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ModeShift - The monthly newsletter of the Active Transportation Alliance


ModeShift hits our members' mailboxes 10 times a year. Each issue goes public 30 days after its printing.

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Volunteer has a passion for helping others

By Daniel Abdalla

Even though 2012 marked  her fourth year volunteering at MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive, Pamela Cooley said she never fails to be amazed with the sight of all of the riders together having a great time while filling up Lake Shore Drive. 

As a Bike the Drive volunteer group leader, Cooley has the job of not only gathering volunteers, but ensuring those volunteers turn out on time -- often before sunrise -- the day of the event. One of the ways in which she has ensured her group arrives on time for their early-morning start is by using a calling tree in which members call one another on the morning of the ride. This guarantees that everyone is informed and gets to the lakefront by the time of the ride. 

Cooley, pictured right, said she loves it when riders personally thank the volunteers. She experienced a particularly touching moment during the 2010 ride when a handicapped cyclist fell from his bike and everyone around the rider quickly jumped into action to help him. Cooley found not only this man's dedication to be on a bike inspirational, but also was deeply moved by the spirit of the riders and the shared sense of community.

Neighborhood greenways make side streets a dream

Whether you're an 8-year-old child or 80-year-old grandmother, you should be able to ride a bike on the street without fearing for your safety. One key strategy to making biking on our streets safe and easy for everyone is by building "neighborhood greenways."

Also called "bike boulevards" and "bike/walk streets," these are slow-speed, low-volume streets that have been optimized for bike traffic.

People who bike in their neighborhood quickly learn which streets they feel comfortable on, and conversely, which intersections and streets feel intimidating. Many people find they feel comfortable riding on quiet side streets, even when there’s no designated bike lane.

They discover special routes that get them from one end of the neighborhood to the other without encountering much car traffic.

But often these routes are interrupted by hazardous intersections, frequent stop signs that keep cyclists from maintaining their momentum, or traffic that may still feel threatening at times. What if the city could help make these “special routes” even more ideal places for biking by removing some of those barriers? That’s where neighborhood greenways come in.

Be an engaged Active Trans member

If you're interested in getting more engaged in Active Trans' work, here are a couple of great opportunities for you.

1. Mark your calendar for Monday, Nov. 7—the Active Trans annual member meeting.

At the meeting, you can expect

  • An overview of our work during the past year, including our newly launched Neighborhood Bikeways and Transit campaigns.
  • A keynote speech by Jerome McDonnell, WBEZ host.
  • An introduction to our legislative efforts for the coming year.
  • Active Trans Hall of Fame inductions.
  • An opportunity to meet Active Trans staff and learn about the work they do.

The meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 7, 5:45 p.m. - 8 p.m. at the American Dental Association, 211 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago 60611 (easily accessible by the Red Line Chicago Avenue CTA station, as well as Michigan Avenue and State Street buses).

Light snacks and refreshments will be provided. There is a suggested donation of $15 to cover the cost of the snacks, refreshments and facility rental. Please RSVP by Nov. 1. Questions? Contact Rebekah Broussard at rebekah@activetrans.org or 312.427.3325 x 294.

2. Help develop the Active Trans' 2012 legislative agenda
Active Trans is planning its legislative agenda for the coming year and we want your input before we head to Springfield to advocate on your behalf.

Active Trans suburban roundup

Here are some of the exciting events and activities happening in the Chicago suburbs.

West suburbs

DuPagers make a good showing at Active Trans Social
More than 25 bicycling and walking enthusiasts got together in Wheaton on September 22 to mingle with one another and meet Dan Thomas, new trails coordinator for DuPage County.

Lively discussion ensued, focusing on the local needs for bicycle facilities and education efforts. Participants were especially enthusiastic with the sneak preview of Wheaton’s new bicycle plan. The evening concluded with door prizes donated by Alta Planning + Design and Midwest Cyclery.

Suburban communities recommended for regional grants
Active Trans helped the Village of Downers Grove get a thumbs up from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning for receiving an $80,000 grant for a Bikeway and Pedestrian Plan.

Also in the Western Suburbs, Active Trans will be partnering with Trans Systems on a project to improve sidewalks and transit stops in the City of Elgin. The project was recommended by CMAP for funding of $100,000.

Chicago's burgeoning walking communities hit the streets

By Meaghan Miller

With the demands and costs of urban living, walking just makes sense for a lot of people in the Chicago region. The accessibility, health benefits and the minimal financial investment offer people an affordable, practical and enjoyable way to exercise and get around.

While some people prefer a solo stroll, many people feel that walking is most enjoyable in the company of others. In some cases, these social walkers form clubs. Many say clubs keep them motivated and enthusiastic year-round.

So how do these groups work and what do participants get out of them? Here’s a brief overview of a few walking groups in the region.

