Illiana Tollway boondoggle moving ahead – for now

The votes have been cast, but this battle is far from over.

On October 9, the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) Policy Committee, which oversees and approves federal funding in the state, voted to move the GO TO 2040 regional plan forward with the Illiana Expressway still included.

This followed a vote a day earlier by the board of Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) not to approve the regional plan because it still includes the politically charged Illiana.

Active Trans joined several other regional advocacy organizations and residents in testifying against the Illiana at both meetings because it conflicts with the stated sustainability and efficiency goals of GO TO 2040. Not to mention the $1.1 billion project cost will likely largely be passed on to taxpayers to fund this “public-private partnership” over the next 40 years.

CMAP, based on its own staff’s research and analysis, anticipates that the tolls will be too high to attract the truck traffic needed to adequately fund the project – likely forcing the cost onto taxpayers. The Illiana will also take precedence over many other critical transportation projects, leaving behind needed improvements to existing public transit and commuter rail systems.

The fate of the project is now likely in the hands of courts. Leading Chicago environmental groups have partnered in a lawsuit to block the project, challenging the legality of the Policy Committee’s approval and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) authority to move forward. With a gubernatorial election on the horizon, there are still many unresolved questions about the ill-conceived tollway.

This blog post was written by Roxanne Bertrand, Active Trans' Advocacy Intern

Underfunded Metra forced to raise fares to replace aging fleet

Last week, Metra unveiled its rail line improvement plans for the next ten years – and it’s not going to be cheap.

Metra, the second largest commuter rail line in the country, plans to replace and restore old passenger cars and locomotives, and install Positive Train Control (PTC) on all trains.

PTC is a system that forces train compliance to speed limits and can automatically stop rail cars. Our outdated commuter rail system desperately needs these upgrades to ensure a reliable and safe regional public transportation system.

About 16 percent of the $2.4 billion cost of the improvement plan will be passed on to Metra riders through fare increases. Raising fares is never a good thing, but under the current funding structure the cash-strapped agency’s options are limited.

Metra deserves credit for taking action and developing a plan to replace and restore old passenger cars and locomotives, but these fare increases are further proof we need to change how we fund public transit regionally.

With young people driving less, the need for an improved transit network will only be heightened in coming years. According to a recent report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Millennials are veering away from cars.

From 2006 to 2013, the share of people commuting by car between the ages of 16 and 24 fell by 1.5 percent, while this age group’s share increased in active transportation modes, like biking, walking and public transit.

Young people are sick of sitting in traffic and they are more and more attracted to cities with an extensive public transportation network. In order to remain competitive and attract new businesses and a creative workforce, Chicagoland needs to prioritize public transportation.

Our Transit Future campaign addresses these issues by establishing a dedicated revenue stream to build and expand the transportation network in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

Sign our petition to support increased investment in transit and fill out this brief survey if you’re interested in volunteering to help organize transit supporters in your neighborhood.

This blog post was contributed by Sydney Prusak, an Active Trans advocacy intern.

Tribune editorial stirs up anti-bike sentiment again

Every day in metro Chicago, an average of nearly 14 pedestrians are injured or killed as a result of getting hit by people driving cars. That’s nearly 5,000 injuries and fatalities each year.

You wouldn’t know that car traffic poses such a serious danger to people walking if you read Chicago Tribune columnist Ron Grossman’s recent musings about banning bikes for a day to improve pedestrian traffic safety.

Thank goodness for the level-headed response to Grossman’s column from Tribune reporter Kevin Williams, a regular cyclist. And every letter in the printed Tribune yesterday addressed this subject — split between anti-bike and pro-bike, of course.

There is no doubt that reckless cyclists are a danger, and like anyone else who makes streets unsafe — people who walk into traffic while texting, people driving who speed across crosswalks without looking for people walking, etc. — they should get tickets and be scolded by society. Just as important is designing streets that create more order and accommodate everyone safely.

But in failing to even mention the far greater toll that people driving cars take on pedestrians, Grossman reveals an underlying bias that is all too common. It goes like this: people driving cars are rulers of the roads and people on bikes just get in the way. Car crashes are acceptable and even inevitable in this light, while bicyclists are an unacceptable traffic risk, even though people driving cars cause many, many times more injuries and deaths.

We are big believers in shared responsibility for traffic safety — as opposed to finger pointing.

Earlier this year we launched a campaign with AAA Chicago focusing on that theme.

We submitted a letter in response to Grossman’s column, which hasn't been printed, but you can read it below.

And yesterday we launched our new Safe Crossings Campaign to create changes that will actually make our streets safer and accommodate travel choices, unlike banning bikes for a day.

