Ringing in the holidays with active transportation

Parents and children from Shields Middle School, located in the Brighton Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side, recently took a fun-filled trip on the CTA Holiday Train. In addition to taking photos with Santa and meeting some elves, the event allowed an opportunity to shine a spotlight on school’s efforts to get more kids to be active on their way to and from school.

Since the school is one of the 25 participating schools in the Healthy CPS Safe Routes to School project, Active Trans is working with Shields to develop Safe Routes Action Plans, which will contain strategies to encourage walking and biking to the school.

Healthy CPS — which is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and led by the Office of Student Health and Wellness at CPS — works toward promoting health and wellness throughout the school day.

The Shields event was organized by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which has set up Parent Patrols in six elementary schools in the neighborhood. While Parent Patrol groups have been mostly focused on general student safety, the groups are beginning to address walking and biking encouragement strategies like walking school buses and traffic safety.

On the half-mile walk to the Orange Line station, members of the Shield’s Parent Patrol put their reflective safety vests to work to ensure the group safely crossed Western Avenue.

Many families from the Shields group were unaware of the holiday train’s existence, and some children were riding a CTA train for the first time in their lives.

It’s not too late to hop aboard CTA’s Holiday Train! Visit the CTA website for the detailed train and "Photos with Santa" schedule.


Calling all web developers!

Are you a Ruby on Rails wizard? A PHP guru? A Python master? Then Active Trans needs your help! We are seeking the pro bono assistance of a qualified developer or development team to assist in building a web-based platform for our annual Bike Commuter Challenge. This platform will be used by over seven thousand bike commuters during the week of June 13-20, 2014.

The system should allow users to:

  • Easily register and manage their accounts and join teams
  • Track and save their bike trips to win various prizes and compete against other teams
  • Share their bike trips via social media
  • Purchase Bike Commuter Challenge t-shirts, register for other Active Trans events, and purchase Active Trans memberships

The system should also have comprehensive reporting capabilities that shows trip data, miles per user, total calories burned, CO2 reduced and other metrics.

Currently we do not have a useable platform for the Bike Commuter Challenge, so we are open to any development framework or language.

If you are interested in helping out, we would love to hear from you. Click here for the RFP and full scope of the project. For any questions, please contact us at technology@activetrans.org.

Want a Divvy station in your neighborhood?

Following last month’s announcement that Divvy is growing to 475 stations in Chicago, the bike-sharing program has launched a suggestion page for users to map out their ideal spots for new stations.

The site’s map shows other users’ suggestions as well as the existing stations so that you can support or comment on each one.

There are currently 300 Divvy stations in the city. The additional 175 installed next year will make Divvy the largest bike-share system in the country and the fifth largest in the world.

Beyond the 475 stations to be installed, the Chicago Department of Trasportatioin has applied for funding to install 75 more. 

The new stations will expand to more neighborhoods and possibly suburbs while also filling in gaps in current service.

Divvy crowdsourced locations for its initial launch, so this is the second round of suggestions on where to add more blue cruisers.

Check out the site to suggest a new station near you, support suggestions with a heart, or comment on current and suggested stations with your own input. Get your voice heard!

Great things happening in Evanston

Recently, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) released its report on the state of bike commuting in America, and identified Evanston as having the second largest population of bike commuters in the Midwest. 

Currently, 5.25 percent of commuters in Evanston are choosing to ride bikes -- a huge leap over the national average of .6 percent or even Chicago’s 1.6 percent. (Keep in mind these numbers do not account for commutes that use more than one travel mode).

This past Sept., Evanston held its first Shared Streets event. 

Evanston is clearly heading in the right direction given that 37.3 percent of its commuters choose some form of active transportation (biking, walking, or taking pubic transit).

The city has been working hard to get more people to be active on their commutes. To accomplish this, Evanston was the first Chicago suburb to build a protected bike lane, which is located on Church Street, running from Dodge Avenue to Chicago Avenue. The city is also in the final stages of completing its second protected bike lane — this one on Davis Street from Ridge Avenue to Hinman Avenue.

And they aren’t done yet: The city just recently snagged a grant to build their third protected bike lane. Since both the Church and Davis Avenue lanes run east-west, this new lane will go on Dodge Avenue, one of the main north-south roads in the community.

Over the years, Evanston has invested in bike signage, bike lanes, trails through parks, bike parking and linking trails in the surrounding area — all of which foster a safe and welcoming cycling environment for riders of all levels. They also have a bike club that’s been around for more than 25 years!

Evanston's Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson (left) and Mayor Beth Tisdahl (center) accept an award from Active Trans Executive Director Ron Burke

Evanston also has exciting plans for the future. The city is currently updating its bike plan and will be considering a Complete Streets policy in coming months. In addition, it looks like Evanston will be welcoming the Divvy bike-sharing program to their community sometime in the next year.

In recognition of their hard work, last year the city was named a Silver-level Bike Friendly Community for the second year in a row by the LAB.

To acknowledge all these great achievements, Active Trans recognized the community with a Public Leadership Award at our recent 2013 Awards Reception. Evanston's Mayor Beth Tisdahl and Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson were on hand to accept the award.

