Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: A Walk on the Wild Side

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay. Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay/Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

By John Greenfield

As someone who’s pedaled three sides of the Continental United States, I can tell you that traveling cross-country by human power is an amazing way to see this great land of ours. You experience the geography and the people in a totally different manner than you would rushing by at eighty miles per hour.

Two young Chicago urban planners will soon be traveling coast-to-coast in an even more intimate way than I did. This April, Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay, both twenty-seven, will embark on an epic walking trip from the Golden Gate Bridge to Coney Island. They expect that, hiking about thirty miles a day, they’ll complete the roughly 3,300-mile pilgrimage in four or five months.

“I’ve secretly always wanted to run away from home,” she explains. “Not in a negative sense, but I think it’s going to be very liberating to drop everything and go out and see what happens.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: If You’re Going to San Francisco…

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Eric Anderson rides on a Berkeley bike boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

Eric Anderson rides on a Berkeley bike boulevard/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

When I first visited the Bay Area nearly two decades ago for the 1996 Cycle Messenger World Championships, San Francisco’s vibrant bike culture struck me as a vision of what I wanted cycling in Chicago to be like. I was particularly inspired by the massive amount of two-wheeled traffic on Market Street, the Michigan Avenue of San Francisco, during the evening rush.

The cover of Chicago’s 2014 Bikeways Report, released last week, features a recent photo of a similarly dense throng of cyclists on Milwaukee Avenue. In a few respects our city has pedaled past SF in terms of bike-friendliness. For example, we now have far more bike-share vehicles and miles of protected bike lanes per capita.

It didn’t help San Francisco’s cause that a successful lawsuit spearheaded by a cranky dishwasher and blogger named Rob Anderson in 2005 put the brakes on bikeway construction for several years. His paradoxical argument was that the lanes were a potential threat to the environment. However the injunction was lifted in 2010 and, since then, the city has been working hard to rebuild its rep as a biking mecca.

On a trip to Northern California last month, I mixed business with pleasure by checking in with a couple of colleagues for an update on the Bay Area’s bike progress. My first stop was Berkeley, the East Bay college town where my old pal Eric Anderson now works as the bike and pedestrian coordinator. Known as “Big Horn,” for the giant antique bulb horn on his basket bike, he was a founding father of the Windy City’s Critical Mass. He also recommended me for my first urban-planning job, to be his replacement as the city of Chicago’s bike-rack czar back in 2001.

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Checkerboard City: Better Bike Resources for the South and West Sides?

Back of the Yards, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Little Village No Comments »

Robert Calvin rides on the “enhanced sharrows” on Lake Street in Austin. Photo: John Greenfield

 

By John Greenfield

Last month, African-American cyclists Oboi Reed, Peter Taylor and Shawn Conley released an open letter asking the city, state, and local advocacy groups for a more equitable distribution of bike resources to Chicago’s black communities. Read the letter at tinyurl.com/BikeEquity.

They noted that there’s generally a higher density of bike lanes, with better connectivity, downtown and on the North Side. “Stuff on the South Side and the West Side has really been hit-or-miss, putting in a bike lane that goes from nowhere to nowhere, not really connecting destinations,” Taylor told me.

That’s the case with a couple of the recently striped bikeways I checked out on the West and South Sides last week. The city installed segments of buffered bike lanes–with additional space striped on one or both sides–on Pershing between Western and Ashland, and on 63rd between Central Park and Western, as part of successful road diets. However the new BBLs are “orphans,” because they don’t link up with any other bikeways. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can We Have Nice Things?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Top: A typical Chicago PBL. Bottom: It's NYC counterpart. Photos: John Greenfield

Top: A typical Chicago PBL. Bottom: Its NYC counterpart. Photos: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

There’s nothing like visiting another city to give you a fresh perspective on your own. Earlier this month I traveled to New York to powwow with other reporters from the transportation news network I work for. Pedaling a Citi Bike around Manhattan, I was struck by the thought that Chicago’s protected bike lanes could be a little nicer than they are.

In both cities, PBLs are generally located curbside, with parked cars relocated to the left of the bike lane to shield cyclists from moving vehicles, and a striped buffer marked between the parking lane and the bike lane. In Chicago, flexible plastic posts, AKA bollards, are installed in the buffer to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

New York protected lanes usually don’t have the posts, but there’s generally an extra-wide buffer, and the entire bike lane is painted green. Often, the parking lane is capped with a concrete pedestrian island at the intersection.

That helps remind other road users that PBLs improve safety for everybody—not just cyclists—by shortening crossing distances for pedestrians and calming motor vehicle traffic. We don’t have safety stats for Chicago protected lanes yet, but a study by the city of New York found that the installation of a PBL on Manhattan’s 9th Avenue led to a fifty-six-percent decrease in injuries to all road users.

It occurred to me that Chicago might do well to emulate the New York style of protected lanes. Despite the lack of bollards, I didn’t notice any problems with cars in the lanes during my visit. Meanwhile, the posts by Chicago PBLs often start looking ragged after a few months, and they’re frequently knocked out by car drivers and snowplow operators.

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Checkerboard City: A New Hope for the Chicago Velo Campus?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Southeast Side 1 Comment »
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Taking a spin on the outdoor track/Photo: Chicago Velo Campus

By John Greenfield

Sadly, it looks like bike racer Emanuele Bianchi’s dream of building the $45 million Chicago Velo Campus indoor sports complex has come to the end of the road. Even the small outdoor velodrome he and his partners installed on the Southeast Side as a temporary facility is slated to be dismantled. However, there’s a glimmer of hope that that bike track—the only one in the city—can be saved, thanks to Chicago bike-scene mainstay Marcus Moore.

