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Black Cyclists Weigh in on the Recent Lakefront Trail Assaults

Kahari Black and D’Frantz Smart at the BLK Panel, held February at Blackstone Bicycle Works. Photo: Lynda Lopez

Last week, Streetsblog Chicago reported on three recent cases in early April in which cyclists were assaulted and robbed on the Lakefront Trail in Oakland and Kenwood. A police spokesperson stated that in response to the attacks, the 2nd District had stepped up beat patrols of the areas. After the article came out, D'Frantz Smart, a member of the 2wheelgods Black bike group and one of the organizers of the BLK Panel, a recent summit of African-American Chicago cyclists, posted the following statement in response to the news.

As a Black cyclist, I never feel completely safe. Unfortunately, on every ride I take alone or with my community, I carry the worries of getting hit by a car, run off the road, harassed by the police, or robbed and assaulted. These attacks on the South Lakefront trail add to the worry, but I understand these attacks are a result of a larger issue. Disinvestment in our communities leads to people having to make a way at any cost. To combat this, it is our duty to continue investing, in a non-capitalistic way, in ourselves and in our communities. This summer @2wheelgods and @partynoire will work to provide affordable bike options, bike maintenance education, and free group rides for our community. As the weather continues to get warmer, be safe and ride in love!

I reached out to Smart and other Black cyclists to get more of their thoughts on the recent incidents and other safety issues. “My first thought was how that experience may make people not feel safe on their bikes anymore, particularly people of color,” Smart told me. She said she hopes the assaults don't deter people from riding and added that the trail is still one of the safer places for cyclists in Chicago and that it's beautiful to ride on it during the summer.

Smart discussed incidents where she was endangered during group rides on streets. “People sometimes have tried to drive us off the road while berating us,” she said. She added that she feels people aren't used to seeing Black cyclists on the road, and there's a need to improve the relationship between people in cars and those on bikes.

Smart said 2wheelgods has tried to fill some gaps in resources and get more people on bikes, particularly people of color. She said there is power in group rides, which she’s helping to plan for this summer. “This news was a signal to do more work in my community and to activate more people on bikes."

In the wake of the attacks, some local cyclists have argued that a greater police presence on the trail would improve safety, but Smart said she doesn't share that view. “There are already too many police. It will just lead to more stop-and-frisk." Smart added that one way her group intends to promote safety is to make sure all the cyclists on their rides have reflectors. In addition, they are planning to check in with participants after the rides end to make sure they arrived home safely.

Kahari Black, another member of 2wheelgods, agreed that more policing of the trail isn't the answer. “I move around the city in places that are actually not safe,” he said. “How often are cyclists attacked by motorists on the road?”

Black did mention that he's worried about his mother because she lives near 47th Street and the lakefront, where some of the attacks happened, and he said he would be very upset if something were to happen to her.

However, Black said he doubts that young people went to the lakefront with the intention of robbing trail users. Rather, he said, the assaults may be a sign that local youth need more opportunities for recreation and other constructive activities.

And while there were three separate robbery cases on the Lakefront Trail within a week this month, Black said he believes that these may have been isolated incidents that shouldn't make people afraid to use the path. “I usually feel safe on the trail.”

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