Congratulations and keep up the good work, Evanston!

Death of man cycling hits close to home for Active Trans

Hector Avalos, 28, a former Marine and aspiring chef who worked at El Hefe restaurant in River North was struck and killed at approximately 11:50 p.m. on Friday night along the 2500 block of W. Ogden Avenue.

Photo of Hector Avalos courtesy of Facebook.

The driver of the vehicle, Robert Vais, 54, an administrator for Stroger Hospital, was taken into custody and charged with felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges after fatally striking Avalos with his van and testing positive for a blood alcohol level of .118 (the legal limit is .08). Avalos was returning home from his shift at work when the crash occurred.

Hector’s death hits close to home for Active Trans because El Hefe, where he worked and was cycling home from, is in the same building as ours. We probably locked our bikes up next to his. And our heart goes out to Hector’s family, friends and coworkers.

According to the Tribune, at the bond hearing on Sunday, Judge James Brown called the death a “tragedy of epic proportions.” But of course every fatal crash on our roadways, regardless of the circumstances, is a tragedy beyond measure for those who have lost their loved ones so suddenly, so unexpectedly and so violently.

We at Active Trans try to stay focused on the improvements and gains that are making it safer for people to walk, to bike and to take public transit, whatever their destination, whatever the nature of their trip, wherever they are going and at whatever time. But sadly, we are routinely faced with these grim reminders of the work that still lies ahead.

Every few days I receive emails from a coworker who monitors our Google News searches using keywords such as “fatal crash,” “bicyclist killed” etc. These articles never convey good news. Almost all have headlines like these:

  • Oak Park man, 91, dies in bike accident
  • Girl, 2, dead after car speeds past stop sign
  • Man killed on birthday by speeding driver
  • Skokie pedestrian, 84, struck and killed
  • Senior citizen run down in hit-and-run in West Rogers Park
  • 11-year-old Harvey girl hit, killed by car
  • Toddler dies after being hit by car on Southwest Side.

I have a folder full of them, over 60 from 2013 alone, many of them senior citizens and children — our most vulnerable populations and those most likely to be walking or biking. And those are just the ones we know of.

I hate that folder. I resent having to open it. I hate reading those articles.

And those are just the fatalities. We almost never hear the stories of the devastating and life-altering injuries sustained from crashes in which someone was seriously injured, but not killed. But we know they are happening. We see the numbers two years after the fact when the Illinois Department of Transportation releases its crash statistics.

We know the positive data too. We know that crash rates are going down. We know bicycle and pedestrian fatalities are going down. And we try to take comfort in that, but it’s challenging when we read the names and see the faces of those who still did not benefit from the safety improvements from last year to this, because we take the work personally.

We are all just people trying to live our lives, get to our jobs, run our errands, go to school, visit our friends, and at the end of the day we all want to get back home safely, no matter how we are getting around. Everyone is entitled to that, and Hector was robbed of that right along with his life.

We take the privilege of driving for granted, but it is a privilege, and one that can and should be revoked for offenses like drinking and driving, especially when it results in a death.

Please don’t drink and drive. Take a train or bus or just walk. Call a cab or a friend — anything to avoid taking another life and ruining your own. There have been too many tragedies already.

For more information about what you can do to prevent drunk driving in Illinois, please visit the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

Chicago speed cameras reduce speeding 65 percent in less than two months

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently announced that its first nine speed cameras had done something remarkable: Reduced speeding at those locations by 65 percent in less than two months.

Warnings were issued the first 30 days, and then tickets. CDOT's analysis went through the first three weeks of ticketing, for 51 days in total.

For those who argue speed cameras won't work and are all about revenue — not safety — these results must be hard to swallow. Before the city council approved speed cameras, critics dismissed them with faulty logic and misrepresented research to make their case.

We're pleased with the results, but not surprised. Studies from other countries show speed cameras work, and it’s simply it’s a matter of common sense that they would reduce speeding. When you enforce traffic laws, people comply!

And let's not forget that people are injured badly and die at a much higher rate when speeds go up.
We want to see tickets issued to people who make our streets dangerous, whether they are on a bike, in a car or walking. Everyone needs to be safe and respectful, and traffic rules should be enforced consistently regardless of the travel mode.

But some have a double standard for cars and bikes. They say ticket those darn cyclists but not me and my 4,000 lb. car going too fast. Their argument doesn't fly, and neither will they as they drive streets increasingly patrolled by speed cameras.

Dearborn protected bike lane named America’s best

Nearly one year after the Dearborn Street protected bike lane’s opening in the Loop, the national advocacy group People for Bikes announced it as their pick for the top protected lane in the country on their Green Lane Project blog. 

In addition to the on-street markings, People for Bikes praised the bike traffic signals on Dearborn that have increased traffic light compliance from 31 to 81 percent for people biking.

The Dearborn Street protected bike lane

Active Trans advocated for the Dearborn protected bike lane throughout the approval and construction process. Active Trans' Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign organized aldermanic support and circulated a petition signed by nearly 4,700 people in support of the Dearborn project.

