How would you spend $1.5 million to improve a street? Ald. Arena wants to know.

Residents of the 45th ward on Chicago's Northwest Side have a unique opportunity to bring much needed bike, pedestrian and transit improvements to the stretch of Milwaukee Ave. between Lawrence and Elston.

Earlier this month, 45th ward Ald. John Arena and the Chicago Department of Transportation kicked off a public input process to collect ideas from residents on what changes they would like to see brought to the corridor as part of a $1.5 million project under the city’s Complete Streets program.

Do you want to see a road diet or protected bike lanes? Pedestrian bump-outs or countdown timers?

If you live in the 45th ward, now's your chance to speak up and share your vision for a safer and better Milwaukee Ave!

At a neighborhood meeting earlier this week, Ald. Arena’s staff said there is no plan or design yet and all your most creative ideas are welcome. After collecting input, the design team will integrate the ideas into a plan that will be shared at community meetings in the spring.

So what are you waiting for? If you live in the ward, you can email the alderman’s office (ward45@cityofchicago.org) or call at 773-286-4545 to add your voice to the conversation. (If you aren’t sure what ward you live in you can look it up here.)

And if you don’t live in the ward but want to show your support, you can sign this petition started by grassroots advocates

Why is the city looking at bringing improvements to this street in particular? According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, this segment of Milwaukee has seen nearly 1,000 crashes in the past five years, including a tragic fatal crash earlier last week

Numbers like these certainly contribute to putting this project toward the top of the city’s to-do list, but the street also serves as a critical link in the city’s active transportation network, providing access to transit hubs and destinations like the multi-modal Jefferson Park Transit Center and the North Branch Trail.

We know the best Complete Streets projects are those that are informed by the people who use the street every day. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to contribute to better walking, biking and transit in Chicago.

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Letter to the editor disputes unfounded claims about BRT on Ashland

In response to a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times that highlighted one retired traffic engineer's opposition to the Ashland Ave. Bus Rapid Transit project, Active Trans teamed up with several local transit experts to send a letter to the editor. 

The letter to the editor debunks the claim made by the engineer that the Bus Rapid Transit project proposed for Ashland Ave. would be a "dagger in the heart of Chicago." 

The reality is that this project will help the city thrive by providing better access to jobs and services, reducing traffic congestion and making our streets safer and more inviting.

The claims made by the retired Chicago traffic engineer have also been addressed in Streetsblog Chicago

Here's the letter to the editor recently printed in the Sun-Times: 

As transportation professionals, we disagree with claims by a retired transportation engineer about the proposed Ashland rapid transit line. (“Engineer: Ashland Ave. transit project won’t work.”) He over-emphasizes the negative traffic impacts of building the line, which are actually quite modest, while overlooking the negative impacts of not building it.

For example, forecasts show that thousands more people each year will need to move through the Ashland corridor, yet because the streets are not getting wider, traffic problems will ensue. Transit is the only way to add more people in the same amount of space while managing congestion and improving mobility.The new Ashland line will be more reliable and move passengers nearly twice as fast as the current Ashland bus. It also creates a crucial north-south connection that circumvents downtown and connects to 37 bus lines, seven CTA stations and two Metra stations.

Passengers won’t have to go all the way downtown ­­­— or take a slow moving bus — to connect with train lines for trips outside downtown. All of this makes tens of thousands of additional jobs accessible by transit, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council. This is especially important for people who cannot afford cars. With 99 schools in the Ashland corridor, the new transit line will also help students get to school and back home. But the Ashland line benefits the city as a whole, because everyone relies on transit in one way or another. Most of us ride transit at least occasionally, and even when driving we benefit because transit keeps cars off of congested roads and contributes to the vitality of a great urban region.

The city and CTA should make reasonable design changes to address local concerns and then proceed with this crucial north-south rapid transit artery, something transportation planners have wanted to build for many years. We’re pleased it’s finally going to happen.

Randy Blankenhorn, executive director, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Joseph Schwieterman, director, Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, DePaul University

Steve Schlickman, executive director, UIC Urban Transportation Center

Ron Burke, executive director, Active Transportation Alliance

 Let your city officials know that you want to see BRT on Ashland. Be sure to let them know you're a supporter. 

Image courtesy of CTA

Let's get bikes on the South Shore Line this summer!

This record-cold weather has us dreaming of summer — and maybe a nice bike ride along the Indiana Dunes.

Unfortunately, that dream won’t be attainable even this summer, at least not by train—unless the South Shore Line, the commuter rail connecting Chicago to Northwest Indiana, changes its policies.

That’s because the South Shore Line is one of just two of the nation’s 23 commuter rail systems that still doesn’t allow bikes on trains.

