AFTER MONTHS of controversy and outrage, the committee charged with charting the future of North Williams Avenue—an essential bike corridor that's also the heart of historically African American Portland—has finally settled on a plan that would dramatically refashion the street.
At the end of its meeting Tuesday, March 20, the North Williams Stakeholder Advisory Committee agreed to remove one of the street's two lanes for cars and shift its bike lane from the right side of the roadway to the left. The street's two parking lanes will remain in place. The recommendation, affecting Williams between Fargo and Skidmore, will be sent to city planners after another meeting April 3.
It's an outcome that was in doubt even as recently as a few weeks ago. And it seemed especially remote last summer, when the city's Bureau of Transportation had to put the brakes on the project amid a surging outcry over gentrification and "top-down" city planning—still a raw, sensitive nerve in a rapidly changing area that's become increasingly white and posh in recent years ["It's Not About the Bikes," Feature, Feb 16].
"I thought it was best to make decisions now, or we'll be back in another month with the same dialogue," said the committee's chairwoman, Debora Leopold Hutchins. "We all knew going in that we couldn't get 100 percent of what we wanted."
Leopold Hutchins was among those who compromised. Like other committee members, she worried the changes would hurt businesses and drivers and wanted to keep things the way they were. Eventually, though, she joined 15 other members in backing the overhaul.
The plan still needs fine-tuning. There's talk of dropping the speed limit to 20 mph and relocating bus stops. And one caveat in the plan may annoy some bike advocates: The busier stretch of Williams from Fremont to Skidmore won't technically have a bike lane. The left traffic lane will be designated a "share" lane for both bikes and cars, with curb extensions built out and "sharrows" on the roadway.
Even so, says committee member Ben Foote, "the recommendation seems like it will make bicycling along Williams much more comfortable."
Another committee member with deep ties to the street's African American community, Pastor Matt Hennessee of the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, said he expected the next meeting to go smoothly.
He said the extra time the city gave to talk over the changes last summer helped everyone "open their minds."
"I am very happy," he said. "A lot of great work and a lot of heartache went into the making of the decision we ended up with today."