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Photo: Chicago Tribune archiveOn its 50th Anniversary, the Chicago Lakefront Trail gets a starring role in USA Today’s Best Urban Trails feature. I think it’s worth a little more commentary on the role it has played in Chicago’s bicycling transformation.You can thank President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955 and the advocacy of his cardiologist, Paul Dudley White, for convincing a nation that outdoor physical activity was good for it. In his day, Dr. White was the preeminent cardiologist in the world and a staunch advocate of preventative medicine. White’s rise in popularity after being selected as the president’s heart specialist fueled his promotion of walking, running and cycling, creating an outdoor fitness boom at a time when cycling in the cities was a derided fringe activity.One mayor, Richard J. Daley, particularly took Dr. White’s message to heart (sorry), and established an interconnected lakefront path in 1963 for the good of his residents. That’s Richard J. above taking Paul Dudley White for a ride. (I’m guessing zero debate regarding who was going to captain.)By 1970, the Tribune reported that the cycling population of Chicago had swelled to 1.2 million. Gas was at historic lows. No one had heard of OPEC yet. Chicago’s first bike lanes, on Clark and Dearborn in the loop, were three years away.I (Steve) would contend that the Lakefront Trail has fueled the cycling and active living movement in Chicago ever since. We have watched this happen on other trails that connect towns and cities: a trail is developed. Residents want to ride and walk to the trail. Businesses want people to ride and walk from the trail. Improved bike routes and sidewalk connections develop. Life improves. This is the story of the Lakefront Trail and the City of Chicago, and the story of the developing Cal-Sag Trail and its 9 communities, Springfield and the Inter-Urban Trail, Bloomington-Normal’s Constitution Trail, Lansing’s Pennsy Greenway, Peoria and the Rock Island State Trail, Quad Cities and the Great River Trail, etc.I’m asked a lot about the tension between urban cycling advocates and trail advocates. It’s imagined like this: Urban cycling is social transformation, a reprioritization of street space that disrupts the hegemony of automobiles to make space for more sustainable and healthier transportation. Trails support the status quo, perpetuating a separation of modes that promotes automobile dominance on the street.The reality is that trails’ broad appeal can create desire in a community for more connections, instead of a pushback against societal change. Chicago and dozens of other Illinois trail towns are masterfully leveraging their trail connections to improve streets, connect sidewalks, and build out the infrastructure and services that are making their towns healthier and more desirable places to live and work.For 50 years, the Chicago Lakefront Trail has fueled a desire for a more walkable, bikeable, livable city. Congratulations to the City of Chicago and the Lakefront Trail. 

Photo: Chicago Tribune archive


On its 50th Anniversary, the Chicago Lakefront Trail gets a starring role in USA Today’s Best Urban Trails feature. I think it’s worth a little more commentary on the role it has played in Chicago’s bicycling transformation.

You can thank President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955 and the advocacy of his cardiologist, Paul Dudley White, for convincing a nation that outdoor physical activity was good for it. In his day, Dr. White was the preeminent cardiologist in the world and a staunch advocate of preventative medicine. White’s rise in popularity after being selected as the president’s heart specialist fueled his promotion of walking, running and cycling, creating an outdoor fitness boom at a time when cycling in the cities was a derided fringe activity.

One mayor, Richard J. Daley, particularly took Dr. White’s message to heart (sorry), and established an interconnected lakefront path in 1963 for the good of his residents. That’s Richard J. above taking Paul Dudley White for a ride. (I’m guessing zero debate regarding who was going to captain.)

By 1970, the Tribune reported that the cycling population of Chicago had swelled to 1.2 million. Gas was at historic lows. No one had heard of OPEC yet. Chicago’s first bike lanes, on Clark and Dearborn in the loop, were three years away.

I (Steve) would contend that the Lakefront Trail has fueled the cycling and active living movement in Chicago ever since. We have watched this happen on other trails that connect towns and cities: a trail is developed. Residents want to ride and walk to the trail. Businesses want people to ride and walk from the trail. Improved bike routes and sidewalk connections develop. Life improves. This is the story of the Lakefront Trail and the City of Chicago, and the story of the developing Cal-Sag Trail and its 9 communities, Springfield and the Inter-Urban Trail, Bloomington-Normal’s Constitution Trail, Lansing’s Pennsy Greenway, Peoria and the Rock Island State Trail, Quad Cities and the Great River Trail, etc.

