A Matter of Life or Death: Vision Zero Chicago

This is a matter of life or death.
— Charles Brown, MPA, Senior Researcher & Adjunct Professor, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Charles Brown.

Charles Brown.

I recently spoke via phone with Rutgers University Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor Charles Brown regarding Vision Zero Chicago and Slow Roll Chicago's Bicycle Equity Statement of Principle document (draft version). During our conversation, Mr. Brown made a clear, forceful case for the Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan being a matter of life or death. He explained that the process of developing, as well as implementing, Chicago's Vision Zero (VZ) policy and plan will determine the degree to which VZ will have an adverse or beneficial impact on low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities of color on the South and West sides of Chicago. Mr. Brown described the City of Chicago's commitment, or lack thereof, to justice and equity as key factors in VZ taking more Black and Brown lives than it saves.

Slow Roll Chicago family member and dear sister Marian Hayes.

Slow Roll Chicago family member and dear sister Marian Hayes.

The Slow Roll Chicago community, sadly, knows all too well the life or death nature of reckless driving behaviors in Chicago. In January of 2016, we lost our beloved Slow Roll Chicago family member and dear sister Marian Hayes to a fatal car crash, while she was walking near the intersection of 87th Street and Kedzie Avenue in the Ashburn neighborhood on the Southwest side of Chicago. After riding with us for the first time, Marian immediately embraced me and our movement. She always brought her beautiful smile, warm energy and helpful spirit to our rides and our work. Marian inspired us to prioritize the role of history, culture, style and art in our rides. I personally dedicated our 2016 ride season to my friend and sister Marian Hayes. The fatal traffic crash that took Marian away from her family and away from our movement continues to reverberate through our organization, nearly two years later.

Oboi Reed at The White House, accepting The 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change Award from former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Oboi Reed at The White House, accepting The 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change Award from former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

As a grassroots bicycle movement, born from Chicago's marginalized, LMI communities of color, myself and my Slow Roll Chicago co-founder Jamal Julien, as well as many of our members, have either directly experienced or witnessed over-policing, police abuse or worse, all at the hands of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Many of you reading this article right now have seen the videos and read the articles documenting CPD's horrible track record of unjust murders, civil rights abuses and rampant corruption. Earlier this year, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) announced their findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department and publicly released its accompanying investigation report. Even with the new United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions in office, there is a real possibility that CPD will come under a federal court-enforceable consent decree with the USDOJ. In 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and, in 2017, CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson both publicly acknowledged the existence of racism within the Chicago Police Department, City Hall and other city agencies.

We are in a time where we know that the practice of over-penalizing people for traffic offences does little to deter people from repeating chargeable driving behaviors. Any law that targets poor people for profit is unjust and unconscionable. The end result is further mass incarceration of an already marginalized people. This only further harms communities in a vulnerable position. Specifically, low- to moderate-income, working class, Black and Brown communities become the most susceptible to egregious, racist police interactions, that lead to a greater inequity in arrests and convictions, further breaking apart disenfranchised families. When poor communities, already struggling economically, are targeted for increased traffic enforcement, this will likely reduce people’s physical and social mobility, further perpetuating the concentration of poverty and violence.
— Kofi Ademola, Organizer, Black Lives Matter Chicago
Kofi Ademola.

Kofi Ademola.

Yes, The Slow Roll Chicago Bicycle Movement entirely agrees with Professor Brown. Vision Zero Chicago, especially its police traffic enforcement strategy, and the City of Chicago's commitment to equity and justice are all matters of life or death here in Chicago.

Approximately two weeks ago, on August 7, the Active Transportation Alliance (Active Trans) here in Chicago announced their Vision Zero Chicago summit via email and on its website. The summit's roll out strategy was fundamentally flawed because it was not sincerely, deliberately inclusive of the very people VZ is targeting at the neighborhood level. Active Trans did not engage people of color (POC), LMI residents, community-based organizations and other stakeholders who live or work in the VZ-targeted neighborhoods in the development and the planning of the summit, prior to its public announcement. In addition, the summit included several elements which served as significant barriers (cost, time, day, location and marketing) for POC and LMI people in the VZ-targeted neighborhoods from fully participating in the summit.

Active Trans is making a positive step towards equity in postponing their planned Vision Zero summit in order to get more input from advocates representing communities of color and low-to-moderate income communities. It’s critically important that the communities who will be most affected by Vision Zero efforts be represented at every step of the way in creating and implementing the details of this program. It’s also essential to make extensive efforts to get community participation in public meetings once those meetings happen.
— Anne Alt, President of the Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, President of Chicago Cycling Club and Former Board Member of the Active Transportation Alliance
Oboi Reed.

