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Not Just Greasy Kid Stuff: Active Trans Hosting Family Biking Series

Rebecca Resman

Rebecca Resman bikes with her daughter Sloane. Photo: Oren Miller

As dozens of my friends with young kids demonstrate, becoming a parent doesn’t mean you have to give up your car-free or car-lite lifestyle. An upcoming three-part series on family biking presented by the Active Transportation Alliance and Chicago Kidical Mass aims to provide families with the info and encouragement they need to keep pedaling through pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.

“Ultimately, we want to normalize cycling, and one of the best ways to do that is getting more women, children and families on bikes,” explains Active Trans’s Rebecca Resman. “We’re confident that this series is going to lead to more biking families.” Here’s the schedule for the free seminars:

Resman and her husband Zeb regularly transport their two-year-old daughter Sloane and two-month-old son Max via a Dutch-style bakfiets (“box bike”) cargo cycle. “That always yields a lot of looks, a lot of smiles, and a lot of questions,” she said. “I get a ton of questions from people who are interested in taking the plunge and bike with their kids, but don’t know where to start.”

Each of the educational sessions will focus on a different phase of family cycling, with a 30-40 minute presentation, followed by breakout sessions for Q & A. Besides Resman, presenters will include Active Trans’ Jason Jenkins, plus parents Anika Byrley, Jennifer Wilson, Kevin Womac, Emily Ransom, Jane Healy, and Julie Caddick Kaufield.

The seminar on biking while pregnant will help future moms decide whether cycling during pregnancy is right for them, including an examination of different opinions from experts and parents. The session will also cover different styles of bikes (step-through frames can be helpful), riding positions, and saddles. “Like many things when you’re pregnant – sleeping, eating, and walking – it’s all about making you feel comfortable, emotionally and physically,” Resman said.

She kept biking until the 21st week of her pregnancy with Sloane, and cycled until two days before Max was born. “For me, biking was absolutely more comfortable than walking with my stomach bouncing around.” Getting fresh air while cycling can also be helpful for women experiencing morning sickness, she said. “And, unlike on the CTA, it’s nice to know that there’s always going to be a seat available for you on your bike.”

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The Way Forward: Gas Tax, Vehicle Miles Traveled, or Value Capture?

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Blankenhorn, Skosey, Puentes, and Porcari. Photo: Ryan Griffith Stegink, Metropolitan Planning Council

Local leaders agree that Chicago region’s public transit system, and Illinois transportation infrastructure in general, are sorely underfunded. However, it’s clear that the traditional strategy of relying on gas tax revenue to fund projects is no longer working. The state gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents a gallon since 1990, and due to inflation, the buying power of the revenue it generates has fallen over the past few decades.

Given the fact that Governor Rauner plans to cut almost $170 million from state funding for Chicagoland mass transit, and gas prices that are at their lowest point in years, it’s time for lawmakers in Springfield to show some backbone and approve a gas tax increase. Meanwhile, we need to consider creative ways of funding rail, roads, and bridges, such as a vehicle miles traveled tax and real estate value capture.

Transportation experts discussed these topics earlier this week at a panel titled “The Long and Winding Road,” part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s symposium for Infrastructure Week 2015, “Broke, Broken, and Out of Time.” Panelists included former U.S. Department of Transportation deputy secretary John D. Porcari, the Brooking Institute’s Robert Puentes, and the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey. The Illinois Department of Transportation’s acting secretary Randy Blankenhorn moderated.

“Are we going to continue to fund infrastructure with smoke and mirrors?” Blankenhorn asked. “Are we going to continue to fund transportation on cigarette taxes and gambling? Let’s talk about user fees versus some of these more innovative or different types of revenue streams.”

Porcari argued that the political courage and innovation for raising money for transportation projects is more commonly at the local and state level nowadays, and not the federal level. “There a number of states that have raised the gas tax, indexed it, added new funding sources, used sales tax for transportation revenues, and they’ve all lived to tell the tale,” he said. “Those governors have actually survived.”

Puentes, pointed out that it’s not just Democratic states that are raising their gas taxes, but also Republican states like Wyoming. “So I think there is a myth that the gas tax is unpopular,” he said. “[Former Governor] Ed Rendell said that when they raised the gas tax in Pennsylvania, not one legislator who voted for the increase lost their election in the next cycle.”

