Bikes N’ Roses grows up with youth help

In the tiny back room of the 1,100-square foot storefront in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood, high schoolers cluster around two bicycle repair stands. Three bikes are clamped onto the bike stands: a black road bike with its chain hanging off, a purple Huffy and a red and silver mountain bike, each with a tag detailing needed repairs.

“We’re fixing the derailleurs on this one. It’s messed up; we had to change it three times,” one young woman, Jassmyn, says about the road bike. The atmosphere in the room is one of patient concentration as the kids talk among themselves. After all, they have a job to do – an opportunity made possible by Albany Park bike shop Bikes N’ Roses.

Bikes N’ Roses has been around in some form since 2011, when members of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council decided to teach a group of kids in the community how to fix bikes. From a small collective of bike-minded residents, the program has grown into a full-fledged enterprise, complete with a business license, 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, a storefront at 4751 N. Kedzie Ave. and 20 paid employees.

Much of Bikes N’ Roses’ success can be attributed to the work of Oscar Antonio Rivera Jr., who grew up in nearby Kelvyn Park. He left a job at Cycle Smithy in Lincoln Park when he learned Bikes N’ Roses was operating without an experienced mechanic. For his work he received the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council Award during the Bike to Work Rally at Daley Plaza this past June.

“What I hope to get out of Bikes N’ Roses is what I didn’t have access to when I was a youth,” says Riviera. “A home away from home that’s a safe haven, a place to be with my brothers and sisters of the cycling family who understand who I am and why cycling is crucial to my life.”

Now, in addition to fixing bikes and overseeing day-to-day operations at Bikes N’ Roses, Rivera also supervises the 18 youths who work at the shop during the summer months through a grant from the Illinois Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Participants in the program earn $9 an hour and qualify if they live 200 percent below the poverty line and receive some form of state-sponsored assistance.

It’s a win-win for the shop and the children. “So many youths have a passion for cycling, and with Bikes N’ Roses as a resource, they are able to expand that passion in all sorts of creative ways,” Rivera says.

Bikes N’ Roses’ summer programming begins with a two-week crash course in bicycle mechanics before the kids graduate to fixing bikes on their own, as well as helping customers in the front of the store. About half of the teens, including Jassmyn, have completed the program and serve as supervisors who mentor the new recruits.

Although many of the kids are new to fixing bikes, they seem to have a good grasp of bike repair. They deftly pluck screwdrivers and wrenches from the walls, cut chains, change tires, remove wheels and true them.

The kids mostly work on donated bikes, and with a limited inventory they often end up “Frankensteining” the bikes: replacing parts on one bike with parts from another and figuring out whether they’re compatible.

Bikes N’ Roses is not yet financially sustainable, Rivera says, but is on the way, especially now that it has a business license and can operate as a working bike shop that brings in revenue. At the moment, Bikes N’ Roses operates on money from SYEP and the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, and Rivera and the children have become adept at fundraising; the kids raised $3,000, last year through just one fundraiser.

In October, Bikes ‘N Roses moved from its location at Kedzie and Lawrence Avenues to a new nearby location in Albany Park at 3460 W. Lawrence.

Albany Park is Chicago’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood and one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. It also happens to be a neighborhood of cyclists. Many of them can be seen riding bike lanes in the neighborhood. Many Albany Park residents are immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, Korea and the Middle East.

Rivera and the children do their best to give back to the local community. One Sunday, they fixed bikes for free at the nearby Global Gardens Farmers’ Market. The bikes were then donated to the workers at Global Gardens, refugees from Burma, Bhutan and Congo. “We fixed 10 bikes for them,” Rivera says. “They spoke no English, but they were in tears.”

Keep in the loop by visiting the Bikes ‘N Roses Facebook page.

This blog post was written by Sara Kupper, who served as a communications intern at Active Trans during the summer of 2014.

West Side community members push for safer streets in high-crash corridors

After two Austin locations appeared on Active Trans' Safe Crossings list of 10 of the most dangerous intersections in the city, residents and organizations from the community have helped rally support for safer streets.

Both the Madison and Cicero intersection and the Chicago and Cicero intersection in the Austin neighborhood appeared on our Chicago list released in the fall. These intersections are major gateways for people walking, biking and driving, offering connections between business districts on Madison Street and in Austin.

With 69 recorded crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists at those intersections from 2006 to 2012, Austin ranked second out of Chicago’s 77 community areas for the most life-threatening pedestrian traffic crashes, according to a Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) study.

Organizations such as the Westside Health Authority, Austin Coming Together and the local CAPS group have agreed that some changes to the street are needed to help create a truly walkable community.

