Lend a hand at one of the best bike rides in the nation

The 2014 MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive is just three months away! In addition to being a day of stupendous fun, this event is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and we need enthusiastic volunteers to make it a success.

Want to make a major contribution to our mission of improving biking, walking and transit? Then sign up to volunteer for Bike the Drive on Sunday, May 25th! 

For this event, we need helping hands before, during and after the event — including packet pick-up, providing snacks and water at rest stops, directing riders along the course and helping to break down the event.

When you register, you can select whichever role is right for you.

The benefits of volunteering:

  • Pre-event volunteers can earn a free event registration by volunteering six or more hours before the event.
  • Day-of-event volunteers get a free breakfast and an event T-shirt.
  • Qualified nonprofit or community groups that provide 15 or more volunteers on the day of the event can qualify for a $200 donation.

We rely on the continued support of our volunteers to produce an event of this scale. Join us at the MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive!

For more details visit www.bikethedrive.org/volunteer or contact Dave Jones, Active Trans Volunteer Coordinator, at djones@activetrans.org or 312.427.3325 Ext. 234.

Metra: We’re not gonna take it anymore!

Here at Active Trans, we’re keeping the pressure on Metra. After hearing your stories about waiting for late trains in frigid temperatures and other problems caused by poor communication and mechanical mishaps, we’re pushing them to put riders first this year.

We sent a letter to new CEO Don Orseno and new Board Chairman Martin Oberman outlining some priorities for 2014.

Add your voice to ours; send this letter to Metra’s new leadership.

Here’s what putting riders first means to us:

• Trains that arrive on time everyday-even weekends
• Clear and accurate communication about service online and at stations
• Technological upgrades including Wi-Fi, Ventra, and real-time updates
• More frequent service and expanded train lines, because one train every 2 hours isn’t enough
• Complete stations that are easy to get to by biking, walking, transit or car.

Some of these are big plans, and Metra might not be able to tackle them alone so we’re not letting our elected officials off the hook either. They need to invest in Metra so we can see the change we need.

Help us keep the pressure on! Tell Metra and our elected officials we’re ready for better service.

The ABCs of winter biking

It's been a cold and snowy winter in Chicagoland. As a result, most regular cyclists put their bicycles away for the season long ago. 

Still, many people continue to ride despite the cold and snow. These are the people who can't resist the greater mobility and affordability that cycling offers. These are the people that know, once you practice a few times, winter biking becomes second nature.

Here are some tips that will get you cycling safely and comfortably this winter.

The first thing most people wonder about when considering winter cycling is what to wear. Keep in mind that the cost of these items is not important, just their functionality.

Don’t worry about getting gear specifically for bike riding; if your apparel comes from a thrift store or big box store and it works, then you’re in great shape.

Also remember that cotton is never a good idea. The fabric absorbs water and keeps it close to your body, which is exactly what you don’t want in cold temperatures.

Now, on to what you do want.

A basic three layer approach provides the flexibility and comfort you need. For the base layer, choose a thin fabric that wicks away sweat and moisture, such as wool or polyester.

Following that, wear a loose, warming mid-layer like a sweater or fleece with regular pants for your legs. The outer layer should be windproof and water resistant, but not heavy. Shells with zippers and vents can be helpful since you can adjust them as you get warmer and colder.

For your head, consider thin coverings that can fit under your helmet, as well as something to keep your face and ears protected. Balaclavas will cover everything, though a combination of scarves, earmuffs and hats may give you more flexibility.

Extremities can be difficult to keep warm, but with a little practice you shouldn’t have much trouble. Big weatherproof boots that allow you to wear thick socks (again, not cotton) and still move your toes are great. Mittens with glove liners are a popular choice, as are lobster gloves.

Something you can’t experiment with — since they’re required by law — are lights. You need a headlight and taillight, and you may also want a reflective vest for your body and reflective tape for your bike.

The bottom line with clothing is that when you first step outside, you want to feel a little cool since you’ll warm up as you ride. If you feel comfortable, you’re likely overdressed and will soon start to perspire. Sweating in winter weather can get dangerously cold when you stop pedaling.

