How new laws, advocacy and charity helped strengthen support for cycling in 2021

  • Advocate of the Year Christopher Valadez of Cycle Brookfield.

    Advocate of the Year Christopher Valadez of Cycle Brookfield. Courtesy of Chris Valadez

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along For the Ride
Updated 1/21/2022 10:02 AM

While 2021 taught us that breakthroughs and being positive aren't always desirable, new funding laws, strong advocates and cyclists' charity restored hope for bikers last year.

Bike funding strengthened

 

Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill including a $2.5 billion increase for sidewalks, bike lanes, Safe Routes to School programming and trails over five years. It also requires states to address biking/pedestrian safety issues, among other things.

For roadway projects initiated in 2022, Illinois will cover 100% of related walking and bicycling facility costs for municipalities with more than 1,000 residents. Prior to this legislation (HB270), a 20% local community match was required for such improvements, meaning biking/pedestrian infrastructure was often eliminated from final project designs if local funds were unavailable.

General Assembly also passed HB2950, allowing county gas tax funds to be used for "non-vehicular public travel," i.e., walking and biking infrastructure, specifically in DuPage, Kane, Lake, Will, and McHenry counties. Prior to HB2950, gas tax funds were restricted for vehicle roadways.

Suburban advocates recognized

At its annual December meeting, the Active Transportation Alliance, (Active Trans) honored Brookfield's Christopher Valadez and Glenview's Matthew Portman as Advocates of the Year. This award recognizes volunteers vigorously aligned with Active Trans' mission: Advocating for walking, biking and public transit to create healthy, sustainable and equitable communities.

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Noticing little biking infrastructure in 2017, Valadez and others "hosted weekly rides around Brookfield with the sole purpose of normalizing bikes on the road. The simple intent: Let the community know it's OK to see bikes. The mission grew quickly. In 2019 we became a 501(c)3 nonprofit, rebranding ourselves as Cycle Brookfield."

The group focuses yearly on one major project, per Valadez.

"In 2022 we are seeking to install dedicated bike lanes on the 1.2 mile stretch of Washington Avenue, (main local cycling route) just south of Brookfield Zoo."

Recent projects included supporting an Eagle Scout's installation of a Salt Creek Trail bike repair station, and partnering with Brookfield to introduce several new bike racks.

Out of tragedy, hope

While Matthew Portman lives in Glenview his bike advocacy has focused on Chicago's Logan Square where a driver killed his cousin, Kevin Clark, while cycling last May. In 2008, a motorist also killed cyclist Tyler Fabeck at the same Logan and Western intersection.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The nearby area was the site of numerous bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and the subject of a 2018 Active Trans transportation report in collaboration with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA). Portman's efforts -- fundraising (Kevin's Coda), community vigil, news conference and awareness-raising -- helped initiate improvements, including vehicle traffic reconfiguration, protected bike lanes and bike markings. According to Active Trans, "More than 1,000 emails, tweets, and phone calls poured into the offices of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Alderman Daniel La Spata, and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack following Kevin's death."

"Kevin's death -- especially with all the media attention -- was a huge catalyst to enact long-overdue change," Portman notes. "We saw an opportunity to turn the attention into something positive. We made the noise, but others did the hard work."

He praised other advocates for ground already plowed.

"Active Trans really stepped up and championed these changes. We helped to organize, but they put in the real work. Folks at LSNA who helped organize the vigil, spoke so powerfully at the event and worked for years with Active Trans to rehab that intersection -- they are my heroes."

Arlington Heights Bicycle Club cyclists Don and Kris Ami flank Santa and his elves at Amling's Cycle & Fitness annual holiday toy ride.
Arlington Heights Bicycle Club cyclists Don and Kris Ami flank Santa and his elves at Amling's Cycle & Fitness annual holiday toy ride. - Courtesy of Don Ami
Charity on wheels

Santa held court at Amling's Cycle & Fitness on Dec. 10 as cyclists caravanned to the Niles bike shop on Milwaukee Avenue. Bungeed to their rear carriers, jammed into backpacks and loaded into saddlebags were gifts headed for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive.

Holiday helpers packed a motor coach with about 600 toys, including donations dropped off before and after Amling's open house, per owner Joe Reichert. About 80 cyclists from Arlington Heights, Evanston, Oak Park, Palatine and Wheeling bike clubs rolled in for holiday fellowship, sweet treats and photos with Santa on a chilly but dry morning.

Reichert and his partner Julie Keating have already booked Dec. 9, 2022, for Amling's 20th annual Holiday Toy Ride.

U23 Cyclocross competitor hauling his wheels up Butterfly Hill at Cantigny Park Dec. 12.
U23 Cyclocross competitor hauling his wheels up Butterfly Hill at Cantigny Park Dec. 12. - Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak
Get it in gear

Cyclocross crowned its national elite champions Dec. 12, at a waterlogged Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Riders battled the mashed potato mud and undulating terrain on multiple loops of the 3.4 kilometer course. Thousands cheered and rang cow bells propelling racers onward in a festival atmosphere under sunny skies. Elite women's racer Clara Honsinger and elite men's racer Eric Brunner rode to victory, earning a chance to compete for a world title in late January in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Clara Honsinger and Eric Brunner celebrate their victories as National Elite Champions at the Cyclocross National Championships at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.
Clara Honsinger and Eric Brunner celebrate their victories as National Elite Champions at the Cyclocross National Championships at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. - Courtesy of Jeff Reiter

Mud flying 12 feet high off back wheels pelted photo-snapping fans leaning over the thin red tape while skidding racers snaked through mucky grooves on Butterfly Hill. Chains and sprockets caked with debris made pedal stomping extra tough on steep inclines.

Riders impressed this cyclocross newcomer with their incredible strength and agility staying upright. Equally striking were split-second tactical decisions: Hop off and carry the bike versus keep cranking on a slick uphill. For information about the elite men and women cyclocross champions, check USA Cycling's website.

Spoke'n word

A tip of the hat, er helmet, to now-retired editor John Lampinen. In March 2020, Lampinen solicited readers for sports story suggestions when athletics at all levels shut down. That's when the inspiration for this column took hold. Happy retirement, John!

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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