Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Bike Share, Not White Share

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc. No Comments »

B-Cycle, a small-scale bike share system that launched here in 2010/Photo: Michael Malecki

By John Greenfield

There’s a common misconception that transportation biking is only for privileged white folks. Recently Tribune columnist John Kass expressed this attitude when he dismissed cyclists as “the One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” but in reality people from all walks of life use bikes to get around. Many of these folks are the so-called “invisible riders,” low-income individuals who ride, not because they’re looking to get exercise or save the planet, but because they need cheap, efficient transportation.

Chicago’s upcoming bike-sharing program, slated to launch next spring and grow to 4,000 vehicles by the end of the year, is a great opportunity to broaden the demographics of cycling here to include more residents from underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. By providing cycles for short-term use, to be ridden from one automated rental kiosk to another, it will function as a second public transportation system and remove some of the major obstacles to cycling: the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Life in the Bus Lane

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Humboldt Park, Loop, News etc., Politics, Transit 1 Comment »

Proposed BRT configuration/Image courtesy of CTA

By John Greenfield

“It comes down to: how do Chicagoans want their streets?” said Chris Ziemann, the city’s bus-rapid-transit project manager, as we drank coffee downstairs from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) downtown headquarters last week. “Do they want them to be congested every day at rush hour with gridlocked vehicles? Or do they want fast, reliable bus service and nice, comfortable conditions for walking?”

As car-dominated transportation systems become increasingly dysfunctional, more U.S. cities are looking to bus rapid transit (BRT) as a solution. BRT delivers subway-like speed and efficiency at relatively low costs through upgrades to existing streets rather than new rail lines. These improvements can include dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid boarding at stations in the road median, bus-priority stoplights and more. BRT is already common in Latin America, Europe and Asia, and it’s currently being piloted in dozens of American cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pavement to the People

Andersonville, Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, News etc., Wicker Park 3 Comments »

People Spot and bike corral in Andersonville/Photo: Andersonville Development Corporation

By John Greenfield

Local pundits like ex-Sun-Times columnist Mark Konkol and the Tribune’s John McCarron and John Kass have trashed the city’s new protected bike lanes as a waste of space on the streets. But Chicagoans tend to overlook the massive amount of room on the public way given over to moving and parking private automobiles.

A new Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiative called Make Way for People is dreaming up more imaginative uses of the city’s asphalt and concrete, creating new public spaces that are energizing business strips. In partnership with local community leaders, the program is taking parking spots, roadways, alleys and under-used plazas and transforming them into People Spots, People Streets, People Alleys and People Plazas, respectively, lively neighborhood hangouts.

“It’s not a top-down program where we come in and say, ‘We think you need a People Spot or a People Street,’” says Janet Attarian, head of the department’s Streetscape and Sustainable Design section. “Instead we say, ‘We want to help you build community and culture and place and, look, we just created a whole set of tools that wasn’t available before.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Ride Into the Safety Zone

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc. No Comments »

Gabe Klein and Toni Foulkes/Photo: CDOT

By John Greenfield

Running late as usual, I hop on my bicycle and sprint south from Logan Square, fortunately with a sweet tailwind at my back. I’m heading to the ribbon cutting for new Children’s Safety Zone traffic-calming and pedestrian-safety treatments at Claremont Academy Elementary School, 2300 West 64th Street in West Englewood.

The city has 1,500 of these safety zones, designated areas within one-eighth mile of schools and parks. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is planning to install additional infrastructure at dangerous intersections within these sectors to discourage speeding and make crossing easier. Currently there are about 3,000 pedestrian crashes a year in the city, with about 800 involving kids. And in this era of rising obesity rates, the goal is also to encourage more children to walk to school and to play at their local park. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Indy Rock?

Architecture, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Transit 1 Comment »

McAfee and Kastner on the Cultural Trail/Photo by John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If I had to sum up Indianapolis in one word, it would be “Underrated.” With a population of 829,718, the Hoosier State capital is the second-largest Midwest city. But despite its size it’s known as “Naptown” and “India-No-Place” due to its reputation as a bland, suburban-style metropolis with few attractions besides the Colts, the Pacers and the Indy 500. I’m told that in the 1980s you couldn’t even buy a sandwich downtown after 6pm and the massive streets, lined with dozens of garages and oceans of parking lots, were so deserted you could safely walk down the middle of them.

