Gentrification and Bike Lanes : Green Lane Project Has Four Lessons

Background Reading


Chicago ChainLink Forum provides a great chance to take the temperature of the racial climate in Urban Cycling. To be honest the city itself has a very long history of segregation both of the racial and ethnic types. This is not all bad, at least in the sense that over time you develop a strong sense of community that permeates the rich and diverse food scene of the city, the beer manufacturing, and social scenes. But the dark side of the situation comes when you realize that if Chicago Critical Mass is to announce a ride on ChainLink there is an obvious display of fear from those participants who are willing to ride but unsure of the reception they are likely to get.

Add to this the very strong sense of paternalism of the installation of Protected Bike Lanes and the outrage some of the ChainLink denizens showed when residents of the South and West Sides complained about the fact that such lanes were in essence interfering with Sunday church parking. One respondent took to call the Alderman names because he could not “control” his constituents. During an interview with a cycling advocate on the GridChicago blog it became clear that the protestations of citizens in these areas were not welcomed. And all you have to do is contrast this situation with the recent  one in Wrigleyville (nearly all white) to suddenly realize that when it comes to their communities white members of the Chicago ChainLink Forum have no limits to which they will not go to have their way. And anyone who contradicts their notions is immediately dispatched to Internet Hell.

This is racial hypocrisy at its finest.

Finding A Better Way

It is unlikely that Chicago will change any time soon. The bigots have the upper hand in the local Urban Cycling scene. They plan to keep things as they are and now that they have their own StreetsBlog Chicago close to hand, they can pollute the rest of that network with whatever viewpoint they see fit to push.

What will make it most difficult for Chicago’s cycling activist community to do is see itself in a dispassionate way. I believe that they are largely convinced of their lack of bigotry. But you could have said that of Southern Klansmen who did not see much wrong in the murders of three Civil Rights Activists simply because the feedback they got from their community was always positive. That is the way it is here in Chicago. If you are a member of the inner circle at Active Transportation Alliance or Chicago ChainLink Forum you quite likely to have no one surrounding you who has an inkling of how far afield your racial views are likely to be.

I call this being tone deaf. But to be fair this problem extends to more than just race. The Chicago Urban Cycling Community does not have much use for suburbanites, automobile drivers, or parking lots. Their view of the world is so stilted in political rhetoric as to make you wonder if any of them really has a handle on what makes the world go ’round.

The folks from Portland seem to have begun to try and deal with these sorts of issues. Michael Andersen writes:

When a protected bike lane project collides with decades of racism and anger, what’s a bike planner to do?

In more and more towns, it’s a shared dilemma. The rebounding prosperity of America’s central cities has driven the biking boom and also accelerated gentrification of black neighborhoods – including in the country’s whitest major city, Portland.

Last month, Oregon announced a $1.5 million state grant that will pay for the reconstruction of Portland’s busiest bikeway, North Williams Avenue, to include a protected green lane – one that runs through the heart of a historically black neighborhood.

It was a victory for a project that seemed, two years ago, to have been completely derailed by issues related to race and racism. I talked to the project’s manager, the recently retired Ellen Vanderslice, and to Debora Leopold Hutchins, chair of the citizen committee that selected it, to find out how the two women carefullly addressed, then overcame, the racial issues that might have killed the search for a safer, better street.

Here are four lessons Vanderslice said other cities could learn from her experience.

I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what the four lessons are. Instead make it part of your required reading to glance at this blog entry. You will not be disappointed. In the meantime I will go back to tilting at the “ChainLink Forum Windmill“. There are days when one wonders if anything will come of this, but someone needs to speak out. A group like this cannot ever learn of itself if there is no pushback.

As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

— Benjamin Franklin