Active Transportation Alliance's Flawed Strategy in Rolling Out its Vision Zero Summit in Chicago

This is Oboi Reed, Co-Founder of the Slow Roll Chicago bicycle movement, writing here. To learn more about Slow Roll Chicago and our position on equity, please check out the Our Story section of the website and our Bicycle Equity Statement of Principle (draft version) document.

I am writing now with regards to Vision Zero here in Chicago and the Active Transportation Alliance's (Active Trans) recently announced Vision Zero Summit here in Chicago. A recent Streetsblog Chicago article shares some insight into our position on Vision Zero in general and, specifically, our concerns with Active Transportation Alliance's flawed strategy in rolling out their upcoming summit. 

Our specific concerns with the summit are as follows:

  • According to the recently released City of Chicago's Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan, nearly all of the targeted Vision Zero (VZ) neighborhoods are low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities of color on the Southside and Westside of Chicago. 
  • The City of Chicago's Vision Zero policy and plan does in fact include the component of Enforcement, in addition to Education and Engineering, as part of its comprehensive VZ strategy.
  • Active Trans is including in their VZ summit's agenda the topic of "Fair & Effective Enforcement". 
  • Active Trans did not engage with any people of color (POC), LMI residents, community-based organizations, community leaders or other stakeholders who live and work in the VZ targeted neighborhoods in the process of developing and planning their VZ summit.
  • The VZ summit is being hosted in downtown Chicago on a weekday from 8am to 12pm, with attendance registration costing an exorbitant $50. These factors clearly pose as significant barriers to LMI/POC fully participating in the summit.
  • With the original email invite for the Active Trans VZ summit there was no mention of the availability of scholarships for LMI/POC. Shortly after the original email invite, Active Trans did send an email offering scholarships to a select list of their community partners. However, the vast majority of LMI/POC in the VZ-targeted neighborhoods are not aware of the summit nor aware of the availability of scholarships.
  • Several high level policy-makers (CDOT Commissioner, IDOT COO, National Safety Council & AAA reps, etc.) are confirmed to attend and speak at the summit. The summit is clearly targeting for attendance the professional transportation sector and the mainstream bicycle advocacy community, nearly all of whom are White, middle- to upper-income and do not live or work in the VZ targeted neighborhoods. The potential result of this flawed strategy is that the high level policymakers in attendance will not hear directly from LMI/POC who live and work in VZ targeted neighborhoods regarding their concerns for VZ implementation, especially VZ's enforcement component. The Active Trans priority from the beginning should have been squarely focused on engaging, respecting, elevating and responding to LMI/POC voices and concerns - not those of planners, engineers, designers, consultants and other transportation professionals.
  • Both the City of Chicago and the mainstream bicycle advocacy community here in Chicago are not at all immune to the ravages and impact of structural racism. In fact, racism is deeply ingrained in how our City operates. Recently, Mayor Emanuel publicly acknowledged that racism is a problem within Chicago's police force and other City Hall departments and city agencies. In addition, recently, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson also publicly, and on video, admitted there is racism within the Chicago Police Department
  • Given this context and the backdrop of Chicago Police Department's over-policing, its horrible record of civil rights abuses and the potential for a USDOJ consent decree, we believe the Active Trans roll out strategy for its VZ summit was fundamentally flawed at best. 
  • At worst, it was potentially a deliberate, disrespectful attempt to exclude LMI/POC from the summit, continuing the harmful pattern of top-down policymaking, while also marginalizing our lives and our voices.
  • The end result of all of this, both the City of Chicago's VZ policy/plan and the Active Trans VZ summit, is the real possibility that VZ in Chicago may do more harm than good in LMI communities of color.
  • For these reasons and more, I am calling for the Active Transportation Alliance to cancel their planned VZ summit and return to the drawing board to, from the beginning, engage LMI/POC residents, community leaders and other stakeholder in the VZ targeted neighborhoods in a full partnership to develop and plan a VZ summit with the same high-level policymakers where our voices and concerns are respected, heard and responded to.

I am writing to respectfully ask for your assistance in elevating this matter to a national level. Specifically, please consider the following as your contribution to helping to move Active Trans to cancel the summit:

  • Read the Streetsblog Chicago article and please participate in the comments section of the article.
  • Share the Streetsblog Chicago article and any of my notes above with your respective internal and external networks.
  • Push the Streetsblog Chicago article and any of my notes above on your respective social media platforms. Please tag Slow Roll Chicago (@slowrollchicago) and Olatunji Oboi Reed (@theycallmeOboi) and we will be sure to amplify your social media posts.
  • Share our position and any of my notes above with your national media contacts for a potential national media story. 
  • In the event anyone has experience with VZ in your respective cities, please contact me to share lessons learned and potential strategies we may execute here in Chicago going forward.

Thank you in advance for your time, consideration and effort on this matter. 

Let's ride,

Olatunji Oboi Reed
Co-Founder, Slow Roll Chicago
info (at) slowrollchicago (dot) org

Where in the world is Oboi??? Bogota, Colombia (Day 1 & 2, Part 1)

Repping our movement as I fly the friendly skies... 

Slow Roll Chicago's 11-day 2015 Livable Cities Study Tour: Bogota & Medellin, Colombia has begun. On behalf of the #SlowRollCHI bicycle movement, I am here to study the beautiful work being done by the country of Colombia and the cities of Bogota & Medellin to reduce violence, improve health, create jobs, and ultimately make streets & neighborhoods more livable. I am particulary interested in how the Ciclovia movement, bicycles & cycling, transportation, and the transformation of public spaces are transforming lives and improving the condition of communities here in Colombia. I am fortunate to have great contacts here - government leaders, community organizers, bicycle advocates, researchers, educators, and active cyclists. All will provide me with great insight into the work being done across many different sectors to improve livability here. My 11 days here will be spent learning, connecting, networking, exploring, and thinking about what lessons can be gleaned from Colombia to benefit our neighborhoods in Chicago.

