The Chainlink

Active Trans Celebrates 30th Anniversary with "Throwback" Boulevard Lakefront Tour

By Brett Ratner

If you're a cyclist in Chicago, it's hard to dispute that many good things have come to fruition over the last 30 years.

Amenities and privileges we now enjoy - protected bike lanes, the Divvy bike-sharing program, the ability to bring bicycles aboard commuter trains and buses - were not a reality even 10 years ago. And thanks in part to these improvements, we've seen an explosion of people turning to cycling for daily, practical, environmentally-friendly transportation. A shining example of this is the 6,000 cyclists per day who now travel to work along Milwaukee Avenue.

There have been many people and organizations to thank for these positive changes, but one of the key players has certainly been the Active Transportation Alliance.

And while there's still much work to be done, it seems fitting to commemorate the organization's 30th anniversary by revisiting its early days (when it was known as the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) and celebrating the many impressive accomplishments that sprung from humble beginnings and big ideas.

"30 years ago, those of us who rode were riding alone," said Randy Neufeld, current Active Trans board member and CBF’s first Executive Director. "Now we've got company and paint, symbols, and posts that tell us we belong."

Mike Kolasinski, also involved in planning the early rides, agreed.

"Being carless for more than 30 years, obviously the Chicago cycling community has grown tremendously," Kolasinski said. "Bike lanes, Divvy bikes, bicycles on the CTA, Pace, and Metra. Especially bikes being allowed on Metra. It's opened up the opportunity to bicycle travel to the suburbs and beyond."

With so much to be proud of, what better way is there to celebrate than with a "throwback" version of the Federation's original fundraiser, the Boulevard Lakefront Tour?

Eager BLT participants ready to push off for the inaugural 1989 ride.

Affectionately known as the "BLT," the ride will take place on Sunday, August 23, starting and finishing at Memorial Grove on UIC’s Chicago campus.

"We go back to when very few people biked in the Chicago region and ours was often a lone voice," Neufeld said. "It’s fitting that the BLT is back to honor Active Trans’ 30th."

"To think that the BLT is still around after 30 years is something, considering that the original organizers thought putting 'First Annual' on the shirt was being too optimistic," Kolasinski added. "We had no idea it would last more than that first year but felt we would at least enjoy a good ride through the historical boulevard system."

Kolasinski, who also designed the BLT's distinctive t-shirt logo, said a lot of thought went into planning an event that honored Chicago's historical heritage.

Being that the BLT is mostly about the boulevard system, it was a no-brainer to include (in the logo) a boulevard within the iconic buildings of Chicago," Kolasinski said. "And to make it a cycling image a bicycle wheel was incorporated to frame the entire design. Using a green tee for the color of the first shirt reflected the concept of the system being an Emerald Necklace based upon Frederick Olmsted's urban ideas of linking Chicago's green spaces."

Randy Neufeld poses with fellow BLT organizers. His emerald-green shirt was one of 200 made for the inaugural ride. The brown fanny pack was recently seen at a thrift store in Wicker Park.

In an effort to accommodate a wide variety of riders, BLT will offer four ride distances to choose from. Some portions of the rides will follow sections of the original, 1989 BLT route.

"It's just the excuse people people need to ride neighborhoods and parts of the city they don't see in their daily routine," Neufeld said. "Rest stops and mechanical support are nice to have too."

In honor of Active Trans' 30th Anniversary, the popular Four Star Bike and Chow will be taking a temporary break so Active Trans can bring us Boulevard Lakefront Tour - The Four Star Throwback Ride.

Here is an overview of the four ride options:

  • A 14-mile route will pass through neighborhoods like Chinatown, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Burnham Park, plus Chicago’s lakefront.
    • NOTE: For an extra $15, 14-mile riders can participate in Active Trans’ signature Safe City Cycling class and get on-street bicycling instruction from a trained cycling instructor.
  • The 28-mile route shares the first 8 miles of the 14-mile route through University Village, the Near South Side, Bridgeport, Bronzeville and Douglas neighborhoods. Riders will then continue further south along the Lakefront to Hyde Park before returning north on the boulevard system.
  • The 36-mile route heads south along the Lakefront Trail to Hyde Park and passes through the University of Chicago. Heading northwest, the route continues through Bronzeville, Bridgeport, and the lower west side on the way to visit three of Chicago’s premiere green spaces, Douglas Park, Garfield Park and the 606.
  • Finally, the 63-mile participants will see much of the 36-mile route before heading northwest, eventually reaching Forest Glen and the North Branch Trail as it runs through Niles and into Morton Grove. After refueling at the northernmost point, riders turn south back into the city and continue down to Logan Square where they will enjoy a ride along the 606.

"The ride itself is not very demanding unless you go 62 miles," Neufeld said. "It's three-to-five hours of leisurely exercise. Come and see the Chicago you normally don't see."

All routes will conclude at UIC’s Memorial Grove where participants can enjoy a post ride festival. In addition to live music, Goose Island beer, and hot dogs, there will be a throwback apparel contest and other activities.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Active Transportation Alliance's programs and initiatives. Online registration closes on Saturday, August 22, 2015 at noon. NOTE: Special discount for Chainlink readers - use coupon code Chainlink5 for $5 off your online entry. Register at bltride.org. (Day of registration will be available as well with an additional late fee.)

"Riding a bike to make biking better," Neufeld said. "It doesn't get better than that."

Visit bltride.org or watch this video for more information.

About the Author

Brett Ratner (brett@thechainlink.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.

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