CHICAGO - On Sunday morning, for one of several times of the year, cars didn't travel on Lake Shore Drive. Instead, the lanes were filled with the whirring of bicycle gears.
For around six hours, cyclists were allowed on almost the entire length of the iconic road, from 57th St. to Hollywood Ave., in the 16th annual MB Bike the Drive event.
"(It's) just being able to see the power of being on a bike and how empowering that can be," Clare McDermott, Active Transportation Alliance marketing and event coordinator, said.
The event, sponsored by Chicago-based MB Financial Bank, was organized and put on by the Active Transportation Alliance. Besides traversing the open road, event participants were treated to a festival in Grant Park with bike vendor booths, live music, a pancake breakfast and even a beer tent by Chicago's Revolution Brewing.
The Active Transportation Alliance is a nonprofit advocacy organization that pushes for policies and developments to make biking, walking and public transportation safer and more accessible. It's been active, so to speak, since 1985 when the organization was first called the Chicagoland Bicycling Federation.
Although cyclists can enjoy the feeling of placing their bikes on a heavily trafficked Chicago road, the larger idea is exposing Chicagoland riders to the ease, and sometimes fun, of using cycling to travel, commute and more, according to McDermott.
"The biggest thing is just arriving at your destination in such a happier mood," McDermott said, "as opposed to taking cabs and being stuck in traffic jams or not being able to find parking."
Last year, Bicycling Magazine rated Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the U.S. It also made the publication's top ten list in 2010 as a city that had shown improvement in its development of bike accessibility. Chicago has over 100 miles of roads with bike lanes.
MB Bike the Drive also captivates participants from the Region, which too has been developing bike accessibility on roads and trails across various municipalities. Aside from Metra, the Active Transportation Alliance also worked with the South Shore Line to help create train cars with bike racks.
The Active Transportation Alliance reaches out to the Illinois suburbs, NWI and the Michiana area, working with local governments, school and park districts to establish trails or bike lanes. Leslie Phemister, the nonprofit's outreach manager, adds it's sometimes difficult to get motorists on board with sharing the asphalt.
"The suburbs are different from the city," she said. "A lot of people are worried about narrowing roadways and that traffic doesn't move along. Bike lanes bring attention to motorists. That's really what sharing the road is doing."
NWI has around 150 miles of bike trails available, according to Mitch Barloga, a non-motorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. He too partakes in MB Bike the Drive annually.
"It's just so much surrealism involved," Barloga said. "You're shutting down a major transportation corridor. It's filled with bicycles and you've got eight lanes of traffic. It's like a scene out of bike heaven. It's one of the most unique bicycling experiences you can imagine."
Barloga believes NWI is catching up in regards to providing accessibility for bikes, such as its trails network and Valparaiso's new bike-sharing program. However, he says the area has "growing pains" to work through for bikes, partially because of the design of growing communities. Much of the Region's southern municipalities "sprawl" rather than hold a grid design, a layout that presents a challenge for developing bike lanes, according to Barloga.
"Bicycles can get you around," Barloga said. "One half of all trips have been reported to be less than three miles. In our Region sometimes going three miles can be burdensome in an automobile. Trails offer that access and it gets people thinking I can do the most basic things and do active transportation."
What it comes down to is developing a larger network of bike lanes to connect with trails, according to Barloga.
"The bicycle and pedestrian network doesn't begin and end with trails," Barloga said. "You can't simply drive to and from work from I-65. Getting people through communities safely through signage, putting down bike lanes, all this combines into a network that helps which helps the non-motorized user get around safely."
Guy Gallicho, of Highland, also believes NWI has improved its bike accessibility.
"It's gotten a lot better in the past 10 years," he said. "A lot more trails have opened up and you see a lot more cyclists taking to the road."
Gallicho also participates annually in MB Bike the Drive. He also serves as 1 of 12 coaches that mentor the Joyriders, a group organized through the Trek Bicycle Store in Schererville to train participants for riding certain distances. He and the other coaches have taken the participants to Lake Shore Drive since 2011 for the event, always present for the event's very beginning at 5:30 a.m.
"Where do you get to ride on a beautiful expressway with no cars?" he said. "And the sight to see is the sunrise over Navy Pier."
Gallicho enjoys mentoring the group. He's helped take them on NWI's bike trail network, as well as into Illinois to Park Forest and Joliet, and trains them for cooperating with traffic. Events like MB's Bike the Drive highlight it all the more for him.
"I try to make it more of an experience than a training ride," he said. "We teach them how to communicate, how to dress, make eye contact with drivers. Safety is the number one thing we teach."