The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work which is a big part of why we were so excited to feature community leaders with experience in these areas as speakers at this week’s Oregon Active Transportation (AT) Summit. Our partners in planning the Summit were equally committed, and everyone around the table wanted to make sure the whole of the conference reflected that fact. Our Executive Director, Rob Sadowsky, recently reflected on the planning process, and how the topic of equity emerged as something that should thread through the whole Summit, start to finish.
“The Active Transportation planning committee not only wanted to put equity, diversity and inclusion up front as the starting point for reflection at the Summit, but also integrated throughout the conference all the way through the final ask from Kaiser Permanente for everyone at the conference to personally take one action in the next year that promotes active transportation and equity.”The tone of the conversation was set early at the morning’s panel discussion, titled Equitable, Inclusive, and Diverse: how do we prepare for the future of active transportation in Oregon?
When OPAL‘s Jared Franz was asked to talk about active transportation and equity, he responded by sharing how the two issues are so completely intertwined he couldn’t think of how to talk about one without the other, at all.
He underscored the need for meaningful and thorough public engagement by sharing his experience working with people who use our transportation system in ways that planners aren’t always aware of. Effective engagement, he explained, helps planners and officials get a more detailed understanding of the challenges people face, instead of basing decisions on demographic averages alone.
Franz gave a colorful example of someone with their head in an oven and feet in a freezer: the person is at a comfortable temperature on average, but there’s clearly more to the picture than that. Like the unfortunate and uncomfortable person in that metaphor, Oregon and Portland have transportation networks that are better than average, but still have areas that need help.Also on the morning’s discussion panel, Elizabeth Williams (who serves on the League of American Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council) talked about her experience moving from Long Beach to Portland. One evening on her way to a meeting in East Portland, she came upon one of Portland’s unimproved streets. The flooded street with no sidewalks or streetlights made her more uncomfortable than anything she had experienced in Long Beach.
Of course, fixing all our streets and making walking, bicycling, and public transit perfectly accessible to absolutely everyone, including people who have been traditionally marginalized, is a big task. But Janis McDonald from the Portland Bureau of Transportation had two examples of ways everyone can help make a difference.
The first lesson she learned while working with neighborhoods to plan Portland’s Sunday Parkways. Some neighbors were initially unhappy when she came to talk about the event, but often times their frustrations had to do with something bigger than Sunday Parkways. Instead of telling them she wasn’t there to address the broader problems, she listened to their concerns and did what she could to make those known to her counterparts at the city.
“You have to listen from your heart,” she explained.The second lesson: conversations are important. When McDonald’s mother heard she was participating on in a panel discussion about equity, she thought that was a strange topic for a transportation summit. McDonald took the opportunity to explain to her mother how an equitable transportation system is at the heart of many other social issues.
The Community Cycling Center‘s CEO, Mychal Tetteh, got right to the heart of why transportation professionals should focus more on equity: far more than being just and fair, working with underserved communities simply makes sense for anyone trying to expand access to safe and healthy ways of getting around.
He discussed how people in underserved communities often have less access to private motor vehicles than average and are more dependent on transit, bicycling, and walking than average. If our cities and state are serious about increasing the number of people making trips without a car, it makes simple sense to support and work with people who are already doing exactly that.
We’d like to thank everyone who had a hand in making this year’s Oregon AT Summit a success, including our partners in planning the event, all the presenters, our Summit sponsors, and everyone who came out on Monday and Tuesday this week to join in the conversation.