Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: A Taxing Woman

Checkerboard City, Green, Politics, Transit 2 Comments »
Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw. Photo: CNT

Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw/Photo: CNT

Back in 2010, when Toni Preckwinkle was running against incumbent Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, she successfully used Stroger’s one-cent sales tax hike as a campaign issue, going as far as to make an ad with a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. “I used to teach my history students about Ben Franklin,” said Preckwinkle, a former high school teacher, in the spot. “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

After she was elected, Preckwinkle rolled back the sales tax to the current 9.25-percent rate. As president, she’s generally been credited with improving the efficiency of the county government and cutting costs, avoiding the allegations of patronage and incompetence that hounded Stroger.

However, to address pension obligations, Preckwinkle is now calling for a return to the higher county sales tax. In response, a Crain’s magazine cartoonist recently portrayed her as a mad scientist crying, “It’s alive!” as the 10.25-percent tax rises from the operating table like Frankenstein’s monster.

There’s a saying in politics, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Accordingly, The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance are using this moment when the Cook County commissioners may vote for a tax hike to promote their Transit Future funding campaign. They’re asking the commissioners to simultaneously create a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation infrastructure in the county. CNT vice president of policy Jacky Grimshaw explained the reasoning behind this new push. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Gettin’ Quigley With It

Checkerboard City, Green, Politics, Transit No Comments »
Mike Quigley

Mike Quigley/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If you’re not a transportation geek like myself, you may be most familiar with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th) from his hilarious segment on “The Colbert Report.” His North Side district includes Boystown, and he’s known as a strong ally of the LGBT community. Therefore, Stephen Colbert, in his persona as a conservative blowhard, baited Quigley by insisting that homosexuality is a choice:

Quigley: I don’t think you choose. It’s from birth. You’re gay, and it’s the rest of your life.

Colbert: Gay babies? I find that offensive, the idea that there are gay babies out there and they’re looking at me, and they’re sexually interested in me, as a man.

Quigley: You have a point. It’s not a good point, but it’s a point.

However, Quigley, a blue-collar dude, built like a fireplug, is something of a rock star when it comes to bringing home transportation funding to the Chicago region. He’s the only Illinois member on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, with the memorable acronym THUD. He helped secure funding for the federal Core Capacity transit grant program, which will help bankroll the CTA’s rehab of the North Red and Purple Lines, and the TIGER program, which funds various sustainable transportation projects in cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What Kind of Art Is Coming to Wilson?

Architecture, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit, Uptown No Comments »
Cecil Balmond and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Photos: John Greenfield, Wikipedia

Cecil Balmond and the ArcelorMittal Orbit/Photos: John Greenfield, Wikipedia

By John Greenfield

“The essence of public sculpture is that, for a moment, it belongs to you,” says renowned Sri Lankan-British artist Cecil Balmond, speaking at a recent packed community meeting in the basement of an Uptown nursing home. Last July, the CTA hired Balmond to create artwork for the Wilson Red Line station, as part of a massive, $203 million reconstruction project. It’s notable that the Wilson stop—a notoriously grungy facility and three-time winner of RedEye’s “Crust Station” contest—will be getting a piece by a man whose website calls him “the world’s leading thinker on form and structure.”

Work to rebuild the station began last fall and, as of press deadline, crews were almost done using heavy equipment to demolish the westernmost set of tracks and concrete support pillars. In all, 2,200 feet of the one-hundred-year-old tracks will be replaced and relocated, and the station will be transformed into a new transfer point between the Red and Purple lines. As a result, you can expect an influx of Northwestern students and staff moving to Uptown by the end of the decade. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Transit Platforms

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Dime Stories, Green, News etc., Politics, Transit 4 Comments »
Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García/Photos: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I’ve discussed with noted Rahm-hater Tony Fitzpatrick, the talented artist and storyteller whose column occupies the other side of this page, there are many issues to consider when deciding who to support in Chicago’s April 7 runoff election. These include jobs, education, crime, privatization, transparency and ethics, to name a few.

However, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of transportation when choosing whether to reelect Mayor Emanuel, or anoint his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García. The need for a safe, efficient transportation system is a huge factor in quality of life for all Chicagoans.

With that in mind, here’s a comparison of how the candidates differ on key traffic safety, walking, transit and biking issues. Note that this article does not represent an endorsement of either candidate.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Would Jesús Ride? A Conversation With Mayoral Challenger Jesús “Chuy” García About Chicago’s Transportation Challenges

Bicycling, Green, Politics, Transit 2 Comments »
Jesús “Chuy” García at a Woodlawn bus shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

Jesús “Chuy” García at a Woodlawn bus shelter/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

For most of the campaign, mayoral hopeful Jesús “Chuy” García has been relatively quiet about transportation issues, except for his vocal opposition to Chicago’s automated traffic enforcement program. Most recently, following the revelation that a former top aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied for awarding the latest red light contract to Xerox, García announced that he would shut down all of the city’s traffic cameras on his first day as mayor.

The Emanuel campaign has noted that, before the Cook County commissioner joined other candidates in criticizing automated enforcement, he supported it. On March 11, 2014, García was part of a narrow majority of commissioners who approved an intergovernmental agreement that allowed Safespeed, LLC to install a red light camera on County property in suburban Forest Park.

