It's Not About the Bikes

Pinning the North Williams Uproar over Bikes Misses the Point—and the History


"Urban renewal" was a terrible thing back in the day. The same thing happened to white neighborhoods when I205 landed on Lents, and I405 and "slum clearance" wiped out big parts of the west side. That area near psu with the big apartment towers and empty streets was once a real neighborhood.
Great article and I agree that everyone in Portland should have to read "Bleeding Albina" by Karen Gibson. Urban Renewal needs to be abolished. And as cities we need to start showing the care for minority neighborhoods that we show for white neighborhoods.
@3 - Nice try, Sarah
"And as cities we need to start showing the care for minority neighborhoods that we show for white neighborhoods."

Just like the care they showed to Lents during the same time period that Albina was being torn apart?

While race certainly played a role in the unfortunate policies used in Albina/Eliot, it really was poor neighborhoods in general - not just black neighborhoods they were targeting. Poor white people got the same treatment and are still waiting, for their neighborhood to come back to life, along with all the displaced minority folks that have moved in. And, they'll will probably have to continue to wait because they don't have the benefit of "white privilege" and never have, even though everyone assumes they do.
You are all missing the point. And please stop calling it NoPo, transplants. It doesn't make you look cool, trust me. @3, one would hope, but good luck. They are coming in waves, and It really hasn't worked successfully elsewhere
"So, the project is unlikely to create radical change."

Going from one lane to two would be a radical change. If not, what would be, digging up the street completely?

This is not urban renewal, it is a reallocation of street space to reflect current vehicle preferences. Bikes represent a major portion of the traffic on this street, yet only 1/8th of the street is dedicated to them.
4000 cars next to 4000 cars next to 3100 bikes = no dilemma. If anything, there should have been priority given to extra crosswalks.
The point about large transportation projects typically occurring in neighborhoods with little political muscle is well taken and has incidentally happened all over the country in poorer neighborhoods with large numbers of non-English speakers, immigrants and the poor, who haven't exercised their political will. This is the reason we don't see freeways going through upper middle class or wealthier enclaves. The thing that is significant here, is that Black people could live no where else in Portland (if they wanted to purchase a house). Not true for whites. Redlining, the practice of limiting or denying access to capital, along with shifty realtors and illegal banking practices into the 1990's led to disinvestment by the City. Albina was home to the largest population of African Americans and African American owned businesses in Oregon. What's left are the 3 or 4 African American businesses, and a slew of trendy businesses that cater to the bike crowd. I am not for going to one lane in light of this history. As a biker, I use alternate routes when going north.
When I picked up the Mercury this week I saw that the feature article would be about gentrification. Certainly not a new topic by any means, but not one that has been exhausted of worthwhile discussion either. I opened it up, hoping to find an insightful article making interesting points on both sides of the fence. Then I saw the byline, and almost immediately dropped my expectations. Sarah Mirk's pointless blathering and superior tone featured throughout, and being the CLEAR transplant she is made the absolutely asinine statement that old timers to the neighborhood are people who moved there previous to 2008. I don't know how much of a place I really have to speak to the matter, since I am a white person who moved into the neighborhood and likely contributed to it becoming the arts district it is now. But I know that when I moved there, in 1998 (OMG stone age!!11), I lived in several houses owned by a rather infamous landlord there and could read the writing on the wall when several years later he kicked us out of house so he could sell it for a mint. But not before he made extensive renovations to bring it up to fire code severely inconveniencing us in the house as whole walls were knocked down and left exposed to the outside for weeks. I remember when I first moved there, a livable house despite there being no central heat (we made do with a fireplace), me and my 5 housemates were having a discussion about gentrification with our elderly black landlady. She looked at us at one point and said "Black, white, or yellow, broke is broke and poor is poor. And you kids are poor!" and we all laughed. I watched as the whole area went from what it was in 1998 to what it is now with sadness. I watched my favorite bars go from primarily black establishments to trendy hipster joints (RIP, Joe's Place). This article was a pile of feces that was only marginally better then a past Tribune article on gentrification that flat out glorified it as a savior of North Portland. Just like the Comic-Con article last year, it was a potentially great story ruined by Sarah Mirk's inept narrative (Jesus, Sarah.. you go to Comic-Con, the epicenter of all great comic related and many other types of genre entertainment for the year to come and you focus exclusively on PORTLAND people that you could have done without getting off the couch?!) Everything she writes sounds like it's in air quotes and said with a smirk on her face, I don't know if Sarah Mirk is her birth given name or a nom de plum, but S. Mirk, if a chosen name, is amazingly accurate. Empty, without weight, neither a smile or a frown, just a void.
I still don't understand how 8,000 car trips (+ buses) and 3,100 bike trips adds up to a need for one car lane and two bike lanes.