That’s right. Of the nation’s 23 commuter rails systems, fully 21 already allow bikes on their trains — including both Metra and many Amtrak lines — but the South Shore Line isn’t one of them.

It’s time for the South Shore Line to follow suit. Please help us get bikes on the South Shore Line as quickly as possible.

Two years ago, Active Trans and other non-profit organizations began pushing NICTD (Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District) to allow bikes on the South Shore Line.

NIRPC (Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission) has agreed to fund a feasibility study on accommodating bicycles. This will be an engineering study that will look at requirements, opportunities and barriers as well as multiple options for allowing bikes.

We don’t want another summer to go by without Northwest Indiana residents being able to finish the last mile of their trip to Chicago by bicycle . . . without Chicagolanders being able to explore by bike the Indiana Dunes or South Shore beaches.

Help us urge the South Shore to allow bikes on trains in time for this summer. But you must act within the next week. 

To weigh in quickly, we have some comments you can easily submit. Comments are also being accepted during the next week via email, Facebook, Twitter, phone (219)763-6060 ext.160 and standard mail (6100 Southport Road, Portage, IN 46368).

Metra riders: we hear you and Metra leadership and state legislators should too

Recently, we at Active Trans asked our members to share with us a few of their recent experiences with Metra as 2014 kicked off.

Many people shared stories of being stranded in sub-zero temperatures on platforms waiting for trains that weren’t coming.

They talked about service alerts that are inaccurate, trains that are late so often they’ve nearly cost passengers their jobs, and jam-packed cars made even more crowded by delays caused by equipment failures and shortened trains.

With more than four feet of snow having fallen in Chicago already this year and 11 days with temperatures below zero, some delays are inevitable and forgivable. But some of the problems we’ve noticed have been here all year long and are indicative of more systemic problems in Metra’s leadership and funding.

Metra riders, we hear you.

To make sure these concerns aren't ignored, we are taking these messages to those who can be held accountable: Metra leadership and our state legislature.

Soon the State’s House Mass Transit Committee will host a hearing on some of Metra’s recent shortcomings. We’ll be there to testify.

We’ll also follow up with Metra’s interim CEO to reiterate transit rider’s priorities for improving Metra service.

Here’s what we’re pushing for in 2014:

1) On-time arrival: Metra only works when it’s reliable. Riders count on trains to be on time no matter the weather, time of day or day of week. Metra reports an on-time arrival rate of 95 percent for recent years, but for weekend service when trains are already only operating once every two hours or less, on-time rates can be as low as 83 percent.

2) Communication: Riders have made it clear that communication is key for getting through trouble spots like rough weather, construction and unforeseeable delays. We need clear and accurate announcements about service alerts that are easily found online and clearly conveyed at the stations themselves. Even communication as simple as which side of the tracks to stand on to catch the correct train needs to be improved.

3) Technology: Metra needs to offer real-time train updates -- both online and at the stations. Metra needs to offer Ventra as a payment system on trains and/or at stations, and make it possible for anyone at any station at any time to board and pay with cash or credit. Riders have also been calling for wi-fi on trains which, in addition to being a great service offered by other commuter rail lines, is also required by law before 2015. This is the last chance to implement these changes.

4) Expanded service: Metra riders throughout the region are calling for more frequent trains and expansions of train lines. We especially support expanding service on the Heritage corridor, which operates between Chicago and Joliet, but serves few people because it runs only 3 round-trips a day!

We want Metra to provide better service to transit riders, and we’re going to tell them so.

But we recognize that many of the problems we find so frustrating -- the broken down train cars that cause crowding and delays, the slow assimilation to new technology and the limited service -- are directly related to the lack of funding for transit systems in our region.

As of December 2011, the amount of money needed over 10 years to have our total transit system in a state of good repair is $31.1 billion dollars. Of that total, Metra needs $9.7 billion.

It will take more than strong leadership within Metra to take that happen. For starters, our legislature will need to decide that our transit system is worth investing in.

What's your 2014 biking, walking and transit agenda for Chicago?

Active Trans is meeting soon with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s new Commissioner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, and sharing our recommendations for CDOT’s priorities in the new year.

We’d love to hear what you think should be on CDOT’s to-do list for biking, walking and transit in the coming year. Please share your ideas below.

