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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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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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Active Trans Launches Campaign to Beef Up Illinois’ Safe Routes Programs

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Children walk to school in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

In the wake of new analysis that shows nearly five children are struck by drivers within a block of an Illinois school every day, the Active Transportation Alliance is spearheading a campaign to overhaul the state’s Safe Routes to School program. “We’re really hoping to highlight the program, and also emphasize the need to improve it and put more funding behind it,” said campaign manager Erin McMillan.

Between 2006 and 2012, almost 19,000 children were struck while walking or biking in Illinois. The Active Trans study found that 54 percent of these crashes took place within a block of a school, with a child being hit every five hours on average.

McMillan added that the rate of walking and biking to school has dropped sharply over the last few decades. In 1969, half of school children walked or biked to school, but only 13 percent reported doing so in 2009. Meanwhile, the national childhood obesity rate has tripled over the last three decades, and about one in three Illinois children is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is particularly prevalent among African-American and Latino children.

In recent years, Safe Routes to School has emerged as a national movement to improve the safety and health of children by promoting walking and biking via educational programming and infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes. Since 2005, Illinois’ SRTS program has awarded nearly $49.5 million to 518 projects. However, unlike some other states that provide significant state funding for Safe Routes, Illinois only distributes federal transportation dollars.

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What’s Going on With Alderman Reilly and the Kinzie Protected Bike Lanes

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This part of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, from the River east to Dearborn, is supposed to be removed during Wolf Point construction. Photo: masMiguel.

Alderman Brendan Reilly submitted an order to city council on Wednesday that would compel Chicago Department of Transportation Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lane between Dearborn and the Chicago River because he says it conflicts with Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In 2013, under former commissioner Gabe Klein, CDOT agreed to a development plan [PDF], which was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and codified into law. The plan called for Hines, the Wolf Point developer, to pay for installing temporary protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie Street bike lanes to facilitate the construction project.

In the long term, it makes sense for there to be bike lanes on both Grand Avenue – already identified as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – and Kinzie Street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition asking other aldermen to oppose Reilly’s order. “Ald. Reilly has proposed installing new bike lanes on Grand Avenue as an alternative,” the petition stated. “But the reality is, people will continue to bike on Kinzie because it is less stressful than Grand Avenue with fewer cars and no buses, not to mention it provides the most logical and direct connection to the central business district.”

CDOT appears to have changed its position about the development plan. Spokesman Mike Claffey underscored the importance of the Kinzie bike lanes in a statement to Streetsblog:

“CDOT has safety concerns about removing the protected bike lanes on Kinzie, which is the second most popular street for bicycling in Chicago. The protected bike lane is in place to reduce conflicts and the risk of accidents between bicyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians. We have been in discussions with the Alderman about these concerns and will continue to work with him on this issue.”

Specifically, the development plan, identified as Planned Development 98, calls for:

  • Temporary removal of the protected bike lanes on Kinzie from Dearborn to Milwaukee
  • Eastbound and westbound PBLs on Grand from Milwaukee to Wells
  • Westbound PBL on Grand from Dearborn to Wells
  • Eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn
  • “An improved bicycle accommodation on Wells Street for cyclists traveling, between Grand Avenue and Illinois Street”

The Kinzie bike lanes are indeed important, but it’s unclear why Scheinfeld is now pushing back against the plan. Reilly told City Council that Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. We asked for a copy of this report but Claffey said he didn’t have one. The development plan also says that all of the developer’s designs for these temporary bicycle accommodations are subject to Scheinfeld’s departmental review.

CDOT could propose retaining the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes throughout the construction project, which started over a year ago. If that’s not feasible, and the bike lanes must come out, the agency should bring back their support for the original plan that temporarily relocates the bike lanes to Grand. However, it’s important the the Kinzie lanes be reinstalled, because Kinzie is the direct and route between the popular protected bike lanes on Milwaukee and bike lanes on Desplaines, Canal, Wells, and Dearborn.

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Active Trans Wants Candidates to Commit to Working for Safer Streets

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Active Trans is asking mayoral and aldermanic candidates to support increased enforcement of traffic safety laws, including the state law requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Photo: John Greenfield

The Active Transportation Alliance released its 2015 election platform last week [PDF], featuring strategies to improve walking, biking, and transit in the region that they want candidates in the municipal elections to endorse. The Active Transportation Platform focuses on creating safer streets and providing better infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. The group hopes candidates will pledge to take action to reduce the number of pedestrian and bike fatalities in Chicago, increase transit funding, and address other key transportation challenges. 

