San Francisco provides a path to a city’s waterfront revitalization

As Chicago begins a long process to reconstruct North Lake Shore Drive, one of our city’s most iconic streets, the Active Transportation Alliance and a coalition of 15 civic organizations in the city of Chicago are calling for a bold vision to better meet the needs of everyone who uses the lakefront. 

Next week Active Trans will partner with the Chicago Architecture Foundation to give a lunchtime lecture about our vision to improve transit along the lakefront, build a people-friendly roadway, and provide better access to our parks.

Leading up to that event, we’re working with guest blogger Ian Adams to share a series of stories of how other cities are rethinking their waterfronts. Please enjoy these examples from other cities, which we hope offer inspiration for how Chicago could better tap our lakefront’s full potential and transform our waterfront into a more people-friendly place.

San Francisco provides a path to a city's waterfront revitalization

The Embarcadero Freeway in 1978
The Embarcadero, after the removal of the freeway
The Embarcadero, after the removal of the freeway

Last year, while visiting the Bay area for work, I went for a jog in downtown San Francisco. My natural aversion to climbing steep hills led me to the Embarcadero area along the waterfront. As I took in the view of the Bay Bridge, little did I know that an elevated freeway once ran directly over where I stood.

Since the Embarcadero freeway was torn down in 1991, the surrounding area has improved dramatically. The transformation of the Embarcadero area has created a space that is more vibrant and people friendly. It's incorporated other forms of transportation and increased property values.

As Chicago begins the difficult process to reconstruct North Lake Shore Drive, San Francisco offers some interesting food for thought about how a city can re-examine waterfront freeways to create a more people-friendly and connected city. Could something like this be an option for Chicago?

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay area and badly damaged the Embarcadero freeway. This urban freeway had long been unpopular with residents: In 1959, before construction was even complete, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to oppose the construction of other similar freeways.

The high cost of rebuilding the elevated highway after its partial collapse only added to this opposition. As a result, San Francisco removed this section of freeway and redeveloped the street underneath, connecting it to the street grid.

Some residents were concerned about what this freeway removal would do to traffic congestion, and predicted gridlock and chaos. These dire predictions never materialized. Following the earthquake, the freeway was closed due to damage. Traffic patterns adjusted.

Today, multiple lanes of vehicle traffic flow in both directions in addition to trolley lines, bike lanes and large pedestrian-friendly areas. When I visited the area on a weekday morning, traffic flowed freely down the Embarcadero. Palm trees now line the wide pedestrian promenades that flank the street.

Revitalization plans have also led to dramatic changes and stimulated mixed-use development.

The Embarcadero freeway removal was a great improvement for this area of the city and helped pave the way to a friendly, more attractive waterfront. San Francisco created a people-friendly place while still providing a major thoroughfare for car traffic. Chicago would be well served by looking at San Francisco’s path as it considers the transition of Lake Shore Drive from a highway to a friendlier, more accommodating boulevard.

This is a guest blog by Ian Adams. Ian is a volunteer with the Active Transportation Alliance.

Get ready for the Bicycle Film Festival in Chicago!

Starting next Thursday, all Chicagoland residents are invited to participate in the eighth annual Bicycle Film Festival (BFF) in Chicago. Attendees will get a chance to enjoy a slate of bicycle-focused films that will be screened throughout the weekend at the Logan Theater.

There will also be rides, events and parties to make the festival even more of a celebration. The event runs from Thursday, Nov. 21 until Sunday, Nov. 24.

The films featured are mostly shorts and encompass all genres — romantic comedy to documentary and everything in between — made by filmmakers from all over the world. On Friday, they’ll be running two different short programs, while on Saturday they’re screening a feature length film followed by two screenings of a third short program.

The feature length presentation is the Mexican film “Ciclo,” which follows two brothers as they travel from their hometown in central Mexico to Toronto.

