Chicago Bike Week aims to build a community around personal health and environmentalism

This Friday, June 16, marks the start of Chicago Bike Week. This week of bicycle-centric programming dates back to 1991, when the Chicago Bicycle Federation first launched the campaign. The following year, the city of Chicago would begin organizing the event, but it’s future was in jeopardy following 2015’s festivities. Clare McDermott, the Director of Marketing and Special Events for the Active Transportation Alliance, explains that after the 2015 iteration of Chicago Bike Week “the city was no longer going to produce Chicago Bike Week,” said McDermott. “We really didn’t want to see that event go away. We were happy to take it on and just to continue doing Chicago Bike Week.”

Last year marked the Active Transportation Alliance’s first foray into organizing and programming Chicago Bike Week, carrying the torch for Chicago’s cycling community in a new, expanded way. But the events scheduled throughout 2017’s Chicago Bike Week (presented this year by Freeman Kevenides Law Firm) aren’t geared exclusively towards people who already count themselves as dyed-in-the-wool bikers. The intent of Chicago Bike Week is multipronged, encouraging people who consider themselves novices to gain confidence in their abilities, all the while championing environmental sustainability and the personal health benefits of cycling.

One of the ways that the Active Transportation Alliance is working to accomplish these goals is by getting Chicago-based businesses involved in the two-week long Bike Commuter Challenge. Kicking off June 16 and running all the way through the end of the month, this friendly challenge is intended to get bike riders to activate their officemates, encouraging them to ride their bike to work and see how many miles they can collectively rack up in the two-week timeframe. “Part of the Bike Commuter Challenge is for people that have maybe not tried bike commuting to give it a try,” said McDermott. “We really empower our team leaders with tips and talking points,” she said, with those team leaders being given exclusive, REI-compiled swag bags to help sweeten the pot when encouraging their co-workers to participate.

But the ultimate goal is to turn those part-time riders into full-time cyclists. For its part, McDermott states that the bike-share service Divvy will be offering discounts throughout Chicago Bike Week in order to get curious commuters riding around without having to invest in a bike of their own. And for those that get bitten by the cycling bug, the Active Transportation Alliance is offering up workshops throughout Chicago Bike Week that help people get comfortable on their bikes while showing them the fundamentals of bicycle maintenance. “Not feeling comfortable on a bike is a big barrier to entry, so we really want to provide people some solid education so that they can feel comfortable trying it for the first time,” said McDermott.

And while the goal of Chicago Bike Week is to strengthen Chicago’s cycling community—while also encouraging more people to become a part of it—the benefits of Chicago Bike Week are aimed at long-term improvements for the city as a whole. McDermott made it a point to drive home that bike commuting doubles as a means of exercise, improving physical health in participants, but that it has a bigger, worldwide impact too. Studies have shown that the addition of protected bike lanes increases safety for everyone, while cycling also reduces our impact on the environment, with less carbon emissions expelled during commutes and in the production of bikes themselves. A pair of studies have shown bike commuting reduces traffic, and while the average car with a single driver releases 1.1 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every mile they travel, cyclists bring that number to a flat zero. Not only that, it reduces the wear and tear on a city’s infrastructure, allowing less time and money to be spent on the general upkeep of roadways, at a time when researchers are proving this constant upkeep to be fiscally irresponsible.

“I think the biggest thing is to have a fun, easy way to do something good both for the environment and for your personal health,” said McDermott, explaining how she hopes that this one week in June can make people take up the cause year-round. She encourages people to consider becoming a member of the Active Transportation Alliance, which helps fund the construction of bike trails and lanes throughout the city, while also giving members discounts at various bike shops throughout Chicago. It all shows that cycling isn’t just a hobby, it’s a vehicle for connection and change.

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