I’m asked a lot about the tension between urban cycling advocates and trail advocates. It’s imagined like this: Urban cycling is social transformation, a reprioritization of street space that disrupts the hegemony of automobiles to make space for more sustainable and healthier transportation. Trails support the status quo, perpetuating a separation of modes that promotes automobile dominance on the street.

The reality is that trails’ broad appeal can create desire in a community for more connections, instead of a pushback against societal change. Chicago and dozens of other Illinois trail towns are masterfully leveraging their trail connections to improve streets, connect sidewalks, and build out the infrastructure and services that are making their towns healthier and more desirable places to live and work.

For 50 years, the Chicago Lakefront Trail has fueled a desire for a more walkable, bikeable, livable city. Congratulations to the City of Chicago and the Lakefront Trail. 



The Righteous Path
Six 3-6 minute videos from Trails for Illinois’ presentation at the Central Illinois Bike Summit. To positively impact local economies, our environment, our quality of life, the trails we design, build and maintain must transcend the recreational use category. We must build Righteous Paths.

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Trails for Illinois is working hard to teach Illinois the promise of trails’ Triple Bottom Line. It’s a big state, and we could use your help! Please make a donation now to fuel our campaign.

I had the great honor of speaking at the Central Illinois Bike Summit in beautiful Normal, Illinois last Wednesday. I did my best to bring down some truth about the Triple Bottom Line of trails to a full hotel conference room, maybe 150 mayors, planners, engineers, trail & bicycle advocates—including some of my personal heroes in each of those categories. The message was well received—I got some Amens!—and I’m grateful to League of Illinois Bicyclists' Gina Kenny for sitting in front and filming the whole thing.

Like every new presentation I’ve done, this feels like the trial run for the next one. And Lo!, an invitation has come to pass. An attendee in Normal has invited me to present at the Illinois American Planning Association state conference in Champaign-Urbana this fall. But I have room for more. If the Righteous Path is something you want folks to hear, invite me out.

It’s Stand Up for Trails Day!

Standing to workWe read The Atlantic's report on an Australian study of sitting this morning, and it brought us to our feet. 

We’re declaring today to be Stand Up for Trails Day! Here’s how you can participate:

1. Share this tumblr post!

2. Go to our Facebook page and share the link to The Atlantic with your friends. Let them know it’s Stand Up for Trails Day!

3. Check out the hard working organizations in our Facebook Likes who are bringing more walking, running and biking opportunities to Illinois.  Pick one to Like. Heck, Like them all!

5. Retweet The Atlantic article to your followers - here’s our tweet about it.

5. Then holy cow—get out of the chair and get outdoors!

The single best thing you can do for your health: limit your time not on a trail to 23 1/2 hours a day.

Walking the dog

You might be wired to gain weight. But we believe you’re also wired to love being on a trail, and that can tip the scales in your favor.

Improving America’s health will require new emphases on and attention to enhancing the opportunities and resources for good health in places where we live, learn, work, play, and worship.

David R. Williams and James Marks, “Community Development Efforts Offer A Major Opportunity To Advance Americans’ Health.” Health Affairs November 2011

Kiera on a bikeIt will require Trails for Illinois! Think long and hard about the direction inactivity is taking life in Illinois, and realize how life changing a statewide network of interconnected trails can be. And then go there with us—http://trailsforillinois.org/donations

Inactivity rates by county, from CDC

Growing up in the 70s and 80s in rural Indiana, I watched my extended family exit farming in less than a decade. It was brutal, and many Amish families bought and subdivided the hundreds and hundreds of acres into smaller family plots.

I also watched the calories from a diet that once sustained dawn-to-dusk labor pile on the health complications after the work disappeared. Weight gain and diabetes became a family tradition in just one generation. The number of knee replacements in my family would get your attention, particularly if your business was knee replacements.

Thinking about this made me wonder about the health consequences of rural living when you’re not farming. There are thousands of miles of beautiful country roads in Illinois, gravel roads among the most pleasant (even for biking, if you have the bike for it). But there are hundreds of thousands of Illinois who live along less-pleasant roads, state routes or busy county routes that are narrow and fast. And the surrounding land isn’t always free to walk upon, or even safe—I had fun watching crop dusters fly over my house as a kid, but I admit that I’d want to spray my kid off after a hide-and-seek game in an intensely farmed cornfield today, leaf cuts not being my worry (those, actually, you should treasure).