For those of you who’d like to do some bike riding along with your film-viewing, rides to the films will be hosted by Heritage Bike Shop and the Chainlink.

The BFF began after Brendt Barbur, the Founding Festival Director, was hit by a bus riding his bike in New York City. He was determined to turn his crash into something positive and came up with the idea of the festival to bring together and motivate the cycling community.

Now the BFF spans over 20 cities and serves as a platform to celebrate the bicycle through art, music and film. The festival organizers feel that the urban bike movement is one of the most powerful and culturally relevant developments of the last decade, and they want to keep the momentum going through the BFF.

Other notable events at the upcoming BFF Chicago are the annual Cranksgiving ride (scheduled for Saturday) that raises money to provide meals for homeless people on Thanksgiving. On Sunday there will be a BMX event at the Logan Boulevard Skate Park. Learn more. 

Do you use the Illinois Prairie Path?

The Illinois Prairie Path (IPP) is one of the great trails in the Chicago area. As the first rails-to-trails conversion in the United States, the path has connected people in the western suburbs to each other and the rest of Chicagoland for 50 years.

With more than 60 miles of trails to explore, the Prairie Path provides plenty of places to hop on and bike, walk, jog or ride a horse. It’s the perfect place for families to go for a few hours of outdoor fun or an affordable, environmentally friendly way to travel to work or school.

The IPP is the backbone of DuPage County’s active transportation network. While on the trail, a person will pass through many different areas, including lush forests, quiet residential neighborhoods and bustling suburban downtowns.

The trail length and bucolic setting attracts users of all ages and abilities --  from the experienced cyclist who rides a thousand miles each year to a grandmother on a walk with her grandchild in a stroller. The trail can take people to work, shopping and train stations.  

Yet just one harrowing intersection or crossing can be the difference between someone using the IPP to get to their destination and them choosing another route or cutting their trip short.  

Active Trans wants to make it safer for people of all ages and abilities to use the Prairie Path easily and cross from section to section. So, we are creating a plan to do just that. 

With support from with the DuPage County Health Department and DuPage County Division of Transportation, Active Trans is leading a study to enhance your experience on the trail. But we need your input to identify which intersections and crossings on the IPP are already convenient and should be used as models for how to design future crossings, and which intersections and crossings are in need of bike and pedestrian safety enhancements.

Help us make crossings safer! If you use the Prairie Path, or want to use it, please share your ideas on this survey

Revolution Brewing takes a stand in support of walking, biking, transit advocacy

Today Active Trans is announcing an exciting 2014 partnership with Revolution Brewery as our Preferred Beer, making the Chicago-based craft brewery a sponsor or host at a number of our large-scale and smaller events. We are also announcing plans for a new bike ride next summer that will end at a party with music and fun at Revolution Brewery.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to connect our supporters with great local beer from Revolution Brewery,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance.

As a sponsor, Revolution will donate beer for two large-scale events; Active Trans will sell the beer at the events and put the proceeds toward its mission.

“Advocacy for sustainable transportation is a paramount concern,” said Josh Deth, Chairman of the Party at Revolution Brewery. “Many of Revolution’s patrons and staff bike, walk, and use transit, so we’re happy to partner with Active Trans to make a difference.”

To celebrate this partnership, Active Trans and Revolution are teaming up for a new ride and party in summer of 2014. The event will be a short, social bike ride and parade ending in a party at Revolution Brewery. Revolution beer will also be available for sale at the post-ride festival for Four-Star Bike & Chow on Sunday, September 7.

Working with Revolution beer accounts, Active Trans plans to celebrate Bike to Work Week June 13-20 by encouraging bike commuters to enjoy an after-work stop at bars in Chicago and suburban communities near Metra stops as part of its week-long Bike Commuter Challenge event.

“We know people love bikes and beer,” said Ethan Spotts, deputy executive director for events and marketing at the Active Transportation Alliance. “Of course Active Trans and Revolution recommend responsible consumption and transportation. If you are drinking, please lock up your bike and take a bus or cab home.”