Campaign finance records show that Citizens for Jesús García received a $1,500 contribution from Safespeed one day before the vote. When I asked about this issue, a García spokeswoman stated that the donation was from Safespeed president and CEO Nikki Zollar, a “thirty-year-old friend” of the commissioner, and it did not influence his decision.

Shortly before the February 24 municipal election, García, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from UIC, broke his relative silence on other transportation topics by releasing a transportation platform (TinyURL.com/GarciaTranspoPlatform). The document suggests that he is well informed about transit funding and transit-oriented development, although there’s little mention of pedestrian and bike issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Walk on the Wild Side

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay. Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay/Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

By John Greenfield

As someone who’s pedaled three sides of the Continental United States, I can tell you that traveling cross-country by human power is an amazing way to see this great land of ours. You experience the geography and the people in a totally different manner than you would rushing by at eighty miles per hour.

Two young Chicago urban planners will soon be traveling coast-to-coast in an even more intimate way than I did. This April, Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay, both twenty-seven, will embark on an epic walking trip from the Golden Gate Bridge to Coney Island. They expect that, hiking about thirty miles a day, they’ll complete the roughly 3,300-mile pilgrimage in four or five months.

“I’ve secretly always wanted to run away from home,” she explains. “Not in a negative sense, but I think it’s going to be very liberating to drop everything and go out and see what happens.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Courtney Cobbs Comments on the CTA

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Coortney Cobbs on the Orange Line.

Courtney Cobbs on the Orange Line

By John Greenfield

Social worker and transit fan Courtney Cobbs moved to our city from Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2013, partly because she wanted to be able to live car-free. She has posted some thought-provoking comments on my transportation news website about the need for better bus and train access on Chicago’s South and West Sides. I caught up with her by phone to hear more of her take on the equity issue.

You wrote a while ago that Chicago’s transit system is one of the things that brought you here.
Yes. I wanted to live in a city where I didn’t have to own a car, because I really care about the environment, and public transportation saves you money. I really like big cities, and I felt like Chicago was an affordable option versus New York or L.A., and I could live here without a car relatively well. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Let the Good Times Roll

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Biking on Bourbon Street. Photo: Dan Jatres

Biking on Royal Street in the French Quarter/Photo: Dan Jatres

By John Greenfield

If you’re a Chicagoan and haven’t made it to New Orleans yet, what’s stopping you? Though it’s on the other side of the continental U.S., and a world away culture-wise, it’s only a 13.5-hour drive. Better yet, catch Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train, immortalized in the eponymous Steve Goodman song.

The train trip is six hours longer, but it’s time well spent. You can get work done, chat with fellow rail fans, and check out spectacular views of Mississippi cypress groves and Louisiana bayous from the glassed-in observation car. Best of all, unlike on a car trip, you can drink booze. On my recent southbound journey to check out the Big Easy’s raucous Halloween celebration, things got downright rowdy in the café car by the time the train was skirting Lake Pontchartrain.

In the interest of mixing business with pleasure, I met up with Dan Jatres, pedestrian and bike program manager for the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, to grill him about the local transportation scene. A Philadelphia native, Dan moved to the Crescent City thirteen years ago for college. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he moved back north, but soon felt himself being drawn back again.

“New Orleans has a way of sucking you in,” Jatres explains. “It’s very different than pretty much anywhere else in the country. The culture is really fascinating, whether it’s the food or the music, or just the mindset of the people.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: 95 Problems

Beverly, Checkerboard City, Green, Southeast Side, Transit 1 Comment »
Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn car crash. Photo: John Greenfield

Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn car crash/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“I avoid 95th Street as much as possible for my safety and sanity,” Beverly resident and transportation advocate Anne Alt told me, in the wake of a horrific multi-car crash on the massive road earlier this month. This senseless disaster in west-suburban Oak Lawn injured almost a dozen people and killed three, including two nuns.

On Sunday, October 5, at around 4:30pm, a man noticed retired contractor Edward Carthans, eighty-one, slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup, police said. Carthans refused help and instead sped west on 95th, colliding with three cars at Keeler. He kept driving, blew a red light at Cicero, and then veered into the eastbound lanes, causing an eleven-car pile-up. After his truck became airborne, he was killed, along with Sister Jean Stickney, eighty-six, and Sister Kab Kyoung Kim, forty-eight, who were driving home from a shopping trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Train Yourself: Explore the City While You Can

City Life, Hyde Park, Transit No Comments »
Photo: David Wilson

Photo: David Wilson/Creative Commons

Take the train.

It sounds like a simple thing and it sort of is. Chicago is lucky to have the mass transit it does despite its nonsensical delays, the overcrowded cars and the omnipresent construction. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the credit it’s often given. Take advantage of it.

Chicago has so much to offer if you give yourself the opportunity to explore a bit. The Loop. Lake Michigan. The neighborhoods with their stunningly different personalities. For those of you who are students, by midterms of fall quarter it’s going to feel like there’s never a chance to leave campus, that there isn’t enough time, that there’s simply too much to do to stay ahead of the classwork. Don’t let the stacks and study rooms of the Regenstein and Harper keep you from enjoying the rest of the city. Make the time to get out. Find a coffee shop off campus to study at instead of your usual library spot. Go to shows. They’re cheap and plentiful. Bike the miles of lakefront paths. They’re endlessly beautiful. Spend a rainy afternoon in one of Chicago’s many museums. They’ll put you in other worlds. Get out. Learn the city that the university calls home. Read the rest of this entry »