Will Cortez is a community leader who knows how to work the inside-outside advocacy game better than almost anyone I’ve come across. He moved to the Portland region from the Philippines and became a U.S. citizen at the age of seven. When his parents got him a bike as a teenager (sort of as a punishment, which he talks about in the episode), Will caught the cycling bug and has never looked back.

Since his youth days in Hillsboro, he’s become a dedicated transportation advocate and an activist for inclusivity in all its forms — from helping Metro make ADA-accessible off-road trails for his day job, to volunteer racial justice organizing. A self-described “professional committee member”, Will has devoted countless hours to make sure government agencies around the region create infrastructure and policies that are not only good for bicycle riders, wheelchair users, and other non-drivers; but do it in a way that intentionally welcomes Black, Indigenous, and all people of color.

Will at the Oregon Bike Summit in 2010.
Will (center) with BikePOC PNW co-founders Silas Sanderson and Sukho Viboolsittiseri at the 2021 Alice Awards ceremony.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
At a cyclocross race in September 2022.

“Don’t speak about marginalized communities without asking them exactly what they need. Because we’ve seen examples of communities that we will deem historically marginalized, push back against having bike lanes… that is low on our list. We need these other things to happen first, right?”

After Will read our recent coverage of the BikeLoud PDX lawsuit, he sent me a message saying he was disappointed in the way the group framed one of the key rationales for wanting to force the City of Portland to build more bikeways: That neighborhoods with more lower income residents of color stand to gain the most from a legal victory. I wanted to understand more about why this concerned him, so we talked on the phone and I felt the conversation was worth taking more time to fully flesh out.

Will didn’t know it at the time, but it had been on my list to talk with someone about whether or not Portland’s cycling and transportation advocacy community has made substantive progress toward more racial diversity in the nearly three years since the George Floyd protests. As a news person, I know how issues and stories fade quickly once they’re not longer in the headlines. And with so much rhetoric in Portland about racism and racial equity the past few years, I wondered if folks had fallen back into the comfort of the status quo.

Will joined me for an interview in the BikePortland Shed on Tuesday (12/6) to talk through it all. We touched on not only the BikeLoud PDX lawsuit but also his experience as a volunteer on the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, his role as co-founder of BikePOC PNW and what its long-term goals are, why so many government advisory committees are still so white, and more.

If you want a better understanding of how racial inequity works in practice, why it’s so hard to make progress in Portland, and what it takes to be not just a person of color, but someone brave enough to step forward and be a community leader for racial justice and inclusivity, you do not want to miss this episode.

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