Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Transit Platforms

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Dime Stories, Green, News etc., Politics, Transit No 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.

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

Bicycling, Green, Politics, Transit 1 Comment »
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 No Comments »
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 »

The Green and the Green Line: Putting the Public in Public Transit—and Public Space

Hyde Park, Transit 1 Comment »
Photo: Jeff Gilliland

Photo: Jeff Gilliland

By Jeff Gilliland, MA ’13

All I wanted to do was go to the club. It was the day before my U of C Master’s program began in September 2012, and the Prince and Michael Jackson Experience was in town for one night only. Thinking that it would be a great occasion to gather some of my new classmates together before we had to dive into work, I sent an email to the program’s listserv. “Dance party for the ages this Saturday night!!” Not knowing the first thing about public transit in Chicago, I followed protocol and suggested a few routes that Google Maps said would take us close by.

Hours later, I received an email from one of the program’s staff advisors. “I might rethink taking the 55 to the Ashland bus. Ditto with the Green Line,” it read. “Neither is a paragon of night-time safety.” Farther down the email, I discovered that a faculty member had requested we change the travel route, so that no one would be “traumatized” the day before our program began. The emails were kind and tactful, and clearly stemmed from the program’s concern for the well-being of its students. But the message behind the words was clear: aside from the 6 bus and a few other exceptions, public transit on the South Side is not to be trusted. In fact, it is to be feared and avoided at all costs.

There is a spot on the Green Line, just north of the Indiana station, that will take your breath away. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Urine—A Lot of Trouble

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Transit No Comments »
The elevator at the Red Line's Grand Avenue stop. Photo: John Greenfield

The elevator at the Red Line’s Grand stop/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I don’t mean to sound pissy, but the Chicago Transit Authority is having difficulty keeping its elevators urine-free. Some say it’s the agency’s Number One challenge.

Like most Chicagoans who get around by rapid transit, I’ve noticed that people often use the lifts as restrooms. However, the issue really hit home when my seventy-eight-year-old father visited last month. Due to knee troubles, it’s tough for him to walk more than a couple blocks at a time, but he gets around great on a bicycle, and enjoys seeing the Windy City on two wheels.

My dad and I did much of our sightseeing by cycling to my local El station, riding the train downtown with our bikes, and then pedaling to destinations like the Shedd Aquarium and an architectural boat tour. That made for nearly door-to-door trips, requiring less walking than if we’d taken a car there. Read the rest of this entry »

The Metra-Politan Perimeter Ride: A 300-Mile Pedal Around the Edge of Chicagoland

Bicycling, Transit 1 Comment »
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Stopping for provisions in west-suburban Elburn/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I confess that I’m obsessed with pedaling the perimeters of things. For years, I led the Chicago Perimeter Ride, a hundred-mile bicycle tour of the rim of the city, stopping to admire goofy commercial architecture landmarks, from the Eyecare Indian in Westlawn, to the giant fiberglass wieners of Superdawg in Norwood Park. I’ve cycled the circumference of Lake Michigan and the state of Illinois, and I’ve got a Land of Lincoln tattoo on my scrawny left shoulder as proof of the latter. I’ve biked three sides of the continental U.S., and some day I hope to complete the circuit by cycling from Key West, Florida, to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Since my journalistic wheelhouse is local transportation issues, it recently occurred to me that I should pedal the perimeter of Chicagoland, as a way to wrap my head around our vast region, and meditate on the urban planning challenges we face. But how best to define the Chicago metro area? There are a number of different definitions of the region, with one of the broadest being the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area, originally designated by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1950. Along with Cook and the collar counties, it includes swaths of southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana, for a total population of 9,522,434, making this the third-largest MSA by population in the nation.

Somewhat arbitrarily, I opted to define the perimeter of the region as being a route connecting the endpoints of the Metra commuter rail system’s eleven lines. This would allow me to skip the nastier industrial sections of the Hoosier State, since Metra doesn’t serve Indiana, while justifying an excursion across the Cheddar Curtain to quirky Kenosha, Wisconsin, one of my favorite nearby cities. Read the rest of this entry »