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Active Trans May Launch a Petition Drive to Keep The 606 Open 24/7

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While many people would like to commute after 11 p.m. on The 606, it’s currently illegal to do so. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

It was an unseasonably warm 61 degrees just before midnight last Tuesday, and there was the best kind of rain for bicycling, a refreshing mist that was too fine to soak into my jacket, but one that gave the streetlights a dreamy glow.

Beneath the dull roar of the Kennedy Expressway, I approached the eastern trailhead of the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the 606. I was about to do something the Chicago Police Department insists is a fineable offense: pedal on the 2.7-mile elevated greenway during the city’s 11 PM-to-6 AM park curfew.

Representatives of the Chicago Park District, which manages the trail, and the Trust for Public Land, the national nonprofit that’s spearheading its ongoing development, disagree with police on this matter. They say it’s perfectly legal to commute on the 606 at night, and cite a clause in the Park District code that allows for nonstop after-hours travel through the city’s green spaces.

Police officers are currently shooing all cyclists, joggers, and strollers off the path at 11, and may show up to oust them at other times if a neighbor calls to complain.

Nonetheless, plenty of people are using the trail to bike home from work or play late at night, which is only common sense. Some 80,000 Chicagoans live within a half mile of the path, which provides an alternative to sharing the road with cars on busy Armitage and North Avenues, the two nearest parallel main streets.

Recently though, bad actors have taken advantage of the late-evening path traffic and the relative isolation of the linear park. In the wake of three recent muggings of bike riders, it’s time for the police to step up their patrolling of the Bloomingdale and start allowing 24/7 commuting. A higher number of legitimate users at all times of night would mean more eyes on the trail and safety in numbers.

As I spun west on the gently undulating path last Tuesday, there were a few people out on bikes, foot, and skateboards, despite the gentle rain and the curfew. One of them was Jessica Dickerson, 31, who was pedaling a black fixed-gear bike home to her apartment near Central Park and Cortland, a block north of the trail.

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Active Trans Celebrates 30 Years With a New Commitment to Healthy Streets

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Ron Burke. Photo: John Greenfield

For three decades, the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) has been advocating for better conditions for bicycling and, in recent years, walking and transit. They marked their 30th anniversary with a fundraiser on Monday at Germania Place, and more than 250 supporters turned out to celebrate the occasion. During the event the group gave public service awards to three key players in the local sustainable transportation scene: former Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch, Friends of the Major Taylor Trail president Peter Taylor, and U.S. Congressman Dan Lipinski.

Active Trans director Ron Burke kicked off the evening by discussing how much attitudes about transportation have changed over the years. “When I first started bike commuting during the winter, people used to look at me with shock and awe,” he said. “Now on Milwaukee Avenue during the summer, we’re seeing 5,000 bikes a day and bikes are piling up at suburban Metra stations.” He noted that while CTA ridership bottomed out during the 1990s, when it was easy to get a seat on the North Red Line, 2015 saw the highest rail ridership in 58 years.

Burke said that 30 years ago, the region saw a much higher rate of traffic injuries and fatalities, which he blamed on “a vision that was basically, move cars as fast as possible.” However, he noted, in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of better pedestrian facilities, bus rapid transit, protected bike lanes, Divvy, and The 606. “These are things which 20 or 30 years ago were barely on the radar but now are a reality, in part because of the work Active Trans has done over the last 30 years.”

Jon Hilkevitch recently ended a 36-year tour of duty at the Trib, with half of that time spent covering the transportation beat, including publishing the popular “Getting Around” column, which largely focused on the commuting needs of average Chicagoans. Of course, Streetsblog Chicago didn’t always seen eye-to-eye with Hilkevitch, particularly when it came to his early skepticism about bike-share.

But his articles were generally well researched and written, and he eventually came around on the Divvy issue. I was also pleasantly surprised by his comments in a recent Active Trans interview, in which he expressed his support for bus rapid transit and people-friendly street reconfigurations, which I hadn’t gathered from his articles. It even turns out that he’s a regular bike commuter, who used to pedal 12 miles each day to the Tribune tower back when he lived in Evanston.

