Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Training for the Big Game

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit, West Loop No Comments »
The United Center, as seen from the Pink Line. Photo: John Greenfield

The United Center, as seen from a Pink Line car. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Every time I take the Pink Line to Pilsen and gaze out the window at the United Center, I’m struck by the apparent stupidity of train service that goes right past Chicago’s largest sports and music arena, but doesn’t stop there. The nearest existing stations, the Blue Line’s Illinois Medical District stop to the south, and the Pink and Green lines’ Ashland-Lake stop to the northeast, are both roughly twelve-minute walks to the stadium, long enough to discourage train use. But a new Pink station near Madison and Paulina would be a four-minute hop, skip and jump to the front doors.

As it is, the land use around the arena encourages driving to Bulls, Blackhawks and Bruce Springsteen events. While Wrigley Field, next door to the Addison Red stop, is surrounded by bars and restaurants where fans can spend money after games, the House That Jordan Built sits in a vast moat of parking lots. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Her Bike Shop

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
6db4c8d5-9b22-4944-ad63-6ed915194be5

Scout, Annie Byrne and Lauren Wiscomb at BFF Bikes. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Let’s Go Ride a Bike blogger Dottie Brackett once gave a presentation on women’s cycling where she recommended Dutch-style bikes with upright bars, fenders, chain guards and skirt guards as being practical for commuting in nice clothes—save for one clothing item. “I can wear any kind of skirt on this and be fine, except for a pencil skirt,” she said. “So I don’t wear pencil skirts.”

However, the Holy Grail of a bikeable pencil skirt is now available at BFF Bikes, Chicago’s first female-focused bicycle store, which opened on March 15 at 2113 West Armitage in Bucktown. Last week co-owner Annie Byrne showed me how the stylish black garment, made by Seattle-based Iva Jean, works. “When you open the zipper in the back, it converts from a pencil skirt to an A-line skirt so you can get full leg extension while pedaling without having to hitch it up,” she explains. Then she dumps a bottle of water over the high-tech fabric. “It rolls right off it like Teflon.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Death of a Pedestrian

Checkerboard City, News etc., Old Town No Comments »
The crash site at Division/LaSalle. Photo: John Greenfield

The crash site at Division/LaSalle. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The killing of Northwestern University law student Jesse Bradley, thirty-two, in March 2012 was a perfect storm of factors all too common in Chicago pedestrian deaths. Bradley was fatally struck while crossing an overly wide street, by an intoxicated, speeding driver without a valid license, who fled the scene.  Two years after the deadly crash, motorist Bianca Garcia, twenty-one at the time, is about to be sentenced.

“My son was so smart and so loving, just a good, good kid,” says his mother Colleen, speaking from her home in Georgia. She described him as a shy, quiet person with a dry sense of humor. Having completed a couple years of challenging studies at Northwestern, he’d taken off two terms and was working at a Gold Coast Starbucks, where he’d learned to become much more outgoing by chatting with customers. He was set to finish school that summer and planned to work in business law. Bradley lived in an apartment at 1140 North LaSalle, just south of the intersection where he was killed. Read the rest of this entry »

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: Don’t Knock Woodard

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
12494704473_c820e2d10a_o

Woodard Plaza, under construction/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Surrounded by chainlink fence and blanketed with snow, a new plaza under construction at the northwest corner of Milwaukee/Diversey/Kimball in Avondale, an intersection that appears several times in the movie “Wayne’s World,” currently looks pretty bleak. However, once it opens to the public later this year, the triangular slab of land is likely to become one of Chicago’s most vibrant public spaces.

Formerly a drab concrete traffic island occupied by a couple of trees, a bus shelter and a shabby newsstand, the wedge is being transformed into Woodard Plaza, named after the roadway that previously formed its northern boundary. The Chicago Department of Transportation has closed a short stretch of Woodard to connect the island to the mainland, creating a larger space that will house a small amphitheater, a raised performance space with power outlets, and a plethora of new greenery. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Naked Theatrical Ambition

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
12213507406_a07aebfed9_o

Photo: Anne Sullivan via CTA Tattler

By John Greenfield

If you follow Chicago transportation news, Molly Rose Lewis, a local actress and playwright who’s collaborating on “Right of Way,” a new theater piece about traffic safety, may look oddly familiar. She’s the woman texting in the foreground of the famous photo of the self-proclaimed “goddess of the train” at the Red Line’s Granville stop.