Remember that there’s no shame in going slower, walking your bike when you need to and, overall, taking time to build up your comfort level. Developing confidence takes time.

Freshly fallen snow and freezing rain are particularly challenging conditions, and may provide a reason for new riders to stay inside or contemplate other forms of transportation.

You can also make things easier by considering your travel route carefully and having alternate possibilities in mind. Main drags will get cleared of snow first but also tend to be more crowded, while side streets may have more slush and snow but will be quieter.

When you encounter ice, hard packed snow and slick metal, stay loose, pump your brakes, keep your weight back and go slow. If you do find yourself on something slick, don’t try to correct or brake, just stop pedaling and keep steady and you’ll likely glide right over the icy patch.

To prevent the grime and salt from corroding your bike and interfering with moving parts, wipe down your bicycle every day and lubricate all moving parts — except brake pads. Some people clean their bike chain every couple of weeks during winter, but a full tune up at the beginning and end of the cold-weather season should be fine.

While wider tires can provide stability, regular tires will work fine in winter — the only exception being heavy snow of more than 3 inches. To cut down on the moisture and road gunk that lands on you and your bike, invest in a set of fenders. 

In addition to the adventure and sense of accomplishment, biking all year will keep your momentum going, which means you don’t have to get back in shape in the spring.

There’s a convenience factor too. You can easily make a short bike trip in the time it would take to de-ice a car. And of course, don’t forget the money you can save on gas, parking and auto repairs.

This post was written by Jordan Bray, a recent communications intern at Active Trans.

Time to bring Metra into the 21st century

What do air conditioning, Scotch tape and some of Metra’s most critical rail-switching equipment have in common?

They were all invented in the 1930s.

While the technologies behind air conditioning and adhesive tape have come a long way in the last 80 years, the same can’t be said for Chicago’s aging railroad infrastructure.

Metra is stuck in the past while commuters are stuck waiting for the next train to show up (eventually).

Take action to help bring Metra into the 21st century.

To put it lightly, Metra has had a rough start to 2014. Weather related issues, maintenance backlogs, cancellations and delays -- it seems like each workday has brought us a new adventure.

And all of these issues don’t even mention the years-long saga of scandal, reform and relapse we’ve suffered through with Metra leadership.

While some troubles -- at least some weather related ones -- can't be avoided, we believe Metra riders deserve better. Help us tell Metra to get a move on in 2014!

Use our online form to send a message asking newly appointed Metra CEO, Don Orseno, to prioritize things that matter most to riders in 2014: trains that arrive on-time, clear communication about travel, 21st century technological advances and more frequent service.

Image, courtesy of Flickr user railsr4me used under Creative Commons license, depicts Metra's long outdated rail switching equipment.

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Top streets for creating car-free spaces in Chicago

To spur conversation about expanding the number of car-free public streets and plazas in Chicago, Active Trans just released a list of twenty streets and locations with strong potential.

Car-free streets and zones can make communities more attractive places to live and shop, generate more biking and walking and thus improve mobility and health, and reduce traffic crashes.

As explained in the story in the Chicago Tribune, the list is inspired partly by places like Navy Pier, Times Square in New York City and local car-free plazas in Chicago.

There are many types of “car-free” streets. This can include closing an entire street or portions of streets year-round, like the popular transformation of Times Square in New York City or the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall in Boulder, Colorado.

But there are other options as well, including seasonal (e.g., spring through fall) or periodic (e.g., evening and weekends) closings and using a portion of the street, rather than the entire street, such as converting one lane of traffic into a bike lane and plaza.

Nearly a quarter of Chicago’s land mass falls within a public right-of-way, but most of that space is dominated by cars. There's also an enormous amount of city space dedicated to private parking lots and parking garages.

We support the City of Chicago’s efforts to add more car-free spaces, such as the Make Way for People initiative that converts parking spaces, alleys and dead zones into temporary or permanent public plazas, including the plaza in the State Street median downtown.

The city’s People Plazas initiative aims to activate under-utilized city-owned parcels/plazas. And new protected bike lanes create a ribbon of car-free space for cycling.

Chicago has relatively few car-free public plazas and streets across its 234 square miles, and many are small enough to have limited benefits. This lack of car-free public places indicates a need to explore larger car-free spaces in addition to the smaller plazas the city is currently developing.