Fiscal accessibility breeds physical attainability

Samantha Kuchen (photo credit Meaghan Miller)

After her mother died of breast cancer, Samantha Kuchen, 29, transformed a sit-and-talk-about-weight-loss group into the active Healthy Chicago walking group in 2008. Kuchen was inspired to lose weight, and walking, she said, was “simply the easiest form of exercise. No equipment needed, no resources needed, and it can be varied for all levels.”

Commuter Profile: Rafael A. Valadez

Where do you live and work, Rafael?

I live near Ridgeland Ave. and Jackson Ave. in Oak Park, Ill. I work as a clinical social worker in Bloomingdale, Ill., located 7 miles north of Wheaton.

What’s your commute like?

I ride my bicycle to the Metra station in Oak Park and that train takes me to Wheaton, and then the 711 Pace bus takes me to Bloomingdale. I ride when the streets are clear in the winter; hidden ice under the snow can be frightening. On occasion, my wife will give me a ride to the Metra station if the weather seems unforgiving.

What made you choose to bike and use public transportation to get to work?

This is complex question because I think there are a multitude of reasons for this choice. Of course financial and health concerns are obvious. Environmental concerns play also play a role, but there are other reasons, too.

Using these modes of transportation has allowed me to save enough money to do extensive travel—even to travel with a bicycle to Europe.

Commuting by public transportation builds a sort of community. I have found golfing partners, talked to people from all over the world, made friends, and helped build a community of supportive people on the trains and buses that I use.

Get started in grassroots advocacy

By John Lankford

It happens all the time: People see a need for a change in their community, but they end up not pursuing it because they don’t know the most effective plan of action.

Perhaps you’re a parent who wants people in your neighborhood to have access to a park that sits just on other side of a busy street. Maybe you want a longer walk signal at a local traffic light so that children and seniors can cross safely. Maybe you want to extend a local bus route’s operating hours. Or maybe you’re interested in getting a bike lane in your neighborhood.

Photo credit: T.C. O'Rourke

Whatever the type of project, here’s a brief introduction to the strategies that you can use for organizing and advocating at the grassroots level for better biking, walking and transit.

1: Assemble a team

To influence the decisions made in your community you must lobby and work with your local political representatives who make decisions about transportation planning and infrastructure. These are usually members of a city council, a village board or a township board.

Randy Neufeld looks back over the history of Active Trans

By John Greenfield 

   Neufeld on one of Chicago's new protected bike lanes

To mark Active Trans' quarter century of sustainable transportation advocacy (yes, it's been 25 years!), ModeShift is publishing a series of articles highlighting the history of the organization and history of active transportation advocacy efforts in the Chicago area. Here's the second in this series of articles.

Randy Neufeld needs no introduction for many Active Transportation Alliance members. In 1987 the former political organizer approached the fledgling organization with an unusual proposal: he would work as the group’s first staff member for free until he could raise funds to pay himself.

Neufeld served as Executive Director until 2004 when he handed the reigns to Rob Sadowsky and created a new position for himself as chief strategy officer, exploring ways to expand the organization’s mission, such as promoting walking, transit use, and cycling, and successfully lobbying for Complete Streets policies in local and state government.

Front yard ‘microparks’ pop up in East Chicago and Gary

When Keith Speaks heard of an Oak Park man who installed permanent seating in his front yard for himself and his neighbors to use, Speaks was intrigued.

As executive director of Neighborhoods Inc., a community development organization in the Calumet Region, Speaks is often on the lookout for innovative ways to strengthen neighborhoods by encouraging people get to know one another and their community.

So Speaks started “Please, Have a Seat!” a project that has installed nearly 30 benches for public use in the front yards of homeowners in East Chicago and Gary.

Speaks said the benches serve as a gathering place for residents and they provide places for people to sit and relax while walking. The “microparks” typically include a pressed concrete pad, a decorative bench and a planter.

Water taxis play greater role in local transit options

by Mary Chris Jaklevic

Long considered primarily a tourist attraction, Chicago’s water taxis are gaining popularity among commuters, who find them quicker, cheaper and more pleasant than buses and cabs.

“It’s just a little 10-minute vacation in the morning,” said Glen Ellyn resident Suzanne Holtz, a market researcher at C+R Research in River North, who started cruising to work on water taxis a year and a half ago.

The city’s two water taxi companies point to service expansions and wider awareness, partly because of more aggressive marketing. Some commuters are also deciding to dodge street congestion caused by the massive Wacker Drive reconstruction project.

“This year has been so far a record year for us,” said Andrew Sargis, manager of the Chicago Water Taxi operated by Wendella Boats, which began offering commuter service in 1962.

Shoreline Sightseeing launched a commuter business in 2009, partly as an amenity for the buildings where it docks its boats, company Vice President Matt Collopy said. He said the service has steadily gained customers and broke even for the first time this year.

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