There are 4 car lanes, but car drivers demand places to park for free, so two of them are filled with parked cars. It is not 4000 cars, 4000 cars, 3100 bikes. It's 100 cars, 4000 cars, 4000 cars, 3100 bikes sharing space with 100 car doors, and 100 cars. 80% of the space is devoted to 60% of the traffic.

chris is right it's not about 4000 + 4000+ 3100, it's about 4000 cars +36 segways - 23 mopeds + 57 vespas (to the 10th/n) * 3 double strollers - 30 recumbents + 3100 bikes - 1 or 2 wheelchairs * 3-4 wandering drunks - 670 grocery carts = one less lane for cars.

what could be more obvious, you friggin' bird brain!
for anyone interested, here is a link to an open .pdf of Karen Gibson's article, "Bleeding Albina: A History of Community Disinvestment, 1940-2000".
whoops, forgot the link:,-1940-2000.html
""I'm not selling my property, so I don't give a shit," says Goldsmith."

Yep, it's precisely THIS kind of attitude that's been a main part of the problem with gentrification (and White entitlement) for hundreds of years now.
Give me a break! What's the alternative to gentrification? Keep crime rates high and the neighborhood rundown to keep rents low?
Yep. We must keep the white people out in the suburbs. Who cares if they desire short commutes and alternative transportation. These people were here first.

A start would be not speeding up the gentrification by putting in features that, by and large, only get used by whitey.
So you're asking PBOT to start making traffic decisions based on the race of the people traveling the streets in question? Seems like we're taking a issue that has nothing to do with race and making a race issue out of it. This is an engineering problem, not a social one.
"Give me a break! What's the alternative to gentrification? Keep crime rates high and the neighborhood rundown to keep rents low?"

Ok, so according to YOU, the OPPOSITE if Whites/gentrification is Blacks/high crime and slums? Racist shithead, much eh?

Had you pulled your head out of your ass and tested higher on your reading comprehension, you'd easily notice that the argument from long-time residents in these neighborhoods is that the city of Portland DELIBERATELY segregated, neglected and divested them for decades, dislocated them, razed thousands of homes and businesses, and let the areas sit in decay for decades longer!

These neighborhoods were not "slums" up until the 1970's. And they were not high-crime, despite the bullshit that most people may assume. These were all pretty decent places to live where most people worked, owned their homes out-right, and some owned businesses. Despite being segregated and having to put up with a very hostile city and state, these placed WORKED b/c the BLACK PEOPLE who lived in them made it so - despite everything else!.

