Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Don’t Knock Woodard

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Woodard Plaza, under construction/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Surrounded by chainlink fence and blanketed with snow, a new plaza under construction at the northwest corner of Milwaukee/Diversey/Kimball in Avondale, an intersection that appears several times in the movie “Wayne’s World,” currently looks pretty bleak. However, once it opens to the public later this year, the triangular slab of land is likely to become one of Chicago’s most vibrant public spaces.

Formerly a drab concrete traffic island occupied by a couple of trees, a bus shelter and a shabby newsstand, the wedge is being transformed into Woodard Plaza, named after the roadway that previously formed its northern boundary. The Chicago Department of Transportation has closed a short stretch of Woodard to connect the island to the mainland, creating a larger space that will house a small amphitheater, a raised performance space with power outlets, and a plethora of new greenery. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Don’t Walk

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
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Crossing an offramp at Addison/Photo: John Greenfield

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year, my blogging partner Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

Also this year, IDOT rammed the Circle Interchange Expansion through the regional planning process. The project will make room for more cars in the West Loop’s “spaghetti bowl” junction of the Ryan, the Ike and the Kennedy. While this $475 million boondoggle promises to do little to relieve congestion, it will discourage transit use, and its three flyover ramps will degrade the pedestrian environment and lower property values. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Northwest Passage

Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Chicago History, City Life, Green No Comments »
Rob Reid, Mike Filipinski and Elisa Addlesperger on the 2900 block of North Elston.

Rob Reid, Mike Filipski and Elisa Addlesperger on the 2900 block of North Elston.

By John Greenfield

I’ve walked the whole length of eleven Chicago streets in order to experience aspects of local geography, architecture and culture that I might have overlooked using faster modes. So when Rob Reid, who writes the history blog Avondale Time Machine, invited me to join him and friends to hike all 9.5 miles of Elston Avenue last month, I couldn’t refuse.

The street’s namesake was Daniel Elston, a London merchant who immigrated to Chicago in the early 1800s. By 1830 he’d bought a 160-acre parcel in River West, located along a crooked wagon road. The multitalented settler established several businesses—making soap, candles, bricks, beer and whiskey—he also served as a school inspector and alderman.

While Elston was first living by the thoroughfare that would later bear his name, it was a plank toll road owned by Amos Snell, who charged travelers two-and-a-half cents per mile to use it. Displeased with this, local farmers staged a Boston Tea Party of sorts—they dressed up like Indians, chopped down the toll gates and burned them. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Irving Park, Lakeview, News etc. No Comments »

The old sidewalk on the south side of Fullerton, now replaced by a car lane/Photo: Michelle Stenzel

By John Greenfield

Last week I attended events related to two different Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bridge projects. One of these spans will be a terrific addition to the city’s sustainable transportation infrastructure. The other one, not so much.

First the good news. CDOT’s Addison Underbridge Connector project will link up existing snippets of bike path along the Chicago River to create a nearly two-mile, car-free route from Belmont Street to Montrose Avenue. This new path segment will be suspended some sixteen feet above the river on piers.

Starting from the north end of an existing trail in Clark Park, just west of Lane Tech High School, the elevated path will continue north under the Addison Street Bridge, hug the east riverbank and then cross to the west bank to meet up with an existing trail in California Park. Eventually the path will continue under the Irving Park Road Bridge to Horner Park, where trails lead north to Montrose. 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: Savage Ride

Andersonville, Avondale, Beverly, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Rogers Park, Uptown No Comments »

Bill Savage/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Nelson Algren wrote, ‘It isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks or its flashing ballet,’” says Algren scholar Bill Savage, strapping on his bicycle helmet. “‘But you never truly love it until you can love its alleys too.’ So there’s this dynamic in the city between the boulevard and the alley, between the beautiful urban spaces and the place where the garbage and the rats are, and if you really love Chicago you’ve got to love both.”

An English lecturer at Northwestern University, Bill grew up in Rogers Park with his brother, sex advice columnist Dan Savage, and still lives in the neighborhood. “I tell my students, it’s very easy to experience the city secondhand, in books and movies and online,” Bill says. “But if you’re not out there on the pavement, whether on foot or on a bicycle or in a car or on public transportation, you’re missing something.” Read the rest of this entry »

American Dogs: The pups are the truly blessed

Avondale, Events, News etc. No Comments »

DogBlackLabHead“A lot of churches don’t recognize animals as souls,” says Linda, the proud owner of an adorable barrel-shaped mutt named Buddy that they found in an alley a few years back. Along with her husband Jim, the family ventures out on a brisk Saturday afternoon to The Irving Park United Methodist Church in Avondale to join their fellow dog lovers in a seasonal event called “Dog Bless America.”

Standing outside the church are a gaggle of furry barking friends and their owners waiting to walk up to the steps and receive a little holy good fortune. Virginia, a member of the community, says this is her first time getting her dog blessed, but has seen other churches participate every year around early October. Read the rest of this entry »