In Response to Community Leaders’ Concerns, Active Trans Postpones Vision Zero Summit

Reed, second from right, at Monday's Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield
Reed, second from right, at Monday's Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield

Update Thursday, August 17, 3 PM:

On August 10, Streetsblog Chicago ran a post regarding Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed’s concerns about the Active Transportation Alliance’s planned Vision Zero Chicago summit. Read the original post below.

Yesterday Reed published a blog post about the issue with a detailed list of concerns about the summit, calling for the cancelation of the event. “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 [low-to-moderate-income / people of color] 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.”

In response to Slow Roll’s concerns and those of other community leaders, today Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke announced that the group will be postponing the summit. “We apologize for mistakes in how the event was rolled out,” he wrote. “For these reasons, we have decided to postpone the summit and continue our work with community partners to build a stronger event.”

Below is the August 10 Streetsblog post that first reported on Reed’s criticisms of the summit plan.

Last Monday the Active Transportation Alliance announced that they’ll be presenting the Vision Zero Chicago Summit on Wednesday, September 20, from 8 a.m. to noon at Kent College of Law, 565 West Adams, to discuss the city’s effort to eliminate serious traffic injuries and fatalities by 2026. The keynote speaker is AAA state relations manager Richard Romer, and other scheduled presenters include Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, transportation consultant Steve Schlickman (who formerly led UIC’s Urban Transportation Institute), and a representative from the National Safety Council. The announcement states that the event will include panel discussions on designing safer streets, fair and effective enforcement, and funding Vision Zero efforts. The registration fee is $50.

The city’s Vision Zero efforts are focusing on high crash areas and corridors, and most of the areas most heavily impacted by traffic violence are in lower-income communities of color on the South and West sides. These neighborhoods will be prioritized for safety outreach and education, beginning with a pilot program taking place this summer in Austin, North Lawndale, and Garfield Park, funded by a $185,000 grant from the National Safety Council.

On Monday evening at a ride hosted by Slow Roll Chicago, which promotes biking in low-to-moderate-income communities of color on the South and West Sides. During the event, SRC cofounder Oboi Reed told me he felt the roll-out and announced format of the upcoming Vision Zero summit, whether by design or an oversight, would have the effect of largely excluding residents of these three African-American neighborhoods from the conversation.

Chicago's high crash areas are mostly on the South and West Sides. Image: CDOT
Chicago’s high crash areas are mostly on the South and West Sides. Click to enlarge. Image: CDOT

Reed noted that, nationally, there have been concerns that increased traffic enforcement as part of Vision Zero campaigns will result in more racial profiling and over-policing of communities of color. Therefore, he argued, it’s crucial that residents and community leaders from the pilot neighborhoods be involved in all discussions about what constitutes “fair and effective” policing, especially in light of the Chicago Police Department’s widely documented civil rights abuses. He said the summit’s steep registration fee and downtown location would ensure that the attendees are mostly white-collar professionals who don’t live in the affected areas.

Reed added that while he had learned Active Trans is offering scholarships to the conference to those who can’t afford the fee, that information wasn’t initially included in Monday’s announcement. He argued that because influential decision makers like Scheinfeld and the National Safety Council rep will be at the summit, it would be especially problematic if few North Lawndale, Garfield Park, and Austin residents are there to make their voices heard.

I ran these concerns by Active Trans staff members. Director of government relations Kyle Whitehead responded that the summit is intended to be a Vision Zero policy discussion with city and state officials and outside experts, as well as community advocates. “We recognize the registration fee and timing of the event are barriers for many residents and non-professionals, which is why we are offering complimentary registrations for community leaders and partners, as we’ve done with similar events in the past,” Whitehead said. “Typically we’ve reached out to current partners with this information and encouraged them to spread the word to their peers in the community. We started this process immediately after announcing the event.”

Whitehead added that the $50 fee will help cover costs and support Active Trans’ Vision Zero advocacy. “Equity is a focus of the city’s plan and for the last few years we’ve pushed for more frequent and fair enforcement, highlighting potential negative impacts in communities of color,” he added. “The program and speakers are still being finalized, and we’ve asked community partners for input and recommendations. Equity will be central to every discussion, as it is in the plan, and we will include speakers from communities of color.”

