Tell your members of Congress to support bike and transit commuters

It’s time for change. As we wrote last spring, our commuter tax benefit system favors car travel over public transportation and bicycle commuting. The benefit is an employer-provided federal tax benefit that allows commuters to purchase tax free transit passes, carpooling rides or parking.

Currently, the monthly benefit for car parking is $250, compared to just a $130 benefit for transit users (down from $245 last year). The transit benefit reduction has already cost commuters up to $100 a month in additional travel expenses.

We need Congress to pass legislation that will increase the tax benefit for transit users and bicycle commuters. Six members of Congress from the Chicago region -- including Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky -- are already supportive, but we need a greater commitment to get this off the ground.

Here’s what’s on the table:

  • HR 2288: Under this bipartisan-sponsored bill, the Commuter Parity Act would raise the transit benefit and lower the parking benefit for commuters, making both $220 a month. The bill would also increase the monthly commuter bike benefit from $20 to $35 and would make bike share memberships eligible for the benefit as well. 
  • S. 1116: The companion bill in the Senate, the Commuter Benefits Equity Act, removes the parity between transit and parking benefits, keeping the bike benefit the same. Additionally, the EXPIRE Act includes a commuter benefit for bike sharing.

If we continue on the current path and do not take action on these bills, the bike benefit could be repealed altogether.

Commuting by public transit reduces congestion and improves air quality, making the region a better place to live. With fewer cars, the streets are safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, encouraging more active transportation.

The transit benefit also helps both employers and employees save money. Commuters spend less on transportation per month, and a higher transit tax benefit reduces employers’ payroll taxes. Furthermore, the benefit allows more employment options for workers because travel costs are limited.

This is an urgent issue so we need to act now before it is too late! Show your support for equitable transit benefits by signing a letter to your local member of Congress and taking action through the League of American Bicyclists’ alert. We need to let Congress know that all commuters deserve the same transit benefit, regardless of how they get to work.

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

Active Trans helping to develop state's first township-wide bike plan

Active Trans is excited to be working with Wayne Township officials to develop a comprehensive bike plan that should be completed by the end of this year.

Once completed, Wayne would be the first township in Illinois to adopt a bike plan. Over the summer, residents and elected officials brainstormed ideas for making the six-community area in Chicago’s northwest suburbs – Wayne, West Chicago, Bartlett, Hanover Park, Carol Stream and St. Charles – safer and more accessible for people riding bikes (see right).

As The Daily Herald reported this week, there are many recommendations in the plan that aim to make cycling safer and easier while also building a bike culture throughout the communities.

Some of the proposals will be easier to accomplish, such as painting bike lanes and installing wayfinding signs and bike racks. Other infrastructure improvements would require a funding source from these communities.

At the meeting over the summer, residents said they enjoy riding trails in the area but said they had trouble getting to them in the first place. Bike lanes, trail connections and side paths were high priorities and something we plan to address in the township’s plan.

Michael Sewall serves as an Active Trans communications intern. 

Chicagoans want a safer and more accessible North Lake Shore Drive

As the public process for the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive continues, the demand for biking, walking and transit improvements throughout the corridor is becoming increasingly clear.

Last week the reconstruction project team released an updated timeline and a list of the top 20 ideas raised during in public comments at the July meeting and submitted online through the project website and email address.

The top 3 ideas match the priorities we identified based on conversations with members, community residents and longtime trail advocates:

1. Separating people biking and walking on the trail.
2. Improving transit service throughout the corridor.
3. Improving east/west walking and biking connections to the lakefront.

More than 260 commenters mentioned separating people biking and walking to make the trail safer for everyone. Just last month a crash between someone biking and someone running on the trail left a Chicago woman seriously injured, raising the issue of creating a separate trail once again.

Mayor Emanuel also addressed trail congestion and safety at a recent press conference for a new park on the lakefront.

Improving transit service was featured in more than 180 comments while more than 130 commenters talked about improving east/west access. The transit comments mostly focused on implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line to move more people through the corridor.

The project’s study area is not limited to just the lakefront path itself, but also includes the surrounding intersections and adjoining city streets, which are crucial to addressing current safety and connectivity issues.

The project is still in its conceptual stages with the next public meeting expected to be held in summer 2015, and construction will likely not begin until 2019.

You can leave a comment in support of a top 20 priority or give feedback regarding where you think an improvement is needed on the project’s online comment form. Send an email to info@northlakeshoredrive.org to receive future email updates on the project.

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

Join the fight for better biking, walking and transit by becoming a member today!

It's Member Drive season here at Active Trans!

We're looking for 200 new and renewing members to help strengthen our work in advocating for safer, more convenient travel for bicyclists, pedestians, and transit users alike.Win a bike

Your membership funds important programs and initiatives that:

  • Build more trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and transit options
  • Win legislation that supports safe, orderly streets that are friendly for biking and walking
  • Encourage more people to bike, walk and use public transportation
  • Educate thousands of people of all ages annually about safe bicycling

Members also get extensive benefits, including discounts at over 100 bike shops and businesses, Active Trans’ 2013 seven county Chicagoland Bike Map, event discounts, a $10 discount on a Divvy bikeshare membership and more!

