Street Smart Chicago

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: The Izakaya Express

Checkerboard City, Food & Drink, Green, Transit 3 Comments »
Ned Abdallah, Jaclyn Thomson and Tony Koneko at Yoshino / Photo: John Greenfield

Ned Abdallah, Jaclyn Thomson and Tony Koneko at Yoshino/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Sometimes transportation and food intersect in curious ways. On July 3, I received an odd phone call from Mako Koneko, co-owner of Torishin, my favorite izakaya (Japanese pub-eatery) in Mount Prospect. This northwest suburb, along with Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village, is home to the region’s largest Japanese expat community. The tavern was a popular place for salarymen to hang out after work over drinks and delectable bar snacks, expertly prepared by her husband Toshiro “Tony” Koneko, a native of Niigata prefecture who’d worked there for decades.

Mako told me that Torishin recently folded after Tony moved to Rochelle, a small factory town in north-central Illinois, to cook at a new restaurant catering to Japanese employees at the Nippon Sharyo railcar plant. This news greatly disappointed me but, on the bright side, she invited me to an opening party the next day for the first Midwest branch of Ramen Misoya, a Japan-based soup chain, which was launching in the former izakaya space. I’m a huge fan of quality ramen, so it was a consolation that a noodle shop was replacing the beloved pub.

With no pressing Fourth of July plans and lured by the promise of free chow, I bicycled seventeen miles from Logan Square to the open house. You can view my route at tinyurl.com/RamenRide. When I arrived, there was a line out the door and almost everyone was speaking Japanese. Mako declined to discuss the details of Torishin’s demise, but she translated while I interviewed Yu Furukawa, the North and Latin America manager for the soup chain, which has fifty branches worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »

The Long, Hot Summer of Transportation

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 2 Comments »
Bike rush hour on Milwaukee, torn up for repaving / Photo: John Greenfield

Bike rush hour on Milwaukee, torn up for repaving/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Trust me, my friends, this is the year sustainable transportation blows up in Chicago. Say what you want about Rahm Emanuel’s record on education, crime and privatization. But since he took office in early 2011, joined by forward-thinking Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein and shrewd CTA President Forrest Claypool, the city has embarked on a number of bold projects to encourage walking, biking and transit use. I promise the next three months are going to be a tipping point as we make the move from the car-centric status quo to becoming a healthier, more efficient and more vibrant city. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Train in Vain

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Danny Resner by the decorative spire at Ashland/63rd / Photo: John Greenfield

Danny Resner by the decorative spire at Ashland/63rd/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

On Saturday, National Train Day, my El-racing brother-in-arms Danny Resner and I tried to write a new chapter in the saga of competitive CTA riding. The rules are simple: you must stop at and/or depart from every station by train, although it’s not necessary to ride every inch of track, and you can only travel by El, bus or shoe leather.

Several people, including Danny and me, have worn the CTA racing crown at various times. In October, ad men Chris Aubin and Garrett Sorrels set the current record for 145 stations: 9:12:39. We hoped to snag the title before the five-month shutdown of the south Red Line for a $425 million track rehab and station enhancement project, which starts this Sunday. Here’s how our day went down:

10am We begin our journey in Wilmette at the Purple Line’s Linden station, a stone’s throw from the Bahá’í temple. Last week a seven-month, $2 million slow-zone-elimination project started on the line north of Howard and we see yellow construction vehicles parked along the track as we roll south. Just before we reach Howard to transfer to the Yellow Line there’s an excruciating twenty-minute delay. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Transportation Options Energize Englewood?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Englewood, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
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Demond Drummer by Englewood’s Halsted/63rd Green Line Station/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Most Chicagoans associate Englewood with poverty and crime, but local advocates and activists see it as a neighborhood with untapped potential, with excellent access to public transportation being one of the keys to its future success. “From the beginning, Englewood was designed to be a transportation and retail hub, and that does not come up often enough in the conversation,” says Demond Drummer, a resident who works for the Teamwork Englewood community development organization.