Whitehead added that the event is not intended to take the place of the community planning processes and direct outreach to residents in the focus communities, which Active Trans intends to support and organize around moving forward. “For the Vision Zero plan to be successful, it needs to have robust community input,” he said. Some of the South and West Side community organizations which are on board with the group’s Vision Zero efforts so far include Teamwork Englewood, the South Austin Neighborhood Association, and Connecting4Communities. Whitehead added that Active Trans has reached out to many other organizations and is looking for recommendations for other groups to partner with.

vz2
Image: Active Trans

At the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting on Wednesday, Active Trans director Ron Burke mentioned that one of the key purposes of the summit is to communicate to elected officials, such as aldermen, the importance of reducing traffic violence in their communities. In this way, the group hopes to get these leaders to commit to supporting additional city funding for safety outreach and infrastructure programs.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey did not have immediate information about when Scheinfeld will be appearing at events in the three Vision Zero focus communities. However, he noted that Slow Roll is leading A Bike Ride for Peace on Saturday, August 19 at 9 a.m. at the office of the community group BUILD Chicago, 5100 West Harrison, and the event will involve staff from the transportation department’s Vision Zero outreach team.

In response to Active Trans’ comments, Reed said he still feels that the development and planning of the Vision Zero summit was problematic. “It represents a consistent, harmful pattern of top-down policymaking in general here in Chicago, and this is also true nationally with regards to Vision Zero in many U.S. cities,” he said “There is a real potential for structural racism and implicit bias in [in the city government], especially within the Chicago Police Department, which could actually lead to Vision Zero’s enforcement strategy doing more harm than good in communities of color.”

Ronnie Matthew Harris
Ronnie Matthew Harris

Reed added because of this potential for negative impacts, it’s critical for people who live in the focus communities to drive the planning and execution of Vision Zero policies in their neighborhoods. Because of this, he argued that Active Trans should cancel the planned summit and fundraiser and go back to the drawing board to create an event that would be more accessible to West Side residents in terms of cost, location, time, and marketing.

Reed suggested I also check in with Ronnie Matthew Harris, director of the South Side transportation advocacy Go Bronzeville. Harris echoed statements he made in a recent Streetsblog Chicago op-ed about the need for the livable streets movement to include more input from residents of color, and argued that Active Trans and the city need to take Reed’s concerns about the summit seriously and be responsive.

“Successful, sustainable, and measurable outcomes of Vision Zero will correspond with the extent to which we prioritize racial inclusion,” he said. “If a community-based organizations like Slow Roll Chicago, whose primary mission is to advocate for racial equity on the behalf of low-to-moderate-income communities of color, feels excluded, it then becomes our duty to listen, hear, and act in response to their concerns.”

“As I’ve said before, transportation advocates and planners have a remarkable opportunity to right wrongs of the past,” Harris concluded. “But it’ll only be realized through significant cultural shifts in the way we engage and include the most disenfranchised members of our community.”

 

  • Kelly Pierce

    The location is within a few blocks of the Clinton Blue and
    Green Line stops. Both are relatively short one seat rides from the west side.
    It is disappointing though that Oboi Reed clearly was not included in the
    planning of this summit. If Active Trans wants to maintain credibility, it
    needs to leave its silo and work with community leaders before announcing a
    pre-packaged summit. If Active Trans had contacted community leaders about scholarships,
    it is surprising that Oboi was not aware of them. He is one of the biggest bike
    advocates in the city. A low cost version of the summit would likely be at a
    church on the west side. Would transportation professionals go to this kind of location
    instead of a law school?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Reed has been out of the picture for more than a year due to health issues and only recently became active with Slow Roll again. However it appears that other Slow Roll leaders and Go Bronzeville weren’t involved in the planning of the summit.

  • Thanks, following are a few brief points of clarity. This is not at all about me. As John mentioned in reply to your comment, I recently returned from a 1.5 year leave of absence from Slow Roll Chicago. I am less concerned about Active Trans engaging me personally in the development and planning of the summit. I am more concerned with them properly engaging residents, stakeholders and community-based organizations who live and work in the neighborhoods impacted by Vision Zero (nearly all of which are low- to moderate-income communities of color) on the development and planning of the summit. Since the original summit invite came out, I have spoken with a number of bicycle and transportation advocates of color. None were engaged in the planning and development of the summit. And, none of them were aware of the summit prior to the email invite. There is a real potential for Vision Zero’s enforcement strategy to have an adverse impact on communities of color. For this reason, the targeted VZ neighborhoods should be fully engaged in the development and planning of any/all VZ plans, summits, meetings and/or events. This is true for both the Active Trans VZ summit and for the City of Chicago’s current VZ plan. Also, regarding the scholarships, I did receive the email offering scholarships to their community partners. However, the roll out of the summit was still fundamentally flawed with many barriers to participation for LMI POC and Active Trans knows this, despite their offer of scholarships. To answer your final question, the mainstream, professional transportation sector as well as local policymakers should always come to the impacted VZ neighborhoods on such an important policy and plan with the potential to do harm. The priority should be on the CDOT and IDOT commissioners and the National Safety Council hearing directly from people being impacted by VZ – not from planners, engineers, designers and consultants.

