CHICAGO — Some bicycle advocates were left frustrated after the city’s first Chicago Mobility Collaborative meeting last week.
The meeting — meant to give bicyclists and pedestrians a chance to communicate safety concerns with officials — repeatedly disallowed chatting among participants, was scheduled during hours when many people work and had few opportunities for people to participate, some attendees said.
It was the first public meeting from the group — and it came more than two years after the city’s previous bike safety committee abruptly stopped meeting and as Chicago is seeing the highest number of traffic-related deaths and injuries in years. The meetings are being organized by the Chicago Department of Transportation as the city tries to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.
“It is difficult for me to convey just how angry I am,” Kyle Lucas, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago, said after the meeting. “I just spent the last hour and a half listening to bulls— that proves [CDOT] hasn’t done their homework.
“It’s offensive. They’re getting paid for this; I’m not.”
CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder said agency officials expect “the format of the meetings will evolve” with time, and they are using a survey to get feedback from participants. About 200 people attended.
Bicycle advocates had worried ahead of the meeting that it wouldn’t be accessible since it was held 3-4:30 p.m. Thursday, when many people would be working.
“Why is this meeting during typical work hours?” asked attendee Charna Albert.
The city’s last bicycle safety group — the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council — would also meet in person during work hours and didn’t record meetings for those who couldn’t attend.
Christina Whitehouse, founder of Bike Lane Uprising, had asked officials to hold the Bike Advisory Council’s meetings after typical work hours, record them and provide a virtual way for people to watch and attend.
But nothing’s changed, and the Chicago Mobility Collaborative is on a similar schedule: quarterly meetings during work hours, Whitehouse said. She had to take off work to attend Thursday’s meeting, as did other attendees.
CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi said the meeting had “awesome turnout,” but she acknowledged “it’s not easy to find a little bit of time in the afternoon to join one more Zoom call.”
“… But it’s so important that we’re here,” Biagi told attendees. “What we’re really trying to do here is create a bigger tent, a big intersectional tent for talking about the issues that we all care about, that we’re all thinking about, working on, that we all share in common.”
Biagi asked participants to “center” themselves at the start of the meeting as they held a moment of silence for cyclists and pedestrians killed by drivers in the past year.
Attendees were then asked to participate in breakout groups where they talked about their vision for safe streets and what they hope to take away from the meetings.
“Safe streets to me mean that I, a wheelchair user, has the same clear security/pathway as a walking pedestrian without having to go one-plus blocks out of my way,” said attendee Rachel Wiesbrock, of Legat Architects.
David Powe, director of planning at the Active Transportation Alliance, said he was there to learn how CDOT and the state were working together to improve safety and equity on the road.
Kate Lowe, a faculty member in urban planning and policy at UIC, said she happy to see familiar faces at the meeting, but she was “worried that there’s a lot of the usual folks” who are involved in conversations around bicycle and pedestrian safety. She said she’d like there’d be a plan for making the meetings inclusive and “broaden[ing] the tent of stakeholders.”
“I’m skeptical about what this process will accomplish if CDOT has not taken the time to listen to the criticisms that have already been given to them about their public engagement,” he said.
Participants also had issues using the online meeting’s chat function. It was unusable at the start of the meeting; when that was pointed out, one of the city’s facilitators said they’d have that fixed.
The chat was briefly fixed during the meeting’s first breakout session, but it was disabled again while CDOT representatives gave presentations. It returned during another breakout session.
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