"In order to create solutions that effectively create a safer environment for pedestrians and motorists, it will be critical for public institutions and the non-profit sector to engage with community members to identify the greatest risk factors at key intersections and common sense solutions that make sense for the Austin community," said Andrew Born from Austin Coming Together.

Alderman Jason Ervin of the 28th Ward supports the campaign and is working with Active Trans and CDOT on recommendations to make Madison and Cicero more pedestrian friendly. 

“Madison is troubling, and I have seniors that have complained mostly about driver behavior,” Ervin told community news website AustinTalks. “There’s some definite driver education and there’s some definite pedestrian education that needs to occur.”

Ervin said he wants to reduce traffic fatalities at the intersection to zero, embracing the city’s Zero in 10 goal to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2022.

Meanwhile, Active Trans is continuing to rally local support for change in Austin and plans to host a community event early next year to help build awareness.

Please sign our Safe Crossings petition to support safety improvements at the Austin intersections and many other locations throughout the city and the suburbs.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the Austin campaign, contact Active Trans Community Liaison Cynthia Hudson. You can also donate to Active Trans and renew your membership or join as a new member today to show your support.

Share your Illinois transportation woes

Everyone has an opinion about transportation in Illinois.

Now, by sharing those opinions with the Metropolitan Planning Council, you can help advocate for better transportation in the state.

MPC, which works on planning and development issues in the region, is asking people to share their experiences biking, walking, driving and using transit in Illinois. 

Your feedback on the state's roads and highway systems, train and bus lines, bike routes and sidewalks will all help MPC work for better transportation in the state, and the group will use feedback to inform its advocacy in Springfield in 2015. 

Take the survey here by Friday, Dec. 12 and you'll have a chance to win one of 250 checks for $20. Using the Dscout mobile app, you can answer questions in the survey and even use photos and video to share your biggest transportation frustrations. 

Sign our petition to separate bicyclists and pedestrians on the Lakefront Trail

Last month we shared Megan William’s story of recovering from a horrific crash on the Lakefront Trail and committing herself to making sure crashes like hers don’t keep happening. Now you have a chance to show your support for improving safety on the lakefront path.

Sign our petition to support increased investment in separating pedestrians and bicyclists on the trail and other safety improvements.

This week we spoke at the Chicago Park District’s annual hearing on next year’s budget and shared Megan’s story. As we’ve heard from all types of trail users in recent years, congestion continues to increase, putting everyone at risk of conflict and injury.

The 18-mile path is the busiest trail in the country, with peak usage at more than 30,000 users per day during the summer, and it’s not currently designed to accommodate that volume of users all travelling at different speeds.

With cost-effective solutions like enhanced pavement markings and a separate path in the most congested areas, everyone’s trail experience would improve.

While long-term planning projects like the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive provide opportunities to address safety concerns, we must develop and implement plans for near-term, lower-cost improvements now.

In addition to trail separation, our petition draws attention to other critical issues, like public education and trail etiquette, access challenges, the increasing frequency of events that use the trail and year-round maintenance.

These issues affect everyone who uses the trail, from tourists walking along the lakefront for the first time in July to daily commuters who ride on the path throughout the year. All of them were raised in our 2013 People on the Trail Report, published in partnership with Friends of the Parks and the Chicago Area Running Association.

Sign our petition today to support increasing safety on the trail for all users. If you’re interested in getting involved in the campaign, please let us know. You can also donate to the campaign and renew your membership or join as a new member today to show your support.

 Support separating cyclists and pedestrians on Chicago's Lakefront Trail? Sign this @activetrans petition!

AARP offers resources for people who want livable communities

In an effort to make communities more livable for its members (and everyone), AARP released a helpful set of Livability Fact Sheets to help illustrate what makes a place work for people of all ages. 

There are 11 fact sheets, each four pages long, covering topics such as bicycling, traffic calming, sidewalks, economic development and more.

You can view or download the free fact sheets here

The factsheets were created by AARP Livable Communities and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute.

AARP hopes the fact sheets will be used by community leaders, lawmakers, activists and any community members interested in transforming their communities. 

Image courtesy of Mike Cynecki

What can Chicago do to eliminate pedestrian crash fatalities?

Three thousand pedestrians are hit by motor vehicles in Chicago annually, resulting in about 30 deaths a year. Seven to eight Chicago pedestrians suffer a traffic-related injury every day. 

How can these deaths and injuries be prevented?

A growing movement called Vision Zero aims to eliminate all traffic crash fatalities, and Chicago subscribes to the movement with its "Zero in Ten" campaign to bring the number of pedestrian fatalities to zero within 10 years.

Vision Zero was the topic of a recent symposium in New York hosted by Transportation Alternatives, and representatives from Active Trans and CDOT were in attendance.

