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Support West Town Bikes at Chicago’s Ninth Annual Tour de Fat Festival

2015 TDF Parade Ride

The bike parade at last year’s Chicago Tour de Fat. Photo: West Town Bikes

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New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour de Fat, an annual celebration of bike culture and the most important fundraiser for West Town Bikes, will mark its ninth year in Chicago next month. The festival takes place on Saturday, July 9 in Palmer Square Park, 2200 North Kedzie, in the east side of the park instead of its usual spot on the west side of the green space. “It looks like it will be bigger and better than ever,” says Alex Wilson, director of the Humboldt Park-based bicycle education center.

The fest includes live music, theatrical performances and sideshows on many stages, a corral where you can test-ride freak bikes, and plenty of New Belgium’s craft beer, and all of the proceeds go to West Town, as well as CHIRP Radio, a local community radio station. “Last year was our biggest year ever, netting over $50,000 for West Town,” Wilson says. “This year we’re expecting to top that.”

Wilson noted that money from the Tour de Fat has been crucial for funding West Town-run after-school programs at six public schools along the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606. “The program started in spring 2015, but the Tour made it possible to continue it into fall 2015 and spring 2016,” he says.

These after-school bike clubs mostly included kids from grades 3-8. The students learned safe cycling, basic bike maintenance and repair, health and wellness, social and environmental responsibility. “Our goal was to encourage the students and their families to use The 606,” Wilson says. The car-free space was ideal for teaching the youth bike-handling skills.

“Ever since West Town opened in 2004, a major goal of ours has been to educate Humboldt Park residents about The 606,” Wilson says. “Now that the trail has come to fruition, there are concerns about whether those who advocated for the trail will be able to stay here and enjoy it, but that’s a conversation for another day.”

In addition to funding programming, fundraisers like the Tour are essential for bankrolling day-to-day operations at West Town. “It helps pay my salary and that of our administrative staff, as well as pay rent and utilities – things that keep the lights on,” Wilson says. “Most grants won’t cover these things, so events like Tour de Fat are really important to the livelihood of West Town Bikes.”

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Manor Greenway Could Become City’s Best By Cutting Cut-Through Motorists

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed its proposal to connect riverfront paths, reduce cut through traffic, and make it safer to walk and bike along streets in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. CDOT developed the plan for a “neighborhood greenway” between Horner Park and Ronan Park along the north branch of the Chicago River over the past two years, at the request of 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell, and the Transportation Action Committee she started.

I’ve been a member of the TAC since its beginning, and I know the plan well. While I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I think that Patty Wetli’s article in DNAinfo thoroughly captured the concerns people have.

The project was initiated because there’s a gap between two riverfront trails in Horner and Ronan Parks, and Ravenswood Manor residents have been complaining about cut-through traffic, motorists who roll past stop signs, and speeding, for decades. The neighborhood greenway plan includes redesigning a handful of intersections, laying down a short multi-use paths to connect the parks to the streets, and pilot what would be a pioneering traffic diverter.

Homes abut the river in Ravenswood Manor, so there is no public space along the river on which to build a trail. The neighborhood greenway  would be an on-street connection.

On the project’s south end, CDOT would build a small path in the park so people in the park could reach the start of the on-street route at the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Manor Ave. To create a safer crossing here, CDOT would build a concrete island with two waiting areas, one for people using the route, and another for people walking on the sidewalk. This way, people can cross one direction of traffic at a time. The island blocks left turns from Manor Ave. onto Montrose Ave. and left turns from Montrose Ave. to Manor Ave. would use a dedicated lane. CDOT would build a raised crosswalk across Manor Ave. to slow incoming motorists.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT

CDOT showed this rendering, looking north on Manor at Wilson, of how the traffic diverter would work. Previous proposals, presented to the TAC, used concrete to physically prevent vehicles from going straight. Image: CDOT

On the north end, CDOT proposed building a new, short trail on an extended parkway along Lawrence between Manor Ave. and the Ronan Park entrance. A traffic island that’s nearly identically to the one at Montrose would offer a safe waiting area for people to cross in two-stages. There would be another raised crosswalk here at the entry of the neighborhood greenway.

