May and June bring prime bicycling weather to Chicago, which explains the timing for this weekend’s Bike the Drive and mid-June’s Bike to Work Week. This year, the Active Transportation Alliance, a driving force behind both of those events, is peddling a new idea: suburban house-hunting by bike.
On Sunday, June 13th, in Oak Park and on Saturday, June 19th, in Homewood the alliance will host free bicycle tours of houses for sale. The idea is to help people who are looking for a new suburban home to discover how bike-friendly some towns are. Live in a bike-friendly community, the logic goes, and you will be more likely to cut back your dependence on a car.
“Oak Park and Homewood are model communities, not because they’re little Amsterdams with bike lanes everywhere, but because they have the basics right,” says Steve Buchtel, the coordinator of the Homewood tour and the alliance’s south suburban coordinator. “They have the nice old-timey grid [of] streets with small, neat blocks that provide lots of connections in every direction and good, centrally located transit connections, schools, and parks [that provide] a lot of opportunities for people to bike or walk.” Suburbs with street grids are particularly conducive to bike travel because bicyclists can often take a shadow route one or two blocks over from the main streets to avoid tangling with heavy car traffic.
“When a person is thinking about relocating to the suburbs, traditionally they haven’t thought about whether walking and bicycling are part of that metric,” Buchtel says. “They look at schools and home values and parks and things like that. We believe that’s changing because of $4-a-gallon gas a few summers ago and an uncertain energy future.”
Pamela Brookstein, the alliance staffer who is coordinating the Oak Park event, believes that a lot of young homebuyers think as she did 15 years ago: that if they leave the city for suburban schools, parks, and other comforts, they will have to give up on bicycling. “They don’t realize there are suburbs where you can keep your sustainable lifestyle,” she says, “where you have little shopping districts and the post office and library and other things that [are easy to reach] by bike.”
In Oak Park, house-hunters will start at the Pasta Shoppe, where they will receive the alliance’s bike-route map of the town with an overlay showing all for-sale homes with open houses that day. The alliance prepared the map with help from Joe Langley, a Re/Max agent, and the Oak Park Board of Realtors.
In Homewood, cyclists start at the Art and Garden Street Fair and set out in groups of no more than ten on a guided tour of five homes for sale in different parts of town. Greg Byron, a Re/Max agent who used to own a local bike store, is lining up the Homewood houses. The list of houses is not yet finalized for either tour.