Puentes noted that it’s easier to raise gas taxes at the local or state level than at the federal level. “The lower you get, the bigger the connection, a brighter line between the money that’s being raised, the projects that are being invested in, and then the [economic] outcomes at the end of the day,” he said. “People are willing to invest if they know what they’re getting.”

However, Porcari asserted that depending on gas tax to pay for roads, bridges, and rail won’t be sustainable in the long run. “That’s arguably a good thing, in the sense that what’s driving that are things like efficiency in the corporate average fuel economy and electrification of the fleet. Those are important for the nation but are accelerating the decline of [the gas tax] as a stable funding source.”

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Residents: Car-centric Plan for Vienna Beef Site Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

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The meeting took place in the cafeteria of the Vienna Beef hot dog factory. Photo: Brett Ratner

Last night at a hearing on Mid-America Real Estate Group’s preliminary proposal to redevelop the Vienna Beef hotdog factory site, local residents said they don’t relish the thought of valuable riverfront land being slathered with acres of asphalt. The community meeting, served up by 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, took place at the sausage emporium, 2501 North Damen, which will be razed as part of a Chicago Department of Transportation project to reroute Elston Avenue.

The developer wants to convert this eight-acre-plus parcel at the northeast corner of the current Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection to suburban-style big box retail and office space with 437 car parking spaces. CDOT is relocating Elston about a block east of the junction, a strategy they hope will take a bite out of the intersection’s red-hot congestion problems.

The new Elston link will likely feature buffered or protected bike lanes. Plans for the site also call for some new green space, which would provide storm water mitigation, although nowhere near enough to make up for the vast amount of non-permeable surfaces created by the multiple parking lots. As required by a local ordinance, the developer would build a short stretch of river walk just east of Damen, which could potentially include a kayak launch and a water taxi station.

Waguespack said extending the river walk all the way to Fullerton would be contingent on the acquisition of the smaller land parcel to the east of the Vienna Beef property. He said that space would work well for an “REI-type” outdoor recreation gear store. There already is an REI store at 1466 North Halsted, two miles southeast. “We want a plan that will benefit the whole community,” the alderman said. “We want to find ways to capture that space and use it in ways that haven’t been done before.”

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IDOT Has Added Two More Chicago Stops to Their Listening Tour Today

Two weeks ago, Steven Vance pointed out that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s listening tour regarding Governor Rauner’s proposed state transportation budget, which includes Draconian cuts to public transit, had only one Chicago stop scheduled, at an event with a $75 admission charge. Partly in response to Steven’s post, the department has added two more stops in the city today that are free to the public, a source tells me.

The first listening session, featuring IDOT’s acting secretary Randy Blackenhorn, took place this morning at the Metropolitan Planning Council Infrastructure Week event, which has the admission charge.

A free event, hosted by the Illinois Hispanic Chamber at the Primera Engineers offices, 100 South Wacker #700, just started at 11 a.m. Although the IDOT website says the event is at capacity, if you’re in the vicinity, it might be worth dropping by to see if there’s some room due to no-shows.

The second free session takes place at 2 p.m. today at the Chicago Urban League, 4510 South Michigan, 1st floor conference room, and it should have room for more attendees.

If you can’t make it to either of the free events, IDOT is still accepting public input via a short online survey.

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Hellish Big-Box Proposal Would Nix Traffic Flow Gains From Elston Reroute

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Mid-America’s proposal would cover most of the former Vienna Beef site with parking spaces.

There are many productive ways Chicago could use the hump of centrally located, riverfront land that’s becoming available for redevelopment as part of the reconfiguration of the Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection. The space, currently occupied by the Vienna Beef factory, could accommodate another light industrial business, pedestrian-friendly retail space for local merchants, an apartment complex, and/or some new parkland. Instead, what’s being proposed is a worst-case scenario of suburban-style development that would cover most of the land with asphalt, and likely cancel out any congestion improvements that would otherwise result from the reroute.

The six-way intersection currently sees about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranks among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. Delays to drivers at the junction can be as much as seven minutes, CDOT said. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’re moving Elston about a block east and bypassing it through the land at the northeast corner of the six-way, which was also formerly occupied by WhirlyBall. Construction is slated to begin next month, with the bulk of the work finished by next spring.