Some of Chicago’s best car-free spaces include Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square, Sunnyside Mall, Ogden Mall and Englewood Mall.

Car-free spaces are more common in downtown Chicago, where there is a pressing need for car-free space with so many people getting around on foot and bike. Cars, nonetheless, occupy most of the public right of way. Downtown examples include Daley Plaza, Federal Plaza and some other modestly-sized private plazas; the expanding River Walk system; and the wildly popular Navy Pier, Illinois’ top tourist attraction.

Car-free streets and plazas won’t work just anywhere, and they have to be carefully studied and designed. Good candidates may abut existing or potential retail and dining locations, entertainment venues and community centers, and transit hubs.

In residential areas, they should be accessible from local neighborhood streets so residents can leave their cars at home for an afternoon out with family in a safe, car-free location.

With the right designs, plazas on existing transit routes can still accommodate bus service — the best example of this is the narrow bus way and slow bus speeds in Denver’s successful 16th Street Mall. This is a more sophisticated design than Chicago’s infamously failed State Street bus mall where people had to dodge fast-moving buses across a wide street.

Active Trans selected 20 streets and locations that deserve serious consideration for conversion into car-free space. Some streets like 47th Street in Bronzeville and Milwaukee Avenue through Logan Square have already been the subject of formal study. Active Trans selected the streets with input from community leaders.

These aren’t the only streets that deserve consideration, but they are among the best. Our hope is to jump-start conversations that lead to further study and the creation of car-free spaces. Let’s give Chicagoans more car-free zones to walk, bike, shop, socialize or just relax.


  • Dearborn and/or Clark Streets, River North to South Loop. Example concept: convert a travel lane on Clark to a protected bike lane with a landscaped seating area next to it.
  • Monroe Avenue between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. Example concept: make the entire street segment car-free and extend the existing park space. Wide, well-lit underpasses would replace difficult crossings at Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
  • Segments of Oak Street in the Gold Coast.
  • Segments of Rush Street in the Gold Coast.
  • Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile. More information at Transitized.Com


  • Segments of 47th Street in Bronzeville.
  • Segments of E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park
  • Segments of 18th Street in Pilsen. Example concept: dead end Carpenter, Miller and/or Morgan Streets on the north side of 18th to create a pedestrian plaza. These streets already have limited through traffic because they extend just two blocks to the north before dead-ending at train tracks, and each street is offset on either side of 18th.
  • Ellsworth and/or Payne Drives in Washington Park


  • One or more streets near Wrigley Field
  • Segments of Broadway in Lakeview. Example concept. From Diversey to Belmont Avenues, make the entire street a car-free greenway with landscaping, seating, restaurant patio space and more. Use diverters to prevent local cut-through traffic, Clark and Halsted absorb traffic.
  • Segments of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park
  • Simmonds Drive between Lawrence and Foster Avenues through the lake front park.
  • Segments of Clark in Andersonville
  • Milwaukee Avenue through the square of Logan’s Square
  • Bryn Mawr Avenue between Broadway and Sheridan Road.
  • Segments of Webster Avenue in Lincoln Park


  • Taylor Street in University Village between Racine and Ashland Avenues
  • Segments of 26th Street in Little Village
  • Humboldt Dr. and/or Luis Munoz Marin Dr. in Humboldt Park. Example concept: Close these streets to car traffic during the summer to effectively expand park space and give people a safe place to walk and bike. This is common in other cities but not in Chicago.


Photo of Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square courtesy of Hanncurt. 

Congratulations to the Active Trans Haiku Contest winner!

In the fall we asked people to send us their best haikus related to cycling, walking and public transportation. Haikus — a traditional form of Japanese poetry — follow a very basic three line format, the requirement being that the first line is five syllables, the second seven syllables and the last line five again.

We feel there is a simplicity and peacefulness to the form that complements active transportation. Though biking, walking or taking transit in urban areas can be hectic at times, those types of transportation offer a chance to enjoy being out in the world and allow time to think and reflect — activities that can be hard to come by in our increasingly fast paced world.

