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Posts tagged "Active Transportation Alliance"

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The Lockbox Amendment Would Hinder the State Government

Metra over traffic

A proposed constitutional amendment on election ballots right now may go too far in restricting state transportation funding because its language doesn’t address multimodal needs.

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance and John Greenfield have different opinions about the lockbox amendment. Read John’s take here.

On every ballot in Illinois right now – early voting and mail-in voting has begun – there’s a question asking if the Illinois constitution should be amended to ensure that money that comes from gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, and similar transportation taxes and fees, goes only to pay for transportation infrastructure and projects. The purpose of the so-called “Safe Roads Amendment” is to prevent lawmakers from using the state’s various transportation funds to pay for other state needs.

Adopting the amendment will create a new problem of inflexibility while failing to resolve the state’s actual problems. There is insufficient funding in Illinois for all of the transportation projects communities and legislators want completed, and too often car-centric initiatives are prioritized while projects that would reduce car dependency are back-burnered. The amendment doesn’t address that problem.

The Safe Roads Amendment is being pushed by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, made up of highway construction industry and labor lobbying groups, as well as nonprofits like the Metropolitan Planning Council. The coalition has run ads suggesting that roads and bridges in Illinois are in danger of falling apart and causing injuries and fatalities because transportation funding has been diverted to non-transportation uses due to Springfield’s waste and mismanagement. That’s misleading.

The coalition is claiming that $6.8 billion was diverted from transportation projects, but that number is inaccurate. That money paid for various state needs, which often included, depending on how the diversions are tabulated, actual transportation-related payments. Also, the state’s structurally-deficient bridges are being monitored and repaired as needed using money that the Illinois Department of Transportation budgets each year.

The Civic Federation, a watchdog organization, reviewed which monies have been transferred out of the various transportation funds since 2002. They wrote, “which spending counts as a transportation diversion has been a thorny issue for many years.” For example, it’s debatable whether it’s counts as a transportation diversion when money from the funds goes to pay for pensions and health insurance for Illinois Department of Transportation employees.

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Active Trans Wins $150K Grant to Help Accelerate Slow Chicago Bus Service

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Prepaid boarding is currently being tested at Madison/Dearborn — riders swipe their fare card at a portable reader before the bus arrives. Photo: John Greenfield

There was some good news for Chicago straphangers last week. TransitCenter, a New York-based foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility, awarded 16 grants, totaling more than $17 million, to civic organizations, universities, and municipalities, and the Active Transportation Alliance was one of the winners. The Active Trans proposal, called Speeding Up Chicago’s Buses, involves working with the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation to eliminate some of the roadblocks to faster transit and higher ridership.

Like many large U.S. cities, Chicago has seen an increase in rail ridership but a decrease in bus use in recent years. In 2015, ‘L’ ridership hit record levels, with 241.7 million rides. But, while buses still accounted for the majority of the rides last year, bus use dropped for the third year in a row, falling by 0.6 percent from 2014 levels to 274.3 rides.

“Declining bus use is not acceptable,” said Kyle Whitehead, director of government relations for Active Trans. When bus ridership falls, he noted, it can lead to reductions in the hours and frequency of service, which in turn can reduce ridership, creating a vicious cycle.

“That has an equity impact,” Whitehead said. “Many parts of town without easy rail access are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. If bus service declines, it disproportionately affects people in these neighborhoods.”

Whitehead said Active Trans will use the grant to expand on the transit advocacy they’ve done over the last few years, including outreach on the city’s Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit proposal. That project is currently on hold due to backlash from residents and merchants against plans to create bus-only lanes and limit left turns from the avenue. But if the downtown Loop Link BRT corridor, which opened last December, is ultimately judged a success, it could lead to renewed interest in the Ashland proposal.

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There Have Been Three Serious Bike Crashes and Four Deaths in Last 12 Days

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A woman rides a bike in Wicker Park, near the location where a 15-year-old boy was struck and injured this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s almost starting to feel like Bicycling magazine naming Chicago as the nation’s best bike city last week has turned into a curse. In the two weeks since that announcement on Monday, September 19, the region has seen the following bike fatalities and crashes with injuries requiring hospitalization:

  • On Monday, September 19, around 2 p.m. Wlodzimierz Woroniecki, 60, was struck and killed by a motorcyclist while cycling in west-suburban Franklin Park.
  • On Thursday, September 22, at about 2 p.m. a 14-year-old girl was seriously injured by an SUV driver while biking from school in southwest-suburban Plainfield.
  • On Thursday, September 22, at around 5 p.m., Northwestern student Chuyuan Qiu, 18, died after colliding with a concrete truck by the university’s campus in north-surburban Evanston.
  • On Friday, September 23, at around 4 p.m., Naperville resident Danielle Palagi, 26, was struck by a semi driver by the Chicago’s Illinois Medical Campus, sustaining injuries that required the amputation of her foot.
  • On Sunday, September 25, at 2:59 a.m. pizzeria worker Nick Fox, 52, died from injuries sustained in a June train/bike crash in Clearing.
  • On Monday, September 26, at 7:50 a.m. health coach Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23, was struck and killed by a flatbed truck driver in Roscoe Village.

This morning there was yet another bike crash case to add to the list. At 7:36 a.m., a 15-year old male was struck and injured by the northbound driver of a 2002 Nissan Sentra compact car in the 1500 block of North Damen Avenue in Wicker Park, according to Officer Thomas Sweeney from Police News Affairs.

The teen was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in stable condition and was expected to survive, according to Sweeney. No citations have been issued to the driver. This post will be updated if additional information becomes available.

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Active Trans’ Kickstand Classic Fundraiser Ride Springs Into Action

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Students from South Elgin High cheer on a rider. Photo: John Greenfield

Last Sunday was the maiden voyage of the Active Transportation Alliance’s Kickstand Classic, a combination race and fun ride to support the group’s walking, biking, and transit advocacy effects. Thanks in part to absolutely perfect weather, the event, held in the northwest-suburban village of Bartlett, appeared to be a big success, which makes it seem likely it will become an annual happening.

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One of the faster heats gets ready to ride. Photo: Active Trans

Active Trans director Ron Burke had stressed beforehand that the Kickstand Classic was an experiment, because it was intended as a cross between a competitive race and a leisurely recreational ride, something that may not have been done before in the U.S. But the event exceeded expectations – the group had hoped for 500 participants and instead sold out the event with 600. Burke wasn’t sure yesterday how much money was taken in, but it seems likely the event could grow into a significant funding source for the organization.

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Some nice scenery along the way. Photo: John Greenfield

The starting line and post-race festival area were located just south of the local Metra station and the event took place on a 4.8-mile, roughly trapezoidal course of village streets that were rendered car-free for the occasion. There were three different heats for experienced, fast racers and road riders; confident cyclists who wanted to try their hand at racing; and casual riders who wanted to see what it was like to pedal a bit faster, or just take a mellow cruise (I counted myself in that last category).

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

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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.”

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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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Active Trans Is Running Chicago’s Action-Packed Bike Week This Year

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For the first time in a quarter-century, the Active Transportation Alliance, rather than the city, is putting on Chicago Bike Week, a full slate of fun events to promote transportation cycling in the region. “We’re providing the funding, producing the events, and involving the community partners,” says Active Trans marketing and events director Clare McDermott. “Basically, bringing it to the people.”

The advocacy group, previously called the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, organized the city’s first Bike Week in 1991, but the city government has run the event in recent years. “The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events was not going to do it again this year, and it was something we wanted to see continue, so we are happy to be able to do it again this year,” McDermott said. According to DCASE spokesman Jamie Lundblad, the city decided not to stage Bike Week as a cost-saving measure.

The department is not producing any other bike events this year, McDermott said. “But, of course, [the Chicago Department of Transportation] will continue to promote biking,” she added.

It’s impressive that Active Trans is staging Bike Week so soon after their successful Bike the Drive fundraiser on May 29, which required a massive amount of staff and volunteer work hours. They don’t yet have a final figure for the amount of money raised, but an estimated 20,500 riders participated. “We had a great turnout this year,” McDermott said.

The centerpiece of Bike Week is the annual Bike to Work Rally, which takes place on Friday, June 17 at Daley Plaza, from 7-9 a.m. Typically the mayor or a CDOT representative gives a sort of state of the union address at the event, touting Chicago’s latest bike achievement. A free breakfast will be served to cyclist, and there will be giveaways such as this year’s Bike Week T-shirt and other goodies from 28 participating vendors and sponsors.

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The Bike to Work Rally. Photo: John Greenfield

The Bike Commuter Challenge started today and runs all next week. Hundreds of companies from across the region are competing to see who can have the highest bike-to-work rate. Tips for newbie bike commuters are available at the contest’s website. “We want to make sure people have a good experience the first time, so they’re more likely to choose cycling as a fun, easy way of commuting,” McDermott said.

Tomorrow, June 11, from 6-10 p.m., the New Belgium Art Bike Program takes place at Galerie F, 2381 North Milwaukee in Logan Square. Although it’s not an official Bike Week event, New Belgium is Active Trans’ beer sponsor this year, and the proceeds from the event will benefit the advocacy group. The party will showcase work by local artist Sick Fisher, who created an art bike and a mural in collaboration with the brewery. Tickets are $15, including beer samples, a raffle ticket, and New Belgium schwag.

The Two Wheels, One City Ride takes place on Wednesday, June 15, at 6:30, leaving from Blackstone Bicycle Works, 6100 South Blackstone in Woodlawn. Slow Roll Chicago leads the ride, which highlights the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods, and cyclists of all backgrounds are encouraged to participate.

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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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