Slow Roll Calls for Greater Black and Brown Ownership of the Vision Zero Process

The group leads a discussion of the issue on social media this Thursday morning

Slow Roll Chicago's Dan Black leads a ride from Pilsen earlier this month. Photo: John Greenfield
Slow Roll Chicago's Dan Black leads a ride from Pilsen earlier this month. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this month Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed called on the Active Transportation Alliance to cancel their planned Vision Zero Chicago Summit. Reed argued that there hadn’t been sufficient input in the planning event from members of this year’s Vision Zero focus neighborhood, which are low-to-moderate income Black communities on the West Side, and that the time, location, and $50 entry fee made it unlikely that many West Siders would attend the summit. In response to these concerns from Slow Roll and other community leaders, Active Trans announced it would be postponing the event, acknowledging that the rollout of the summit had been flawed.

Last week Reed published an extensive blog post laying out Slow Roll Chicago’s position on Vision Zero, arguing that the national movement to eliminate traffic fatalities needs to be driven by people from communities of color and LMI neighborhoods. These are typically the areas that are most heavily impacted by traffic violence in U.S. cities, and therefore they are the focus of Vision Zero-related enforcement, education, and infrastructure initiatives.

Oboi Reed. Image: Slow Roll Chicago
Oboi Reed. Image: Slow Roll Chicago

In his post, Reed discusses the Chicago Police Department’s nationally known record of civil rights violations and notes that he and many other Slow Roll members have personally witnessed incidents of over-policing and police abuse. He cites a recent discussion he had with Rutgers University senior researcher and adjunct professor Charles Brown about how, in light of past cases of CPD police violence, the way that the enforcement component of our city’s Vision Zero program is carried out could literally be “a matter of life or death.”

Later in the post, Reed credits Active Trans for rethinking the summit, but also calls for a “transformative restructuring” of the organization with a new focus on social justice. “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.”

Elsewhere in the piece, Reed discusses two major problems Brown identified with current American Vision Zero efforts. The researcher says there is currently a lack of focus on structural racism as the root cause of disparities in LMI neighborhoods and communities of color, including high traffic violence rates.

Charles Brown
Charles Brown

Secondly, according to Brown and Reed, there’s a lack of meaningful input from residents of these areas in the Vision Zero planning process. “The difficult truth is that many transportation professionals, mainstream Vision Zero advocates and departments of transportation simply don’t value or respect the voices of people of color and LMI residents in communities of color where Vision Zero is being implemented,” Reed writes. “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… 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.”

I recommend that you set aside some time to carefully look over and fully digest Reed’s thoughtful post. The article ends with a list of future action items to promote greater ownership of Chicago’s Vision Zero process by Black and Brown residents. Among them is a plan for a research project, which would be led by Brown, using 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.”

The next step in Slow Roll’s agenda is a live social media Q&A and video/text chat this Thursday, August 31, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Reed says the discussion will serve as an opportunity for reflecting on the events that led to the postponement of the Active Trans summit and mobilization of Slow Roll’s Vision Zero response. Look for details and updates about the online conversation on the Slow Roll blog and via the group’s social media accounts in the near future. You can follow Thursday’s conversation on Periscope, Instagram Live, and Facebook Live.

  • Anne A

    I’ve been an Active Trans member and volunteer for many years. The organization has done a lot of good, but could do more if they had more people of color on staff, including one or more additional community liaison positions. Cynthia Hudson does great work, but she’s got way too much of the city to cover effectively. If she only had to cover the west side and there was a Latino community liaison for the southwest side and a black community liaison for the south side, that would be a good start.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Cynthia is no longer on the Active Trans staff page: http://activetrans.org/about-us/our-organization/staff-board-directors

  • Anne A

    You’re right. So Active Trans currently has NO community liaisons for the city.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Is LMI more the issue (i.e. economics) or neighborhoods of persons of color (racism)? I am aware that they are connected and overlap a very great deal but they are also different (concepts, populations). The former (LMI) may be a more “common denominator”, since neighborhoods of persons of color encompasses more diverse groups, with very diverse cultures, histories, languages, etc. Any thoughts?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Within the city of Chicago, although not in all parts of the region or all U.S. cities, there essentially are no LMI communities that are not also majority African-American or Latino. https://www.wbez.org/shows/curious-city/where-are-chicagos-poor-white-neighborhoods/37e96521-d730-43b8-b645-633aab318314

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Not sure about the City of Chicago / all other U.S. cities — though I would be interested in seeing see the studies / data on this — but I also wonder about metropolitan areas, which are, in some ways, the “real” cities … At any rate, certainl, the majority of LMI communities (which, btw, is a concept that is very hard to define/agree upon on maps) are indeed African-American or Latino — though these two communities are themselves of course very different in terms of culture, language, histories, etc. and also have major variations / diversity within themselves. But I also wonder about if there are substantial LMI populations among Chinese, southeast Asians, neighborhoods with high African (as opposed to African-American), eastern European, etc. And then, I wonder too about LMI immigrant, non-citizen groups / communities… Any thoughts?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Active Trans director Ron Burke says that city outreach manager Cynthia Hudson, as well as suburban outreach manager Nancy Wagner, recently left the organization. Burke said he can’t go into detail about HR issues for legal reasons, but said the departures were part of typical staff turnover related to changing funding situations involving grants and contracts. “Cynthia is a rock star,” he said. “She’s one of my favorite people.” She had been with the nonprofit for over a decade.

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