Active Trans proposes a ciclovía on Milwaukee Ave. Will City Hall help out?

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Active Trans’ Open Streets Manager Julia Kim

Last week bike-friendly 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno hosted an Active Transportation Alliance member social at the Fifty/50 bar in Ukrainian Village. In addition to presentations by other Active Trans staffers about the city’s Streets for Cycling initiative and bus rapid transit pilot, Julia Kim gave an update on this year’s plans for staging “ciclovia” car-free events.

As Grid Chicago readers know, the ciclovia (Spanish for “bike path”) movement started in Bogotá, Colombia, decades ago, with that city shutting down a network of roads to car traffic to allow citizens to stroll, jog, bike, dance and hang out, encouraging healthy recreation, social interaction and commerce. Nowadays Bogotá holds a ciclovia every weekend on a 70-mile network, drawing millions of participants.

The event has spread to many different cities in South America, Europe and North America. U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, are each currently staging multiple events each year on several miles of car-free streets. Although Active Trans was one of the earliest proponents of holding a ciclovia in an American city, first proposing the idea in 2003, due to a lack of significant fundraising or organizational support from the Daley administration, the event got off to a slow star here.

In 2008, Active Trans finally staged Chicago’s first ciclovia on a seven-mile route along the Boulevard system from Logan Square to Little Village. The advocacy group was required to raise $400,000 for the event, largely because the city required the group to pay for a heavy police and traffic control aide presence. The following year the route was broken into North and South Side segments on two different days, for a total cost of $300,000, since the city relaxed its requirements somewhat. Due to funding issues, there was no major ciclovia here in 2010.

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2009 Open Streets near the Garfield Park Conservatory

Last October Active Trans brought back the ciclovia, called Open Streets, this time on a seven-block stretch of State Street downtown between Lake and Van Buren. That summer new mayor Rahm Emanuel had taken bold actions to promote walking and biking, including building the Kinzie protected bike lane and announcing plans to re-install the Queen’s Landing crosswalk. But the advocacy group decided to wait until 2012 to ask the new administration for help funding and organizing a ciclovia.

Instead they staged Open Streets on State Street with $150,000 donated by the Chicago Loop Alliance, corporate sponsors, and charitable foundations. Although it seemed more like a block party than a true ciclovia since the short route length and dense crowd made bike riding impractical, the event felt like a success to me. About 20,000 people turned out to enjoy strolling the street, aerobics classes, pop-up parks, street musicians, roller derby bouts, skateboard ramps, and giant building blocks for the kids.

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2011 Open Streets on State Street

At Wednesday’s event at the Fifty/50 Julia Kim, who spearheaded the State Street ciclovia, announced that Active Trans is hoping to stage Open Street this year on a 1.4-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Division and Western in Wicker Park and Bucktown, on Sunday, September 16 from 10 am to 3 pm. “We’ve gotten the green light from Alderman Moreno and [32nd Ward] Alderman Waguespack,” she said, adding that the Wicker Park Bucktown SSA [special service area] will be working on organizing the event as well.

Note: Steven Vance is a member of the Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA’s transportation committee and has been working with the committee and Active Trans to bring Open Streets to our district since July 2011. The SSA initiated organizing the event and has hired Active Trans to operate it. 

“Milwaukee Avenue is a very high-density street,” Julia said. “I think it’s really exciting to envision it without any cars and just filled with people having a really good time.” She asked attendees to support and volunteer for the event. “Help us build the momentum for the movement so that we can convince the city to do more than one, to do three a year.”

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Milwaukee Avenue with cars – photo by Christiaan_25

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Milwaukee Avenue with no cars (detail from new Open Streets brochure)

“Chicago needs to really ramp it up,” she added. “Other cities are already onto their fourth or fifth year. L.A. is kicking off with up to seven miles twice this year. San Francisco is doing about five neighborhood programs, sort of like Chicago, and of course New York, and even Miami launched it. St. Louis is looking at doing it downtown. So this is a very strong movement and Chicago needs to be the leader instead of just following.”

