Fate of Illiana Tollway boondoggle to be determined this week

As criticism of the ill-conceived Illiana Tollway project mounts, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) board and policy committee will hold two critical votes this week to determine whether the 50-mile, four-lane Will County highway should remain in the GO TO 2040 regional plan.

The proposed highway would link Interstate 55 with I-57 and I-65, serving only 8,000 vehicles per day at a cost of over $1 billion. The state is proposing to build the project as a public-private partnership with the state guaranteeing a private operator's costs.

An analysis by CMAP’s own staff completed last year, however, found that the highway’s traffic and toll projects would fall short, leaving taxpayers responsible for filling a gap ranging from $440 million to $1.1 billion.

Active Trans is part of a diverse group of advocacy groups -- including Openlands, Sierra Club, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Environmental Law and Policy Center -- in opposing the project.

Experience shows that building new highways in the Chicago region, particularly in the exurbs where the Illiana would be located, will over time lead to prioritizing investments in infrastructure that promote more driving, more congestion and development patterns that are not conducive to walking, biking and riding public transit.

Active Trans will be testifying against the project at Wednesday’s CMAP board meeting and Thursday’s CMAP policy committee meeting. Both bodies can vote to remove the project from the regional plan but that responsibility ultimately lies with the policy committee under federal law.

Over a 50-day public comment period this summer, more than 1,400 public comments were submitted via letters, emails and in-person public meetings. The Chicago Tribune, Daily HeraldCrain’s Chicago Business and Rockford Star have all editorialized against the project, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle both oppose the project.

Last month, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) put the project on its “boondoggles” list of 11 examples of wasteful spending projects. Let’s hope CMAP votes to remove this black eye from our regional plan this week.

Graphic courtesy of MPC. 

Divvy expands to Evanston and Oak Park

Bike sharing is coming to Evanston and Oak Park, and once again it's expanding in the city of Chicago, too!

“Expanding Divvy outside of the city limits means fewer cars on the roads and gives more residents and visitors the fun opportunity to take a ride,” said Governor Pat Quinn at Evanston’s annual Bike the Ridge event last weekend.

Evanston Mayor Tisdahl added, “Divvy will help improve residents’ health and lower the city’s carbon footprint.”

The $3 million in new funding brings 12 Divvy stations to Oak Park and eight to Evanston, and also adds 50 new docking stations with bicycles to Chicago’s Garfield Park, Austin, Rogers Park and West Rogers Park neighborhoods.

Though it is too early to say exactly where the stations would be installed, site planning is being discussed.  (Do you have a suggestion for a station location?)

For many months, Active Trans has been part of the chorus of voices urging the state of Illinois to locate funding for this project. To help with the expansion, Active Trans also provided support to the city of Oak Park in assessing locations for Divvy stations.  

“Ever since Divvy arrived in Chicago, we’ve been hearing from residents who are eager to have bike sharing in village,” said Oak Park’s Parking and Mobility Services Director, Jill Velan.

And now it'll be here by spring 2015. Congratulations Oak Park, Evanston and Chicago!

Photo of Evanston Mayor Tisdahl courtesy of Wally Bobkiewicz and the city of Evanston. 

City moving ahead with Central Loop BRT and other downtown improvements

The city announced today that work will begin next year on the Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, a new transit center at Union Station and an elevated Washington/Randolph CTA station.

This is exciting news that will help make transportation downtown safer and more efficient for everyone.

With increasing demand to move around the Loop and limited space, the only way to reduce gridlock and make it easier to get around is by making riding transit, biking and walking more safe and convenient.

Nearly 80 percent of trips in the Loop are done by bus, bike or on foot, yet cars and taxis occupy most of the street space and cause congestion.

Buses account for only 4 percent of vehicles but move 47 percent of the people traveling in vehicles and 21 percent of all people moving through the Loop, including pedestrians.

Nearly 30,000 people per day will have quicker bus trips to and from work, the museum campus, Navy Pier and other destinations, and the improvements will also create more order and safety downtown for everyone."

The Chicago Tribune put together this helpful infographic that provides maps and visuals for the new projects. More info is also available on the city’s project website and fact sheet.

Central Loop BRT is expected to be running by the end of 2015 and the new CTA station will be completed in 2016.

Buses will travel in dedicated bus-only lanes linking to commuter rail stations and traffic signals will be programmed to give buses a jump on other traffic at intersections.

