Ride on Chicago: riding across the Midwest for safer cycling

“This is the bike ride for better biking,” writes author and Chicago native Tom Vanderbilt in this piece for Outside magazine. The ride in question is the “Ride on Chicago,” a five-day, 485-mile bike ride that began in Kansas City, Missouri yesterday and ends in Chicago’s Millennium Park on Monday, June 2. 

 Jamie KripkeThe ride will raise money for People for Bikes, a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit that aims to improve cycling conditions in communities across America. The 20 or so riders will meet with local officials, cyclists and cycling advocates along the route in order to raise awareness of safe cycling. 

The ride, now in its fourth year, traditionally took place on the East Coast. This year, however, professional cyclist and founder Tim Johnson brought it to the Midwest in order to celebrate recent advances in safe cycling, such as the Divvy program and Chicago’s growing network of protected bike lanes.

Just over 20 cyclists will be participating in the ride, including Vanderbilt, professional road racing cyclist Christian Vande Velde and Kickstarter co-founder Charles Adler. Active Trans Executive Director Ron Burke will be joining the ride on the final leg of the journey.

Everyone is welcome to join the cyclists for the last 10 miles into Chicago or to meet them along their route, information about which may be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/649211461816184/. Those interested can also donate to the ride at http://www.peopleforbikes.org/pages/ride-on-chicago.



Take Evanston’s bike plan survey to support next-generation bike facilities, oppose bike bans

Evanston is moving forward with an exciting update to their bike plan, and they are asking people who live, work or visit to weigh in on a new survey.

We’re thrilled to see Evanston leading the way on bringing next-generation bike facilities to the Chicago suburbs. The draft plan includes "comfort corridors" that would create low-stress routes for people riding bikes throughout the city.

Ideas like these are on the cutting edge of bike planning for suburban communities.

While most of the survey questions are about making streets safer and more bike-friendly, we are concerned that the new survey includes questions about possibly banning bikes on certain roads, including key destinations like retail corridors.

Tell Evanston to scrap the ban idea and stay with its current approach of developing comfortable biking routes that connect key destinations, so people don’t need to bike on high stress streets.

Take the survey.

Don’t become a dooring statistic

Until relatively recently, no real data existed on the number of doorings occurring in the city of Chicago or state of Illinois. As a result, we could only make a guess about the seriousness of the problem.

Then progress occurred in 2008 when the city of Chicago passed an ordinance that addressed dooring a cyclist. This meant officers would begin generating better statistics.

And in 2011 Active Trans won a legislative victory by convincing the Illinois Department of Transportation to begin counting doorings as crashes and begin tracking them.

And last summer, Chicago City Council increased the fine for someone who causes a dooring crash to $1,000.

Another victory occurred when the city of Chicago started requiring all taxis to install stickers on their passenger windows asking their fares to look for cyclists and pedestrians when exiting (see sticker graphic right).

Now we know that 1 out of 5 of Chicago's bicycle crashes occur when someone opens a car doors in the path of a person biking.

There are a number of precautions people biking can take to avoid getting doored. The most important strategy is to avoid the “door zone” as much as possible.

Avoiding the door zone — the area within 4 feet of a car — means riding on the far left side of the bike lane, closer to moving traffic than you may initially be comfortable with.

But as long as the roadway is wide enough and you are riding visibly and predictably in a straight line, the dangers associated with drivers passing too closely are manageable and far less than those of being doored.

If there isn’t enough room to ride four feet from parked cars and still provide passing motorists with the minimum 3 feet of required safe passing distance, it may be safer to move to the center of the lane (“take the lane”) for a brief period to prevent unsafe passing.

If this is only necessary for short distances, and doesn’t create undue delays for motorists, or if you’re travelling at the same speed as traffic, riding in the travel lane is often safer than riding in the “no man’s land” between the travel lane and the door zone.

If you do find it necessary to take the lane for long stretches in order to avoid the door zone and prevent unsafe passing, holding up faster moving traffic in the process, consider an alternate route with calmer traffic.