When I interviewed Julia last fall for a Newcity article about the State Street ciclovia, she was optimistic that with the new leadership at City Hall, future Open Streets events would get organizing and funding assistance from the city, resulting in larger, longer, better attended events that include all kinds of Chicago neighborhoods. “If we can prove the concept with [Open Streets on State Street], I believe there will be an opportunity to work closer with the city next year,” she said had said. So after hearing Wednesday’s presentation I was curious whether the successful downtown event convinced City Hall to give the ciclovia more than just lip service this time around.

I called Julia last night with a few follow-up questions. Although she hadn’t mentioned it at the Fifty/50, she told me on the phone that in addition to the Milwaukee Avenue ciclovia, Active Trans is also working on staging another Loop event, possibly expanding to a rectangular route connecting State, Van Buren, Dearborn and Lake. They’re looking at Saturday, September 8, as a possible date, and it’s likely that last year’s sponsors will help out again, she said.

So will City Hall finally step up to the plate and help make Open Streets happen? “We haven’t sat down with the city to discuss either route yet,” Julia responded. “We still need to have a meeting, but there’s more to talk about now that we’ve had a downtown event, and obviously [transportation commissioner] Gabe Klein was very supportive last year.” Klein volunteered for the dunk tank and Active Trans director Ron Burke threw the pitch that plunged Klein into 51-degree water.

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Gabe Klein gets dunked. Photos by Jennifer Henry.

“Alderman Moreno and Alderman Waguespack are huge supporters and we’ve started planning a lot earlier than last year. I believe there’s enough momentum that we can ask the city for more of a buy-in this year.”

Julia added that Active Trans still hopes to expand Open Streets to multiple events on longer routes, eventually linking up the Loop to the neighborhoods. “The dream route would be State to Kinzie to Milwaukee to Kedzie.”

There’s a discussion about this article going on at The Chainlink

Published by

John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs,
from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s
bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes
regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines
and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

13 thoughts on “Active Trans proposes a ciclovía on Milwaukee Ave. Will City Hall help out?”

  1. I enjoyed the Boulevard ride a few years ago and wish that were a yearly event. The State Street thing was nothing more than a street festival, and I doubt Milwaukee Ave. event would be any different. And while street festivals are nice–Milwaukee Ave. already has a couple–I don’t see any reason to think of them as bicycling events.

    1. The Boulevard Lakefront Tour, now called the 4 Star Tour, is still done annually. 

      As for Open Streets being a festival more than a bike ride, I and the Open Streets “buyers” and organizers are very aware of that. The City support, as shown in the other cities mentioned (SF, NYC, PDX, LA) is crucial. 

    2. The Boulevard Ride you enjoyed a few years ago has been a yearly event for more than 20 years.  Just last year, ActiveTrans changed the name to Four Star Ride.  But you can still choose a route that includes the boulevards.  The ride takes place on the last Sunday in August, 2012.

      1. But for their existing customers who drive to their stores…?  I would not automatically think that closing a major street on a major shopping day for that sake of advocacy would be a boon to all. 

        The city should consider the loss of business and the disruption of daily life on a well traveled street.  Do you know how many people take the Milwaukee Avenue bus to work, shop, and church on Sundays?

        1. I’ve ridden my bike on Milwaukee Avenue on Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s not busy until lunch time. 

          And as for people who drive to stores on Milwaukee between Ashland and Western… I think this is the least used mode of access as parking is quite limited. There aren’t enough parallel parking spaces for each business to have 1. 

          The Milwaukee bus will still run, albeit on a modified route. The loss of business wasn’t there in the State Street route. Think about the “loss” of business during the many street festivals that happen in five places every weekend around the city during the summer. 

          If 20,000 people show up to the Milwaukee Avenue Open Streets, that’s 20,000 people that weren’t there the previous Sunday. That’s probably more people than visit the neighborhood on any given weekend day. And that’s 20,000 people who might want to get lunch or a snack during or after the event. 

          Access to the area is also enhanced by three Blue Line stations. 

          1. In many places ciclovias have been a major boon to retailers. Guadalajara, Mexico, springs to mind. In many cases businesses that normally weren’t open on Sundays decided to open their doors to take advantage of all the extra foot traffic.

  2. Because it’s narrower and with more visual interest, Milwaukee Ave. beats the boulevards Open Streets, but a longer route is necessary to make it a cycling event.

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