The neighborhood greenway’s on-street route would be the city’s third. The first was installed on Berteau Avenue in Lakeview in 2014, and the second, albeit without any infrastructure changes, was built on Wood Street in Wicker Park.

The best way to increase safety for people walking and biking on neighborhood greenways is to limit speed and reduce the number of cars. Manor Ave.’s speed limit is already 20 m.p.h. but residents had said it was common to see people driving faster. The neighborhood’s many families, a park and a ballet school, all mean that lots of children are crossing Manor Ave. Read more…

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How Can We Prevent Driverless Cars From Making Cities More Car-Dependent?

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A less-than-rosy view of autonomous cars from cartoonist Andy Singer.

For better or for worse, autonomous vehicles are likely to become an increasingly common part of the urban landscape. At last Friday’s Transport Chicago conference, a panel of transportation experts discussed the possible upsides of conventional cars being replaced by self-driving ones.

The greatest potential benefit would be getting rid of the most dangerous part of a car, according to the old joke, “the nut behind the wheel.” Assuming they’re designed well, autonomous cars would eliminate some of the safety problems associated with human operators, including speeding, red light running, and other types of moving violations, as well as distracted, drowsy, and drunk driving. This would likely result in a reduction in traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

The experts also argued that the new vehicles could potentially diminish the amount of pollution generated by cars, prevent traffic jams, and reduce the need for car parking. This is all true. But according to Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke, the panelists, who were all employees of transportation planning and engineering firms, glossed over some of the potential drawbacks of this new technology.

Active Trans, in partnership with Illinois Tech (formerly the Illinois Institute of Technology) will be hosting its own panel on the topic later this month:

Will Driverless Cars Be Good for Cities?
Monday, June 27
5:30 to 7 p.m.
565 West Adams, Chicago

In addition to Burke himself, panelists will include Jim Barbaresso from the planning firm HNTB, Sharon Feigon from the Shared Use Mobility Center, Ron Henderson from Illinois Tech’s College of Architecture. Tickets are $25.

Burke says the Active Trans panel will look at the possible pros and cons of self-driving cars and explore their potential impact on cities. “We decided to host this event in order to better inform our advocacy work,” Burke said. “We want to ask the questions the mainstream press is generally not asking: Is it possible autonomous cars could undermine biking, walking, and transit, and promote car dependency? Their potential safety benefits are exciting, but could they ultimately lead to more driving, not less?”

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Active Trans Is Running Chicago’s Action-Packed Bike Week This Year

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For the first time in a quarter-century, the Active Transportation Alliance, rather than the city, is putting on Chicago Bike Week, a full slate of fun events to promote transportation cycling in the region. “We’re providing the funding, producing the events, and involving the community partners,” says Active Trans marketing and events director Clare McDermott. “Basically, bringing it to the people.”

The advocacy group, previously called the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, organized the city’s first Bike Week in 1991, but the city government has run the event in recent years. “The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events was not going to do it again this year, and it was something we wanted to see continue, so we are happy to be able to do it again this year,” McDermott said. According to DCASE spokesman Jamie Lundblad, the city decided not to stage Bike Week as a cost-saving measure.

The department is not producing any other bike events this year, McDermott said. “But, of course, [the Chicago Department of Transportation] will continue to promote biking,” she added.

It’s impressive that Active Trans is staging Bike Week so soon after their successful Bike the Drive fundraiser on May 29, which required a massive amount of staff and volunteer work hours. They don’t yet have a final figure for the amount of money raised, but an estimated 20,500 riders participated. “We had a great turnout this year,” McDermott said.