Greater Englewood is a predominantly African-American area, roughly bounded by Garfield, Western, 79th and State. It includes two Green Line stations, three Red Line Stops, Metra’s Rock Island Main Line (although trains no longer stop here), and multiple bus routes. The New Era Trail proposal would turn a nearly two-mile, dormant rail corridor into an elevated greenway along 59th between Hoyne and Lowe. The city is also considering building bus rapid transit on Ashland, which would create yet another travel option. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: From Southern Africa to the South Side

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Transit No Comments »
Dustin Gourdin / Photo: John Greenfield

Dustin Gourdin on 53rd Street in Hyde Park/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Parts of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, and the South Side of Chicago are actually eerily similar,” says Dustin Gourdin, a PhD student in the University of Chicago’s sociology department, over coffee at Hyde Park’s Valois Cafeteria. “You see a lot of the same issues, in terms of transportation challenges and youth opportunities. Hopefully we can figure out ways to make things better in both places.”

Since 2009 Gourdin, twenty-five, has made three research trips to Namibia, a nation of 2.1 million people just northwest of South Africa. He’s been studying the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia, a nonprofit that provides disadvantaged local people with efficient transportation and job opportunities, as well as other non-governmental organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Denver Omelet of Transportation Options

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 2 Comments »
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Aylene McCallum on a B-cycle bike/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

One of the perks of being a sustainable transportation geek is that wherever I travel local planners and advocates are usually happy to give me a tour of their town’s walking, biking and transit hotspots. So when I went to Colorado on vacation last October I asked Aylene McCallum, transportation research manager for the Downtown Denver Partnership, to show me around the Mile High City.

With roughly 620,000 residents (about 2.6 million metro), Denver has its share of big-city challenges. McCallum’s nonprofit works to promote a vibrant, prosperous and environmentally friendly central business district, and smart land use and transportation policies are key pieces of the puzzle. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Putting the “X” in “Text”

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Northwest Side, Politics, Transit No Comments »
Margaret Laurino with her constituent Bob Kastigar / Photo courtesy of the 39th Ward

Margaret Laurino with her constituent Bob Kastigar/ Photo courtesy of the 39th Ward

By John Greenfield

As “mini mayors,” Chicago aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use “menu money” discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, as when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone put the kibosh on a bike bridge over the North Shore Channel in West Rogers Park.

39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino’s Far Northwest Side district includes parts of the Albany Park, North Park, Sauganash, Mayfair, Independence Park and Old Irving Park neighborhoods. The chairman of the City Council’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, she’s probably best known to cyclists as the sponsor of a new ordinance that bans texting and cell-phone use while cycling. But she’s actually one of City Hall’s outspoken advocates for sustainable transportation. I recently caught up with Laurino at her ward service office, 4404 West Lawrence, to get her views on walking, biking and transit issues in her ward and citywide. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Holiday Express Gift Guide

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

By John Greenfield_MG_9912

A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. Can’t get much more politically correct than that. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Great Leap Forward?

Checkerboard City, Green, Loop, South Shore, Transit No Comments »

Photo:John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

7:58am After waking up at an ungodly hour, cycling to the CTA’s Fullerton stop, riding the Red Line south to 95th Street and pedaling a few more miles to the 103rd Street & Stony Island garage terminal, I board a shiny blue J14 Jeffery Jump express bus. As I load my cruiser onto the front bike rack, the driver calls out the open door, “Could you hurry up please? I gotta go.”

Launched on November 5, the Jump is a new service that’s the transit agency’s first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT), systems that create subway-like speeds for buses via car-free lanes and other timesavers. The Jump, funded with an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, isn’t full-blown BRT. But it does include several pioneering features that will hopefully pave the way for bolder bus corridors downtown and on Ashland and Western avenues later this decade. I’m here to ride the entire sixteen-mile route from the Far South Side to the Loop, to see how these elements are working out. Read the rest of this entry »