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