They only became "slums" after the city had its way!
People also need to let go of the idea that providing/building more "affordable housing" is going to solve the negative/displacement aspects of gentrification. Publicly funded housing projects cannot discriminate based on race. So, a new project that opens up in a historically African American neighborhood can certainly house African Americans, but it also, by law, cannot discriminate against Latinos, Non-Hispanic Caucasians, Native Americans...etc. etc. And, given that most of the folks on waiting lists for affordable housing in Portland are White, statistically, anyway, the new housing being constructed is likely to be occupied by a majority of white people, even if African Americans are housed in the project in greater percentages than they represent in the general population.
@Chris - You've got short commutes and alternative transportation. Also, your five feet of bike lane equals 10 feet of car lane, giving you a full 33% of transit space in the traffic lanes on N. Williams for 28% of the traffic.
In what world does 5ft of bike lane equal 10ft of car lane? Cars take up twice the space, but they travel twice the speed, so their throughput would be just as high with "half the space". And like I stated before, cyclists don't even have 5ft dedicated to them. Drivers get to swing their car doors into the bike lane. Drivers have four lanes, and cyclists have one. How is that fair, given the current traffic levels?
The alternative is low income housing co-ops, it's houseless people opening up foreclosed houses and moving in. It's disrupting foreclosure auctions (every Monday on the courthouse steps I think) and supporting the people who are staying in their homes and resisting foreclosure. It's land trusts which keep housing permanently affordable. And it's creating political space for people to choose what types of businesses the residents of a poor (or any, really) neighborhood want based on reasons other than the physical appearance or the effect on parking...

Seriously the way that people's anger is being forced into a discussion about bikelanes reminds of my neighborhood (N Mississippi). People on this street have traditionally been forced to turn their concerns about the gentrification/displacement effect of a proposed project into psuedo concerns about the appearance of brickwork in terms of the historic streetcar era design guidelines, loading dock locations, sidewalk widths, lack of adequate parking etc...

I think we should largely give up on trying to achieve change through official neighborhood groups, the policy overlay process or local electoral politics. I think that these pseudo democratic institutions are places for peoples' real concerns to go to die.

There is no substitute for building community power capable of directly creating whatever we think should happen. (I.e. stopping the developments we don't want and/or demanding low income housing developments, defending people in forclosed ho
@Chris - The same world where bikes take up half the length of cars, where twice as many bikes traveling at half the speed of cars delivers an equal number of passengers. Also, parking lanes aren't traffic lanes. Driving in a parking lane can get you cited for illegal passing.
@GRAHAM: Most of the solutions JohnSpokes listed are perfectly legal. But if one lists a whole bunch of ideas and squatting is among them, then of course that's the one people will tend to focus on.
@11, interesting post but you do realize it's largely lost on a lot of people on this blog? Because they moved here less than 10 years ago? hey, I'm a transplant too, but I have been here (aside from a deviation or two) since the eighties. I had friends in North Portland then, and even with them being black and all, and it being such a "dangerous" area, I visited often and enjoyed my time. @ DamosA....great point, it was not all gangland and Crack. I would take North Portland of the 80's over NoPo( god how I hate that idiots use that term) now. You are correct that the City did not give a shit about the area. Because it was on the outskirts of town, had a mostly minority population and an alleged "crime problem" (due to lack of city concern and police effort). Now, that white dorks are moving here from far and wide this whole " bike path" situation becomes such a serious issue. Wow

The entire street is a public right of way. Just because the status quo allows individuals to store their private property in public space, does not mean that said space is not considered part of the right of way. I'll make you a deal: you give us 30% of the street, and we won't dictate how you choose to use the other 70%. You can make travel lanes, parking, or some mixture of both.

It's amazing how indoctrinated into car culture some people are. You think of street parking as an automatic feature on every road...
@Chris - You forgot the sidewalks.
sarah, your articles are amazing. im so glad i get to read your pieces. incredible.
Everything in the United States is about MONEY, CLASS and RACE (which can include ethnicity or religion). If you look at other countries--it's the same story. MONEY, CLASS and RACE are attempts to limit competition for goods and services, and to give a particular group the advantage in acquiring them.

RACE is a hot topic that is generally not understood/misunderstood by most of us. Many White people who unknowingly have special advantages look back to the Civil War and say to African Americans, "Slavery ended almost 150 years ago. Get over it!" That would be easy if that were TRULY the end of the African Americans' problems. What came after slavery was a systematic policy, both written and unwritten, to eliminate the competition of a whole group of people--African descendants (remember, if you had "one drop" of Black blood" you were considered to be BLACK). Today, many of mixed heritage “I get to choose”. There was NO CHOICE before 1990.

