Choosing the best routes for biking

Ever taken a wrong turn on your bike and ended up making your trip twice as long? If this has happened to you, you know the advantages of planning your bike route in advance.

For people new to cycling, the first point to know about route planning is that the best bike route may not be the most direct route. While your trip may end up a little longer, the additional time and distance is a worthwhile tradeoff for a safer, more enjoyable ride.

So here are some tips that may help you plan a good route the next time you hop on a bike.

  • Start with the most direct route and then make adjustments to avoid the busiest roads; look for parallel side streets with less traffic.
  • Look for streets with bike lanes and enough room to ride outside of the “door zone” when riding alongside parallel parked cars.
  • Look for routes that allow you to cross busy streets at traffic lights.
  • If you’re forced to use a road with heavy traffic, make it brief and stay on the shoulder.
  • If you can, consider riding on residential streets when starting out, even if they take you a bit out of the way.

In the suburbs, finding direct and safe routes may require more creativity and flexibility. When confronted with high speed limits on suburban roads or when you encounter subdivision streets that wind around to a dead end, you need a detailed route plan and perhaps a backup plan.

Bike lanes are spreading to more suburbs, but these vary in quality and connectedness in between communities. Often, suburban bike paths are a great option during good weather. If the path is covered in water or snow, you may want to have another option available.

Finding your way
Whether you’re cycling in the city, suburbs or in rural areas, a good map is an invaluable resource.

Connect with others: Chicagoland bicyclists are fortunate to have unique resources for bicycling information.

More resources:

  • offers bike directions option.
  • A multimodal trip planner from RTA, which allows for preferences for train, bus, driving to transit, bicycling and walking.
  • Chicago Bike Guide app: Allows you to design your own route, get a suggested route or discover new roads or trails to get there.
  • Ride the City: Bike map app that includes Divvy stations bike paths, and bike shops.

This blog post was written by Maggie Daly, a former marketing and communications intern at Active Trans.


Sign on to show your support for a better transit future

Have you ever imagined how much better Chicagoland’s public transit system could be?

  • What if a train could get you to the airport in less than half an hour?
  • What if your bus was swift, dependable and immune to traffic jams?
  • What if you could shop in the suburbs — by Blue Line?
  • What if a new "Lime Line" could connect all of the CTA’s radial train lines on Chicago’s west side?

Help us make this vision a reality.

Over the years, our region has planned dozens of game-changing transit lines.

But under the status quo, they’ve remained unlikely to ever be built. Chicagoland’s decades of underinvestment has left us with an aging, gap-ridden transit system that fails to connect people and jobs and leaves driving the only option for too many people.

Thanks to strong leadership from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Preckwinkle, that began to change last night. They stood with Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and us to endorse a bold plan that could literally remake transportation in our city over the next decade.

The Transit Future campaign calls on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to adopt a robust revenue stream to fund the improvement and expansion of Chicago and Cook County’s transit system.

By winning a steady stream of public investment for Cook County public transit, the plan would unlock billions of dollars in federal funding to build up to ten new train lines, blanket our county with dependable rapid transit and eliminate underserved areas.

Transit Future offers a bold vision of what an expanded transit system in Cook County and the Chicago region could look like. Please sign our petition to help make this transit future a reality.

Photos of President Preckwinkle (top) and Mayor Emanuel courtesy of CNT.  

Transit task force report: Chicagoland worst among peers due to years of underfunding and transit-unfriendly development

Juicy political scandals make for good reading, which is why media coverage of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force Report has obsessed about its recommendations to cleanup and consolidate the four transit agencies.

But as bad as the governance scandals and inefficiencies are – and they are! – the task force report demonstrates that our problems are much more about a lack of funding, lack of transit expansion and transit-unfriendly growth patterns.

Like the bird that has always lived at the end of the runway, many Chicagoland residents don’t realize how bad our transit system is. But the task force report, and a recent analysis by the Metropolitan Planning Council, lays it out.

Among the six largest metro areas with “legacy” (older) transit systems – Boston, Chicago, New York, Philly, DC, and San Francisco, plus Los Angeles – the Chicago region is:

♦ Last in ridership growth
♦ Last in system expansion
♦ Last in transit-friendly development
♦ Next-to-last to LA for per capita transit spending (this will change as LA recently began to expand its system)

In addition:
♦ The region allocates 25 percent less money on transit capital than 20 years ago, even though the population has increased 20 percent.
♦ Only 23 percent of the region’s residents (12 percent in the suburbs) can use transit to reach a typical job in under 90 minutes.
♦ Less than 7 percent of all trips in the Chicago region are on transit. Walking and biking account for more trips at 11 percent, while cars dominate at 80 percent.
♦ While transit use has increased in recent years, ridership is down about 60 percent compared to 50 years ago. 

