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Equity Underscores Discussion at AT Summit

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.”

Left: Mara Gross, Director, Coalition for a Livable Future. Right: Jared Franz, Law & Policy Associate, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. Photo by Will Vanlue.

Left: Mara Gross, Director, Coalition for a Livable Future. Right: Jared Franz, Law & Policy Associate, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. Photo by Will Vanlue.

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.

Left to right: Elizabeth Williams, League of American Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council; Mychal Tetteh, CEO, Community Cycling Center; Janis McDonald, Portland Bureau of Transportation

Left to right: Elizabeth Williams, League of American Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council; Mychal Tetteh, CEO, Community Cycling Center; Janis McDonald, Portland Bureau of Transportation

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.

Janis McDonald asks who in the room has heard of Portland's Sunday Parkways

Janis McDonald asks who in the room has heard of Portland's Sunday Parkways

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.


Comments (3)

  1. Troy Clear Permalink  | May 09, 2014 08:33am

    To assist the reader of an article it is common practice in journalism to define acronymns the first time they are used in an article. Where is “AT” defined? As a new reader to this topic the meaning of “AT” is not obvious. Readers can guess or infer but it better to state it clearly.

    • Will Vanlue Permalink  | May 15, 2014 09:27am

      Thank you Troy! That’s a good point, and I just added the full name of the Oregon Active Transportation (AT) Summit at the start.

  2. jpwilcox Permalink  | May 26, 2014 08:39am

    Transportation equity is a nice way of responding to the transportation discrimination currently practiced in the U.S. Transportation discrimination takes the form of prioritizing billions of dollars to support single occupancy vehicles while neglecting equal funding for public transportation, walking and cycling. The Highway Trust Fund is broke, but will likely be supported by more infusions of taxpayer funds (without raising the national gas tax)under the auspices that the money is for safety and commerce. Efforts to counter this sea of discrimination may be better served by calling it that – discrimination – instead of using the soft term: “equity”.

    Public roads are public spaces. We define the most wise use of such roads by how best they can serve the automobile, using that metric to judge all other options. In our own city of Eugene, we are engaged in a nearly two year debate over a .6 mile section of Willamette street that has become politicized by calling those who want equal access the “bike lobby”. The label has led some to suppress their connection to cycling while amplifying their connection to pedestrians and public transit. Where are the state and national organizations when these local issues are fought?

    A common theme of educational efforts is the need to educate transportation planners about active transportation. I would guess that a transportation planner costs more than $100,000 a year in taxpayer dollars. We should expect them to educate themselves, attending such meetings like this one. Do we have to wait another 20 years for the newer and younger planners coming out of college to achieve the designs now being proposed in progressive educational settings?

    I support the efforts of those at the Active Transportation Summit. I used to attend them even before they broadened their population of interest to all forms of active transportation. I always came away energized and happy to make connections with the same 200 people each year. But not to worry, that positive feeling soon wore off as I moved about our built environment and realized just how daunting the problem is.

    Until we make those who drive cars (including me) pay the real cost of ownership and use those funds to practice affirmative action for walking, biking and transit, little will change. As it is now, we’re subsidizing transportation discrimination and it is costing all of us in more ways than misspent tax dollars.