Also, be on the lookout for doors opening to your left. Whenever passing a line of cars stopped in traffic to your left, keep in mind that passengers may exit midblock, creating another door zone to your left.

If you find yourself trapped between door zones with stopped traffic on the left, parked autos on the right, slow down and proceed with caution while covering your brake. The few extra seconds it may cost you will be worth it in the end.

Our new bike education program will get kids rolling

This month marks the launch of a new Active Trans pilot program, Bikes on Wheels. The gist of the program is this: Active Trans loans a 20-foot trailer, 30 single-speed children’s bicycles, helmets and the necessary bike maintenance tools to a community, free of charge, for a year. Oak Park is the first community to participate in the program.

Earlier today, dozens of students at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park made use of the new bikes while learning bicycling skills like using hand signals, helmet use and basic handling skills like starting, stopping and turning.

Active Trans hopes to bring the trailer to eight Oak Park schools during the course of this year’s program – six schools in the spring and another two in the fall. In the summer, when children will not be in class, the Oak Park Park District will have use of the bicycles for summer camps.

Oak Park Police officers were at the Whittier Elementary bike education event to help direct students through the skills course and reinforce the messages of safe cycling. Also on hand at the kickoff event were representatives from the Oak Park School District, the Oak Park village offices, the Oak Park Cycling Club and Oak Park Park District.

“We’re really pleased to see the kids on the bikes learning safety skills,” said Lisa Schwartz, Oak Park School District Curriculum Director. “This fits very well with the school district’s wellness initiatives.”

Though the trailer will move on to the next community after a year is up, our hope is that the program will create a chain reaction in its participants, inspiring them to purchase their own fleet of bikes for community use. Oak Park has already applied for a state grant for this purpose.

The bikes were purchased thanks to donations from a variety of sources, including the Specialized bicycle company.

At the moment, only communities that have previously worked with Active Trans are in the running to take part in Bikes on Wheels, which requires collaboration between park districts, school districts and Active Trans staff, as well as local businesses and organizations such as bicycle clubs.

But any enthusiastic community has the potential to be in the running, so contact Active Trans if you’re interested in Bikes on Wheels in your town. Contact education@activetrans.org for more information.

Thanks for the ride, Mr. Powell!

There’s a reason taking the bus or train is called “public transportation” or “mass transit.” It involves a lot of people getting around together.

I’ve always been a fan of taking transit because of the opportunity to get somewhere and hopefully have positive interactions with other people. For me, it’s about the journey. Sometimes it can be repetitive or dull, but more often, I enjoy the opportunity for reading, listening to music or getting crushed by my free chess app.

Over the years, I’ve had wonderful interactions with other people on the bus or train, and also with operators and conductors from Pace, Metra and CTA.

One of the most engaging, friendly CTA staff people I’ve ever met is Michael Powell. During his 36 years as a CTA train conductor and operator, Powell made a deep and lasting impression on countless people who rode his train.

If you ever took the Red Line and your operator told you, “May the Force be with you” or “it’s only Monday — the Bears will win next week” or “If you just woke up, that last stop was Belmont,” that was Powell.

He would frequently chat and connect with passengers. Not at every stop, but always in a way that made a difference in your commute.

At the end of his career, I was fortunate enough to be taking the train to work more often instead of my more usual bike commuting (thanks, polar vortex).

In December 2013, Powell (pictured right) started sharing with riders comments like “thanks for riding everyone, I’ll be retiring at the end of the year” and “my name is Michael, I’m retiring soon, I’ve got a granddaughter on the way and a lot to look forward to, it’s been good knowing you.”

Passengers around me would shout out and talk about what a great guy he is and how much they would miss him. Dozens of people would rush off the train at each stop and go to the front car to shake his hand or take a picture with him.

Powell grew up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and attended University of Illinois at Chicago. After college, he applied for numerous jobs, including ones with the Chicago Fire Department and CTA.

In 1978 he started working as a conductor on what is now the Brown Line.

