Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: School of Bike

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Stan Treger bikes to class on the DePaul campus. Photo: John Greenfield

Stan Treger bikes to class on the DePaul campus/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I kind of hate the phrase “bike season.” Thousands of Chicagoans get around on two wheels all year ‘round. Even in January, there’s still something of a bike rush hour on the Lakefront Trail and Milwaukee Avenue. And all you really need to keep cycling through the Chicago winter is a bike with fenders and lights, and more-or-less the same clothing you’d wear to stay warm while waiting for the bus.

That said, it’s been fun to observe how, following another cold, gray, snowy winter, this month’s sunshine and relatively balmy temperatures have inspired countless people to drag their dusty steeds out of basements. Like rivers swelling from the vernal thaw, the city’s bike lanes are starting to fill up with riders once again.

As part of this spring awakening, a dozen different higher learning institutions will be challenging their students, faculty, and staff to try bicycling to school. The second annual Bike2Campus Week takes place from April 20-24, highlighting cycling as a green, cheap, healthy and fun way to get around. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Walk on the Wild Side

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay. Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay/Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

By John Greenfield

As someone who’s pedaled three sides of the Continental United States, I can tell you that traveling cross-country by human power is an amazing way to see this great land of ours. You experience the geography and the people in a totally different manner than you would rushing by at eighty miles per hour.

Two young Chicago urban planners will soon be traveling coast-to-coast in an even more intimate way than I did. This April, Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay, both twenty-seven, will embark on an epic walking trip from the Golden Gate Bridge to Coney Island. They expect that, hiking about thirty miles a day, they’ll complete the roughly 3,300-mile pilgrimage in four or five months.

“I’ve secretly always wanted to run away from home,” she explains. “Not in a negative sense, but I think it’s going to be very liberating to drop everything and go out and see what happens.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Take This Job and Shovel

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green No Comments »
"Every Day I'm Shoveling" Photo: Active Trans

“Every Day I’m Shoveling”/Photo: Active Trans

By John Greenfield

After Mother Nature dumped 19.3 inches of snow on us earlier this month, many viewed Chicago as a post-apocalyptic hellscape, but I felt the city became something of a utopia. Drivers were forced to slow down to sensible speeds, and folks helped out neighbors and strangers in numerous ways. The main sour note was the reappearance of “dibs,” the selfish practice of reserving dug-out parking spaces with old junk.

The day after the blizzard, I found cross-country skiing to be the most efficient way to get around. As I shushed down the middle of unplowed side streets from my home to the library to band practice and back, I encountered five different stuck motorists. Helping them push their marooned automobiles out of the snow’s clutches gave me a warm feeling inside.

However, not everyone can strap on a pair of skis to avoid trudging through the white stuff on uncleared sidewalks. When property owners neglect their civic duty by failing to shovel in a timely manner, it creates a significant barrier for people with disabilities, seniors and young kids, and a major annoyance for the rest of us.

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke pointed out in a recent blog post that heavy snowfalls make it obvious most cities prioritize driving over walking and biking. Ever since Mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection in the wake of a 1979 blizzard that paralyzed Chicago, local mayors have generally done a bang-up job of getting the streets plowed for drivers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: If You’re Going to San Francisco…

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Eric Anderson rides on a Berkeley bike boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

Eric Anderson rides on a Berkeley bike boulevard/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

When I first visited the Bay Area nearly two decades ago for the 1996 Cycle Messenger World Championships, San Francisco’s vibrant bike culture struck me as a vision of what I wanted cycling in Chicago to be like. I was particularly inspired by the massive amount of two-wheeled traffic on Market Street, the Michigan Avenue of San Francisco, during the evening rush.

The cover of Chicago’s 2014 Bikeways Report, released last week, features a recent photo of a similarly dense throng of cyclists on Milwaukee Avenue. In a few respects our city has pedaled past SF in terms of bike-friendliness. For example, we now have far more bike-share vehicles and miles of protected bike lanes per capita.

It didn’t help San Francisco’s cause that a successful lawsuit spearheaded by a cranky dishwasher and blogger named Rob Anderson in 2005 put the brakes on bikeway construction for several years. His paradoxical argument was that the lanes were a potential threat to the environment. However the injunction was lifted in 2010 and, since then, the city has been working hard to rebuild its rep as a biking mecca.

