Randy Neufeld LeadRandy Neufeld.
By Greg Borzo
Randy Neufeld has been planning his midlife crisis for years, and it does not involve buying a red sports car. Instead, he’s going to kick his considerable bicycle advocacy skills into high gear.
This summer Neufeld turns 50, and he and his wife will become empty-nesters. These changes have given him the opportunity to take stock. After 22 years with the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly Chicagoland Bicycle Federation), Neufeld figures it’s time for him and the organization to move on.
But not far. Neufeld will continue to serve on Active Trans’s board and volunteer on several projects, particularly Sunday Parkways. At the same time, he plans to continue working on alternative transportation, but on some new local, state and national stages.
It’s impossible to talk about bikes with Neufeld unless you’re also willing to talk about politicians, pedestrians and planning; cars, carbon and cap-and-trade; taxes, transit and vehicle-miles-traveled.
And bridges. Not only the kind that carry bikes but more importantly the kind that link people, organizations and interest groups. Neufeld is a big-picture kinda guy who believes that bicyclists will only get what they want (and deserve) by being practical and willing to compromise, by understanding what planners and bureaucrats need, and by working with those in power in Motordom.
Neufeld’s incredible success over the years is due to the fact that he takes an inclusive and incremental approach to making Chicago and the country more bike friendly.
Momentum: What would you like your next job to be?
Neufeld: I’d like to create a SWAT team for alternative transportation, a team of former governors, secretaries of transportation, urban planners, etc. who could swoop in to plan and implement improvements for biking and walking. Our work would be outcome oriented and stick to short timelines.
What would your team suggest to make Chicago more bike-friendly?
We need to make it easier to bike and harder to drive. One way to achieve that is by calming traffic. This is achieved by painting lanes on low-speed streets and separating cars and bikes on high-speed, high-volume streets, such as Western Avenue.
Have you seen traffic calming work?
It works in Germany, where they love their cars and love to drive fast. In Berlin, 75 per cent of the roads have a speed limit of about 18 mph. As a result, 10 per cent of all trips are by bike. When my family and I visited a German city of about 20,000 inhabitants, my son (who was 11 at the time) was comfortable biking everywhere on the streets by himself, even though he didn’t know where he was going and didn’t speak German. The closest thing we have to that environment in Chicago is the parking lot, where people drive slowly and are on the lookout for pedestrians, partly because every driver in a parking lot just was – or soon will be – a pedestrian. We need to recreate that environment on our streets.
Are we on the verge of a significant increase in bicycling in Chicago?
We have seen some incredible gains, but Chicago does not have the traffic congestion found in New York City or Europe that helps get people to give up their cars. Still, I’m optimistic. It’s realistic to expect that in ten years 30 per cent of all trips in the city could be made by bikes.
How will that come to be?
Well, there’s push and pull, a whole equation that needs to change. Pushing people to get on bikes would be the high price of gas, concerns about global warming, time stuck in traffic, etc. Pulling people are cost savings, health benefits, nice bike trails, safer streets, a better quality of life, etc. A significant and lasting mode shift will come about only due to a combination of many of these factors.