“Biker Boy” by Alice Dubois. Alice’s paintings are on display this month at Charmers Cafe, 1500 W. Jarvis, and the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington.
[Ed. note: This article was contributed by Carly Syms, a grad student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The piece also appears on the Medill Reports website. Carly completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. She eventually wants to get into sports journalism.]
Chicagoans are speaking out about the city’s active transportation initiatives amidst growing research that shows walking and biking to work can result in extensive health benefits.
One of the biggest improvement projects under way is the Bike 2015 Plan, which the city says is meant to “make bicycling an integral part of daily life in Chicago,” and for many residents, that begins with safety.
John Greenfield, co-founder of GridChicago.com, a blog dedicated to local transportation concerns, said that while many of the city’s initiatives have yielded positive results, there’s still room for improvement.
“Too much car traffic is one of the main obstacles to safe, pleasant conditions for walking, biking and transit use,” Greenfield said. “I’d like to see policymakers doing more to discourage driving and fund healthier modes.”
In its most recent rankings of transportation infrastructure from last month, WalkScore.com, a website dedicated to evaluating cities’ walkability, transit systems and the public health implications of both modes, placed Chicago eighth of 25 major municipalities.
Charlie Short, program manager of the Chicago Department of Transportation Bicycling Ambassadors, said ultimately the goal of his work is to make urban cycling safer.
Charlie Short, left, with Bicycling Ambassadors. Photo by Steven.
“The biggest thing that we try to do when it comes to car traffic is that we have a Share the Road program,” he said. “We address motorists that engage in behavior that’s dangerous to bicyclists. We use Chicago police and bike ambassadors to spot people in high crash locations that are doing things dangerous.”
But Greenfield still sees many reasons to think positively about Chicago’s efforts.
“I think the city is doing some great stuff to promote walking, biking and transit,” he said.
Greenfield cited numerous ongoing and completed improvement projects in the city, including the creation of 100 miles of protected bike lanes, a new bike sharing system and the development of bus rapid transit corridors.
“The redevelopment of Congress Parkway is a good example of the city’s new commitment to pedestrian-friendly streets since it will have fewer car lanes, wide sidewalks and pedestrian refuge islands,” Greenfield said.
But some residents still haven’t seen the results they’re looking for. Lindsay Knight, a longtime cyclist and co-editor of the blog Chicago Women’s Bike Racing, said the city should focus more attention on its active commuters.
“Cycling in general doesn’t get enough attention from anywhere — from researchers, from policymakers, even from our own community’s organizations,” Knight said. “Because of these system-wide oversights, intentional or not, I think it’s really important for women to reach out to other women when it comes to becoming active.”
Short said his office is dedicated to encouraging people to make the transition from passive to active commuting.
“We went to offices downtown to talk to people who want to ride to work and haven’t yet,” Short said. “Maybe they ride for fitness or maybe they don’t ride at all.”
Short estimated that Bicycling Ambassadors have so far met with 40 to 50 companies. But Knight urges Chicagoans to seek out support anywhere they can find it.
“It’s not enough to wait for others to care about the state of our community,” she said. “We need to encourage and foster others if we want this community to continue in a positive – and ever expanding – direction.”