WhirlyBall has already relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and Vienna Beef will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport. Now, Mid-America Real Estate Group is proposing building 105,000 square feet of retail space, with a whopping 437 parking spaces on the site. Preliminary renderings show a layout in which the vast majority of the site would be occupied by surface parking spots.

Mid-America wants to bring in a national grocery chain that would occupy a roughly 68,000 square feet of retail with 192 parking spots. Other buildings shown on the company’s drawings include 12,000 and 6,000 square-foot retail spaces, a three-story office building with 15,000 square feet of floor space, and a 4,000 square-foot restaurant. A spokesman for 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack told DNAinfo that the eatery would be that noted bastion of support for LGBT rights, Chick-fil-A.

It’s true that the stretch of Elston between Fullerton and Diversey is already lined with pedestrian-hostile, suburban-style retail, and there are also big box stores north and east of the river from the Vienna Beef site. It’s also the case that many Logan Square, Bucktown, and Lincoln Park would welcome a new a place to buy groceries.

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Mega Mall Developer Adds Housing, Reduces Number of Car Parking Spots

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Motorists driving into and out of the parking garage would disturb people walking up and down the street. Rendering: Terraco/Antunovich Associates

The company that’s redeveloping the Discount Mega Mall site in Logan Square has released a reworked proposal that adds much needed housing and dials back the number of car parking spaces, which makes the project a better fit for the walkable, transit accessible neighborhood. Terraco Real Estate and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack are hosting a public meeting on the development, dubbed Logan’s Crossing, at the Mega Mall on Thursday, May 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Terraco originally proposed a low-rise building for retail use, including a medium-sized grocery store and a two-story fitness center, zero residences, and 426 parking spaces at the site, which is located one long block southeast of the Logan Square Blue Line stop. The latest proposal adds several stories to the development to make room for 268 residences, and has 387 parking spaces – 39 fewer than before.

In general, the city’s zoning rules require a 1:1 ratio of car parking spaces to housing units for new buildings, but the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance reduces this to a 1:2 ratio for developments within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. However, Logan’s Crossing will be about 1,000 feet from the ‘L’ station, so it’s not eligible for the parking requirement reduction. This means there will need to be one parking space per unit, regardless of whether the occupants own a car.

Terraco’s first proposal provided more car parking than required, and the addition of 268 residences and the reduction in parking spots means the ratio of people to cars on the site would be much improved. However, 387 car spots may still be excessive for this location, in a walkable, bikeable area with the lowest car ownership along the Blue Line, the sixth-busiest Blue Line station, and good bus access.

The TOD ordinance has generally been working out well – it has spurred the development of nearly 20 multi-family buildings near CTA stations. However, the short distance threshold is problematic, since 600 feet is less than one standard city block. Most people are willing to walk several blocks to access rapid transit, and a couple of blocks to get to a bus stop.

The ordinance hasn’t been updated to reflect that reality. It doesn’t even offer a smaller reduction in the number of required spaces for developments located more than 600 feet from rapid transit. An exception to the 600-foot rule, however, is made for developments on Pedestrian Streets – these projects can be up to 1,200 feet from stations and still be eligible for the 1:2 ratio.

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Slow Roll Launches Weekly Series to Promote Biking in Communities of Color

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Participants in the “West Side Slow Roll Into Spring.” Photo: West Humboldt Park Development Council

[This article also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Slow Roll Chicago is helping to bridge Chicago’s geographic divides,” says cofounder Oboi Reed. “We’re getting people from all over the city to show up for rides that are not in their neighborhoods.” The group, whose focus is getting more people on bikes in low-to-middle-income communities of color, is putting on thirty-one bike tours this year, mostly on the South and West Sides.

These include neighborhood rides every Wednesday evening during the warmer months, organized with local nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and churches. “These rides are created with input from the people who live and work in these neighborhoods, so there’s a sense of ownership and involvement,” says Reed [a Streetsblog Chicago board member and occasional contributor].

The Chicago rides were inspired by Slow Roll Detroit, which was launched in 2010 by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool. The Motown events take place every Monday night and regularly draw about 4,000 participants for a relaxed, law-abiding pedal around the city. The Slow Roll movement has spread to several other U.S. cities, as well as three Swedish cities, Berlin, and even the city of Slemani, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Reed and his childhood friend Jamal Julien founded the Chicago chapter last September. “We envision bicycles as effective forms of transportation, contributing to reducing violence, improving health, and creating jobs in communities across Chicago,” states their website.

