August 14, 2019, Scooters in an unjust city: There’s a war in our streets, and we don’t even know it, Equiticity, PRINT
Olatunji Oboi Reed
“Man, what the fuck is y’all in the streets for, man? Don’t y’all know it’s a fucking war going on, man? Get the fuck in the truck, man.”
—Snoop, “The Wire,” Season 03, Episode 10
Congratulations, Mayor Lori Lightfoot: Welcome to the mayorship of our famed city, where racial inequity is structural, systemic and institutional. Where black and brown people are dying every day at the hands of structural violence. Where we are constantly surrounded by racism, oppression, bias, corruption, poverty and violence.
After many decades of segregation and disinvestment, a stark lack of racial equity in the distribution of resources, combined with health care disparities, unemployment, poverty, over-policing and lack of mobility, has disproportionately undermined the development of more livable neighborhoods for black and brown residents of our city.
Today, we are on the brink of a transportation revolution in our society. Capitalists and bureaucrats fight feverishly and unfettered for total control of our streets. This new revolution is fed by growing urban centers, the rising tide of cycling, an influx of dockless bikeshare, inevitability of electric bikes, shared mobility, autonomous vehicles and emerging transportation technologies.
Then, the scooters came to town. And people lost their collective minds.
The scooters on our streets today and the dockless bikeshare bikes from last summer’s pilot program represent the clearest, visual examples of the disruption seeding a tectonic shift in the transportation sector in Chicago and throughout the U.S. Free-floating scooters and bikes on our sidewalks, as well as the increase in scooters and bikes in traffic on our streets, is alarming, jarring and scary to some of us.
Naturally, people are resistant to change and are fearful of the unknown. While continuing to actively ask how this new transportation revolution may harm people and neighborhoods, we should also ask how do we ensure black and brown people are not harmed and are in fact benefiting from these new transportation technologies?
Olatunji Oboi Reed
Who got my back
In the line of fire holding back?
What? My peoples if you with me, where the fuck you at?
Niggas is strapped and they’re tryna twist my beer cap.
—Method Man, “Triumph,” Wu-Tang Clan
How do we win the war of owning increased mobility in our neighborhoods in ways which are racially equitable, fair and just? How do we win the war of contested leadership for the delivery of increased mobility in our neighborhoods in ways which are respectful, cultural and contextual?
Our approach, and collective success, hinges on the critical importance of creating systems change, as we are not at all interested in simply symptomatic change. This coming transportation revolution requires an equally disruptive shift in developing and implementing policy, and the tactical distribution of transportation resources in our city and neighborhoods.
The Equiticity Racial Equity Movement recommends for our mayor policies and tactics designed to establish our city as a global model for operationalizing racial equity and creating a new mobility system that is transformative, safe and secure for black and brown people.
1. Policy recommendations:
• Formally adopt The Untokening 1.0 – Principles of Mobility Justice.
• Develop a comprehensive racial equity policy in full partnership with black and brown people representing disinvested neighborhoods and disenfranchised communities.
• Pass, then sensibly and fairly implement, comprehensive racial equity legislation, driven by achieving racially equitable outcomes.
• Create a transportation master plan for the city of Chicago, informed by a racial equity framework and the residents most adversely impacted by the racial inequity within the transportation sector in our city. This master plan must be developed and implemented to address the needs, history and culture of black and brown neighborhoods, and ensure the full suite of mobility options are at our doorstep.
• Mandate all companies and organizations operating on the public way or that have a contractual relationship with the city of Chicago to publicly adopt specific, internal racial equity policies and practices, which are evaluated based upon achieving predetermined racial equity outcomes.
• Increased mobility that is free of police violence requires the total transformation of the Chicago Police Department, dismantling structural racism, undoing implicit racial bias, rooting out corruption and aggressively prosecuting police abuse at this broken institution. Sign a federal, court-enforced consent decree, rescind the contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, establish a truly autonomous and representative civilian police review board with subpoena and termination power, and train all officers in anti-racism and racially implicit bias.
• Make police enforcement and automated enforcement racially equitable, through the removal of racial inequities in traffic stops, ticketing, arrests and fines. Completely end the regressive fine structure associated with traffic enforcement in Chicago, and instead implement a citywide sliding-scale fee structure, based on a person’s income level.
• Explicitly remove police enforcement as a strategy from the Vision Zero Chicago traffic violence reduction plan, due to the risks of increased police traffic stops in our neighborhoods further criminalizing our communities and the potential abuse or worse that comes with this criminalization of black and brown people at the hands of CPD.
• Legislate the removal of aldermanic prerogative. The question is not “Do we invest in increased mobility in neighborhoods?” The question is “How do we invest in increased mobility in our neighborhoods?” The mayor, aldermen, community leaders and residents should work in partnership to develop a connected, seamless, citywide mobility system, equitably serving black and brown neighborhoods.
2. Tactical recommendations:
• Name a commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation who is black or brown and fully committed to implementing a comprehensive racial equity policy.
• Create open street events in black and brown neighborhoods that help people re-imagine their streets and promote mobility, place, community, socialization, health, safety, security and economic development.
• Create a comprehensive, connected network of barrier-protected bicycle/scooter lanes in black and brown neighborhoods and throughout Chicago, which reflect our needs, history and culture. Making our streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders requires a massive commitment to investing in new, improved, creative, innovative mobility infrastructure and streetscape engineering.
• Invest equitably in community-based and social enterprise models for delivering increased mobility in our neighborhoods, where racial equity is prioritized from the beginning.
• Establish a coalition of shared mobility companies operating in Chicago, purposed with developing a “safe streets” marketing campaign focused on changing the dangerous behaviors of drivers, cyclists, scooter-riders and pedestrians.
The immense mobility needs in our neighborhoods are the result of systematic, significant and sustained disinvestment. There exists a clear and direct correlation between geographic mobility and social mobility. For these reasons and more, we offer our mayor the above recommendations, designed to achieve full, unfettered, citywide mobility for black and brown people in Chicago.
Yes, we embrace and support scooters, bicycles, dockless bikeshare, public transit, shared mobility and all the various forms of mobility on our Chicago streets.
Mayor Lightfoot, this is an exceptional opportunity to prioritize racial equity and increased mobility in transforming lives and improving the condition of black and brown neighborhoods.
Make an authentic, sincere commitment to these recommendations, and in the process, we will join you on the battlefield.
Together, we ride for freedom.
Olatunji Oboi Reed is president and CEO of Equiticity in Chicago.