After carefully sifting through many dozens of submissions, we’ve selected the winner and some runners up to highlight.

DePaul biology professor Carolyn Martineau submitted the top entry with a poem based on watching the slow creation of the Elston bike lane during her commutes to work. “When I first saw that green paint I got butterflies in my stomach and a goofy grin on my face,” Martineau said. “That’s pretty much how that haiku was born.”

Congratulations to Martineau, who received a free membership to Active Trans, a free registration for one of Active Trans’ events and a $50 gift card to REI. Thanks to everyone who submitted so many great entries.

Here’s Martineau’s hiaku and those from the runners up.


As commute routes sprout
Emerald protected lanes
Our bikes dance with glee

—Carolyn Martineau

Runners up

Bike in silhouette
Red sun rising on water
Peaceful beginning

—Lisa Curcio

There to there and back
In the cycle of my life
In between matters

— By Rosa Gaia

Feeling the sun's warmth
Waving hello to neighbors
This is why I walk

 —Andrea Lee

Pedestrian is
Anything but ordinary
You walk for your soul

—Erika Enk Reuter 

Photo courtesy of Mark Roschen

Cast a vote for your favorite active transportation advocacy group!

So you’ve probably heard people from Portland, Oregon or New York City sharing details about all the great biking and walking advocacy efforts happening in their respective cities.

Sure, great things are taking shape in those places. But truth be told, a spotlight is often shining on them.

Now it’s our turn. Let’s show the nation that great strides in biking and walking advocacy are happening in Chicagoland.

Active Trans was proud to be nominated recently as one of the ten best biking and walking advocacy organizations in the nation for the Bicycling Peoples’ Choice Advocacy Award.

The annual advocacy award, held by the Alliance for Biking and Walking and Bicycling magazine, recognizes excellence in the bicycle and pedestrian movement. Think of them as the Oscars of biking and walking advocacy.

The award nomination singles out the advocacy and organizing work Active Trans performed in order to make the Dearborn bike lane a reality. Indeed, the bike lane was recently named the best protected bike lane in the nation. 

Thanks to the great work carried out by Active Trans and its legion of dedicated supporters — including people like you — Chicagoland has built a solid reputation as one of the best places in the nation for biking and walking.

Brief descriptions are offered for each of the ten organizations’ advocacy work. Please go ahead and read about the exciting work each these groups around the nation are carrying out.

Then show your love for Active Trans in the online poll. Voting ends Thursday, Feb. 6.  

The awards ceremony will be held Monday, March 3 in Washington, DC at the National Bike Summit.


How would you spend $1.5 million to improve a street? Ald. Arena wants to know.

Residents of the 45th ward on Chicago's Northwest Side have a unique opportunity to bring much needed bike, pedestrian and transit improvements to the stretch of Milwaukee Ave. between Lawrence and Elston.

Earlier this month, 45th ward Ald. John Arena and the Chicago Department of Transportation kicked off a public input process to collect ideas from residents on what changes they would like to see brought to the corridor as part of a $1.5 million project under the city’s Complete Streets program.

Do you want to see a road diet or protected bike lanes? Pedestrian bump-outs or countdown timers?

If you live in the 45th ward, now's your chance to speak up and share your vision for a safer and better Milwaukee Ave!

At a neighborhood meeting earlier this week, Ald. Arena’s staff said there is no plan or design yet and all your most creative ideas are welcome. After collecting input, the design team will integrate the ideas into a plan that will be shared at community meetings in the spring.

So what are you waiting for? If you live in the ward, you can email the alderman’s office (ward45@cityofchicago.org) or call at 773-286-4545 to add your voice to the conversation. (If you aren’t sure what ward you live in you can look it up here.)

And if you don’t live in the ward but want to show your support, you can sign this petition started by grassroots advocates

Why is the city looking at bringing improvements to this street in particular? According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, this segment of Milwaukee has seen nearly 1,000 crashes in the past five years, including a tragic fatal crash earlier last week

Numbers like these certainly contribute to putting this project toward the top of the city’s to-do list, but the street also serves as a critical link in the city’s active transportation network, providing access to transit hubs and destinations like the multi-modal Jefferson Park Transit Center and the North Branch Trail.