While Julien is a real estate managing broker, Reed is working full-time at organizing the many rides, each of which involves multiple partners and sponsors, as well as advocacy work and fundraising. He recently graduated from Roosevelt University with a degree in economics, and is trying to parlay his Slow Roll activities into a paying job. “When I graduated, I decided to give myself six months to grow the organization and get paid for it, and not have to find a job that would potentially take me away from this work.” he says.

In addition to organizing rides, Slow Roll Chicago has been involved in lobbying the city for a more equitable distribution of bike resources to the South and West Sides. “From protected bike lanes to Divvy, if we can have more community input and ownership of those projects, people will be more likely to use those resources,” Reed says. The group is also working on launching youth cyclocross and BMX teams.

The weekly Signature Ride Series is the cornerstone of this year’s Slow Roll Chicago agenda. These free tours generally meet at 6pm and depart at 6:30pm. So far, there has been a ride from Edgewater to Evanston, a “West Side Slow Roll Into Spring” that visited Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and “The Conservatory Ride: From the Glass to the Park and Back.” The latter event celebrated the full reopening of the Garfield Park Conservatory, four years after its glass roof was destroyed by a freak hailstorm.

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Rauner’s IDOT Listening Tour Only Includes a Sprinkling of Cook County Stops

Bruce Rauner at the MPC 2014 annual luncheton

Rauner at a Metropolitan Planning Council event last year. Photo: MPC

Cook County represents 41 percent of Illinois’ population yet only three of the 30 scheduled stops on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s upcoming listening tour regarding Governor Rauner’s proposed state budget will take place in the county: two in suburban Cook County and a single meeting in Chicago.

Rauner has proposed a budget that slashes funding for transit service across the state, which would impact everything from the CTA ‘L’ and Pace suburban buses to the transit systems of downstate cities. Meanwhile, the Republican governor wants to actually increase spending to build new roads.

The proposed fiscal year 2016 budget has reduced operating assistance for the Regional Transportation Authority and its three operators – the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace – by $100 million, and funding for downstate transit providers by $93 million. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has calculated that the $100 million that would be cut from the RTA is equivalent to the total operations costs for the Orange, Brown, and Red Lines.

IDOT spokesperson Guy Tridgell said the department is working on scheduling an additional Chicago stop. That’s good because the only meeting scheduled in the city is part of a Metropolitan Planning Council Infrastructure Week event, which has a $75 admission charge. “These aren’t intended to be formal public hearings, but rather sessions that allow us to participate in variety of venues throughout Illinois to discuss infrastructure challenges our state faces,” Tridgell said.

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke said the priority isn’t expanding the low number of Cook County sessions. “There are many ways in which IDOT and the state have historically short-changed metro Chicago, but let’s not read too much into how IDOT distributes their listening tour.”

Burke added that the region needs IDOT and the governor to do more, not less, to meet the Chicago region’s transportation needs.” His list of essentials includes:

  • A capital bill for transportation funding with a large share for transit
  • IDOT truly embracing the state’s complete streets law with policies that support walking and biking
  • Safety overhauls for the state arterial roads where a large percentage of Chicagoland traffic injuries and fatalities take place
  • Multi-modal transportation solutions for projects like the redesigns of North Lake Shore Drive and I-290

For those who cannot attend one of the 30 listening events, IDOT is accepting public input via a short online survey.

Meetings

May 13, 8 a.m. at an Infrastructure Week event ($75)
Union League Club of Chicago
65 W. Jackson Blvd.

May 13, 11 a.m. hosted by the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
TBA

May 13, 2 p.m. at the Chicago Urban League
4510 S. Michigan Ave., 1st floor conference room

Updated April 29 to include details of the newly and already scheduled Chicago meetings.

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Active Trans Hopes to Create New Bike Commuters With City Cycling Classes

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Former Active Trans cycling instructor Dave “Mr Bike” Glowacz teaches a class on Elston. Photo: Active Trans

To help coax the key “Interested but Concerned” demographic to try urban bike commuting, the Active Transportation Alliance is launching a monthly series of City Cycling classes at its downtown headquarters, 9 West Hubbard.

