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At annual meeting, ATA honored new advocacy orgs, discussed its playbook for 2023

Beer and beards: Bike attorney Brendan Kevenides from FK Law (an SBC sponsor) and new ATA board member Chris Valadez, co-founder of Cycle Brookfield, at the meeting at Revolution Brewing’s taproom. Photo via ATA

Last Tuesday about 150 Chicago sustainable transportation advocates showed up to Revolution Brewing's taproom in Avondale for the Active Transportation Alliance's annual meeting. The purpose of the event was to honor the group's volunteers as well as peer advocacy groups; conduct board business; and inform members about ATA's priorities for next year.

At the start of the meeting, ATA executive director Amy Rynell provided a rundown of what happened in Chicago this year from a livable streets perspective, using the metaphor of a seesaw. "On one end of the 2022 seesaw is the weight, the load, of our overwhelmingly car-centric transportation decisions and the tremendously harmful consequences of that system to life, our health, our environment. We have experienced the lowest of lows, devastating, unnecessary and preventable loss of life of people on our streets." For example, she noted that this year saw a continuation of the region's pandemic-era traffic death epidemic, including high numbers of pedestrian and bike fatalities, with many children, seniors, and people waiting for buses killed.

Amy Rynell addresses members. Photo via ATA
Amy Rynell addresses members. Photo via ATA
Amy Rynell addresses members. Photo via ATA

"On the other end of that seesaw of 2022 is the power, the strength of the growing movement for safe streets for all, for active transportation," Rynell continued. She noted that ATA partnered with the loved ones of local bike crash victims to successfully advocate for adding concrete barriers to all of Chicago's existing "protected" bike lanes. "So help me lower [citywide] speed limits are right around the corner."

Rynell added that another low this year was the sorry state of the CTA, with COVID-era staffing shortages leading to service gaps and the infuriating "ghost run" problem, with a lack of transparency from agency leaders adding insult to injury. "It’s taken organizing, rallies, testimony, media, data, and action to hold CTA’s feet to fire to respond, put forth an action plan, and begin to turn the tide. Can we hear it for our transit advocates in the room!"

She then outlined plans for 2023 including:

    • Prepping for safe streets legislation at the state level
    • Rynell will co-lead a new The Transit System We Want committee, which will bring strategies to increase ridership and improve user experience to the state legislature and transit agencies.
    • A state level campaign in partnership with with Illinois environmental advocacy leaders to fight climate change via sustainable transportation is in the works.
    • ATA hopes to influence the February Chicago municipal elections "in ways that could grow active transportation by leaps and bounds."

Next ATA board president Peggy Reins and vice president Rubani Shaw presented the slate of current board members seeking re-election for another three-year term, and potential new board members who will complete a three-year term.

    • Kim Bayma
    • Jane Blew Healy
    • Corey Coscioni
    • Jeff Judge
    • Jim Kreps
    • Peggy Reins
    • Jim Rogers
    • Luann Hamilton
    • Brandy Hillman
These new board members were elected:
    • Chris Valadez
    • Dao Ngo
    • Joseph Donegan
    • Mulubwa Munkanta
Attendees at the meeting. Photo: ATA
Attendees at the meeting. Photo: ATA
Attendees at the meeting. Photo: ATA

After that Martin Frank, a longtime SAG driver for ATA's crucial annual Bike the Drive fundraiser, was named volunteer of the year. And the following people who have helped out with the event for a decade or more received the Bike the Drive Legacy Award.

    • Roland Hayes
    • Darryl Wood
    • KeithMistrik
    • Art Gilfand
    • Bryce Sabin
    • Kevin Crowley
    • Travis Cronkhite
    • Milan Stevanovich
    • Howard Zar
    • James Kreps
    • Rick Pavia
    • Julie Sherman
    • Paul Aeschleman
    • Sam Frolichstein-Appel

Next Advocate of the Year awards went to the following groups, including several relatively new sustainable transportation groups that have done effective campaigns this year.

Access Living and Better Streets Chicago were honored for their Plow the Sidewalk Campaign for municipal snow clearance, including a rally at City Hall last month.

Chicago, Bike Grid Now was recognized for its weekly Bike Bus rides, which offer a safe commuting option downtown from multiple neighborhoods across the city.

ATA honored Commuters Take Action for its campaign to tackle the ghost bus and train problem, including a protest at CTA headquarters.

And the Southwest Collective was recognized for its campaigns to build bike culture on Chicago's Southwest Side.

As the meeting continued Randy Neufeld, who was ATA's first executive director when the group launched in 1985 – a full 37 years ago – and has served as a board member in recent years, was given the mic to give remarks as he begins his exit from the Board of Directors for the ATA. He asked, "What will it take to go to the next level?" He noted that the organization was launched as a shoestring operation, but now has 22 full-time employees. However, he argued that the group will need 200 employees plus many volunteers to achieve the organization's grand vision of making the Chicagoland region a truly safe, equitable, efficient, and fun place to get around by sustainable modes. Therefore, he said, a robust business model for the organization's growth is needed.

Randy Neufeld addresses ATA members. Photo via ATA
Randy Neufeld addresses ATA members. Photo via ATA
Randy Neufeld addresses ATA members. Photo via ATA

The meeting ended with a discussion of plans for educating Chicagoans about the upcoming municipal elections. In addition to the mayor's race, 14 to 15 alderperson seats will be up for grabs, which means there's a lot of opportunity for residents to elect a more walk/bike/transit-friendly City Council. ATA is working with a coalition of partner organizations, including most of the advocacy groups that were honored that evening, Chicago Jobs with Justice, and others, to define a shared agenda. Strategies to educate voters include:

    • ATA will publish an election platform
    • The group will work with the Transportation Equity Network to conduct six "deep-dive listening sessions" with community organizations on the South and West sides
    • ATA will survey candidates to get their positions on walking, biking, and transit issues.  
    • The group will host a candidates forum where hopefuls can discuss their visions for sustainable transportation in Chicago.  
    • ATA will feature the results of its mayoral and City Council candidate questionnaires in a voter guide.  
A Safe Streets Platform idea generator that was posted on a wall seeking feedback from attendees. Photo via ATA
A Safe Streets Platform idea generator was posted to collect feedback from attendees. Photo via ATA
A Safe Streets Platform idea generator that was posted on a wall seeking feedback from attendees. Photo via ATA

After the presentation, attendees socialized and left comments on large posters for brainstorming ideas to improve walking, biking, and transit in the city and surrounding suburbs.

Follow Imelda March on Twitter at @hcram1.

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