  • **

    Thanks for the clarification, Oboi. I hope older people and women will also be brought into any discussion. It’ll be hard to get them out, so people need to go to them. Transportation is expensive but the money rarely goes in on the front end. Ideally money would pay people in communities to go interview them—the old folks riding the sidewalk with a plastic bag from the corner store on the handlebars, the woman with 2 little ones trying to cross a sea of Roosevelt Rd to get to the bus stop, the boys trying to dodge traffic to get to the other side. We should all have our eyes, hearts (and dollars) on those most vulnerable, wherever and whenever they are.

  • Kyle Whitehead, Active Trans

    We appreciate the feedback on the Vision Zero Summit. Our intention was always to have a strong community presence at the event and going forward, and we didn’t do a good job of communicating that when the event was announced. We have been and remain committed to achieving the Vision Zero goal to end the tragedy of traffic injuries and fatalities, and to have community voices and equity issues at the center of the Vision Zero conversation. The Summit Active Trans is organizing is one way to further these goals but certainly not the only way. We hope to work with community partners on organizing another Vision Zero event this fall in a community setting.

    The September Summit date has been set but the agenda largely has not. We’re seeking collaboration with other community advocates on the agenda and more broadly on how we win support for changes needed to achieve the Vision Zero goal, especially in communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by both crashes and unfair enforcement practices. Traffic safety has long been a priority for Active Trans, and Chicago’s Vision Zero plan represents a new opportunity to ensure the issue is addressed in a holistic and effective way for all communities. Please contact me (kyle@activetrans.org) to sign up for the summit or talk more about our Vision Zero advocacy.

  • Cynthia Hudson

    Good point Kelly!

  • Cynthia Hudson

    this is sad

  • Jacob Wilson

    I truly hope that I’m being overly cynical, but the vision zero plan, judging from everything I’ve heard so far is perfectly positioned to be a political workaround to Chicago’s historic resistance to NYC style broken window/stop and frisk style policing.

    CPD is a borderline terrorist organization in some of these communities and I shudder at the thought of giving them more power.

  • Angela Diane

    You know as a cyclist, southsider, African American certified urban planner this blog just reminded me to get off my butt and contact ATA to volunteer.

  • Gin Kilgore

    Thank you Oboi and John for focusing on these critical issues. I am not trying to discredit the hard work everyone is doing, but looking back on my many years of bicycle advocacy, all my words and values around “social justice” too often fell far short in terms of. . . I don’t even like the word inclusion (it still sound like “you are invited to my party”). I’ll borrow words from Oboi’s statement: full partnerships where voices and concerns are respected, heard and responded to. I admit that as recently as a few years ago, I was not thinking about the disproportionate impact increased traffic enforcement has had on low to moderate income communities of color. It’s chilling, and was dangerous blindspot. We need safer streets and more equitable mobility for all. . . and we need to revise the playbooks for making that happen.

  • Anne A

    I agree that Active Trans should have reached out and gotten more people from south and west side communities of color involved in the planning process. For this plan to success, it needs to do a better job of community outreach to get a good number of people to come out to community meetings. It can’t rely on aldermen, because bike and ped advocacy is NOT a priority for aldermen in most of the high crash wards where Vision Zero is most critical.

  • Is the point of this to just write more tickets in the Southside? No thank you. How about extending the redline instead? Or making workplaces that receive TIF money have diverse local hiring decisions. Or add bus lines. There are many ways to address this issue that are not ticketing people more. Who wants to sit in a room making decisions for a community that is not represented.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The Vision Zero plan states that it “does not use increased traffic citations as a measure for success”: https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/vision-zero-action-plan-enforcement-department-of-transportation/Content?oid=28086538

  • Courtney

    The timing of the event is also SUPER inaccessible. Most folks are at work from 8am-12pm. The event very much seems like it is only for folks already involved in the transportation, biking, etc. field.

  • Courtney

    “…the mainstream, professional transportation sector as well as local policymakers should always come to the impacted VZ neighborhoods on such an important policy and plan with the potential to do harm. The priority should be on the CDOT and IDOT commissioners and the National Safety Council hearing directly from people being impacted by VZ – not from planners, engineers, designers and consultants.”

    YES!!! This should be standard worldwide.