According to the CTA, passengers will save an average of 7.5 minutes for trips of less than a mile.

Active Trans has been advocating for investment in BRT in Chicago for several years, and most recently we've been rallying support for projects in the Central Loop and Ashland corridors.

Prepayment to ease boarding at crowded bus stations is critical to successful BRT projects, and the CTA has committed to introducing prepayment at the Madison/Dearborn station, with plans to expand implementation of fare gates to all stations in the system eventually. We are hopeful this happens quickly as riders experience the benefits of prepayment and a faster trip.

The projects also represent progress in improving and expanding Chicago’s network of protected bike lanes. New protected bike lanes will be added to Clinton Street, Washington Street and Randolph Street. Clinton Street will include a two-way lane from Fulton to Harrison with access to transit at Ogilvie and Union Station.

The design of the Clinton lane will be similar to what now exists on Dearborn downtown. A recent study showed bicycle ridership on Dearborn increased 171 percent in its first year, 92 percent of cyclists felt safer and compliance with traffic laws was much higher than before the lane was introduced.

Rendering of the Central Loop BRT station courtesy of CTA. 

Get ready for an improved North Branch Trail

We’re getting closer and closer to seeing the popular North Branch trail extended 3 miles further south, adding low-stress connections from the North Branch Trail to the Sauganash, Lakefront and Weber Spur trails.

Construction on the trail extension, which has been in the works since 2005, is anticipated to start in the spring of 2015 and will take approximately a year to complete. Many supporters attended the most recent public meeting in August, when the Forest Preserve District of Cook County updated the community on project.

Following the meeting, the project team updated the FAQ on the trail website with more details about the extension.

The existing 18-mile trail begins at Devon and Caldwell Avenues and travels north across 10 city and suburban communities, ending in Glencoe at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

The extension will add 3 miles to the existing trail, south to Foster and Kostner Avenues. From there, bicyclists can connect to the Sauganash Trail to the north, the Lakefront Trail to the east and the planned Weber Spur Trail to the northeast.

This 3 mile, off-street trail is the missing link between the North Branch Trail and the city of Chicago’s bike network, which includes 230 miles of trails and bike lanes.

Stay tuned for further updates on the project.

Unfortunately, there's been some resistance to the project from a handful of local residents. To express your support for the project and sign-up for the contact list, email Forest Preserve Senior Planner Kindy Kruller at kindy.kruller@cookcountyil.gov.

The next community meeting -- to be held in February or March -- will focus on the construction process and will highlight any updated plans.

Another exciting development on the North Branch Trail is a new 1-mile connection on the north end of the trail, linking the Chicago Botanic Garden to the Green Bay Trail to the east (Active Trans staff were thrilled to be part of the recent ribbon cutting event for the trail). Learn more about that new trail connection.

This blog post was written by Roxanne Bertrand, Active Trans' Advocacy Intern

Metra changes bike policy to increase access

After hearing from a growing number of bicyclists who ride Metra, Metra leadership took positive steps to better accommodate bicyclists today with changes to its bikes on trains policy.

Starting October 6, bikes will be allowed on some early morning trains and they will no longer be banned during special events.

The change allows passengers to bring their bikes on early morning rush hour trains that arrive downtown at or before 6:30 a.m (16 trains total across 9 lines). Under the current policy, bikes are banned from all trains arriving in Chicago before 9:30 a.m.

Additionally, Metra will eliminate bike blackout periods during special events such as the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza and the Chicago Air & Water Show.

Passengers will be permitted to bring their bikes on trains during those events, but will be cautioned that crowded conditions could prevent bicycle access for the rider’s initial or return trip. These “warning dates” will replace blanket blackout periods from the previous policy during which bikes were banned on all trains in both directions for the entire weekend of special events.

“We believe these changes will provide better service to bicyclists in a way that is safe for all passengers and onboard personnel,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno in a news release from Metra about the change.

Metra’s bikes on trains policy is a topic that comes up frequently in our conversations with Active Trans members and supporters, and we regularly talk with Metra leadership about ways the policy can be improved. In 2005, we helped convince Metra to expand bicycle access from one train per week to daily off-peak accommodation.

This summer, we approached Metra after hearing from many supporters frustrated by the blanket blackout periods during special events and the bike ban on early morning trains, even when trains are nowhere near full capacity.

We’ll continue to talk with bicyclists who ride Metra and agency leadership to identify more potential improvements.

Meanwhile, we remain committed to working with other non-profit organizations to push the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District to allow bikes on South Shore Line trains. A feasibility study is currently underway on accommodating bicycles on the South Shore Line, one of the few remaining major commuter lines in the country that bans bikes.

UPDATE (10/3): With the new policy set to take effect next Monday October 6, we sent a letter to Metra expressing our support and our desire to continue discussions about how to improve bicycle access on Metra trains. Contact Campaign Director Kyle Whitehead if you have any feedback on the new policy.

Evanston leaders: Please forge ahead with Bike Plan Update

Evanston has one of the highest rates of biking in the entire country and is second only to Madison, WI on the list of midwestern bike hubs.

In response to the rapid growth in the number of people using bikes to get around town, Evanston recently adopted an exciting update to the city's bike plan.

But even in a bike-friendly place like Evanston, we need to speak up to ensure the bold vision included in the bike plan update becomes a reality.

That's why we're asking Evanston residents to add their name to the letter below we're sending to Mayor Tisdahl and the members of the Evanston City Council.

Read the letter and use the form below to add your name. And don't forget to share with your friends and family! The deadline for signatures is Monday, Sept. 29 at 9 a.m.

Dear Mayor Tisdahl and Evanston City Council:

We applaud you for adopting the Evanston Bike Plan Update and moving forward with planned developments recommended in the initial Evanston Bike plan. We urge you to continue implementing these planned improvements and move forward with implementation of projects in the plan update.

The plan and the update were developed with considerable input from residents, city staff and professional experts. They include proven strategies for achieving goals we deeply value: making Evanston’s streets safe, complete and livable.

The goal of making safe streets for all is especially urgent in Evanston. Our city is home to four of the top ten suburban intersections for bike and pedestrian crashes in Illinois from 2008 to 2012. When these unsafe conditions are combined with the fact that Evanston has one of the highest levels of bicycle ridership in the country, it’s clear we must take action.

Making travel safer is the shared responsibility of all road users. Research shows that the type of bike facilities and policies recommended in the plans make streets safer by creating more order, which reduces conflicts and crashes.

With this in mind, please support increased public safety by developing off-street bike paths, protected bike lanes, greenways and other comfortable corridors.

Consistent with the Complete Streets Resolution the city council adopted in May, the plans support Complete Streets that accommodate transportation options that enhance personal mobility rather than favoring motor vehicle traffic above all others.

The plans also support livable streets. Bike facilities are traffic-calming infrastructure that gives streets a human-scale feel that is comfortable and welcoming to local residents and visitors alike.

The development and adoption of these exciting documents are important milestones that reflect Evanston’s leadership as a bike-friendly city and its commitment to health, sustainability and local economic development.

Now is the time for Evanston to take the next step. We urge the city of Evanston to take concrete action to pursue the recommendations of the bike plans and look forward to supporting these efforts however we can.

Show your for Support Safer & Better Biking in Evanston

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New report calls region’s transit system “dysfunctional” and “depressing”

A new report highlights the lack of connectivity in our regional transit system and demonstrates the need for increased investment to avoid falling further behind our peer cities throughout the world.

The report draws further attention to the region’s shortcomings in public transportation on both national and international levels. It’s part of an international series on regional development by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

OECD criticizes the lack of transit connectivity between the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, noting that even though 36 percent of Chicagoans work outside of the city and 46 percent of the workers in Chicago live in the suburbs, the current hub-and-spoke transit system does not support many of these regional commuters.

Downtown, the Metra does not always connect well to the CTA, and there are limited bus routes near suburban rail stations. A commuter can get from their suburban station to downtown and vice versa fairly easily, but getting from their house to the station and the station to work is often a difficult trek.

Our transit spending is lagging, too. Compared to Chicago, London spends five times more on transit while New York City spends three times more.

If Chicago wants to remain competitive in the global economy and continue to attract young residents and encourage businesses to grow, we need to reexamine how we fund and plan our transit system. We cannot afford to fall further behind.

Our Transit Future campaign is set to address these issues of connectivity and development highlighted in the report.

In partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), our goal is for the Cook County Board of Commissioners to establish a dedicated revenue stream to fund new sustainable transit lines and reinvest in our existing system. It will expand CTA lines within the city and bring them further into the suburbs.

Transit Future will also create bus and arterial rapid transit routes that better serve both suburban and urban job centers, schools and recreational areas. As a result, the region will become more economically competitive while increasing Chicagoland’s environmental sustainability and overall livability.

We need your help! Sign our petition to pledge your support for Transit Future and urge Cook County commissioners to build a more connective Chicagoland. You can also volunteer to help spread our message and help organize transit supporters in your area.

This blog post was contributed by Sydney Prusak, an Active Trans advocacy intern. 

Reading staged for bike shop drama

 Last week, Active Trans was thrilled to be the guest of honor at a reading of a new play by Chicagoan Neil Connelly, "RIDE," at the revered Logan Square bike shop, Oscar Wastyn Cycles.

While the performance was free, the organizers were requesting donations on behalf of Active Trans.

If you have never been to Oscar Wastyn Cycles, it's a standout among Chicago's bike retailers. The shop has been business for over 100 years and functions as much as a museum as it does a place for new bikes and repairs.

Lining the walls are gleaming relics from Chicago's past: track bikes with wooden rims, vintage Schwinn commuters, a world-record-setting tandem from the 1880s, and autographed, framed glossies of Chicago's long lineage of cycling royalty.

A large crowd turned out to see a reading of this drama about a bike shop owner's recent death on his bike and how it affects his family members, the business and two employees.

It’s a cycling-framed, humanist take on death, family tensions and the daily battles of running a small business. Think "Clerks" with more bikes and less profanity, while plumbing harsh philosophical lessons about what defines success.

Characters include a victim-blaming sister who can't figure out why anyone would ride a bike in the street, and the wise shop mascot/wrench who sleeps on a cot in the back. There’s also sly neighborhood intersection references and a mention of Old Style Beer and Chicago-style hot dog breakfasts (no ketchup).

Beneath it all is a strident call for action to make Chicago's streets safer for cycling.

Playwright Connelly said the work reflects his own experiences from the bike lane -- and behind the wheel. While the script is still in progress, Connelly said he's looking forward to more readings -- possibly at other shops, and staging it in the near future.

A heartfelt thanks to Neil Connelly, the directors Jackson Doran and GQ, and the cast for their performance and generosity. Thanks also to the audience for donations to Active Trans to help us continue our work of making the roads in Chicagoland safer for biking.

To learn about possible future readings/stagings of the play, get in touch with Neil Connelly at jneilconnelly@gmail.com.

Help make bicycling count

The Chicago Department of Transportation's Complete Streets program needs volunteers for the Fall 2014 Downtown Bike Count.

The fall count is scheduled for the following dates and times:

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 23, 4 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 27 12 p.m. - 2 p.m.

According to Bicycling Magazine's recent rankings of the top 50 U.S. cities for bicycling, Chicago is the second best city in America for riding a bike! We are up from fifth place in 2012.

During last year's fall bike count, volunteers recorded over 15,500 bicycle trips and helped document the need for more innovative bicycle infrastructure to help make Chicago an even better place for bicycling.

To volunteer, contact David Smith, CDOT bikeways planner, at david.smith@tylin.com or Katie Gallagher, CDOT bikeways planning intern, at kgallagher@apexconsults.com.

Northwest suburban communities adopt vision for Des Plaines River Trail

People who live and work in seven communities along the Des Plaines River Trail are on their way to having better access to this iconic trail in northern Chicagoland.

Today, the Des Plaines River Trail crosses many busy roads in Northwest Cook County, like Dundee, Milwaukee and Oakton — with little to no accommodations for people trying to walk or bike across these high speed, high volume roadways.

Additionally, few roads that intersect the trail have sidewalks, bike lanes or other paths that allow the 60,000 people live nearby and 30,000 employees work in the area to access the trail on foot or bike.

As a result, the trail has been underused and even avoided.

Fortunately, this is likely to change thanks to the local council of governments — called the Northwest Municipal Conference — adopting a plan that will help guide the communities along the trail in making transportation improvements that provide safe access to the trail on foot or bike.

It focuses on connecting residents and employees in the seven communities along a section of the trail in Cook County between Lake Cook Road and Higgins Road to the trail.

When this plan is implemented, people in Wheeling, Northbrook, Mount Prospect, Des Plaines, Glenview, Prospect Heights and Park Ridge will be able to safely access and cross the trail.

We’re proud to say that Active Trans was a major contributor to the plan and developed all the recommendations in it.

This plan is a culmination of a year-long process that included engaging more than 450 people that ride or walk the trail as well as discussions with Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County Forest Preserves, Pace, Metra and the seven municipalities near the trail.

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