So where do you walk? Where do you bike, or get the horses out? Some place miles away, likely, which means three things: 1. more sitting while you drive, 2. less use because it’s not convenient, and 3. one more vehicle on the road to further discourage walking or biking.

Lots of press about Illinois’ inactivity epidemic (please get use to saying that instead of “obesity epidemic”—we know why people gain weight, so let’s name the cause, not the condition) focuses on, frankly, where the money to fix it is going, to the urban areas. But the map above shows why making EVERY Illinoisan’s doorstep his or her trailhead is important to quality of life in this state. And that’s our charge at Trails for Illinois.

We believe our plan for trail use counts on major trails around the state is going to reveal the health impact convenient trail access has on our population, as well as the economic impact on our communities. We’ll need volunteers to help survey trail users in 2012, and we need you to include Trails for Illinois in your year-end giving. Please join us today!

If your trail experience already can begin at your front door—and we mean without needing to drive somewhere to have one—you’ll be delighted in this report that justifies how annoyingly happy and healthy you are to all of your friends and family. :-)  

This is the heart of our work at Trails for Illinois—we believe that extending trail opportunities and experiences to every Illinoisan offers better living and a better Illinois in which to live.

Here’s how we’ll begin making every doorstep & driveway in Illinois a trailhead in 2012:

1. Accelerate regional trail completion. We’ll offer technical and advocacy resources to the state’s trunklines for healthy living, its regional and destination trails, and the local connections to them.

2. Partner to fight for good trail policy. We’re already mixing it up. But the state is struggling to fund its trail programs, and in DC 2012 brings the climactic battle for protecting federal trail dollars. We’re finding allies in trail user groups, cycling advocates, and parks & recreation to unite for victory.

2. Make trails count—literally. With volunteers and electronic counters, we’ll measure the use of the state’s major trails and survey users. With numbers, we’ll gain a tool for measuring and estimating not just economic impact, but health impact of Illinois trails.

3. Communicate. Illinois trail builders and trail user groups need a mechanism to broadcast, celebrate, and share stories. And the far larger number of Illinoisans un-involved in trails needs a place to find us all.

4. Promote. Illinois’ trail network is within two years of going toe-to-toe with Wisconsin, Minnesota, (your-wish-Illinois-was-more-like-state here). We’ll tell that story by helping you tell yours.

This is a brief outline of our program for 2012. It’s a lot, and it’s going to require your support as a donor or a fundraiser (fortunately, our partnership with Razoo will help you do either/both). I’ll post more in detail in the December/January Trail News. Now go outside!

Our first newsletter as Trails for Illinois—and thanks to Senator Coburn (R-OK) we can help you save federal trails funding!

But it’s not all urgent action to save millions of dollars for Illinois Trails—you can take our new supporters’ survey, read about the two guys helping us develop a renewed & refreshed statewide trails community, and…you can help launch it.

For a transitional newsletter, that’s a lot!

From Slate

In 1979, your first grader—ha, probably you! Or heck, your parent could have been 6 years old in ‘79—was outside. A lot. By him/her self.

The link above is a nice piece that Amy C., mom of two from Tinley Park, pointed out to me. It’s a checklist for determining if your 6 year old is ready for first grade. “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”

In 2011, that’s a test for a parent more than a kid.

Lenore Skenazy describes that Carter-era 6-year old—and any precociously perambulating child since— as a free range kid. “Children, like chicken, deserve a life outside the cage.” What a vision.

I read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louve this summer, and Richard’s call is similar to Lenore’s—for the first 2.7 million years of our species until likely just after your own childhood, kids said “See ya, Mom!” (maybe they barked or chirped this early on) and then bolted for the lower tree limbs/cave entrance/door.

And parents expected them to get wherever they were going, and to find their way back. Both authors feel this is a cornerstone of healthy development and a high quality of life.

Trails for Illinois does too. We’ve said it before: we believe that every Illinoisan is wired to appreciate and benefit—physically, emotionally, mentally—from using trails. We’re extending the range and freedom that the child and the parent can experience; in some communities, the trails we advocate for, promote and develop will be the only opportunity the kid and the adult has to engage that elemental desire for mobility, exploration and independence.

Is a trail helping you raise a free range kid?