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Gala attendees, including Streetsblog contributor Anne Alt (second from right) and pedestrian advocate Deloris Lucas. Photo: Active Trans

During his acceptance speech, Hilkevitch discussed the need to reduce the number of traffic fatalities on Chicago streets. He recalled that one of his most difficult interviews was with the mother of Clint Micelli, a 22-year-old graphic designer who was fatally doored while riding a bike on LaSalle Street on the Near North Side. “Thanks to Active Trans’ efforts, that led to new legislation requiring the police to keep records of dooring crashes,” Hilkevitch said. “A day when there are no more ghost bikes will truly be a day to celebrate.”

Peter Taylor, an Active Trans board member, was a tireless advocate for completing the Southwest Side’s Major Taylor Trail, named for the turn-of-the-century bike racing legend. Now he serves as a guardian of the trail, pushing for better amenities and trying to ensure the path is well maintained and glass-free. He is also part of a coalition of local African-American bike advocates who have lobbied the city for a more equitable distribution of bike resources in recent years.

During his speech, Peter Taylor gave shout-outs to Major Taylor, who overcame racism to become one of the nation’s first Black sports stars, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “for demanding that government live up to its promises equally.” He added that he’s looking forward to the expansion of the Cal-Sag Trail in the south suburbs, because it will link up with the Major Taylor Trail, “and a new cycling network will be born.”

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How Quinn Staffer Sean O’Shea Blocked Chicago’s Protected Bike Lane Efforts

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A man rides by the “ghost bike” memorial to Bobby Cann in one of the Clybourn protected lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

On the evening of May 29, 2013, 26-year-old Bobby Cann was bicycling north on Larrabee from his job at Groupon, heading home to catch a Blackhawks game. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Ryne San Hamel was driving southeast on Clybourn. He’d been drinking in Wrigleyville after watching the Cubs defeat the Sox.

Just after 6:30 PM, the two men’s paths tragically collided. Police said San Hamel had been driving his Mercedes at least 50 mph when he struck Cann at the Larrabee intersection. The cyclist suffered horrific injuries and, despite the best efforts of bystanders and paramedics, he was dead within the hour.

San Hamel was found to have had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit. He’s being prosecuted for aggravated DUI, but the case hasn’t yet gone to trial.

Near the crash site, there’s a shrine with flowers, photographs, and a white-painted “ghost bike” that bears a placard with Cann’s image. On November 20 of this year, officials from the city and state transportation department cut the ribbon on curb-protected bike lanes on this stretch of Clybourn, plus a segment of Division.

These bike lanes, which are separated from traffic by wide concrete curbs that provide extra protection for riders, double as a memorial for the fallen cyclist. Friends and coworkers said Cann was always encouraging others to bike, and to do it safely.

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Sean O’Shea

Clybourn is only the second road in town to get this type of bikeway. Most Chicago protected lanes are located curbside and are separated from traffic by a striped buffer zone, flexible plastic posts, and parked cars.

The Clybourn lanes are also noteworthy because they’re the first protected lanes built on a state route within the city. That’s because in 2011, soon after the Chicago Department of Transportation opened the city’s first protected lanes on Kinzie, the state government began quietly blocking the city from installing protected lanes on state roads.

Forty percent of Chicago’s arterial streets are under Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdiction. These wide roadways generally have high crash rates, but CDOT is required to get approval from the state before making safety improvements to them.

The former heads of CDOT and IDOT, plus the director of the Active Transportation Alliance, now indicate that the chief architect of the three-year ban was ex-governor Pat Quinn’s deputy chief of staff Sean O’Shea.

The state claimed the reason for the prohibition was a need for more proof that protected lanes are safe. But former city transportation commissioner Gabe Klein says the ban was motivated by “political and personality issues.” (For full disclosure, Klein is currently a board member with the parent organization for Streetsblog Chicago, which I edit.)

It’s not certain what would have happened if the moratorium hadn’t been in place, or had been lifted earlier. But data suggests that Cann’s death, as well as other crashes, might have been prevented if protected lanes had been installed sooner on Clybourn and other state routes.

Here’s a timeline of how the ban occurred, and was ultimately overturned with the start of the Clybourn project, three years later.