Revolution Brewing just celebrated its third year in business and was recently named Beverage Maker of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. Revolution operates a brewpub at 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave. and a 40,000-square-foot production brewery with a tap room at 3340 N. Kedzie Ave. 

Active Trans is looking forward to a great partnership with Revolution Brewery in 2014!

Grassroots leaders mobilize hundreds of transit riders in support of Ashland BRT

Armed with clipboards, brochures and a vision for a brighter transit future, a gallant crew of volunteer leaders reached hundreds of transit riders in a week-long grassroots outreach blitz to rally support for bringing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Ashland Ave.

Braving cold weather, early mornings and even a bit of rain, our team of transit heroes connected with riders up and down Ashland Ave. to spread the word about BRT in Chicago. They shared with riders the exciting plan to bring BRT to Chicago and Active Trans' campaign to help make it happen.

All week long one thing was clear: people want Bus Rapid Transit.

When we mentioned Ashland BRT service would travel up to twice as fast as the current #9 bus, people’s eyes lit up and they were eager to learn more and get involved.

It's just another sign of the times: long-suffering transit riders are mobilizing for change. This week’s success is just another example of our movement’s growing strength.

We’d like to extend a hearty thank you to all of our volunteer leaders who lent their time and energy to this week’s outreach.

Stay tuned for more BRT campaign updates, including dates and locations for upcoming public meetings.

And, if you haven’t already, please take a moment to sign our petition supporting BRT on Ashland Ave. and be sure to share it with your friends and family!

Divvy poised to become largest bike-sharing operation in North America

Big news: by sometime next year, Chicago’s bike-sharing program will be expanding by another 75 stations to become the largest bike-sharing system in North America! Divvy already installed 300 stations this year, and has plans to add 100 more in 2014.

The city just announced that it’s receiving federal funding to install an additional 75 stations. Once the funded stations are ordered and installed next year, Divvy will become the largest bike-sharing operation in North America with 475 stations, and will be the fifth largest bike sharing system in the world.

In just the four months since it was launched, Divvy has already proven to be a huge success. Over 600,000 trips have been taken by riders going more than 1.5 million miles. Divvy has sold more than 125,000 daily passes and 11,000 annual memberships. The expansion means that it will be even easier for Chicagoans to pedal to their next destination.

“As Divvy expands into more neighborhoods, and we build a 650-mile bikeway network throughout our communities, Chicago is quickly becoming the best biking city in North America,” said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein in a news release issued by the city. “A large bike sharing system with better cycling infrastructure will encourage more Chicagoans to use bicycles as a regular means of transportation.”

And even though winter is on the horizon, Divvy stations aren’t going anywhere. Though Divvy plans to reduce the number of bikes based on anticipated ridership, all stations will remain open throughout the chilly months.

Become a Divvy member at and keep up on Twitter at @DivvyBikes and on Facebook at

Photo is courtesy of Hannah Helbert

Petition: keep biking free — say "no" to bike registration fee

We want more people riding bikes in Chicago, not fewer.

Requiring Chicagoans who ride bikes to pay an annual fee, as recently proposed by a member of the city council, would result in fewer people taking advantage of a healthy, green and cheap transportation option.

That's why we are asking you to sign our petition opposing bike registration fees in Chicago.

Our city faces many challenges, including a gaping hole in our budget. When it comes to saving money, though, cycling is a part of the solution, not the problem.

Cycling’s benefits include lowering road maintenance costs, reducing air pollution and traffic congestion, combatting obesity and enhancing public health, and increasing Chicago’s livability and its desirability to employers.

Furthermore, a city-wide program to require people who ride bikes to pay a registration fee would be impractical and likely cost more to administer than it would generate in revenue.

After a year of great progress in our efforts to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the U.S., now is not the time for us to turn back.