On a trip to Northern California last month, I mixed business with pleasure by checking in with a couple of colleagues for an update on the Bay Area’s bike progress. My first stop was Berkeley, the East Bay college town where my old pal Eric Anderson now works as the bike and pedestrian coordinator. Known as “Big Horn,” for the giant antique bulb horn on his basket bike, he was a founding father of the Windy City’s Critical Mass. He also recommended me for my first urban-planning job, to be his replacement as the city of Chicago’s bike-rack czar back in 2001.

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Checkerboard City: Courtney Cobbs Comments on the CTA

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Coortney Cobbs on the Orange Line.

Courtney Cobbs on the Orange Line

By John Greenfield

Social worker and transit fan Courtney Cobbs moved to our city from Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2013, partly because she wanted to be able to live car-free. She has posted some thought-provoking comments on my transportation news website about the need for better bus and train access on Chicago’s South and West Sides. I caught up with her by phone to hear more of her take on the equity issue.

You wrote a while ago that Chicago’s transit system is one of the things that brought you here.
Yes. I wanted to live in a city where I didn’t have to own a car, because I really care about the environment, and public transportation saves you money. I really like big cities, and I felt like Chicago was an affordable option versus New York or L.A., and I could live here without a car relatively well. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Better Bike Resources for the South and West Sides?

Back of the Yards, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Little Village No Comments »

Robert Calvin rides on the “enhanced sharrows” on Lake Street in Austin. Photo: John Greenfield

 

By John Greenfield

Last month, African-American cyclists Oboi Reed, Peter Taylor and Shawn Conley released an open letter asking the city, state, and local advocacy groups for a more equitable distribution of bike resources to Chicago’s black communities. Read the letter at tinyurl.com/BikeEquity.

They noted that there’s generally a higher density of bike lanes, with better connectivity, downtown and on the North Side. “Stuff on the South Side and the West Side has really been hit-or-miss, putting in a bike lane that goes from nowhere to nowhere, not really connecting destinations,” Taylor told me.

That’s the case with a couple of the recently striped bikeways I checked out on the West and South Sides last week. The city installed segments of buffered bike lanes–with additional space striped on one or both sides–on Pershing between Western and Ashland, and on 63rd between Central Park and Western, as part of successful road diets. However the new BBLs are “orphans,” because they don’t link up with any other bikeways. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can We Have Nice Things?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Top: A typical Chicago PBL. Bottom: It's NYC counterpart. Photos: John Greenfield

Top: A typical Chicago PBL. Bottom: Its NYC counterpart. Photos: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

There’s nothing like visiting another city to give you a fresh perspective on your own. Earlier this month I traveled to New York to powwow with other reporters from the transportation news network I work for. Pedaling a Citi Bike around Manhattan, I was struck by the thought that Chicago’s protected bike lanes could be a little nicer than they are.

In both cities, PBLs are generally located curbside, with parked cars relocated to the left of the bike lane to shield cyclists from moving vehicles, and a striped buffer marked between the parking lane and the bike lane. In Chicago, flexible plastic posts, AKA bollards, are installed in the buffer to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

New York protected lanes usually don’t have the posts, but there’s generally an extra-wide buffer, and the entire bike lane is painted green. Often, the parking lane is capped with a concrete pedestrian island at the intersection.

That helps remind other road users that PBLs improve safety for everybody—not just cyclists—by shortening crossing distances for pedestrians and calming motor vehicle traffic. We don’t have safety stats for Chicago protected lanes yet, but a study by the city of New York found that the installation of a PBL on Manhattan’s 9th Avenue led to a fifty-six-percent decrease in injuries to all road users.

It occurred to me that Chicago might do well to emulate the New York style of protected lanes. Despite the lack of bollards, I didn’t notice any problems with cars in the lanes during my visit. Meanwhile, the posts by Chicago PBLs often start looking ragged after a few months, and they’re frequently knocked out by car drivers and snowplow operators.