Dear Editor:

Everyone should travel respectfully and safely on our streets, whether you’re biking, walking or driving. As Ron Grossman points out in “Maybe Chicago should ban bikes for a day,” some people on bikes don’t meet this standard. Unfortunately, the same can be said about motorists and even pedestrians. If you’re traveling recklessly and putting people at risk, a ticket is warranted whether you’re biking, walking or driving.

With exciting developments like Divvy and a growing network of protected bike lanes, more people in Chicago are riding bikes. More people biking makes the need to share even more pressing. That means driving, walking and biking with less risk and more respect.

We support bike lanes and other “complete streets” designs like pedestrian islands that create safer conditions on the road. These improvements cost very little compared to overall roadway costs, and they reduce traffic conflicts and improve safety by creating more order and predictable behavior on the streets.

In addition to better infrastructure, we also need better enforcement. Unfortunately, there are sixty car crash injuries or deaths every day in the city of Chicago, of which about 13 people are on foot or bike and 47 in cars.

Sharing the road is the new normal in Chicago and our fear is that these fatalities and injuries will rise if each of us doesn’t take personal responsibility for obeying the traffic laws and respecting fellow commuters on Chicago’s increasingly crowded streets.

We can all help create a new normal by modeling responsible behavior when we drive, bike and walk.

Ron Burke
Active Transportation Alliance

New campaign aims to improve pedestrian safety around some of our most dangerous intersections

Crossing a busy street is an everyday activity for most local residents, but too often it’s also one of the most dangerous things they’ll do all day.

That’s why we’re excited to be launching Safe Crossings, a pedestrian-focused campaign designed to raise awareness about intersection safety and work with community partners to push for more dedicated funding for pedestrian improvements throughout Chicagoland.

The campaign is built around our lists of 10 of the most dangerous intersections in Chicago and 10 of the most dangerous in suburban Cook County. The lists are based upon analysis of crash data, staff input and more than 800 suggestions from community members.

These lists represent just a small portion of the many dangerous street crossing locations in Chicagoland. These crossings are particularly perilous for our most vulnerable users such as children, people with disabilities and seniors.

The intersections will serve as focus areas for our outreach team as they mobilize supporters to advocate for pedestrian improvements and increased enforcement of existing traffic laws region-wide.

Enhancing infrastructure design and stepping up enforcement at some of the worst intersections in the region alone will not eliminate the risk of crashes. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs need to dedicate more annual funding to maintaining pedestrian facilities and consider other policy solutions – such as reducing neighborhood speed limits – if we’re going to get serious about reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

We want to see the city of Chicago succeed with its Zero in Ten goal to eliminate pedestrian fatalities by 2022.

Sign our petition to local leaders and transportation officials to demonstrate your commitment to making it safer and easier to walk along and cross streets throughout the region.

Learn more about the campaign by checking out our fact sheet, site map, list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and intersection safety solutions toolkit.

photos courtesy of Dan Burden and 

Schools celebrate 2014 Walk to School Day

This past Wednesday, schools across the country participated in International Walk to School Day. To commemorate the day, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx celebrated with students in Charlotte, NC, calling on everyone to encourage students to walk to school.

Here are just a few highlights from some schools we heard from around the Chicagoland area:

Evergreen Academy Middle School in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago participated by using a meet and walk strategy.

Over 50 students, staff and parents met at McKinley Park and walked the 1.5 miles to school. After arriving, students celebrated with a healthy breakfast before heading to class with active minds ready to learn.

Similar events were held at Prieto Math and Science Academy (above) and Dore Elementary, both in Chicago. At these schools, students received incentives made available through their recent participation in the Healthy CPS program.

Apollo School in Des Plaines regularly offers a walking group in which students and adults meet approximately three-quarters of a mile from the school and walk together.

Along with staff and family members, the school's Walk to School Day group included more than 150 students walking and 20 more on bikes! Apollo also has a “Golden Shoe Award” -- a traveling award given each week to the classrooms with the highest student participation in its walking program (pictured left is one Apollo classroom that was a recent recipeint of the award).

At Belding Elementary  -- serving the Mayfair, Old Irving Park and West Walker neighborhoods of Chicago -- students celebrated multiple forms of active transportation.

In the morning, students who brought a bike took part in a bike safety course led by phys. ed. teacher Yara Santillan and supported by parent volunteers.

A small team also pumped air in tires and made minor tune-ups when possible. Over 100 students participated. In the afternoon, students, staff, and family members participated in a walk-a-thon (pictured right) that also served as a healthy fundraiser, creating a day full of health and safety activities.