The centerpiece of Bike Week is the annual Bike to Work Rally, which takes place on Friday, June 17 at Daley Plaza, from 7-9 a.m. Typically the mayor or a CDOT representative gives a sort of state of the union address at the event, touting Chicago’s latest bike achievement. A free breakfast will be served to cyclist, and there will be giveaways such as this year’s Bike Week T-shirt and other goodies from 28 participating vendors and sponsors.

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The Bike to Work Rally. Photo: John Greenfield

The Bike Commuter Challenge started today and runs all next week. Hundreds of companies from across the region are competing to see who can have the highest bike-to-work rate. Tips for newbie bike commuters are available at the contest’s website. “We want to make sure people have a good experience the first time, so they’re more likely to choose cycling as a fun, easy way of commuting,” McDermott said.

Tomorrow, June 11, from 6-10 p.m., the New Belgium Art Bike Program takes place at Galerie F, 2381 North Milwaukee in Logan Square. Although it’s not an official Bike Week event, New Belgium is Active Trans’ beer sponsor this year, and the proceeds from the event will benefit the advocacy group. The party will showcase work by local artist Sick Fisher, who created an art bike and a mural in collaboration with the brewery. Tickets are $15, including beer samples, a raffle ticket, and New Belgium schwag.

The Two Wheels, One City Ride takes place on Wednesday, June 15, at 6:30, leaving from Blackstone Bicycle Works, 6100 South Blackstone in Woodlawn. Slow Roll Chicago leads the ride, which highlights the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods, and cyclists of all backgrounds are encouraged to participate.

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CDOT Will Roll Out “Learn to Ride” Adult Bike Handling Classes This Summer

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An adult bike handling class taught by Dave “Mr Bike” Glowacz for the Active Transportation Alliance. Photo: Active Trans

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The city’s Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity program, which offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income Chicagoans, is a great opportunity for residents to enjoy the the mobility, health, and economic benefits of bike-share. But the big, blue bikes don’t do you much good if you don’t know how to ride or don’t feel safe navigating city streets on two wheels.

A new initiative from the Chicago Department of Transportation called “Learn to Ride” will address that problem. CDOT’s Bicycling Ambassadors outreach team will teach one-time, one-to-two-hour bike handling classes to adults every weekday for six weeks this summer in two locations on the South and West Sides. The schedule and the locations, which will be parking lots, will be announced in the near future, CDOT bike and pedestrian safety and education manager Charlie Short said yesterday at a meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

Divvy bikes, which are one-size-fits-all, slow, and easy to ride, plus helmets will be provided as loaners to class participants. In the future, the department may offer free helmets to class attendees, Short said.

“Something that we’ve heard from the folks that are [issuing the D4E memberships] is that people are curious about Divvy, and it’s certainly an appealing thing,” Short said. Over 1,300 people have signed up for the discounted memberships. “But there are folks who haven’t ridden a bike since they were a little kid, or they have a fear of riding. We want to make sure we are providing every level of service.”

There will space for 250 people to take the classes during the six-week period. “We’re not going to educate a whole lot of people, but there will be a 1:2 teacher-to-student ratio, so if you show up you will really get a hands-on-education for each class,” Short said.

If the initiative is successful, more classes may be added this year, or the program may be expanded next year, Short said. “It’s a pretty cool thing,” he said. “It’s something we’ve never done, but we know there’s a desire for it.”

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Purple Ride: Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass Pays Tribute to Prince

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Members of Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass at the Prince mural by Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

“I put her on the back of my bike and we went riding / Down by Old Man Johnson’s Farm.” – Prince, “Raspberry Beret”

OK, it’s true that the Purple One was talking about a motorcycle, not a bicycle, in that beloved pop song. And, sure, one of his biggest hits compared a lover to a “Little Red Corvette.” But there are plenty of photographs out there proving that the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson enjoyed cycling.

So it’s appropriate that Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass bike group paid tribute to the self-proclaimed “purple Yoda… from the heart of Minnesota” with a Prince tribute ride last Friday. They made a pilgrimage to a new mural in his honor on the side of an auto repair shop in the Avalon Park nieghborhood, and then pedaled east to purify themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, I mean Michigan.

