Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: The Dick Van Dyke Effect

Logan Square, Loop, River North No Comments »

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 »

Checkerboard City: Organic Mechanics

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat with a friend. Photo: John Greenfield

Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat tire./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I pedal up to the Bronzeville Community Garden, 51st and Calumet, on a Wednesday afternoon, smooth R&B drifts from a sound system and folks are gathered around a table made of colorfully painted repurposed wood, gazing intently at a chess game. Planter boxes hold a variety of greenery, including tall stalks of corn, and an old bathtub covered with a swirling mosaic design sits full of soil that’s ready for planting.

Soon a group of ten teenagers will show up on mountain bikes to make improvements to the garden and do free bicycle repairs for community members. They’re apprentices with the Greencorps Chicago youth program, a project closely aligned with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s new Divvy bike-share system.

The planned coverage area for Divvy’s first 400 docking stations stretches from 63rd to Devon, including a number of low-income neighborhoods like Bronzeville, and CDOT has applied for funding to further expand the system. However, many Chicago communities won’t be getting bikes during this first round of installations. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Divvy-ing Up Public Space

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Wicker Park No Comments »

Bike-share user Richard Hurh at the Smoke Daddy Divvy station/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The 32nd Ward’s Scott Waguespack is a good guy, and he’s one of Chicago’s best aldermen. A key independent voice and reformer, he’s sort of the Eliot Ness of City Council. He made headlines for leading the opposition to Richard M. Daley’s much-hated parking-meter contract, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s fishy reboot of the deal. Waguespack is generally a strong supporter of sustainable transportation, and he bike commutes regularly—he’s been doored or struck by cars on multiple occasions.

It’s a bummer when a politician you respect is on the wrong side of an issue you care about. So I was distressed to read quotes from the alderman that seemed critical of Chicago Department of Transportation initiatives that convert car parking spaces to productive uses like Divvy bike-share stations, on-street bike racks and “People Spots” seating areas. “Bike shares, People Spots … what will that do to businesses?” he asked at a community event this spring. Read the rest of this entry »

Down South in North Chicago: Common Ground in a Coffeehouse

Andersonville, City Life No Comments »

By Martin Northway

It was a chance encounter that blossomed into a rare event—one of the kinds of experiences that have fueled a lifetime of frequenting coffeehouses. She was sitting alone reading, and though she was dressed down in sweats, without makeup, hair frazzled and a little flyaway, there was no hiding her ebony beauty; but there was no welcome mat out either.

We were at Kopi, A Traveler’s Cafe, in Andersonville during a pre-lunch lull. I had just sent a visiting friend back off to Indiana with a cuptigo and was contemplating a trek back down Clark Street to my spartan third-floor walk-up in north Uptown, when I noticed the title of the young woman’s large photo book, “Women of the West.”

My passion is history, so I interrupted her gently but with honest curiosity. I mentioned that for a spell my great-grandmother had been a deputy sheriff in Sedalia, Missouri. She said she was an actress absorbing background for a part in a play about former slave women on the frontier, “Flyin’ West.” Read the rest of this entry »

Kickstarter Chronicles: The Soul of Cuba

Kickstarter Chronicles, Oak Park No Comments »
Photo: Cesar Augusto

Photo: Cesar Augusto

By Jeff Gilliland

The Kickstarter Chronicles is a series of profiles of Chicagoans holding crowd-funding campaigns on Kickstarter allows for people to finance creative projects through individual donations, and seek new audiences at the same time. However, sometimes great projects still need an extra nudge into the limelight. 

Cesar Augusto doesn’t take photography lightly. “I don’t take many pictures,” the Oak Park-based photographer and creative director says. “In fact, I hate taking pictures when I haven’t had the time to think about what I’m trying to achieve.”

Augusto has had plenty of time to think about what he’s trying to achieve with his most recent project, “The Soul of Cuba.” The hardcover book, featuring more than a hundred stunning photographs from Augusto’s native country, documents his return to the home which has been, in his words, “the place of my dreams and nightmares for the last twenty years.” In it, Augusto grapples with the fading image of the Cuba he still remembers, and discovers the birth of a new economy and culture in a country that Americans still associate with old cars, Communism and exploding cigars. “The Soul of Cuba” captures this nostalgia, pain and wonderment in a sequence of black-and-white photographs that are at once haunting and uplifting, decayed and vibrant, aged and brand-new. “These photographs are exactly how my heart sees Cuba today,” Augusto says, both remote and always familiar, just like the tempestuous nation he fled more than two decades ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What About Bob?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc., Politics, South Loop No Comments »

Bob Fioretti by the Dearborn protected bike lanes./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Second Ward Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti got a raw deal in last year’s ward remap. His district currently includes portions of several neighborhoods on the Near South and Near West sides, but in 2015 his territory will flip to the Near North Side, which means he has to win over a whole new set of voters in the next election.

Perhaps because he has an uphill reelection battle anyway, lately he’s had no qualms about going against the mayor’s wishes on issues ranging from charter schools to the renegotiation of the city’s reviled parking-meter contract. As part of a series of interviews with aldermen about their view on transportation issues, I recently had coffee with Fioretti downstairs from his law firm, a stone’s throw from the Dearborn protected bike lanes. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Runnin’ With the Horses 5K (June 8, 2013)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runnin' With the Horses 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runnin’ With the Horses 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: Starting in the parking lot and finishing at the actual finish line that the horses cross at the Balmoral Park horse track in Crete, Illinois, the Runnin’ With the Horses 5K is one of a kind when it comes to Chicago-area races.

The first quarter mile of the course takes place in the parking lot outside the track, but things quickly get more exciting as runners take a sharp left and head through the outdoor spectating area, passing through the middle of the crowd before circling the perimeter of the track and then entering the horse track itself for roughly the last mile and a half. The gravel of the track provides an ideal running surface and race horses warming up only yards away makes for a memorable racing experience.

After the run there’s plenty of water and Gatorade on hand, but the real treat is a voucher good for three beers at the Brewhaha Beer Festival, where an impressive selection of domestic and microbrewery offerings await, along with a live band and a chance to place a wager on the night’s races. Yesterday’s race marked the fifth annual running of the race and the largest field yet (around 250 total runners). I’m guessing the distance from Chicago is keeping entries low, but it’s well worth the drive. 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 »

Race Review: Ridge Run (May 27, 2013)

Beverly, News etc., Running No Comments »
Ridge Run 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Ridge Run 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: This morning’s race in Beverly’s Ridge Park marked thirty-six years for the Ridge Run, Chicago’s oldest 10K event. And for a Chicago transplant who has probably spent only a few hours south of 60th Street in the past five years, the Southwest Side neighborhood of Beverly (also known as Beverly Hills, I’m told) sounded like a distant and mysterious suburban land until I ran through its streets this morning (twice).

See, the Ridge Run has a unique (as far as I know) option for racers. while many races provide more than one distance option at their event, the Ridge Run offers a 10K at 8am followed by a 5K at 9:30, and gives runners the option of registering and running both distances in a single morning (it’s called the Ridge Run Challenge, and I highly recommend it).

Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Race to Wrigley 5K (May 11, 2013)

News etc., Running, Wrigleyville No Comments »
Race to Wrigley runners/Photo: Zach Freeman

Race to Wrigley runners/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown:  For the eighth straight year, Chicago Cubs Charities organized the Race to Wrigley, a 5K through Wrigleyville that starts at the intersection of Addison and Clark and ends with a brief jaunt through the Wrigley Field ground-level concourse. After being warmed up by WGN’s Dina Bair and Danni Allen (winner of Season 14 of The Biggest Loser), the 3,000 or so timed runners (self-organized into pace groups) took off down a blocked-off Addison.

Organization along the course, including directional information and water stations were heavily attended and clearly marked, with a great deal of fanfare paid to the finish line area in front of Wrigley Field. The pre- and post-race party area in the space between Clark, Waveland and Wrigley Field was less well-organized, with a slow-moving and regrettably unsystematic gear check slowing things up and too many participants crammed into the space after finishing the run. Read the rest of this entry »