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:

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 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!)  

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.  

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. (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. (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!

Midwest’s first female-centered bike shop to open its doors in spring

The first female-centered bike shop in the Midwest will be opening in March at 2113 W. Armitage Ave. in the Bucktown neighborhood.

Owned by veteran cyclists Vanessa Buccella and Annie Byrne, BFF Bikes will offer bicycles, gear, women’s apparel not found in other city shops, dressing rooms and a primarily female staff.

Geared toward commuter cyclists and racers alike, the shop will carry Public city bikes and performance models from companies yet to be decided. With a pipeline to Minneapolis-based wholesale distributor Quality Bicycle Products, BFF will have a vast catalog of cycle parts and gear that can be ordered.

According the League of American Bicyclists, only 26 percent of Illinois bike commuters in 2011 were women. Buccella and Byrne want to help change that by encouraging more women to ride bikes. They visualize BFF Bikes as not only a neighborhood bike shop but also as a sort of a community center for women cyclists of all levels and interests.

“We want to get more women on bikes by normalizing cycling as a viable option for transportation, and helping them overcome any obstacles they see,” the owners said in statement.

To accomplish this, BFF is planning a variety of clinics, including Commuting 101 and a three-week series on bike anatomy, maintenance and options for different types of bikes.

As competitive bike racers, Buccella and Byrne also want to make bike racing more accessible to women. They have organized a BFF team of 16 women racers and will offer racing clinics.

From a business perspective, Buccella and Byrne hope to tap into the growing market for women’s cycling products. As Buccella points out, “I think this fact says it all: For the first time in U.S. history, 60 percent of bicycle owners between the ages of 18-27 are women. In addition, sales of women's specific bikes grew 20 percent 2010-2012, outpacing the sales of men and gender-neutral bikes. We want to help women who ride find products that will make their biking more fun, comfortable and better looking!”

Funding the Midwest’s first female-themed bike shop has not been easy. Traditional sources have provided the bulk of BFF’s start-up capital, but there is still a gap to be filled. Buccella and Byrnes are hoping to generate some of the needed funds from contributions that can be made at their website.

Buccella says, “We want to spread the gospel of cycling — how much fun it is, how it's the perfect way to commute in the city, how it can take you places you've never been before.”

This post was written by Active Trans volunteer contributor Lynda Barckert.

Time for next-generation protected bike lanes

Protected bike lanes are one of the best tools we have to encourage more people to use bicycles as transportation. But to fully reap cycling’s many benefits, we need to close gaps in the growing bike network and go beyond plastic posts to build the next-generation of protected bike lanes.

A two-way curb-separated bike lane in Montréal, Québec. Photo: Adriana McMullen. Source: Streetsblog Chicago 
A curb-separated bike lane with sloping curb in Portland, OR. Source: People for Bikes

Landscaped buffer in Coronado, CA. Source: People for Bikes

Back in 2010-11 when Active Trans asked Chicago mayoral candidates to support a 100-mile network of protected bike lanes by 2015, many scoffed. That may fly in Europe, we were told, but this is Chicago. Cars are king and cyclists are lucky to get a white stripe between themselves and cars.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel loved the idea and so did his Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner, Gabe Klein. Within 30 days of Emanuel’s inauguration, the city’s first protected bike lane was installed on Kinzie.

Many more projects have followed, and Chicago is leading the nation on advanced bike infrastructure:

  • Kinzie St. and the southern section of Milwaukee Ave. are among the busiest bike routes in the nation
  • The Dearborn St. two-way protected bike lane in the Loop was recently named the nation’s best
  • The state of Illinois recently agreed to allow protected lanes on some state-owned routes in Chicago
  • Chicago should have roughly 70 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes by spring and another 20 to 25 miles by the fall.
  • Evanston is one of only a few suburbs in the nation with protected lanes.

In order to make rapid progress and demonstrate “proof of concept,” all on a shoestring budget, Chicago has used basic plastic bollards, paint and parked cars for its protected bike lanes.

It’s now time for the next generation of protected lanes, and the city has a new infusion of federal transportation grant dollars to do it.

CDOT can now emphasize closing gaps to create a connected network of low-stress routes, combining neighborhood streets (with “Neighborhood Greenways” upgrades), protected bike lanes and trails where everyone, including beginners and less-confident cyclists, can feel comfortable and get places.

CDOT should also include “hardscaping” with current and future protected bike lanes with permanent, attractive and safer ways to separate traffic, like curbs, landscaped medians or raised bike lanes.

People for Bikes recently wrote about 19 different ways to separate traffic! (Here are a few examples at right.) It’s also important for the city to fix pavement and drainage problems and plow the lanes.

CDOT recently announced that it may build the city’s first curb-separated bike lanes on parts of Clybourn and State Streets.

We say do it, and don’t stop there!

Active Trans members save on Divvy!

A new year, a new benefit!

Active Trans is thrilled to announce that starting in 2014, all new and renewing members at the premium level or higher will receive a special $10 discount toward an annual Divvy membership!

Divvy bike-share has taken Chicago by storm and it’s only getting better with 175 stations being added to the network in 2014! Now's your chance to get in on the action and save!

Join or renew your membership today and get loads of benefits!

So how does it work?