“To be honest, I wish something like this had existed back in 2006 when I moved to Chicago from Grand Rapids, Michigan,” said Active Trans membership manager Kevin Dekkinga. “I hadn’t touched a bike since high school, so I was riding down big streets like North Avenue, simply because I didn’t know better. I would have definitely appreciated some help if it had been offered.”

The series will be taught from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of each month, from May through December, with upcoming classes on May 9, June 13, July 11 and August 8. Each session is a complete tutorial (i.e., no need to attend the class more than once), featuring 90-minutes of discussion followed by 90 minutes of on-bicycle training. It’s open to participants 14 or older – those age 14 to 17 must have written permission from a parent or guardian. Register for the class here.

The fee is $15 for Active Trans members or $50 for non-members, which includes a one-year membership. “That gets you discounts at 120 local businesses, as well as a discount on a Divvy membership, so it’s easy to make it pay for itself,” Dekkinga said. The $50 fee could be a barrier to many Chicagoans who would benefit from learning to safely ride on city streets, but Dekkinga said Active Trans may look into offering scholarships in the future.

Dekkinga and Active Trans education specialist Jason Jenkins, both League of American Bicyclists-certified cycling instructors, will lead the class. Course material includes rules of the road, selecting a good commuter bike, correct helmet fit, techniques for navigating intersections, and strategies for avoiding crashes.

Attendees will learn basic maintenance skills, such as the “ABC Quick Check” — making sure that there’s Air in the tires, the Brakes are working, the Chain is lubed, and the Quick-release levers are engaged – plus flat fixes. The instructors will also share commuting tips and tricks, such as how to dress for the weather, pick low-stress routes, and keep from getting “doored” by motorists.

The in-the-saddle portion will take place in downtown parking lots and streets. However, Dekkinga said the danger level should be low on these thoroughfares, since downtown is relatively quiet on Saturday mornings.

“I’m excited that we’re going to be helping people on a one-to-one basis,” he said. “Many of our peer organizations in other cities hold similar classes, but Active Trans hasn’t done any adult bike classes during the six years I’ve been working here. I’m looking forward to meeting the class participants and sharing the exhilaration and enjoyment I still get out of biking to work in Chicago ten years later.”

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Bike2Campus Week Encourages Students to Explore Chicago on Two Wheels

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Stan Treger biked to class on the DePaul campus last month. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

I kind of hate the phrase “bike season.” Thousands of Chicagoans get around on two wheels all year ‘round. Even in January, there’s still something of a bike rush hour on the Lakefront Trail and Milwaukee Avenue. And all you really need to keep cycling through the Chicago winter is a bike with fenders and lights, and more-or-less the same clothing you’d wear to stay warm while waiting for the bus.

That said, it’s been fun to observe how, following another cold, gray, snowy winter, how the recent sunshine and relatively balmy temperatures have inspired countless people to drag their dusty steeds out of basements. Like rivers swelling from the vernal thaw, the city’s bike lanes have filled up with riders once again.

As part of this spring awakening, a dozen different higher learning institutions will be challenging their students, faculty, and staff to try bicycling to school. The second annual Bike2Campus Week takes next week from Monday to Friday, highlighting cycling as a green, cheap, healthy and fun way to get around.

Participating institutions include City Colleges of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Dominican University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Roosevelt University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Triton College, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago.

The concept is similar to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge, in which different companies and organizations compete with each other to record the most cycling trips and win prizes and bragging rights. There are a number of ways Bike2Campus participants can get credit toward earning schwag. They can log their bike trips for the week at Bike2Campus.com, pass the League of Illinois Bicyclists’ online safety quiz, share photos from their commute on social media via the hashtag #chibike2campus, or participate in cycling events on their campus.

“We had ten schools participating last year, and the Art Institute of Chicago was the top dog,” says John Wawrzaszek, sustainability manager at Columbia (and a Newcity contributor), who’s helping to organize the program as part of the Chicagoland Bike 2 Campus Coalition. Divvy provided the trophy, made from a front basket from a decommissioned bike-share vehicle affixed to a wooden pedestal. “We’re trying to do a Stanley Cup thing this year, where the winner will move the trophy around the city,” Wawrzaszek says.

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