Oboi Reed.

After the summit's original announcement and my public statements challenging the summit's lack of inclusion, I immediately called for Active Trans to cancel their planned summit. I requested that Active Trans go back to the drawing board to create an event that would be more inclusive and accessible. Next, I wrote an article on our website, detailing the inherent flaws in the Active Trans summit and the multiple reasons why we were calling for the summit to be canceled. Days later, there was a growing chorus of local and national advocates, organizers and concerned citizens who vocally supported our position on the summit and explicitly supported our call for Active Trans to cancel the summit. Nearly a week and a half after the original announcement of the VZ summit, the Active Transportation Alliance formally, publicly announced, via email and their website blog, that they were officially cancelling the summit. 

Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed at The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum in the Pullman neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago.

Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed at The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum in the Pullman neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago.

We readily acknowledge Active Trans Executive Director Ron Burke and their senior management team for doing the right thing here by canceling the summit. We recognize this fundraising event was logistically difficult to cancel due to a meeting room being reserved, attendees purchasing registrations, sponsorships having been sold and having high-level policymakers confirmed to speak at the summit.

However, this summit should have never went forward in the first place without the ownership and investment of people who live and work in the VZ-targeted neighborhoods. POC and LMI residents should have been engaged, from the beginning, in developing and planning a summit which respects, elevates and responds to their needs, concerns and voices. While the Active Trans VZ summit has now been canceled, a systemic blind spot and pervasive bias still persists within the organization. Its leadership was willing to move forward with the summit, even after we called for the summit to be canceled and pointed out the dangerous flaws within their lack of inclusion. For these reasons and more, we advocate for a transformative restructuring at Active Trans, where an authentic commitment to equity is explicit, deliberate and public. Further, we advocate for Active Trans to sincerely and dutifully operationalize its commitment to equity from the board level to the staff level, from inclusive community engagement practices to staffing diversity, from priority projects to policies around how resources are distributed and from the removal of implicit bias to the dismantling of a dismissive culture toward LMI communities of color from within the organization. 

For Vision Zero to work, all members of the affected communities must have a voice in the entire planning and implementation process. Active Trans has correctly canceled their previously scheduled Vision Zero Summit, now recognizing as much. They are to be applauded for continuing to be a great, mature organization that cares deeply for all people that bike.
— Brendan H. Kevenides, Attorney at Freeman Kevenides Law Firm and Member of the Active Transportation Alliance Board of Advisors
Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed.

Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed.

In my phone call with Professor Brown, he discussed two primary problems with the mainstream, European approach to executing Vision Zero strategies in US cities:

  1. Lack of Focus on the Root Cause of Injustice: The root cause of injustice in US society is structural racism. Many local and state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and mainstream Vision Zero advocates are solely focused on the symptoms produced as a result of the root cause instead of focusing on the root cause of structural racism itself. Structural racism causes communities of color to be marginalized and disenfranchised. Structural racism causes communities of color to be disproportionately, adversely impacted by a poor quality of life, interpersonal violence, healthcare disparities, unemployment, poverty, mass incarceration, access to affordable housing, access to healthy foods, access to quality education and access to physical and social mobility. All of these symptoms contribute to the relatively high rate of fatal car crashes in LMI communities of color and all of these symptoms are caused by structural racism in our society.
  2. Lack of Authentic, Sincere Community Engagement: The difficult truth is that many transportation professionals, mainstream VZ advocates and DOTs simply don't value or respect the voices of POC and LMI residents in communities of color where VZ is being implemented. This is what led Active Trans to announce a VZ summit mostly impacting LMI communities of color with no prior engagement on planning the summit with the VZ-targeted neighborhoods. This is also what led the City of Chicago to release a VZ policy and plan without a preceding, comprehensive community engagement process to help develop and implement the plan together in concert with the community. The same is largely true for many cities across the US, implementing VZ at the neighborhood level. We are largely considered the consumers of the VZ product. In fact, we should be the owners and deliverers of the VZ product in our neighborhoods. We are the proper experts on what is needed in our communities in order for us to feel safe and be safe. No DOT and no advocacy organization should ever begin the process of developing or implementing a VZ plan without an authentic community engagement process where residents and stakeholders invest in the plan and take ownership of its execution. Anything less is dismissive, disrespectful and potentially deadly.
Oboi Reed.

Oboi Reed.

Where do we as a local and national VZ, equity and justice community go from here? What are our next steps to ensuring the City of Chicago implements VZ in a manner in our neighborhoods that does more good than it does harm.