There are 198 people running for alderman in 46 Chicago wards, according to the website Aldertrack, and at least four people are running for mayor. Active Trans plans to send a questionnaire [PDF] about the platform to every candidate. Hopefuls from the 43rd Ward will also receive a questionnaire [PDF] from the group BikeWalk Lincoln Park, which asks about the candidates ideas for making Clark Street safer and more vibrant, among other topics.

Active Trans based the questions on discussions with supporters, feedback from last year’s member meeting, and a public survey, according to staffer Kyle Whitehead. The first question quickly establishes the group’s priorities, asking if the candidate or a family member routinely walks, bikes, or rides transit to get to work or school, to run errands, or for recreation.

The platform states that there should be a sustainable funding source to pay for pedestrian infrastructure improvements, and bike lane and crosswalk maintenance. Whitehead said this plank came out of the Safe Crossings campaign, which identified the ten most dangerous intersections in Chicago for pedestrians. “Even when the alderman, residents, and the Chicago Department of Transportation all agree that there’s a problem in pedestrian movement [at an intersection], there’s not always funding to develop solutions,” he noted.

Each alderman has $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funds, but “aldermen are being pulled in all directions as to where that money should go,” Whitehead explained. When there’s a pedestrian safety issue that needs to be addressed, there’s often a lengthy back-and-forth between the alderman and CDOT about how infrastructure should be financed, which delays improvements. “Pedestrian safety is critical, to the point where there should be a portion of the city’s annual budget dedicated to improving the pedestrian experience,” he said. 

The same thing is true for bike lane maintenance. CDOT usually only restripes bike lanes and when there’s a repaving project, or when an alderman wants to pay for the restriping via menu funds. Only a handful of aldermen, all from downtown and North Side districts, have chosen to do that, which contributes to the poorer quality of the bike network on the South and West Sides. Rather than having the visibility of a bike lane depend on which ward it’s passing through, dedicated funding would create a more functional citywide bikeway system for all cyclists.

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Active Trans Plans 2015 Pedestrian Infra Campaign, Winter Bike Challenge

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Active Trans will be pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure next year. Photo: Suzanne Nathan.

Last Thursday at the Active Transportation Alliance’s annual member meeting, director Ron Burke announced plans for next year, including campaigns for better downtown bike parking and more funding for pedestrian infrastructure and Safe Routes to School programs. The advocacy group will also continue lobbying for bike access on South Shore Line trains, and launch a new winter bike commuting challenge.

At the meeting, attended by about 75 Active Trans members, Burke began by touting the group’s 2014 achievements. The new Kids on Wheels on-bike education program brought a trailer full of loaner bikes to suburban schools, and Active Trans recently secured funding for a second trailer. The group met with Metra to negotiate the loosening of restrictions on bringing bikes on board, including the elimination of most event-related blackout days and a new policy allowing cycles on early-morning inbound trains.

The Safe Crossings campaign announced the 20 most dangerous intersections in the city and the suburbs as a way to draw attention to pedestrian safety issues. “It’s really all about educating municipalities, and the Illinois Department of Transportation, frankly, about the importance of making our streets safe places for walking and biking,” Burke said.

This year, Active Trans worked with the Center for Neighborhood Technology to launch the Transit Future campaign, advocating for a new Cook County-based revenue stream to expand public transportation. “In Metropolitan Chicago, only one out of four people can get to work by transit in under 90 minutes,” Burke noted. “Our transit system is really from a different era. It really doesn’t work for where people live and work today. It hasn’t expanded — in fact it’s shrunk, a lot.”

Active Trans’ Family-Friendly Bikeways campaign is working to build more miles of advanced bike facilities — such as protected lanes, bike boulevards, and off-street trails – in the suburbs. The group has been pushing for light rail or bus rapid transit to be incorporated into plans for the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction, and is also lobbying for better separation of pedestrians and cyclists on the Lakefront Trail.

Active Trans has also helped stage Play Streets events, block parties that open neighborhood streets to pedestrians for healthy recreation. Staffer Jason Jenkins has created clever instructional videos on bike commuting. And the group organized to nip in the bud an alderman’s proposal to license and register cyclists, and has responded to anti-cycling messages in the media, such as bike-baiting columns from Tribune columnist John Kass, Burke said.

