Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Gifts for Transportation Geeks

Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Lakeview, Rogers Park No 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 »

Checkerboard City: 95 Problems

Beverly, Checkerboard City, Green, Southeast Side, Transit No Comments »
Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn car crash. Photo: John Greenfield

Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn car crash/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“I avoid 95th Street as much as possible for my safety and sanity,” Beverly resident and transportation advocate Anne Alt told me, in the wake of a horrific multi-car crash on the massive road earlier this month. This senseless disaster in west-suburban Oak Lawn injured almost a dozen people and killed three, including two nuns.

On Sunday, October 5, at around 4:30pm, a man noticed retired contractor Edward Carthans, eighty-one, slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup, police said. Carthans refused help and instead sped west on 95th, colliding with three cars at Keeler. He kept driving, blew a red light at Cicero, and then veered into the eastbound lanes, causing an eleven-car pile-up. After his truck became airborne, he was killed, along with Sister Jean Stickney, eighty-six, and Sister Kab Kyoung Kim, forty-eight, who were driving home from a shopping trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Is There Really a Blue Menace?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Loop 1 Comment »
Detroit native Junior Bashi rides a Divvy on a A Michigan Avenue sidewalk. Photo: John Greenfield

Detroit native Junior Bashi rides on a Michigan Avenue sidewalk/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Chicago’s master bike-baiter, Tribune columnist John Kass, was one of the first local pundits to warn the public about the dangers of Divvy. “I can’t stand those Divvy bike people,” he griped in an online video in August 2013, a couple months after the system launched. “Go outside on Michigan Avenue… Reporters going in and out of this building almost get killed. ‘Cause you’ve got some little old lady from Denmark… and she’s on the sidewalk, and she’s almost smashing into the Polish pedi-bike guys.”

However, more than one year and 2.6 million trips later, the bike-share system has a solid safety record. To date, there have been zero reports of Divvy riders being involved in crashes resulting in serious injuries. What’s more, last August Reuters reported that there have been no bike-share-related deaths in the U.S. since modern bike-share debuted in this country seven years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Urine—A Lot of Trouble

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Transit No Comments »
The elevator at the Red Line's Grand Avenue stop. Photo: John Greenfield

The elevator at the Red Line’s Grand stop/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I don’t mean to sound pissy, but the Chicago Transit Authority is having difficulty keeping its elevators urine-free. Some say it’s the agency’s Number One challenge.

Like most Chicagoans who get around by rapid transit, I’ve noticed that people often use the lifts as restrooms. However, the issue really hit home when my seventy-eight-year-old father visited last month. Due to knee troubles, it’s tough for him to walk more than a couple blocks at a time, but he gets around great on a bicycle, and enjoys seeing the Windy City on two wheels.

My dad and I did much of our sightseeing by cycling to my local El station, riding the train downtown with our bikes, and then pedaling to destinations like the Shedd Aquarium and an architectural boat tour. That made for nearly door-to-door trips, requiring less walking than if we’d taken a car there. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: If It Ain’t Fixed…

Checkerboard City, Green, Pilsen No Comments »
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Anderson, Mendez, and Lopez/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The amount of biking in the U.S. more than doubled during the aughts, from 1.7 billion trips in 2001 to four billion in 2009, according to the League of American Bicyclists, a national advocacy group. One of the great things about this boom is that it has created a broader demographic of people who ride.

In a report published last year, the League found that cycling saw the fastest growth over the last decade among Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, from sixteen percent of all bike trips in 2001 to twenty-three percent in 2009. The study also found that eighty-nine percent of people aged eighteen to twenty-nine have a positive view of cyclists, and seventy-five percent of them feel that improved conditions for biking would make their community a better place to live.

The recent trend toward fixed-gear bicycles and single-speed bikes with freewheels has helped fuel the growing popularity of biking among urban youth in Chicago and other big cities. These sleek, minimalist rides are affordable, fast and easy to customize, which makes them an appealing gateway to cycling for young people who, a decade ago, might have been more interested in buying four wheels than two. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: You’re A Good Man, Dan Brown

Bicycling, Checkerboard City 3 Comments »
Dan Brown with Chainlink founder Leah Neaderthal. Photo: Steven E. Grossman

Brown with Chainlink founder Leah Neaderthal at the site’s 10,000th member party last March/Photo: Steven E. Gross

By John Greenfield

In the second week of August, two funny men who loved bicycles passed away. One was comedian Robin Williams, who once said cycling saved his life by helping him quit drugs in the wake of his friend John Belushi’s overdose. The other was Dan Brown, a mainstay of the Chicago bike advocacy community, who died after falling off a sailboat near Diversey Harbor.

“I am taking the position that a higher power looking at our world decided that she needed music, smiling faces, and laughter so she took Dan and Robin Williams this week,” said Lisa Curcio, a friend of Brown’s from the bike scene. “It is such a loss to we mere mortals.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: No Longer Marooned

Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park No Comments »
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The new promenade on 58th, across the street from Robie House/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Requiem for a Librarian

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
The 600 block of Church Street in Evanston, where the crash took place. Photo: Justin Haugens

The 600 block of Church Street in Evanston, where the crash took place/Photo: Justin Haugens

By John Greenfield

From what I’ve read, it sounds like Gigi Galich, a children’s librarian who died after an Evanston bike crash, was a wonderful lady.

Shortly before 9am on the morning of June 30, Galich was bicycling to work eastbound on Church Street, a roadway where the city of Evanston installed protected bike lanes two years ago. As she arrived at the main branch of the Evanston Public Library, at the northeast corner of Church and Orrington Avenue, she began switching lanes midblock, according to a witness. It’s possible she was crossing the street to park at a bank of bike racks by the library’s main entrance.

As Galich, a fifty-five-year-old Evanston resident, was shifting lanes, a twenty-seven-year-old Chicago man, riding eastbound on a motorcycle, struck her from behind. Although the librarian was wearing a bike helmet, she suffered a severe head injury, according to Commander Jay Parrott from the Evanston Police Department. She died two days later. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: South Siders Need a Sidewalk

Checkerboard City, Green, Southeast Side No Comments »
Lucas and Flemings at Rosebud Farm Stand. Photo: John Greenfield

Deloris Lucas and Victor Maurice Flemings Sr. at Rosebud Farm Stand/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Altgeld Gardens is really secluded,” Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Bell recently told me. “It’s like its own city.” The area, which includes the housing project of the same name, plus the Concordia Place, Riverside Village and Golden Gate subdivisions, is located by a bend in the Calumet River on the Far South Side, surrounded by industrial land and isolated from other neighborhoods.

Bell has been assisting the local Safety Transportation Advisory Council, residents who want to improve conditions for walking, biking and transit use. “They have a lot of issues with the built environment, like missing sidewalks and crosswalks,” she said. “They’re really underserved.”

Deloris Lucas, a former Chicago Public Schools employee and longtime Golden Gate resident who’s spearheading the council, has been working hard to change that. In particular, she’s upset that 130th Street, the interstate-like roadway that walls in the community from the north, has no sidewalk. That forces people walking to Rosebud Farm Stand, the area’s only source for fresh produce and healthy groceries, from the west, to trudge along a narrow, muddy dirt trail by the side of the road. The store is located at 525 East 130th. Read the rest of this entry »