Winter is Coming: Scooters Wars, Racial Equity, and Mobility Justice in Chicago

Yeah, I ain’t no suit-wearin’ businessman like you. You know I’m just a gangsta, I suppose. And I want my corners.
— Avon Barksdale, HBO's The Wire, Season 3, Episode 6

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To help support the City of Chicago’s efforts to increase mobility, operationalize racial equity, reduce congestion, and increase revenue through fees associated with ridesharing companies, we call on City of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to extend the current Chicago scooter pilot through at least November, move the pilot program to a permanent program, and require both the city, the scooter systems, and the Divvy bikeshare expansion to achieve explicit racially equitable outcomes.

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As the season has shifted from summer to fall, many systemic challenges are facing our beloved Windy City. Here we find ourselves, with a looming teachers strike, an $838 million budget shortfall, the Chicago Police Department’s continued racial inequities, and the list goes on.

Then, there is a pressing matter of another issue that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle - the ever changing mobility landscape in our city. Increased mobility in our neighborhoods is critically important for connecting Black and Brown people to jobs, health care, schools, social life, and civic engagement. At the foundation of our work is the fundamental understanding that increased mobility in our neighborhoods will contribute to reducing violence, creating jobs, and improving health.

There exist extensive, academic research which shows that Black and Brown people receive fewer benefits and experience a greater proportion of harms from transportation than other groups. In Chicago and nationally, Black and Brown people are more likely to be victims of traffic violence. We experience longer commute times, relative to white people. Our children experience higher incidences of asthma when living within 250 feet of highways, which are disproportionately located in neighborhoods with significant concentrations of poverty and Black and Brown people. Cyclists in Chicago’s majority Black neighborhoods still receive higher rates of bicycle citations, relative to majority white neighborhoods.

As Black men, born and raised in the city we love, we are riding for racial equity and mobility justice in Chicago. We inherently know mobility is key to navigating a changing landscape in our society. While scooters are just technological devices, they represent the notions of greater accessibility and increased mobility, for Black and Brown people to move freely throughout our beautiful city.

Now that we have a new Mayor, that is attempting to “bring in the light”, she will be challenged by old thinking and customary ways of how the City of Chicago works.

The vast gulf in resources and density has been a failure of former and current policies that keep our neighborhoods without the transportation-related programs, infrastructure, services, and opportunities, nor the safe and desirable space for Black and Brown people to sustainably explore where we live, work, and recreate.

In this Chicago, racial inequity is structural, systemic, and institutional. A city like no other, where Black and Brown people are dying everyday at the hands of structural racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias.

May we re-imagine mobility and place in our city? We may and we do.

What is required for re-imagining how our city operates? Racial equity and mobility justice as formal policies.

Chicago’s permanent scooter program, and an expanded Divvy bikeshare program that serves the full City, along with improved transit, traffic safety, and congestion mitigation strategies, represent the most immediate and ideal opportunities for Mayor Lightfoot to express the City of Chicago’s operational commitment to racial equity and mobility justice. Chicago is the model city for the new micromobility paradigm shift spreading across the country and around the world. Chicago should serve as a global model for innovating around transit and implementing creative strategies to reduce both traffic violence and traffic congestion in an urban environment.

By investing in and partnering with neighborhood organizations, the city and the scooter companies will find innovative ways for leveraging their resources to increase mobility for those most adversely impacted by systemic mobility inequities, find timely solutions to important safety concerns, and support local businesses and economic development opportunities.

Sincere, equitable, and impactful engagement is done in full partnership with community-based organizations. Scooter systems will not ride in front of community organizers, instead they will ride behind us, as we lead the work of generating neighborhood demand for increased mobility, ensuring a fair and just distribution of mobility resources. This reflects an authentic commitment to racial equity and mobility justice - all designed to help reduce violence, improve health, and create jobs in Black and Brown neighborhoods here in Chicago. Using mobility and place to improve our neighborhoods will require the collaborative efforts of community-based organizations, city agencies, and transportation companies.