Here are our tentative, initial next steps:

  • I will host a live social media Q&A video/text chat on Thursday, August 31 from 10:30-11:30am CT. This video/text chat will serve as an opportunity for us to all collectively reflect and debrief over the past two weeks. I will also use this opportunity to answer questions and offer lessons learned that were gleaned during this process. Please follow us via our website blog and on social media to receive the up to the minute details for our video/text chat.
  • Slow Roll Chicago, Go Bronzeville, transportation advocates of color, and other stakeholders in the VZ-targeted neighborhoods will explore the potential of convening a broader, community-based VZ forum to receive feedback and input on the VZ plan directly from neighborhood residents, in partnership with the City of Chicago and other potential community partners. 
  • Slow Roll Chicago, Go Bronzeville, transportation advocates of color, and other stakeholders in the VZ-targeted neighborhoods will explore the potential of engaging with the City of Chicago Mayor's Office, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Department of Public Health and other city agencies to take ownership of VZ's development and implementation in LMI communities of color on the South and West sides of Chicago.
  • Slow Roll Chicago will facilitate a comprehensive Vision Zero and transportation equity data analysis, research project. Given his extensive experience working with POC and LMI communities, we asked that Rutgers Senior Researcher and Professor Charles Brown lead this research study. This project will utilize both data analysis and surveys to better understand the root cause of transportation-related inequities and injustices experienced by POC and LMI residents in communities of color on the South and West sides of Chicago.
Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed at Nat King Cole Park in the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago.

Slow Roll Chicago Co-Founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed at Nat King Cole Park in the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago.

How may you continue to help support our advocacy work and our next steps with regards to VZ and transportation equity here in Chicago?

Here's our Call to Action:

Oboi Reed at the Big Marsh Bicycle Park on the far Southeast side of Chicago.

Oboi Reed at the Big Marsh Bicycle Park on the far Southeast side of Chicago.

  • Share this article via your website, email newsletter and with your internal and external networks.
  • Share this article on social media, tagging "Slow Roll Chicago" (@slowrollchicago) and "Olatunji Oboi Reed" (@theycallmeOboi). Slow Roll Chicago has a social media presence on Facebook (Page & Group), Twitter, InstagramTumblr and YouTube.
  • Sign up for the Slow Roll Chicago Email Newsletter to stay updated about our rides, events and advocacy work.
  • Sign up to volunteer with Slow Roll Chicago. 
  • Volunteer to join Professor Charles Brown's Vision Zero and transportation equity data analysis, research project team.
  • Assist with identifying and securing funding for Slow Roll Chicago's comprehensive Vision Zero and transportation equity data analysis, research project, as requested by myself and Slow Roll Chicago and led by Rutgers Senior Researcher and Professor Charles Brown. Please contact me directly to discuss this particular Call to Action in more detail. 
  • Join me, Slow Roll Chicago and equity advocates from around the world at the PolicyLink Equity Summit 2018 here in Chicago from April 11-13, 2018.
  • Donate to Slow Roll Chicago, financially supporting our work to create a diverse, inclusive and equitable bicycle culture in Chicago. Slow Roll Chicago is intensely focused on the role of bicycles, as a form of effective transportation, contributing to reducing violence, improving health, creating jobs and ultimately making our neighborhoods more liveable. Your financial support helps us push forward, within a challenging local context, our mission, vision and priorities. 
Oboi Reed speaking at the Despacio NGO in Bogota, Colombia while on Slow Roll Chicago's Liveable Cities Study Tour: Bogota & Medellin, Colombia.

Oboi Reed speaking at the Despacio NGO in Bogota, Colombia while on Slow Roll Chicago's Liveable Cities Study Tour: Bogota & Medellin, Colombia.

A heartfelt thank you and proud salute to all of the local and national advocates who supported our call for Active Trans to cancel their VZ summit. Our collective voices are powerful and together we accomplished what many said was impossible. I also want to thank the PolicyLink Transportation Equity Caucus and the National Bike Equity Network for raising your voices together with ours to shift how mainstream transportation organizations engage with communities of color. I especially want to thank my dear sister Tamika L. Butler (Executive Director at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust) and my good brother Ronnie Matthew Harris (Visionary Lead with Go Bronzeville) for their relentless strategizing, advocacy and late night phone calls. While Active Trans cancelling their VZ summit is a relatively small step in the right direction, it is something we accomplished together and we should all be proud of the work that brought us here to this moment. 

Slow Roll Chicago is a bicycle movement.

We ride bicycles to make our neighborhoods better.

This is why we exist. This is why we ride.

Mount up and let's ride for equity, justice and freedom...

Warmly,

Oboi Reed

 

 

Olatunji Oboi Reed
Co-Founder, Slow Roll Chicago
773-916-6264
oboi@slowrollchicago.org 
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