Despite very real transit governance problems, the task force report found that the region’s transit system is actually the MOST efficient among the 6 peer regions at costs per revenue hour, per mile and in some cases per trip. This further drives home the point that we shouldn’t count on transit governance reform to fix our problems.

Moreover, we should not wait for Springfield to pass reform legislation (something they did in 2008, mind you) to start the long process of fixing a badly damaged regional transit system – starting with new funding to shore up the existing system and expand it to serve today’s development patterns.

Active Transportation Alliance announces plans to launch Skivvy bike sharing system

The Active Transportation Alliance today announced plans to launch a new summer-only bike share system called Skivvy. Drawing inspiration from the Divvy bike sharing system and the popular World Naked Bike Ride Chicago, the new Skivvy bike share system will be marketed to people who prefer to ride in their undies.

“The popularity of the annual naked bike ride demonstrates an untapped market for nudists and clothing-light aficionados, and we think a lot of other people would rather ride without a business suit or even Lycra bike shorts on a hot summer day,” said Active Transportation Alliance executive director Ron Burke. “Some people aren’t sure what to wear when biking, but you don’t need to worry about that with Skivvy.”

“Many people choose to ride bikes because of the sense of freedom it provides,” said Burke. “With our new Skivvy bike sharing system, riders will experience a whole new level of freedom -- no matter if they’re wearing boxers, briefs, bikinis, G-strings, lingerie or long johns.”

Skivvy docking stations will be equipped with dispensing systems for soft, washable seat covers that riders put on the bikes when they ride and toss into a receptacle when they reach their destination. Skivvy will wash and reuse the seat covers.

“Our research shows people love to share bikes, but not butt sweat,” said Burke.

Active Trans said it is in negotiations for locations to place its Skivvy docking stations, but is hopeful they will be in place before the first sweltering summer day.

Photo from the World Naked Bike Ride St. Louis courtesy of Fox channel 2. 

Crash Support Hotline operator training opportunity

The Crash Support Hotline is ringing and we are training volunteers to answer the phone. This is a unique opportunity to become an expert on assisting cyclists and pedestrians after a crash.

Training Dates (both dates mandatory)

Part 1: Legal, Logistics and Crisis Training
April 9, 6:30-8 p.m.
9 West Hubbard, Suite 402
Chicago, IL 60654

Part 2: Answering the Hotline
April 16, 6:30-8 p.m.
9 West Hubbard, Suite 402
Chicago, IL 60654

To be a volunteer, you must attend a two part mandatory training. Please RSVP to For more information on the Active Trans Crash Support Hotline, please visit

Speeding down at nearly all speed camera locations

In December I wrote about Chicago speed cameras reducing speeding 65 percent in just 51 days, and I said “for those who argue speed cameras won't work and are all about revenue — not safety — these results must be hard to swallow.”

Well, it’s gotten worse for critics.

Last week the Sun-Times reported that speeding is down more than 90 percent at speed camera locations. At 5120 N. Pulaski Ave., for example, there were 1,230 speeders per day when the camera was activated. Two weeks ago, there were 59 speeders per day — a 97 percent decrease.

Because the city is generating less money than anticipated, the Sun-Times frames these results as a failure. Please! What’s important is that people are driving more responsibly and safely.

Another reason the ticket numbers are so low is the city’s overly-lenient policy of only issuing tickets at speeds of 10 mph or more above the speed limit. This allows drivers to go 39 mph in the typical 30 mph zones, which is 30 percent faster than the speed limit and increases the risk of dangerous crashes. For example, five out of 10 pedestrians survive when hit by a vehicle at 30 mph, but only one survives at 40 mph.

The city should go back to its original plan and issue tickets at speeds six or seven mph over the speed limit, at least on streets with limits of 35 mph or less and where 10 mph over the limit is a large percentage increase.

Photo credit: Phil Velsquez, Chicago Tribune

More people are riding transit! But are they doing it in Chicagoland?