He met his wife, Elaine, on the train. They had their first date at a pizza joint near the Kedzie stop on the Brown Line.

With their first grandchild on the way, Powell is shifting into retirement. He and his wife hope to travel more together — by train of course.

And Powell will continue to expand his model train empire that covers almost their entire basement. “When I was a kid, I just dreamed of having something like this,” he said.

Many articles have been written about Powell. One of Powell’s frequent passengers, Melissa Thornely, even created a video short of his last ride. 

Powell’s wife Elaine and some of their kids appear in the video. “I met him on the train,” said Elaine Powell. “I might as well ride the last one with him.”

We hope Elaine and Michael Powell have many more train rides ahead as they travel around the country.

Mr. Powell, may the Force be with you, always.

Video credit Melissa Thornley with the assistance of Cutters Studio.

One more sign that bike sharing has come of age in Chicago

Active Trans is excited with today’s announcement that Divvy landed a $12.5 million sponsorship arrangement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. Bike sharing is now poised to have an even greater impact on the way people get around Chicago.

The sponsorship deal will last over a five year period. The city plans to use the $2.5 million in annual funds from the partnership to expand the Divvy system and enhance bicycling in Chicago.

The funds will be used for securing equipment to sweep and plow bike lanes; more bike lane materials like bollards, signage and striping; and more bike ambassadors on the streets to educate people about bike safety.

By the end of this year, Divvy plans to increase the number of docking stations in the city from 300 to 475. Chicago will then have the highest number of bike share stations in the nation.

We like how this new sponsorship arrangement will benefit Divvy riders as well as anyone who rides a bike in Chicago. And we like the way sponsorship emphasizes the connection between biking for transportation and better public health.

Less than one year after its launch, Divvy has been a resounding success. Last week, Divvy announced it reached one million trips totaling 2.5 million miles. That's a lot of pedaling!

If you're not a Divvy member, now is the time to join. New and renewing Active Trans members receive a $10 discount on annual Divvy memberships.

Photo courtesy of Divvy. 

Bike tour highlights Des Plaines River Trail study

Do you enjoy walking, running or biking on the Des Plaines River Trail in northern Cook County?

Many people do, and we expect many more people would if there was safer and easier access to the trail.

To create improved trail access, a coalition of groups -- including Active Trans -- is in the process of completing a study that will offer ideas on how to make access to the trail safer and easier.

The study focuses on four key areas for improvement:

  • Trail crossings
  • Trail surface
  • Trail access using all modes of transportation
  • Wayfinding

Over the past year, hundreds of community members provided valuable suggestions about trail improvements via an online survey.

Last week, Active Trans organized a bike tour on the trail with project steering committee members, public officials and residents from nearby communities. The ride provided a perfect opportunity to talk with these people about recommendations contained in the plan (see photo).

After setting off from Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, participants toured planned projects along Central Road and discussed ideas for how to address challenging crossings like the one at Milwaukee Avenue and Winkelman Road.

One of the great features of this project is the way it’s bringing together a wide swath of organizations and municipalities to work together to improve the trail: Northwest Municipal Conference, representatives from the cities and villages along the trail, transit agencies, CMAP, the Cook County Forest Preserve District, Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways and various consultants.

We look forward to completing the study and helping communities along the trail make it easier for everyone to enjoy this regional treasure.

Take action to stop ban on pedicabs in the Loop

The Chicago Pedicab Association is calling on Chicago residents to sign a petition opposing a proposed city ordinance that would restrict access to the loop by pedicabs, or bicycle taxis.

Signatures are needed right away as the proposed ordinance will be reviewed at a City Council committee hearing on Tuesday April 29.

Pedicabs are a solution to traffic congestion and safety issues, not a cause. Sign the Chicago Pedicab Association’s petition here.

What’s in the proposed ordinance?

If passed, pedicabs would be banned entirely on State St. and Michigan Ave. between Oak and Congress, all day every day. Pedicabs would also be restricted from entering the Loop during rush hour (7-9, 4-6) weekdays, but not holidays.

