Bicycle Diaries: Chicago traffic taming

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5.7.07

Chicago traffic taming

...where would Jesus park?

Three weeks ago, the Chicago Reader ran a fascinating article on its front page. Fascinating not only because it must be one of the shortest ever published by the infamously long-winded paper. But it also illustrates the pernicious race & class issues lurking just beneath the surface of bike advocacy.

The lead begins, Church parking—some of it blatantly illegal—complicates a plan to free up Chicago’s boulevards for cyclists. It then goes on to describe the continuing efforts of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation to launch a Sunday Parkways program on the west side. From a health standpoint, from business, from community building, from reducing pollution, it’s an incredibly dynamic model, says the CBF’s executive director, Rob Sadowsky.
Last summer, the CBF tried to launch Sunday Parkways, a car-free program based on the Via Recreativa and the 70-mile Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia, which is 20 years old and in some weeks draws two million people. The CBF proposed closing off seven and a half miles of west-side boulevards connecting Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Garfield Park, and North Lawndale every Sunday from May to October.

...But the CBF had neglected some crucial allies: the churches.
For those unfamiliar with the City of Big Shoulders, the west side is predominantly Latino and economically disadvantaged. And biking isn't as popular there as it is in the more well-off, predominantly white neighborhoods.
One is Armitage Baptist Church, on Kedzie Boulevard two blocks south of the Logan Square monument at the intersection of Kedzie, Milwaukee, and Logan Boulevard. It draws some 2,000 people on Sunday mornings, for five masses in three languages. A lot of those people drive to church, and a lot of them park their cars on Logan and Kedzie boulevards. Not just along the narrow service lanes, either, but on the boulevards, right where the CBF envisioned thousands of cyclists meandering freely.
Over the years, CBF has attempted to get residents rolling though with mixed results. That's why I found this article rather surprising. Why shut down streets in neighborhoods where fewer folks roll than let's say, Lakeview or Lincoln Park, two of the city's most upscale and white neighborhoods where a most of the Lycra crowd lives?
“It was like cold water in our face, because they were planning this without telling us anything,” says Antonio Gomez, pastor of the church’s Spanish-speaking congregation. Sadowsky acknowledges a failure of outreach. “There are a lot of churches along the route, and it took a long time to communicate what was going on to all of them,” he says.

The thing is, signs make it clear that no parking is allowed at any time in the fast inside lanes of the boulevards—not for churchgoers or anybody else. But on Sunday those signs are blatantly ignored and the righthand lanes are clogged with parked cars. “Basically, they’re parking illegally,” says Alderman [Ray] Colon. “I call it the pray-and-park policy. It’s a courtesy that is provided to the churches, sort of informally. I’ve been here since ’67 and it’s always been in place, and I’m not gonna be the one to break the cycle.”
Here you have a local neighborhood institution that has worked out an effective, if unofficial, traffic calming compromise with the Chicago Police Department. Imagine the traffic if church goers were to trawl around for legal parking before services.
Antonio Gomez knows his parishioners aren’t parking legally on the boulevards, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with it. “Sometimes we get ticketed and we go to the police station and we explain we’re from the church, and they say, ‘It’s OK, just give us the tickets back,’” he said. “I don’t know if you can call it fair or not fair. We as a church are very involved in the community. It’s just an agreement that we have.”
Also, imagine if the CBF tried to shut down the busy streets of Lakeview or Lincoln Park.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous theboy said...

Whatever happened to "render unto Caesar"?

It's interesting, though not decisive, that Gomez has people driving from other states to attend his church. Two thousand people show up for services.

Strikes me that he's running a pretty successful business, and I don't really understand why he thinks that it's not up to him to provide parking for his customers.

It's really tremendously cool that CBF is putting this together.

7/7/07 01:31  
Blogger Eugene said...

This is blatantly racist. There was no explanation as to why they aren't trying to get into the whitey neighborhoods. Admitedly, no outreach.

And F**K Ceasar. That's mighty arrogant of you to say such a thing! You act like you are speaking for the church. Do you have some sort of superiority complex. I'm offended, and I'm not even a Christian.

CBF sounds like a good organization, but these folks are obviously "institutionally racist" at the very least.

9/7/07 17:52  
Blogger Ridwan said...

Hey there Bro.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

I am amused by how the bike activists are mostly ignorant of the racism at play here.

No different than here in Portland though.

The assumption is always that bike advocacy is progressive, holistic, and good for anyone.

They mostly ignore that biking, and its contemporary advocacy, is primarily a white preoccupation.

What goes for advocacy here in Portland, like the WNBR for example, often erases the struggle issues that face so called
'minorities' or communities of color.

The Chicago case again demonstrates this unfortunate truism.

In these terms, it is hard not to see the bicycle and its advocacy
as situated in a kind of
neo-middle class(ism) and racism.

In effect, whiteness is merely deployed around a bicycle by its white advocates.

The bicycle in these terms is a racist and classist projection.

For this reason, those cars, and their 'backward' occupants', are not just incidental irritants.

That would be too simple.

They represent, in historically unequal terms, a clash of race and class values.

A radical reorientation of this kind of bike advocacy would have to delink its interests from historical, and hegemonic whiteness.

The failure to do so will continue to raise the same kind of race and class animosities.

Anything short will in effect keep folks of color away and even hostile.

Here in Portland there is a place on Alberta Avenue that makes refurbished bikes available to low income and "kids at risk."

The latter category is duplicitous liberal speak for Black and Latino/Chicano kids.

Now you could say that such a center defeats my argument.

Not true though.

I will leave aside the politics of a white managed bike community center in a part of town where Blacks are being 'unsettled' by white gentrification.

What I want to raise is the manner in which this 'community' project assumes the pathology of the racialized Other.

This is in effect a management of racist stereotypes replete with the cementing function of white agency.

And who really benefits from this kind of manipulation in a structural sense?

Certainly not folks of color.

The Chicago case is different in facts but really the same in function.

In either case, racism persists and the bicycle is merely incidental to the interests at play.

So, I can't say that I am surprised.

Communities of color do not exist inside of these kinds of
manipulations.

Peace and struggle,
Ridwan

9/7/07 20:10  
Blogger Eugene said...

Bicyclists, like vegans, seem to get this attitude of "holiness" by simply riding a bike or not eating meat. In my activism, I have had to face off with MANY vegans who were holier than me because I eat meat. But, as I pointed out to them; "Being vegan doesn't make you holy, it only makes you vegan." Being a bicyclist doesn't make you holy, it only makes you a bicyclist.

11/7/07 05:18  

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