Follow this blog and our Slow Roll Chicago social media accounts for regular updates, let's ride family...   

Arrived at the beautiful, quiet, quaint The Book Hotel. 

After 2 plane-switching layovers and about 12 hours of total travel time, I made it to Bogota, Colombia at approximately 1:30am on Friday, November 27. My friend Chris Morfas with the Despacio community organization here in Bogota had prepped me very well for what to expect at the airport. He instructed me in clear terms, "after collecting your luggage, go straight to the official taxi line". Glad to have his advice, first thing I did was convert my US dollars to Colombia pesos. As I departed the baggage claim area, I was inundated by a throng of black-suit wearing drivers asking me to ride with them to my destination. One guy locked eyes with me, followed me out, and was persistent in the fact that he was an official yellow taxi driver and I should ride with him. I remembered my conversation with Chris, resisted the pressure from the gentleman and found the airport's official taxi line. Jumped right into a yellow taxi and made our 20-30 min trip to The Book Hotel in the Chapinero neighborhood of Bogota. It is a small, friendly and nice hotel in a great neighborhood.

It was probably about 2:30am before I was in my room and able to settle in. After my excitement for the journey subsided, I eventually fell asleep on a comfortable yet very firm bed. The next day I slept in pretty late. Reached out to my contacts alerting them of my arrival and scheduled times to connect. True to myself, immediately went in search of a vegetarian restaurant for my first Colombian meal. Discovered the awesome La Esquina Vegetariana Restaurante, about a 10 min taxi ride from the hotel. The lunch special was great, definitely excellent enough for me to order another lunch special to go. The young dude who was my waiter was real cool and we did our best to understand each other. He spoke very little English and I speak practically no Spanish. My saving grace is the little bit of Portuguese I've retained from my 6 months in Brazil in 2012.  After an excellent meal, a relatively long wait to hail a taxi, and time exploring the neighborhood, I made it back to the hotel to relax. I was feeling pretty exhausted at this point and took the night to catch up on some work and plan my day for tomorrow. 

The next day is today (Saturday, November 28). The temperature is fairly mild here during the day in Bogota. At night though, it can be fairly chilly. After 2 nights of sleeping in the cold, I did 2 things. First, I asked the hotel for a heater to warm up my room a bit. Then, I went to purchase some warm pajamas. That's right, I am wearing pajamas to bed here in Bogota. To find the pajamas and explore the neighborhood more, I walked to a strong commercial corridor about a 10 min walk from the hotel. The street is 13th Avenue right off 57th and It is a vibrant and energetic business strip with lots of shoppers and lots of shops. Along the the entire section of the 10 or so blocks which I traversed, there were street vendors all along the route. Everyone I encountered was friendly and I am pretty sure they looked at me and immediately knew I was not from Colombia. Visited several stores and made a few purchases. Important Lesson #1: learn Spanish, especially critical when it involves spending money. And, yes, America's consumerism has transferred to Bogota. The American concept of "Black Friday" has made it to South America... tsk, tsk, tsk...

Black Friday, Colombian style (in English, no less). 

13th Avenue 2-way side-path bike lane. 

Was pleased to see a 2-way bike path on 13th Avenue, along this bustling commercial corridor. I believe we will refer to this in the US as either a "side path" or an "off-street trail". The bike path is not on the street and is separated from vehicular traffic. It is on the side walk, with a dedicated space for the 2 lanes of bike traffic. It reminds me of the 2-way Dearborn bike lane in Downtown Chicago. Differences were that the Dearborn lane is part of the street and the 13th Avenue lane is part of the sidewalk. Similarities are that both lanes provide some from of separation from cars and gives a greater sense of protection, helping cyclist feel more comfortable and safe. Also similar, is the inevitable reality of walkers in the bike lane. Admittedly, I did not see a lot of this and when I did notice it both the cyclists and walkers were all very courteous to each other. We have advocated consistently for increased protected bike lanes in communities of color and LMI neighborhoods on the Southside and Westside of Chicago. Perhaps, streets in Chicago with heavy car traffic and wide sidewalks can benefit from sidewalk-based bike lanes (side paths) to help more folks feel comfortable and safe riding bikes in their neigborhoods. Bicycle equity means doing more for people who bike the least and for communities with low bicycle mode share. Bicycle equity also means doing more for people and communities the most disproportionately impacted by violence, healthcare disparties, and unemployment. We believe intensely in the transformative power of bicycles to have a positive impact on all three socio-economic factors. Side paths should be a part of our, the city's and the state's toolkit to increase bike mode share in our neighborhoods.

The reverse view of the 13th Avenue 2-way side-path bike lane.  

Stay tuned, more photos, videos, and commentary to share. More exploration tonight and riding in Ciclovia tomorrow (Sunday). Here in Bogota until Tuesday, December 1. Then, in the city of Medellin (considered one of the most livable cities in the world) from Tuesday until Saturday. Back in Bogota on Saturday evening and another ride in Bogota's Ciclovia the following Sunday. Return home to Chicago late night Monday, December 7. 

Right around the corner from my hotel, The Book Hotel. 

Near the 13th Avenue (at 57th) Commercial Corridor. 

On the way back to the hotel. 

Peace, let's ride...