South Side Critical Mass, a spinoff of the larger Chicago Critical Mass rides that leave from downtown, meets every third Friday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Nat “King” Cole Park, 361 East 85th Street, departing at 7, and drawing a mostly African-American ridership. For the Prince ride, they wore their finest purple garb and towed a sound system blasting songs like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Pop Life,” to the delight of passers-by.

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The full group at Nat “King” Cole Park. Danielle McKinnie and her sister Alisa Holman are in the center with T-shirt’s bearing Prince’s symbol. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

Danielle McKinnie, a technical trainer at Lurie Children’s Hospital, showed up for the cruise with her sister Alisa Holman, who made special T-shirts featuring The Artist’s mysterious symbol. McKinnie says the ride seemed like a natural way to honor the man whose music had brought them so much joy. “You know he rode his bike just before he passed away,” she noted.

From the park, the group pedaled in the 83rd Street bike lanes towards the mural, singing and grooving to the funky tunes while spectators waved and beeped their horns in approval. “People seemed pleased and a little surprised to see us out on our bikes, especially with the South Side having such negative connotations because of violence,” McKinnie said. “We always get that reaction – people are really happy to see us.”

They stopped by the mural at 8051 South Stony Island, painted last month by artist Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes in the wake of the legend’s untimely death. Prince appears as he does on the cover of the “Purple Rain” album, astride a violet motorcycle, but with angel wings.

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Moreno Announces Chicago’s First Affordable TOD Project in Logan Square

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Rendering of the planned affordable TOD, 2031 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Transit-oriented development is a sensible way to build housing. Creating dense housing within a short walk of transit stations, without a lot of off-street parking makes it easier for more people to live without having to own a car. It leads to fewer newcomers bringing autos into neighborhoods, which reduces congestion and pollution. And, since garage spaces cost tens of thousands of dollars to build, it saves money for developers, which can result in lower condo prices and apartment rents.

Unfortunately, in Chicago TOD has become associated with luxury. Virtually all of the dense, parking-lite towers that have been constructed since the city’s TOD ordinance passed in 2013 have been high-end buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods.

In Logan Square, anti-displacement activists like Somos (“We Are”) Logan Square have argued that new upscale TOD towers being built along Milwaukee Avenue near Blue Line stations will accelerate gentrification by encouraging other landlords to jack up rents. On the other hand, pro-TOD advocates such as the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which recently held a workshop on equitable TOD development, say that building more units in gentrifying neighborhoods can take pressure off the existing rental market.

For better or for worse, the poster boy for TOD in Chicago is 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, who sponsored the 2013 ordinance, which halved the city’s usual 1:1 parking ratio requirements for new developments within 600 feet of an ‘L’ or Metra station. City Council passed a beefed-up version of the ordinance last fall, which essentially waived the parking requirements completely for developments within a quarter mile of stations, a half mile on designated Pedestrian Streets.

Moreno, unlike most Chicago aldermen, insists that ten percent of the units in new developments in his Ward be on-site affordable housing, instead of allowing developers to take the cheaper route of paying into the city’s affordable housing fund, before he’ll approve zoning changes.

However, he’s come under fire from Somos Logan and other activists, who’ve held protests against upscale TOD developments like the Twin Towers and “L” on the 2200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue. They argue that to mitigate what they say will be the gentrifying effect of these projects, the developers should be forced to make 30 percent of the units affordable. And while the city defines affordable units as being affordable to those making 60 percent of the Chicago region’s area median income, the activists say the threshold should be lowered to 30 percent, to make the units affordable to the community’s Latino families.

To promote these goals, Somos and several other groups are holding a protest and march today called “Our Neighborhood is NOT For Sale / El Barrio NO Se Vende: Rally Against Alderman Joe Moreno and Luxury Development.” It starts at 11:30 at Moreno’s office, 2740 West North, and is ending at the twin towers, 2923 North Milwaukee.

