Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Two-Wheeled Travelogues

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »

Justyna Frank and Ira David Levy/Photo: Pedal America

By John Greenfield

As a sustainable transportation devotee, sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone in this country is as fanatical about biking as I am. But “Pedal America,” a new travel series on PBS created and produced by Chicagoan Ira David Levy, aims to spread the gospel of cycling to the unconverted. “I think that with a lot of bike advocacy, we tend to talk to each other, people who are already enthused,” he says over drinks at a Gold Coast café. “But if you’re going to reach the masses you need to find a way that does not come across as overly political. So I work in a little bit of advocacy in each episode but I try not to be too preachy.”

During the seven-part series, which airs on 356 public-TV stations nationwide, Levy and co-host Kati Lightholder explore bicycle-friendly cities and national parks all over the United States, checking out the best rides, events, bike infrastructure and tourist attractions. Each thirty-minute episode covers a different destination, including Austin, Texas; Napa Valley, California; Sedona, Arizona; Savannah, Georgia; Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania; Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida and, of course, the Windy City. In the process, they showcase cycling as a cheap, healthy, fun and green way to get around a new locale. “The whole premise of the show is to educate and inspire people to ride their bikes,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Southwest Passage

Bicycling, Bridgeport, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Loop 1 Comment »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

A local ordinance requires that all new developments along the Chicago River include public access to the waterfront, so eventually there could be a network of riverwalks to rival the Lakefront Trail. But for now it takes a little detective work to navigate the waterway by bicycle. I’ve researched a few “stealth routes” along the North Branch, connecting bits and pieces of riverfront path with quiet side streets—you can read about them at tinyurl.com/stealthroutes. Last week I scouted out a fascinating route along the South Branch from the Loop to Bridgeport, but I should warn you that it isn’t completely legal. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rickshaw Run: Hard Labor and Hot Sun Driving a Pedicab

Bicycling, Transit No Comments »

By Taylor Cowan

There’s a weight beneath your knees, an unimaginably heavy force that you’re trying to push down. The sun is beating on the back of your neck. You’re standing and your shirt is plastered to your skin in sweat. You have two rubber bars for grips. Cars pelt by, passing on the left without so much as a word or honk. And what makes this nightmare real is that, with great effort, you can move this force. The force can only be moved by a pair of pedals. The weight is your fare, a man and a woman, wailing encouragement and laughing hysterically.

People talk about the adventure, the freedom, the exercise, the outdoors—I just wanted a job. I graduated last spring with a degree in fiction writing, which is about as promising as it sounds. I could have begged my way into a dismal job market, but I opted instead to take up pedicabbing—bike rickshawing. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Mission to Madison

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 1 Comment »

Photo: Brian Lewis-Jones

By John Greenfield

Back in 2005 when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was second-in-command under Blago, he did cyclists a huge favor by bullying Metra into allowing bikes on board. This opened up a whole new world of options for affordable, car-free road trips–even after the commuter rail system hiked its fares last year, a weekend pass is a mere seven bucks.

You can hop the Union Pacific North Line all the way up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, then pedal thirty-five miles to downtown Milwaukee–it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Amtrak, whose Hiawatha service to Cream City costs $46 roundtrip and doesn’t allow unboxed bicycles. Or bike thirty miles south from the Loop via trails to Munster, Indiana, for gourmet burgers and craft beers at Three Floyds, a heavy metal-loving brewpub, then spin ten miles west to Flossmoor Station Brewery, where you can catch a lift home at the adjacent Metra stop. Read the rest of this entry »

Women on Wheels: West Town Bikes’ Female-Friendly Classes Take the Machismo out of Mechanics

Bicycling, Humboldt Park No Comments »

Photo: Dottie Brackett

By John Greenfield

Chicago is blessed with five nonprofit bicycle education centers where locals can learn to ride safely or turn a wrench, spread across the city from Lakeside Velo Works in the South Chicago neighborhood to the Recyclery in Rogers Park. These community bike shops strive to be inclusive, but when most of the other participants are guys, a female who’s new to cycling or mechanics might feel out of her element. Fortunately, West Town Bikes in Humboldt Park offers a couple of cool programs just for the ladies.

