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Want to spread the word about healthy, sustainable, and fun transportation options? CDOT’s SAFE Ambassadors are hiring

The program, which launched in the early 2000s with a focus on bicycling, now covers a wide range of ways to get around Chicago safely.

SAFE Ambassadors at an elementary school last year. Photo: CDOT

This post is sponsored by Keating Law Offices.

For many years now, the Chicago Department of Transportation's Streets Are For Everybody (SAFE) Ambassador have helped create better conditions for walking, biking, scootering, riding transit, and driving in our city.

The initiative started in the early 2000s under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley as Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors. A few years ago the program broadened its mission to include other modes. In fall 2022, CDOT Director of Outreach and Engagement Romina Castillo began overseeing the team.

Locations where SAFE Ambassadors events took place this year. Image: CDOT

"Throughout the years, CDOT’s education and engagement team has been rebranded and rebooted multiple times, but it upholds the same core values and mission: to educate all Chicagoans on how to walk, bike, scoot, take public transit, and drive safely," stated the 2023 SAFE Ambassador Final Report. "We are proud of how the SAFE Ambassadors program has grown and we are excited to continue expanding our reach and impact across the city."

"Since I came onboard, I've also been advocating within the department and empowering our ambassadors to be part of other projects besides just specific bike and ped," said Castillo. "During meetings, now that our ambassadors have expertise on recording, filming, social media, we're able to leverage that expertise and support the program in a much broader scope."

2023 accomplishments of the SAFE ambassadors. Image: CDOT

According to Castillo, SAFE Ambassadors collaborate with many different organizations across the city, such as block clubs, schools, and the Chicago Park District. When it comes to schools, the ambassadors usually visit second and fifth grade classrooms, focusing on teaching safe practices for kids to follow when walking or biking. They also provide information on safe driving.

A scene from the ambassadors's Safe Learn to Ride Program. Photo: CDOT

"They're not the driving age, but they are aware of those behaviors like good, safe behaviors on the road, and how they can encourage that to adults," said Castillo. "And then [they can practice those behaviors themselves] in high school. We also present to driver's ed classes. So again, trying to reach younger Chicagoans as soon as possible."

The SAFE Ambassadors also teach high school students about new infrastructure that outdated driver’s ed books might not cover, such as and raised crosswalks and contraflow ("wrong-way") bike lanes. They also advise the students to keep a proper lookout for people on foot and bike to help prevent crashes.

The new raised crosswalk by the Garfield Park field house. Photo: John Greenfield

The SAFE Ambassadors are currently hiring for both full-time and part-time seasonal positions. According to Angel Montalvo, an employee of the Active Transportation Alliance advocacy group who's been a consultant with the program for over a decade, the job typically attracts many students who are interested in urban planning and transportation engineering.

Montalvo said its helpful to have Chicago natives and people from a wide range of backgrounds on the team. CDOT is also looking for folks who are passionate about engaging with residents and improving our city's quality of life. The ability to work with both children and adults is key. And, of course, being willing to get to appearances by sustainable transportation is one of the job requirements.

"We make transportation fun," said Montalvo. "Most people take how they get around in public space for granted. What we offer is a different perspective, that getting around could be fun... [Becoming] a casual [bike] rider and commuter is easy to get into when you have the information."

Montalvo concluded that the ambassadors are "a group of individuals that is passionate about people's safety, but also just passionate about engaging with people. And just going out there and being with the community, and having fun... That's just who we are."

Click here if you’re interested in learning more about the job and possibly applying.

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