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Checkerboard City: A New Hope for the Chicago Velo Campus?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Southeast Side 1 Comment »
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Taking a spin on the outdoor track/Photo: Chicago Velo Campus

By John Greenfield

Sadly, it looks like bike racer Emanuele Bianchi’s dream of building the $45 million Chicago Velo Campus indoor sports complex has come to the end of the road. Even the small outdoor velodrome he and his partners installed on the Southeast Side as a temporary facility is slated to be dismantled. However, there’s a glimmer of hope that that bike track—the only one in the city—can be saved, thanks to Chicago bike-scene mainstay Marcus Moore.

“Our goal isn’t just to build the best velodrome in the Midwest or in the country but in the world,” said Bianchi with a gleam in his eye back in 2010, when I interviewed him for a Newcity cover story. He and fellow racing enthusiasts had recently formed the Chicago Velo Campus corporation and announced an audacious scheme to build a stadium almost as big as the United Center by 2013.

Bianchi and company planned to build the facility on the former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works, a bulge in the shoreline between 79th and 92nd Streets. They promoted it as the future centerpiece of Lakeside, an upscale, 500-acre community proposed for the site by developer McCaffery Interests.

As the velo campus’ president, Bianchi said the indoor facility would include the 250-meter velodrome, plus a dazzling array of other amenities. There’d be an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a 400-meter running track, a fitness center, restaurants, a cycling museum and even a wind tunnel.

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Checkerboard City: Gifts for Transportation Geeks

Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Lakeview, Rogers Park 2 Comments »
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The Recyclery’s t-shirts feature a cool intermeshed chainring design.

By John Greenfield

My holiday wish for 47th Ward CTA riders? The return of the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.

For everyone else, here are some groovy gift ideas for transit, walking and bike enthusiasts. Most of these Chicago-centric goods and services are homegrown, so you’ll be supporting local businesses and organizations, while minimizing the amount of gasoline burned in transporting schwag to stores.

Up in Rogers Park, the Recyclery offers bike safety and mechanics instruction for kids, plus open shop sessions and maintenance classes for adults. They also donate refurbished bikes to refugees, people experiencing homelessness, and low-income families. You can help fund their good work by purchasing gifts from their online store. Gift cards are available for bike upgrades at an open shop session ($30), a two-part tune-up class ($75), a six-week overhaul class ($180), or a used bike, helmet and lock ($300). They also sell Recyclery t-shirts, featuring a beautiful intermeshed gears design ($25), and limited-edition posters by local artist Jay Ryan, with a fanciful image of the shop overrun by cats and bears ($25). The Recyclery, 7628 North Paulina, TheRecyclery.org.

Another organization that deserves your support is the Active Transportation Alliance, which advocates for better conditions for walking, biking and transit across the region. You can buy gift memberships online for as low as $35. In addition to bankrolling the group’s work, an Active Trans membership includes discounts at more than 100 bike shops and small businesses, a copy of the regional bike map, and a discount on an annual membership for Divvy bike-share. ActiveTrans.org/membership.

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Checkerboard City: Let the Good Times Roll

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Biking on Bourbon Street. Photo: Dan Jatres

Biking on Royal Street in the French Quarter/Photo: Dan Jatres

By John Greenfield

If you’re a Chicagoan and haven’t made it to New Orleans yet, what’s stopping you? Though it’s on the other side of the continental U.S., and a world away culture-wise, it’s only a 13.5-hour drive. Better yet, catch Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train, immortalized in the eponymous Steve Goodman song.

The train trip is six hours longer, but it’s time well spent. You can get work done, chat with fellow rail fans, and check out spectacular views of Mississippi cypress groves and Louisiana bayous from the glassed-in observation car. Best of all, unlike on a car trip, you can drink booze. On my recent southbound journey to check out the Big Easy’s raucous Halloween celebration, things got downright rowdy in the café car by the time the train was skirting Lake Pontchartrain.

In the interest of mixing business with pleasure, I met up with Dan Jatres, pedestrian and bike program manager for the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, to grill him about the local transportation scene. A Philadelphia native, Dan moved to the Crescent City thirteen years ago for college. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he moved back north, but soon felt himself being drawn back again.

“New Orleans has a way of sucking you in,” Jatres explains. “It’s very different than pretty much anywhere else in the country. The culture is really fascinating, whether it’s the food or the music, or just the mindset of the people.” Read the rest of this entry »