I recently spoke with a White male about the issue of racism; he happens to be married to a Latina. He hadn't understood what she had been saying to him for 15+ years about the "uneven playing field in the US", and how she felt hurt, frustrated and angry about the outright and subtle discrimination she faced daily. BUT, he FINALLY got it--when they went on vacation in Mexico and he was charged 3x more for a beverage than a local. He was incensed about the unfairness and felt helpless, since there was nothing he could LISTENING and HEARING what his wife had been trying to explain for many years.

The situation on Williams Avenue, and in Albina's troubled past, is but an extension of this. And like the #5 post says, "they (African Americans) don't have the benefit of "white privilege" and never have, even though everyone assumes they do." When we all start LISTENING and HEARING what is truly at the root of society's issues, then we can work on moving ahead.

By the way, all of the controversy is just what the 1% wants. While middle/working/poor class Whites continue to be inflamed about issues of RACE and RELIGION, they, the 1%, keep counting their money and making deals with other 1%ers from here and other countries--NO MATTER what RACE or RELIGION to which the foreigners belong. Understand: the Power Class, 1%, doesn't want middle/working/poor White people living next door to them anymore than they want me (I failed to mention I'm African American). Bottom-line: the only thing the White 1% has in common with the White 99% is your Whiteness.

All of the little fish at the bottom of the barrel can continue to fight each other or we can fight the real issues. You decide what the REAL issues are; but we are the ones who suffer for our choices, if they are foolish.

So how REALLY IMPORTANT is this Williams Avenue Bike Lane in the scheme of things??? Not very. But remember: society is always changing--those on the bottom can end up on the top generations down the road. FACT: By the year 2040, there will be more People of Color in the United States and the WORLD than Whites. Don't dig a hole for your descendants to live in.
I'm working class poor from a working class poor family.

Bikes are cheaper than cars. I consider them transportation for the working poor. I consider bike lanes on commuting routes, rather than recreational routes, to be public spending for the working poor.

Expanding highways so that Bethany suburbs can coast into Portland and take our jobs is class and racial conflict. Putting in a bike lane in the city is not.

If you let a weekend warrior with a custom bike convince you that bicycling is a rich man's hobby and not a poor man's dream, then get the chip off your shoulder and do the math. I'm not going to let you make this city unfriendly to my cheap transportation because you are too ashamed to admit that you can't afford a car, either.
While a transplant (and STFU about "it matters where you are born"), my commuting experience has shown that riders repeatedly disrespect foot traffic and crosswalks, and make assumptions about car movements that in any other city would lead to definite injury. The only thing keeping injuries down are the regular amends for bikers that drivers make here.

Demonizing car culture and the tone of moral superiority on the part of some bike commuters (even in this thread)--especially when affiliated with a cultural/economic takeover of this part of the city-- is a doomed approach.

Portland Mercury/Sarah Mirk win Pulitzer for "Its Not About the Bikes"! Well, of course, they have not. But, perhaps they should, particularly if they followed up with a series of articles. Ms. Mirk has touched the nerve, and uncovered and writen about the secret that is Portland's dysfunctional and racist past. And now the question that is raised after the publication of Ms. Gordon's essay "Bleeding Albina" (which should be required reading, Ms. Mirk is correct) and after the publication of Ms. Mirk's and the Portland Mercury's article - do we get mad? - or do we get even? And by we, I do not mean me (I am a middle aged white boy) - I mean those who have grown up in Portland and been denied priviledge and promise. I vote for get even. One of the great legacies of Mr. Carl Talton has been about how to get even. The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhood's Economic Devellopment series quietly set the tone and path for "getting even" in the first of their series of Forums which featured Ms. Gordon and Mr. Talton (and "the Mayor" of North Portland). Now, if we can just encourage wonderful, young, promising journalists such as MS. Mirk, and her supporting publication the Mercury to follow-up - keep up the good work, and help us stay connected with the promise and the path by illustrating and holding up our past, encouraging our current efforts and keeping us honest in the process. Here is to Ms. Mirk, the Portland Mercury and the Fourth Estate! A Pulitzer, please!

