Group portrait of Active Trans members in attendance.
Tuesday night I dropped by the Active Transportation Alliance’s annual member meeting at UBS Tower, One North Wacker, joining dozens of attendees in celebrating this year’s advocacy achievements.
After members elected a new board (Jane Healy is stepping down as board president, Jim Kreps is moving up from VP to president, Bob Hoel is taking over as VP and Susan Levin is joining the board as a new director), Grid Chicago contributor Anne Alt was inducted into the Active Trans Hall of Fame. Director of events Christine Schwartzkopff enumerated Anne’s many contributions to biking, walking and transit advocacy here.
She’s president of the Chicago Cycling Club and secretary of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, as well as a member of the Beverly Bike Club and a supporter of the Major Taylor Cycling Club. Anne also co-led the Southwest Side community advisory group for the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and regularly attends Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meetings. In addition she spent fifty hours in the saddle scouting out streets for the last edition of the Chicagoland Bicycle Map, and she helped research routes for Active Trans’ Four Star Bike Ride.
Christine Schwartzkopff and Anne Alt.
“Anne embodies the true multi-modal advocate,” Christine said. “She shows us that advocating for a culture of physically healthy communities, with a vast bicycling, pedestrian and transit infrastructure matters, and that it can be attained by direct action, vocal advocacy and passionate involvement. It is this fierce, tireless and true passion for the Active Trans mission that we recognize tonight.”
Randy Neufeld, Active Trans’ first executive director and current head of the SRAM Cycling Fund, which donates money to international bike projects, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame. “I do love this organization,” Randy commented. “I was doing the bike advocacy thing in the Ukraine last week and it took me back twenty years. Kiev is a city completely overrun by bad automobile behavior. The advocates are tenacious and they’re fired up about doing something but I couldn’t really figure out if they had any hope or not. The situation is much like Chicago twenty years ago, when there weren’t many bicyclists on the street. So we have achieved great things. We still have much, much more to achieve.”
Current director Ron Burke provided an update on the state of sustainable transportation in Chicagoland, and projects on the horizon for next year. In its 20-year Vision plan, with a 2005 baseline, the organization set the goal of reducing pedestrian and bike crashes and injuries in the region by half over the next two decades, and raising the share of trips done by walking, biking and transit to fifty percent. Right now that mode share is at about one-third of all trips in the region. Ron said there has been significant progress towards this goal. For example, in the last year Metra ridership went up by seven percent, CTA use grew by seven percent (the highest level in the last twenty years) and Pace ridership went up by eleven percent. Region-wide, biking to work doubled between 2006 and 2010. Meanwhile, across the region bike crashes with injuries went up only thirteen percent during this period and pedestrian crashes with injuries decreased about eleven percent region-wide.
Ron discussed Active Trans’ work helping the city of Chicago, Cook County and eight suburban municipalities enact Complete Streets policies. The organization pushed for better bikeways in Chicago, he added, and about eight miles of protected lanes and eight miles of buffered lanes have been installed so far; another fourteen miles of both are slated for construction in the next few weeks. The Better Blocks initiative has engaged people in underserved communities to advocate for improved pedestrian infrastructure, and Riders for Better Transit has been lobbying for more funding for public transportation and educating the public about BRT, he said.
Other accomplishments this year included successfully advocating for speed camera legislation in Springfield and Chicago, as well as promoting for a distracted driving ordinance in Lake Forest and a bike parking ordinance in Elmhurst. The new Play Streets initiative has been helping to get more kids physically active in low-income neighborhoods through recurring block parties. Events like Bike the Drive, the Four Star Bike Tour and Open Streets drew tens of thousands of participants and membership in the organization has grown to 7,000, a new high.
In the year ahead advocates can look forward to the launch of Chicago’s new bike share system, more protected bike lanes and more on-street bike parking corrals, Ron said. The Navy Pier Flyover is slated to start construction next year, although it will take three years to build. “We’re working with the city on a Chicago bike parking ordinance – stay tuned for that,” he added. “Later on this year or maybe next year we’ll have some really interesting news about bikes on trains, but we can’t say more now – it’s top secret.”
As for transit, Active Trans will push for a moratorium on fare increases and service cuts, and continue to support Chicago’s bus rapid transit initiatives. Planning for the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive is supposed to start next year. “That is a huge opportunity to turn that into less of a highway and more of a road that works for everybody, including buses,” Ron said. “It’s also a chance to improve the Lakefront Trail, so stay tuned.”
The most moving speech of the evening was when Andrew Kudelka, husband of Martha Gonzalez, addressed the crowd. Three years ago Martha was a victim of a fatal hit-and-run crash at the intersection of 18th & Halsted. Andrew formed the Martha Gonzalez Memorial Committee to honor her memory and push for safer walking conditions, including improvements to the intersection. He credited Active Trans with helping him to connect with pedestrian advocacy efforts.
Martha Gonzalez and Andrew Kudelka.
“For those who don’t know, I lost the love of my life in 2009 to an accident,” Andrew explained. “I get emotional when I think about that time and it doesn’t feel like it happened three years ago. But every year around her birthday or around the anniversary of when she passed away I feel like I have to do something. And what comes to mind usually is I have to get more people to think about pedestrian safety and bicycle safety, to change the culture because the culture is so very destructive right now. Just taking my son to the park, I see how many people blow the stop signs and I literally want to lunge at them but I can’t.”
“So I want to take that energy and I want to do something positive,” he said, adding that he recently hosted a memorial and benefit event in Pilsen where Active Trans members fielded questions about pedestrian and bike safety and handed out information. “I want to make that Halsted and 18th corner a focal point. And when I finally get to a place where I feel like, OK, you guys have done everything that I feel can be done, I want to work with other people who have similar situations in other parts of the city. I want it to blossom from that point, because it’s the only way that I can pay respect for someone that has lost her life, because I don’t feel any resolution yet, there’s no closure. And I want my positive actions to be that closure.”