It's been a long ride at the Active Transportation Alliance for Ron Burke, but the Oak Parker announced he's leaving his position as the organization's executive director to join Lyft.
Hearing that the head of a cycling advocacy organization is leaving for one of the biggest rideshare car companies might come as a surprise. But, the announcement also highlights a little-known fact – Lyft also is the biggest bikeshare company in the country.
In 2018, Lyft purchased Motivate, which operates Divvy and other bikeshare companies in cities across the nation, including in Chicago.
Burke, following nearly a decade at Active Transportation Alliance, is joining Lyft this month as head of micromobility policy and advocacy for the central United States.
"They either own or operate 80 percent of the bikeshare business in the United States," Burke said in a telephone interview. "It is their vision and strategy, I think, to give people a number of additional options for how to get around, ideally in a more efficient way, to make it possible for folks to not own a car."
Burke has been an advocate not only for cycling and alternative forms of transportation in Chicago but also here in Oak Park, where he has pushed for expansion of bikeshare, creating a network of bike lanes and a controversial plan to reduce the width of the Madison Street for use by motor vehicles, which transportation officials refer to as "traffic calming."
Micromobility is a movement in the transportation world that focuses on providing new options, but Burke says, "We're in the early stages of scoping out what micromobility will look like."
That has begun to take shape in Chicago with the rollout of a pilot program that makes electric scooters available in certain areas of the city. The city has allowed 10 different electric scooter companies to operate in the city.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District began using dockless bicycles last summer, and the Village of Oak Park has been exploring bringing them into the village.
That decision by the Oak Park Board of Trustees to consider dockless bicycles came about six months after the board ended its relationship with Divvy for lack of use. Those Divvy stations and bicycles were removed from the village and sold back to Divvy after it was revealed that the program cost the village more than $26,000 a month.
Burke argued in favor of giving the Divvy program more time to grow in January 2018, when trustees cut the program in a 4-3 vote.
"[Driving is] a big expense, and if we were to be a little more efficient here and there, we could easily pay for Divvy," Burke said in January 2018. "So we do need to have standards for performance for Divvy. I agree there needs to be improvement … but I also think we need to have standards of performance when it comes to cars and roads and parking in this village."
Burke said in a letter announcing his departure from Active Transportation Alliance that attitudes are changing when it comes to bicycling and alternative forms of transportation.
"We see these new attitudes on display when [Chicago] Mayor [Lori] Lightfoot and other elected officials endorsed our policy recommendations during the recent elections," he wrote. "And with the recently approved state capital bill that includes the first state-funded grant program for biking and walking projects at $50 million/year and a significant, permanent increase in transit capital funding."
Burke said the changes in attitude puts the Chicago area on "the cusp of a transportation revolution" that he says he will continue fighting for in his new role.
As a local resident, Burke said he will continue advocating for better transportation alternatives in Oak Park. When the village discontinued the Divvy program, Burke and other cycling advocates pressed for diverting the money saved to the creation of more secure bike lanes.
"The city still hasn't done that," Burke said. "We're spending more than a million to redo the parking signs [in Oak Park] but we're making a small investment in our bike network."
He said the decision to reduce the number of lanes along a section of Madison Street – known as the "road diet" – is a "big success" for cycling advocates, Burke said.
Driving faster through the city often does not result in getting to your destination sooner, according to Burke, who called it "racing to the red." That's because motorists speed between red lights throughout the city and village but still must wait for lights to change.
The traffic calming on Madison "will make a big difference in safety" for pedestrians and motorists, he said.
Burke leaves his position at Active Transportation Alliance this week and will be succeeded in the interim by his deputy director, Melody Geraci, as the board searches for a permanent replacement.
* This story was updated to correct the name of the Active Transportation Alliance deputy executive director and the amount of time Burke spent with the organization.
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