Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: The Izakaya Express

Checkerboard City, Food & Drink, Green, Transit 3 Comments »
Ned Abdallah, Jaclyn Thomson and Tony Koneko at Yoshino / Photo: John Greenfield

Ned Abdallah, Jaclyn Thomson and Tony Koneko at Yoshino/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Sometimes transportation and food intersect in curious ways. On July 3, I received an odd phone call from Mako Koneko, co-owner of Torishin, my favorite izakaya (Japanese pub-eatery) in Mount Prospect. This northwest suburb, along with Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village, is home to the region’s largest Japanese expat community. The tavern was a popular place for salarymen to hang out after work over drinks and delectable bar snacks, expertly prepared by her husband Toshiro “Tony” Koneko, a native of Niigata prefecture who’d worked there for decades.

Mako told me that Torishin recently folded after Tony moved to Rochelle, a small factory town in north-central Illinois, to cook at a new restaurant catering to Japanese employees at the Nippon Sharyo railcar plant. This news greatly disappointed me but, on the bright side, she invited me to an opening party the next day for the first Midwest branch of Ramen Misoya, a Japan-based soup chain, which was launching in the former izakaya space. I’m a huge fan of quality ramen, so it was a consolation that a noodle shop was replacing the beloved pub.

With no pressing Fourth of July plans and lured by the promise of free chow, I bicycled seventeen miles from Logan Square to the open house. You can view my route at tinyurl.com/RamenRide. When I arrived, there was a line out the door and almost everyone was speaking Japanese. Mako declined to discuss the details of Torishin’s demise, but she translated while I interviewed Yu Furukawa, the North and Latin America manager for the soup chain, which has fifty branches worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Paving the Way for Safe Routes to School

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
Genaro Escarzaga / Photo: Martha Williams, BikeFancy.com

Genaro Escarzaga/Photo: Martha Williams, BikeFancy.com

By John Greenfield

In 1969, more than fifty percent of American children walked or biked to school, but by 2009 less than thirteen percent did so. This lifestyle change has been a major factor in skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, an epidemic that has been particularly severe in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods. The Safe Routes to School movement is working to reverse that trend by making it safe, convenient and fun for kids to walk and bike to school. I recently sat down with Genaro Escarzaga, the Active Transportation Alliance’s Safe Routes to School coordinator, to discuss the work he’s doing to help launch Safe Routes programs in twenty-five Chicago public schools. 

Tell me about the Safe Routes initiative you’re managing.
It’s a part of Healthy CPS [an action plan with sixty strategies to improve the health of students]. In September of 2012, the Office of Student Health and Wellness at CPS received $4.38 million from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the Healthy Chicago Initiative [the city’s public health agenda with the goal of making this “the healthiest city in the nation”]. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What About Bob?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc., Politics, South Loop No Comments »
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Bob Fioretti by the Dearborn protected bike lanes./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Second Ward Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti got a raw deal in last year’s ward remap. His district currently includes portions of several neighborhoods on the Near South and Near West sides, but in 2015 his territory will flip to the Near North Side, which means he has to win over a whole new set of voters in the next election.

Perhaps because he has an uphill reelection battle anyway, lately he’s had no qualms about going against the mayor’s wishes on issues ranging from charter schools to the renegotiation of the city’s reviled parking-meter contract. As part of a series of interviews with aldermen about their view on transportation issues, I recently had coffee with Fioretti downstairs from his law firm, a stone’s throw from the Dearborn protected bike lanes. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Northwest Passage

Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Chicago History, City Life, Green No Comments »
Rob Reid, Mike Filipinski and Elisa Addlesperger on the 2900 block of North Elston.

Rob Reid, Mike Filipski and Elisa Addlesperger on the 2900 block of North Elston.

By John Greenfield

I’ve walked the whole length of eleven Chicago streets in order to experience aspects of local geography, architecture and culture that I might have overlooked using faster modes. So when Rob Reid, who writes the history blog Avondale Time Machine, invited me to join him and friends to hike all 9.5 miles of Elston Avenue last month, I couldn’t refuse.

The street’s namesake was Daniel Elston, a London merchant who immigrated to Chicago in the early 1800s. By 1830 he’d bought a 160-acre parcel in River West, located along a crooked wagon road. The multitalented settler established several businesses—making soap, candles, bricks, beer and whiskey—he also served as a school inspector and alderman.

While Elston was first living by the thoroughfare that would later bear his name, it was a plank toll road owned by Amos Snell, who charged travelers two-and-a-half cents per mile to use it. Displeased with this, local farmers staged a Boston Tea Party of sorts—they dressed up like Indians, chopped down the toll gates and burned them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Long, Hot Summer of Transportation

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 2 Comments »
Bike rush hour on Milwaukee, torn up for repaving / Photo: John Greenfield

Bike rush hour on Milwaukee, torn up for repaving/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Trust me, my friends, this is the year sustainable transportation blows up in Chicago. Say what you want about Rahm Emanuel’s record on education, crime and privatization. But since he took office in early 2011, joined by forward-thinking Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein and shrewd CTA President Forrest Claypool, the city has embarked on a number of bold projects to encourage walking, biking and transit use. I promise the next three months are going to be a tipping point as we make the move from the car-centric status quo to becoming a healthier, more efficient and more vibrant city. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Train in Vain

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Danny Resner by the decorative spire at Ashland/63rd / Photo: John Greenfield

Danny Resner by the decorative spire at Ashland/63rd/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

On Saturday, National Train Day, my El-racing brother-in-arms Danny Resner and I tried to write a new chapter in the saga of competitive CTA riding. The rules are simple: you must stop at and/or depart from every station by train, although it’s not necessary to ride every inch of track, and you can only travel by El, bus or shoe leather.

