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Chicago Cyclists Hope for Change

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With gas prices at an all time high, and parking in the city expensive, many Chicago residents choose to ride their bikes instead of driving their cars.

In the next few years, Chicago residents are hoping to have a network of safe bike lanes, making it safer and more convenient for both bicyclists and pedestrians.

“I see the increase in gas prices as a positive thing,” said John Greenfield, author of

“Gas is a lot more expensive in countries where there’s a lot of bicycling in Europe, so high gas prices makes people think twice before they drive somewhere, and consider other options like biking, walking, and transit,” he said.

In the summer and fall of 2009, the Chicago Department of Transportation conducted a bike-count study on various streets in the city. The results were that on the date that the count was taken, September 15, 2009, approximately twenty percent of people crossing 640 N. Milwaukee Ave. were bicyclists.

These counts were done for Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan, which has a goal to increase biking so that five percent of all trips less than five miles are taken by bike, according to CDOT’s 2009 Bike Counts Project.

According to Bicycle Retail and Industry News, ever since gas rose to $4 a gallon in 2008, suppliers believe that bike transportation is the next big thing. Cities across the United States, such as New York and Portland, have installed bike lanes in the city hoping to encourage more people to ride.

“I think it makes the city a lot more livable in my opinion when you have more people that are walking and cycling because you’ve got sort of a familiarity with the streets,” said Carter O’Brien, member of the organizing crew of the Bike-Pedestrian Committee in Logan Square.

Ald. Rey Colon (35th Ward), along with two other Chicago aldermen, attended a conference in Seville, Spain to learn about the bike system they have there. Every year the European Cyclists’ Federation hosts the event called the Velo-city Global, in which people from all across the world come together and discuss different ways to promote and sustain biking in their cities.

“One lesson I think we got in Seville, Spain was that they created an entire network,” said Alderman Colon. “In four years time they were able to convert from less than one percent of the population to 6.6, almost 7 percent of the population riding bicycles.”

According to Colon, during the election a bike-pedestrian group was formed and asked for the alderman’s support in providing safe passages for pedestrians and bikers in the 35th Ward. The group plans to make recommendations for infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians and come up with programs that create more awareness for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.

“What we hope to do is host a few public meetings; make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate and sort of voice their opinions,” said Adolfo Hernandez, director of advocacy for the Active Transportation Alliance. “And then once we put a plan together what we’re hoping is that the alderman can start implementing some of the pieces of it.”

On April 6, bicyclists and pedestrians in the 35th Ward met with Colon and he presented the information he had learned at the conference in Spain and showed pictures of the bike networks there. This presentation was done to help bring together bicyclists in the ward and construct ideas of ways to promote biking in Logan Square.

“I think it’s [the 35th ward] one of the most active sort of wards in the city,” said Hernandez. “It definitely has some of the highest amount of bicycling already. So it’s been a great amount of feedback from the community, and it’s mostly overwhelmingly positive.”

Other cyclists in the city are promoting biking too. The Active Transportation Alliance is currently in partnership with the Children’s Memorial Hospital Kids Safe Program. The purpose of the group is to prevent unintentional injuries in children ages 0-14.

Safety is one of the biggest concerns people have when bicycling in the ward. The roundabout in Logan Square has become a concern for many cyclists, and many have felt this way for years.

“It is a very high profile part of the neighborhood obviously you know it being more or less ground zero for Logan Square,” said Carter O’Brien. “So I have absolutely no doubts that it will be an ongoing sort of challenge and an obstacle to figure out what is the best way to tackle that.”

The bicycle-pedestrian committee hopes to tackle the issues of making the streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages. According to Hernandez, they want a plan that will be safe for people from eight years old to 80 years old.

In Spain, the system of bike networks started from the bottom up. Colon said he believes this could happen in Chicago if he gets the support of his fellow city council members, and then support from new Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I do know that we probably have enough supportive council members to do a bike walk caucus,” Colon said. “There’s my colleagues that are all working together on the Bloomingdale Trail we’re all very excited about getting behind that project, but beyond that I think there’s a lot of political will to do and test out a designated bike lane in Chicago.”

Hernandez has hopes that the committee will have a full plan in the next three to four months. Residents of the ward can attend the meetings and voice their opinions and concerns for bicycling and walking in the ward.

“What we’re hoping is that every ward in the city will start looking at how to do, sort of have some sort of group that’s working with an alderman about to make their ward more bicycle and pedestrian friendly,” Hernandez said. “We do think that this is something that’s going to be happening around the city.”

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