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Posts tagged "Active Transportation Alliance"

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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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Chicagoland’s Newest Bicycle Delivery Service Brings Safety to Suburban Kids

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On-bike education helps Oak Park kids feel confident and safe biking not just around the schoolyard, but around town. Photo: Active Trans. 

All around the country, and especially in suburban areas, safety conscious parents often keep their kids indoors, off what many fear to be dangerous streets. As a result, many fewer children are walking and cycling, with grave consequences for the nation’s health. The Active Transportation Alliance has long tried to offset this trend in a small way, by offering a few bicycle safety education programs for kids in partnership with towns like Oak Park and Wilmette.

However, Active Trans’ capacity to deliver bike safety classes to kids all across the region was long hamstrung by scarce resources. You can’t teach art to kids without crayons or paint, and likewise it’s tough to teach bike safety without bikes — or without qualified bike safety instructors. The new “Bikes on Wheels” program will bring these tools to many more kids throughout Chicagoland.

The program builds off Active Trans’ current efforts in Oak Park, where a pilot project with local nonprofit Greenline Wheels and with school physical education programs teaches kids traffic safety. Jason Jenkins, education coordinator at Active Trans, says that the program begins with a “bike rodeo,” with chalk and cones set up in the schoolyard to teach kids about riding in a straight line, stopping, signalling and making turns, checking over their shoulders for oncoming traffic, and where to expect pedestrians and cars. Some schools offer additional sessions, when kids can work their way up to a supervised, on-street ride to a nearby park.

The local partners in Oak Park had a fleet of kids’ bikes and a small trailer, which provided the inspiration for Bikes on Wheels. Thanks to a grant from Specialized Bikes, obtained with the help of Kozy’s Cyclery, Active Trans now has a truck trailer stocked with a full fleet of 30 kids’ bikes, two adult bikes, helmets, and other materials necessary to teach one P.E. class at a time about safe riding. The bikes are as basic as they get, with one speed and coaster brakes, in order to minimize ongoing maintenance expenses.

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Active Trans and AAA Chicago Launch Joint Road Safety Campaign

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Ad ad from the new campaign.

It’s tempting to be cynical about the Active Transportation Alliance and AAA Chicago’s new “same rights, same responsibilities” campaign, promoting safe behavior by people on bikes and people in cars. After all, cyclists and drivers don’t really have the same rights yet. Despite the growing Complete Streets movement, our nation and our city’s transportation systems still largely prioritize driving over all modes, creating dangerous conditions for bike riders and other vulnerable road users.

And, while everyone should behave safely and respectfully on our streets, it’s far more important for motorists in 3,000-pound vehicles to be held responsible for dangerous behavior than people on 30-pound bikes. Drivers killed 145 people, including eight cyclists, in the city of Chicago in 2012, according to Illinois Department of Transportation stats. Meanwhile, there haven’t been any cases of bike riders causing traffic deaths of others here in decades, if ever. Slogans suggesting that there’s a level playing field, and that lawful biking is even remotely as important as lawful driving, are rather tiresome.

That said, the new safety campaign, with the tagline, “Two Wheels Four Wheels — We All Roll Together,” borrowed from the national advocacy group People for Bikes, should be viewed as a positive development. It’s a politically savvy move for Active Trans to partner with the local brach of the nation’s largest motor organization on such a project. As bike lanes have proliferated and Chicago’s bike-to-work rate has more than tripled over the last 14 years, cycling in general, and Active Trans in particular, have gotten plenty of abuse from local news outlets and on letters-to-the-editor pages. Drivers are freaked out about having to share the road with growing numbers of bike riders, so it’s understandable that the group wants to look like they’re doing something to address their concerns.

It’s great that the local branch of the nation’s largest motoring organization is asking members to drive safely and courteously around bike riders, and promoting the benefits of cycling. “The expanded bike lanes and increased number of bikes on the roads will certainly be an adjustment for motorists,” said AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher in a statement. “But the direction Chicago — and so many other cities — is taking to enhance bike lanes and provide healthy, convenient and safe transportation options for all is an exciting one that we all need to embrace.”

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Bikin’ the Suburbs: Active Trans Peddling Next-Gen Bikeways Beyond Chicago

Church Street cycle track in Evanston

Church Street cycle track in Evanston. Photo: Steven Vance

A recent survey conducted for the Illinois Bicycle Transportation Plan found that Illinoisans want bikeways that provide physical separation from motor vehicles, and believe these kind of “8-to-80” facilities are a key way to get more people to cycle. Protected bike lanes and bike boulevards, AKA neighborhood greenways, are becoming commonplace in the city of Chicago. Yesterday, the Active Transportation Alliance launched a new project to encourage suburbs to build these types of low-stress bikeways, which are comfortable for people of all ages and abilities.

The Family-Friendly Bikeways campaign will promote the establishment of off-street trails that can be used for transportation, on-street protected lanes, and bike boulevards on quiet side streets, with infrastructure that discourages speeding and cut-through traffic. “For the last 20 years or so, bike planning has been focused on the so-called ‘strong and fearless’ riders,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke. “That was OK, because there wasn’t political will to do more at the time, so it made sense to focus on low-hanging fruit.” However, he noted that studies show less than ten percent of the population feels comfortable cycling on streets with no bike accommodations or conventional bike lanes.