Active Trans’s 2014 priority list so far includes goals like:

  • Expand the Divvy bike sharing program across the city into neighborhoods currently without stations.
  • Connect gaps that exist between bike lanes.
  • Build next-generation protected bike lanes with concrete curbs and other “hardscaping”; build more Neighborhood Greenways
  • Fix faded paint lines, standing water, potholes and rough spots where utility cuts occurred in bike lanes and unmarked bike routes.
  • Spearhead an ordinance or other policy change to increase secure bike parking in high-occupancy buildings.
  • Retrofit the most dangerous intersections and street crossings.
  • Secure a budget line item for a dedicated Pedestrian Infrastructure and Safety Fund to fix the sidewalk network and make other pedestrian improvements.
  • Complete final designs for the Ashland rapid transit line.
  • Launch a ward-based, online crash database.
  • Launch the Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit service.

Our draft list doesn’t stop there. In addition to these recommendations, we would love to hear from you and share some of your great ideas with CDOT. 

Although CTA and Metra are the lead transit agencies, we’re including transit ideas because CDOT plays an important role in creating street designs that accommodate transit vehicles and access to transit.

We'll compile and share your input with CDOT and use your ideas to help guide our work in 2014. Please include your name and email address so we can keep you informed about our work (we won't pass your contact information along to anyone). Thanks for sharing your ideas. 

And please join the fight for better biking, walking and transit by becoming a member of the Active Transportation Alliance today. Your membership supports programs and initiatives that will make the Chicago region a better place for walking, biking and transit.

National report spotlights Chicago businesses that love protected bike lanes

Last week, People for Bikes and Alliance for Walking & Biking issued a great new report, Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business, and the voices of Chicago businesses are featured prominently.

The report offers the best compilation to date of facts, figures and stories that showcase the economic impact that protected bike lanes are making in cities across the U.S.

Specifically, the document highlights four key ways protected bike lanes are influencing the bottom line of all kinds of businesses: increasing real estate values, attracting talented residents, improving employee health and boosting retail traffic.

In addition to sharing key stats and research findings, the report also features the voices of real-world business owners telling their stories of how protected bike lanes are helping to boost their bottom line.

Here’s a breakdown of the Chicagoans that feature prominently in the report:

  • Jeff Judge, CEO of Signal, a tech start-up that develops marketing software for small businesses, says Chicago’s recent work to build its network of protected bike lanes helps enterprises like his attract the talented people they need to be successful.
  • Karen Bean, of the Field Museum, and Cheryl Zalenski, of the American Bar Association, both share their experiences on how the health benefits of cycling helps to make them better employees.
  • Chris Dunstatter, owner of 694 Wine & Spirits on Milwaukee Ave. in West Town, says the increased bike traffic in front of his business has been a boon as it brings more traffic at a slower rate by.

Read the full report online at People for Bikes website.

Got snowy sidewalks? Be an expert advocate with 311

Too often when spotting a problem on the street we say “someone should really do something about this,” and move on with our day. But that’s not how change happens. It’s the leadership we take in the everyday little actions that ultimately add up to the big changes we all want to see in our city.

And if you don’t ask for what you want, you don’t get it.

For Chicago residents, using 311 to document problems, request city services, and track progress is one of the best tools we have for improving our city. A few simple tips can help ensure the information you report is useful and action is taken to address the issue you have identified.

1. KNOW YOUR OPTIONS. Phone, Website, Smartphone Apps.

With the rise of the internet and smartphones, residents have never had more options for making a request for city services. In addition to dialing 311 from any phone within the city, reports can also be made on the city’s website or through one of several smartphone applications.

Tip: Not all types of services can be requested through smartphone applications. For example, reporting uncleared snow on sidewalks requires you to call 311 or go to the city’s website. Remember too, that your neighbors might not have access to or feel comfortable using the internet, encourage them that using phone is just as good to report the things they see. To see a complete list of service types you can request through 311 follow this link.

2. BE SPECIFIC. Know what to ask for and document the details.

Before you get all excited and start dialing 311 or fire up your web browser, do a quick check to make sure you have all the basic information related to your request – location, description of the problem, type of service needed (don’t worry if you don’t know this last one).

This will help speed up filing your request, leaving more time for you to find other problems to report!

Tip: New smartphone applications make it easy to automatically note your location and document issues with photos and comments.

3. TRACK YOUR REQUEST. Make sure your request leads to results.

With any kind of advocacy, follow-up is everything. After you file your service request, you will receive a tracking number that lets you monitor the status of your report with the city’s Service Tracker website: servicetracker.cityofchicago.org.

You can also use this number to follow up with your alderman’s office for any issue; it makes it easier for them to track as well.

Note: This blog applies to the City of Chicago 311 system, but many suburban communities operate similar services.

Cheers to our volunteers!

Last night, Active Trans held a party to show appreciation for our legion of dedicated volunteers.

As a non-profit, Active Trans relies heavily on its volunteers to donate their time to help with advocacy work, office work and events — ranging from massive to miniscule.

