The Chainlink

Dear Active Transportation Alliance,

 

I ride my bike every day. I walk most days. I use transit. And I have been in Chicago less than five times this year. I am an active transportation user.

 

I was very excited when CBF became ATA. I thought maybe, just maybe, the new organization would focus a little more on the many transportation issues in the suburbs. Now after three years as ATA, I have seen little change.

 

Wouldn't it be nice to not have to get up at 3am to drive a car 30 miles to bike on a deserted highway (how ironic)? I love Bike the Drive. But I would love an event closer to me even more.

 

Wouldn't it be nice if someone at ATA recognized that Chicago's mayoral election isn't the only big political story in the year? We now have lots of new Congressmen in the suburbs who I understand are trying to slash funding for biking. I didn't hear a peep about our congressional races from ATA.

 

Now I understand that the CMAQ funds for the next five years have been allocated all in one fell swoop. And the City of Chicago got more than 3/4 of the money for bike/ped projects. Wow, I take it back. This new mayor of yours is no wimp. Why do I mention this in a rant about Active Trans? Well, because it appears as though ATA's own Randy Neufeld is on at least two of the committees that decide on this money. And their new Executive Director, Ron Burke, is on at least one of the committees. Dear ATA - protected bikes lanes will work in my community just as well as in Chicago.

 

I'm sure that ATA will respond to this post with lots of good things they are doing in the suburbs. But my humble opinion is it isn't enough. What do you think?

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Transportation issues in the suburbs vary widely, but based on my limited experience the challenges are 70 years in the making (all growth was auto-fueled), and aren't going to be solved any time soon as long as the representatives in those suburbs don't want them to be.  Some of the suburbs I'm familiar with don't even have sidewalks, much less bike lanes .

 

I think ATA is doing what they can and would love to (and will eventually be able to) do more, but look at the backlash in Chicago to a protected bike lane, and ask how one would be received in a suburb with politicians who are trying to slash biking funding - it would be a disaster to spend money on a protected bike lane, install it with hostile political leadership (which usually means hostile voters/citizens), and then see it get torn down.

 

I unsubscribed from ATA's blog a while ago because it seemed like every post was about suburban bike meet-ups, suburban trails, suburban transit, stuff I don't care about living in the city. Maybe its just that the 'burbs are such a huge landmass that you aren't seeing activity near you?

I think ActiveTrans has long been active outside the Chicago city limits. Look at their client list:

( From http://www.activetrans.org/content/clients-and-testimonials  )

We have worked with a variety of clients, including:

Alsip
Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)
Bureau of Traffic Bikeways Program
Bureau of Traffic Bicycle Parking Program
Bureau of Bridges and Transit
Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS)
City of Evanston
Matteson School District 159
Minnesota Department of Transportation
North Central Council of Mayors
Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC)
Northwest Municipal Conference
South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association
Southwest Suburban Council of Mayors
Village of Downers Grove
Village of Oak Park
Village of Oak Lawn
Village of Palos Park
Village of Wilmette
Wauconda School District 118
West Central Council of Mayors

 

I live far south, and have not worked with the Community Outreach staff from other parts of the metro area, but I do know that missing from that list are several of Southland Coordinator Steve Buchtel's 2011 projects


Flossmoor Bike to Metra Plan
Advocating, planning and fundraising for the Cal-Sag Trail, including the Love Your Bike bike fair at the Lincoln Tollway Oasis, South Holland.
Bike 'n' Dine events in Homewood / Flossmoor.

As for protected cycle tracks in the 'burbs, I think Carter O'Brien called it right.  There are difficult and costly cultural, engineering, and political problems to overcome.  You have to pick and choose and spend your time and money on projects which have a reasonable chance of success.

 

There is good bicycle infrastructure in some suburbs. Look at this map. Everywhere marked as a "bicycle lane" is actually a protected lane, but not in the sense you would see in the city. Basically they rip up the sidewalk on one side of the road, pave it, put lines on it, and put signage. I think it's fine.