“Our goal isn’t just to build the best velodrome in the Midwest or in the country but in the world,” said Bianchi with a gleam in his eye back in 2010, when I interviewed him for a Newcity cover story. He and fellow racing enthusiasts had recently formed the Chicago Velo Campus corporation and announced an audacious scheme to build a stadium almost as big as the United Center by 2013.

Bianchi and company planned to build the facility on the former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works, a bulge in the shoreline between 79th and 92nd Streets. They promoted it as the future centerpiece of Lakeside, an upscale, 500-acre community proposed for the site by developer McCaffery Interests.

As the velo campus’ president, Bianchi said the indoor facility would include the 250-meter velodrome, plus a dazzling array of other amenities. There’d be an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a 400-meter running track, a fitness center, restaurants, a cycling museum and even a wind tunnel.

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Checkerboard City: Let the Good Times Roll

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Biking on Bourbon Street. Photo: Dan Jatres

Biking on Royal Street in the French Quarter/Photo: Dan Jatres

By John Greenfield

If you’re a Chicagoan and haven’t made it to New Orleans yet, what’s stopping you? Though it’s on the other side of the continental U.S., and a world away culture-wise, it’s only a 13.5-hour drive. Better yet, catch Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train, immortalized in the eponymous Steve Goodman song.

The train trip is six hours longer, but it’s time well spent. You can get work done, chat with fellow rail fans, and check out spectacular views of Mississippi cypress groves and Louisiana bayous from the glassed-in observation car. Best of all, unlike on a car trip, you can drink booze. On my recent southbound journey to check out the Big Easy’s raucous Halloween celebration, things got downright rowdy in the café car by the time the train was skirting Lake Pontchartrain.

In the interest of mixing business with pleasure, I met up with Dan Jatres, pedestrian and bike program manager for the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, to grill him about the local transportation scene. A Philadelphia native, Dan moved to the Crescent City thirteen years ago for college. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he moved back north, but soon felt himself being drawn back again.

“New Orleans has a way of sucking you in,” Jatres explains. “It’s very different than pretty much anywhere else in the country. The culture is really fascinating, whether it’s the food or the music, or just the mindset of the people.” 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: You’re A Good Man, Dan Brown

Bicycling, Checkerboard City 3 Comments »
Dan Brown with Chainlink founder Leah Neaderthal. Photo: Steven E. Grossman

Brown with Chainlink founder Leah Neaderthal at the site’s 10,000th member party last March/Photo: Steven E. Gross

By John Greenfield

In the second week of August, two funny men who loved bicycles passed away. One was comedian Robin Williams, who once said cycling saved his life by helping him quit drugs in the wake of his friend John Belushi’s overdose. The other was Dan Brown, a mainstay of the Chicago bike advocacy community, who died after falling off a sailboat near Diversey Harbor.

“I am taking the position that a higher power looking at our world decided that she needed music, smiling faces, and laughter so she took Dan and Robin Williams this week,” said Lisa Curcio, a friend of Brown’s from the bike scene. “It is such a loss to we mere mortals.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Metra-Politan Perimeter Ride: A 300-Mile Pedal Around the Edge of Chicagoland

Bicycling, Transit 1 Comment »
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Stopping for provisions in west-suburban Elburn/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I confess that I’m obsessed with pedaling the perimeters of things. For years, I led the Chicago Perimeter Ride, a hundred-mile bicycle tour of the rim of the city, stopping to admire goofy commercial architecture landmarks, from the Eyecare Indian in Westlawn, to the giant fiberglass wieners of Superdawg in Norwood Park. I’ve cycled the circumference of Lake Michigan and the state of Illinois, and I’ve got a Land of Lincoln tattoo on my scrawny left shoulder as proof of the latter. I’ve biked three sides of the continental U.S., and some day I hope to complete the circuit by cycling from Key West, Florida, to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Since my journalistic wheelhouse is local transportation issues, it recently occurred to me that I should pedal the perimeter of Chicagoland, as a way to wrap my head around our vast region, and meditate on the urban planning challenges we face. But how best to define the Chicago metro area? There are a number of different definitions of the region, with one of the broadest being the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area, originally designated by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1950. Along with Cook and the collar counties, it includes swaths of southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana, for a total population of 9,522,434, making this the third-largest MSA by population in the nation.

Somewhat arbitrarily, I opted to define the perimeter of the region as being a route connecting the endpoints of the Metra commuter rail system’s eleven lines. This would allow me to skip the nastier industrial sections of the Hoosier State, since Metra doesn’t serve Indiana, while justifying an excursion across the Cheddar Curtain to quirky Kenosha, Wisconsin, one of my favorite nearby cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Requiem for a Librarian

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
The 600 block of Church Street in Evanston, where the crash took place. Photo: Justin Haugens

The 600 block of Church Street in Evanston, where the crash took place/Photo: Justin Haugens

By John Greenfield

From what I’ve read, it sounds like Gigi Galich, a children’s librarian who died after an Evanston bike crash, was a wonderful lady.

Shortly before 9am on the morning of June 30, Galich was bicycling to work eastbound on Church Street, a roadway where the city of Evanston installed protected bike lanes two years ago. As she arrived at the main branch of the Evanston Public Library, at the northeast corner of Church and Orrington Avenue, she began switching lanes midblock, according to a witness. It’s possible she was crossing the street to park at a bank of bike racks by the library’s main entrance.

As Galich, a fifty-five-year-old Evanston resident, was shifting lanes, a twenty-seven-year-old Chicago man, riding eastbound on a motorcycle, struck her from behind. Although the librarian was wearing a bike helmet, she suffered a severe head injury, according to Commander Jay Parrott from the Evanston Police Department. She died two days later. Read the rest of this entry »