Active Trans volunteers provide community outreach, facilitate campaigns, fix bicycles, manage hotlines, and assist with special events and fundraisers, such as the annual MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive.

A sincere “thank you” goes out to all of our hard-working volunteers from 2013, and an additional round of applause goes to the following individuals who received awards for their tireless work and commendable efforts.

  • Important Cog/Volunteer of the Year Award: Sue Clark
  • John D'Ambrose Spirit of Volunteering Award: Jeff Levine
  • Advocate of the Year Award: Jacob Peters
  • Under the Radar Award: George Berlin & Devon Neff
  • Emerging Leaders Award: Whitney Young High School Key Club & UNO Hector Garcia Charter High School
  • Event Volunteer of the Year Award: Misfit Warriors

 

New intern aims to get more Chicago women on bikes!

Active Trans welcomes Liz Corrado, our new intern supporting Women Bike Chicago (WBC). We are hosting Corrado to support WBC’s efforts to educate and encourage more women in Chicago to choose biking for transportation.

WBC is a grass-roots organization founded in 2012 by women who love to bicycle. WBC’s mission is encouraging other women to bicycle -- for commuting, recreation, transportation, exercise and fun.

Corrado (pictured right) recently returned to Chicago after finishing her masters degree in urban planning at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

She has a love for biking and has experience working on walking- and biking-related projects as part of an education exchange in the Northern Netherlands. While in the Netherlands, Corrado worked on a project that examined the impact of school choice policy on active transportation rates.

As a paid intern at Active Trans, this spring Corrado will assist WBC with communications, operational processes and organization, and event management. Corrado will play a leading role helping to plan and coordinate the 2014 WBC “Women Bike Chicago, a Day of Dialogue and Demonstration” event.

For Active Trans, bringing Corrado into the office was another way for us to solidify our support for other local bicycling-oriented groups. We have sponsored West Town Bikes’ attendance at the national Youth Bike Summit, we are the fiscal agent for the Chicago chapter of Red Bike and Green, a group that promotes bicycling in the African-American community, and we partner with the Chicago Cycling Club to produce the Four-Star Bike and Chow, and the club gets a portion of the proceeds.

For more information about WBC, check out its blog or follow the organization on Facebook. Also connect with Corrado at liz.corrado@activetrans.org to share your ideas to get more women biking in Chicago.

You’re invited to our awesome 2014 bike rides!

Please join Active Trans in 2014 for our big biking events. We’re excited about the 13th edition of our premier car-free ride and the delicious Four-Star Bike & Chow. We’re putting a bigger push behind this year’s Bike Commuter Challenge during Bike to Work Week and we’re introducing a cool new ride with a different twist.

We produce these fundraising events with a focus on fun. These events benefit Active Trans and support our work to improve biking, walking and transit Chicagoland. We hope you can ride with us in 2014!

MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive – Sunday, May 25
Join 20,000 of your bicycling friends on Chicago’s celebrated Lake Shore Drive for one of the most popular bike rides in the nation and the one day that the iconic lakefront roadway is closed to auto traffic. Registration opens at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 21 (Winter Bike to Work Day!)  www.bikethedrive.org  

Bike Commuter Challenge during Bike to Work Week June 13-20
Get your team ready and track your trips to see if your office has what it takes to be the healthiest and greenest in Chicagoland. You don’t have to bike all the way every day, just biking to your local bus or train stop one day counts as a trip. It’s easy, free and most of all, fun, with Bike Pit Stops located throughout Chicago and the suburbs to fuel up or get a safety check. We’ll give you all the tools you need to get your office going on two wheels. www.bikecommuterchallenge.org  

Bike to Brew (new!) – Saturday, July 26
Join us for our new summer evening bike ride winding through Chicago’s industrial and residential streets and ending at Revolution Brewery for a private party with DJs, food trucks and tasty beers. Space is limited for this 21+ ride. Your registration guarantees you access to the party with two drink tickets and a special giveaway to make your bike ride awesome (think: cool lights or bike bell). The pre-ride festival will feature hip bike and urban exhibitors along with delicious samples of delicious Dark Matter Coffee. www.biketobrew.org (add this now to your MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive registration)

Four-Star Bike & Chow – Sunday, September 7
Experience the perfect combination of riding carefully created biking routes, sampling delicious cuisine like tacos, samosas or spring rolls and enjoying a tasty post-ride Revolution beer at the Four-Star Bike & Chow Sunday, September 7. Choose from four routes for all types of riders. We’re heading South this year to the new South Lake Shore Drive extension and beyond. www.fourstarbikeandchow.org (add this now to your MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive registration)

We hope you can join us for one, two or all of these rides!

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