The current scooter pilot in Chicago began on June 15, 2019. Since then, the City announced it has seen over 675,000 scooter rides in over three months, equating to over 3 trips per vehicle per day. This is an impressive number of trips for such a new mobility option in our city. However, what we find more relevant, from a racial equity perspective, is where these trips are occurring. For example, Lime released a report after their first month of operation that showed nearly 40% of their trips started or ended in areas the City has designated as “priority zones” -- areas which are predominantly Black or Brown and the City has identified as lacking in Divvy service and other transit options. While ridership in Black and Brown neighborhoods is still racially inequitable, relative to predominantly white neighborhoods, data from the current scooter pilot does prove that increased investment in mobility will help improve racially equitable outcomes for a permanent scooter program.

The data we’ve seen from cities and scooter systems across the country shows about a third of all scooter trips are car replacement trips. Should these numbers hold up in Chicago, over 220,000 scooter trips in the city’s current pilot thus far would have otherwise been taken in a personal car on in a ride hailing vehicle. This new transportation option has great potential in bringing transformative sustainability outcomes to our neighborhoods.

The first step to achieving a sincere, authentic, and operational commitment to racial equity is clearly establishing shared, common, unified language around racial equity. An example is Equiticity’s Racial Equity Statement of Principle (draft version), which defines and envisions racial equity, while also describing the guiding principles making up a comprehensive, uncompromising, and full-throated racial equity policy framework.

For all of the reasons above, we call on Mayor Lightfoot to extend the current Chicago scooter pilot through at least November and move the pilot program to a permanent program by March 2020, and require both the city and the scooter systems to achieve explicit racially equitable outcomes.

Collectively, we offer Mayor Lightfoot the following recommended strategies to establish a permanent, long-term scooter program in Chicago, reflecting the city’s expressed commitment to racial equity and mobility justice:

  • Formally adopt Equiticity’s Racial Equity Statement of Principle.

  • Formally adopt The Untokening 1.0 - Principles of Mobility Justice.

  • Extend the current scooter pilot through at least November 2019.

  • Move the pilot program to a permanent, long-term program by March 2020, with a citywide scale and increased fleet size.

  • Require both the city and the scooter systems to achieve explicit racially equitable outcomes, such as geographic access to scooters, increased ridership, LMI-focused membership programs, car replacement trips, and increased socio-economic mobility.

  • 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 further criminalization of Black and Brown people at the hands of CPD.

  • Given that mobility and enforcement are inextricably linked, end the ongoing racial inequities at the Chicago Police Department, ensuring Black and Brown people are free of police violence, over-policing, and racial profiling.

  • Given the potential for increased mobility in our neighborhoods to accelerate gentrification, establish aggressive, comprehensive policies and legislation to increase affordable housing and to arrest gentrification, supported by the city’s budget line item dollars.

  • Create and invest equitably in open streets events and other related mobility programming in Black and Brown neighborhoods, which help people re-imagine our streets and promotes mobility, place, community, social cohesion, collective efficacy, health, safety, security, and economic development.

  • Invest equitably in community-based education and safety events and programs in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

  • Create and invest equitably in a comprehensive, connected network of barrier-protected bicycle/scooter lanes in Black and Brown neighborhoods and throughout Chicago, reflecting the needs, concerns, history, and culture of Black and Brown people. Making our streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter riders requires a massive commitment to investing in new, improved, creative, and innovative infrastructure.

  • Invest in a coalition of shared mobility and micromobility 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.

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Complete the Sign-On Support Form and Letter Here

We fully support an extended scooter pilot and an expanded permanent scooter program, designed to equitably achieve full, unfettered, citywide mobility for Black and Brown people here in Chicago.

No, we are not downtown, suit-wearing, paper pushing bureaucrats. We are racial equity tacticians and mobility justice activists. And, we demand increased mobility in our neighborhoods.

Yes, we embrace and support scooters, bicycles, dockless bikeshare, public transit, micromobility, and all the various forms of shared, active, or sustainable mobility on our Chicago streets.

May our collective journey to freedom continue.

- By Olatunji Oboi Reed, President & CEO, Equiticity
and L. Anton Seals Jr., Lead Steward, Grow Greater Englewood

Complete the Sign-On Support Form and Letter Here