Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: If It Ain’t Fixed…

Checkerboard City, Green, Pilsen No Comments »
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Anderson, Mendez, and Lopez/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The amount of biking in the U.S. more than doubled during the aughts, from 1.7 billion trips in 2001 to four billion in 2009, according to the League of American Bicyclists, a national advocacy group. One of the great things about this boom is that it has created a broader demographic of people who ride.

In a report published last year, the League found that cycling saw the fastest growth over the last decade among Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, from sixteen percent of all bike trips in 2001 to twenty-three percent in 2009. The study also found that eighty-nine percent of people aged eighteen to twenty-nine have a positive view of cyclists, and seventy-five percent of them feel that improved conditions for biking would make their community a better place to live.

The recent trend toward fixed-gear bicycles and single-speed bikes with freewheels has helped fuel the growing popularity of biking among urban youth in Chicago and other big cities. These sleek, minimalist rides are affordable, fast and easy to customize, which makes them an appealing gateway to cycling for young people who, a decade ago, might have been more interested in buying four wheels than two. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: No Longer Marooned

Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park No Comments »
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The new promenade on 58th, across the street from Robie House/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: South Siders Need a Sidewalk

Checkerboard City, Green, Southeast Side No Comments »
Lucas and Flemings at Rosebud Farm Stand. Photo: John Greenfield

Deloris Lucas and Victor Maurice Flemings Sr. at Rosebud Farm Stand/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Altgeld Gardens is really secluded,” Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Bell recently told me. “It’s like its own city.” The area, which includes the housing project of the same name, plus the Concordia Place, Riverside Village and Golden Gate subdivisions, is located by a bend in the Calumet River on the Far South Side, surrounded by industrial land and isolated from other neighborhoods.

Bell has been assisting the local Safety Transportation Advisory Council, residents who want to improve conditions for walking, biking and transit use. “They have a lot of issues with the built environment, like missing sidewalks and crosswalks,” she said. “They’re really underserved.”

Deloris Lucas, a former Chicago Public Schools employee and longtime Golden Gate resident who’s spearheading the council, has been working hard to change that. In particular, she’s upset that 130th Street, the interstate-like roadway that walls in the community from the north, has no sidewalk. That forces people walking to Rosebud Farm Stand, the area’s only source for fresh produce and healthy groceries, from the west, to trudge along a narrow, muddy dirt trail by the side of the road. The store is located at 525 East 130th. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chinatown 5K (July 12, 2014)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Chinatown, Running No Comments »
Photo: Zach Freeman

Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: “The show will go on!” the race director’s voice booms excitedly from the speakers as groups of runners huddle together under various overhangs and race tents, delaying their inevitable exposure to the pouring rain. It’s just before 8am on Saturday morning and it has been raining steadily for hours with no signs of letting up. And still, almost seven-hundred runners are gathered in Chinatown Square to tackle the Chinatown 5K. Briefly, the rain does lighten just before the official start, but then it comes back full force within a few minutes, making for a very wet street race.

But despite the weather—or, perhaps, because of it—a jovial atmosphere permeates the entire race, with more starting-line chatter and looks of excitement than I’ve seen at any race outside of an obstacle run (where the joviality is almost more important than the run itself). “Maybe we don’t even need to put water in the cups!” remarks the race director, describing the water stations along the course. She’s not far from the truth. I’m completely soaked within seconds of checking my gear (along with my precious umbrella) and approaching the starting line. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Getting Pilsen Going

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Pilsen, Transit No Comments »
Alex Velazquez and Ray Arroyo. Photo: Active Trans

Alex Velazquez and Ray Arroyo/Photo: Active Trans

By John Greenfield

Last September, the Chicago Department of Transportation launched the Go Bronzeville transportation demand program in the historic Near South neighborhood otherwise known as the Black Metropolis. The initiative provided resources for residents interested in getting around their community and the city on foot, bike, transit and car-sharing, with the goal of reducing the number of drive-alone trips.

Many of the people who participated in the free workshops, walking tours and bike rides found that using active transportation helped save them money, improved their health and gave them new opportunities to spend time with their family, friends and neighbors. Now, CDOT plans to run TDM programs in another four neighborhoods, at a cost of about $250,000 per community, mostly funded by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

Pilsen, the largely Mexican-American community located three miles southwest of the Loop, was a logical choice for the next location, according to CDOT deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel. The area is well served by transit, including several CTA bus routes, the Pink Line and Metra’s BNSF line, and it has nearly a dozen Divvy bike-share stations. The Go Pilsen program debuted on June 4. Portland, Oregon-based Alta Planning + Design helped design the program, and the Active Transportation Alliance’s Maggie Melin is coordinating it on the local level. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Life in the Bike Lane

Bicycling, Bridgeport, Checkerboard City, Edgewater, Green, Little Village No Comments »
Riding in the Broadway protected lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Riding in the Broadway PBLs/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

For a bike-infrastructure geek like myself, this is the most exciting time of the year, when the city is in the thick of rolling out the season’s new lanes. Most of the twenty miles of new bikeways planned for 2014 aren’t as groundbreaking as in previous years, when protected lanes debuted on Kinzie, Dearborn and Milwaukee. However, there are some interesting projects going in this year, and it’s always a treat to ride a bikeway for the first time, a thrill akin to unwrapping a present.

