CDOT solicits input for placemaking guidelines

As a supporter of the Active Transportation Alliance, you’re most likely familiar with the idea of Complete Streets, the design approach that requires streets to be designed for safe, convenient use by users of all ages, abilities and modes of transportation.

A great pairing to Complete Streets is the philosophy of placemaking, a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates community building and neighborhood identity into designing community spaces.

In fact, the first principle in placemaking is to treat the community as the expert — that is, to design places with residents rather than for them.

Here in Chicago, the Chicago Department of Transportation is developing placemaking guidelines for the city’s streets and sidewalks and the department is soliciting input before launching a citywide survey.

To make your voice heard, head to and join the discussion!

Photo of Chicago People Spot courtesy of Streetsblog Chicago.

Pace proposes bold rapid transit expansion plan in Chicago suburbs

On Tuesday Pace – the suburban bus division of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) – unveiled a proposal it has submitted to the federal government to “change the suburban transit environment” with expanded bus rapid transit (BRT) service.

The proposed network would build upon the agency’s bus on shoulders and arterial bus rapid transit (ART) programs, connecting communities across the six-county area that currently lack quality rapid transit options through express bus service.

See the map of the proposed network in the Chicago Tribune.

These relatively affordable options are a critical aspect of solving the region’s persistent suburban connectivity challenges. As we and other advocates have said for years, our current hub and spoke transit system feeds Chicago’s downtown area well but fails to connect many other neighborhoods and communities where the vast majority of Chicagoland residents live, work and visit.

Despite the relatively modest price tag for this type of high-impact network, Pace leaders have said the likelihood of it being fully funded by the federal government is slim, considering the country’s current budget limitations and gridlock in Washington, D.C.

That’s why we continue to work with the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) to advocate for a dedicated revenue stream locally to help fund transit improvements and expansion in Cook County. You’ll notice many of the ART routes in our Transit Future vision are the same or similar to the routes featured in Pace’s most recent proposal.

You can support rapid transit expansion and projects like those outlined in Pace’s proposal by signing our petition to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. You can also volunteer to help spread our message and organize transit supporters in your area or donate to the campaign.

Photo courtesy of Pace. 

South and West Side advocates demand better cycling

You may have heard about a group of advocates who recently asked the City of Chicago to create better conditions for cycling, including more bike lanes and Divvy stations, on the South and West Sides. With the South and West Sides too often misrepresented as cycling deserts, it is fantastic to see local cyclists like Oboi Reed, Shawn Conley and Peter Taylor (Taylor serves on our board of directors) leading the charge for better biking!

Local support is the most important factor for securing new bike infrastructure. Active Trans is coordinating with these advocates to help build support for expanding Divvy, rolling out more bike lanes and making other bike infrastructure improvements, like advocating for improved bicycle access to the planned Big Marsh Bike Park. 

Unfortunately, transportation inequity cuts across all modes of transportation on the South and West Sides. 

Bike facilities are still inadequate despite significant progress in recent years, and more broadly there is a lack of Complete Streets that safely accommodate biking and walking. Unsafe intersections and crossings, wide streets with fast moving cars that are difficult to bike on or get across, and crumbling sidewalks are unfortunately commonplace. All of this can make biking and walking on the South and West Sides difficult.

Just as crippling is rapid transit service that doesn’t get people to job centers and other destinations in a reasonable amount of time, slow-moving buses stuck in traffic, and Metra trains that don’t stop enough or at all in the city.

Red Eye reported on the advocates this week, and the story attributes comments to me that one might read as saying that the South and West Sides shouldn’t expect the same investment in cycling as the North Side. My point, however, was that it’s not fair for the city or anyone else to use the lower rates of cycling compared to the North Side as an excuse to not provide bike facilities.

That’s not a fair comparison given the lower population densities on the South and West Sides and because some destinations, like grocery stores, are further away and not within an easy ride.

But cycling is already on the rise in these communities, and they are just as deserving of bike facilities and other investments that will continue to get more people riding. I also told the reporter that, while it’s true 43 percent of the new lanes are on the South Side, the South Side is much bigger geographically than the North Side. A better measure to assess progress would be bike lanes per square mile or whether or not bicycle accommodations exist within one-half mile of every Chicagoan -- one of the key principles in the city’s Streets for Cycling plan.

We do not insist on Copenhagen-like biking rates before installing bike lanes on the North Side, and we can’t insist on North Side biking rates before investing on the West and South Sides. Every community has room for growth and deserves good transportation options. Moreover, we know bike lanes and Divvy trips actually make our streets safer for everyone, including people in cars and on foot, by creating calmer, more orderly streets.

Get ready for the 2015 Chicago municipal election

This February 24, Chicago voters will be casting ballots for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer and aldermen, as well as some non-binding/advisory referenda. Here are five steps you can take to be prepared on election day.