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

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IDOT Finally Sees The Light, Stops Withholding Crash Data From the Public

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A crash memorial on the 106th Street bridge over the Calumet River in the East Side neighborhood. Photo: Curtis Locke

Back in August, a transportation professional who asked not to be named told me the Illinois Department of Transportation had stopped fulfilling requests from nongovernmental entities for crash location data. This information is crucial for analyzing any transportation network — for example, we often rely on crash data for Streetsblog Chicago stories. I have since heard the same complaint from other individuals.

In late September, the Active Transportation Alliance sent IDOT a memo urging them to rethink their new policy. More than two months after the problem first came to light, the state is finally providing the location data to the public once again. That will make it easier for transportation planning firms and advocacy groups to work on pedestrian and bike plans and come up with strategies for reducing crashes.

In the past, crash location data was readily available from IDOT’s Illinois Safety Data Mart database, but that website has been offline for some time. However, residents, planners, advocates, and journalists could still request the data from the state, and there was usually a fast turnaround. Pre-2014 crash data is still available online from Steven Vance’s Chicago Crash Browser.

But the source I spoke with in August said they had contacted the IDOT’s Division of Traffic Safety to ask for crash data, including locations, they were referred to IDOT’s law department. Via email, a representative from the Office of the Chief Council cited a clause in the Freedom of Information Act law as a justification for not providing the data:

Pursuant to FOIA Section 7(1)(a), traffic crash reports, as well as data extrapolated from those reports, such as the location of crashes [emphasis added], in the possession of the Department are exempt from inspection and copying pursuant to Illinois Vehicle Code, 625 ILCS 5/11-408 and 625 ILCS 5/11-412. Therefore, the Department is precluded by law from furnishing copies of crash reports (or any attachments or personal information contained therein). Under these provisions of the Vehicle Code, accident/vehicle crash reports are for the confidential use of the Department and State and federal agencies conducting safety studies.

“So IDOT is saying they’re precluded by law from providing copies of crash reports due to privacy concerns,” the source told me. “But, prior to this, they’ve just sent us the data scrubbed of information that would identify the people in the crashes. It doesn’t make any sense.” The source speculated that IDOT’s new policy might be motivated by the state budget crisis, since money might not be available to bring the Safety Data Mart back online.

At the time, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell implied that the department had not changed its policy. “The Illinois Vehicle Code has always precluded us from furnishing all of the information contained in crash reports [to the public],” he stated. “I can tell you that the Illinois Department of Transportation is in the process of reviewing its policies and past practices in regard to the tabulation and publication of motor vehicle crash information. We continue to release summary crash data that does not contain any identifying information of those involved in accidents to the public upon request.”

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Active Trans: Rahm Should Aim for 100 Miles of Bike Lanes Again, Not 50

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27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett (wearing the cap), CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, and Mayor Emanuel inspect the city’s in-progress bikeway network at last Friday’s press conference. Photo: CDOT

Last week at a press event celebrating the installation of 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to build 50 miles of new bike lanes, including PBLs, over the next four years. The Active Transportation Alliance’s new “Bikeways for All” campaign, launched on Monday, urges the mayor to double that goal.

In a press release. Active Trans director Ron Burke congratulated the city for reaching the milestone, noting that, along with the Divvy system, the new lanes have transformed bicycling “into a mainstream mode of transportation.” However, the group says that, even with all the new lanes, only a third of Chicagoans who live outside of downtown have quarter-mile access to a protected lane, neighborhood greenway, or off-street trail.

The organization is asking the city to build 100 miles of these “low-stress bikeways” by 2020. “Even though the number of people cycling has multiplied, we still have a long way to go before the average person feels safe and comfortable getting on a bike to ride to work, run errands and drop off kids at school,” Burke said.

The city uses the Orwellian phrase “buffer-protected” to refer to buffered bike lanes and considers them to be a type of protected bike lane, even though they offer no physical protection. Active Trans’ 100-mile proposal wouldn’t count buffered bike lanes, but it would include existing bikeways that are upgraded to low-stress routes.

Bikeways for all: access to low-stress bike routes

The Active Transportation Alliance has called on Mayor Emanuel to focus on building more low-stress bike routes because few residents currently have quarter-mile access to them.

Active Trans says the proposal is called Bikeways for All because it “would allow people of all ages and abilities to get around efficiently and comfortably on a bike.” While’s they’re only calling for 100 miles of low-stress routes to be added by 2020, they’ve identified 180 miles of potential locations for the facilities. They say that if all 180 miles were built, 80 percent of Chicagoans would have quarter-mile access to a LSR.

