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Chicago neighborhoods work to create bike-friendly business district

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Perhaps novelist H.G. Wells said it best—“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”

In the spirit of the master of science fiction, the Chambers of Commerce in Lakeview and West Town are planning the creation of bicycle-friendly business districts to encourage bike-happy residents to patronize their neighborhoods. Lakeview and West Town hope to unveil a joint program that will offer discounts to cyclists during the month of June.

Juan Perez Jr. at the Chicago Tribune reports that a bike-friendly business district would seek to provide a boost to local businesses during the early summer months. Participating businesses will offer discounts to bike riders, advertising their participation in the program by displaying branded logo decals in their windows.

The program also encourages proper bicycle safety. Cyclists who wish to take advantage of the proffered discounts must show their bike helmets before receiving the benefits of the program. Perez’s full coverage can be found at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-05-16/news/chi-lakeview-west-town-planning-bikefriendly-business-district-20140516_1_west-town-lakeview-chamber-director.

The Bike Friendly Business District proposal has garnered considerable early support in these walker and cyclist-heavy neighborhoods. Chamber officials in Lakeview and West Town have recruited twenty-five businesses in each district to participate in the program.

Three years ago, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and Special Service Area 27, an organization that uses local property taxes for neighborhood improvements, launched the Lakeview Area Master Plan. This plan seeks to improve Lakeview’s appeal to shoppers, tourists, and residents by creating new public art and green spaces and promoting more environmentally friendly methods of transportation such as biking and walking.

The West Town Chamber of Commerce and its own Special Service Area plan to incorporate a similar approach. A new mile of protected bike lanes along Milwaukee Avenue and a City of Chicago-donated bike corral are promising steps toward a broader bicycling initiative. Features of a new bike-friendly business district in West Town may include intra-neighborhood rides to show off these new safe bike passages, neighborhood bike tours featuring local businesses, and discounts for the neighborhood’s bike-to-work week.

In an interview with Anthony Burke Boylan of Progress Illinois, Heather Way-Kitzes, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Biking is good for business….People stay closer to home, they spend more time in the area, they move at slower speeds and have a greater awareness of the businesses around them.” See Boylan’s full coverage at http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2014/05/20/chicago-neighborhoods-businesses-look-encourage-increased-bike-riding-.

In further support for the program, West Town SSA program manager Katherine Wakem said, “We have a huge biking population that lives and works in West Town….After seeing the overall trend of the amount of bikers that come to the area, as well as what people are into, the ideas started flowing.” See all of Wakem’s comments to the Trib at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-05-16/news/chi-lakeview-west-town-planning-bikefriendly-business-district-20140516_1_west-town-lakeview-chamber-director.

Way-Kitzes and Wakem certainly seek to capitalize on the growing trend of alternative transportation, especially at a time of year when more people can bike and walk around their favorite neighborhoods without the imminent threat of frostbite.

Local businesses are excited about the program as well. Guy Nickson, owner of Wishbone restaurant with locations in both Lakeview and the West Loop, has offered his own bike-incentive program for the past seven years and is thrilled that the Bike Friendly Business District seeks to take his program to a larger scale. Nickson simply remarks, “It wins on so many levels.” Read more of Nickson’s enthusiastic comments at http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2014/05/20/chicago-neighborhoods-businesses-look-encourage-increased-bike-riding-.

As bicycling becomes a more and more popular form of transportation in Chicago, programs like the Bike Friendly Business District and other proposals from the Active Transportation Alliance, an organization that encourages green alternatives to driving, promise to make the city a safer and more accommodating home for commuters who prefer two wheels instead of four.

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