Some bleeding-heart environmentalists talk the talk, but then they go home to their gas-guzzling SUV. Not Oak Parker Ron Burke, who was recently named as the new leader of an eco-friendly organization that focuses on getting people out of cars and on to bikes, trains and their walking shoes.

Burke has been known to chain his bicycle to the post marking his employee parking spot. He bikes through the drudge of Chicago winters, and he takes his two daughters on family-outings-by-bike that, to most people, scream for using the minivan.

“I can’t even see Ron test driving a Hummer,” said Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which formerly employed Burke. “I can see him on a bike. I can obviously see him running. He not only believes it, but in my experience, he lives both the active lifestyle and the environmentally friendly lifestyle, as well.”

Tuesday was Burke’s first day as the new executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance or “Active Trans.” The 25-year-old nonprofit – formerly known as the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation – advocates moving travelers from their automobiles into what they say are cleaner forms of travel.

Burke joins the organization with more than 20 years of experience in working to better the planet. Previous stints include the Illinois EPA, the American Lung Association and most recently with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Randy Neufeld – one of the founders of the Active Trans, its first executive director, running from 1987 to 2004 and a current board member – says they received some 80 resumes for the job. But Burke stood out from the rest, leading their 24-member board to a unanimous and “easy choice” of the Oak Parker for the job.

“You don’t go to work for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency because you want to make a lot of money,” Neufeld said. “You go there because you care about the environment and want to make a difference. And he’s got a whole history of making those kinds of choices.”

Burke, 45, moved to Oak Park about 15 years ago with his wife, Pamela Brookstein, from Chicago’s North Side. They previously lived in Carbondale, which Burke says is closer to Memphis than Chicago, and he recalls speaking with a slight twang.

The couple took up residence on a quiet Wenonah Avenue block, south of Madison, with their two daughters – 7-year-old Avra and 10-year-old Talia – two cats and two parakeets.

Burke says he moved to Oak Park because of its easy access to trains, the short walks to business districts and schools, and his ability to bike where he wanted. Brookstein, who just recently ended a 12-year career with Active Trans, remembers Burke bringing along their bikes while house hunting in Oak Park, wanting to prove to his wife how easy it was to bike around the village.

Another time when they were dating, he insisted on taking their bikes to a meeting near the lakefront, despite the frigid early December temperatures.

“It was really cold, and I thought, ‘Oh please, can’t we drive?'” Brookstein, 42, recalled. “And he said, ‘Oh no, it will be fine once we get started.’ And we rode, and he was right. Once we got started, we warmed up.”

When he doesn’t have his head wrapped around the environment, Burke is also an avid runner, a do-it-yourself man around the house and he coaches his girls’ softball teams. He was also involved, locally, fighting to get an indoor smoking ban passed and volunteering on the Eisenhower Expressway citizens advisory committee.

Active Trans switched its name from the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation a few years ago, hoping to make a difference in the lives of more than just cyclists. The nonprofit claims to be North America’s largest transportation advocacy organization, with a full-time staff of 35, about 1,000 volunteers and 5,000 members. Their goal is, in the next 20 years, to ensure that half of all trips in the Chicago area are by bike, foot or public transportation (they estimate that number at 25 percent currently).

The organization, under its previous name, prepared a bicycle plan for the Village of Oak Park. It also lobbies for laws that make traveling safer for bikers and walkers, along with placement of bike facilities.

Burke says he’ll be charged with implementing a recently completed strategic plan from the organization’s board, and he was loath to start making prophecies of what he plans to accomplish outside of that map while working into his new position.

“The focus is going to be on improving our regional transportation system, and I feel like we’ve got the staff and the infrastructure in place already to help me do that,” he said. “And we’ve been doing that for years, and doing it successfully.”

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