Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Life in the Bike Lane

Bicycling, Bridgeport, Checkerboard City, Edgewater, Green, Little Village No Comments »
Riding in the Broadway protected lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Riding in the Broadway PBLs/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

For a bike-infrastructure geek like myself, this is the most exciting time of the year, when the city is in the thick of rolling out the season’s new lanes. Most of the twenty miles of new bikeways planned for 2014 aren’t as groundbreaking as in previous years, when protected lanes debuted on Kinzie, Dearborn and Milwaukee. However, there are some interesting projects going in this year, and it’s always a treat to ride a bikeway for the first time, a thrill akin to unwrapping a present.

I set out to pedal a gaggle of new lanes, a journey that will take me many miles from Edgewater on the North Side to Auburn Gresham on the South Side to Little Village on the West Side. I start my trip at Bryn Mawr and Sheridan, where I’m pleased to see that the Chicago Department of Transportation has solved an annoying problem. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Construction Cycle

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

Dumping infill to build out the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If 2013 was Chicago’s Long, Hot Summer of Transportation, then 2014 is the Summer of the Big Projects. Last year featured well-publicized game changers like the South Red Line rehab and the Divvy bike-share launch, but this year’s initiatives might not be so obvious to casual observers. That’s partly due to the changing of the guard at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

After forward-thinking, sharp-dressed commissioner Gabe Klein stepped down in November, he was replaced by the CTA’s head planner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, who’s only the second female chief in CDOT history. While her management and sartorial style is lower key than Klein’s, she’s no less progressive. “A lot got kicked off in the last two-and-a-half years,” she recently told me. “My goal is to continue that momentum, to make sure that we are bringing these projects in on time and on budget.”

One planned initiative whose future is somewhat beyond Scheinfeld’s control is the expansion of Divvy from its current 300 docking stations to 475. In January, Montreal-based Bixi, which provides the bikes and stations for the system, declared bankruptcy, putting the supply chain in jeopardy. However, Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Divvy for CDOT, is looking into alternative suppliers in case Bixi goes belly-up, and Scheinfeld says she expects the city will meet its expansion goals this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Cheap Trip—A Rockford Rendezvous

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
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A historical marker for Cheap Trick along the Rock River Bike Path/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Rockford could be fun,” said the editor of this magazine when I proposed writing a travelogue about the Forest City. “I mean, who goes there?”

Actually, there are plenty of reasons to visit Illinois’ third-largest city. I’d been to the area earlier this spring to play a gig at Pig Minds, a quirky vegan brewpub in nearby Machesney Park. We camped down the road that night in Rock Cut State Park, which feels surprisingly spacious and wild, considering it’s only a couple miles square and located just outside of Rockford.

Despite this foray, I’d never explored Rockford proper until a couple weekends ago. That’s odd, since it’s the home of power-pop legends Cheap Trick, and their magnum opus “In Color” is one of my favorite albums of all time. Oddball guitarist Rick Nielsen, known for his flipped-brim caps, checkerboard-patterned threads, and multi-neck axes, still lives in the city and is one of its most ardent boosters.

“I love Rockford,” Nielsen says in his four-page spread in the town’s official visitor guide. “This is where my friends live, this is where my family is from, where I got kicked out of band in junior high [for calling the teacher an 'incompetent, drunken fool']. It’s home.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Strolling 2200 South

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Little Village, Pilsen, South Loop No Comments »
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A corner store on Cermak Road in Lawndale/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Cermak Road is the waistline of our hourglass-shaped metropolis. Running 6.2 miles from the border with west-suburban Cicero to the road’s eastern terminus at King Drive, it’s just about the shortest way to get across Chicago.

The road, which passes through several formerly Czech enclaves, was named in memory of Anton Cermak, a Czech immigrant who served as mayor from 1931 to 1933. On February 15, 1933, Cermak was shaking hands with Franklin Roosevelt in Miami when he was fatally shot by an assassin gunning for the president.

I’ve walked the length of a dozen or so Chicago streets in search of adventure, but I got the idea to stroll Cermak Road from writer and musician Rob Reid, who led a group excursion on the road last Saturday to mark the martyred mayor’s 141st birthday. Since I couldn’t attend, I made a solo attempt the previous Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Is Bronzeville Chicago’s Next Bike Mecca?

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »
Bike Brozeville members in the Bud Billikin Parade. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes.

Bronzeville Bikes members in the Bud Billiken Parade/Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

By John Greenfield

“When we first started Bronzeville Bikes, the question was, ‘If we build it, will they come?’” says cofounder Bernard Loyd. The group encourages cycling in the Near South community once called “The Black Metropolis” with free repair sessions, neighborhood tours and more. “The answer was a resounding yes.”

Loyd is president of Urban Juncture, a firm that is currently building a food-themed complex called Bronzeville Cookin’, featuring Jamaican, vegetarian and Southern-style restaurants, plus a produce store and rooftop garden, by the Green Line’s 51st Street stop. In the fall of 2012, before Divvy bike-share launched, he was involved in discussions with the city about making the system accessible to locals. “But Divvy requires a credit card, and many residents don’t have one,” he says. “Bronzeville Bikes came out of the realization that while Divvy can be part of the puzzle, we also want to help folks use their own bikes for exercise, transportation, commerce.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »
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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 »
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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 »