Please stand with us in opposing the bike registration fee proposal by signing our petition and sharing it with your friends and family.

Walking, biking and transit still far behind cars for commutes in Chicagoland

The Institute for Quality Communities recently reported on the most recent 2012 census bureau estimates for how people travel to work, and they found that the city of Chicago ranks 6th among large U.S. cities for the percentage of people either biking (1.6 percent), walking (6.9 percent) or riding transit (26.3 percent).

Chicago’s 34.8 percent total is far behind New York City (67 percent), Washington DC (54.6 percent), Boston (52.1 percent) and San Francisco (46.7 percent).

One thing is clear: with cars accounting for roughly 65 percent of work trips, Chicago is falling well short of our peer cities and of the Active Transportation Alliance’s goal of a 50 percent biking/walking/transit mode share.

Looking at Chicago plus the suburbs, our region’s over-dependence on cars is even more striking: only 15.1 percent of commuters bike (0.7 percent), walk (3.3 percent) or use transit (11.1 percent). It’s no wonder our roads are so congested!

With the percentage of trips by walking and transit roughly unchanged in recent years, the bright spot has been rapid growth in cycling. We know that bike commuting is growing rapidly, having been way below one percent not long ago, and we suspect this 2012 estimate is underreported. Certainly in parts of Chicago, the percentage is much higher.

Moreover, the census bureau doesn’t account for combination trips. For example, some days I bike to the train, come downtown, and then Divvy to the office. Other days I bike the entire way to work and back home. I am both biking and using transit, but can only choose one of those travel modes on the census survey.

Keep in mind that the census bureau only surveys work trips. We don’t have good data for non-work trips, but in general, biking and walking tend to account for a higher percentage of non-work trips vs. work trips, while transit is a lower percentage.

We need you to lead: Join us next week for Bus Rapid Transit grassroots efforts

Though the weather is starting to change, our campaign to bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Ashland Ave. is just heating up!

With critical public meetings anticipated in the next month, the time has come to kick our campaign into high gear and showcase the broad grassroots support for better transit options, like BRT.

That’s why Active Trans and dozens of grassroots leaders like YOU will be hitting the streets the week of November 4 to mobilize transit riders in support of BRT in Chicago.

Use this form to sign-up for a volunteer shift at the listed times and locations. We'll be on the ground talking to transit riders about BRT and signing them up to join our movement.

After you sign-up, we'll follow-up to confirm your shift and share specific details on your volunteer role.  

Can’t make a shift but still want to help? Share this blog post on social media!

Advocates mobilized at Active Trans Bike/Walk/Transit Summit

Last weekend, Active Trans held a Bike/Walk/Transit Summit to help community members become more effective advocates for active transportation issues in their community.

Congressman Mike Quigley gives the keynote address

Congressman Mike Quigley of the 5th Illinois District delivered a keynote address about the political dynamics on Capitol Hill that challenge better transportation policy. He stressed the critical role local advocates play in keeping elected officials accountable to ensure streets work for all users. 

Breakout sessions at the summit offered a variety of topics intended to help advocates network, learn and share critical information. Planner Kurtis Pozsgay from the Berwyn Development Corporation led a session about Complete Streets policies making better and safer streets.

Other breakout sessions led by regional grassroots leaders focused on encouraging active transportation through community bike rides, using open data sources for advocacy, building trail networks and mobilizing residents to restore public transit service.

The summit was preceded by Active Trans’ Annual Member Meeting. During the member meeting, attendees voted to reappoint the following Active Trans board members: Corey Coscioni, Jay Goldstein, Jane Healy, Ben Helphand, Jim Kreps, Margarita Reina and Steve Schlickman.

Longtime volunteer and advocate, Anne Alt, was voted on to the Active Trans Board of Directors.

Thanks to everyone who attended. We hope to host another Bike/Walk/Transit Summit next year!

Here are some advocacy resources that were discussed at the event.

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