CDOT Will Let Equiticity CEO Speak About Racially Biased Bike Ticketing at MBAC

Equiticity's Oboi Reed says city officials promised to solve the problem but failed to do so.

A cyclist rides on Independence Boulevard in North Lawndale, which saw about 80 times as many bike tickets last year as Lincoln Park. Photo: John Greenfield
A cyclist rides on Independence Boulevard in North Lawndale, which saw about 80 times as many bike tickets last year as Lincoln Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Update Thursday, March 1, 9 AM: After the publication of the article below, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey provided the following statement. “The agenda was in fact already full and closed when CDOT staff received [Equiticity CEO Oboi Reed’s] request to discuss this issue. When it came to [Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld’s] attention, she overruled CDOT staff and we are making changes to the agenda so that there will be time allotted to discuss it.” Claffey clarified via phone that time will be scheduled during the meeting for Reed to speak about the ticketing issue.

The mobility justice organization Equiticity is calling on supporters to wear all black to next week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting to protest what they say is a failure by the city of Chicago to stop police from concentrating bike tickets in Black neighborhoods.

Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski reported that, almost a year after she first uncovered massive discrepancies in the number of bike citations written in African-American communities versus majority-white ones, new numbers show that little has changed. For example, in 2017 police wrote 397 bike citations in North Lawndale while – for the second year in a row – only five tickets were issued in Lincoln Park. Community members and bike advocates say the focus on ticketing cyclists in Black neighborhoods appears to be an excuse for stop-and-frisk policing that would otherwise be illegal.

After the second Tribune report came out, Equiticity CEO Oboi Red, who also cofounded the bike equity group Slow Roll Chicago, blasted the city for the lack of progress in a long thread on Twitter detailing advocates’ efforts to confront the ticketing problem. He discussed how he and other Black transportation advocates met in September with staff from the mayor’s office and Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. Reed said the officials said they’d been surprised by Wisniewski’s first report on inequitable bike ticketing, and assured him that the problem had since been resolved and officers were no longer concentrating citations in African-American communities.

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Oboi Reed. Photo via Equiticity

In his tweet storm, Reed noted that he had previously called on the city to eliminate additional traffic policing in communities of color from consideration as a Vision Zero crash prevention strategy in light of the CPD’s well-documented problems with civil rights abuses, but the city officials turned down that request at the September meeting. “Now we have evidence of continued inequities at CPD,” he tweeted. “Yet, the mayor insists on including a police enforcement strategy in VZ Chi. We call this structural, systemic, institutional racism.”

Today Reed announced on Facebook that he recently requested time on the agenda of the next Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, on Wednesday March 7, from 3-4:30 p.m. in City Hall in Room 1103, to discuss the bike citation issue, but was told the agenda was already full. The agenda (posted here) does not mention any discussion of the ticketing problem. Ten minutes are allocated for reports from the five MBAC community representatives, including Slow Roll Chicago staff member Romina Castillo and Deloris Lucas, leader of the Far South Side bike group We Keep You Rollin’, which is partnering with Equiticity on a bike library project. A mere five minutes are scheduled for public comment.

In response, Reed created an Equiticity Facebook event called “Ride for Racial Justice at the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council,” asking supporters to show up early for the meeting (the room only holds a few dozen people and is usually close to full) and wear all black to protest the continuing issue of bike tickets being concentrated in African-American neighborhoods. “Ride with us to demand racial equity, increased mobility and racial justice in our communities,” he posted. “Ride with us to declare racism, bias, paternalism and inequity will not be tolerated in our city.”

CDOT has not yet responded to an inquiry on whether Scheinfeld or another city staffer will discuss the citation issue during the meeting.