West Town is located between the giant flag arches on Division Street’s Paseo Boricua (Puerto Rican Way). Since 2004 the nonprofit has run bike safety and mechanics programs for thousands of underserved young people, mostly taught off-site at schools and community centers, plus maintenance and repair classes for adults. Ciclo Urbano (Urban Bike), a full-service shop at the front of the space, helps fund these endeavors through sales of refurbished rides and repair work. Read the rest of this entry »

Oy to the World: You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Enjoy a Secular Christmas

Bicycling, Holidays No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Christmas is a great time to be in Chicago, even if you’re not a Christian. As a largely nonobservant Jewish person, I make a point of staying in town during the holiday because I always have a blast. It’s the best of both worlds: I get to enjoy the spirit of brotherhood and good cheer that prevails, as well as taking the day off of work, but there’s no pressure to gather with relatives or exchange gifts. For me, Christmas is a chance to spend quality time with members of my family of choice—my longtime Chicago friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Cycle: How did Chicago’s progressive new transportation czar Gabe Klein get that way?

Bicycling, City Life, Transit 5 Comments »

Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

“Gabe Klein has always viewed his work as a canvas to create a contribution, and is inspired by ventures that give something back to the community, versus strictly producing profit. This is why he only works on projects that invoke his passion.” —From “Gabe Klein’s TreE-House,” gabeklein.com

“True love knows no bargains. It is one-way traffic: giving, giving, giving.” —Swami Satchidananda, Klein’s childhood guru

When forward-thinking Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein reported for work on May 16 as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new administration, it marked a sea change in the city’s priorities. After spending most of the twentieth century trying to make it easier to drive, City Hall was switching its focus to promoting healthier modes: walking, biking and transit. Read the rest of this entry »

Cycle of Regeneration: A bicycle store dies, a bike shop café is born

Bicycling, Food & Drink, Humboldt Park, Lakeview, Transit, Wicker Park No Comments »

Michael Salvatore outside soon-to-open Heritage Bicycles/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Chicago just lost one of its coolest bike shops, but we’re gaining one that may be even cooler. Last week Dutch Bike Co. abruptly closed its Chicago location, only three months after relocating from Lincoln Park to Wicker Park. Founded in Seattle, the company opened its only satellite store three years ago at 651 West Armitage in a gallery-like storefront. They offered beautiful, practical European-style city bikes by brands like WorkCycles and Linus, most costing over $1,000.

This summer the shop moved to 2010 West Pierce, around the corner from Penny’s Noodles, in search of lower rent and higher foot traffic, says owner Dave Schmidt, speaking from Seattle. But even in bike-crazy Wicker Park, sales were not what he’d hoped for. It probably didn’t help matters that Wicker Park mainstay Rapid Transit Cycleshop, 1900 West North, and Copenhagen Cyclery, another Euro-style store at 1375 North Milwaukee, were only a stone’s throw away. Read the rest of this entry »

State of Freedom: Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?

Bicycling, Events, Green, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Photo: Brett Mohr

By John Greenfield

“On State Street, that great street, I just want to say
They do things they don’t do on Broadway”
—“Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” by Fred Fisher

The question is, can Chicago do on State Street what New York City already does successfully, not on Broadway but on Park Avenue; what San Francisco does on Grant Avenue; and what Bogotá, Colombia, does on Calle 11?

After two previous attempts, the Active Transportation Alliance hopes Saturday’s car-free event on State Street will finally convince City Hall to embrace the ciclovia concept.

Born in Bogotá, the “ciclovia” (Spanish for “bike path”) concept closes streets to motorized traffic, creating safe spaces for citizens to bicycle, jog, stroll, play and mingle, encouraging healthy recreation and social interaction. Ciclovias are now popular around the world, and most of America’s bike-friendly major cities are holding successful events, but the model still hasn’t gained a foothold in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Going Dutch: Meet Dottie Brackett, the Martha Stewart of Chicago biking

Bicycling, Roscoe Village 1 Comment »


By John Greenfield

Dottie Brackett is the Martha Stewart of the Chicago bike scene. Often spotted cruising the streets on her stately black Dutch bike or sprightly robin’s egg blue Rivendell, elegantly dressed in a skirt and heels, she belies the notion that urban cycling is only for sweaty guys in Lycra or skinny jeans. Since early 2009 her blog “Let’s Go Ride a Bike” (LGRAB) has shown thousands of people in Chicago and beyond how easy it is to use a bicycle for transportation and look good doing it. Read the rest of this entry »