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Bronzeville Bikes Rolls on With Its Mission to Encourage South Side Cycling

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This year, the Bronzeville Bike Box got a rain canopy and flower boxes. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

It’s been another productive summer for Bronzeville Bikes, an organization that promotes cycling in the historic South Side neighborhood also known as “The Black Metropolis.” The group hosts neighborhood rides and repair sessions, and runs the Bronzeville Bike Box, a small nonprofit bike shop housed in a recycled shipping container. This summer, they also launched the Sister Cycles program, with courses that teach maintenance and repair to women and women-identifiers.

Founded in 2013 by the Urban Juncture Foundation, Bronzeville Bikes is part of a grander vision for the intersection of 51st Street and Calumet Street as a hub of sustainability in the neighborhood. Located just east of a Green Line stop, the location is also home to the Bronzeville Community Garden. Urban Juncture president Bernard Loyd is currently establishing Bronzeville Cookin’, a food-themed complex that will feature restaurants, a rooftop garden, and a produce store. The first eatery, a Jamaican-style chicken place called the Jerk Shack, recently passed its health inspection and should be opening in mid-September. Last year, the Bike Box opened across the street from the garden.

The Bike Box scaled back its operations a bit this year, from three days a week to two. It’s currently open on Saturdays from 12 – 6 p.m. and Sundays from 2 – 6 p.m., which overlaps with the group’s regular Sunday “Celebrate Bronzeville” ride series. “We’ve become an express shop, doing on-the-spot repairs with low-cost pricing,” Bronzeville Bikes intern Cassie Halls explained. “We want to have quick turnover and make sure that a lot of bikes are getting fixed, since we don’t have much capacity to hold bikes overnight.” Simple repairs, such as flat fixes and brake adjustments, run between $5 and $15.

The Celebrate Bronzeville rides take place three times a month. The tour on the first Sunday of each week focuses on art in the neighborhood, the second Sunday spotlights local sustainability efforts, and the fourth highlights history and architecture. The August rides included a Bronzeville gallery tour, a look at small-scale urban agriculture, and a celebration of the 50-year-old jazz collective the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicisians. Another notable ride last month was the Glow Bike Spectacular, in which riders decked out their bikes with glow sticks for a cruise to the Bronzeville Summer Nights 47th Street Takeover, a festival featuring art, music, dance, and poetry.

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Orange Dots and Balloons Jazz Up the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall

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Photo: John Greenfield

First built in 1975, the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall is a leafy, car-free walkway that runs for two blocks between Beacon Street and Magnolia Avenue in Uptown’s Sheridan Park section. With its benches, plantings, and mosaic-covered pillars, it should be a popular place for all kinds of positive activity, along the lines of Lincoln Square’s Kempf Plaza.

However, the Uptown space functions largely as a place to pass through while traveling to other places, according to neighbor Ginny Sykes, a restaurant owner and artist who’s a member of the Sunnyside Mall Committee. “What I observe is a lot of people walking through here on their way to and from the Red Line,” said Sykes, who has lived near the mall for almost 28 years. “They walk their dogs, they bring their kids out to throw balls and maybe play a little bit. They sit on the benches and have conversations. Children walk use it to walk to school.”

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Photo: John Greenfield

While she feels the space already works fairly well, Sykes would like to see more programming at the mall, such as the art fair and the movie night that recently took place. “The more positive energy that goes into the space and the more people that get involved, the better it will be,” she said.

In order to come up with a long-term vision for the plaza, the Sunnyside Mall Committee is inviting community members to show up for a community input meeting in the plaza on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. It will be a chance to brainstorm ideas for a master plan that can be implemented over time.

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Pace Pulse Express Bus Service Will Help Improve Traffic Circulation

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The Pulse stops will feature heated shelters with vertical markers.

If you’re a fan of faster bus service with handy amenities, here’s some news to get your pulse racing. Pace Suburban Bus Service is planning Pace Pulse, a new network of express bus routes along major roads throughout Chicagoland. The agency has proposed establishing the service, which they refer to as arterial bus rapid transit (ART), on several busy arterials, including Milwaukee Avenue, Dempster Street, Harlem Avenue, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, 95th Street, and Roosevelt Road.

Pulse, slated to launch on Milwaukee Avenue in 2017, will include roughly three-quarter of a mile stop spacing, transit signal priority, buses with WiFi and USB charging ports, plus stations with real-time arrival information signs and – best of all – overhead heat during the winter. However, it’s worth noting that the service can’t be classified as true bus rapid transit, because it will lack features like prepaid boarding and car-free bus lanes, which are necessary for bringing buses up to train-like speeds on congested streets.

