It's a myth that Black people don't ride bikes. It's a myth that bikes are the solution to all Portland's transportation problems. And it's a myth that all conflict is bad.
We at the Skanner News have been reporting on gentrification and displacement for decades – from the business-killing traffic revamp along "Union Avenue" (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) to the battle over light rail construction on North Interstate, we thought we'd seen it all.
But then last week, a tight-knit cadre of moms and grandmothers – backed by state Rep. Lew Frederick – attended a Portland Bureau of Transportation meeting on bike safety on Williams Avenue, demanding to know why local residents haven't been kept informed of traffic development planning in their neighborhood.
Interjecting concerns over the racial impact the North Williams plan might have – given the long history of redevelopment-driven displacement going back to World War II – the women effectively slowed down the steamroller on PBOT's already-written blueprint for North Williams.
Our hats are off to those who've spoken out about racism and city planning, and we congratulate PBOT staffers who have folded into their process the feelings held by many over the injustices of past generations. Between them this newly-emerging community of stakeholders have widened the issues on the table and slowed down the process so that, in fact, all those impacted by it can be heard – and that's the way it's supposed to work.
Unfortunately, elements of Portland's bike community immediately erupted in a flood of criticism against the Black community in general and the women attending the planning meetings in particular.
Hundreds of posts on the city's popular bicycling blog reflect the emotionally-charged debate about bikes vs. Blacks on North Williams, some viciously – and personally -- attacking the women for daring to challenge the bike plan.
"..What in the world does it have to do with race? The bike lanes are open to everyone," one commenter wrote. "Too bad the race card always gets pulled when lack of a better argument exists."
"It's better to ask for forgiveness, than seek the wrath of angry females with historical hangups," one wrote.
"This issue has nothing to do with race … Stalling on this in order to revive racial issues from days gone makes no sense," another wrote.
One commenter punctuated his frustration with any hold-up on the Williams Street plan with the comment that the African American woman he dialogued with suggested he attend "Race Talks."
As one wise cyclist commented this week, Portland's North Williams corridor has a people problem more than a transportation problem. Once all the stakeholders are really listened to, we are confident a solid plan will be worked out.
And once it is, city officials can go about making sure their process works as well at public input sessions slated for the East Portland Plan – since East County is where so many of the former Williams Avenue residents have been dispersed to, and transportation equity there is one of the biggest issues on the table.
We encourage people to keep speaking out on the racial impact of Portland's development plans, because often the squeaky wheels are the ones that get the grease.
Will you be weighing in with your opinions?