While it might seem bold to propose a big expansion of the bike network in the middle of a city budget crisis, Active Trans notes that many of the bikeways could be federally funded. As it stands, the Chicago Department of Transportation mostly uses federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants to pay for bike projects. The Bikeways for All report states that CDOT uses less than 0.5 percent of its own budget to built bike routes.

In addition to expanding the bike network, Active Trans is asking the city to make it more equitable. The report states that while 82 percent of Chicagoans who live on the North Side have half-mile access to any type of bikeway, only 71 percent and 74 percent of those on the South and West Sides, respectively, have the same access. See a breakdown of the official community areas included in each region here.

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Active Trans Marks 30 Years With 5 Big Goals, New Sister Organization

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One of the five goals is to create biking/walking education programs in all IL elementary schools. Photo: Active Trans

Streetsblog Chicago is on vacation from July 13-17 and will resume publication of Today’s Headlines and daily articles on Monday, July 20. We’ll keep in touch this week via social media and occasional posts.

The scrappy little advocacy group that was founded in 1985 as the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation is now the Active Transportation Alliance, a venerable institution with a major influence on local transportation policy.

As part of its 30th anniversary celebration, Active Trans recently announced five major goals for promoting safe, efficient streets, and started a fundraising campaign to help pay for these initiatives. They also heralded the birth of a new sister nonprofit called Walk Bike Go, which will take over the organization’s paid consulting work.

“Our main theme this year is ‘We still have a long way to go,’” said Active Trans executive director Ron Burke. “With recent developments like protected bike lanes and the Divvy bike-share system, we’ve made progress to the point where rapid change is possible.”

The five objectives of the so-called 2020 TransFormation Campaign are all projects that the group has already been working on to some degree, but now they plan to shift their activities into a higher gear. The goals are:

  1. Region-wide low-stress bike network: A dense, connected network of low-stress bike routes across Chicago and the suburbs.
  2. Transit Future: Funding for the “Transit Future” plan to build multiple new rapid transit projects.
  3. Biking/walking education in elementary schools: All public elementary schools in the state begin teaching biking and walking safety and encouragement.
  4. Mobility education in high schools: High school driver’s education becoming “mobility education” with bike, walk and transit training in addition to driving.
  5. Vision Zero: The state, the city of Chicago and suburbs adopt and implement comprehensive Vision Zero plans that focus on eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

In order to pursue these objectives, Active Trans is launching a new fundraising drive, with the goal of raising an additional $250,000 per year for the next five years, in addition to its current annual operating budget of about $3 million. “We want to be able to expand and take on these projects, but we don’t really have the capacity right now,” Burke said. The additional revenue would mostly be used for new staff, including a full-time director of government relations, and new community organizers.

Political lobbying will be key for achieving most of the five objectives. Burke cited the example of mobility education. “The way we can win this particular goal is in Springfield, by getting legislation passed, or getting the state board of education to change their curriculum for driver’s ed or phys ed.

Right now, Active Trans and the Center for Neighborhood Technology are trying to persuade Cook County commissioners to create a dedicated funding stream for Transit Future in conjunction with a proposed sales tax hike to address the pension crisis.

The organization also announced that the new Walk Bike Go nonprofit will be taking over its fee-for-service work. I myself am a former Active Trans consultant – during my stint at the Chicago Department of Transportation bicycle program in the early 2000s, I was actually an employee of the nonprofit, which was paid by the city to provide bike program staff. A few Active Trans employees are currently stationed at CDOT.

The advocacy group is also helping to run the Chicago Department of Public Health’s Play Streets block party program. They’re also developing active transportation plans and complete streets policies in several low-income Cook County municipalities as part of a contract with the county’s health department. Active Trans has also done consulting work for many other suburbs over the years, helping to create pedestrian and bike plans, as well as mobility education programs.

There has long been a perception that Active Trans’ consulting work conflicts with its advocacy work, especially when it comes to the organization’s relationship with the city of Chicago. Many peer organizations, such as New York City’s Transportation Alternatives, don’t do consulting work for their city governments.

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

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

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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.”