Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Beers Across Wisconsin

Bicycling, Checkerboard City No Comments »

Potosi Brewery/Photo: Dave Schlabowske

By John Greenfield

The Badger State is where I go when I want to get away from my daily grind in Chicago and leave my troubles behind. So when my old friend Dave Schlabowske recently invited me to join him on a trans-Wisconsin bike trek, I jumped at the chance.

Dave, a Milwaukeean whose brother Dean plays guitar in Chicago’s Waco Brothers, works for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. He wanted to scout out the Badger Brewing Trail, a bike route from the Mississippi River to the Lake Michigan linking several rails-to-trails bike paths and a number of breweries, part of a network of intrastate paths the bike federation hopes to implement by 2020. I’ve posted the route at tinyurl.com/beersacrosswisconsin.

In October, Dave rode Amtrak to Chicago to photograph our new protected bike lanes in hopes of importing the concept to Wisconsin. Early the next morning we catch a Trailways bus from the CTA Blue Line’s Cumberland stop with our boxed touring bikes to Dubuque, Iowa. After stopping at a greasy spoon to scarf down pork tenderloin sandwiches, the indigenous cuisine, we mount our steeds, cross the Mississippi back into Illinois and pedal north along the river into Wisconsin. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Bike Share, Not White Share

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc. No Comments »

B-Cycle, a small-scale bike share system that launched here in 2010/Photo: Michael Malecki

By John Greenfield

There’s a common misconception that transportation biking is only for privileged white folks. Recently Tribune columnist John Kass expressed this attitude when he dismissed cyclists as “the One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” but in reality people from all walks of life use bikes to get around. Many of these folks are the so-called “invisible riders,” low-income individuals who ride, not because they’re looking to get exercise or save the planet, but because they need cheap, efficient transportation.

Chicago’s upcoming bike-sharing program, slated to launch next spring and grow to 4,000 vehicles by the end of the year, is a great opportunity to broaden the demographics of cycling here to include more residents from underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. By providing cycles for short-term use, to be ridden from one automated rental kiosk to another, it will function as a second public transportation system and remove some of the major obstacles to cycling: the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Road to Zero Homicides

Checkerboard City, Essays & Commentary, Green, News etc. No Comments »

Mural at Drake and Bloomingdale in West Logan Square/Photo:John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Each morning I scan the dailies for sad stories of local pedestrian, bike and transit deaths to adapt for “Fatality Tracker” posts on my transportation blog, Grid Chicago, in order to raise awareness of the need for safer streets. And almost every time I look at the papers I also see tragic news about the latest murders, averaging more than one killing per day.

This year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) put out two planning documents with the stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and crashes within the next ten years. I applaud this bold approach, and I can’t help but wonder out loud if “Zero in Ten” could be successfully applied to our city’s homicide epidemic as well.

Released in May, the Chicago Forward Action Agenda is a roadmap for creating a safer, more efficient and more sustainable transportation network for people traveling on foot, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists. The Chicago Pedestrian plan, published in September, lays out more specifics on improving conditions for walking. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Life in the Bus Lane

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Humboldt Park, Loop, News etc., Politics, Transit 1 Comment »

Proposed BRT configuration/Image courtesy of CTA

By John Greenfield

“It comes down to: how do Chicagoans want their streets?” said Chris Ziemann, the city’s bus-rapid-transit project manager, as we drank coffee downstairs from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) downtown headquarters last week. “Do they want them to be congested every day at rush hour with gridlocked vehicles? Or do they want fast, reliable bus service and nice, comfortable conditions for walking?”

As car-dominated transportation systems become increasingly dysfunctional, more U.S. cities are looking to bus rapid transit (BRT) as a solution. BRT delivers subway-like speed and efficiency at relatively low costs through upgrades to existing streets rather than new rail lines. These improvements can include dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid boarding at stations in the road median, bus-priority stoplights and more. BRT is already common in Latin America, Europe and Asia, and it’s currently being piloted in dozens of American cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Green Parking or Greenwashing?

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green, River North, Technology No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Every time I pedal downtown via the Kinzie Street protected bike lane I’m confronted by an oxymoron. At 60 West Kinzie stands an attractive, boxy structure covered with loosely arrayed rectangles of greenish glass, glittering in the sun. Piet Mondrian-inspired yellow panels accent the roofline and southwest corner, where they form a backdrop for twelve white corkscrew wind turbines arrayed in two columns. It’s the Greenway Self-Park, billed as “Chicago’s first earth friendly parking garage.” Its logo features a VW Bug with leaves blowing out of the tailpipes rather than noxious fumes.

