The Williams Ave Project
Welcome to our comprehensive coverage of the City of Portland's North Williams Avenue Traffic Safety Operations Project. Browse the posts below and click on a headline for the full story. If you have tips or feedback, please contact us.

Street art celebrating ‘Black Williams’ to be unveiled Saturday

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Two of the signs that will be erected as part of the project.
(Project art samples: City of Portland)

Hank’s Dairy, Les Femmes, House of Sound, Fred Hampton’s Health Clinic — these are all important parts of the history of North Williams Avenue that have been all but erased today.

The ‘Black Williams Project‘ — which will be unveiled this Saturday June 3rd — aims to re-insert these places and the people who made them, back into our consciousness.

The project is one of the many tangible outcomes of the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s North Williams Traffic Safety Project. This project began in January 2011 as an attempt to improve the busy bikeway on Williams Avenue; but after concerns of racism from some people in the community and a lack of black voices involved in the planning process, it morphed into a citywide debate about the role bicycles play in gentrification and systemic discrimination. 18 months later a PBOT stakeholder committee decided on a major redesign of the street. In addition, stakeholders felt that users of the street should have a permanent reminder about the vibrant black culture that existed there long before the new high-rise apartments, breweries, and thousands of daily bicycle commuters.

PBOT committed $100,000 of the project’s $1.5 million budget to the Black Williams Project in July 2013. As we reported last year, the project will include interpretations of the neighborhood’s cultural past through a series of sidewalk tiles, signs, sculptures and kiosks created by local artists Cleo Davis and Kayon Talton Davis. There are 40 art pieces in total.

Now the work is ready and PBOT is hosting a “community celebration” for its unveiling. Here’s a snip from the invitation:

Williams Ave. was once the vibrant heart of Portland’s Black community. Formerly known as the “Black Broadway,” the corridor included a concentration of Black churches, businesses, social service organizations and nightclubs that were thriving and active community institutions.

Advertise with BikePortland.

This series of tiles related to the Black Panther Party will be embedded into the sidewalk.

Although the landscape has changed, there is much to remember, celebrate and build upon. In 2012, the Williams Ave. Safety Project Stakeholder Advisory Committee recommended to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) that these stories be honored through an art history project that would have a prominent place on the corridor. Thus, the community-led Honoring History of Williams Ave. Committee and the Historic Black Williams Project were born.

Since then, local artists Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton Davis have been collecting stories, memories and histories from Black community members… We hope that this project will serve as both a visual archive and an inspiration for future community efforts.

At Saturday’s event you can expect to hear from the artists and neighborhood leaders and there will be group and self-guided walks.

For more on the art, the artists, and the important context around this project, read this story from The Skanner.

Saturday’s event begins at 12:00 pm at Dawson Park. Check out the event listing for more details.

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

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‘Black Williams Project’ will honor street’s past

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016


North Williams Avenue, Portland’s busiest biking street that’s full of new shops and housing, was once the heart of our city’s black community.

But due to the negative impacts of systemic racism, city policies that hurt people of color, and recent demographic shifts, Williams has changed dramatically. Some of that original culture still thrives, but it’s a shadow of its former self.

Now a public art project wants to help Portlanders remember what was lost and celebrate what exists today.
[Read more…]

Five years after Williams Avenue project controversy, ride will trace history of gentrification

Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Image from Saturday's event flyer.

Image from Saturday’s event flyer.

Five years ago today Portland resident Michelle DePass stood up at a meeting for a transportation project on North Williams Avenue and changed the course of local and national cycling politics forever:

“We have an issue of racism and of the history of this neighborhood,” DePass said. “Until we address that history and… the cultural differences we have in terms of respect, we are not going to move very far.”
[Read more…]

Another memorable car/bike encounter on Williams

Thursday, May 7th, 2015
Williams Avenue-7

Not perfect. And yet…
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

A short item shared on Reddit’s community of Portlanders (also known as /r/Portland or occasionally Preddit) caught our attention last night.

It was shared by user pkulak:

[Read more…]

Rodney Avenue neighborhood greenway gets open house next week

Thursday, March 26th, 2015
New traffic diverter at Rodney and Ivy-2

NE Rodney at Ivy.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Rodney Avenue, already a decent low-stress alternative to the Vancouver-Williams couplet, is lined up for an upgrade to full neighborhood greenway status.

At an open house next Wednesday evening, the Portland Bureau of Transportation will be asking people for their thoughts on the plans.

To make the route comfortable for all riders, the city will need to find good ways to help people navigate two jogs in the street grid, at NE Alberta and NE Fremont (pictured below).

[Read more…]

One rider’s Twitter crusade shows the ‘City that works’ what doesn’t

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Vanlue on the job.
(Photo: Asta Chastain)

Maybe the All-Powerful Bicycle Lobby had something to do with it, but the day Will Vanlue decided to start delivering for SoupCycle was an especially good day for the rest of Portland.

As a courier for the Portland-based soup delivery service, Vanlue — a former BikePortland contributor and Bicycle Transportation Alliance communications manager, a talented photographer and one of the most courteous and mindfully upbeat biking advocates in town — spends many of his daytime hours traveling the city’s streets in an upright city bike with a trailer full of fresh soup.

Also with him: a smartphone camera he’s been using for months to share street design shortcomings on Twitter.

[Read more…]

PBOT hopes new signs, markings fix tricky Williams Ave intersection

Friday, December 19th, 2014
Williams Ave & Stanton - observations-4

The person in the truck was legally required to turn left at this intersection; but a weak design — coupled with a bad decision by the vehicle’s operator — led to an abrupt merge in tight quarters with other road users.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Now that construction of the North Williams Safety Project has nearly wrapped up, it’s time to address how specific parts the new design are working — and how they’re not.
[Read more…]

In letter to PBOT, BTA says Williams Ave work zone has led to injuries

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Current conditions on Williams Ave.
(Photo by Carl Larson/BTA)

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is fed up with the dangerous work zone conditions on Williams Avenue. Claiming that bicycle riders have been injured and put in danger due to misplaced construction materials and a poorly implemented traffic control plan, the Portland-based non-profit group penned a letter today to the Bureau of Transportation with a laundry list of demands to improve the situation.

While the BTA supports the city’s North Williams Avenue Safety Project and says they are excited to see the finished product, the letter (written by BTA Engagement Manager Carl Larson) points out several specific and ongoing safety concerns — some of which have led directly to injuries.
[Read more…]

Thoughts on “passing chaos” on new Williams Ave bike lane

Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Williams Avenue-7

No reason to panic.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The new lane configuration is very different than the old one. And that seems to be causing some discomfort among those who use it.
[Read more…]

PBOT, via blog comments, responds to “difficulties” of Williams project

Friday, October 24th, 2014
Williams Avenue-1

Williams and it’s brand new, left-side bike lane has been a hot issue this week.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“I ride N Williams every day and am experiencing some difficulties myself.”
— Leah Treat, Director of PBOT

This week marked a very positive milestone for the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT): They seem to be opening up a bit about joining the comment section here on BikePortland. I think this is a great development because it shows they understand the value of direct online engagement with their customers (us) and it could be a sign that they’re gaining confidence around the bicycling issue.
[Read more…]