Slow Roll’s Jamal Julien Discusses the Ups and Downs of the 2016 Season

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride last May. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

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In Slow Roll Chicago‘s third year of operations, the bike equity group faced some challenges, as cofounder Oboi Reed, who previously had been the driving force behind the organization, was largely out of the picture due to health-related issues. But it speaks well of the group’s resilience that other members were able to keep operations going in 2016, hosting dozens of community rides and encouraging scores of residents to sign up for low-cost Divvy for Everyone (D4E) bike-share memberships.

“I think we did a pretty good job of sustaining our momentum, although we didn’t see the growth we would have like to have seen,” said Slow Roll cofounder Jamal Julien, a friend of Reed’s since childhood.

One project Slow Roll hoped to get off the ground this year that didn’t pan out was their idea of a bicycle lending library with bikes provided by Trek, a Slow Roll sponsor. The library would allow residents to check out bikes for two or three weeks at a time, just like a library book, and it would be targeted towards neighborhoods that don’t yet have Divvy stations.

Slow Roll, along with transportation advocacy group Go Bronzeville, is contracted by the city to do outreach about the D4E program on rides and at community events. This year Dan Black served as Slow Roll’s Divvy outreach manager. “The outreach is working, and we’ve got some ideas about how we can work more efficiently and effectively to get the word out,” said Julien. More than 1,400 people have signed up for D4E so far.

“While we truly appreciate our relationship with Divvy and what they’ve done, they’re still not in every neighborhood and we can help fill that void in the short term with the bike library,” Julien added. The library would be geared towards local people who aren’t ready to commit to buying a bike, but residents would also be able to use it to borrow cycles for visiting family and friends. “Hopefully after this year’s ride season ends we’ll be able to pick up that conversation with Trek.”

Weather was also a challenge this year. Although Slow Roll moved the start of their weekly ride season back from early April to early May this year, there were still a number of rides that took place in May and June on rainy days, and a few were rained out. However, turnout continued to grow in the second half of the season.

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Slow Roll’s Divvy for Everyone outreach manager Dan Black talks with youth about the program. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

Highlights of the 2016 ride season included a ride series with the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks program, highlighting natural areas, community gardens, and recycling initiatives. “Going out and showcasing some of the nature within and in close proximity to our communities and engaging with residents has been incredibly awesome,” said Julien.

Another successful ride was called “We Ride Juntos (‘Together’)”. It was a collaboration between the Lawndale Christian Fitness Center, Enlace Chicago’s Violence Prevention Collaborative, Universidad Popular, and Working Bikes Cooperative, which provided loaner bikes. About 50 people participated.

Unfortunately a Slow Roll ride this year was impacted by street violence, although luckily no one was injured. On a ride in the Austin neighborhood, the group was biking north on Austin Boulevard on their way to Lake Street when gunshots whizzed past the group and struck the door of a van traveling on an east-west street behind them.

“That was the first time anything like that has ever happened while we were out on a group ride,” Julien said. “In all the communities we’ve gone into, people have been warm and welcoming,” he said. “Whatever that altercation was about, it had nothing to do with us, but it was very scary.”

“The bullets that flew by us were the result of a lot of bad decisions,” Julien added. “It was a poor decision made by the person who pulled the trigger. But poor decisions were also made by the people who created the environment that created such an individual that would pull the trigger. I think the dysfunction that we have at City Hall is one of the causes, the lack of will on the part of aldermen and elected officials to make the investments that would change that environment.”

Although this was a challenging year for Slow Roll, Julien says he’s optimistic about 2017, especially since Big Marsh bike park will be opening on the Southeast Side. Slow Roll has lobbied the city to ensure that the park is accessible to residents of nearby communities, not just cycling enthusiasts who drive there from other parts of the city and region.

“In 2016 we continued to grow our relationship with the city and some of the community partners we’ve been working with,” Julien concluded. “It looks like the seeds that we’ve been planting will bear some good fruit next year.”

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Was just thinking a few weeks ago that I hadn’t seen Oboi much lately. I hope all the best for him.

  • Anne A

    A lot of folks locally and across the country who have met Oboi ask about how he’s doing. There are plenty of people thinking of him and sending healing thoughts.

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