This Saturday, I went to a Friends of Trees tree-planting event by bicycle, sat on an outdoor patio at my sister’s bar, and biked across the river to watch the Timbers game with my extended motley crew. I was able to spend Portland’s unofficial first beautiful day of spring with friends, neighbors and my family, and remarked several times on just how nice it is that Portland’s finally starting to bloom after a wet winter. Other than a little consternation crossing 82nd Avenue, I spent the entire day outdoors on streets that generally felt safe and welcoming, thinking about how lucky I was to have built such a community of cherished people around me, to spend an evening watching the boys in green get stonewalled by Nick Rimando like they always seem to. While planting trees, it’s difficult to miss the symbolism of the act of physical community work that literally encourages roots to grow in your own little corner of the world, and the cultivation of your own intentional community of people and places you give a shit about. It was, frankly, a perfect spring day.
The same weekend, three car crashes brought about two fatalities. The stories are as horrifying as they are unsurprising, at this point, to anyone who has been paying attention. A high school student biking in East Portland, a man trying to cross NE Cully, a woman hit at 117th and NE Glisan (an intersection I was nearly hit at two weeks ago while biking out to the East Portland Neighborhood Office — ironically enough, I was out there soliciting neighborhood association endorsements for the gas tax.) I can’t emphasize enough that we *know* how to stop these awful tragedies from happening, (if you don’t believe me, just ask yourself why it is that traffic violence doesn’t seem to happen all that often in wealthier and politically connected neighborhoods; they somehow figured out a way to make it happen) and a lot of well meaning people in positions of power are trying to shift public policy in that direction (myself, I suppose, included).
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) - Pedestrian safety advocates in Vancouver and Portland are speaking out after 3 people were…koin.com
But I don’t know how folks like Kristi have the emotional energy to relive the worst day of their lives over and over every time these stories come out. I don’t know what to make of the myriad of memories my peers and I have forged from speaking at vigils, listening to sobbing family members, or that I could recite the stats about pedestrian fatalities in East Portland the way seven year old Aaron could recite the starting line up of the 1995 Orlando Magic. I don’t know how to politely tell a certain strident strand of bicycle activists to leverage their own political clout to give fewer shits about the safe streets in their own (inner eastside, gentrifying, somewhat exclusionary) neighborhoods when just about every time someone dies due to a negligent politic that didn’t prioritize street safety, it’s in a poorer neighborhood. I don’t know how to reconcile the fortune I have for the cherished roots I’ve been able to plant in my community with the frustration that the changes we hope to see just aren’t happening fast enough. I don’t know how to politely bury my rage when well-meaning journalists call these “accidents” as though there was nothing that could be done to prevent them from happening, or when a fatality is shrugged off due to mental illness, homelessness or “wrong place at the wrong time” as though those circumstances somehow warrant a small chance of untimely death.
I don’t know to reconcile any of that with the fact I spent a great weekend bouncing around on Portland’s streets, and that two Portlanders weren’t able to successfully cross the street and make it to the other side.