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Posts tagged "Active Transportation Alliance"

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Active Trans’ Kickstand Classic Lets You Race or Cruise on Car-Free Streets

Kickstand Classic Logo Full Color

Which kind of rider are you?

The Active Transportation Alliance is pioneering a new kind of biking event, a cross between a competitive race and a leisurely recreational ride, which could eventually turn into a significant fundraiser for their walking, transit, and bike advocacy efforts. The Kickstand Classic takes place in the morning of Sunday, September 25, in the suburban village of Bartlett, Illinois, southeast of Elgin. The starting line and post-race festival area will be located just south of the local Metra station.

The event will take place on a 4.8-mile, roughly trapezoidal course of village streets that will be rendered car-free for the occasion. While the ride is only open to people 16 or older, Active Trans director Ron Burke says it’s designed to be enjoyable for riders of all abilities, analogous to a 5K fun run. There will be three different heats for experienced, fast racers and road riders; confident cyclists who want to try their hand at racing; and casual riders who want to see what it’s like to pedal a bit faster, or just take a mellow cruise.

Burke says some of the inspiration for the event came from seeing his father organize the first 10K race in the small southern Illinois river town of Chester, home of Popeye creator Elzie Crisler Segar, when Burke was a kid. “Running races really began to happen for the general public in the 1970s,” Burke says. “For example, the Peachtree Road Race started in Atlanta in 1970 with 130 people and it now gets about 60,000.”

Sausage

Likewise, Burke expects a modest turnout for the first Kickstand Classic, but hopes it will pick up speed in subsequent years to become a major draw, and perhaps inspire similar events in other parts of the country. “Just as recreational running events have brought more people to running, we’re hoping to have a similar effect for biking,” Burke says. “We’re hoping that as bicyclists do this they’ll say, ‘That was fun’ and want to do more. I believe someone who gets into road racing or recreational riding is more likely to ride a bike to the store or the train station.”

To ensure a safe and comfortable start for novice racers, the races will feature staggered starts, with participants wearing electronic chips to keep track of their start and finish times. The “Speed Demon Wave” of the race departs between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. and requires racers to do four laps, or about 19 miles. Racers are expected to maintain an average speed of at least 15 mph, and it’s the only heat in which drafting (riding closely behind another racer’s rear wheel to minimize wind resistance) is permitted.

The “Middle of the Road” wave starts between 7:45 and 8 a.m., and riders are expected to go at least 13 mph. The “Sunday Funday Wave” kicks off between 9:30 and 9:50 a.m. and is intended for rider who plan to go 12 mph or slower. All riders must be off the course by 11:45 so that the roads can be reopened to car traffic.

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North Lawndale Residents: Restoring Ogden Bus Would Improve Job Access

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Bus and train routes in and near North Lawndale. Residents say extending the #157 route along Ogden from California to Pulaski would fill in a service gap. Map: CTA

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

In the second half of the 20th century, the North Lawndale community area on Chicago’s west side was devastated by redlining and other racist lending practices that led to civil unrest among the neighborhood’s by then booming black population. Fifty years ago this summer, Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family to an apartment in the neighborhood to highlight the need for fair housing and other improvements in black areas of northern cities.

North Lawndale never recovered economically from the disinvestment and social upheavals of the last 50 years. The area’s population plummeted from a high of 124,937 in 1960 to 35,623 in 2014. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income is currently $25,797, far below the city average of $47,408.

In April the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and others launched the neighborhood’s first comprehensive plan since 1958, covering infrastructure, housing, economic development, transit, and more. Last week, the council hosted a panel discussion that featured a pair of speakers, Cynthia Hudson from the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue from the Red Line Extension Coalition, to discuss possible transit improvements in North Lawndale and share best practices from transit advocacy elsewhere in the city. Read a separate post about LaFargue’s advocacy efforts here.

The area—bounded roughly by Taylor Street, Kenton Avenue, Metra’s BNSF Line, and Campbell Avenue—has four CTA Pink Line stations. The Blue and Green Lines aren’t far away. But community leaders say further improving public transportation access is key in creating more opportunities for residents. Specifically, NLCCC members argue that restoring bus service on Ogden Avenue and other corridors would be a shot in the arm for the struggling neighborhood.

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Parks Group Endorses Plan to Replace Two Acres of Green Space With Asphalt

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. Friends of the Parks has endorsed the park district’s plan to more than double the size of the west lot, center. Image: Google Maps

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate 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’s another case of parks versus parking lots.

The Chicago Park District plans to put more than 250 new parking spots near the recently revamped 31st Street Beach and Harbor, in addition to the more than 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces already available within a roughly five-minute walk of the beach. That would make for a whopping grand total of more than 900 stalls at the lakeside facility.