But last weekend when I took Megbus there to meet up with my buddy Jake, in town for a conference, I discovered a surprisingly hip city with some fascinating architectural features and plenty of fun stuff to do. And while there’s little public transportation to speak of, and the city’s dominant image is a racecar, I was shocked to find a level of bike-friendliness that gives Chicago a run for its money. Read the rest of this entry »

A River Runs Through It: With “Waterline,” McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum Contemplates the Future

Architecture, City Life, Loop, Pilsen No Comments »

Photo: Harrison Smith

By Harrison Smith

The new exhibit at the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum occupies a similar place in the museum as the river does in the city: presented at various points scattered throughout the museum’s five tight floors, the exhibit—extensive as it is—is easy to overlook. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the museum itself, which fills the southwest tower of the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue and opens onto the Chicago Riverwalk at water’s edge. There are few signs identifying the museum at street-level, and few people walking along the Riverwalk to notice its entrance, something the museum and its “Waterline” exhibition are looking to change. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: My Pony Drugs

City Life, Dime Stories No Comments »

Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“If you’re snorting smack when you’re twenty-one, you’re crazy. But if you’re eighty and you’re NOT snorting smack, well… then, you’re really out of your mind.” —Alan Arkin as Edwin Hoover in “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)

Every year for the past twenty-eight years October 5th rolls around, and I have a quiet thought about my sobriety. It is the thing I am most grateful for in this life. All else would not have been possible but for it. On that date in 1983, I stopped drinking and doing drugs. My last bender was an all-out hurricane involving whiskey, alcohol, cocaine  and what is now called ecstasy. We called it MDA, but it was your same basic happy-happy, warm and fuzzy fuck-drug that kids used to pop at raves. Read the rest of this entry »

Hillbilly Heaven: Chicago’s Other Migration from the South

Chicago History, City Life, Uptown 2 Comments »

By David Witter

It is two-thirty in the morning at Carol’s Pub. Most of the other bars in the neighborhood have closed, and customers of all ages—from twenty-one to sixty—file in to order more beer and whiskey, and to dance to the music of Diamondback, Carol’s house band for more than fifteen years. Some people talk, most drink, and some even dance beneath a sign which features a guitar, cowboy boots and hat reading: “Welcome to Carol’s, The Best in Country Music.”

By four o’clock in the morning, the music and beer have stopped flowing and dozens of people with beer on their breath and cigarettes in their mouths make their way through the streets of Uptown, humming the music of Johnny Cash as they go.

Forty years ago, the same streets were filled with similar spirits morning, noon and night. Take a walk down Clark Street or Broadway near Wilson and you would be sure to see hosts of men sporting Elvis-like sideburns and hair slicked back with the help of generous dabs of Brylcreem or Vitalis, usually wearing green work pants, a dark canvas jacket or nylon windbreaker and vinyl penny loafers with white socks. The women, often with children in tow, wore feminine white or yellow dresses and piled their hair high in a beehive. Together, these southern transplants transformed Uptown into what became known as “Hillbilly Heaven,” turning bars into honky-tonks, delis into diners, streets into drag strips and vacant lots and alleys into auto repair centers. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Zero North/South

Austin, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Loop, West Loop No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Chicago’s Madison Street, named for one of the chief authors of the United States Constitution, runs through some of the most expensive real estate in town as well as some of the most underserved neighborhoods. As the city’s north-south bifurcating street, it forms the Mason-Dixon Line between the North Side and the South Side. Over the years I’ve hiked the entire length of several Chicago thoroughfares in search of fascinating sights and interesting people, so it was only a matter of time until I walked Madison, a relatively short street at eight miles, but one that’s dense with landmarks.

On a warm spring morning I start my walk in Millennium Park, where Madison T-bones into Michigan Avenue, 100 East Sunshine gleams off the Bean as I gaze past the historic high-rises of the Michigan Avenue cliff into the Madison Street canyon, then step off the curb and stride toward Jeweler’s Row. After passing the State Street intersection, Chicago’s Ground Zero, I cross the river by the grandiose Civic Opera House. Soon I come to Claes Oldenburg’s “Batcolumn,” 600 West, a 101-foot-tall Louisville Slugger made of gray steel latticework, symbolizing Chicago’s “ambition and vigor.” Read the rest of this entry »

Difference and Indifference: A Moscow subway rider goes to L

City Life, Transit No Comments »

Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

“You don’t know how lonely it gets, waitin’ for El cars…”
Nelson Algren, “The Man with the Golden Arm.”

A woman sitting next to me is painting her nails bright red, spreading a strong smell of nail polish. A girl in a pink sports suit a couple of seats away is listening to rap music, energetically shaking her head and occasionally yelling some words from a song out loud. People read books and newspapers, talk on the phone, knit, pray, ask for money, drink, eat, chatter in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, German, Polish. Every morning I take an elevated train, Purple Line Express, from Evanston to downtown, every evening I return home on Purple or Red. Read the rest of this entry »