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Leaders from West and South Sides discuss safety

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In our conversations this fall with community leaders from Vision Zero high crash areas on the West and South Sides of Chicago, the leaders consistently called for more infrastructure investment in their neighborhoods.

Active Trans reached out to several community-based organizations after we cancelled our Vision Zero Summit planned for September. Several partners were concerned the event wouldn’t be inclusive so we wanted to take more time to speak with additional community-based organizations.

To date, Active Trans has met with the following groups to discuss traffic safety and Vision Zero in Chicago: Austin Coming Together, Breakthrough Ministries, Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (BUILD), Garfield Park Community Council, Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, Teamwork Englewood, West Town Bikes, Westside Health Authority, and Working Bikes.

If you know of another organization interested in talking with us about traffic safety, please let us know.

The city’s Vision Zero Action Plan identified eight areas that experience significantly higher rates of traffic crashes that cause death and serious injury than Chicago’s average.

Apart from the Downtown High Crash Area, all these communities also experience high economic hardship. Many of them are suffering from decades of disinvestment and population loss – much of it a result of structural racism and other forms of discrimination.

The leaders we spoke with acknowledged they’re working on a range of issues in their communities, and traffic safety is generally not near the top of the priority list. Several of them have recently gone through or currently manage local planning processes in which transportation is one of the focus areas, such as LISC Chicago’s Quality of Life planning work.

Through these processes they speak directly with residents to better understand their transportation priorities.

Local transportation perspectives varied somewhat by neighborhood, but some consistent themes emerged from our conversations:

  • Concerns about personal safety affect transportation choices. Many residents are reluctant to walk, bike and use transit more often because they’re concerned about their personal safety, especially at night. Several leaders cited how gang boundaries can isolate vulnerable groups, particularly youth and seniors.

  • Infrastructure improvements are needed. People support more investment in local streets and sidewalks, especially traffic calming upgrades like refuge islands at popular crossings. Safe routes to local transit stations should be prioritized.

  • Traffic enforcement is necessary, but shouldn’t be abused. There are a limited number of people driving recklessly, making streets less safe for everybody. Traffic laws should be enforced, but not in a way that increases the financial burden on low-income families. Traffic stops also shouldn’t be used as a guise to unfairly target people of color and investigate other potential crimes.

The leaders talked about the links between transportation and other priority issues on the West and South Sides, such as job access, public safety and public health.

Moving forward, Active Trans is planning to work with these groups and other partners to fight for more investment in high crash areas and safer streets for all. We continue to push the city to establish a Vision Zero fund in the city’s annual budget to implement the action plan and provide additional resources for capital projects on high crash corridors.