The activists are also calling for a moratorium on rezoning for new luxury developments “until we can establish policy for truly equitable development in our community.” They also want to see the Chicago Housing Authority’s surplus for Project Based Vouchers to get more affordable units in luxury developments.

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Last month members of Somos Logan, Lifted Voices, and other groups barricaded Milwaukee to protest the Two Towers TOD project. Photo: Eric Cynic

So it’s probably not a coincidence that Moreno is holding his own event a couple hours later today to promote the city’s first 100-percent affordable TOD, an 88-unit, LGBT-friendly apartment building planned for the current Congress Pizza parking lot at 2031 North Milwaukee. From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. the alderman is hosting an open house at the site to release more details about the plan as the first step in the community review and approval process for the proposal.

Moreno’s office didn’t respond to an interview request I made yesterday, but it’s safe to assume that, as an affordable TOD located a four-minute walk from the Blue Line’s Western stop, it will have far less than a 1:1 parking-to-units ratio.

It’s not yet clear exactly what aspects of the tower will be LGBT-friendly, but it will likely have some similarities to the Town Hall Apartments in Boystown, which provide affordable senior housing geared towards the LGBT community, including onsite social social service providers. Low-income LGBT individuals often face housing discrimination and estrangement from family members who might otherwise provide support.

The Logan development is called the John Pennycuff Memorial Apartments at Robert Castillo Plaza, named after two men who were partners in life and activism, advocating for LGBT rights as well as affordable housing in Logan Square, according to Moreno. The project will be funded by tax-increment financing dollars, plus Chicago Housing Authority money.

It’s great to see that the TOD ordinance is finally being used to create a building dedicated to transit-friendly affordable housing. The Pennycuff apartments will make it easy for residents of modest means to get around without having to rely on driving, which will further reduce their living expenses.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Somos Logan spokeswoman Justine Bayod told me yesterday. “We consider any affordable development in Logan Square a win for our community.” She said Somos will send representatives to the open house.

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During His Musical Bike Tour, Al Scorch Discusses the Perks of Car-Free Gigs

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Al Scorch rides a bike decorated to look like the heart-pierced-with-swords emblem from his album cover, while towing his banjo and guitar. Photo: John Greenfield

In a Chicago Reader cover story this week, rising banjo star Al Scorch credits the local bike advocacy community with helping to launch his music career:

I played this show at the Hideout when I was 18. It was a benefit for Bike Winter, which is a winter-biking education advocacy group. One of my first communities in Chicago, before the music community, was the bicycle-­activism community around Critical Mass—in 2000 to 2004 or 2005. That and Rat Patrol [freak bike gang]. My world was bicycles – and it was simultaneously music.

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The bike procession passes by Horner Park at Irving Park and California. Photo: John Greenfield

On Saturday Scorch, who worked for years at West Town Bikes, gave a shout-out of sorts to the local bike scene. To celebrate the release of his new album of high-octane, five-string-fueled “country soul” music, entitled Circle Round the Signs, he led a bike tour of five local record shops. Scorch and his band hauled all their instruments – including banjo, fiddle, drums, and upright bass – by bike, and then did an in-store performance at each store.

Dozens of bike riders joined the group for a bike procession the size of a small Critical Mass ride. The turnout included double-decker tall bikes, chopper bikes with extra-long forks, a tricycle with a giant cooler box hauling beef and vegan tacos, and a pedicab blaring a house music remix of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

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Scorch’s drummer loads his bike outside Laurie’s Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Scorch hauled his banjo and guitar and a Fresh Air trailer while riding a bike decorated to look like one of the sword-pierced hearts from his album cover. During the leg of the tour I rode on, bystanders on foot and in vehicles gave a warm reception to the colorful parade.

As Scorch tuned his banjo before playing at Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Avondale, I buttonholed him for a quick interview about why he prefers to tour on two wheels.

