Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on February 6th, 2014 at 10:58 am
(Photo: Steven Vance.)
Can a Portland-brewed program that uses free events, maps and T-shirts to get people informed and enthused about biking and walking work on the inner south side of Chicago?
With the help of two experts from Portland’s top bike planning firm and two advocates in Chicago’s Bronzeville community, the City of Chicago is trying.
In the first pilot of a new initiative this fall and spring, Chicago gave Alta Planning’s Jessica Roberts and Cathy Cibor three months and $200,000 to create a customized, temporary version of Portland’s Smart Trips program in a mixed-income, overwhelmingly African-American community where bikes have never been a big part of city life.
The results, Bronzeville advocate LaKeisha Hamilton said, are showing that though the sticking points may be different — one bundle of T-shirts had to be redesigned after organizers realized a six-pointed star was a local gang symbol — biking is an idea too powerful for this community to ignore.
It’s a story that could return lessons to Portland, too.
(Photo: Steven Vance.)
Hamilton, 36, had once lived in Bronzeville and now lives in an adjoining neighborhood. But she was confused when she heard the city was looking to hire two community members to distribute free information about biking, walking and public transit.
“It was like really? Bronzeville? Really?” she said in an interview last week.
One of the oldest African-American communities in the northern U.S., Bronzeville was a hub of black culture from the 1910s onward. Today, it’s also the site of cultural collision between well-off black people moving into its historic homes near downtown Chicago and longtime black residents, many of them low-income.
It’s not, Hamilton said, a place where low-car transportation is often seen as desirable.
But Hamilton was won over, she said, by seeing the area’s two aldermen, both black, riding bicycles regularly.
“They’re actually on their bike — they weren’t just talking,” Hamilton said.
So Hamilton, who also works as a Japanese instructor and manages a local after-school program, took a temporary, part-time $15-an-hour job as a community ambassador for “Go Bronzeville“, working with Alta’s Portland-based program managers and an organizer from Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance.
With her collaborator Ronnie Harris, a third-generation Bronzeville resident who also lived car-free in Sweden before returning to his hometown, Hamilton used the program as a chance to talk to everyone she could about the benefits of building biking and walking into daily life.
Almost everyone they spoke to was skeptical at first.
“With Ronnie and I being of African-American descent, we really looked people in the eye and said, look, we’re not going to argue with you about this,” Hamilton said. “We have obesity in our community. We have diabetes. We need to make some changes.”