We know the best Complete Streets projects are those that are informed by the people who use the street every day. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to contribute to better walking, biking and transit in Chicago.

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Letter to the editor disputes unfounded claims about BRT on Ashland

In response to a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times that highlighted one retired traffic engineer's opposition to the Ashland Ave. Bus Rapid Transit project, Active Trans teamed up with several local transit experts to send a letter to the editor. 

The letter to the editor debunks the claim made by the engineer that the Bus Rapid Transit project proposed for Ashland Ave. would be a "dagger in the heart of Chicago." 

The reality is that this project will help the city thrive by providing better access to jobs and services, reducing traffic congestion and making our streets safer and more inviting.

The claims made by the retired Chicago traffic engineer have also been addressed in Streetsblog Chicago

Here's the letter to the editor recently printed in the Sun-Times: 

As transportation professionals, we disagree with claims by a retired transportation engineer about the proposed Ashland rapid transit line. (“Engineer: Ashland Ave. transit project won’t work.”) He over-emphasizes the negative traffic impacts of building the line, which are actually quite modest, while overlooking the negative impacts of not building it.

For example, forecasts show that thousands more people each year will need to move through the Ashland corridor, yet because the streets are not getting wider, traffic problems will ensue. Transit is the only way to add more people in the same amount of space while managing congestion and improving mobility.The new Ashland line will be more reliable and move passengers nearly twice as fast as the current Ashland bus. It also creates a crucial north-south connection that circumvents downtown and connects to 37 bus lines, seven CTA stations and two Metra stations.

Passengers won’t have to go all the way downtown ­­­— or take a slow moving bus — to connect with train lines for trips outside downtown. All of this makes tens of thousands of additional jobs accessible by transit, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council. This is especially important for people who cannot afford cars. With 99 schools in the Ashland corridor, the new transit line will also help students get to school and back home. But the Ashland line benefits the city as a whole, because everyone relies on transit in one way or another. Most of us ride transit at least occasionally, and even when driving we benefit because transit keeps cars off of congested roads and contributes to the vitality of a great urban region.

The city and CTA should make reasonable design changes to address local concerns and then proceed with this crucial north-south rapid transit artery, something transportation planners have wanted to build for many years. We’re pleased it’s finally going to happen.

Randy Blankenhorn, executive director, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Joseph Schwieterman, director, Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, DePaul University

Steve Schlickman, executive director, UIC Urban Transportation Center

Ron Burke, executive director, Active Transportation Alliance

 Let your city officials know that you want to see BRT on Ashland. Be sure to let them know you're a supporter. 

Image courtesy of CTA

Let's get bikes on the South Shore Line this summer!

This record-cold weather has us dreaming of summer — and maybe a nice bike ride along the Indiana Dunes.

Unfortunately, that dream won’t be attainable even this summer, at least not by train—unless the South Shore Line, the commuter rail connecting Chicago to Northwest Indiana, changes its policies.

That’s because the South Shore Line is one of just two of the nation’s 23 commuter rail systems that still doesn’t allow bikes on trains.

That’s right. Of the nation’s 23 commuter rails systems, fully 21 already allow bikes on their trains — including both Metra and many Amtrak lines — but the South Shore Line isn’t one of them.

It’s time for the South Shore Line to follow suit. Please help us get bikes on the South Shore Line as quickly as possible.

Two years ago, Active Trans and other non-profit organizations began pushing NICTD (Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District) to allow bikes on the South Shore Line.

NIRPC (Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission) has agreed to fund a feasibility study on accommodating bicycles. This will be an engineering study that will look at requirements, opportunities and barriers as well as multiple options for allowing bikes.

We don’t want another summer to go by without Northwest Indiana residents being able to finish the last mile of their trip to Chicago by bicycle . . . without Chicagolanders being able to explore by bike the Indiana Dunes or South Shore beaches.

Help us urge the South Shore to allow bikes on trains in time for this summer. But you must act within the next week. 

To weigh in quickly, we have some comments you can easily submit. Comments are also being accepted during the next week via email, Facebook, Twitter, phone (219)763-6060 ext.160 and standard mail (6100 Southport Road, Portage, IN 46368).

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