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The #270 local bus route

The flagship Pulse route on Milwaukee Avenue will run between the Jefferson Park Transit Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side and the Golf Mill Shopping Center in northwest-suburban Niles. Pace currently operates the #270 Milwaukee Avenue bus daily between Jefferson Park and Golf Mill. During select hours, the route is extended to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview and the Allstate Insurance corporate headquarters in Northbrook.

The #270 is one of Pace’s key north-suburban routes, with strong ridership. According to the Regional Transportation Authority which oversees Pace, the CTA, and Metra, the line’s ridership as of June 2015 is 2,995 boardings on weekdays, 1,966 on Saturdays and 1,418 on Sundays.

The Jefferson Park Transit Center is a major transportation hub on the Northwest Side of Chicago. It is served by the CTA Blue Line, Metra’s Union Pacific / Northwest Line, nine CTA bus routes and three Pace Suburban bus lines. Golf Mill is a large shopping mall located at the intersection of Milwaukee and Golf Road. It attracts shoppers from all over the surrounding area to its department stores, specialty stores, and movie theater. Many people from Chicago’s Northwest Side ride the #270 to shop and work at the mall.

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The Milwaukee Pulse route.

Planning for the Milwaukee Pulse route started in 2014 and is currently in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin next year, with service debuting in 2017, according to the project schedule.

The total cost of the shelters and signage is estimated at $9.1 million, while the cost of new buses, which will be used exclusively on this route, is estimated at $4.5 million. The funding is largely provided by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, with a 20-percent local and regional match.

The Milwaukee ART buses will only make stops at eight locations between the mall and the transit center, including (from south to north) Central Avenue, Austin/Ardmore Avenues,Haft Street/Highland Avenue (near Devon Avenue), Touhy Avenue, Howard Street/Harlem Avenue, Oakton Street/Oak Mill Mall, Main Street, and Dempster Street. The transit signal priority feature shortens red light phases and extends greens to help prevent buses from getting stuck at intersections.

Each Pulse stop will feature a heated bus shelter with a bus tracker display with real-time arrival info, plus a vertical marker that will make it easy to spot the express stops from a distance, and bike parking racks. In addition to Wi-Fi and charging ports, the buses will feature audio/visual stop announcements.

The Milwaukee Pulse route will operate from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, with buses running every ten minutes during rush hours, 15 minutes during most non-peak periods, and every 30 minutes from 10 p.m. to midnight. On weekends, it will run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to midnight on Sundays, with buses every 15 minutes until 10 p.m. and every 30 minutes between 10 p.m. and midnight. The frequency of the local #270 Milwaukee buses will be reduced to every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 60 minutes on weekends. Service north of Golf Mill will remain the same.

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The public meeting at the Copernicus Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace held a public meeting on the project last night at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, with about 30 people in attendance. Most of the residents I talked with were in favor of the new express bus service, and said it would speed up their commutes. Garland and Heather Armstrong of Elmwood Park said Pulse will be a significant upgrade from the current #270 bus service, which they said is a lifeline for people with disabilities.

However, not everyone was a complete fan of the Pulse plan. Jacob Aronov, from the grassroots transit advocacy group Citizens Taking Action, said he’s worried about the longer headways for the local buses, and wants to make sure the local route isn’t eventually eliminated.

A majority of riders will likely opt to take the faster Pulse service, since the stops will be no more than a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk for most people) from any of the local stops. However, some seniors and people with mobility issues may prefer to continue using their closest local stop. Hopefully, riders’ concerns will be factored into the final plan.

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The 6-Year Wait for Bikes on the South Shore Has Been Reduced to 9 Months

Mike Noland, general manager for the South Shore Line commuter rail, demonstrates a bike rack from SportWorks, the same company that makes bike racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson

Mike Noland, general manager for NICTD, demonstrates a bike rack for trains from SportWorks, the same company that makes racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson

Last week, the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District board voted to dramatically reduce the wait time for a bikes-on-board pilot for South Shore Line trains. A consultant had previously recommended delaying the trial until 2021, when new cars might be added to the system, allowing older cars to be modified to accommodate bikes. Thanks to an outcry from board members and advocates against this ridiculous foot-dragging, the board unanimously voted to move the pilot up to April of next year.

