Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Strap It On?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc. No Comments »
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Chicago’s Divvy bike-share vehicles won’t come with helmets.

By John Greenfield

Last summer when I visited Copenhagen, I drank Carlsberg beer with Mikael Colville-Andersen, one of the world’s most influential and controversial bicycle advocates, in his lush back yard while his kids practiced soccer and picked flowers. Colville-Andersen heads the consulting firm Copenhagenize, advising politicians, planners and advocates on ways to copy the success of the bike-friendly Danish capital, but he’s probably better known for his wildly popular photo blog, Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Among the many topics we discussed was his attitude toward bike helmets. He thinks they’re totally unnecessary for urban commuting, and he believes that promoting helmet use is actually counterproductive for making cycling safer. In northern European bicycle meccas like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, more than a third of all trips are made by bike, almost nobody wears a helmet, and yet injury rates are much lower than in the United States, where lots of people wear helmets. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Transportation Options Energize Englewood?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Englewood, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
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Demond Drummer by Englewood’s Halsted/63rd Green Line Station/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Most Chicagoans associate Englewood with poverty and crime, but local advocates and activists see it as a neighborhood with untapped potential, with excellent access to public transportation being one of the keys to its future success. “From the beginning, Englewood was designed to be a transportation and retail hub, and that does not come up often enough in the conversation,” says Demond Drummer, a resident who works for the Teamwork Englewood community development organization.

Greater Englewood is a predominantly African-American area, roughly bounded by Garfield, Western, 79th and State. It includes two Green Line stations, three Red Line Stops, Metra’s Rock Island Main Line (although trains no longer stop here), and multiple bus routes. The New Era Trail proposal would turn a nearly two-mile, dormant rail corridor into an elevated greenway along 59th between Hoyne and Lowe. The city is also considering building bus rapid transit on Ashland, which would create yet another travel option. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling History

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Museums No Comments »
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1839 McMillan bicycle, the first with pedals/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The new exhibit “The Art of the Bicycle” at the Museum of Science and Industry does a fine job of tracing the evolution of the bike from the dandy horse, a primitive wooden contraption pushed along with one’s feet, to today’s high-tech steeds. While last year’s terrific “Bikes! The Green Revolution” show at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum celebrated cycling culture in general and the Chicago scene in particular, the MSI’s exhibit focuses on the history of the machines themselves. It features nine rarely seen historic bikes from the museum’s collection, newly restored for the show, plus a gaggle of modern rides.

“For 200 years people have continuously reinvented the bicycle,” reads the intro to the exhibit. “With each new decade new designs and technologies improved the popular machine, making riding safer, more reliable and more fun.” Amusement was probably one of the main motivations when German Baron Karl von Drais built the first verifiable dandy horse, a pedal-less, steerable, two-wheeled vehicle he dubbed the Laufmaschine (“running machine”) for cruising around his large garden. A 1931 replica of an 1818 Draisienne, as the French called it, is on display, and the clunky, green-and-gold vehicle looks like it would be a blast to scoot down the Lakefront Trail. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Raised (Bike Lane) Expectations

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Raised bike lane in Copenhagen/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I’m a huge fan of the city’s efforts to get a total of 100 miles of protected bike lanes (which put a physical barrier between cyclists and moving traffic) and buffered bike lanes (conventional bike lanes with extra dead space striped on either side) by 2015. Protected lanes are crucial if we’re going to significantly boost Chicago’s bike mode share because they attract the so-called “interested but concerned” demographic, folks who would like to try urban cycling but are worried about getting hit by cars. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) deserves major kudos for installing 11.4 miles of protected and 18.65 miles of buffered lanes in the last two years.

That said, there are some issues with Chicago-style protected lanes, created by moving the parking lane to the left of the bike lane, which is delineated by flexible plastic posts, so that the parked cars serve as the barrier. For example, this configuration makes it harder for right-turning drivers to see cyclists, which can result in the dreaded “right hook” crash. It’s common for motor vehicles, especially cabs and delivery trucks, to drive and park in protected lanes. And curbside asphalt tends to be in worse shape than the rest of the road and often has poor drainage, as demonstrated by the slush-filled puddles in the Dearborn Street protected lanes this winter.

European-style raised bicycle lanes, elevated a few inches above street level and sometimes located an inch or two below the sidewalk, could solve all of these problems. Also called grade-separated lanes, these facilities are the norm in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, which each have more than seventeen times our bike mode share. Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan, published in 2006, called for testing grade-separated lanes in two or three locations by 2010, but nothing ever came of this recommendation. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Picturing Safer Streets

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Better Blocks interns with a young workshop participant. Photo: Active Trans

By John Greenfield

Underserved neighborhoods are called that for a reason. They generally don’t receive their fair share of city services, and they tend to have less green space, worse conditions for walking and biking, and higher crash rates than wealthier areas, which can discourage residents from being physically active. Often part of the problem is that community members are unsure how to get help with issues like cracked sidewalks, broken streetlights and speeding traffic.

