Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Naked Theatrical Ambition

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
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Photo: Anne Sullivan via CTA Tattler

By John Greenfield

If you follow Chicago transportation news, Molly Rose Lewis, a local actress and playwright who’s collaborating on “Right of Way,” a new theater piece about traffic safety, may look oddly familiar. She’s the woman texting in the foreground of the famous photo of the self-proclaimed “goddess of the train” at the Red Line’s Granville stop.

As you’ll recall, last November a nude, thirty-one-year-old woman on an El car announced she was going to drive the train and ordered the other passengers to get off, before she was carted away by the authorities. Part of what made the photo funny to me was that Lewis appeared to be oblivious to the Botticellian scene behind her.  Actually that wasn’t the case—she was tweeting a photo she’d taken of the woman’s feet. “So there’s a weird circularity to the image,” Lewis says. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Chic Cargo

Checkerboard City, Green, North Center No Comments »
Hozinsky hauls passengers during PumpKarve-Go. Photo: Steven Vance

Hozinsky hauls passengers during PumpKarve-Go. Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

On the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, parents transporting kids in “bakfiets” box bikes, and delivery riders hauling goods on two-wheeled, stretched-out “Long Johns” are a common sight, but hardworking utility bikes are still a relative rarity in this city. Ezra Hozinsky, owner of Green Machine Cycles, 1634 West Montrose in Ravenswood, is trying to change that. Full disclosure: Hozinsky is a former coworker and bandmate of mine.

“Having more of the larger cargo bikes on the street is useful in terms of making cycling a viable form of transportation,” he recently told me over pints by a roaring fire at the nearby Fountainhead tavern. “The positive aspect is that it starts to even out the size discrepancy between bikes and motor vehicles, making cyclists seem less vulnerable because it’s obvious they’re operating a machine. It may also be helpful for drivers to see more families on bikes. It can have the same effect as a ‘Baby on Board’ sticker on a car: a civilizing influence on the pace and aggression of traffic.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Walking and Talking About BRT

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Boarding the Ashland bus in Brainerd. Photo: John Greenfield

Boarding the #9 bus in Brainerd/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I type this, it’s fourteen degrees in Chicago and snow is falling fast, but the battle over the future of Ashland Avenue is heating up. The city has put forth a bold plan to reconfigure the street by implementing bus rapid transit. Two of the four travel lanes will be converted to dedicated lanes for high-speed, center-running buses that will pick up passengers from platform stations in the median, providing an El train-like experience.

Scores of businesses and organizations, plus more than 2,500 individuals, have signed on to endorse the plan, and Alderman Ameya Pawar is an enthusiastic supporter, but there’s also fierce opposition. The Ashland-Western Coalition, an opposition group led by Roger Romanelli, is trying to kill the project, and they’ve received more than their fair share of mainstream media coverage. Aldermen George Cardenas and Scott Waguespack have also become outspoken naysayers.

But what do people who actually ride the #9 Ashland bus on a regular basis think of the proposal? In early October, my blogging partner Steven Vance and I set out to walk the entire planned BRT route, from 95th to Irving Park, buttonholing CTA customers along the way to get their take. Let’s return to that still-balmy Monday to see what they said. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Travel Options in the Black Metropolis

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Young Bronzeville residents at the Cargo Bike Roll Call/Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

In the early twentieth century, Chicago’s Bronzeville community, aka the Black Metropolis, was home to African-American innovators and barrier breakers in business, music, art, literature and other fields. Now the neighborhood is ground zero for another first, the Go Bronzeville travel demand management program. This campaign, launched in September by the Chicago Department of Transportation, offers free resources, events and support for residents who want to make more trips via walking, biking, transit and car-sharing, instead of driving alone.

TDM programs in other U.S. cities have helped lower the number of single-occupancy car trips, saving participants time and money while improving their health, as well as fighting traffic jams and lowering emissions. CDOT is using federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds to conduct campaigns in five different Chicago communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Riding the L Train

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
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Lorde, in a screen shot from the “Royals” video

By John Greenfield

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to depart from my usual Chicago-centric focus to explore a question that’s been puzzling me for a while now: is Lorde’s hit song “Royals” pro- or anti-public transportation? Depictions of various travel modes in pop culture influence listeners’ commuting habits. While everyone from the Beach Boys to Public Enemy has written tunes glorifying cars, there are precious few that make mass transit sound like a cool way to get around—“Kiss Me on the Bus” by the Replacements springs to mind.