Some of the most interesting takeaways are evident in this fantastic CityLab Q&A with Matts-Åke Belin, a traffic safety strategist for the Sweden Transportation Administration and one of the designers of the original Vision Zero plan.

Coming out of the symposium, we joined more than 300 urban leaders, policy makers, advocates, traffic enforcement authorities, and transportation and public health experts at the conference in signing on to a collectively affirmed statement of principles to guide Vision Zero implementation in cities around the world.

Vision Zero already has a great record in its home country. CityLab notes that Sweden has fewer than three traffic fatalities for every 100,000 people, compared to 11.6 per 100,000 in the U.S.

So what can be done in the U.S. and here in Chicago? One thing Belin stresses in the interview is that no matter how much education and enforcement is done, people are going to be people and make mistakes. Looking at the larger issue and smarter ways to engineer streets to reduce the impact of those mistakes is key. 

CDOT's Zero in Ten Campaign

When the city released its 2012 Pedestrian Plan, it included the ambitious Zero in Ten campaign with the main goal being to eliminate all traffic crash fatalities within 10 years.

Active Trans wrote at the time that we were excited to see Chicago make a commitment to improving the safety of all road users, whether they be walking, riding a bike, using transit or driving. We've also helped CDOT develop materials for the campaign (see campaign image above). 

Improving intersection safety will be a critical step towards achieving Vision Zero in Chicago. Eighty percent of fatal and serious pedestrian crashes occur within 125 feet of an intersection. 

We launched our pedestrian-focused Safe Crossings campaign to tackle the issue in October, and the response and support from Chicagoland has been tremendous.

Join more than 800 supporters in signing our petition that asks local leaders to make crossing the street safer for all users.

Every life lost is one too many; it's not collateral for the transportation system we have. We know the system can be better, and Zero in Ten is a big step forward. Read more about the Zero in Ten plan from CityLab

PoCampo founder Maria Boustead on bikes and bags

Since its launch in 2009, Po Campo has been a friend and partner of Active Trans.

We’ve worked together at MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive and on other events. Plus, Active Trans members have the exclusive perk of 15 percent off all Po Campo merchandise.

Most recently, a PoCampo bag was a part of the silent auction at the Active Trans 2014 Awards Reception.

Founded by Maria Bousted (pictured) when she couldn’t find an attachable bag she could take from her bike right to the office, Po Campo has become a source for stylish and functional bike panniers and accessories.

We sat down with Boustead to talk about the successes and challenges of being a bike-friendly business and what inspires her work. 

Your website lists “Getting more people on bikes” as one of your goals. You’re an avid cyclist, but as a business owner, why is that important?

I find biking in Chicago to be so fun, liberating, relaxing, and just a great way to experience the city.

Obviously, not every ride is wonderful, but overall it's a real joy that I'd like more people to experience. I'm proud of Po Campo for designing products that crossover between being on a bike and your life off the bike, because that versatility helps people see how easy it is to integrate biking into their lifestyle.

For example, several customers have told me that they didn't know how they'd manage biking to work before they got their Po Campo bag, and sentiments like that make it feel like we're on the right track and accomplishing our goal of getting more people on bikes.

What current trend do you see influencing biking in the city?

I see a general trend towards creating products for a more active lifestyle, such as apparel designed with technical fabrics that allow for more movement as you move through your day.

While this trend isn't specifically bike-friendly, it does make it easier to integrate biking into your life because it reduces the number of times you say "I can't bike today because I want to wear this."

How would Chicago benefit from a significant increase in cycling? What’s the biggest challenge that keeps us from getting there?

There's the snowball effect with bicycling, in that more people biking encourages more people to bike. The increase in people cycling makes car drivers more aware of their presence, so people do a better job of sharing the road.

The city becomes healthier because there is less pollution and more people are getting exercise. Also, streets full of bikes are a lot more pleasant than streets full of cars. What's not to love?

I moved to Chicago in 2001 and biking on the city streets in 2014 feels completely different. There are so many more people biking and more types of people biking (not just the spandex and bike messenger types), there are protected bike lanes, and Divvy…it's pretty amazing!

I congratulate Active Trans and CDOT for doing a great job in making Chicago such a great city for biking.

That said, I guess I'd say the top challenge is overcoming the common sentiment that bike infrastructure is a waste of public dollars and only benefitting the few.

With Chicago’s recent bike infrastructure improvements, have you noticed more women riding bikes?

Absolutely, and I think that we'll continue to see more and more women biking.

The oft-quoted Susan B. Anthony quote is kind of a grandiose statement yet really rings true: "[Bicycling] has done more emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

After going global with a Divvy-ready bag that fits bike-share systems in over a dozen cities worldwide, what’s next for PoCampo?