1. Register to vote or update your registration online, via snail mail, or in person at the Board of Election Commissioners office (69 W. Washington, sixth floor). The deadline for voter registration is January 27.

2. Verify your voter registration and locate your polling place — or apply for an absentee ballot — by using this form.

3. Research candidates and referenda you’re eligible to vote for so that you’re well-informed.

4. Attend a community forum or debate in your ward to hear what your aldermanic candidates say about issues you care about. Check out our list of community forums by ward.  If you know of an event that is not listed, please email the details to

5. Vote! Participate in early voting (Mondays through Saturdays, February 9 – 21) at any early voting site or on election day at your designated polling place.

If you haven’t yet, learn about our priorities for improving walking, biking, and transit by reading Active Trans' 2015 Chicago Active Transportation Platform.

Escape the cold -- explore the pedway!

On Thursday, January 29, the Active Transportation Alliance is joining up with Moxie, Chicago’s LGBTQA social group for urban planning and policy professionals, to co-host a tour of Chicago’s beloved pedway system. 

This event will benefit Streetsblog Chicago’s Resurrection Fund, which is needed after its recent forced hibernation. The tour will be led by John Greenfield, editor of Streetsblog Chicago.

The pedway is a vast network of more than 40 city blocks in Chicago’s central business district. A series of tunnels and walkways connect CTA stations, retail areas, skyscrapers and hotels, while providing a nice shelter from the elements and traffic.

The pedway is used by tens of thousands of people every day yet remains a mystery to many. 

The cost for this event is $10 (please bring cash) and all proceeds will benefit Streetsblog Chicago’s fundraising efforts. 

Meet at Infields (111 N. State) in the basement of Macy’s department store for a drink before departing at 6pm.  The tour will end at Houlihan’s (111 E. Wacker, also in the pedway!) at 7pm for more drinks, food and good times.

Learn more on Moxie’s meetup site!

Governor Rauner puts Illiana Tollway on hold, now it’s time to kill it for good

In an encouraging sign, recently inaugurated Governor Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order putting the ill-conceived Illiana Tollway and other major infrastructure projects on hold pending a “careful review of costs and benefits.”

Sign and share our petition to Governor Rauner to kill the project for good.

There’s no timetable for the review, but mulling the costs and benefits of the proposed South Suburban highway shouldn’t take long. The evidence clearly shows the sprawl-inducing project would not be an efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars.

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, but there are lots of questions and skepticism about the politically motivated project’s actual financial viability.

Prior to him issuing the executive order, there were signs Rauner may be rethinking the project that former Gov. Quinn championed.

Rauner’s appointee to lead the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Randy Blankenhorn, is currently the head of Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which issued a damning report on the project last year.

The analysis found that the highway’s traffic and toll projections would fall way short, leaving taxpayers responsible for filling a gap ranging from $440 million to $1.1 billion.

In addition, a report from Rauner’s transition team indicated he planned to “pause and review major infrastructure projects” in his first 100 days. It also calls for prioritizing investments based on performance goals and “rigorous economic, environmental and equity criteria” -- areas where the Illiana rates very poorly.

Active Trans is part of a diverse group of advocacy organizations -- including Openlands, Sierra Club, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) -- in opposing to the project. We believe taxpayer dollars could be better spent on infrastructure priorities that carry far greater benefits, like upgrading rapid transit and commuter rail lines, and critical projects like CTA’s planned Red Line South Extension.

Sign and share our petition to Governor Rauner today.

The Roll the Cold Bike Challenge starts soon!

Have you registered for the Roll the Cold Bike Challenge yet?

If not, you can do so here. Biking one way to or from your destination on one day between January 17-23 counts as participating in the challenge.

The person who rides (and logs) the most miles during the challenge will be honored as the King/Queen of the 2015 Roll the Cold Bike Challenge.

This means being featured on our social media and highlighted in communications for our 2015 (Summer) Bike Commuter Challenge.

You can win prizes for raising money too. Check it out: 

  • $25 gets you…Icebreaker GT® Merino Wool Socks
  • $50 gets you…Portland Design Works Bird Cage Water Bottle Holder
  • $100 gets you…Click Bike Light Combo Set
  • $250 gets you… Icebreaker GT® Merino Wool Socks + Pearl Izumi Windproof Biking Gloves
  • $500 gets you… Icebreaker GT® Merino Wool Socks + Portland Design Works Bird Cage Water Bottle Holder + Peal Izumi Windproof Biking Gloves

And get this: The participant that raises the most money will be awarded the Grand Prize – a SE F@E Fat Tire Bike that sells retail for $899. (To win the bike, you must raise at least $500. In the event of a tie, we will do a lottery.)

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for the challenge today. And don’t worry, we’ve got all the info you need to be a winter bike commuting pro!

In lieu of biking during the challenge, you can also participate by donating to the Active Transportation Alliance.

Your financial support will help the Active Transportation Alliance’s efforts in making biking in Chicagoland safer and easier.

