Street Smart Chicago

Wheels of Progress: Bike Culture in Chicago 2010

Bicycling, Garfield Park 1 Comment »

Sixty or so bicyclists, reflecting all hues of the hipster-to-spandex rainbow, listen attentively to the short stocky man standing in the overgrown vacant lot on Chicago’s West Side, as he reads from dozens of pages of laminated notes into a megaphone. Garfield Park is unfamiliar territory for the bicycle tourist, as the occasional incredulous local resident, seeking cooler confines on this smoking-hot summer day out on a porch, is happy to shout out. But Garfield Park is a marvel for historical preservation buffs, an outdoor museum of noteworthy structures and houses on the National Register of Historic Places. And that is what this ride is all about, an architectural tour of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods, conceived, organized and led by Lee Diamond of Big Shoulders Realty. Diamond’s been doing these rides for three years, nearly every month including winter, but this one is to be the last, at least in its current form. Not for lack of popularity, in fact; word has spread quickly about these tours and riders often surpass a hundred and major bicycling advocates like the Active Transportation Alliance have signed on this year as “sponsors.” Diamond, who looks more like a thirtysomething rocker (which he is, playing in a post-punk band) than a slick, fast-talking real estate broker, started the tours to bring together his passions of biking and architectural history, with the hope that they’d also serve as good marketing channels for his business. Today, he announces that he’s come to realize that putting in eighty hours a month and tens of thousands of dollars for events that bring in no revenue, is not a sustainable long-term proposition. That’s right, there has not been a charge to ride along with Lee, in spite of the extensive preparation and the in-depth nature (four hours plus) of each. Read the rest of this entry »

¡Viva La Ciclovia!: Sunday Parkways throws a bash on the boulevards

Bicycling, Events, Garfield Park, Little Village, Logan Square No Comments »

Sunday morning and Humboldt Boulevard, usually dominated by speeding metal boxes, is filled instead with smiling faces: tots on trikes, parents with strollers, joggers, bladers and every kind of bicyclist. It’s like a more family-friendly Critical Mass, minus the pissed-off motorists. Are we in some alternate universe?

No, says a green-skinned alien who’s waving to folks as they roll past a temporary skate park that’s been set up for the occasion, hip-hop on the sound system. He’s actually 50-ish Rafael Boria, in costume to promote his son’s skateboard company, but he refuses to break character. “Coming from planet Yuron, I am pleased to see you Earthlings have created this inviting environment,” he monotones.

It’s Sunday Parkways, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s scheme to turn roadways into temporary car-free space for healthy recreation, inspired by Bogota, Colombia’s Ciclovia (“Cycle Way” in Spanish) which draws up to two million residents every week to play on a seventy-mile street network.

The bike federation is staging two three-and-a-half-mile pilots of the program along Chicago’s boulevard system this month: last week’s North Side route which winds from Logan Square’s Centennial Monument to Garfield Park; and another test on October 26, from Garfield Park to 24th and California in Little Village. The federation organized and paid for these events but hopes to persuade Mayor Daley, an outspoken cycling advocate, to fund and expand Sunday Parkways next year.

Just south of the eagle-topped monument in Logan Square, Armitage Baptist Church has set up a makeshift café, handing out free java to fuel the cyclists. A few blocks down the route an “activity station” at Palmer Square Park hosts aerobics, yoga and fencing demos. “This is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors,” says Gloria Alcala, watching with her daughters Viviana, 9, and Valeria, 7, who have balloon animals tied to the front of their two-wheelers.

Marcus and Juvy Radford push their daughter Zoe, 2, past the Humboldt Park boathouse, where salsa dancing, a steel drum concert and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines combat with music and dance, take place. “I think we should have this more often—and later in the day,” says the drowsy mom. A Henry Rollins lookalike pedals by, carrying a female friend in the front cargo hold of his Dutch work bike.

At the south end of the route in Garfield Park, at a live taping of the local TV show “Chic-A-Go-Go,” hostess Miss Mia and her puppet sidekick Ratso are leading a crowd of kids and their parents in line dances like the Cuban Shuffle, the Soulja Boy and the Cha-Cha Slide. They’re swarmed by a flock of Canada geese and Park says, “We’re trying to get geese to dance with us.”

At 1pm, just before rain sets in, city workers start moving traffic cones and barricades to open the streets to motorized traffic. “Oh, they’re letting the cars back in,” says a hipster. “Yeah,” replies a senior. “That sucks.” (John Greenfield)

Delivery Darlings: Messengers storm Garfield Park for the North American Cycle Courier Championships

Bicycling, Garfield Park, News etc. No Comments »

Sweaty and breathless, the bike messenger strides up to reception to deliver a package and politely asks for his delivery manifest to be marked. “Drop your bag, drop your bag,” barks the staff members. “Sign the log. Where’s your ID? Security!”

It’s not an uptight guard desk or mailroom in a Loop office building. It’s a checkpoint on the racecourse for the Eleventh Annual North American Cycle Courier Championships held in Garfield Park. More than 200 messengers from as far away as San Francisco, Montreal and Copenhagen have converged on the Windy City for a weekend of competition, camaraderie and tomfoolery.

“It’s great that we could finally bring this to the Midwest,” says co-organizer Augie Montes of the Chicago Couriers Union. At the end of the weekend, New York’s Kimberly Perfetto and Austin Horse will earn bragging rights as the fastest female and male couriers on the continent; at fifth place overall, Andrew Nordyke is the top Chicagoan.

In addition to the checkpoint race, the champs feature a bike polo tournament, trick riding contests, a labor forum and the Messenger Prom, which packs the Bottom Lounge with revelers wearing everything from cocktail dresses and leisure suits to giant banana and Mr. Peanut costumes. A prom king and queen are crowned with headgear fashioned from bike chains and cogs.

The race, simulating a typical day of two-wheeled delivery work, has participants picking up and dropping parcels at nine stations on a city-sanctioned, car-free course throughout the lush West Side park. To keep things realistic, this checkpoint, incorporates many of the headaches and hassles local messengers face on a daily basis. There’s even a dude in a rooster suit “stealing” unlocked rides.

“It’s almost like a real mailroom because there’s so much confusion and animosity,” says veteran courier Brent Olds, sipping a PBR as Public Enemy blares from the sound system of the Chicago Cuttin’ Crew racing team’s school bus.

Nicole Brewer, an ex-messenger who’s working the checkpoint, says couriers here have more security hoops to jump through than anywhere else in the nation: using loading-dock entrances to high-rises instead of the front door; signing logs and leaving ID; and leaving their bags with the building guards. “Chicago’s all freaked out ’cause they think a terrorist is gonna fly a plane into the Sears Tower,” she says.

Couriers zoom around the park’s curved roadways on single-speed, fixed-gear bicycles, three-foot-long mailing tubes in their bags, their bodies and bikes banked at steep angles for speed. Neighborhood folks are barbecuing near the racecourse to sounds of Z. Z. Hill’s “Down Home Blues” and teenage girls saunter obliviously across the cyclists’ paths.

“I like having all the racers out here,” says Garfield Park resident Joe Davis, 68, straddling a Trek. “It’s good for people to see this is a beautiful park and they don’t have to be afraid to come out to the West Side.” (John Greenfield)