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

North Lake Shore Drive public meeting #2

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

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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.

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Could IDOT Bike Plan Represent a Turning Point for the Car-Centric Agency?

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Cover of the executive summary for the bike plan.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has a long history of promoting driving before all other modes. However, its new Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, released this morning at the Illinois Bike Summit in Champaign, may represent a new direction for the department.

In recent years, IDOT has pushed wasteful, destructive highway projects like the Circle Interchange Expansion and the Illiana Tollway, and it recently released a “Purpose and Need” statement for the North Lake Shore Drive rehab that was written largely from a windshield perspective.

When the department launched the public input process for the state bike plan last summer, it was still prohibiting Chicago from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city, apparently for reasons that had nothing to do with safety. It seemed ironic that IDOT was seeking input on strategies for improving bike safety when its own policy undermined it.

In October, at a memorial for Robert “Bobby” Cann, a cyclist who was killed by a motorist on Clybourn, a state road, it was announced that IDOT was lifting the PBL ban. The agency is currently working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to design protected bike lanes on Clybourn, possibly shielded by concrete curbs, on an experimental basis.

This morning, the Active Transportation Alliance heralded the release of the bike plan, which calls for improvements to state road design and more funding for bike safety projects, as a sign of IDOT’s growing commitment to improving conditions for non-motorized transportation. “This is not an easy task given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking,” the Active Trans release said.

“With the adoption of its Complete Streets policy in 2007, its plans to pilot-test protected bike lanes on state routes, and now the state bike plan, I think it’s fair to say IDOT is turning the corner, so to speak, toward a multi-modal approach that provides a range of transportation options for Illinois residents,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke in a statement.

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A Hard Decision: Should the Viagra Triangle Be Pedestrianized?

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Mariano Park in springtime. Photo: Dustin Halleck

The Active Transportation Alliance’s recent call for 20 Chicago streets to be considered for partial or total pedestrianization has definitely got people talking. One idea that already has a bit of traction is pedestrianizing the upscale Gold Coast nightlife area centered around three-sided Mariano Park. This district, bounded by State, Rush, and Bellvue, is nicknamed the Viagra Triangle because it’s a popular place for well-heeled older gents to take their dates, lined with upscale venues like Tavern on Rush and Gibson’s steakhouse.

Active Trans boldly included the nearby Magnificent Mile as a potential candidate for pedestrianization, and the list also included a call for creating car-free space on “segments of Rush Street in the Gold Coast.” The day after 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly told the Sun-Times it would be “irresponsible” to permanently close the Mag Mile to car traffic, he tweeted a request for input on the topic, prompting a response from former Illinois treasurer Alexi Giannoulias:

When I contacted Giannoulis via Twitter for clarification last week, I didn’t get a response, which wasn’t surprising because it was only a few days after he’d gotten married. However, it’s safe to assume he was talking about pedestrianizing the three streets bordering Mariano Park.

The idea makes plenty of sense. Pedestrianizing streets works best in areas that already have thriving retail. That’s certainly the case with the Viagra Triangle, which is lined with at least eight bars and restaurants with outdoor seating. During the summer, the small park is one of the city’s most successful public spaces, with tall trees, a fountain, a gelato stand, and plenty of tables and chairs drawing dozens of people at a time.

Closing one or more of the streets to cars could improve safety in a location where 19 people on foot and seven cyclists were injured by drivers between 2005 and 2012, according to Illinois Department of Transportation data. The pedestrianized streets would make it easier to access the park and provide additional space for people to socialize. Fewer cars in the vicinity would mean a more relaxing environment for customers at the many sidewalk cafes, and perhaps some of the extra room on the street could be used for additional seating, which would mean more revenue for the businesses.

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Citing Lack of Funds, Active Trans Discontinues Open Streets

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Bollywood dancing at the 2012 Open Streets in Wicker Park. Photo: John Greenfield

It pains me to report there probably won’t be an Open Streets event in Chicago this year. Since 2005, the Active Transportation Alliance has been lobbying the city of Chicago to stage a ciclovía, a Latin American-style car-free event, in which the streets are opened for walking, biking, and other forms of healthy recreation. Various city departments declined to help organize and raise funds for Open Streets (originally called Sunday Parkways), so Active Trans did the work themselves, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to hold a number of events between 2008 and 2013. Much of the money was used for paying for the police officers and traffic control aides required by the city.

In 2012, for example, Active Trans staged two Open Streets in the Loop and on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, at a cost of between $100,000 and $150,000 each. The ciclovías were bankrolled with major donations from the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area, plus additional funding from The Illinois Center for Broadcasting, Walgreens, REI and PNC Bank. Both were joyful affairs, with thousands of Chicagoans of all stripes coming out to stroll, jog, pedal, play, dance and relax on the car-free streets.