Did your school participate? Are you interested in learning how to create events like this at your school in the future? Let us know at

Fate of Illiana Tollway boondoggle to be determined this week

As criticism of the ill-conceived Illiana Tollway project mounts, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) board and policy committee will hold two critical votes this week to determine whether the 50-mile, four-lane Will County highway should remain in the GO TO 2040 regional plan.

The proposed highway would link Interstate 55 with I-57 and I-65, serving only 8,000 vehicles per day at a cost of over $1 billion. The state is proposing to build the project as a public-private partnership with the state guaranteeing a private operator's costs.

An analysis by CMAP’s own staff completed last year, however, found that the highway’s traffic and toll projects would fall short, leaving taxpayers responsible for filling a gap ranging from $440 million to $1.1 billion.

Active Trans is part of a diverse group of advocacy groups -- including Openlands, Sierra Club, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Environmental Law and Policy Center -- in opposing the project.

Experience shows that building new highways in the Chicago region, particularly in the exurbs where the Illiana would be located, will over time lead to prioritizing investments in infrastructure that promote more driving, more congestion and development patterns that are not conducive to walking, biking and riding public transit.

Active Trans will be testifying against the project at Wednesday’s CMAP board meeting and Thursday’s CMAP policy committee meeting. Both bodies can vote to remove the project from the regional plan but that responsibility ultimately lies with the policy committee under federal law.

Over a 50-day public comment period this summer, more than 1,400 public comments were submitted via letters, emails and in-person public meetings. The Chicago Tribune, Daily HeraldCrain’s Chicago Business and Rockford Star have all editorialized against the project, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle both oppose the project.

Last month, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) put the project on its “boondoggles” list of 11 examples of wasteful spending projects. Let’s hope CMAP votes to remove this black eye from our regional plan this week.

Graphic courtesy of MPC. 

Divvy expands to Evanston and Oak Park

Bike sharing is coming to Evanston and Oak Park, and once again it's expanding in the city of Chicago, too!

“Expanding Divvy outside of the city limits means fewer cars on the roads and gives more residents and visitors the fun opportunity to take a ride,” said Governor Pat Quinn at Evanston’s annual Bike the Ridge event last weekend.

Evanston Mayor Tisdahl added, “Divvy will help improve residents’ health and lower the city’s carbon footprint.”

The $3 million in new funding brings 12 Divvy stations to Oak Park and eight to Evanston, and also adds 50 new docking stations with bicycles to Chicago’s Garfield Park, Austin, Rogers Park and West Rogers Park neighborhoods.

Though it is too early to say exactly where the stations would be installed, site planning is being discussed.  (Do you have a suggestion for a station location?)

For many months, Active Trans has been part of the chorus of voices urging the state of Illinois to locate funding for this project. To help with the expansion, Active Trans also provided support to the city of Oak Park in assessing locations for Divvy stations.  

“Ever since Divvy arrived in Chicago, we’ve been hearing from residents who are eager to have bike sharing in village,” said Oak Park’s Parking and Mobility Services Director, Jill Velan.

And now it'll be here by spring 2015. Congratulations Oak Park, Evanston and Chicago!

Photo of Evanston Mayor Tisdahl courtesy of Wally Bobkiewicz and the city of Evanston. 

City moving ahead with Central Loop BRT and other downtown improvements

The city announced today that work will begin next year on the Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, a new transit center at Union Station and an elevated Washington/Randolph CTA station.

This is exciting news that will help make transportation downtown safer and more efficient for everyone.

With increasing demand to move around the Loop and limited space, the only way to reduce gridlock and make it easier to get around is by making riding transit, biking and walking more safe and convenient.

Nearly 80 percent of trips in the Loop are done by bus, bike or on foot, yet cars and taxis occupy most of the street space and cause congestion.

Buses account for only 4 percent of vehicles but move 47 percent of the people traveling in vehicles and 21 percent of all people moving through the Loop, including pedestrians.

Nearly 30,000 people per day will have quicker bus trips to and from work, the museum campus, Navy Pier and other destinations, and the improvements will also create more order and safety downtown for everyone."

The Chicago Tribune put together this helpful infographic that provides maps and visuals for the new projects. More info is also available on the city’s project website and fact sheet.

Central Loop BRT is expected to be running by the end of 2015 and the new CTA station will be completed in 2016.

Buses will travel in dedicated bus-only lanes linking to commuter rail stations and traffic signals will be programmed to give buses a jump on other traffic at intersections.

According to the CTA, passengers will save an average of 7.5 minutes for trips of less than a mile.

Active Trans has been advocating for investment in BRT in Chicago for several years, and most recently we've been rallying support for projects in the Central Loop and Ashland corridors.