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Active Trans Launches a New Crusade Against Dangerous Intersections

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McCormick and Touhy in Skokie was ranked the worst intersection for pedestrians in suburban Cook County. Image: Google Maps

The Active Transportation Alliance was instrumental in creating the Transit Future campaign, with the goal of creating a dedicated funding source for regional transit. Now they’re also pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure, while raising awareness of Chicagoland’s many hazardous intersections, with their new Safe Crossings initiative.

“It’s really important that we recognize the challenges that pedestrians face across the region,” Active Trans’ director of campaigns, Kyle Whitehead, told me. “People tend to assume that these dangerous and difficult intersections are going to stay that way. We want people to realize that there are proven solutions to address these issues. If we can raise awareness and muster resources, there’s the potential to solve these problems throughout the region.”

This morning, Active Trans released a list of ten of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Chicago, and ten of the most hazardous junctions in suburban Cook County. Topping the urban list is the notoriously chaotic North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park, with 43 reported pedestrian and bike crashes between 2006 and 2012. In the ‘burbs, the worst-ranked junction is Skokie’s McCormick and Touhy intersection, where two six-lane roads cross next to the North Shore Channel Trail bike-and-pedestrian path.

The crash data, provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, was only one of the factors Active Trans used to compile the lists. They also incorporated feedback from their planning and outreach staff, plus public input. The group received more than 800 responses to an online survey that was posted on their blog, shared via social media, and emailed to members. Here are the full lists:

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Active Trans Gets Building to Take Down Illegal “No Bike Parking” Sign

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AMA building staff removing Copithorne’s bike from the pole. Photo: Active Trans.

The Active Transportation Alliance has a long history of advocating for the rights of bicyclists, and occasionally they do so via direct action.

A case in point was a recent incident in which an Active Trans helped reconnect a bicyclist with her ride after it was unfairly confiscated by security outside the American Medical Association headquarters. The advocacy group also got the building manager to take down an illegal “No bike parking” sign.

Last week, Susie Copithorne pedaled to work and locked to a city “No [Car] Parking” sign pole on the north side of the building, located at 330 North Wabash. She didn’t notice that the AMA had bolted its own metal sign to the pole, warning that bikes would be removed.

The thing is, it’s completely legal to lock a bike to a sign pole on the public right-of-way. I should know. Back in the early 2000s, when I was managing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike parking program, I helped get the following language incorporated into the city’s municipal code:

9-52-070 Parking: No person shall park a bicycle upon a street other than upon the roadway against the curb or upon the sidewalk against a rack, parking meter or sign pole to support the bicycle or against a building or at the curb in such manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrian traffic.

Later that day, Active Trans employee Tony Giron happened upon building staff attempting to cut Copithorne’s U-lock, according to education specialist Jason Jenkins. The workers were unable to cut the lock, but they unbolted the sign pole and took the bike, despite the objections of Giron and coworkers who joined him from their nearby office.

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“Everything’s On The Table” For North Lake Shore Drive, So Share Your Ideas

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The open house was held at the historic Drake Hotel. Photo by Steven Vance.

Last week, city and state planners opened a call to the public to suggest potential elements for the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction study, which they’re call “Redefine the Drive.” Almost a year ago, the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Transportation hosted a series of public meetings to gauge public support and solicit volunteers to join task forces that would guide the study.

Planners at this second meeting, which was held at the Drake Hotel and within walking distance of thousands of Drive residents, hoped to introduce attendees to the project’s latest purpose and needs statement (essentially a mission statement for the project), while also asking Chicagoans to pipe up with their own ideas and solutions for the corridor.

Jeff Sriver, a project manager at the Chicago Department of Transportation, described the meeting as the beginning of the “solution generation stage.” Its purpose was to “get input on solutions, whether they’re corridor wide, or at specific locations.” Afterwards, he said, they’ll classify the solutions, and compare them to the stated problems to see if each potential solution addresses an identified problem.

As for specific alternatives, Jeff said simply that “everything’s on the table from now on.” From here on out, future task force meetings will discuss the solutions gathered in this phase. Sriver said that it’ll be their job to “say what stays on the table, before the design team may try to take it off the table.”

Residents at the meeting suggested numerous alternatives, some grandiose and some more workaday, ranging from double-decking the roadway for more car capacity to constructing a separate cycletrack strictly for speedy bicycle commuters. Other ideas that have been tossed around include transforming NLSD into a multiway boulevard, creating dedicated transit lanes, and burying and straightening out the Oak Street Curve.

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