Williams Avenue Traffic Safety and Operations
Project in April 2011.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)
Sharon Maxwell, the latest challenger to Commissioner Nick Fish’s seat on Portland City Council, might be a familiar name to many BikePortland readers. Maxwell spoke up early and often during the public process to update the design of North Williams Avenue.
For those who don’t remember, the City of Portland’s North Williams Avenue Traffic Safety and Operations Project began as just another transportation project, but ended up as a citywide conversation on bicycling, race, and gentrification. The project became a case study for urban planners, garnered national media attention, and became the subject of academic research.
At the project’s first open house in April 2011 (just four months after it officially launched), at the urging of project staff, I interviewed Sharon Maxwell (who went by Maxwell-Hendricks at the time) to hear her perspectives and concerns about the proposed changes. As a Portland native who grew up and owned a business near Williams Avenue, Maxwell had a lot to say. At that time, she was opposed to major bike access improvements. She felt that the changes were being pushed by a “small percentage of bicyclists”, that the bike access would take up space needed to park cars for her church and local businesses, and that bike traffic should be routed over to Rodney Street instead.
At a subsequent meeting on the project a few months later, Maxwell once again voiced concerns. At that point, she began pushing the City to make the decision-making process more inclusive. During an address to the Stakeholder Advisory Committee she said, “I’m trying to paint the picture that we’re not against bicyclists, we’re not against change, but we as a community of color, we want to be involved in the change, we want to be participators in the change.” It was at that meeting, in June 2011, that the bureau of transportation announced they would delay any decisions on the project in order to address Maxwell’s (and other people’s) concerns.
I happened to record several minutes of Maxwell’s address to the committee and you can listen to it below:
Download audio file (WilliamsSAC_Hendricks.mp3)
When the topic of racism once again dominated a project meeting in July 2011, Maxwell was more blunt in her frustration about the biking and walking safety improvements that were on the table: “You say you want it ‘safe’ for everybody, how come it wasn’t safe 10 years ago?,” she asked. “That’s part of the whole racism thing… we wanted safe streets back then; but now that the bicyclists want to have safe streets than it’s all about the bicyclists getting safe streets.”
In her professional life, Maxwell is a carpenter and tradeswoman who owned her own contracting business. She is also active in the community and has developed youth job training programs. On her campaign website, Maxwell lays out her perspective on many issues, including why she deserves to be on City Council:
We can raise our level of shared community, wellness and cultural inclusiveness with all aspects of City services and citizen interactions so that all residents will benefit from true community support, cohesion and “belonging”. I want to do everything I can to help this happen.
Commissioner Fish’s term is up at the end of this year and the elections will be in May.