The Chainlink

Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

1) How/when did you get into cycling as a profession?
I have primarily worked on environmental policy throughout my career, and that work has often overlapped with transportation policy. My first big step in promoting active transportation came in 1991 when I became director of environmental health at the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. One of my goals in this position was to reduce vehicle emissions. So I teamed up with Randy Neufeld and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation to direct federal transportation dollars to bike, pedestrian and transit projects.

These were funds from the 1991 federal transportation bill set-aside for congestion relief and emissions reductions. The agency that helped award grants to local transportation projects at the time was inclined toward funding traffic signalizations and road expansions. Randy and I demonstrated that a better idea was to fund bike, pedestrian and transit projects. Since then, that pot of money mostly has funded good non-automobile-oriented projects—hundreds of millions of dollars worth.

2) How does your organization directly benefit cyclists?
Our goal is to get more people to choose walking, bicycling and transit as they travel within the region. To accomplish this, we want to make active transportation easy, safe and enjoyable.

We work to pass local and state laws that protect vulnerable road users; we push for infrastructure like bike lanes and trails that connect communities; and we host fun events like Bike to Work Week and Bike the Drive. We offer safety programs for children; we have a Crash Support Hotline; and we offer resources to help people become advocates in their communities.

3) Do you specialize in a certain type of cycling?
My family and I walk and bike for everyday errands and trips around Oak Park where we live. I generally use transit for longer trips and I love taking my bike on trains. My typical commute involves a bike ride to the CTA Green Line in Oak Park, and then I take the Green Line to work.

4) What are your “must-have” items for cycling (this could be a tool, an accessory, a food, etc.)
I bike around with “professional” attire from time to time, so I really love my Planet Bike fenders. These are essential for keeping the road grit and water off my clothing. They help keep the bike cleaner, too. I also love the tag-along bike for my kids.

5) What do you see as the biggest area of opportunity in your niche market?
There's currently a wonderful thriving cycling community in Chicago, but the true opportunity is for cycling to break outside of our circle and pervade all the diverse communities of Chicago. It's fantastic that a growing number of people in our region identify themselves as cyclists, but if we really want to see a revolution in the way we get around, we need to see more people cycling who don't identify themselves as cyclists.

Our goal is for people in every segment of our population to consider cycling so ingrained in their everyday lives that they would never view it as a separate part of their identity. The way we accomplish that is through better infrastructure—if we build it, they will use it.

In the City of Chicago, there's a very important and immediate opportunity to elect new leadership that will embrace biking, walking and transit. Chicago's next mayor could be a champion for us or he or she could be someone who wants to turn the clock back 20 years. And our aldermen could support our agenda in our neighborhoods and at City Hall, or they could hold us back. With the right leadership, we could see some very real and exciting infrastructure changes on the ground to get more people cycling and walking.

6) How do you think the cycling community has changed in the last year or two?
It’s fantastic to see the growing number of bicyclists in the region. Take a look, for example, at Chicago streets like Milwaukee Ave. during rush hour. As the ranks of cyclists grow and the biking community continues to expand, the streets become safer and more people see biking as a normal activity. While we have gained some ground, there is a still a huge amount of work to be done.

Another change in recent years is the growing relevance of social media. There are now more options for cyclists to connect with one another, share resources and spread the word about important issues. More than ever before, Active Trans relies on Chainlink, Facebook and YouTube to inform and connect.

And Finally.....

7) If you could go on a bike ride with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?
I would love to ride around Chicago with Daniel Burnham and hear his thoughts on the implementation of his plan. I would also enjoy mountain biking with Charles Darwin.

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