Street Smart Chicago

Trains of Thought: Riders sound off on the CTA’s budget

Politics No Comments »

Tuesday evening at the Chicago Transit Authority’s headquarters, 567 West Lake, and a few dozen citizens file through the lobby with its life-sized cow sculpture, plastered with photos of CTA stations, then up the stairs and past a 3D neon rendition of an “L” train zooming by skyscrapers. They’re here to offer their two cents on the agency’s proposed $1.337 billion budget for 2011 at one of four public hearings being held across the city.

Last winter, the transit authority tightened its belt by cutting nine express buses, reducing service hours on forty-one bus routes, and providing less-frequent service on 119 buses and seven of the eight rail lines. The goal for 2011 is to hold the line on fare increases and service reductions, despite the bleak economic picture.

This new budget is actually 5.2 percent larger than last year, partly due to pay raises, healthcare and pension costs required by the agency’s contract with its union workers, according to management. “Balancing the budget was very challenging this year,” says CTA president Richard L. Rodriguez in a press release. “Nevertheless, the CTA expects to accomplish a great deal in 2011 and it will do so by being resourceful and innovative.” On the plus side, next year the agency will be adding new, smoother-running rail cars to the system and debuting a “Train Tracker” service. Read the rest of this entry »

A Question of Sanity: A local take on a national rally

Politics No Comments »

Poor Aaron Weaver. He’s only trying to spark some lighthearted local comedy into Grant Park, but he just can’t stand up to the jumbotron.

The Chicago crowd, chock full of avid “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” fans, chuckles along with the couple-hundred-thousand people convened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. After Yusuf Islam (better known as Cat Stevens) twangs the first chorus of his 1971 classic anti-war tune “Peace Train,” the sound snaps off.

Boooooos erupt as Aaron Freeman pops on the mic to present comedian Aaron Weaver.

Chicago’s satellite Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, planned by Angie McMahon of storefront theater company Chemically Imbalanced and supported predominantly by donations, included acts by local musicians, comedians, columnists and politicians.

But seriously, who can compare to powerhouse satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

Uh, no one can. Read the rest of this entry »

Naked Politics: Democracy Burlesque puts skin in the game

Andersonville, Love & Sex, Politics No Comments »

Nelly’s club anthem bumps along the purple walls and gold-plastered ceilings in Mary’s Attic. “It’s gettin’ hot in herre, so take off all your clothes” seems fitting for a group that calls itself Democracy Burlesque. But while the name fools, the players don’t tease. The audience gets a little skin, but nothing unpalatable and nothing overtly naked (except the politics—that’s their tagline).

Democracy Burlesque is more sketch comedy than dance, more sharp wit than easy laughs. Many of the actors double as writers and directors, and that multifaceted involvement exudes a bud-to-blossom continuity throughout each sketch and the production as a whole, as if the company members all slept with each other and raised their babies at Hamburger Mary’s, divulging in free-range mini-burgers and spouting political quips left and right. Read the rest of this entry »

No Small Plans: Celebrating GO TO 2040, Chicago’s first major regional blueprint since Burnham

Chicago History, Media, Politics No Comments »

It’s pouring, but that doesn’t dampen the spirits of a thousand sharply-dressed politicians, urban planners and other civic leaders crammed into a tent on top of Millennium Park’s Harris Theater. They’re here to launch GO TO 2040, a blueprint for making tough development and spending choices in the Chicago area’s 284 communities, for the next few decades and beyond.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) will lead the implementation process, and stakes are high. As the region’s population balloons from its current 8.6 million to an estimated 11 million by 2040, the decisions we make now will determine whether the Chicago area becomes more prosperous, green and equitable or devolves into a depressed, grid-locked, smog-choked dystopia.

The plan, developed by CMAP and its partner organizations over three years and drawing on feedback from more than 35,000 residents, includes the four themes of Livable Communities, Human Capital, Efficient Governance and Regional Mobility. It makes detailed recommendations for facing challenges like job creation, preserving the environment, housing and transportation. Read the rest of this entry »

A Pedestrian Idea: Why it’s time for the city to value walkers as much as drivers

Green, Politics 1 Comment »

By Ella Christoph

Taxis honk and confused minivans hover midintersection. Bikes slide through the streets dodging doors and inflexible drivers. The crowd at the corner builds as commuters come to a halt—“Don’t Walk”—purses and briefcases still swinging. They are sprinters, waiting for the race to start up yet again, and their toes grip the edge of the curb. Tourists slowly line up behind the professionals, soaking up the pause in momentum by craning their necks so their eyes can finally reach past the skyscrapers and remind them the sky is the same as the one back home. Reverse vertigo. Suddenly it feels like forward movement. The jostlers push from behind, commuters who missed the start, arm-linked teens who keep hips close and one elbow out, a weapon against accidental intruders. Sensory overload, too much touching, harsh car metal and harsh car smell way too close. A throng of trajectories head in different directions and at different velocities, but they brush each other, and for a few feet, we all head in the same direction. Speed travelers and slowpokes alike get a rush, taking pleasure in this offering up by the city, imperfect but commanding.