Everyone agrees there are too many cars in downtown Chicago, so what could have possibly been sustainable about building this eleven-story garage, which accommodates 715 more of them? It opened in 2010, occupying valuable River North real estate, only a stone’s throw from several transit stations. There’s certainly nothing green about making it easy for, say, a guy from Naperville to drive solo to work every day in his Lexus, instead of taking Metra commuter rail. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pavement to the People

Andersonville, Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, News etc., Wicker Park 3 Comments »

People Spot and bike corral in Andersonville/Photo: Andersonville Development Corporation

By John Greenfield

Local pundits like ex-Sun-Times columnist Mark Konkol and the Tribune’s John McCarron and John Kass have trashed the city’s new protected bike lanes as a waste of space on the streets. But Chicagoans tend to overlook the massive amount of room on the public way given over to moving and parking private automobiles.

A new Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiative called Make Way for People is dreaming up more imaginative uses of the city’s asphalt and concrete, creating new public spaces that are energizing business strips. In partnership with local community leaders, the program is taking parking spots, roadways, alleys and under-used plazas and transforming them into People Spots, People Streets, People Alleys and People Plazas, respectively, lively neighborhood hangouts.

“It’s not a top-down program where we come in and say, ‘We think you need a People Spot or a People Street,’” says Janet Attarian, head of the department’s Streetscape and Sustainable Design section. “Instead we say, ‘We want to help you build community and culture and place and, look, we just created a whole set of tools that wasn’t available before.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Ride Into the Safety Zone

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc. No Comments »

Gabe Klein and Toni Foulkes/Photo: CDOT

By John Greenfield

Running late as usual, I hop on my bicycle and sprint south from Logan Square, fortunately with a sweet tailwind at my back. I’m heading to the ribbon cutting for new Children’s Safety Zone traffic-calming and pedestrian-safety treatments at Claremont Academy Elementary School, 2300 West 64th Street in West Englewood.

The city has 1,500 of these safety zones, designated areas within one-eighth mile of schools and parks. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is planning to install additional infrastructure at dangerous intersections within these sectors to discourage speeding and make crossing easier. Currently there are about 3,000 pedestrian crashes a year in the city, with about 800 involving kids. And in this era of rising obesity rates, the goal is also to encourage more children to walk to school and to play at their local park. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Indy Rock?

Architecture, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Transit 1 Comment »

McAfee and Kastner on the Cultural Trail/Photo by John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If I had to sum up Indianapolis in one word, it would be “Underrated.” With a population of 829,718, the Hoosier State capital is the second-largest Midwest city. But despite its size it’s known as “Naptown” and “India-No-Place” due to its reputation as a bland, suburban-style metropolis with few attractions besides the Colts, the Pacers and the Indy 500. I’m told that in the 1980s you couldn’t even buy a sandwich downtown after 6pm and the massive streets, lined with dozens of garages and oceans of parking lots, were so deserted you could safely walk down the middle of them.

But last weekend when I took Megbus there to meet up with my buddy Jake, in town for a conference, I discovered a surprisingly hip city with some fascinating architectural features and plenty of fun stuff to do. And while there’s little public transportation to speak of, and the city’s dominant image is a racecar, I was shocked to find a level of bike-friendliness that gives Chicago a run for its money. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Red All Over

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Roseland, Transit No Comments »

95th Street Red Line station/Photo:  John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

After sprinting east down Fullerton Avenue on my bicycle, I make it to the turnstiles of the eponymous Red Line stop just before the 4pm bike-and-ride cutoff. As I relax onboard with my wheels, the train passes through the near North Side, the Loop and the near South Side, then decreases in speed as we pass through slow zones, sometimes decelerating to walking pace. In all, the fifteen-mile rail trip takes forty-five minutes, with an average speed of merely twenty miles-per-hour.

When we reach the end of the line at 95th Street, the roar of traffic assaults my ears, since the platform sits in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway. I’m on my way to a CTA open house at the Palmer Park fieldhouse to learn about the 95th Street Terminal Improvement Project. It’s estimated to cost $240 million in federal, state and CTA funds, about half the total bill for Millennium Park. The formal design process is slated for later this year, with construction in late 2014, after the Red Line South Track Rehabilitation Project is completed. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »