Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Ice Ice Divvy

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc. No Comments »
Divvy rider in the Dearborn protected lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Divvy rider in the Dearborn protected lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

From its June 28 launch to New Year’s Eve, Chicago’s Divvy bike-share system racked up an impressive 759,788 rides. But the acid test for the new system has been the remainder of this kidney stone of a winter, Chicago’s fifth snowiest on record, featuring more than twenty days with subzero lows. I checked in with general manager Elliot Greenberger to see how Divvy has been faring during the Chiberia deep-freeze. “Weather has been a challenge this winter, not only for us but for all kinds of transportation systems that have been around for decades,” he says.

The biggest difficulty of keeping Divvy running has been making sure the docking stations are clear of snow when people return their bikes, which has been tricky since we’ve had so many days of precipitation followed by frigid temperatures. Crew members have been using shovels, ice picks and road salt to keep the docks clear.

However, maintaining the bikes themselves hasn’t been a big problem during the cold season. “There have been no major issues with mechanical problems or tires losing their pressure faster,” Greenberger says. “But with all the dirty snow, keeping the bikes clean is a challenge. They don’t look great, but it’s nothing we can’t solve with a rag and some cleaner.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Travel Options in the Black Metropolis

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Young Bronzeville residents at the Cargo Bike Roll Call/Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

In the early twentieth century, Chicago’s Bronzeville community, aka the Black Metropolis, was home to African-American innovators and barrier breakers in business, music, art, literature and other fields. Now the neighborhood is ground zero for another first, the Go Bronzeville travel demand management program. This campaign, launched in September by the Chicago Department of Transportation, offers free resources, events and support for residents who want to make more trips via walking, biking, transit and car-sharing, instead of driving alone.

TDM programs in other U.S. cities have helped lower the number of single-occupancy car trips, saving participants time and money while improving their health, as well as fighting traffic jams and lowering emissions. CDOT is using federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds to conduct campaigns in five different Chicago communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling Fine Gifts

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit 1 Comment »
The Malört water bottle. Photo: Tim de la Motte

The Malört water bottle/Photo: Tim de la Motte

By John Greenfield

The holidays are all about consumption, but the nice thing about giving a sustainable transportation-oriented present is you’re encouraging the recipient to use less resources, by walking, biking or using transit when possible, instead of driving. Most of the following gift ideas are also locally produced and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of fuel was expended in transporting them, and by spending money at a mom-and-pop instead of a big-box you’ll be promoting pedestrian-friendly retail. Unfortunately, one present you can’t give right now is a glitch-free Ventra card.

However, you can promote one of Chicago’s more successful transpo initiatives by giving the gift of Divvy. The bike-share system will be operating all winter long, so if you buy your loved ones twenty-four-hour passes ($7) or yearly memberships ($75), they’ll be able to hop on one of the baby-blue cycles right away. Passes and memberships entitle the holder to an unlimited number of thirty-minute trips, so they’re perfect for short trips and errands, plus “last mile” rides from transit to one’s final destination. DivvyBikes.com; email Gifts@DivvyBikes.com to purchase gift certificates. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Exit Interview

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc., Transit No Comments »
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Gabe Klein tries out Chicago’s first pedestrian scramble/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Maybe we jinxed things by naming transportation czar Gabe Klein as the city’s best department head in this magazine’s October 31 Best of Chicago issue, because the very next day he announced he was stepping down. Can’t really blame the guy since, two-and-a-half years after he took the job, his wife is still living in his previous hometown of Washington, D.C., where he’ll be returning to launch new transportation technology enterprises in the private sector. Still, it’s a shame that the poster boy for reconfiguring urban streets to serve all road users, not just drivers, is leaving the Windy City in his bicycle taillights. I caught up with him at his downtown office for a final chat.

To ask the classic annoying job interview question, what was your biggest weakness as commissioner?
Coming to town and not necessarily understanding all the history of how the city works meant there was a bigger learning curve. I came in with Mayor Emanuel and had this idea that we were going to set the world on fire and change transportation in Chicago. That’s a double-edged sword. If I didn’t think that way, we wouldn’t have been able to get as much done, but you also rub some people the wrong way. So maybe I could have been a little less boisterous? I don’t know. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Southwest Side Sojourn

Bicycling, Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Garfield Ridge, Green No Comments »
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The secret path by Bubbly Creek. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I must be a glutton for punishment. That’s the only way to explain my decision to scout out a new “stealth route” bicycle itinerary from Bridgeport to the ‘burbs along the Sanitary and Ship Canal last week, in ninety-five-degree heat. This was to be the continuation of a route I reconnoitered last year from the Loop to the Daleys’ ancestral home, hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River—you can read that writeup at tinyurl.com/SouthBranchRoute.

Completed in 1900, the canal was dug in order to reverse the flow of the river, to keep sewage from entering Chicago’s water supply. It still carries our treated wastewater to the Des Plaines River, and it serves as the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Revew: North Shore Triathlon

Bicycling, News etc., Running, Sports No Comments »
North Shore Triathlon transition area/Photo by Zach Freeman

North Shore Triathlon transition area/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown:

The triathlon is its own special animal—a hybrid that combines swimming, biking and running into one elaborate event. Mastery of one aspect of the sport does not necessarily translate into competence in the sport as a whole. That being said, this writer may be an experienced runner, but is a complete triathlon novice and this review should be read through that lens, as experienced triathletes may have different takeaways.

The first annual North Shore Triathlon by Precision Multisport started and finished in Gillson Park in Wilmette on Sunday morning. The weather wasn’t particularly cooperative, with a steady rain falling for most of the morning, but the sold-out field of 700 participants (584 finishers) didn’t seem particularly fazed by it, setting up their transition stations between five and six-thirty in the morning using a combination of pale dawn light and event lighting. Transition space was ample with bike racks clearly labeled by wave group. 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 »
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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 »

Checkerboard City: Paving the Way for Safe Routes to School

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
Genaro Escarzaga / Photo: Martha Williams, BikeFancy.com

Genaro Escarzaga/Photo: Martha Williams, BikeFancy.com

By John Greenfield

In 1969, more than fifty percent of American children walked or biked to school, but by 2009 less than thirteen percent did so. This lifestyle change has been a major factor in skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, an epidemic that has been particularly severe in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods. The Safe Routes to School movement is working to reverse that trend by making it safe, convenient and fun for kids to walk and bike to school. I recently sat down with Genaro Escarzaga, the Active Transportation Alliance’s Safe Routes to School coordinator, to discuss the work he’s doing to help launch Safe Routes programs in twenty-five Chicago public schools. 

Tell me about the Safe Routes initiative you’re managing.
It’s a part of Healthy CPS [an action plan with sixty strategies to improve the health of students]. In September of 2012, the Office of Student Health and Wellness at CPS received $4.38 million from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the Healthy Chicago Initiative [the city’s public health agenda with the goal of making this “the healthiest city in the nation”]. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What About Bob?

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