While the region now has hundreds of miles of bike facilities, the lion’s share of the on-street bikeways are conventional lanes or shared-lane markings, which do little to encourage less confident riders to bike for transportation. Off-street trails tend to be loops through forest preserves, which aren’t particularly useful for getting to destinations, and are often challenging to access without strapping your bike to a car rack.

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A suburban sidepath. Image: Active Trans

“Part of the evolution of the bike movement is for towns to say, yes, we want to create bike facilities for everyone, not just install some route signs or sharrows,” Burke said. He added that this isn’t such a heavy lift, because most of the suburbs Active Trans works with have already embraced the goal. “When you ask them if they’d be interested in creating a network of bikeways where even a little kid could ride, they say, yes, that would be awesome. It’s more about making a plan for moving forward.”

Active Trans has already been advising suburbs on creating bike plans, as well as coaching them on securing cash for the projects. “We recognize that funding is a big issue,” Burke said. “Even though bike facilities are relatively inexpensive, there’s a limited pot of money for these projects.” He noted that the state recently turned down a joint application by Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park for funding to expand Divvy into the ‘burbs. “Even if towns have the desire to do these things, they may not know how to get the cash.”

Bike boulevards will be an important part of Active Trans’ suburban strategy. “A lot of bike plans feature sharrows on side streets,” Burke said. “You don’t have to do a lot more to create bike boulevards.” Features like contraflow bike lanes, traffic diverters, and traffic calming, which allow continuous, two-way bike traffic but discourage drivers from speeding and shortcutting through residential streets, are relatively easy and low-cost, he said.

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Active Trans: At Least 125,000 Bike Trips In Chicago Every Day

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A bicyclist makes one of 125,000 trips in Chicago today. Photo: Mike Travis

A new study [PDF] commissioned by the Active Transportation Alliance put forth a “conservative” estimate that Chicagoans make nearly 125,000 bicycle trips each day for transportation, in addition to purely recreational trips. Almost 91,000, or 73 percent, of the trips are utilitarian – for shopping, errands, church, and doctor appointments.

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Chicagoans with lower incomes are more likely to bike to work.

Active Trans said in a press release that they believe this may underestimate the total number of trips. Their data shows small annual increases in commute-to-work trips, but didn’t gauge how utilitarian trips may have grown since the data collection period.

The study authors from Alta Planning + Design combined local and nationally-collected trip data, notably the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s household travel survey in 2008 and two sets of reports from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2006 to 2011.

Using these surveys allowed the authors to describe other characteristics about Chicago’s bicyclists. From the Census, they found that people who earn less than $24,999 each year are the most likely to commute by bike to work, while those making $100,000 to $124,999 are least likely. Oddly, though, those who make $150,000 or more are slightly more likely to make a bicycle trip.

The study estimated that “winter ridership volumes equal nearly 40 percent of average summer volumes,” a conclusion made from Chicago’s limited seasonal bike count data.

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The Lakefront Trail Really Is Open All Day, All Night

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Bicyclists can and should feel free to enjoy the Lakefront Trail’s beauty 24 hours a day. Photo: Jennifer Davis

Have you ever been hassled by Chicago police officers while bicycling on the Lakefront Trail after parks officially close at 11 PM? You’re not alone. Sebastian Huydts, who bicycles for most of his transportation needs, has been stopped twice this year — most recently on May 13, at about 11:15 p.m. “They actually told me to stop with a bright light and asked why I was there,” Huydts recently told Streetsblog. The police insisted that the park is closed after 11 p.m., telling Huydts “that you cannot use the path after that time, and that it wasn’t safe anyways.”

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path used by tens of thousands of bicyclists on warmer days, and by many as a key commuting route throughout the year.

Huydts said that the officers weren’t unfriendly, and that he wasn’t mistreated. He countered the police, saying that riding home among drunk drivers on Kinzie Street would be far less safe. The officers asked for his destination (Montrose Avenue), and after talking amongst themselves, they “told me I was good to go — but should exit as soon as I could.”

The police officer on duty when I called the news affairs office said that he would look into what the rule is, and also how many bicyclists the department has warned, issued citations to, or given a contact card to.

The Chicago Park District, which owns and maintains the Lakefront Trail, said that the path is open at all times. Spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said flatly that “the trail is open for ingress/egress after regular hours.” The Chicago Department of Transportation deferred to the Park District for a response.

Maxey-Faulkner’s answer that the path is open is in keeping with Park District code [PDF], which states that nobody can be in a park between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., “except that persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping, on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination.” This code appears to extend to trails through other large parks throughout the city.

Others have previously reported instances where a police vehicle parked squarely across the path, with the attending police officer ordering bicyclists to immediately exit the trail. Active Transportation Alliance said in 2010 that they would like to see better awareness of the overnight trail use policy. This policy should be conspicuously posted along the path, and communicated to the police units who patrol the trail.