Bicycling as a True Solution to Climate Change in Chicago

Renee Patten, Bicycling advocate

Source: Huffington Post

Sally Ryan for The NYTimes – Leroy Ledbetter tending a rooftop garden created to reduce energy use by Chicago’s City Hall.

Chicago’s urban climate actions need a smart mix of policy instruments to mitigate and adapt for coming climate changes. As cities continually serve as policy laboratories for action on climate change in the absence of federal action, local policies are leading the way in creating true change. This may stem from the realization of cities’ contribution to the problems but also for the opportunities to lower tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental priorities. Cities and metropolitan regions are well-positioned to develop policy and programmatic solutions that best meet specific geographic, climatic, economic, and cultural conditions with the authority to make decisions in sectors land-use zoning, transportation, natural resource management, and buildings.

The third strategy in the Chicago’s Climate Action Plan is improved transportation options. This section plans for a high-quality transportation system to promote convenience and energy efficiency that must include a mix of public transit, bicycling, walking, car-sharing, energy efficient vehicles and the development of transit-oriented neighborhoods. This strategy provides a base for real climate solutions and functions as a policy backdrop to guide specific priorities for the city.

What the plan does not offer, in the original or the 2010 update, are specific policies for the city to implement policy that would provide concrete actions to meet the plan’s broad goals. The current implementation of the solutions in the plan’s architecture are formed under a green capitalistic model rather than progressive methods of green thinking which come with political and economic transformation.

The CCAP lays the foundations for a regional movement into a green economy, but a plan to truly address real solutions to climate change will not come with the green capitalism that is emerging as a result of Chicago’s existing green initiatives. Unsustainable capitalistic growth and inequitable environment and social investments continually will result in the existence of surface level policies that do not address the true urban problems and provide sustained solutions.

Bicycling under the ‘transportation’ action strategy provides an avenue for real solutions to climate change and Chicago is very well poised to harness the energy of the cycling movement in the transition to an environmentally friendly economy.

Topographically flat with a well-connected transit system allowing for multimodal transport options for cyclists, the city also has a history of bicycle friendliness with the Chicago Bike 2010 and 2015 policy documents and a political rhetoric that supports bicycling investments and a significant bicycling community. Climate solutions with a transportation policy focused around the bicycle are fundamentally green and a new bicycling economy has been emerging along urban, low traffic bikeway networks throughout the US.

2008 study in Portland showed the bicycle-related industry alone as contributing $90 million to the local economy every year. Bicycle tourism is another huge boon to regions that can attract it. In 2010, Wisconsin reported an annual $1.5 billion bike economy. There are many more local benefits of the bike economy, from lowering families’ health care costs to reducing a business’s need to invest in costly parking spaces for staff and customers. In a green economy, bicycle transportation planning, unlike its fancier cousin transit-oriented development “is not about new development or raising property values. It’s about bettering our existing communities. It’s about making cities and suburbs that are built on an automotive scale navigable by human power. It’s about providing the basics to everyone, in their neighborhood,” says Elly Blue in her article “How Bicycling will save the economy (if we let it).”

A bicycling economy is inherently and truly green.

Bicycle Transportation Policy Climate Solutions

  • Allow bicycles on all CTA, Metra, PACE buses & trains at all times. Rid of the ‘no-bikes allowed on trains’ policy during rush hours.
  • Expand the bike sharing program started downtown in 2010 to all neighborhoods focusing on public venues such as CTA/Metra train stations & CTA bus route intersections. This process has started with the announcement of the expansion of Chicago bike sharing.
  • Lower the bicycle sharing fees over time as revenue as operating costs allow for changes.
  • Expand bicycle mechanic training programs that now exist in several bike shops in the city to other venues like schools, churches, and parks by partnering with businesses currently supporting such programs.
  • Use federal transportation money with some state and local funds to build cycle tracks on all major streets east-west and north-south streets in the city by 2020.
  • Implement all the policy suggestions of the 2015 Bike Plan and continually modify the document and update recommendations every five years.
  • Build The Bloomingdale Trail, expand and integrate greenway and off-street trail network.
  • Support bicycling development and investment in all neighborhood and community centers by removing geographical restraints and any program not in the loop boundaries.
  • Support citizen and community based development and planning where residents choose the types and form of development they want within the city’s neighborhoods.
  • Integrate geographic and spatial analysis and modeling into all city planning and conservation policy decisions.

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