I set out to pedal a gaggle of new lanes, a journey that will take me many miles from Edgewater on the North Side to Auburn Gresham on the South Side to Little Village on the West Side. I start my trip at Bryn Mawr and Sheridan, where I’m pleased to see that the Chicago Department of Transportation has solved an annoying problem. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Construction Cycle

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Loop, Transit No Comments »

Dumping infill to build out the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If 2013 was Chicago’s Long, Hot Summer of Transportation, then 2014 is the Summer of the Big Projects. Last year featured well-publicized game changers like the South Red Line rehab and the Divvy bike-share launch, but this year’s initiatives might not be so obvious to casual observers. That’s partly due to the changing of the guard at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

After forward-thinking, sharp-dressed commissioner Gabe Klein stepped down in November, he was replaced by the CTA’s head planner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, who’s only the second female chief in CDOT history. While her management and sartorial style is lower key than Klein’s, she’s no less progressive. “A lot got kicked off in the last two-and-a-half years,” she recently told me. “My goal is to continue that momentum, to make sure that we are bringing these projects in on time and on budget.”

One planned initiative whose future is somewhat beyond Scheinfeld’s control is the expansion of Divvy from its current 300 docking stations to 475. In January, Montreal-based Bixi, which provides the bikes and stations for the system, declared bankruptcy, putting the supply chain in jeopardy. However, Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Divvy for CDOT, is looking into alternative suppliers in case Bixi goes belly-up, and Scheinfeld says she expects the city will meet its expansion goals this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Strolling 2200 South

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Little Village, Pilsen, South Loop No Comments »
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A corner store on Cermak Road in Lawndale/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Cermak Road is the waistline of our hourglass-shaped metropolis. Running 6.2 miles from the border with west-suburban Cicero to the road’s eastern terminus at King Drive, it’s just about the shortest way to get across Chicago.

The road, which passes through several formerly Czech enclaves, was named in memory of Anton Cermak, a Czech immigrant who served as mayor from 1931 to 1933. On February 15, 1933, Cermak was shaking hands with Franklin Roosevelt in Miami when he was fatally shot by an assassin gunning for the president.

I’ve walked the length of a dozen or so Chicago streets in search of adventure, but I got the idea to stroll Cermak Road from writer and musician Rob Reid, who led a group excursion on the road last Saturday to mark the martyred mayor’s 141st birthday. Since I couldn’t attend, I made a solo attempt the previous Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Is Bronzeville Chicago’s Next Bike Mecca?

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
Bike Brozeville members in the Bud Billikin Parade. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes.

Bronzeville Bikes members in the Bud Billiken Parade/Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

By John Greenfield

“When we first started Bronzeville Bikes, the question was, ‘If we build it, will they come?’” says cofounder Bernard Loyd. The group encourages cycling in the Near South community once called “The Black Metropolis” with free repair sessions, neighborhood tours and more. “The answer was a resounding yes.”

Loyd is president of Urban Juncture, a firm that is currently building a food-themed complex called Bronzeville Cookin’, featuring Jamaican, vegetarian and Southern-style restaurants, plus a produce store and rooftop garden, by the Green Line’s 51st Street stop. In the fall of 2012, before Divvy bike-share launched, he was involved in discussions with the city about making the system accessible to locals. “But Divvy requires a credit card, and many residents don’t have one,” he says. “Bronzeville Bikes came out of the realization that while Divvy can be part of the puzzle, we also want to help folks use their own bikes for exercise, transportation, commerce.” Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Ravenswood Run (April 27, 2014)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Lincoln Square, News etc., Running No Comments »

RECOMMENDED RACE

Runners finishing the 18th annual Ravenswood Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners finishing the eighteenth annual Ravenswood Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown:  Just before the starting gun went off on the eighteenth annual Ravenswood Run—a neighborhood favorite that, judging by the fact that it sold out last week, clearly attracts runners from all over the city—Fleet Feet owner Dave Zimmer reminded the roughly 3,000 runners gathered at the starting line just north of Wilson and Hermitage that it’s been a “brutal, brutal Chicago winter.” He wasn’t trying to drudge up bad memories. In fact he was merely reiterating what a representative from All Saints’ Episcopal Church had just stated moments before in a pre-race prayer: “It’s been a long, hard, cold winter. And apparently it’s not done!” But both of these statements were code for something Chicago runners need little reminder of: “It may be forty-five degrees, but hey—it ain’t negative twenty!”

And it certainly ain’t. Forty-five may sound cold when you’re standing around, but for running it’s fairly ideal. And, despite a small chance of rain, the sky held out and allowed for nice cloud cover without the bothersome precipitation that often comes with it. With a course that snaked through neighborhoods in both Ravenswood and Lincoln Square—and even up Lincoln through the iconic Lincoln Square strip between Leland and Lawrence—the Ravenswood Run is as much a race as a celebration of neighborhood and neighborliness, as proven by the many spectators standing outside their houses sipping coffee and cheering on the runners.

A sense of camaraderie is one of the harder aspects to control for when putting on a race with so many participants, but this one manages to represent both the “neighborhood” aspect of its subtitle (Ravenswood Run: A Neighborhood 5K) and the high quality and organization of a big Chicago 5K. Weather is a big factor in any race and today’s weather certainly played into the success of this annual event but it’s the solid neighborhood vibe that’s kept people coming back for eighteen years. Read the rest of this entry »