When will I get my special Divvy discount code?
Discount codes will be distributed with all new and renewing premium level or higher membership kits. Your member kit should arrive within 1–3 weeks after your payment is received.

I'm already an Active Trans member -- can I get a code?
You can get a code when you renew your Active Trans membership. If you want to take advantage of the Divvy offer sooner rather than later, feel free to renew a little early. We'll tack on an additional 12 months to your current membership. Plus, you can save us the cost of mailing you a reminder down the road. Win-Win!

I'm already a Divvy member -- can I get a credit for the amount of the discount?
Sorry, you can't get a credit from Divvy. However, your code won't expire until the end of the year – so be sure to save it for later!

Will a Divvy benefit be available for business members?
Yes! Business members will receive 24-hour Divvy passes with their membership kit.


Local bike community mourns the passing of Carmelita Sams

All of us at Active Trans were saddened to hear of Carmelita Sams’ passing on Dec. 29.

Regulars, first-time customers and volunteers of Carmelita’s employer, Ciclo Urbano and West Town Bikes of Humboldt Park, were sure to have been touched by her sense of humor and willingness to selflessly go that extra mile — no matter what the task.

Even when facing the cancer that eventually took her life this holiday season.

I first met Carmelita last spring when planning the promotional video for the 2013 Bike Commuter Challenge, “Who Changed Your Mind?” After posting a notice looking for someone to feature in the video, we met Carmelita. She was perfect in the role.

The essence of the Bike Commuter Challenge — Active Trans’ annual Chicago Bike Week employer competition — is creating new bike commuters by showing just how practical it can be.

Women — especially those with children, like Carmelita — tend to choose commuting by bike as a decision of practicality.

The shoot for the video was done in a single, 12-hour day in early April on location in Highland Park and in the Active Trans office in River North.

Making a video is always extremely hard work for all involved: Hours can go into getting the material for just a few seconds of video. A single finished shot that lasts only second can require up to 20 takes.

The time in between takes, while the director and cameraman move around the camera and lighting equipment, means interminable waits for the actors.

Carmelita handled all of it as a complete professional, despite no acting or film experience at all.

"It was an enormous pleasure having her be a part of something we could all be proud of,” said Jordan Amandes, director/producer for North Lincoln Films and director of the Bike to Work Week video featuring Carmelita. "While directing her, I would explain each scene and she would always add a part of her own personality that elevated our video from good to great. She’s a true class act and an all-around fantastic person."

Watch the video featuring Carmelita.


Bicycling advocate extraordinaire steps down

For Al Sturges, taking up bike commuting was the first step in becoming a bicycling advocate.

Since he started commuting by bike and getting involved in bike advocacy, Sturges has served in many roles with local groups, including a stint on the Active Trans Board of Directors.

After more than two decades of service, Sturges is stepping down.  

Sturges said his interest in helping create better conditions for people biking all started when he took up bike commuting in Chicago’s South Suburbs — riding to and from the train to get to work.

Not long after he started bike commuting, a friend invited him on a longer bike ride. But Sturges was hesitant because he was riding a “cheap, maybe thirty dollar” bike.

He went on the ride with low expectations, but found he had no trouble keeping up. Since then, he has been riding regularly for recreation, competing in Senior Games races, as well as going on bike vacations with his wife Barbara.

After retiring from the Amoco Corporation in 1992, Sturges began volunteering at Active Trans. In addition to helping out at the Active Trans office, he administered a bike ride-ability survey of roads in the South Suburbs with other volunteers.

Later he served on the financial and policy committees for the Active Trans Board of Directors, and worked on Active Trans events like the Four-Star Bike & Chow as well as MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive.

In addition to his extensive volunteer work with Active Trans, Sturges started volunteering with the League of Illinois Bicyclists soon after its formation in 1992, and acted as the executive director 1995-2000, and also served as newsletter editor and board president.

As Sturges steps down from his volunteer work with Active Trans, we would like to recognize all of his contributions to Active Trans and the bicycling community as a whole.

Thank you, Al, for all your great contributions over the years in Chicagoland and throughout Illinois!

The photo above shows Sturges while on a bike trip in the Czech Republic.  

T-shirt design contest!

 Do you dig biking and graphic design? Got an idea for an MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive T-shirt? If so, here’s your chance to show off your stellar graphic design skills and get your design on thousands of T-shirts this summer and win a $250 MB Financial Bank gift card.

We’re launching our second annual T-shirt design contest for MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive—the classic Chicago biking event on the Sunday before Memorial Day that closes Lake Shore Drive to cars and opens it to thousands of people on bikes.

Active Trans is looking for original illustrations that celebrate this special day of biking bliss. Up to five finalists will receive two free registrations for the event, and the final winner will have her or his T-shirt design worn by many thousands of participants during the event and afterwards.

T-shirt design submissions are due February 11 by 11:59 p.m. Active Trans will choose up to five of the best designs, and then open the final decision to an online vote February 24 through March 7 11:59 p.m.

The winner will be announced right here on our blog later in March. Learn more about how to enter the contest at

Last year’s winner Oscar Aguilar was surprised as anyone to win and this year, it could be you!

PS: Registration for MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive opens online at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22. You can save $7 by registering at by February 2 or a total of $9 with a discount code available at MB banking centers.

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