Several people, including Danny and me, have worn the CTA racing crown at various times. In October, ad men Chris Aubin and Garrett Sorrels set the current record for 145 stations: 9:12:39. We hoped to snag the title before the five-month shutdown of the south Red Line for a $425 million track rehab and station enhancement project, which starts this Sunday. Here’s how our day went down:

10am We begin our journey in Wilmette at the Purple Line’s Linden station, a stone’s throw from the Bahá’í temple. Last week a seven-month, $2 million slow-zone-elimination project started on the line north of Howard and we see yellow construction vehicles parked along the track as we roll south. Just before we reach Howard to transfer to the Yellow Line there’s an excruciating twenty-minute delay. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Strap It On?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc. No Comments »
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Chicago’s Divvy bike-share vehicles won’t come with helmets.

By John Greenfield

Last summer when I visited Copenhagen, I drank Carlsberg beer with Mikael Colville-Andersen, one of the world’s most influential and controversial bicycle advocates, in his lush back yard while his kids practiced soccer and picked flowers. Colville-Andersen heads the consulting firm Copenhagenize, advising politicians, planners and advocates on ways to copy the success of the bike-friendly Danish capital, but he’s probably better known for his wildly popular photo blog, Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Among the many topics we discussed was his attitude toward bike helmets. He thinks they’re totally unnecessary for urban commuting, and he believes that promoting helmet use is actually counterproductive for making cycling safer. In northern European bicycle meccas like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, more than a third of all trips are made by bike, almost nobody wears a helmet, and yet injury rates are much lower than in the United States, where lots of people wear helmets. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Like CLOCC Work

Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Pilsen No Comments »
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Grant Vitale leads a walkability assessment in Pilsen. Photo courtesy of CLOCC.

“The built environment plays a huge role when it comes to people being able to be physically active,” says Grant Vitale, community programs manager for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). The group, based out of the Lurie Children’s Hospital, is an association of many local, statewide and national organizations working to help kids maintain healthy weight levels by encouraging better nutrition, as well as walking, biking and active play.

The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled over the last three decades, and in 2008 Chicago’s obesity rate for young kids entering school was 22 percent, more than twice the national average. In some neighborhoods, mostly low-income African-American and Latino communities, over half of all children are overweight or obese. These areas tend to have less green space and higher pedestrian crash rates than wealthier neighborhoods, which discourages active transportation and recreation.

Over the last two years, CLOCC has partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health on a $5.8 million, federally funded anti-obesity campaign called Healthy Places. The program has focused on creating safe streets and parks, as well as creating healthier schools, eliminating food deserts and promoting breast feeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Cosmetic Improvements

Checkerboard City 2 Comments »
Ash, dolled up for the Bike Winter fashion show / Photo: Steven Vance

Ash, dolled up for the Bike Winter fashion show/Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

Last week Dottie Brackett, co-author of the excellent Chicago cycle-chic blog LetsGoRideABike.com, put up a post that was completely unrelated to bicycling. While spending several days at home sick, too exhausted to even read books, let alone ride a bike, she found herself watching instructional beauty videos online for hours on end.I’m not that into makeup,” she wrote. “But listening to these women’s voices was oddly comforting and I felt like I was learning something while using very minimal mental energy.” She linked to videos by some of her favorite beauty experts, like Lisa Eldridge and Sali Hughes.

Dottie’s post jogged my memory about a makeup-centric article that I never got around to writing up, so here it is. Last year I got in a debate with my roommate Meagan, a non-cycling Texan who’s a bit of a Southern belle. She spends about an hour on her hair, makeup and grooming each day, and I was ribbing her about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Transportation Options Energize Englewood?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Englewood, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
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Demond Drummer by Englewood’s Halsted/63rd Green Line Station/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Most Chicagoans associate Englewood with poverty and crime, but local advocates and activists see it as a neighborhood with untapped potential, with excellent access to public transportation being one of the keys to its future success. “From the beginning, Englewood was designed to be a transportation and retail hub, and that does not come up often enough in the conversation,” says Demond Drummer, a resident who works for the Teamwork Englewood community development organization.

Greater Englewood is a predominantly African-American area, roughly bounded by Garfield, Western, 79th and State. It includes two Green Line stations, three Red Line Stops, Metra’s Rock Island Main Line (although trains no longer stop here), and multiple bus routes. The New Era Trail proposal would turn a nearly two-mile, dormant rail corridor into an elevated greenway along 59th between Hoyne and Lowe. The city is also considering building bus rapid transit on Ashland, which would create yet another travel option. Read the rest of this entry »