Last year the CLA got a new executive director and offered Active Trans a much smaller donation, so the downtown event was canceled, but the Milwaukee event was expanded from a 1.4-mile route to a 2.6-mile route, which also included Logan Square. The event was paid for mostly by the local SSA and sponsors Aldi, Walgreens, and Revolution Brewing.

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Playing four-square during a break in the rain during last year’s Open Streets on Milwaukee.

For the first time in the history of Chicago’s ciclovías, thanks to lobbying efforts by then-transportation commissioner Gabe Klein and his deputy Scott Kubly, the city paid for police and traffic control, at a cost of roughly $25,000. Active Trans spent about $75,000 of its own money on the event, including part of the salary for its Open Streets manager, Julia Kim.

Unfortunately, it poured down rain much of that Saturday, so most of the activities were canceled and a relatively small number of diehards showed up to participate. This underscored the importance of staging multiple Open Streets events per year, as is done in peer cities like New York, San Francisco, L.A., and Portland, Oregon, so as not to put all of one’s eggs in a single basket. After this expensive disappointment, and a lack of sufficient funding for ciclovías this year, it’s understandable that Active Trans decided to cut its losses.

“We’re not planning to do Open Streets in 2014, but if some dependable revenue source emerges to do at least a couple of events, we will certainly do whatever we can to help out,” said executive director Ron Burke. He added that for a Chicago ciclovía to succeeds, there needs to be several events per year so that people become accustomed to them and learn to take advantage of the opportunity to play in the street. “We remain hopeful that a donor or the city will be able to provide sufficient funding to do a true Open Streets event on multiple days on a significantly long route.”

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Emanuel Touts His Transportation Accomplishments at Active Trans Gala

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Rahm Emanuel and Active Trans director Ron Burke. Photo: John Greenfield

On Tuesday, the Active Transportation Alliance honored several movers and shakers in the local sustainable transportation scene at an awards reception in the Revolution Brewing taproom. Mayor Rahm Emanuel was given the Extra Mile Award in recognition of his role in implementing bike-share, bus rapid transit, the Red Line South rehab, and protected bike lanes.

The Public Leadership Award went to the city of Evanston, recognizing it as the first Chicago suburb to build protected bike lanes, as well as its current project of updating its bike plan to emphasize “eight-to-eighty” facilities. 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis and 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett received Public Leadership Awards for their support for protected bike lanes, bike education, the Open Streets ciclovia and “innovative transit projects.” While these council members deserved recognition for being generally progressive on transportation, it’s worth noting that Reilly recently tweeted about “public frustration” with cyclists, and Burnett has said he doesn’t support the Ashland bus rapid transit plan.

Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, who is leaving the city to launch transportation technology enterprises in the private sector, also received a Public Leadership Award for his work to make Chicago a better city for walking, biking and transit. “There’s sort of a magic recipe for making all this stuff work, and it’s having people like Mayor Emanuel, it’s about having the elected officials that you saw here tonight, and it’s about having great activism and outreach,” Klein told the crowd. “I’d like to thank Active Trans for the last two-and-a half years of awesome, awesome support.”

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CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. Photo: John Greenfield

“And most importantly, it’s about having an amazing transportation department and the people that work at CDOT were just waiting for someone to come in and say yes instead of no,” he added. “A lot of you here in this room have become my friends and partners and crime, and it’s been a real blast,” he added. “But, as Helen Keller once said, ‘Life is either a daring adventure or it’s nothing at all.’ So, on to the next adventure from Chicago for me, and it’s something to celebrate, not be sad about.”

Business Leadership Awards were given to local bike parts manufacturer SRAM and e-commerce company Groupon. SRAM sponsors World Bicycle Relief, which distributes utility bikes in developing countries, and the SRAM Cycling Fund, which has provided grants for bike advocacy efforts and infrastructure, including the Kinzie protected bike lane. Groupon held a fundraiser that raised more than $40,000 for Active Trans in honor of Groupon employee Bobby Cann, who was killed on his bike this spring by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver.

When Emanuel took the microphone, he highlighted his administration’s sustainable transportation accomplishments. “We’re on course to do a 100 miles of [buffered and] protected bike lanes in four years,” he said. “One-fifth of the entire nation’s protected bike lanes are here in the city of Chicago. By the time [Emanuel’s first term is over] we will be just shy of one-third of the entire nation’s protected bike lanes.” Those numbers could use fact checking, but presumably he’s comparing the 34 miles of buffered lanes and 16 miles of protected lanes in Chicago, since CDOT counts both as “protected,” with the mileage of PBLs in other cities.

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