NICTD has been way behind the curve on this issue. Even Metra, which is far from a cutting-edge commuter rail system, has had a Bikes on Trains program for over a decade. The South Shore Line management has been looking into accommodating bikes since 2013, around the time I launched a petition for bike access on the South Shore, which 731 people signed.

After the absurd 2021 pilot date was proposed at a NICTD board meeting in uune, board members Michael Repay from Lake County, Indiana, and Mark Catanzarite of St. Joseph County said they weren’t willing to wait that long. They asked for an immediate bikes-on-board option to be presented at the next meeting.

At a July open house on the subject hosted by NICTD, citizens voiced support for getting bikes access sooner than later. The Save the Dunes Council and the National Parks Conservation Association lobbied for an earlier pilot. And the Active Transportation Alliance sarcastically gave the South Shore a Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation,” since all other systems allow bikes.

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Pro- and Anti-Moreno Factions Square Off Over TOD Development Issue

First Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno has been one of Chicago’s leading proponents of transit-oriented development. He sponsored the city’s 2013 TOD ordinance, and he’s been a strong supporter of dense, parking-lite developments near ‘L’ stops in his district. He’s also one of a handful of aldermen who don’t approve zoning changes for new housing developments unless ten percent of the units are affordable, rather than letting the developer opt out by paying into the city’s affordable housing fund.

Several upscale TOD developments are in the works near the California Blue Line stop in Logan Square. In all of the proposals, about ten percent of the housing units would be affordable. These projects take advantage of the current TOD ordinance (Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently proposed a more robust ordinance) by including only one or fewer parking spaces for every two units. The proximity to transit and lack of excess parking spaces would make it easy for new residents to live car-free, and would discourage them from bringing more cars into the neighborhood. Here’s a chart of the new developments by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance:

Address Phase Units Aff. Units Spaces Ratio
2211 N Milwaukee Ave Under construction 120 12 60 0.50
2293 N Milwaukee Ave Alderman must approve 213 21 68 0.32
2328 N California Ave Approved but new proposal 135 14 48 0.36
2841-45 W Belden Ave Proposed 95 10 44 0.46
2240 N Milwaukee Ave Proposed 40 ? 31 0.78

As in many neighborhoods where TOD has been proposed, there’s been stiff opposition from neighbors who fear that dense housing with limited car spaces would lead to traffic and parking headaches. In Logan Square, these opponents have been joined by community activists who have argued that adding large amounts of high-end housing will fuel gentrification in the neighborhood by raising property values, property taxes, and rents.

It’s true that these new developments will make it easier for new residents to find homes in Logan Square and, since the rents for market-rate units in these new-construction buildings will be relatively high, these newcomers will be relatively affluent. That will likely lead to more amenities in the neighborhood, like upscale retail, that will encourage other middle- and upper-income people to settle in Logan.

On the other hand, the neighborhood is already gentrifying rapidly and, arguably, building new units will take some pressure off the housing market. This could reduce the incentive for landlords to raise rents in existing buildings, forcing out lower-income residents. It’s hard to predict how much the gentrifying effects of these new buildings would be mitigated by the phenomenon of an increased housing supply reducing demand.

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City Launches “Divvy for Everyone” Bike-Share Equity Program

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Emanuel discusses the Divvy for Everyone program at this morning’s presser. Photo: John Greenfield

About a month ago, the Better Bike Share Partnership announced a $75,000 grant to the city of Chicago to launch the “Divvy for Everyone” campaign, a strategy to increase bike-share access and ridership among low-income residents. At the time, Chicago Department of Transportation officials declined to discuss the details of the program, but BBSP’s grant program manager provided info about the plan from CDOT’s grant proposal, and I shared it with Streetsblog readers.

Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office officially announced the initiative, and it’s almost exactly what I outlined a few weeks ago. To recap: Divvy for Everyone will offer a one-time annual membership to low-income residents for $5 – a deep discount from the normal $75 fee. To make the system accessible to unbanked individuals, the usual requirement of a credit card as collateral will be waived. Instead, the program funding will help cover the replacement costs for any lost or stolen cycles.

The D4E program (CDOT’s abbreviation) is available to Chicagoans with a maximum combined household income of 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four with an income of under $72,750 would be eligible.

Applicants must show up in person at one of five Financial Opportunity Centers operated by the Local Initiatives Support Coalition in Englewood, Bronzeville, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and Ravenswood, and provide proof of income and residency. After paying the $5 charge, they’ll be given an activated Divvy key and will be immediately able to check out a bike.