For three years the Active Transportation Alliance’s Better Blocks program has been working with folks in low-income neighborhoods to solve these problems. Staffers have led more than fifty workshops at community centers and block parties, brainstorming with adults and kids on ideas for making their block safer and more conducive to walking, biking and other forms of healthy recreation. Then Active Trans has helped the residents lobby the city government to make these infrastructure improvements a reality. Community liaison Cynthia Bell filled me in on the nuts and bolts of the program. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: From Southern Africa to the South Side

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Transit No Comments »
Dustin Gourdin / Photo: John Greenfield

Dustin Gourdin on 53rd Street in Hyde Park/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Parts of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, and the South Side of Chicago are actually eerily similar,” says Dustin Gourdin, a PhD student in the University of Chicago’s sociology department, over coffee at Hyde Park’s Valois Cafeteria. “You see a lot of the same issues, in terms of transportation challenges and youth opportunities. Hopefully we can figure out ways to make things better in both places.”

Since 2009 Gourdin, twenty-five, has made three research trips to Namibia, a nation of 2.1 million people just northwest of South Africa. He’s been studying the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia, a nonprofit that provides disadvantaged local people with efficient transportation and job opportunities, as well as other non-governmental organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Denver Omelet of Transportation Options

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 2 Comments »
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Aylene McCallum on a B-cycle bike/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

One of the perks of being a sustainable transportation geek is that wherever I travel local planners and advocates are usually happy to give me a tour of their town’s walking, biking and transit hotspots. So when I went to Colorado on vacation last October I asked Aylene McCallum, transportation research manager for the Downtown Denver Partnership, to show me around the Mile High City.

With roughly 620,000 residents (about 2.6 million metro), Denver has its share of big-city challenges. McCallum’s nonprofit works to promote a vibrant, prosperous and environmentally friendly central business district, and smart land use and transportation policies are key pieces of the puzzle. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Mistake by the Lake?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Rogers Park No Comments »
Rendering of the proposed garage courtesy of Tawani Enterprises

Rendering of the proposed garage courtesy of Tawani Enterprises

Colonel J.N. Pritzker, one of Chicago’s wealthiest, most influential residents, is a historic preservationist and a bicycle advocate. As an heir to the Pritzker family fortune and longtime Rogers Park resident, the billionaire has used his money in creative ways to help revitalize the community.

In 2004 his investment firm Tawani Enterprises began buying residential properties in the neighborhood, renovating and leasing them. Some of the company’s holdings include the Mayne Stage theater, Act One gastropub, Cat’s Cradle bed and breakfast and the Emil Bach House, 7415 North Sheridan, a Prairie-style home by Frank Lloyd Wright, currently undergoing a faithful restoration. As an avid cyclist, he bankrolled the latest edition of Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bicycle Map, and he occasionally pedals in Critical Mass, the anti-car bike parade.

So I’m puzzled why Pritzker’s company wants to tear down an attractive, historic house, a stone’s throw from the beach in Rogers Park, and replace it with a parking structure for 250 automobiles. The garage would largely serve Bach House visitors and residents at Farcroft by the Lake, a twelve-story tower at 1337 West Fargo, built in 1928, which Tawani is currently renovating into eighty-four upscale rental units. Both buildings are located only a few minutes walk from the CTA Red Line’s Jarvis Station. Eighty-four spaces would be set aside for short- and long-term paid parking for the general public. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Putting the “X” in “Text”

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Northwest Side, Politics, Transit No Comments »
Margaret Laurino with her constituent Bob Kastigar / Photo courtesy of the 39th Ward

Margaret Laurino with her constituent Bob Kastigar/ Photo courtesy of the 39th Ward

By John Greenfield

As “mini mayors,” Chicago aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use “menu money” discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, as when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone put the kibosh on a bike bridge over the North Shore Channel in West Rogers Park.

39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino’s Far Northwest Side district includes parts of the Albany Park, North Park, Sauganash, Mayfair, Independence Park and Old Irving Park neighborhoods. The chairman of the City Council’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, she’s probably best known to cyclists as the sponsor of a new ordinance that bans texting and cell-phone use while cycling. But she’s actually one of City Hall’s outspoken advocates for sustainable transportation. I recently caught up with Laurino at her ward service office, 4404 West Lawrence, to get her views on walking, biking and transit issues in her ward and citywide. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Holiday Express Gift Guide

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield_MG_9912

A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. Can’t get much more politically correct than that. Read the rest of this entry »