I was hoping to chalk up “Royals” as one of the latter. By now you’ve probably heard the smart, minimalist electro-pop earworm by the seventeen-year-old New Zealand wunderkind, real name Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor. I confess that I spent a recent Sunday evening listening to her album “Pure Heroine” over and over while I did housework—it’s that good. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling Fine Gifts

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit 1 Comment »
The Malört water bottle. Photo: Tim de la Motte

The Malört water bottle/Photo: Tim de la Motte

By John Greenfield

The holidays are all about consumption, but the nice thing about giving a sustainable transportation-oriented present is you’re encouraging the recipient to use less resources, by walking, biking or using transit when possible, instead of driving. Most of the following gift ideas are also locally produced and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of fuel was expended in transporting them, and by spending money at a mom-and-pop instead of a big-box you’ll be promoting pedestrian-friendly retail. Unfortunately, one present you can’t give right now is a glitch-free Ventra card.

However, you can promote one of Chicago’s more successful transpo initiatives by giving the gift of Divvy. The bike-share system will be operating all winter long, so if you buy your loved ones twenty-four-hour passes ($7) or yearly memberships ($75), they’ll be able to hop on one of the baby-blue cycles right away. Passes and memberships entitle the holder to an unlimited number of thirty-minute trips, so they’re perfect for short trips and errands, plus “last mile” rides from transit to one’s final destination. DivvyBikes.com; email Gifts@DivvyBikes.com to purchase gift certificates. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Exit Interview

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc., Transit No Comments »
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Gabe Klein tries out Chicago’s first pedestrian scramble/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Maybe we jinxed things by naming transportation czar Gabe Klein as the city’s best department head in this magazine’s October 31 Best of Chicago issue, because the very next day he announced he was stepping down. Can’t really blame the guy since, two-and-a-half years after he took the job, his wife is still living in his previous hometown of Washington, D.C., where he’ll be returning to launch new transportation technology enterprises in the private sector. Still, it’s a shame that the poster boy for reconfiguring urban streets to serve all road users, not just drivers, is leaving the Windy City in his bicycle taillights. I caught up with him at his downtown office for a final chat.

To ask the classic annoying job interview question, what was your biggest weakness as commissioner?
Coming to town and not necessarily understanding all the history of how the city works meant there was a bigger learning curve. I came in with Mayor Emanuel and had this idea that we were going to set the world on fire and change transportation in Chicago. That’s a double-edged sword. If I didn’t think that way, we wouldn’t have been able to get as much done, but you also rub some people the wrong way. So maybe I could have been a little less boisterous? I don’t know. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Don’t Walk

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
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Crossing an offramp at Addison/Photo: John Greenfield

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year, my blogging partner Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

Also this year, IDOT rammed the Circle Interchange Expansion through the regional planning process. The project will make room for more cars in the West Loop’s “spaghetti bowl” junction of the Ryan, the Ike and the Kennedy. While this $475 million boondoggle promises to do little to relieve congestion, it will discourage transit use, and its three flyover ramps will degrade the pedestrian environment and lower property values. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Hauling Ashland

Back of the Yards, Checkerboard City, Green, Lakeview, Pilsen, Transit 1 Comment »
A southbound #9 Ashland bus / Photo: John Greenfield

A southbound #9 Ashland bus/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“It doesn’t matter what you do to the bus! I will never take a bus! I will drive until the state won’t give me a license anymore.” So said an otherwise nice-seeming lady from the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition at a community meeting this summer.

The CTA plans to build a BRT line on Ashland from 95th to Irving Park, providing an El-train-like experience on wheels instead of rails. Think of it as the Gray or Indigo Line. The buses will run in car-free lanes in the middle of the street, with stops located every half mile.

These traits, along with several other timesaving features, will bring speeds up to an estimated 15.9 mph, including stops, during rush hours. That’s almost twice as fast as the current #9 Ashland bus, which the CTA says averages only 8.7 mph, and it’s comparable to car speeds. That’s what’s needed if we want to make transit an attractive alternative to driving. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Southwest Side Sojourn

Bicycling, Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Garfield Ridge, Green No Comments »
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The secret path by Bubbly Creek. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I must be a glutton for punishment. That’s the only way to explain my decision to scout out a new “stealth route” bicycle itinerary from Bridgeport to the ‘burbs along the Sanitary and Ship Canal last week, in ninety-five-degree heat. This was to be the continuation of a route I reconnoitered last year from the Loop to the Daleys’ ancestral home, hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River—you can read that writeup at tinyurl.com/SouthBranchRoute.

Completed in 1900, the canal was dug in order to reverse the flow of the river, to keep sewage from entering Chicago’s water supply. It still carries our treated wastewater to the Des Plaines River, and it serves as the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »