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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The crowd at the Active Trans gala. Photo: John Greenfield

“Biking, bike lanes, and bike sharing is mainstream for the transportation system of the city of Chicago,” he added. “I offer you this example. Kinzie was the first protected bike lane in the city. It is not an accident that Google… moved to the Merchandise Mart, where we have a train station and the first protected bike lane. It wasn’t the reason they did it, but it did help to convince them to move all 2,500 employees into the city of Chicago.”

“We also, in the city of Chicago, have Milwaukee Avenue, the most biked street in America,” Emanuel asserted. That’s another statement that could use a fact check. “We finished the Red Line South on time and on budget… Today we announced the development of the 95th Street station, the busiest station in the city outside the Loop. Theaster Gates, the artist, will do the largest art project in a CTA station in 95th Street station. Public art is not just for the Brown Line, it’s not just for the Red Line North, it’s for the entire transit system throughout the city.”

He touted the success of the Divvy bike-share program. “You know this is a success, both Divvy bikes and the bike lanes, when real estate developers are asking to put a Divvy bike station in front of their building. I find it a little ironic given that when we first proposed this, everyone was saying, ‘What do we need this European idea here for?’ Now everyone’s on the bandwagon, ‘Oh, Divvy, of course, that’s an obvious idea.’”

After touching on bus rapid transit and the Bloomingdale Trail, which he said would be “the finest trail in America,” Emanuel mentioned CDOT’s request for proposals for a contractor to activate 50 underused plazas citywide with facilities and programming. “I told Gabe, one of the things that we’ve done in the city, is the department of transportation is not really the department of transportation [anymore],” the mayor concluded. “It’s the department of public space and the public way.”

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