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Celebrate The 606 at Its One-Year Anniversary Party Next Month

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The anniversary celebration will feature many processions like this one, which took place on opening day. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606, debuted last June 6th (6/06). The elevated greenway already seems like a Chicago institution, and it’s a little hard to remember a time Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park didn’t have a ribbon of recreational space running through them.

On Saturday, June 4, the Chicago Park District and the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the ongoing development of the path and access park system, are celebrating its one-year anniversary with The 606 Block Party. The festival will be similar to last year’s opening celebration, which drew an estimated 50,000 attendees to check out the new trail, a street party on Humboldt Boulevard, live music, and parades along the path.

“It was no small task to turn an unused rail line into a green, open space – with a network of parks, art installations and community programming that supports recreation, education, and wellness,” stated Jamie Simone, who took the reins of TPLs regional office after director Beth White recently stepped down to lead a parks group in Houston. “The 606 Block Party is our way of thanking the communities, partners and donors who helped build this beloved Chicago park and make it a success.”

The opening of the Bloomingdale has helped spur a wave of upscale along the trail corridor, and some longtime residents have expressed concerns that rising property values, property taxes, and rents may price them out of the area. However, TPL noted in the news release for the anniversary celebration that, in addition to the trail’s massive popularity as a recreational resource, there have been a number of positive milestones on the trail in the past year year:

  • The installation of Chakaia Booker’s “Brick House 2015” sculpture
  • Star-gazing events with the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago Park District at the observatory at the path’s western trailhead
  • Youth ambassadors from West Town Bikes promoting bike safety on the path
  • Moos Elementary School students participating in an after-school running club
  • Quarterly celebrations and community events with Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

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Trying Out New Roll-on Bike Service on the Hiawatha Line to Milwaukee

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Maybe “Hoist-on service” would be more accurate, but simply handing your bike to an Amtrak worker is much more convenient than boxing and checking it. Photo: John Greenfield

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This morning as officials cut the ribbon for roll-on bike service on Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains, a whole new set of destinations that can easily be accessed without a car opened up for Chicago and Milwaukee residents.

While the Hiawatha line has allowed passengers to check boxed bikes as luggage for years, it’s a relatively expensive and cumbersome affair. There’s a $10 surcharge each way, the boxes are $15 if you purchase them from the railway, and then you have to dissemble your bike and box it up on each leg of the trip.

Now passengers can pay a mere $5 surcharge each way and simply roll their bikes up to the baggage car, where a staffer will hang it on a vertical bike rack. The one-way adult fare for the Hiawatha Service is $25, with discounts available for ten-ride tickets and monthly passes.

Reservations are required for the roll-on service. To reserve a space for your bike, select “add bike” when booking your trip online, on the phone at 800-USA-RAIL, or when using the ticket counters or the Quik-Trak SM kiosks at both stations. Only standard-size bikes are permitted.

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Bikes in the baggage car — some were more festive than others. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday I rode Metra to Kenosha, Wisconsin, with my bicycle (one-way weekday fare from the Ravenswood stop was $9) and then pedaled some 40 miles to Milwaukee for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by a dozen or two local bike advocates.

“We have worked with [the Wisconsin Department of Transportation] by thinking ‘out of the box’ and mounting 15 bike racks in the [baggage car] on each of the Hiawatha trains,” said Jim Brzezinski, Amtrak’s senior regional director for state corridors. “This will make bringing your bike along on these trips more welcoming and get you on your wheels and pedaling away immediately after arrival.”

“No assembly required, starting now for bicyclists,” said John Alley, WisDOT’s transit, local roads, railroads & harbors manager. “This saves our bicycling passengers money and makes their everyday journeys or vacation trips to explore Milwaukee and Chicago so much easier.”

When the folks with bikes approached the baggage car, Amtrak employees cheerfully hauled their cycles onboard. I was asked to remove my panniers beforehand.

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