Street Smart Chicago

Race Review: Run the Ribbon Mile Race (June 20, 2015)

Loop, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Like witnessing a world-premiere play on opening night, participating in an inaugural race is exciting. Particularly when that race is planned in a popular new location and set at a rather uncommon distance. Saturday morning, the location was the skating ribbon around the climbing walls in Maggie Daley Park and the distance was a single mile. Not only was the promise of being one of the first to run around a new track intriguing (the ribbon has been open but used for skating—both ice and inline—up till this point) but the chance to test the legs on a distance that’s typically reserved for track meets made it especially unique.

CARA hosted the event, with categories for youth, open and all-comers running in sixteen waves spread out over several hours. Just over 100 racers made their way around the twists and turns of the ribbon, racing only against their given wave group (typically around ten runners to a wave) with a miked announcer calling out names and position numbers. The full length of the ribbon meant runners had to circle it five times to complete a mile (organizers rang a bell for the final lap) and the curvature didn’t make full-out sprinting especially easy, but it was indeed, as the CARA website described it, a “memorable experience for racers.”

Cash prizes were given to the top three finishers with a bonus promised for any male who could run a sub-4:00 and any female who could run a sub 4:40 (witnessing those feats would have been worth the cost of admission). The small field of runners and the track-meet-like atmosphere of the race allowed for more camaraderie and spectating than any other race I’ve run in the last several years. Though adding runners would spread the waves out even further, this could easily be an exciting half-day event in future years. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

Checkerboard City, City Life, Loop No Comments »
Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor. Photo: John Greenfield

Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act Loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which has stone-like concrete seating units and will feature kayak rentals, and the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops will double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments. Upcoming amenities include amphitheater seating, a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Is There Really a Blue Menace?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Loop 1 Comment »
Detroit native Junior Bashi rides a Divvy on a A Michigan Avenue sidewalk. Photo: John Greenfield

Detroit native Junior Bashi rides on a Michigan Avenue sidewalk/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Chicago’s master bike-baiter, Tribune columnist John Kass, was one of the first local pundits to warn the public about the dangers of Divvy. “I can’t stand those Divvy bike people,” he griped in an online video in August 2013, a couple months after the system launched. “Go outside on Michigan Avenue… Reporters going in and out of this building almost get killed. ‘Cause you’ve got some little old lady from Denmark… and she’s on the sidewalk, and she’s almost smashing into the Polish pedi-bike guys.”

However, more than one year and 2.6 million trips later, the bike-share system has a solid safety record. To date, there have been zero reports of Divvy riders being involved in crashes resulting in serious injuries. What’s more, last August Reuters reported that there have been no bike-share-related deaths in the U.S. since modern bike-share debuted in this country seven years ago. 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: Circular Reasoning

Checkerboard City, Loop 1 Comment »
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Michael Edwards with the “Give” sculpture at The Gateway/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The State Street shopping district has come a long way since the seventies and eighties when the strip featured a motley assortment of discount stores, theaters showing exploitation flicks, adult bookstores, strip clubs and flophouses. The thoroughfare has bounced back since the 1996 State Street Revitalization Project, which put in the classy Beaux Arts fixtures we enjoy today, and is once again a vibrant retail corridor.

But the Chicago Loop Alliance, one of the downtown chambers of commerce, is always looking for ways to attract more visitors to That Great Street. One of their key strategies is “placemaking,” taking underused public spaces and activating them with facilities and programs that encourage folks to hang out, relax and socialize.

