Ride Illinois' new initiative encourages more biking and less driving

"I can bike there!" echoed throughout my youth. A coaster-braked, balloon-tired, hand-me-down magically expanded my 10-year old universe beyond typical neighborhood explores.

Fast forward to sleeker, faster, multi-geared bikes and that sense of freedom still thrills. No longer is it escaping from watchful adult eyes; it's untethering from driving.

Trip-chaining by bike from library to post office to groceries, I've dispatched errands for years, even after work commutes. Biking for transportation still delivers, not surprisingly, refreshing stretches of near-daily exercise in the spirit-replenishing outdoors.

"We all know how many good things can come from more people riding bikes," said Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois, the statewide nonprofit bike advocacy organization.

To encourage more biking (less driving) for everyday trips, Ride Illinois initiated "I Can Bike There" in June, partnering with Pointz and Working Bikes.

The Pointz mapping app helps those riding bikes, scooters, and other micro-mobility vehicles navigate safely around cities. Working Bikes, a 501(c)(3) group in Chicago's Little Village, refurbishes donated bikes for redistribution locally and to Third World countries.

"People don't normally think of bikes as transportation," Simmons said about this campaign. "We'd like to change that mindset."

Three miles or less

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2017 National Household Transportation Survey, 87% of all trips are taken via motor vehicle, with slightly over 45% of these trips spanning three miles or less. Shopping/errands account for the largest fraction of trips (45%), followed by social/recreational purposes (27%) and commuting (15%).

Per Simmons, ICBT's main goals are to "educate the public, encouraging them to bike for everyday trips, and celebrate those who already use their bicycle as a practical, sustainable mode of transportation."

Riders are encouraged to submit a photo with their trip details via a brief form. Facebook posts reveal numerous ICBT bikers across the Chicago area.

Evanston's Tom Mulhern appreciates everyday examples of switching bikes for cars.

"There's power in stories about cycling. We inspire and motivate one another," he said.

"You CAN bike there," Mulhern added. "If you don't think you can, reach out to your local bike store to help you figure it out."

Mulhern's entry recounts how he and friends cycled from Evanston to Michiana, Michigan; stopping for breakfast in Chicago's Hyde Park, coffee in Griffith, Indiana, and lunch in Chesterton.

Cheryl Zalenski, on Chicago's far Northwest side, enjoys biking with husband Roger to Park Ridge's farmers market. Having biked for work and errands for 18 years, she said, "While I also used public transportation and an occasional taxi, I realized biking was the most direct way to get places."

Biking for mulch

She hopes "others will see how doable and practical it can be to bike to errands and social events. Weather can be overcome most of the time with the right clothing. Biking is much warmer than standing at a bus or train stop!

"It's not as hard as it may seem, especially to destinations within a few miles," like her local Ace, where she hauled away three bags of mulch by bike trailer.

Like Mulhern, Zalenski said, "A lot of people doing it are willing to help you figure out how to get started."

Streamwood's Mikie Swier has posted his trips frequently. Volunteering in various bike clubs for 10 years, he's also a Ride Illinois Regional Action Team member.

To inspire others, he said, "It's very important to share and promote biking for transportation, especially the little rides."

Swier views cold weather as an issue, and lack of biking infrastructure a deterrent. One's available time is also a consideration, especially if safe routes require longer to bike than drive. Rough riding surfaces can also restrict transporting items due to size, quantity or weight.

Bartlett's Terry Witt viewed this campaign as follow-up to a national League of American Bicyclists program launched in September 2021. "Drive Less, Bike More" hoped small changes in people's transportation habits would yield big impacts in communities nationally.

LAB reported Americans replaced 1.5 million miles of car trips with bike trips in 2021, reducing CO2 emissions by over 167,000 pounds.

Witt, who bikes to coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants and other Bartlett businesses, frequently travels no more than three miles per outing. Never very shy, Witt, "makes it a point to ride through downtown to share the streets with local drivers to get them used to bicyclists on the street."

"I consider bicycling a four-season activity, except between Thanksgiving and Christmas to properly celebrate the holidays. Come Jan. 1, I'm back riding on decent days."

As an "I Can Bike There" advocate, Simmons cycles thousands of miles annually, preferring two wheels to four. Not yet car-free, he's definitely "car-lite" and getting lighter, acquiring equipment to transport hard-to-carry items.

Simmons takes satisfaction in campaign participants' unique stories.

"Beyond encouraging more people to make more everyday trips by bike, we aim to change the public's perception of people who ride a bike in less-than-ideal weather. Some people choose to bike. Some have no other option.

"All should be celebrated," he said. "Their mode of travel has little or no impact on the planet. After all, a bicycle is a practical, sustainable, enjoyable, active way to get from point A to point B throughout the year!"

Cycling shorts

Public Works Manager Chris Gottlieb reports the St. Charles City Council adopted its Bike and Pedestrian Plan and Complete Streets Policy Oct. 2. Official plan is available online at

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

Cycling from Evanston to Michiana, Michigan, on Aug. 19, Tom Mulhern and friends enjoyed the scenery up close as they rolled by the NIPSCO Michigan City Generating Station. Courtesy of Tom Mulhern
Terry Witt stops for a photo with Rebecca Lesmeister, owner of Rebecca's Cakes by Design in Bartlett. Courtesy of Terry Witt
Dawn Piech bikes 14 miles from Lombard to Glen Ellyn on Sundays to purchase fresh vegetables at the French Market and to enjoy the Warhol 2023 outdoor exhibits. Courtesy of Dawn Piech
Bianca Aguilar in Schaumburg takes advantage of separated bike lanes for a shopping trip to Target. Courtesy of Bianca Aguilar
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