 

What is the issue. They don't go where they need to. They are to take you to and from the trails. Or to take you to and from schools/libraries. The undertone is that the only transportation a bicycle is used for is if you're too young to drive.

 

There first must be the beginnings of a cycling culture down here. I think it will happen, slowly though. I also think it more important in the suburbs. Who is hurt more by gas prices? The suburbs. Who is going to put political pressure on congress to fight oil wars and take the oil we "need"?

 

I've always thought that there is more to gain in working with some suburbs. If you connect the greenway, or make some of these already built paths/lanes go into the places people need to go. I think they will be used. People down here love to ride, but they don't put 2 and 2 together and ride to work/shop/etc.

To add. I think if you talked about adding lanes to some suburbs, people would say, "Why? The sidewalk is right there.". They wouldn't mean harm from this. That is just where people ride unless they are a road rider. In some places that is fine. There are sidewalks that extend for a mile with no intersecting roads. Pave it and it's a protected lane. What happens in winter though?

 

There is much education out here.

I did live in suburbs for a while some years ago. Without a car, so I had to depend on public transport. If you beyond a walking distance from a nearest CTA ("El") train station, you're out of luck. In many places even sidewalks are missing. It would take $20 per gallon of gas to change anything there. May be.

Thank you everyone for your comments. But all these comments about the nature of suburban infrastructure miss my point. Is Active Trans too focused on the City of Chicago? Not if there are good bike lanes or trails or whatever in the suburbs. But is Active Trans the organization doing enough outside the 312 area code?

 

And why is there no response from Active Trans? You have a 7 person marketing and communications team listed on your website. Can't you respond to this post? And seriously, 7 PR flacks? How about assigning more staff to the suburbs?

I think an objective answer would require looking at how the membership breaks out, as well as the funding they receive.  My guess - simply based on the Bike Federation's long history in Chicago - is that Active Trans has activities which are roughly proportionate to where their members live and where the funding comes from.

 


The problem with your question is that it's simply too vague and all encompassing - WHICH suburbs are being ignored/getting the short end of the stick would be the question that people could answer one way or another.

 

Remember that people don't even agree on where the suburbs end and become "exurbs," and then there's the complication of when you simply get into rural areas that got little cul de sac'd housing development during the boom - are they suburbs at all?  Antioch, IL got a Metra stop a few years back, and it was being pitched (and heavily developed, now they are ghost developments) as a new commuter suburb.  Well, in that case that's just crazy talk.  So some baseline definitions need to come into play.

 

by the way- I hope you understand Chicago has had 2 area codes for something like 15 years.  312 is now pretty much just downtown and leftover cell phones.

Thank you everyone for your comments. But all these comments about the nature of suburban infrastructure miss my point. Is Active Trans too focused on the City of Chicago? Not if there are good bike lanes or trails or whatever in the suburbs. But is Active Trans the organization doing enough outside the 312 area code?

 

And why is there no response from Active Trans? You have a 7 person marketing and communications team listed on your website. Can't you respond to this post? And seriously, 7 PR flacks? How about assigning more staff to the suburbs?

The suburbs were built by and for people who dislike active transportation. I don't think there's any big mystery here.

Suburban cyclist, maybe you could provide a little context and make mention of what you personally contribute to bike advocacy?

 

 


A Suburban Cyclist said:


And why is there no response from Active Trans? You have a 7 person marketing and communications team listed on your website. Can't you respond to this post? And seriously, 7 PR flacks? How about assigning more staff to the suburbs?

Hey Chainlinkers, and hello A Suburban Cyclist, we apologize for not responding sooner. Our executive director wrote a post for this thread and we'll get that up today.

 

We've been a bit overwhelmed with some great bike (and other) advocacy work this summer. Personally, I've been missing the Chainlink conversations and that's a bummer.

 

I'm very proud of the suburban work we do, which is quite a bit, and have been struggling to communicate it. But we've got some big M&C plans for 2012 and the suburbs are in it (to win it).

 

Thanks much,

Ethan Spotts, Active Trans

The suburbs, in my opinion, are the next frontier of bicycle advocacy.

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