Also on the People for Bikes top 10 list was the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane, coming in at number seven in the country.

Keep tabs on the Dearborn lane’s celebration on its Twitter page, and keep riding in these great bikeways right here in Chicago!

Great deal for Active Trans members from Icebreaker apparel

To celebrate the opening of its new store in Chicago, the apparel company Icebreaker is offering a sale for Active Trans members.

Show your Active Trans membership card and you’ll get 10 percent off Icebreaker apparel for the rest of December. In addition, 10 percent of the profits from all Icebreaker purchases will be donated to Active Trans from Wednesday, Dec. 5 to Tuesday, Dec. 10.

You can take advantage of this deal at Icebreaker's new store in Chicago's Gold Coast at 44 E. Walton Ave., and at

  • Three locations of Uncle Dan's the Great Outdoors Store:
    • 3551 N. Southport Ave., Chicago 
    • 621 Central Ave., Highland Park 
    • 901 W. Church St., Evanston
  • Moosejaw: 1445 W. Webster Ave., Chicago

If you were thinking of shopping for more athletic apparel this winter, consider taking advantage of this offer to keep a few dollars in your pocket while raising money for better biking, walking and transit in Chicagoland. Win-win!

Thank you Icebreaker! Active Trans is grateful for your support.  

Public meetings for Ashland BRT: The scoop on what an environmental assessment is and why we need you to show up!

Calling all Bus Rapid Transit supporters! We need you to keep up your great work in pushing for BRT to come to Chicago. The CTA recently released the environmental assessment for the project and is holding two public meetings to gather input about their plans to make transit faster and more reliable along 16 miles of Ashland Avenue.

In addition to attending one of those meetings, please join us for a rally on December 10 to show your support for the project!

What’s an environmental assessment?
Over the summer, the CTA and CDOT got to work analyzing the social, economic and environmental impacts of building the BRT project. This is standard procedure for all transportation projects of this size and it’s a requirement for receiving the federal dollars used for this study. It’s also good practice to make sure everyone understands how a new project may change the surrounding area.

The environmental assesment is now complete and CTA and CDOT would like your comments on it, which can be made at the public meetings or by e-mail at ashlandbrt@transitchicago.com.

What’s going on at these public meetings?
The meetings will summarize studies of the project impacts, including traffic analyses that have been performed as part of the formal environmental assessment. This is a chance to take a detailed look at the effects of the Ashland BRT project on your street and the route overall.

CTA and CDOT heard from various key stakeholders about the plan for BRT on Ashland over the past 6 months. Now they're holding two public meetings as an extension of this outreach to gather additional input from all Chicago residents. The Ashland BRT design is not yet final, and the CTA and CDOT are still considering options and modifications (adding more left turns to the plan for example) based on feedback they get at the meetings. This is an excellent opportunity for riders and residents to show up and let them know what you think.

Why should we go?
CTA and CDOT will consider the results of their analyses, the impacts of any possible changes to the BRT plan and all public comments before they move forward with the next phase of the project.

For supporters of BRT on Ashland, this is an important time to stand up and let people know why we're so strongly in favor of the project. We need to review the plans carefully and let CTA know that we want the fastest, most reliable service possible. For the more than 30,000 people taking the bus every day on Ashland Avenue, it’s important that we speak up to make gold standard BRT a reality.

Busse Woods trail overpass opens for bicyclists and pedestrians

In a victory for pedestrian and cyclist safety, a new pedestrian overpass opened this weekend connecting the northern and southern portions of the Busse Woods Trail. The new overpass is located in Elk Grove Village, just east of the intersection of Higgins Road and Route 53.

The new pedestrian overpass in Busse Woods. Photo used with permission from Thomas Mulick, Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove

The bridge eliminates the last remaining roadway crossing along the heavily trafficked trail. The 11.2-mile Busse Woods bike path sees over 2.5 million visitors per year, and had previously included several roadway crossings on Higgins Road. Elk Grove Village officials said that the newly-bypassed stretch of Higgins Road, a 6-lane road where speed limits reach 45 mph, sees 40,000 cars per day.

The project for a safe crossing overpass had been on Illinios Department of Transportation's project list for years, but was given priority after the death of 46-year-old cyclist Rosaleen Waters, who was struck and killed at the crossing in May.

Waters’ husband Tony Waters attended the overpass ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, along with Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson and other state and county officials.

The ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, November 22. Photo used with permission from Thomas Mulick, Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove.

Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove, along with Tony Waters, is planning to organize a Ride of Silence in 2014 in Rosaleen’s honor on International Ride of Silence Day, May 21. “We wanted to do something in her memory, but we are still working with the forest preserve to settle details,” said Dave Simmons, president of Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove and Active Trans member. “It will be a bittersweet occasion, but a good way to connect the community.”

Congratulations to Elk Grove Village on the great addition to the Cook County Forest Preserves trail system, which will undoubtedly benefit thousands of people who walk and bike every year. And many thanks to all the local advocates (including many Active Trans members) who help push for the bridge.

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