Proponents of the ordinance say it’s about easing congestion and making our streets safer, but those arguments don’t hold up under much scrutiny. Pedicabs take up less space than private cars and taxis; we should be encouraging their use, not banning them from our car-clogged streets.

As for safety, pedicabs reduce car and taxi trips, which are the leading cause of crashes in these areas. Taxicabs are involved in a disproportionate amount of crashes, and pedicabs clearly don’t have the same destructive capacity as a speeding, 3,000 pound taxi.

Add your voice to those opposing this misguided ordinance. Sign the petition by Chicago Pedicab Association here.

Making Kedzie Ave. better for biking and walking

With help from a new upcoming study, Kedzie Ave. in East Garfield Park may become a better place for biking, walking and transit.

The Garfield Park Community Council was recently awarded a grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to do a study on Kedzie Ave. The study will look at ways of creating a safer, more attractive neighborhood that provides greater mobility to residents and visitors to access CTA and bus facilities, businesses, schools, parks and other destinations within the neighborhood.

The primary focus will be the existing CTA transit facilities serving the Kedzie corridor, including the Kedzie Green Line station, the #52 Kedzie/California bus and the #20 Madison bus, with additional consideration of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, local roads and the surrounding streetscape.

The study is the result of an effort that started a couple years ago when community residents came together over a shared concern for the safety of people biking and walking in the area.

To help address problems like broken a traffic signal, faded crosswalks, vacant lots and a lack of bike lanes, the community enlisted help from Better Blocks — an Active Trans program that works with residents in underserved neighborhoods to pursue changes that will make streets more inviting for people walking and cycling.

The Kedzie Corridor Steering Committee will host a public meeting for residents to learn about recent outreach efforts and suggestions made by the community. There will also be an opportunity for residents to add input about the plan and process. The meeting will be held May 8 at Marshall High School, 3205 W. Adams at 6 p.m.

Image courtesy of the CTA.

Active Trans staffer lauded by state’s attorney

Congratulations to Active Trans staff member Jason Jenkins for receiving the 2014 Victim Service Award from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The annual award honors citizens and organizations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support and advocate for victims and their rights.

Jenkins, who was among four recipients to receive the award in a recent ceremony, was honored for his work on the case of Hector Avalos, who was killed by a driver while riding his bike home from work last December. The driver was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges.

“Our work with CPD and the state’s attorney’s office will hopefully strengthen our relationships with these agencies,” said Jenkins. “We hope that we can be allies in advocating for enforcement strategies that can improve safety for people biking and walking, as well as for justice for cyclists and pedestrians who have been injured by reckless drivers.”

“Many cyclists and pedestrians who are injured in crashes — often through no fault of their own — are typically unaware of their rights or what recourse they have,” said Jenkins.

“It is not uncommon for them to be carted off to the ER unconscious while the driver gives their version of the crash to the police,” he said. “Or if they are able to stay on the scene, they are often bruised and rattled with adrenaline and at a disadvantage when it comes to advocating for themselves. Add to that the prevalent bias against cyclists and pedestrians in crashes combined with a victim blaming culture and oftentimes the victim of crashes, the physically vulnerable bicyclist and pedestrian, wind up being re-victimized by a system that is not designed to protect their interests.”

“It’s important and meaningful for people in that position to have a knowledgeable advocate who can help look out for them,” said Jenkins.

The purpose of Active Trans’ Crash Support Program is also to provide the friends, relatives and coworkers of the victims of fatal crashes with opportunities to advocate for the slain cyclists as the case relating to their crashes proceeds through the courts.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be recognized for the work," said Jenkins. "But really, I share the award with the rest of the staff at Active Trans and our members, who have created the foundation and provided the environment for the work to happen in the first place.”

In addition to the current honor, Jenkins also received a special commendation from the Chicago Police Department earlier this year for his outreach work after a bicycle crash claimed the life of bicycle advocate Bobby Cann last May.

Photo shows Jason Jenkins at the podium and Cook County State's Attorny Anita Alvarez seated left of the podium

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

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