Active Trans Celebrates Cool Regional Transpo Projects at Its Yearly Gala

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Ron Burke, left, with members of Bronzeville Bikes. Photo: Steven E. Gross

The Active Transportation Alliance gave shout-outs to several groundbreaking local initiatives at its annual awards ceremony, held on Tuesday in Revolution Brewing’s taproom. The advocacy group lauded complete streets projects in Batavia and Elgin, new trails in the Cook County Forest Preserves, bike advocacy in Bronzeville, and the Divvy bike-share system.

Maybe there’s something in the Fox River’s water, but both of the riverside suburbs have recently built groundbreaking streetscapes. Last year, the City of Batavia transformed a one-block stretch of River Street, on the east bank of the Fox, into a car-lite, people-friendly zone, inspired by Dutch-style woonerfs or “living streets.” The street layout blurs the line between pedestrian and vehicle space, encouraging drivers to proceed with caution, and creating a more pleasant environment for walking, biking, shopping, and relaxing at sidewalk cafes.

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Gateway to River Street in Batavia. Photo: John Greenfield

“Most of the on-street parking has been removed, and the design invites people to wander or cross the area wherever they desire,” Active Trans director Ron Burke noted during the ceremony. “It’s very pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and it invites street closures for various activities. The absence of curbs leaves more space for planters, seating, and art.”

Elgin, another western ‘burb that the Fox River Trail runs through, opened the Riverside Drive Promenade in August. This was the last 1,500 feet of downtown riverfront to be redeveloped, stretching from the city’s main library to a riverboat casino. The $13 million walkway project included a new section of bike path, traffic calming on the adjacent street, permeable pavers, and bioswales. Canopies shaped like shuttlecocks provide shade for people relaxing on the waterfront.

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Elgin’s Riverside Drive Promenade under construction. Photo: the city of Elgin

“This project highlights the beautiful Fox River, while rolling out the red carpet for people walking and biking,” Burke said “It’s loaded with environmentally friendly features, as well as river overlooks and shady spots to sit down and linger.”

The Cook County Forest Preserves have a number of exciting trail projects in the works. Last month, they opened a new, one-mile segment of the North Branch Trail, between the Chicago Botanic Gardens and the Green Bay Trail and Metra’s UP-N Line. A southern extension of the trail, from Devon/Caldwell to Foster/Kostner, is planned, although it’s facing opposition from neighbors.

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Proposed route for the southern extension of the North Branch Trail.

In the southeast corner of the county, the forest preserve is connecting the Thorn Creek Trail to both the Burnham Greenway and the Old Plank Road Trail. Other paths are being developed at the Orland Grassland and the Oak Forest Heritge site. “Perhaps the forest preserve’s most significant step forward was the beginning of construction on the west half of the new Calumet-Sag Bicycle Trail,” Burke said.

The community group Bronzeville Bikes was recognized for its work promoting cycling in the historic South Side community known as “The Black Metropolis.” Starting in 2013, they’ve organized weekly bike rides highlighting the neighborhood’s history, art, and sustainability efforts, as well as free repair sessions at the Bronzeville Community Garden.

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The Bronzeville Bike Box. Photo: Melissa Manak

This year, the group opened the Bronzeville Bike Box, a mini cycle shop housed in a 20-foot shipping container. They also put on the Bronzeville Spoketacular this summer as part of a Metropolitan Planning Council placemaking contest, featuring repairs, safety lessons, a ride and, best of all, free ice cream. “Up until the launch of the Bike Box, people in the area did not a have a place to bring their bikes for repair,” Burke noted. “The shop is now getting, on average, about 25 visitors a day.”

Finally, Active Trans saluted Divvy, which has seen about 2.9 million trips in the past six months. The system will be expanding from the current 300 stations to 545 stations next year, including locations in Evanston and Oak Park. “During its first year in Chicago, Divvy has done something amazing,” Burke said. “It has transformed transportation in Chicago. Thanks to Divvy, using a bike in Chicago on a daily basis is suddenly much easier and more affordable for a lot more people.”

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