On top of that, to make room for the additional parking, the project would involve the elimination of 85,000 square feet of existing green space south of a current car park.

The Park District says the additional parking is meant to accommodate future demand for access to the 900-slip harbor—although a spokesperson admits the department hasn’t conducted a parking demand study.

But here’s what really gets me: the parking lot expansion has been endorsed by none other than Friends of the Parks, the same group that helped tank George Lucas’s proposal to replace Soldier Field’s 1,500-space south lot with his Museum of Narrative Arts.

“Friends of the Parks has been hearing from stakeholders as well as the Chicago Park District about the great demand for parking for both beachgoers and boaters at the 31st Street Beach,” executive director Juaniza Irizarry said via e-mail this week.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Friends of the Parks’ previous advocacy work. I respect the group’s role as a guardian of our city’s recreational spaces—working, for example, to stop private music festivals from destroying public parks. It’s also taken progressive stances on parking at other parks. Still, I saw its stance in rejecting the Lucas Museum as a case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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How Can We Prevent Driverless Cars From Making Cities More Car-Dependent?

How Addicts Talk

A less-than-rosy view of autonomous cars from cartoonist Andy Singer.

For better or for worse, autonomous vehicles are likely to become an increasingly common part of the urban landscape. At last Friday’s Transport Chicago conference, a panel of transportation experts discussed the possible upsides of conventional cars being replaced by self-driving ones.

The greatest potential benefit would be getting rid of the most dangerous part of a car, according to the old joke, “the nut behind the wheel.” Assuming they’re designed well, autonomous cars would eliminate some of the safety problems associated with human operators, including speeding, red light running, and other types of moving violations, as well as distracted, drowsy, and drunk driving. This would likely result in a reduction in traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

The experts also argued that the new vehicles could potentially diminish the amount of pollution generated by cars, prevent traffic jams, and reduce the need for car parking. This is all true. But according to Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke, the panelists, who were all employees of transportation planning and engineering firms, glossed over some of the potential drawbacks of this new technology.

Active Trans, in partnership with Illinois Tech (formerly the Illinois Institute of Technology) will be hosting its own panel on the topic later this month:

Will Driverless Cars Be Good for Cities?
Monday, June 27
5:30 to 7 p.m.
565 West Adams, Chicago

In addition to Burke himself, panelists will include Jim Barbaresso from the planning firm HNTB, Sharon Feigon from the Shared Use Mobility Center, Ron Henderson from Illinois Tech’s College of Architecture. Tickets are $25.

Burke says the Active Trans panel will look at the possible pros and cons of self-driving cars and explore their potential impact on cities. “We decided to host this event in order to better inform our advocacy work,” Burke said. “We want to ask the questions the mainstream press is generally not asking: Is it possible autonomous cars could undermine biking, walking, and transit, and promote car dependency? Their potential safety benefits are exciting, but could they ultimately lead to more driving, not less?”

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Big Marsh could be a terrific bike park, but it’s not yet safe to pedal there

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A winter Slow Roll ride to Big Marsh. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate 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.]

Last week I rode the Red Line to 95th Street with my cruiser bike in tow, then pedaled about six miles to the future site of Big Marsh Bike Park, just east of Lake Calumet. Boosters say it will be a world-class, family-friendly venue for BMX riding, mountain biking, and cyclocross racing that will also provide recreational and economic opportunities for residents of low-income southeast- side neighborhoods near the park.

The bike park will lie within Big Marsh, a 278-acre expanse of open space that the Chicago Park District acquired in 2011. Environmental remediation is currently under way, since the area was formerly a slag-dumping site for steel mills, and the Park District expects the facility will open in late fall.

But my ride from the el station would have been traumatizing for novice cyclists. It was comfortable at first—a bike lane led south on State Street, then another took me east on 103rd. But after I passed under the Metra Electric tracks at Cottage Grove, the bike lane disappeared and 103rd ballooned into a four-lane highway with fast traffic, including several 18-wheelers.

Next I rode south on Stony Island toward Lake Calumet, but things weren’t much better on that stretch of road. Although Stony and Doty, the two streets that circle the lake, offer scenic views of the remediated landfill, with its tallgrass, ponds, and a variety of wild birds, they’re also frequented by fast-moving trucks headed to and from industrial businesses. I got spooked by a huge gas tanker thundering by even though I spent six years of my life working as a bike messenger on the mean streets of the Loop.

Getting to Big Marsh is equally arduous if you’re coming from the Roseland and Pullman communities to the west, the East Side, South Deering, and Hegewisch neighborhoods to the east, or the Altgeld Gardens housing project to the south. There is no direct transit access to the park, although several CTA bus lines terminate at a bus garage a 2.5-mile bike ride from the park.

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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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