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CDOT Chief Touts Rahm Emanuel’s Transportation Wins at Active Trans Gala

The 43rd Street bike/ped bridge, which opened in December. Photo: CDOT

On Thursday about 200 members and supporters of the Active Transportation Alliance showed up to the 1871 tech incubator space in the Merchandise Mart for the advocacy group's annual awards ceremony, hosted by WBEZ's Jerome McDonell. The event honored local nonprofits, businesses and people that have made a significant impact on biking, walking and transit in the region, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, REI, and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Emanuel received the Public Leadership Award. "After two terms, Mayor Emanuel is leaving office having made Chicago a national leader in building better bike infrastructure through a growing network of protected bike lanes, off-street trails and neighborhood greenways," McDonnell said. "The mayor secured millions of dollars in federal funding to rebuild Chicago’s aging public transit system, he enhanced the city’s commitment to pedestrian safety, and he made it a priority to create separate trails for biking and walking along the Chicago lakefront."

Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld accepted the award on Emanuel's behalf. After thanking Active Trans and congratulating the other winners, she checked off the mayor's transportation accomplishments during his two terms in office, according to speech notes provided by CDOT. "It has certainly been a whirlwind eight years since the mayor took office and set Chicago on course to become recognized as America’s Best City for Biking in 2016," she said. Here's a list of the biking milestones she mentioned:

    • The Bloomingdale Trail (aka The 606)
    • The Lakefront Trail separation project
    • Partial completion of the Navy Pier Flyover
    • 200 miles of bikeways installed 2011-2018 (not yet verified by Streetsblog)
    • 22.5 miles of protected bike lanes installed 2011-2018
    • 108 miles of buffered bike lanes installed 2011-2018
    • 11 miles of neighborhood greenways installed 2011-2018
    • New bike/pedestrian bridges at 35th and 41st, with another slated for 43rd
    • New bridges being built as part of the 312 RiverRun trail between Belmont and Montrose
    • The Lincoln Village pedestrian and bike bridge (aka the bridge that Berny Stone blocked)
    • The creation of the 600-station Divvy bike-share system

Another bike improvement that wasn't on Scheinfeld's list is El Paseo, an at-grade biking and walking trail slated for Little Village and Pilsen.

Next the commissioner noted improvements made for pedestrians, saying that Emanuel has "pushed to make Chicago a better, safer city for walking, and also a greener city, one in which driving a car and taking up space on the roadway is not the default choice." She mentioned:

    • 44 streetscapes completed from 2011- 2018
    • Installation of curb extensions, pedestrian islands, countdown timers, and raised crosswalks at hundreds of intersections

Then she listed the following accomplishments for transit:

Other CTA initiatives that weren't on Scheinfeld's list the south Red Line reconstruction, planning for the south Red Line extension, the 95th Street and Garfield Green station rehabs, and the Red and Purple Modernization program. Scheinfeld also wisely chose not to mention Emanuel's efforts to bring Elon Musk's O'Hare Express scheme to Chicago, which Active Trans has argued has been a distraction from more important neighborhood transit needs.

"And finally, we really hope that one of the mayor’s most lasting legacies will be the Vision Zero traffic safety program," Scheinfeld said. "That’s something we’ve collaborated closely with Active Trans on --and we know that all of you will certainly be working with the next mayor to push Vision Zero forward – whoever SHE is – toward our ultimate goal of eliminating fatalities and serious injuries from traffic crashes."

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke; LSNA reps, including Christin Diaz, right; and Jerome McDonnel. Photo: Active Trans

Next the Logan Square Neighborhood Association received the Community Leadership Award. "In recent years, LSNA has been one of Active Trans’ strongest community partners," McDonnell said. "In addition to working for racial equity in a street reconstruction project and equitable development near transit stations, the group has led organizing efforts to address gentrification and displacement related to the 606 trail and has worked alongside Active Trans to create a community vision for safe access to the Chicago River." Christian Diaz, LSNA's lead housing organizer accepted the award.

REI receiving the Business Leadership Award. "REI has shown its commitment to improving active transportation in the region by hosting classes on biking, hosting rides and hikes, and participating in the Bike Commuter Challenge," McDonnell said. "For several years, REI has provided grant support for various Active Trans campaigns, like Trail Connect Chicagoland and advocacy work in the Lake Calumet region. It’s also been a champion of Active Trans’ events over the years, serving as an event sponsor and hosting Active Trans events in REI stores." Theresa Salus, REI's outdoor program and experiences manager for Chicago and Twin Cities, accepted the award.

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