Spring/summer biking more your thing? You’re in luck. Early (and discounted!) registration for 2015 Bike the Drive opens at Winter Bike to Work Day on Friday, January 23.

Stop by to register for Chicago’s premier biking event and warm up with some free Dark Matter coffee and a side of Eli’s cheesecake. Oh, and we’ll be there too. Come chat with us and other winter cyclists.

“Need for speed” drives disrespect for traffic laws and red light cameras

You may know that the Chicago Tribune has led the charge against red light cameras, and their assertions -- similar to misleading claims they have made about speed cameras -- have been flawed at times. The Trib also failed to mention that experts like the Federal Highway Administration found that red light cameras reduce crashes.

So I was pleased that the Tribune recently published letters in support of red light cameras, including this one that argues people should follow the law:

Jan. 6, 2015
Red light camera program has positives
I don’t understand the furor over the city’s red light camera program, which the Tribune seems to be stoking. If a driver passes a red light, endangering the lives of others, what’s the problem with issuing a ticket? And why would it matter if the ticket were issued by a camera or a police officer?

The data seem to have many mixed messages, but it appears that the more severe T-bone crashes are being reduced. Further it would seem that driver behavior, over time, would also be altered, so that the driver portrayed in one of the articles as blaming the cameras for his own reckless behavior (being the second car to enter after the yellow and rear-ending the first) will realize he needs to drive more responsibly.

— Peter Fahrenwald, Chicago

John Corona from Niles put it even more succinctly in his Jan. 5 letter to the Tribune: “A violation is a violation, crash or no crash; when did that change?”

Active Trans has always said that enforcement cameras should go where they will do the most good for traffic safety, with no regard for revenue generation. Some red light cameras around the region don’t meet this criterion, and that undermines credibility in the system. Red light cameras can also be more effective by adjusting the yellow light timing in some locations to be more appropriate for the type of intersection and vehicle speeds.

Unfortunately, some critics want red light cameras gone all together, and they’re trying to sell their message to candidates in Chicago as a populist, righteous cause.

But when you peel back the layers of their arguments, you find the main reason that many are red in the face: They don’t think breaking this law warrants a ticket, and their need to get somewhere a little bit faster is more important than driving safer and following the law.

I think it’s fair to say that many of us (and that includes me at times) get impatient and frenzied when we’re driving, biking and walking. We’re usually polite and responsible Midwesterners, but something about traveling on a street can bring out recklessness, confrontation and a sense that my need to get somewhere fast is more important than my fellow travelers' needs and more important than following traffic laws.

The norm on our streets, unfortunately, is overly reckless behavior, and that will only change with more enforcement of traffic laws for all modes of travel.

I am reminded of the serious injuries that Chicago Alderman Deborah Graham and Alderman Howard Brookins suffered because of motorists who ran red lights, and their stories are, sadly, all-too-common. They understand the importance of enforcing red lights -- do the candidates in your local elections? Keep watch on our election efforts to learn more. 

Help Streetsblog Chicago resume its important work

During the past couple of years, Streetsblog Chicago has been an important voice in making Chicagoland a better place for biking, walking and transit. The web-based publication has been a great partner to Active Trans and others in the region who are working toward creating streets that welcome everyone.

Unfortunately, due to a funding shortfall, Streetsblog Chicago has suspended publication.

If you would like to see Streetsblog Chicago return to daily reporting on sustainable transportation and livable streets issues, please consider making a contribution to the Streetsblog Chicago Resurrection Fund.

Donations are not tax-deductible at this point, but all donors will receive an email stating that their money will be returned if daily publication of original articles has not resumed by April 8, three months from the start of the hiatus.

Contact John Greenfield at greenfieldjohn[at] or 312-560-3966 for more info about how your donation will be used.

Stay tuned for updates on the fundraising effort via the Streetsblog Chicago Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Active Trans sends questionnaire to candidates for mayor and alderman in Chicago

With the 2015 municipal elections in Chicago approaching, we have asked candidates running for mayor and alderman in all 50 of the city’s wards to respond to a candidate questionnaire on bike/walk/transit issues.

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Active Trans does not endorse candidates for public office. The purpose of the candidate questionnaire is purely informational.

View the questions we asked candidates for mayor.

View the questions we asked candidates for alderman

We will publish all responses we receive on our blog in advance of the Chicago elections on February 24, 2015. If no candidate receives an absolute majority in a particular race, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held for that seat on April 7, 2015. The deadline to register to vote is January 27, 2015.

In the 43rd Ward, we've partnered with Bike Walk Lincoln Park (BWLP) on a ward-specific attachment to our questionnaire for all four aldermanic candidates. Co-BWLP leaders Michelle Stenzel and Michael Reynolds are working with other neighborhood advocates to raise the profile of active transportation issues in the local election.

For questions about our Chicago election outreach and to learn about how to get involved in your local race, contact Campaign Director Kyle Whitehead at

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