This week the American Public Transportation Association released a report showing that nationwide, transit ridership is the highest it has been in 57 years. According to 2013 ridership data, a record 10.7 billion transit trips were taken last year, making 2013 the 8th year in a row with more than 10 billion trips.

The report is great proof that more and more people want to take transit.

Ridership trends show that the recovering economy has helped increase those numbers, as more people go back to work and choose transit as a cost effective way to get around.

The increase in transit riders has also outpaced other factors, such as changes in the cost of gas, increases in vehicle miles traveled and population growth.

But a closer look at the report shows that Chicago region isn’t sharing in the celebration. According to APTA, the Chicago region actually saw a small decline in transit ridership in 2013.

And while Chicago’s numbers have increased gradually over the past several years, they are certainly not the highest Chicago has seen in the last 57 years.

Why isn’t Chicago holding pace with transit growth around the country? The report mentions that some of the largest gains have been in smaller cities that have built or expanded transit options in the last few years.

But even large cities such as New York and Los Angeles outpaced Chicago. This seems to show that the cities that have invested in transit and focused on increasing service have reaped the rewards.

Chicago continues to struggle to pay for its existing service and commuters have watched as fares increased but service stagnated over the last several years.

The picture is not all bad for Chicago, as the region has seen some increase in transit ridership in recent years. In fact, 2013’s minor decline aside, local ridership is near the highest it’s been in roughly 20 years.

But where other cities are seeing their recent increases as new growth, for Chicago, the 20 years of gradual increase has only barely gotten us back to the ridership levels of the 1980s, and still comes nowhere close to the ridership if we try to look back as far as 1957.

It’s clear Chicago needs to do more to invest in transit. Cities around the country have shown that building and expanding transit service has led to large increases in ridership, and if we did the same, Chicago would be no exception. 

Kudos to Winfield for adopting a bike plan

Kudos to Winfield for becoming the latest suburb to adopt a bike plan. The newly adopted plan will guide Winfield in creating a connected bike network that will help residents and visitors access all the great places in the village.  

An inspiring feature of this plan is its bold vision, which asserts “Winfield will be the most bike friendly community in the Chicago region.” Go Winfield! 

To achieve its vision, the west suburban village will add bike lanes to streets, create side paths and complete its sidewalk network.

Another great element of the plan is that it links cyclists to nearby communities, trails and the DuPage River.

The village’s bike network will be divided into two categories: Neighborhood Routes that connect one neighborhood in Winfield to another and Regional Routes that connect the village to surrounding communities.

Nearly 5 years ago, Winfield residents came together to first talk about bicycling in their community. They developed a map of commonly used bike routes and streets that they wished would be more bike friendly.

In early 2013 Active Trans began working with the community group to help shape their map into a more complete bicycle plan.

The plan adopted by the village includes guidance on how to create a connected network of bike routes, ideas for how to modify their municipal policies to better support bicycling and ways to educate and encourage residents about bicycling.

Is your community ready for a bike plan? Active Trans can help. Please contact Amanda Woodall, director of policy and planning, at for more information.

Top photo is a community bike ride in Winfield and bottom photo depicts one of the community meetings Active Trans held while helping develop a bike plan for the community. 

Evanston takes another step toward creating streets that welcome everyone

Congratulatoins to Evanston for joining the growing list of Chicagoland communities that have adopted Complete Streets resolutions. 

One of the exciting features of this resolution is that it takes a “complete and green network approach,” which means the Evanston Department of Public Works will consider both the environmental sustainability and the ease of public access in all future transportation construction projects.

Also, a great feature of the policy is that it covers any project within the city right-of-way, in a park or on an off-street trail, not just the roadway.

Residents on the city's environment board drafted the proposed the resolution. City staff spent time with the board and helped guide the resolution through from start to finish before the city council voted on it.

Active Trans provided support to the city during the process by sharing examples of other communities’ policies.

Is your community ripe for a Complete Streets policy? Active trans can help. Please contact Amanda Woodall for more information. 

Look here to find out if your community has a Complete Streets policy. To learn more, check out Active Trans' set of Complete Streets fact sheets (in the right column). 

For more information about Evanston's policy, contact  city's Sustainable Programs Coordinator Catherine Hurley,, or the city's Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson, 

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 or contact Dave Jones, Active Trans Volunteer Coordinator, at or 312.427.3325 Ext. 234.

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