Who would you pick for Chicago’s Bicycle Mayor?

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Bycycle Mayor Summit 2017, Amsterdam. Left to right; Anna Luten (Amsterdam), Areli Carreón (Mexico-City), JP Amaral (Sao Paulo), Nikita Lalwani (Baroda), Sarah Imm (Sydney). Photo: BYCS

Fortunately Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was elected on a bike-friendly transportation platform. That included promises to earmark $20 million a year for bike and pedestrian safety infrastructure; install 100 miles of bikeways, including 50 miles of protected lanes; and end the Chicago Police Department’s stated practice of using bike ticketing in communities of color as a pretext for searches.

But who would you choose as Chicago’s Bicycle Mayor? That person would become the official standard-bearer for efforts to harness the power of the power of cycling to make our city safer, more equitable, healthier, more environmentally responsible, more efficient, more prosperous, and more fun.

Recently BYCS, an Amsterdam-based international non-profit “advancing urban and environmental solutions through cycling programs and community driven change,” contacted Streetsblog Chicago for our input on who should represent Chicago as they grow their Bike Mayor Network in North America.

“We need to ensure our cities are more liveable and ready for the challenges of the future,” BYCS’s Bicycle Mayor brochure states. “But the changes required are simply not happening fast enough. We believe that the bicycle is key to transforming this. We believe every city can benefit from having a catalyst representing cycling progress to unlock this potential. We call these Bicycle Mayors.”

According to BYCS, Bicycle Mayors can help unite residents of their city to make positive changes. “They bring creative diversity with new insights and approaches, from both inside and beyond the world of bicycle planning professionals or the political establishment. They are the human face and voice of cycling in a city.”

The idea is to create a global network of Bicycle Mayors who can raise the profile of transportation cycling and share ideas, with the moonshot goal of reaching the point where 50 percent of all city trips across the planet are made on bike by 2030, which they call “50×30.” To give you an idea of how ambitious that is, a little over a third of all trips are currently made by bike in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, often cited as the world’s premiere biking cities, whereas a mere 1.7 percent of Chicagoans using biking as their primary work commute mode.

A bicycle mayor leads a ride in an Indian city. Photo: BYCS
A bicycle mayor leads a ride in an Indian city. Photo: BYCS

Here’s what Bicycle Mayors around the world have been up to, according to BYCS:

  • In Mexico City, Mexico, Areli Carreon “is taking action against social and political challenges through the leadership of cycling activists. Big visionary and festive events are showing the wide-ranging benefits of cycling for a car-centric city.”
  • In São Paulo, Brazil, JP Amaral “is organizing workshops with local policy makers to help implement global cycling knowledge into the mega-city context. On the same time he is working with businesses to implement a Bike to Work campaign.”
  • In Baroda, India, “Nikita Lalwani is breaking the commuter caste system and motorized-traffic domination; role modelling equality and everyday cycling for everyone.”
  • In Keene, New Hampshire, Tiffany Mannion “is creating awareness around safety and cycling in a community-based region whilst also working with influential policy makers across the country.”
  • In Sydney, Australia, Sarah Imm “is changing attitudes in one of the most hostile cities for bicycling. Partnering with the state police, the state and local government, she is establishing the state’s first Bike Bus Program for her children’s school.”

Learn more about the Bicycle Mayors program here.

When BYCS contacted me, my immediate thoughts were that the Bicycle Mayor position is an opportunity to elevate the work of a person or people in Chicago who are already using cycling to promote mobility, health, economic opportunities, and public safety in low-to-moderate-income communities on the South and West sides. The Chicago bike advocacy community has historically been dominated by white men and has been most active in wealthier neighborhood on the North Side, so I recommended choosing a person of color, ideally a woman.

BYCS also reached out to Oboi Reed, who runs the local mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity, and when we later touched base, it turned out Red’s and my opinions on the subject were nearly identical. “My overall suggestion is that your organization focus on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people in the Americas doing great work around cycling,” Reed said in an email to BYCS he shared with me. “Given the engrained structural racism in the bicycle advocacy community in the US and the pervasive mobility inequities we experience here, it will be critical that your work uplift the voices directly taking on these intense and embedded challenges.”

I don’t represent the official Streetsblog Chicago position on this, however, and SBC cofounder Steven Vance’s opinion is a little different than mine.

Whoever you think would make the best Chicago Bicycle Mayor, there are several ways you can speak your mind. Email BYCS at connect[at]bycs.org. Tweet at them at @BYCS_org. Leave a comment on this post and we’ll pass it along. And don’s hesitate to nominate yourself for the position by clicking here. May the best candidate(s) win!

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