Nearly every car driver in this city insists that bicycle riders are disrespectful and reckless, and nearly every bicycle rider in this city insists that car drivers are disrespectful and careless. You see it in every news article, every forum, every debate or conversation.

It seems most likely that a certain percentage of the human population is disrespectful and reckless regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, and that everyone is occasionally thoughtless or distracted regardless of their chosen mode of transportation. It is also typically human that we remember the bad more than the good, and that we tend to associate the bad with "the other".

I can think of few contributions more unproductive, in the extensive conversation that Portland has been having about mixed transportation for the last decade, than each side's incessant insistence that the other side is full of meanies, as though the city's job is to determine the morally inferior mode of transportation and punish it, rather than assess socio-economic needs and commuting patterns and address them mathematically.
agree Student, agree almost completely. The extensive conversation has been noisy and irrational on both sides. On the other hand, while I agree with your comment on percentages of the human population, your suggestion that there is a mathematical solution to this urban planning debate is naive. The occasional pugnacious bike commuter or defensive neighborhood resident (who happens to like her/his parking space) has not read John Allen Paulos.
Why don't we take color out of the equation? Why don't we educate? Why some ride bikes and some don't? What if we go to Europe's $8 dollar a gallon or more prices? What will happen then?

Color has nothing to do with it unless you are a racist or conditioned all your life to be a racist. The person's worth ought to be about his education and accomplishments providing that the same quality opportunity is given to the wanting.

We will never solve these problems because they are inherent to diversity. What we need to do is some serious "reprogramming" of our minds to eliminate this cancer that divides us.

We are losing so much with this separatist/apartheid way of thinking. Unfortunately, it comes from our binary mind set.

The only thinking that ought to be in our minds is the survivability of our way of life without oil and do whatever it takes to get around without depending on it. $8-$10 dollars a gallon, imagine that...

The fact would be more devastating that all the hate combined. We would cease to exist as is and we will be forced to reinvent ourselves in order to survive but as a reactionary move instead of a proactive move.

What about a transportation "belt" like they do in automated warehouses. Do it on an elevated way and covered because of the weather. Way cheaper than a max but noooooooooo, we can't think outside of the box. Can we? I dare you. Yes you that can't think outside of the box and always choose the most expensive solutions. What is the cost of a metalic elevated structure, wheels, rubber belt and a power source compared against pavement, signals and maintenance of it? Do the math. We have people in charge not capable of thinking outside of the box. In years past, that is what separated us from the rest. Our parents dared. We evolved tremendously virtually and knowledge access wise at a modest sum via internet but we have failed to put that knowledge into practice in order to make our lives better and more efficient.

Despite the facts, I am not losing hope because the first change is within and that I have already taken care of, what about you? It takes me, you and the rest. We can do it. We just need to get rid off this race crap and putting down diversity. America is about diversity, nothing else but we have done the impossible to put down the other guy, the one that doesn't look like us. In turn, the victim has developed an attitude of contempt and rebellion taking the shortcut of the under the table economy and the hell with "us". Dog eat dog, me first and screw you and your society.

You make an excellent point regarding the average citizen's lack of expertise that reinforces my belief that these simpler matters ought to be settled by experts. Portland's powerful neighborhood culture ought to be redirected to addressing homelessness, hunger, and mental health, or toward real threats from private developers to established neighborhoods, not this reactionary NIMBYism masquerading as socio-economic or racial indignation. Sometimes a bike lane really is just a bike lane, and the people who want their names in the paper and the paper who wants to publish a story can't be trusted to tell you when.
To the gentleman who responded to my earlier comment with this:

"Ok, so according to YOU, the OPPOSITE if Whites/gentrification is Blacks/high crime and slums? Racist shithead, much eh? "

Please note that you were the one who introduced the association between race and crime, not me. I made no such assertion. Gentrification can happen in poor white neighborhoods just as much as in poor black ones.

So no, I don't "racist shithead" much. Do you?
Too bad Sarah Mirk didn't give any credit to Lisa Loving who wrote this story first.