[This article also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
“Slow Roll Chicago is helping to bridge Chicago’s geographic divides,” says cofounder Oboi Reed. “We’re getting people from all over the city to show up for rides that are not in their neighborhoods.” The group, whose focus is getting more people on bikes in low-to-middle-income communities of color, is putting on thirty-one bike tours this year, mostly on the South and West Sides.
These include neighborhood rides every Wednesday evening during the warmer months, organized with local nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and churches. “These rides are created with input from the people who live and work in these neighborhoods, so there’s a sense of ownership and involvement,” says Reed [a Streetsblog Chicago board member and occasional contributor].
The Chicago rides were inspired by Slow Roll Detroit, which was launched in 2010 by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool. The Motown events take place every Monday night and regularly draw about 4,000 participants for a relaxed, law-abiding pedal around the city. The Slow Roll movement has spread to several other U.S. cities, as well as three Swedish cities, Berlin, and even the city of Slemani, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Reed and his childhood friend Jamal Julien founded the Chicago chapter last September. “We envision bicycles as effective forms of transportation, contributing to reducing violence, improving health, and creating jobs in communities across Chicago,” states their website.
While Julien is a real estate managing broker, Reed is working full-time at organizing the many rides, each of which involves multiple partners and sponsors, as well as advocacy work and fundraising. He recently graduated from Roosevelt University with a degree in economics, and is trying to parlay his Slow Roll activities into a paying job. “When I graduated, I decided to give myself six months to grow the organization and get paid for it, and not have to find a job that would potentially take me away from this work.” he says.
In addition to organizing rides, Slow Roll Chicago has been involved in lobbying the city for a more equitable distribution of bike resources to the South and West Sides. “From protected bike lanes to Divvy, if we can have more community input and ownership of those projects, people will be more likely to use those resources,” Reed says. The group is also working on launching youth cyclocross and BMX teams.
The weekly Signature Ride Series is the cornerstone of this year’s Slow Roll Chicago agenda. These free tours generally meet at 6pm and depart at 6:30pm. So far, there has been a ride from Edgewater to Evanston, a “West Side Slow Roll Into Spring” that visited Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and “The Conservatory Ride: From the Glass to the Park and Back.” The latter event celebrated the full reopening of the Garfield Park Conservatory, four years after its glass roof was destroyed by a freak hailstorm.