Time to rally behind Active Trans

Photo: Doug Knuth
Photo: Doug Knuth

As you may have noticed recently, the Active Transportation Alliance and Streetsblog Chicago aren’t always on the same side of sustainable transportation issues. The group has indicated that it won’t advocate for reopening the Lakefront Trail during the pandemic; We’re calling for the trail to be reopened for biking during the crisis.

Similarly, Active Trans has stated that they don’t believe it’s appropriate to advocate for making more room for walking and biking while COVID-19 is raging. We disagree, and feel that Chicago should follow the lead of many other U.S. cities by opening streets to enable safe, socially-distanced transportation and recreation during this crucial period.

However, the vast majority of the time Active Trans and Streetsblog Chicago are on the same page when it comes to promoting better walking, biking, and transit in the region. Moreover, sustainable transportation boosters have come to rely on the 35-year-old organization to work with community stakeholders to build support for good projects; hold meetings with aldermen and bend the mayor’s ear regarding city ordinances; and ride Amtrak to Springfield and lobby Illinois legislators to pass good statewide policies.

For example, that unprecedented $50 million a year earmarked for bike/walk in the Illinois infrastructure bill that passed in 2019? That wouldn’t have happened without tireless work by Active Trans.

And the group has been doing key advocacy during the pandemic, even as their downtown offices are shuttered:

It’s easy to take that kind of work for granted, and not miss it until it’s gone. Active Trans is kind of like the electric company or the water department: providing essential services.

Likewise, we’ve come to assume that on one day every year, large metal polluting boxes will be banished from Lake Shore Drive and replaced with tens of thousands of smiling people on bicycles. Bike the Drive is Active Trans’ most important fundraiser, but for the first time since 2002 it’s not happening this year. Holding a giant group bike ride just isn’t responsible during a respiratory pandemic, so pulling the plug was the responsible thing to do.

“Following the recommendations set forth by local and federal officials, the Active Transportation Alliance has made the difficult decision to cancel Fifth Third Bike the Drive, which was scheduled for May 24,” event manager Clare McDermott said via email. “Unfortunately the city is unable to provide an alternate date as so much is still unknown. At this time, there are no plans for an event later this summer.”

A t-shirt that's destined to be a collector's item.
A t-shirt that’s destined to be a collector’s item.

That means it’s likely that the group will lose its largest source of revenue this year, and they’re going to face stiff headwinds when it comes to other fundraising due to the corona-cession. So if Active Trans is going to weather the storm and remain a powerful force for sustainable transportation advocacy, it’s going to be crucial for Chicagoland residents to step up and help them fill their funding gap.

If you registered for Bike the Drive, an easy way to help out is by letting Active Trans keep your registration fee. As a bonus, you’ll receive a limited-edition t-shirt featuring a couch potato-friendly design. This shirt will also be available for sale to the general public. Trust me, this baby’s going to be valuable on eBay some day.

If you’ve been relatively fortunate during the pandemic, consider making a direct donation to Active Trans to support their important work.

A virtual version of the kiboshed event is in the works, including a Bike the Drive themed online happening, a participation certificate, raffles and a special video message from organizers. Watch the Bike the Drive website for updates. Personally, as long as the online event doesn’t involve Pelotons, I’m down. (Actually, since it will be for a good cause, even if it does involve that much-maligned brand of exercise equipment, I promise I won’t make a fuss.)

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