Prepayment to ease boarding at crowded bus stations is critical to successful BRT projects, and the CTA has committed to introducing prepayment at the Madison/Dearborn station, with plans to expand implementation of fare gates to all stations in the system eventually. We are hopeful this happens quickly as riders experience the benefits of prepayment and a faster trip.

The projects also represent progress in improving and expanding Chicago’s network of protected bike lanes. New protected bike lanes will be added to Clinton Street, Washington Street and Randolph Street. Clinton Street will include a two-way lane from Fulton to Harrison with access to transit at Ogilvie and Union Station.

The design of the Clinton lane will be similar to what now exists on Dearborn downtown. A recent study showed bicycle ridership on Dearborn increased 171 percent in its first year, 92 percent of cyclists felt safer and compliance with traffic laws was much higher than before the lane was introduced.

Rendering of the Central Loop BRT station courtesy of CTA. 

Get ready for an improved North Branch Trail

We’re getting closer and closer to seeing the popular North Branch trail extended 3 miles further south, adding low-stress connections from the North Branch Trail to the Sauganash, Lakefront and Weber Spur trails.

Construction on the trail extension, which has been in the works since 2005, is anticipated to start in the spring of 2015 and will take approximately a year to complete. Many supporters attended the most recent public meeting in August, when the Forest Preserve District of Cook County updated the community on project.

Following the meeting, the project team updated the FAQ on the trail website with more details about the extension.

The existing 18-mile trail begins at Devon and Caldwell Avenues and travels north across 10 city and suburban communities, ending in Glencoe at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

The extension will add 3 miles to the existing trail, south to Foster and Kostner Avenues. From there, bicyclists can connect to the Sauganash Trail to the north, the Lakefront Trail to the east and the planned Weber Spur Trail to the northeast.

This 3 mile, off-street trail is the missing link between the North Branch Trail and the city of Chicago’s bike network, which includes 230 miles of trails and bike lanes.

Stay tuned for further updates on the project.

Unfortunately, there's been some resistance to the project from a handful of local residents. To express your support for the project and sign-up for the contact list, email Forest Preserve Senior Planner Kindy Kruller at

The next community meeting -- to be held in February or March -- will focus on the construction process and will highlight any updated plans.

Another exciting development on the North Branch Trail is a new 1-mile connection on the north end of the trail, linking the Chicago Botanic Garden to the Green Bay Trail to the east (Active Trans staff were thrilled to be part of the recent ribbon cutting event for the trail). Learn more about that new trail connection.

This blog post was written by Roxanne Bertrand, Active Trans' Advocacy Intern

Metra changes bike policy to increase access

After hearing from a growing number of bicyclists who ride Metra, Metra leadership took positive steps to better accommodate bicyclists today with changes to its bikes on trains policy.

Starting October 6, bikes will be allowed on some early morning trains and they will no longer be banned during special events.

The change allows passengers to bring their bikes on early morning rush hour trains that arrive downtown at or before 6:30 a.m (16 trains total across 9 lines). Under the current policy, bikes are banned from all trains arriving in Chicago before 9:30 a.m.

Additionally, Metra will eliminate bike blackout periods during special events such as the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza and the Chicago Air & Water Show.

Passengers will be permitted to bring their bikes on trains during those events, but will be cautioned that crowded conditions could prevent bicycle access for the rider’s initial or return trip. These “warning dates” will replace blanket blackout periods from the previous policy during which bikes were banned on all trains in both directions for the entire weekend of special events.

“We believe these changes will provide better service to bicyclists in a way that is safe for all passengers and onboard personnel,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno in a news release from Metra about the change.

Metra’s bikes on trains policy is a topic that comes up frequently in our conversations with Active Trans members and supporters, and we regularly talk with Metra leadership about ways the policy can be improved. In 2005, we helped convince Metra to expand bicycle access from one train per week to daily off-peak accommodation.

This summer, we approached Metra after hearing from many supporters frustrated by the blanket blackout periods during special events and the bike ban on early morning trains, even when trains are nowhere near full capacity.

We’ll continue to talk with bicyclists who ride Metra and agency leadership to identify more potential improvements.

Meanwhile, we remain committed to working with other non-profit organizations to push the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District to allow bikes on South Shore Line trains. A feasibility study is currently underway on accommodating bicycles on the South Shore Line, one of the few remaining major commuter lines in the country that bans bikes.

UPDATE (10/3): With the new policy set to take effect next Monday October 6, we sent a letter to Metra expressing our support and our desire to continue discussions about how to improve bicycle access on Metra trains. Contact Campaign Director Kyle Whitehead if you have any feedback on the new policy.

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