ALBANY PARK — There's nothing like a bike-pedaled smoothie machine to get people out of their cars and taking advantage of other modes of transportation.
That's just the sort of creative alternative to driving that Albany Park residents can expect to see this summer with the launch of Go Albany Park, a program that aims to encourage residents to walk, bike and take transit more frequently.
Go Edgewater is also planned for summer 2015 and a fifth Chicago neighborhood will be chosen for 2016. The programs are all tied to a four-year federal grant obtained by CDOT.
Active Trans, which manages the Go program for CDOT, will spend the next several months drumming up support for Go Albany Park among community groups, as well as soliciting input on potential events.
"We want to meet everyone," said Maggie Melin, Go project coordinator for Active Trans.
Part of the process is to determine the barriers to biking, walking and transit, she said.
A common obstacle to cycling, particularly among women, is "not wanting to ride close to cars," she said.
"We try to show people there are parts of Chicago where you can bike and feel comfortable," said Melin.
A group ride might be organized on a self-contained trail, for example, and then as cyclists gain confidence, they might be led onto quiet side streets, she said.
"It's kind of baby steps," Melin said.
Full-time ambassadors will be hired for Go Albany Park's four-month duration, June to September. In both Bronzeville and Pilsen, the ambassadors continued on a grassroots volunteer basis.
"People didn't want them to go away," said Melin.
In implementing the Go program, CDOT has selected geographically diverse neighborhoods that boast enough modes of transportation to make the project feasible, she said.
The Brown Line, bus routes and forthcoming Divvy stations worked in Albany Park's favor, as did the neighborhood's strong sense of community, according to Melin.
Activities vary from one neighborhood to another, though all are free.
In Bronzeville, a bike tour highlighted the homes of famous residents, including Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters. In Pilsen, ambassadors organized a bike scavenger hunt; hooked up bikes to record players and smoothie machines, which were powered by pedaling; and led an evening ride that ended with a stargazing session hosted by a local amateur astronomer.
Transit-oriented events are more challenging to organize, Melin conceded.
Pilsen's ambassadors cracked that nut by taking a neighborhood knitting group for a ride on the Pink Line, with participants bringing along their needles and yarn.
"They called it 'the Loop and purl,''' said Melin. "People were very creative."
One aspect of the program that remains constant across communities is the distribution of free "Go Kits."
Like the residents of Pilsen and Bronzeville, people in Albany Park will have the opportunity to choose from among 20 to 25 transportation resources — Divvy passes, CTA maps, etc. — and receive a customized kit containing as many of the items as they request.
Ambassadors assemble and deliver the kits, by bike or on foot, Melin noted.
Based on its experience in Pilsen, Active Trans has already obtained a number of materials printed in Spanish. Given Albany Park's even greater diversity, Active Trans will work with community groups to identify other key languages.
"It's definitely a goal to reach people who aren't reached out to," Melin said.
Though Go Albany Park doesn't officially launch until June, a Facebook page will be up and running shortly, the hiring process for ambassadors will begin in April, and Melin will happily field suggestions for potential events via email at email@example.com.
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