This year's Chicago Bike Week will be the biggest ever, experts say, thanks to greater public awareness, higher parking meter rates and gas prices, declining car ownership and more biking infrastructure in the city. Chicago Bike Week 2014 kicked off June 13 and runs through June 20.
The number of people biking to work tripled between 2000 and 2012, according to a report by the Active Transportation Alliance, a non-profit organization that encourages alternative transportation. And increasingly bike trips are utilitarian in nature, including trips to grocery stores and other errands, the study showed.
“Chicago’s new biking infrastructure like the new cutting edge bike lanes and Divvy bike sharing program have played an important role in making biking a more welcoming alternative for more people,’’ said Ted Villaire, communications director for the alliance, known as ActiveTrans. “Certainly, strong support from the city of Chicago has made a difference in getting more people to try out biking.’’
ActiveTrans works with the City of Chicago on the Bike Commuter Challenge and, despite a late start to the registration this year, the group expects the largest participation in the event’s 23-year-history. The Bike Commuter Challenge prompts companies to encourage their employees to bike to work for the entire week (or bike for part of the commute, incorporating public transit as well) by creating a competition that offers a discount program to those involved and extolls the health and other benefits of biking. The winners and prizes will be announced and awarded in July.
“Nearly 20% of our participants are biking to work for the first time and nearly 40 percent are women,’’ said Villaire. “The popularity of Bike Week and our Bike Commuter Challenge speaks to the growing interest of biking in the region.’’
There also is a Bike to Work Rally scheduled to take place Friday at Daley Plaza from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. The rally is sponsored by the City of Chicago and Goose Island. Riders will be rewarded with free breakfast that day.
Research shows an increasing number of people, particularly urbanites, are ditching their cars and instead relying on bikes and mass transit. A recent article in Crain's Chicago Business chronicled the growing trend:
- The number of vehicle miles traveled by people aged 15 to 34 dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009, according according to the federal government's National Household Travel Survey.
- Only 22 percent of drivers are in their 20s now, down from a third in 1983, according to a 2011 University of Michigan study
There are a wide variety of bike events happening across the city got Bike Week, including the World Naked Bike Ride which was held last Saturday for the 11th year in a row. For the more modest among us, the city and other groups have plenty of events from which to chose, including a bike-in outdoor movie, riding tours and an outdoor spin class.
Experts credit new and improved bike lanes and the Divvy bike sharing program with growth in bike commuting as riders feel safer and more welcome.
The recognition of cyclists is not just something for the granola crowd any longer. The city recently saw the launch of its first two Bike Friendly Business Districts, neighborhoods where ridership is encouraged by offering discounts at local businesses and support to riders in the form of bike barns and comfort stations where they can fill up a water bottle or make a minor repair.
Any Lakeview or West Town business displaying a Bike Friendly Business logo in its window offers a discount to people who arrive by bike. It’s being seeen as a way to cut down on car congestion and pollution in the areas, while the businesses benefit from customers who tend to stay longer and spend more money in the long run.
“A community that bikes is more likely to stay closer to home and frequent local businesses,’’ said Heather Way Kitzes, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. “But it also makes us a more attractive destination for visitors from the rest of the city.”
In general, people behind the promotion of cycling in Chicago say it is part of a move to healthier lifestyles that involve farmer’s markets, exercise, biking and other quality of life issues as a package.
“I think people like to get on a bike and ride to the farmer’s market, on the lakefront path or other places they enjoy in the city,’’ said Mary May, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the agency behind the city’s bike week. “You don’t have to park, you don’t spend money on gas, it’s great exercise, and it’s just a part of a healthy lifestyle.’’
Courtesy of Progress Illinois