My background is industrial design, so coming up with new products is not a problem for me!

We've got a bunch of new things coming down the pike, some simple line extensions, and some brand new products.

Right now, I'm most excited about exploring ideas in the wearable tech space and thinking about how our products could help people actively navigate their cities and become comfortable and confident in their surroundings.

Po Campo is just one of 50 plus businesses who offer perks and discounts to our members. Join today or renew to enjoy these and other benefits.

This blog post was written by Vitaliy Vladimirov, who recently served as an Active Trans membership intern. 

What's your big idea for the 2015 Active Transportation Platform?

With local municipal elections slated for the city and suburbs in 2015, active transportation advocates need to be prepared to speak with a unified voice on the issues we care about.

That's why Active Trans wants to hear from you about your biking, walking, and transit priorities.

We’ve been busy connecting with people across our movement to build a shared vision for the future of our advocacy. A few weeks ago, over a hundred Active Trans members and supporters came together at our Member Meeting & Advocate Summit to discuss the most pressing biking, walking, and transit challenges facing their communities and how we can work together to overcome them.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in!

Do you want safer and better bike lanes? Improved crosswalks? More frequent transit service? Here's your chance to be heard.

Please use the form below to share your thoughts on the biggest opportunities and challenges facing you in your community. We’ll compile your responses along with the input from our recent Advocate Summit to inform our 2015 Active Transportation Platform for the city and suburbs.

Please share your big ideas below. And don’t forget to pass this form along to your own network! The deadline for responses is Tuesday, December 9.

2015 Active Transportation Platform Input Survey

With local municipal elections slated for the city and suburbs in 2015, Active Trans wants to hear what your priority biking, walking, and transit issues are.

Please use the form below to share your thoughts on the biggest opportunities and challenges facing you in your community. Responses will be compiled and used to inform our 2015 Active Transportation Platforms for the city and suburbs. All are welcome to share their ideas below.

5. Please share your contact information so we can update you on the 2015 Active Transportation Platform.






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Congratulations 2014 Illinois Bike Friendly Communities

The League of American Bicyclists recently announced its Fall 2014 list of Bike Friendly Communities (BFC), with Elgin and Urbana netting new honors.

Elgin received an Honorable Mention and Urbana leapt from Bonze to Gold level. (Elgin also received an Active Trans award this year for the outstanding renovation of its Riverside Drive Promenade and bike path.)  

The Bicycle Friendly Community program provides a roadmap to improve accommodations for bicycling and encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation.

Communities receive designations from Platinum to Bronze based on meeting criteria of the Five E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.

Nine Illinois communities have received BFC designations and six earned Honorable Mentions. A full list of Bike Friendly Communities is here.

Elgin is already planning next steps. According to the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, “Achieving BFC recognition will fulfill one of the recommendations of the Elgin Bikeway Master Plan. Continuing to improve that status will make Elgin a more vibrant destination for residents and visitors -- a place where people don't just work and live, but thrive.”

Congratulations Elgin, Urbana and all Illinois Bike Friendly Communities!

Crash victim calls for separating cyclists and pedestrians on Lakefront Trail

Megan Williams, 27, was jogging on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail while training for her first Chicago Marathon earlier this fall when she was suddenly struck by a bicyclist.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital bed with her hands restrained, a breathing tube down her throat, a fractured skull and bleeding in her brain.

Thankfully, Megan is feeling better today. And as a result of this terrible experience, she's determined to be part of improving safety on the trail for all users.

“If they could divide the path into separate paths, one for bikes and one for everyone else, that would help,” Megan told the Sun-Times last month.

She said she isn’t sure who to blame – if blame should even be assigned. She just wants to help make sure these crashes don’t keep happening.

This week Megan told her story in an online forum set up by the Chicago Park District, which manages the Lakefront Trail, to solicit feedback from the public on next year’s budget.

The idea is already one of the most popular ideas on the site in less than 24 hours.

You can support her idea by rating and commenting on it in the online forum. Users are required to create a free account and can explore ideas and critical questions about the future of Chicago’s parks.

Active Trans has identified separating bicyclists and pedestrians on the trail as one its advocacy priorities for next year.

In our 2013 People on the Trail Report, published in partnership with Friends of the Parks and the Chicago Area Running Association, it was the number one priority for trail users.

Megan Williams one week after her crash on the Lakefront Trail. 

It's also the top public priority in the ongoing planning process for the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, according to feedback collected at public meetings and online.

We continue to work with all types of trail users to highlight ways to improve the most popular trail in the country. If you’re interested in getting involved in our lakefront trail advocacy efforts, contact Campaign Director Kyle Whitehead at

Rate and comment on Megan’s idea by creating a free account on the Park District’s online forum.

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