Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Turf and Surf

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Highland Park, Loop No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

It always bugs me when people say Chicago’s a great city but complain that there’s no access to natural beauty or outdoor adventure here. True, there are no mountains or saltwater for hundreds of miles, but we have ocean-like Lake Michigan close at hand, making this one of the few major United States cities where you can work in a skyscraper and easily take your lunch break on a sandy beach.

And this is a great place to live if you want to commune with nature without polluting the environment to get there. The South Shore Line electric railroad takes you directly from Millennium Park to the campgrounds of the picturesque Indiana Dunes. And the bicycle-friendly Metra commuter rail system means that you can get to state parks like Illinois Beach, Fox Lake and Kettle Moraine via a relaxing train ride plus a bit of pedaling, instead of fighting traffic jams. Having a good time in the great outdoors near Chicago is really just a matter of attitude. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Open Streets, Closed Coffers

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

Julia Kim at Open Streets on State Street/Photo courtesy of Active Trans

By John Greenfield

Last year I wrote a Newcity cover story with the subtitle, “Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?” For this year at least, the answer was no.

Since 2005, I’ve been chronicling the Active Transportation Alliance’s valiant efforts to stage ciclovías, Latin American-style events that shut down streets to car traffic, encouraging healthy recreation, community and commerce. It’s hard to believe I still have to report on the relative lack of support from the city, especially since Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein have generally been terrific on sustainable transportation issues.

Don’t get me wrong. All the ciclovias Active Trans has organized so far have been fabulous, with thousands of Chicagoans of all stripes coming out to stroll, jog, pedal, play, dance and relax on car-free streets. And I’m certain that this year’s events—Open Streets in the Loop this Saturday and Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown on Sunday, September 16—will be the best ones yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Dowell Does Denmark

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »

Pat Dowell with bike campers/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell wasn’t always a bike-friendly politician. But she says a recent visit to bike-crazy Northern Europe opened her eyes to the potential benefits of cycling for South Siders.

Dowell’s Near South district includes parts of Bronzeville, Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas and the South Loop. Last February, as part of Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build one-hundred miles of car-protected bike lanes in his first term, the Chicago Department of Transportation proposed installing protected lanes along Martin Luther King Drive in her ward. Local community leaders bristled and the alderman herself was worried that the white flexible posts used to delineate the lanes would take away from the ambiance of the historic boulevard. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Message of Camaraderie

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Events 1 Comment »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Mayor Daley’s campaign to host the 2016 Olympics in Chicago failed, but local bike messengers are realizing their dream to bring the Olympics of two-wheeled delivery to town. As the athletic action heats up in London, this weekend hundreds of couriers from around the globe will converge in our city for the 20th Annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, with a packed schedule of races, arts events and parties celebrating their unique lifestyle.

The championships take place from Thursday, August 2, to Sunday, August 5, with the main competitions happening all day Saturday and Sunday in the south parking lot of Soldier Field, 18th Street and the Lakefront Trail. Other highlights include track racing at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook, a nighttime “alleycat” (messenger-style race in live traffic), a movie night with courier-themed films, an opening party featuring punk-rock legends Agent Orange and the infamous Messenger Prom. Check out the full schedule of events at chicagocmwc.com/plan.html. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Island Delights

Bicycling, Blue Island, Checkerboard City No Comments »

Kids from Cal-Sag Cycles by the mural of Major Taylor along his namesake trail /Photo: Jane Healy:

By John Greenfield

Jane Healy is a diehard booster of the blue-collar south suburb of Blue Island, and she’s the ultimate biker mama. Along with her husband Mike and kids Will, Katie and Genevieve, she usually pedals to get around this scruffy railroad town of some 22,500 people, located just south of Chicago and straddling the Calumet-Sag Channel. Jane is board president of the Active Transportation Alliance advocacy group, and she’s been spearheading Blue Island’s current bike boom, helping get hundreds of local kids jazzed about cycling.

In 2006 Healy got the idea to lead a “bike train,” escorting a group of children to and from her kids’ school on cycles. “Pretty soon every time I’d open my garage door I’d have hordes of small children running toward me asking to go on a bike ride.” Soon she found grant money to launch Cal-Sag Cycles, an earn-a-bike program where teens learn bike safety and repair skills and build their own Fuji hybrids. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Gangster Rap

Bicycling, Checkerboard City No Comments »

Lorena Cupcake Caiazzo/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

In a Midwestern town where folks dress conservatively, Chicago bike style icon Lorena Cupcake (her legal middle name) Caiazzo stands out like a handful of Skittles scattered across the Wall Street Journal. Easily spotted by her candy-colored outfits, rainbow-and-lollipops tattoo and messenger bag emblazoned “Cupcake Gangster,” she’s also an astute commentator on the local cycling, drinking and foodie scenes via her frequently updated, often hilarious Twitter feed, @lorenacupcake.

But Caiazzo, twenty-five, is far from just a hipster gadfly. A frequent participant and volunteer at “alleycats,” underground messenger-style checkpoint races, she runs the bike event Twitter calendar @chicagoholdup and helps stage the annual Bicycle Film Festival. Last year she and a few other petite fixed-gear enthusiasts formed Tiny Fix, a bike gang especially for women under five-foot-two-inches, which organizes bar nights, dance parties and now their first alleycat. The Tiny Fix Ace Race happens Saturday, May 26–visit tinyfixbikegang.com for details.  Read the rest of this entry »

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 »