One advantage of the person-to-person approach is that it makes signing up for bike-share a more user-friendly experience. Instead of navigating the potentially confusing sign-up process solo at a Divvy kiosk or a computer in the library, residents will be assisted by a staff member. As an added perk, the first 250 applicants will receive a free bike helmet from Divvy sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, which is providing matching funds for the grant.

After the first year, D4E members will have to pay the full annual fee, but the city is looking into strategies to make it easier for low-income people to budget accordingly if they choose to renew their memberships. These include payment plans, cash payment options, and a financial literacy program offered by LISC, where participants learn strategies for saving money and building credit.

At a press conference this morning at The Cara Program, Quad Communities Center for Working Families, the Bronzeville headquarters for the D4E campaign, Mayor Emanuel heralded the program as a major step toward bridging Divvy’s economic gap. “This is a great day for the city of Chicago, a day in which we move forward, literally, as one city.”

CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told me the equity program compliments this spring’s expansion from 300 to 476 Divvy stations, which brought physical access to the system to many new neighborhoods, including a number of low-income communities. “It’s about providing more options for people to get to the jobs they’re seeking, to get to recreation in other parts of the city, to run errands and more.”

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Gettin’ Quigley With It: The Congressman Talks Transportation Funding

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Mike Quigley discusses transportation funding at a Transit Future event. Photo: John Greenfield

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

If you’re not a transportation geek like myself, you may be most familiar with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th) from his hilarious segment on “The Colbert Report.” His North Side district includes Boystown, and he’s known as a strong ally of the LGBT community. Therefore, Stephen Colbert, in his persona as a conservative blowhard, baited Quigley by insisting that homosexuality is a choice:

Quigley: I don’t think you choose. It’s from birth. You’re gay, and it’s the rest of your life.

Colbert: Gay babies? I find that offensive, the idea that there are gay babies out there and they’re looking at me, and they’re sexually interested in me, as a man.

Quigley: You have a point. It’s not a good point, but it’s a point.

However, Quigley, a blue-collar dude, built like a fireplug, is something of a rock star when it comes to bringing home transportation funding to the Chicago region. He’s the only Illinois member on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, with the memorable acronym THUD. He helped secure funding for the federal Core Capacity transit grant program, which will help bankroll the CTA’s rehab of the North Red and Purple Lines, and the TIGER program, which funds various sustainable transportation projects in cities.

Quigley recently kicked off a lecture series to promote Transit Future, a campaign by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance to create a dedicated revenue stream at the Cook County level for public transportation. Transit Future was inspired by a successful campaign in Los Angeles, where voters approved a half-cent sales tax to raise money for several new subway lines. If we don’t do something similar in Chicago, we may get left in the dust by historically car-centric L.A.

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150 Car-Free PlayStreet Block Parties Will Promote Health and Community

Unsafe streets and poor health outcomes are two of the biggest challenges facing residents in Chicago’s low-to-moderate income communities. Launched in 2011, the city’s PlayStreets program addresses both issues by creating car-free spaces for healthy recreation, which also supports crime-prevention efforts. Last year over 26,000 people participated in 140 block party-style events.

This year’s program, which kicked off on June 11, features 150 events — more than ever before – in 36 neighborhoods, from Roseland to Archer Heights to Rogers Park. Streets are pedestrianized for three or more hours to make room for sports, games, bounce houses, fitness classes, and more. This provides a safe environment for kids to play, and it’s also a chance for adults to get exercise and meet their neighbors.

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A PlayStreets event in the South Chicago community. Photo: Claretian Associates

The program is spearheaded by the Chicago Department of Public Health as a key part of the city’s Healthy Chicago plan, with more than 200 strategies to improve Chicagoans’ wellbeing. The Gads Hill Center, the Active Transportation Alliance, World Sport Chicago and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago are coordinating this year’s PlayStreets events. They’re partnering with dozens of community-based organizations and churches (see the full list here) that are helping to run events in their neighborhoods and spread the word to clients and parishioners.

“PlayStreets is really about taking back public space for physical activity, healthy lifestyles and community building,” said Eric Bjorlin, who manages Active Trans’ school and education programs. “The hope is that these events will help get people active in lots of different ways.”

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The South Shore Line Expects You to Wait Six Years for Bike Access

When NICTD policies don't make sense

This man hoped he would be allowed on the South Shore if he took the wheels off his bike. Photo: Strannik45.

Update: NICTD responded to our request for comment after publication and we will post a follow up story on Tuesday. 