As you’ll recall, last November a nude, thirty-one-year-old woman on an El car announced she was going to drive the train and ordered the other passengers to get off, before she was carted away by the authorities. Part of what made the photo funny to me was that Lewis appeared to be oblivious to the Botticellian scene behind her.  Actually that wasn’t the case—she was tweeting a photo she’d taken of the woman’s feet. “So there’s a weird circularity to the image,” Lewis says. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Chic Cargo

Checkerboard City, Green, North Center No Comments »
Hozinsky hauls passengers during PumpKarve-Go. Photo: Steven Vance

Hozinsky hauls passengers during PumpKarve-Go. Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

On the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, parents transporting kids in “bakfiets” box bikes, and delivery riders hauling goods on two-wheeled, stretched-out “Long Johns” are a common sight, but hardworking utility bikes are still a relative rarity in this city. Ezra Hozinsky, owner of Green Machine Cycles, 1634 West Montrose in Ravenswood, is trying to change that. Full disclosure: Hozinsky is a former coworker and bandmate of mine.

“Having more of the larger cargo bikes on the street is useful in terms of making cycling a viable form of transportation,” he recently told me over pints by a roaring fire at the nearby Fountainhead tavern. “The positive aspect is that it starts to even out the size discrepancy between bikes and motor vehicles, making cyclists seem less vulnerable because it’s obvious they’re operating a machine. It may also be helpful for drivers to see more families on bikes. It can have the same effect as a ‘Baby on Board’ sticker on a car: a civilizing influence on the pace and aggression of traffic.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Walking and Talking About BRT

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Boarding the Ashland bus in Brainerd. Photo: John Greenfield

Boarding the #9 bus in Brainerd/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I type this, it’s fourteen degrees in Chicago and snow is falling fast, but the battle over the future of Ashland Avenue is heating up. The city has put forth a bold plan to reconfigure the street by implementing bus rapid transit. Two of the four travel lanes will be converted to dedicated lanes for high-speed, center-running buses that will pick up passengers from platform stations in the median, providing an El train-like experience.

Scores of businesses and organizations, plus more than 2,500 individuals, have signed on to endorse the plan, and Alderman Ameya Pawar is an enthusiastic supporter, but there’s also fierce opposition. The Ashland-Western Coalition, an opposition group led by Roger Romanelli, is trying to kill the project, and they’ve received more than their fair share of mainstream media coverage. Aldermen George Cardenas and Scott Waguespack have also become outspoken naysayers.

But what do people who actually ride the #9 Ashland bus on a regular basis think of the proposal? In early October, my blogging partner Steven Vance and I set out to walk the entire planned BRT route, from 95th to Irving Park, buttonholing CTA customers along the way to get their take. Let’s return to that still-balmy Monday to see what they said. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Travel Options in the Black Metropolis

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
11336618886_4c3ef62c31_o

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: Riding the L Train

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
11097762694_7abb3bd036_o

Lorde, in a screen shot from the “Royals” video

By John Greenfield

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to depart from my usual Chicago-centric focus to explore a question that’s been puzzling me for a while now: is Lorde’s hit song “Royals” pro- or anti-public transportation? Depictions of various travel modes in pop culture influence listeners’ commuting habits. While everyone from the Beach Boys to Public Enemy has written tunes glorifying cars, there are precious few that make mass transit sound like a cool way to get around—“Kiss Me on the Bus” by the Replacements springs to mind.

I was hoping to chalk up “Royals” as one of the latter. By now you’ve probably heard the smart, minimalist electro-pop earworm by the seventeen-year-old New Zealand wunderkind, real name Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor. I confess that I spent a recent Sunday evening listening to her album “Pure Heroine” over and over while I did housework—it’s that good. Read the rest of this entry »