics of the city of Portland in that comment. I am obviously aware of Portland’s general demographics. One of my least favorite things about living in Portland is how white it is. Do you think I’m happy that I live in a city that voted a $5 taco place as best taco in the city? No, I do not like that at all.

I don’t know why you are so bent on insisting that Portland suburbs “look like America”. They look like Portland, because they are the suburbs of Portland.

dwk
dwk
9 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Only in some kind of Trump world is 70% about the same as 62% is all I am pointing out.
Amazing how much this triggers you….
Portland is white for a reason and the inner neighborhoods ARE getting whiter. It is sad but the truth due to housing costs and the culture.
This is a White city and it always has been and people who move here know it is. I am sorry it traumatizes you but there are other cities to live in.
Also you spend zero time obviously anywhere but SE Portland because the culture of Hillsboro for instance is nothing like Portland.
I am not saying by any means that Oregon is diverse at all but some areas are changing faster than others and Portland is not. There are neighborhoods in Portland that are becoming whiter which is not the case for most of the Country.

blumdrew
blumdrew
9 months ago
Reply to  dwk

It’s a 6.8% difference. It’s a significant, but not crazy difference. I wouldn’t call 62.7% white and 69.5% white categorically different unless I was being obtuse.

I’m fully capable of experiencing all of Portland, both good and not as good. I like lots of stuff here, but not everything

Hillsboro is a culturally distinct place from Portland, but it’s still broadly within the cultural orbit of Portland. And demographically speaking, the Portland suburbans (by and large) mostly mirror Portland’s. Hillsboro and Cornelius are the only two I would consider (based on the previously sourced data) to be notably more diverse than Portland.

PTB
PTB
9 months ago

Besides a lack of POC on this board, are there problems Lightsey-Walker has with the work they’re doing/attempting to do??

OPBAC’s mission statement includes this…
“””The mission of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (OBPAC) is to advise the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Transportation Commission and Oregon Legislature on priorities, issues, projects and funding needs to improve biking and walking in Oregon.”””

Does Lightsey-Walker have legitimate gripes with whatever accomplishments they may have secured or not? Does this get any deeper than the racial makeup of the 8 member panel?? Genuinely, I have no idea, if anyone does, let me know.

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
9 months ago

Okay, what should the exact percentages be?

joan
9 months ago

ODOT worked hard to bring together Black community members for its Historic Albina Community Board, and then told community board members and contractors a whole lot of lies of all it was going to do for them. It was so clearly an effort to use these community members to sell their megaproject rather than a sincere effort to engage with this community. I wish they’d take some of that effort into engaging with folks of color and bringing them onto boards like this. Thanks to Andre for speaking up.

Serenity
Serenity
9 months ago

A member of the State of Oregon’s bicycling and pedestrian advisory committee says the body has a diversity and inclusion problem.

I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Jasper
Jasper
9 months ago

I would’ve said, I maybe white but I was born disabled. We don’t have many rights as folks who weren’t born disabled.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago

Since most of these committees are a complete waste of time, I wouldn’t recommend that BIPOC folks waste their time serving on them.

Doug Klotz
Doug Klotz
9 months ago

I was considering even attending some of the state committee’s meetings, but at that time they met in alternate cities across the state. As a hardware store clerk, I couldn’t take the day off and drive to Bend or wherever once a month to go to a meeting. I hope they’re at least virtual these days.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago

I’d be happy with an all black committee if they were effective at getting things done and moving good projects and policies forward. Effectiveness is all I care about.

If they’re just an ODOT talking shop, then it’s only window dressing, and who really cares?

Charley
Charley
9 months ago

1. These positions should absolutely be compensated.

2. This sounds like an issue that Mr. Lightsey-Walker should take up with the Governor, because she’s the one who makes the appointments.

3. Since this committee only *advises* ODOT, I’m sure there are plenty of times when the agency ignores their advice. That’s got to be frustrating for committee members, no matter their race.

Steve B
Steve B
9 months ago

Thank you Andre for leading on this critical issue. I hope your fellow committee members, ODOT Directors, ODOT staff and Kotek’s office are listening.