Eager to bring your bike on a South Shore Line train to visit Notre Dame University, commute from Northwest Indiana to Chicago, or take a spin around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore? You may well be able to do that – some time in 2021.

At a recent board meeting of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the agency that runs the rail line between Chicago and South Bend, consultants recommended that the transit agency wait six years to pilot a bikes-on-board program. We’re not even talking about full implementation here, but merely testing out the program on a limited basis.

In contrast, Metra’s Bikes on Trains program has been around for over a decade. Granted, it took some strong-arming from then-lieutenant governor Pat Quinn to force Metra to agree to the policy change. NICTD has been studying the issue since 2013, around the time I launched a petition for bike access on the South Shore, which 731 people signed.

The recommendation to delay the Indiana line’s bikes-on-trains pilot was made by staff from Quandel Consultants, a construction and engineering consulting firm, and LTK Engineering Services and The McCormick Group. Part of the reasoning behind that advice was that the South Shore could get new train cars by then, according to the Active Transportation Alliance’s south suburban outreach manager Leslie Phemister, who attended the board meeting. When new cars would be in service, NICTD can begin piloting the bike program by removing half of the seats in an older car to make room for bikes. However, NICTD doesn’t know if or when they may obtain new – or used – train cars.

Dedicating half the space in a rail car for bikes is a great idea. However, the plan for the pilot only calls for attaching this car to two trains per day: one morning run to Chicago and one evening train to Indiana, according to Phemister. If you miss that train, you won’t be able to get home with your bike.

Phemister added that the length of the delay is absurd. “I think a [six-year] wait is a little bit of a long time,” she said. In response to NICTD’s foot dragging on the issue, as well as their resistance to a proposed at-grade crossing of South Shore tracks for an extension of the Burnham Greenway, Active Trans recently crowned them “The least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.” The advocacy group sarcastically presented the group with its “Broken Spoke Award,” noting that the South Shore is the only commuter line in the nation that doesn’t accept bikes.

Active Trans wants NICTD to come up with another solution for accommodating cyclists in the near future, Phemister said. This strategy should also be implemeted on off-peak trains, in addition to the rush-hour bike car.

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Scheinfeld Lauds City’s Bike Wins at Rally, Burke Urges Crowd to Ask for More

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Scheinfeld, Reed, Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Jamal Julien, Moore, Burke. Photo: John Greenfield

The gorgeous weather – and the promise of a free breakfast – drew hundreds of cyclists to Daley Plaza this morning for the annual Bike to Work Rally. There, Chicago Department of Transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld delivered the traditional state of the union address on the city’s efforts to improve cycling.

“We share the common goal of making bicycling a safe, fun, and practical option to travel throughout Chicago, for commuting, running errands, or just to enjoy the ride,” Scheinfeld said. She noted that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has essentially accomplished all three of the ambitious goals for biking he set before taking office. CDOT has built 90 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, the Divvy bike-share system has been a huge success, and the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway opened two weeks ago.

In keeping with Chicago’s “Windy City” nickname, Scheinfeld’s speech contained a couple of blustery half-truths about the city’s bicycle gains. She stated that all 90 miles of bike lanes are protected, when only 18.5 miles of them offer physical protection – CDOT refers to buffered lanes, which are merely paint on the road, as “buffer-protected.”

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Cyclists packed Daley Plaza for the rally. Photo: John Greenfield

She also called Divvy “the largest bike-share system in North America,” which is only true if you’re going by the number of docking stations. Chicago does hold that title, with 476 stations. However, while Divvy has 4,760 cycles, Montreal’s Bixi system has 5,200, and New York’s Citi bike has 6,000. That said, Emanuel and CDOT certainly deserve major kudos for completing these three huge cycling projects in only four years.

Scheinfeld also gave out the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council awards to several key players in the local bike scene. She recognized Oboi Reed, cofounder of Slow Roll Chicago, noting that he has created “a diverse coalition of people, organizations, and businesses, all working together to increase bicycle usage across the city regardless of race, income, or geography.” She added that Reed has been a valuable partner to CDOT.

The Trust for Public Land got a shout-out for doing yeoman’s work in managing the Bloomingdale project. Marcus Moore, owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike shop, was recognized for his successful campaign to save the South Chicago Velodrome through crowdfunding. And police lieutenants Joe Giambrone and Joe Andruzi Jr. won awards for partnering with CDOT to do bike safety outreach, and working to get more officers on bicycles.

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