As Mayor Daley heads out of office, much of the positive press surrounding his long tenure points to his efforts to revitalize the city center—from Millennium Park to the South Loop, it’s hard to deny downtown Chicago’s improvement, much of it initiated by him. Chicago risked becoming a large-scale case study for the downfall of the American city center, and it’s not out of place to attribute its recent success as a tourist destination to the mayor who brought The Bean and Museum Campus. But the street-scape of Chicago has a long way to go before becoming a model for the American city. Even the lakefront and Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s crown jewels, are far from the level of accessibility that makes pedestrians—tourists and residents alike—feel at home. Fifty years after Jane Jacobs wrote her groundbreaking analysis of city planning, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” we now know a lot of answers to the previously unasked questions of how to make a city work. And one of those answers is that cars are not the answer. It goes beyond greening the city: in a high-functioning city of any size, fearless and timid explorers alike take pleasure in walks, bikes and public transit rides through their city—not slogging through traffic alone in their cars. Read the rest of this entry »

On Target: Citizens unite to boycott a retailer’s donation to an anti-gay candidate

Politics, Pride No Comments »

Gay rights activists convened at Target stores across the country Saturday to protest the corporation’s recent donation to conservative—and notoriously anti-gay—Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. In Chicago, 16-year-old New Trier student Zachary Fraum teamed up with Gay Liberation Network organizers Andy Thayer and Rick Heintz to get local voices in on the national day of protest.

Despite the modest turnout—around forty, according to Thayer—the crowd that’s gathered outside the new Wilson Yard location Saturday morning is in high spirits. A good number of people are lining the curb with full-sized rainbow flags. Others mill around with posters. Motorists are regularly honking with enthusiastic support. The weather is nice; someone’s making water runs to the nearby Aldi. After about forty-five minutes of chatting and informal chanting—“Taste the rainbow, Target! The gay dollar is powerful!” protest wit Mark Schmieding shouts into the street—Thayer rallies the troops. “We’re gonna do a picket line now, and then… we’re gonna have cake!” he says, leading the group in a circle near the store’s entrance. The chants vary, from the classic “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!” to the punning “Don’t shop at Target! We will not be targets!” Eventually, hunger and hoarseness intervene, and Heintz cuts the cake. Read the rest of this entry »

Spinning Wheels? Chicago’s bike-share program might not get a fair trial without public funding

Bicycling, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Denver’s B-cycle bike-sharing program—500 bikes, fifty kiosks—received a million dollars in city and state funding. Minneapolis’ not-for-profit Nice Ride program—1,000 bikes, sixty kiosks—received $350,000 in funding from its city. Almost $7 million in federal, state and local funding will expand the DC/Arlington SmartBike program to 500 bikes, fifty kiosks. Boston will start their program with $3 million in federal funding, likely with 2,500 bikes and 290 kiosks.

Chicago? Chicago’s new B-cycle program (chicago.bcycle.com), operated by bike-rental company Bike and Roll, receives zero dollars in public funding. It launched July 30 with 100 bikes at six kiosks, mostly downtown along the lakefront. Memberships are $35, with the first hour free and every half-hour after that $2.50, up to $40 a day, encouraging shorter trips. Getting a widespread, affordable bike-sharing program in our flat city is still an uphill battle. Read the rest of this entry »

Soapbox Derby: Hanging with the hecklers at the Bughouse Square Debates

Events, Politics, River North No Comments »

“This is not cable TV… this is not adversarial bullshit.” With this declaration, so opens the twenty-fifth annual Bughouse Square Debate. Actually, heated debates pop up all around Washington Park’s Bughouse Square, off and on the soapbox, but gathered around the small, painted platforms are those who come to listen and those who come to heckle.

During a debate entitled “Students are Americans, Too!” two of the youngest speakers, or “bugs” of the day—and in the end, the winners of the Dill Pickle Award, presented to the best soapbox orator of the day—Pam Selman and Evan Ribot discuss the rights of student journalists. As they tell their story, a heckler in the crowd shouts, “But print journalism is dead!”

Another shouts back, “That’s why they’re up there talking! They’re trying to resuscitate it!”

While many of the bugs prepared in advance, researching and pouring their thoughts and feelings into a sheet of notes or script, the hecklers are flying by the seat of their pants.

“Oftentimes I agree with the conversation or the thing they are saying. I say it’s fun just to mix it up a little bit, that’s the spirit of the Bughouse Square Debates,” Bryan Young says. This is his second consecutive year at the event and he says sometimes people in the crowd aren’t in on the joke.

“I think a couple of people were taken aback that you would actually stand up and say something like that,” Young says. (Lindsey Kratochwill)

Knocked Off his Perch: Jumbo Jimmy just wants to keep fishing

News etc., Politics, Sports No Comments »

Photo: Tom Palmisano

I’m in search of fishermen as I walk along the lakefront in the early morning, watching the blue-gold waves echo the light breeze that would disappear as the sun rose higher. I want to discover the hidden stories behind the men who wake up at two in the morning to get to the lake by four, as attracted to the peace and cool of the late-night-early-morning lake as the fish they catch.

I see just one fishing pole hanging out of the back of a bike next to a sign that reveals I am a day, not just a few hours, too late for the fishermen. “Governor Quinn,” it reads, “Take July perch closure down! No perch, no vote! Teens can’t perch fish in July. 16, 17, 18. But they can shoot. Signed by: Fellowship of Fishing Club.”

“Jumbo Jimmy” Baczek sits on a bench by his bike proselytizing to passersby. “I woke up this morning at two o’clock, can’t go perch fishing, got pissed off, and made myself a sign,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »

Shifting into High Gear: When it comes to big plans for bicycling, City Hall is coasting

Bicycling, Politics 1 Comment »

By John Greenfield

Don’t get me wrong—Chicago’s already a terrific place to ride a bicycle. It’s flat, with a bike-friendly street grid and a scenic, 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. Since the early nineties, the City of Chicago has spent $100 million to push pedaling, striping over 110 miles of bike lanes, installing more than 12,000 bike-parking racks, and educating tens of thousands of people about safe cycling via Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors. Cyclists have access to buses and trains, we’ve got a fancy bike station in Millennium Park, and the list goes on.

But when Newcity asked me, a former Active Transportation Alliance staffer and consultant to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Bicycle Program, for my take on the current state of bike culture in Chicago, one word sprang to mind: stagnant. Read the rest of this entry »