But wait, there's more! All new or renewing members are entered to win a brand new bicycle, courtesy of Village Cycle! 

Are you an existing member? You can enter your name in the raffle by referring a new member – just have them mention you on the transaction page.

To add your support, visit our Member Drive page here!

Where do candidates for Illinois governor stand on active transportation?

The 2014 election season is upon us and Active Trans has asked candidates running for Illinois governor to respond to a candidate questionnaire in order to provide insight into their positions on issues related to our mission.

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Active Trans does not endorse candidates for public office. The purpose of the candidate questionnaire is purely informational.

View the letter and questions we sent candidates here (PDF).

2014 Illinois Gubernatorial Candidate Questionnaire & Responses

Pat Quinn (Democratic candidate) -- View the questions and candidate responses (PDF)

Bruce Rauner (Republican candidate) -- The Rauner campaign chose not to respond to our questionnaire.

Chad Grimm (Libertarian candidate) -- The Grimm campaign did not respond to our questionnaire.

You can learn more about the statewide elections taking place on November 4, 2014 and access important information for voters at the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Illiana Tollway boondoggle moving ahead – for now

The votes have been cast, but this battle is far from over.

On October 9, the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) Policy Committee, which oversees and approves federal funding in the state, voted to move the GO TO 2040 regional plan forward with the Illiana Expressway still included.

This followed a vote a day earlier by the board of Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) not to approve the regional plan because it still includes the politically charged Illiana.

Active Trans joined several other regional advocacy organizations and residents in testifying against the Illiana at both meetings because it conflicts with the stated sustainability and efficiency goals of GO TO 2040. Not to mention the $1.1 billion project cost will likely largely be passed on to taxpayers to fund this “public-private partnership” over the next 40 years.

CMAP, based on its own staff’s research and analysis, anticipates that the tolls will be too high to attract the truck traffic needed to adequately fund the project – likely forcing the cost onto taxpayers. The Illiana will also take precedence over many other critical transportation projects, leaving behind needed improvements to existing public transit and commuter rail systems.

The fate of the project is now likely in the hands of courts. Leading Chicago environmental groups have partnered in a lawsuit to block the project, challenging the legality of the Policy Committee’s approval and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) authority to move forward. With a gubernatorial election on the horizon, there are still many unresolved questions about the ill-conceived tollway.

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

Underfunded Metra forced to raise fares to replace aging fleet

Last week, Metra unveiled its rail line improvement plans for the next ten years – and it’s not going to be cheap.

Metra, the second largest commuter rail line in the country, plans to replace and restore old passenger cars and locomotives, and install Positive Train Control (PTC) on all trains.

PTC is a system that forces train compliance to speed limits and can automatically stop rail cars. Our outdated commuter rail system desperately needs these upgrades to ensure a reliable and safe regional public transportation system.

About 16 percent of the $2.4 billion cost of the improvement plan will be passed on to Metra riders through fare increases. Raising fares is never a good thing, but under the current funding structure the cash-strapped agency’s options are limited.

Metra deserves credit for taking action and developing a plan to replace and restore old passenger cars and locomotives, but these fare increases are further proof we need to change how we fund public transit regionally.

With young people driving less, the need for an improved transit network will only be heightened in coming years. According to a recent report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Millennials are veering away from cars.

From 2006 to 2013, the share of people commuting by car between the ages of 16 and 24 fell by 1.5 percent, while this age group’s share increased in active transportation modes, like biking, walking and public transit.

Young people are sick of sitting in traffic and they are more and more attracted to cities with an extensive public transportation network. In order to remain competitive and attract new businesses and a creative workforce, Chicagoland needs to prioritize public transportation.

Our Transit Future campaign addresses these issues by establishing a dedicated revenue stream to build and expand the transportation network in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

Sign our petition to support increased investment in transit and fill out this brief survey if you’re interested in volunteering to help organize transit supporters in your neighborhood.

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

Tribune editorial stirs up anti-bike sentiment again

Every day in metro Chicago, an average of nearly 14 pedestrians are injured or killed as a result of getting hit by people driving cars. That’s nearly 5,000 injuries and fatalities each year.

You wouldn’t know that car traffic poses such a serious danger to people walking if you read Chicago Tribune columnist Ron Grossman’s recent musings about banning bikes for a day to improve pedestrian traffic safety.

Thank goodness for the level-headed response to Grossman’s column from Tribune reporter Kevin Williams, a regular cyclist. And every letter in the printed Tribune yesterday addressed this subject — split between anti-bike and pro-bike, of course.

There is no doubt that reckless cyclists are a danger, and like anyone else who makes streets unsafe — people who walk into traffic while texting, people driving who speed across crosswalks without looking for people walking, etc. — they should get tickets and be scolded by society. Just as important is designing streets that create more order and accommodate everyone safely.

But in failing to even mention the far greater toll that people driving cars take on pedestrians, Grossman reveals an underlying bias that is all too common. It goes like this: people driving cars are rulers of the roads and people on bikes just get in the way. Car crashes are acceptable and even inevitable in this light, while bicyclists are an unacceptable traffic risk, even though people driving cars cause many, many times more injuries and deaths.

We are big believers in shared responsibility for traffic safety — as opposed to finger pointing.

Earlier this year we launched a campaign with AAA Chicago focusing on that theme.

We submitted a letter in response to Grossman’s column, which hasn't been printed, but you can read it below.

And yesterday we launched our new Safe Crossings Campaign to create changes that will actually make our streets safer and accommodate travel choices, unlike banning bikes for a day.

Dear Editor:

Everyone should travel respectfully and safely on our streets, whether you’re biking, walking or driving. As Ron Grossman points out in “Maybe Chicago should ban bikes for a day,” some people on bikes don’t meet this standard. Unfortunately, the same can be said about motorists and even pedestrians. If you’re traveling recklessly and putting people at risk, a ticket is warranted whether you’re biking, walking or driving.

With exciting developments like Divvy and a growing network of protected bike lanes, more people in Chicago are riding bikes. More people biking makes the need to share even more pressing. That means driving, walking and biking with less risk and more respect.

We support bike lanes and other “complete streets” designs like pedestrian islands that create safer conditions on the road. These improvements cost very little compared to overall roadway costs, and they reduce traffic conflicts and improve safety by creating more order and predictable behavior on the streets.

In addition to better infrastructure, we also need better enforcement. Unfortunately, there are sixty car crash injuries or deaths every day in the city of Chicago, of which about 13 people are on foot or bike and 47 in cars.

Sharing the road is the new normal in Chicago and our fear is that these fatalities and injuries will rise if each of us doesn’t take personal responsibility for obeying the traffic laws and respecting fellow commuters on Chicago’s increasingly crowded streets.

We can all help create a new normal by modeling responsible behavior when we drive, bike and walk.

Ron Burke
Active Transportation Alliance

New campaign aims to improve pedestrian safety around some of our most dangerous intersections

Crossing a busy street is an everyday activity for most local residents, but too often it’s also one of the most dangerous things they’ll do all day.

That’s why we’re excited to be launching Safe Crossings, a pedestrian-focused campaign designed to raise awareness about intersection safety and work with community partners to push for more dedicated funding for pedestrian improvements throughout Chicagoland.

The campaign is built around our lists of 10 of the most dangerous intersections in Chicago and 10 of the most dangerous in suburban Cook County. The lists are based upon analysis of crash data, staff input and more than 800 suggestions from community members.

These lists represent just a small portion of the many dangerous street crossing locations in Chicagoland. These crossings are particularly perilous for our most vulnerable users such as children, people with disabilities and seniors.

The intersections will serve as focus areas for our outreach team as they mobilize supporters to advocate for pedestrian improvements and increased enforcement of existing traffic laws region-wide.

Enhancing infrastructure design and stepping up enforcement at some of the worst intersections in the region alone will not eliminate the risk of crashes. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs need to dedicate more annual funding to maintaining pedestrian facilities and consider other policy solutions – such as reducing neighborhood speed limits – if we’re going to get serious about reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

We want to see the city of Chicago succeed with its Zero in Ten goal to eliminate pedestrian fatalities by 2022.

Sign our petition to local leaders and transportation officials to demonstrate your commitment to making it safer and easier to walk along and cross streets throughout the region.

Learn more about the campaign by checking out our fact sheet, site map, list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and intersection safety solutions toolkit.

photos courtesy of Dan Burden and pedbikeimages.org. 

Schools celebrate 2014 Walk to School Day

This past Wednesday, schools across the country participated in International Walk to School Day. To commemorate the day, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx celebrated with students in Charlotte, NC, calling on everyone to encourage students to walk to school.

Here are just a few highlights from some schools we heard from around the Chicagoland area:

Evergreen Academy Middle School in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago participated by using a meet and walk strategy.

Over 50 students, staff and parents met at McKinley Park and walked the 1.5 miles to school. After arriving, students celebrated with a healthy breakfast before heading to class with active minds ready to learn.

Similar events were held at Prieto Math and Science Academy (above) and Dore Elementary, both in Chicago. At these schools, students received incentives made available through their recent participation in the Healthy CPS program.

Apollo School in Des Plaines regularly offers a walking group in which students and adults meet approximately three-quarters of a mile from the school and walk together.

Along with staff and family members, the school's Walk to School Day group included more than 150 students walking and 20 more on bikes! Apollo also has a “Golden Shoe Award” -- a traveling award given each week to the classrooms with the highest student participation in its walking program (pictured left is one Apollo classroom that was a recent recipeint of the award).

At Belding Elementary  -- serving the Mayfair, Old Irving Park and West Walker neighborhoods of Chicago -- students celebrated multiple forms of active transportation.

In the morning, students who brought a bike took part in a bike safety course led by phys. ed. teacher Yara Santillan and supported by parent volunteers.

A small team also pumped air in tires and made minor tune-ups when possible. Over 100 students participated. In the afternoon, students, staff, and family members participated in a walk-a-thon (pictured right) that also served as a healthy fundraiser, creating a day full of health and safety activities.

Did your school participate? Are you interested in learning how to create events like this at your school in the future? Let us know at education@activetrans.org.

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