The chamber’s Pop-Up Art Loop program turns empty storefronts into temporary galleries, which are promoted with monthly art walks. Earlier this summer the CLA and the Chicago Department of Transportation installed tables, chairs and planter boxes in an existing plaza on the median of State between Wacker Drive and Lake Street, now called The Gateway. Last week “Give,” a fourteen-foot-tall circular steel sculpture by Chicago artist Dusty Folwarczny, was installed at the foot of the plaza. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Dick Van Dyke Effect

Logan Square, Loop, River North No Comments »
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The author in Dick Van Dyke mode and roadie apparel./Photos: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

I first heard about the “Mary Poppins Effect” back in March 2011 from local bike blogger Dottie Brackett, also known as The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling. “This is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair,” she wrote on her site Let’s Go Ride a Bike. “Who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”

On the other hand, it’s believed that motorists are less likely to operate safely around people wearing bike-specific clothing, bent over drop handlebars on a racing bike. “A cyclist dressed ‘normally’ looks more human to the driver,” wrote Dottie’s Massachusetts counterpart Constance Winters, who coined the term for the phenomenon on her blog Lovely Bicycle two months earlier. “The more ‘I am human! I am you!’ signals we give off when cycling, the more empathy a driver will feel towards us. Dehumanization, on the other hand, makes it easier to cause harm to another human being.” Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K (April 7, 2013)

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Shamrock Shuffle starting line / photo: Zach Freeman

Shamrock Shuffle starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown:  Seeing as the 8K isn’t a particularly common race distance, holding the title of “World’s Largest 8K” might sound like a questionable claim to fame to some, but the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle, often cited as the start of Chicago’s running season, is no small shakes. With a sold-out capacity of 40,000 runners, the Shamrock Shuffle is not only one of Chicago’s largest racing events, but ranks up there with the largest racing events in the world.

For the second year in a row, race organizers took the wise, though somewhat controversial (last year, at least) step of separating runners out with two start times (8:30am and 9:15am), effectively fielding two races with 20,000 participants each rather than one gigantic field. And for the second year in a row the decision proved beneficial. Though it’s certainly preferable to be a part of the first wave, it’s always preferable to have more open space on the course. Additionally, corrals were easy to get into and the two waves were clearly delineated by the color of the running bibs. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: When State Street Wasn’t “That Great Street”

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Chicago History, Green, Loop No Comments »
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State Street pedestrian mall in 1982/Photo: William C. Brubaker via UIC Digital Collections

By John Greenfield

When I was a bike messenger in the early nineties, the State Street pedestrian mall was the bane of my existence. In 1979 under Mayor Jane Byrne, the city closed the Loop’s main retail corridor to all forms of traffic except buses, taxis and delivery vehicles in an effort to bring back customers who had been drawn away to suburban shopping centers and the burgeoning Magnificent Mile. That meant I had to detour around State and access addresses along the strip via intersecting east-west streets.

Ultimately the pedestrian mall was judged a failure, and in 1996 under Mayor Richard M. Daley the wide sidewalks were jackhammered to make way for private automobiles again. That renovation, the $24.5 million State Street Revitalization Project, which included attractive Beaux Arts street lamps, ‘L’ entrances and other fixtures, is credited with turning the historically prosperous street back into a bustling retail district.

Laura Jones from the Chicago Loop Alliance provided background on the rationale behind creating the State Street mall. “When downtown started to empty out in the early seventies, business leaders from the Greater State Street Council went to the city with the idea of creating the pedestrian mall. They wanted to make State Street more like a suburban shopping mall, and also people were becoming more energy conscious, so they decided to try a transit mall.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Great Leap Forward?

Checkerboard City, Green, Loop, South Shore, Transit No Comments »

Photo:John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

7:58am After waking up at an ungodly hour, cycling to the CTA’s Fullerton stop, riding the Red Line south to 95th Street and pedaling a few more miles to the 103rd Street & Stony Island garage terminal, I board a shiny blue J14 Jeffery Jump express bus. As I load my cruiser onto the front bike rack, the driver calls out the open door, “Could you hurry up please? I gotta go.”

Launched on November 5, the Jump is a new service that’s the transit agency’s first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT), systems that create subway-like speeds for buses via car-free lanes and other timesavers. The Jump, funded with an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, isn’t full-blown BRT. But it does include several pioneering features that will hopefully pave the way for bolder bus corridors downtown and on Ashland and Western avenues later this decade. I’m here to ride the entire sixteen-mile route from the Far South Side to the Loop, to see how these elements are working out. 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 »