Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Wave of the Future?

Checkerboard City, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield

When I visited Bangkok, Thailand, last year, the endless daytime traffic jams made ground transportation a frustrating experience, but the Khlong Saen Saep canal boat service offered a speedy, fun alternative. Chicago already has a decent water-taxi system, so as our city moves toward Bangkok-style levels of street congestion, could expanded river and lake taxi service offer a hidden hope for fast, enjoyable transportation?

“Our waterways are a completely underutilized traffic network,” says Andrew Sargis, manager of Wendella Sightseeing and its Chicago Water Taxi. “If you look at a map of the city, the North, South and Main branches of the river parallel the Kennedy Expressway, the Dan Ryan and Wacker Drive. We should be using that network to move more people and goods and to fight gridlock.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Streetcar Desire

Checkerboard City, Green, Lincoln Park, Loop, Transit, Wrigleyville No Comments »

John Krause/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Acid jazz pulsed on the sound system as a group of stylishly dressed transit fans clinked wine glasses last week at Vapiano, a sleek Italian restaurant at 2577 North Clark Street in Lincoln Park. They were there to launch the Chicago Streetcar Renaissance, a campaign to create a world-class streetcar line on Clark from the Loop to Wrigley Field, and eventually add lines in other parts of the city.

“Our mission is to grow the economy and the population of Chicago every year while reducing traffic congestion and making the city easier to get around,” says John Krause, the architect who founded the movement, nattily attired in jeans and a dove-gray sports jacket. “That means every year there will be more people and fewer cars, more commerce and less congestion.”

He has a vision of the clogged traffic and the notoriously sluggish buses on Clark replaced by efficient, comfortable streetcars, more pedestrian traffic, on-street cafés and broad bike lanes. “The only way you can get rid of cars is to replace them with something better,” he explains. “In a car paradigm everybody assumes the city is going to grow more and more congested. But a public-transit system is the opposite. The more people use public transit, the better it gets.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: One Track Mind

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 3 Comments »

courtesy of Adham Fisher

By John Greenfield

“I wouldn’t call it an obsession,” said record-setting transit rider Adham Fisher via telephone last week. “And I wouldn’t call myself a trainspotter or a railfan because I don’t actually know about rolling stock, track gauge, infrastructure or anything like that. That isn’t what interests me about subway systems at all. I just like going around them as quickly as possible.”

Fisher, a twenty-seven year old native of Leicester, England whose day job is working at campsites during Formula 1 competitions, has made a hobby of racing around international transit systems. Following world-record-setting attempts on New York’s MTA and Toronto’s TTC earlier this month, he’s back in town this week trying to reclaim the title of fastest Chicago ‘L’ rider, and participating in a carload of other CTA-related events. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rickshaw Run: Hard Labor and Hot Sun Driving a Pedicab

Bicycling, Transit No Comments »

By Taylor Cowan

There’s a weight beneath your knees, an unimaginably heavy force that you’re trying to push down. The sun is beating on the back of your neck. You’re standing and your shirt is plastered to your skin in sweat. You have two rubber bars for grips. Cars pelt by, passing on the left without so much as a word or honk. And what makes this nightmare real is that, with great effort, you can move this force. The force can only be moved by a pair of pedals. The weight is your fare, a man and a woman, wailing encouragement and laughing hysterically.

People talk about the adventure, the freedom, the exercise, the outdoors—I just wanted a job. I graduated last spring with a degree in fiction writing, which is about as promising as it sounds. I could have begged my way into a dismal job market, but I opted instead to take up pedicabbing—bike rickshawing. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Mission to Madison

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 1 Comment »

Photo: Brian Lewis-Jones

By John Greenfield

Back in 2005 when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was second-in-command under Blago, he did cyclists a huge favor by bullying Metra into allowing bikes on board. This opened up a whole new world of options for affordable, car-free road trips–even after the commuter rail system hiked its fares last year, a weekend pass is a mere seven bucks.

You can hop the Union Pacific North Line all the way up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, then pedal thirty-five miles to downtown Milwaukee–it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Amtrak, whose Hiawatha service to Cream City costs $46 roundtrip and doesn’t allow unboxed bicycles. Or bike thirty miles south from the Loop via trails to Munster, Indiana, for gourmet burgers and craft beers at Three Floyds, a heavy metal-loving brewpub, then spin ten miles west to Flossmoor Station Brewery, where you can catch a lift home at the adjacent Metra stop. Read the rest of this entry »

Difference and Indifference: A Moscow subway rider goes to L

City Life, Transit No Comments »

Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

“You don’t know how lonely it gets, waitin’ for El cars…”
Nelson Algren, “The Man with the Golden Arm.”

A woman sitting next to me is painting her nails bright red, spreading a strong smell of nail polish. A girl in a pink sports suit a couple of seats away is listening to rap music, energetically shaking her head and occasionally yelling some words from a song out loud. People read books and newspapers, talk on the phone, knit, pray, ask for money, drink, eat, chatter in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, German, Polish. Every morning I take an elevated train, Purple Line Express, from Evanston to downtown, every evening I return home on Purple or Red. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: To ‘L’ and Back

Checkerboard City, Events, Green, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Driving cuts you off from the outside world, but walking, biking and especially public transit encourage interaction with strangers, which can lead to some unforgettable encounters. The performance piece “EL Stories,” based on real tales from CTA commuters recorded by Waltzing Mechanics theater company, capitalizes on this.

“The Chicago ‘L’ is a shared, communal space that hundreds of thousands of people come together and inhabit every day,” says cast member Eleni Pappageorge. “When you bring that many people from that many places into one space a lot can happen. Some of the smallest, most mundane events on the train can make beautiful stories, but you wouldn’t notice them with your iPod on.” Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from the Underground: A Subterranean Safari in the Chicago Pedway

Chicago History, Loop, Transit No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I make my way through the blizzard to the Blue Line’s Logan Square stop, seven pigeons are huddled on Evelyn Longman’s giant eagle sculpture atop the Illinois Centennial Monument. It’s a Thursday afternoon in early January, the streets are lined with slush and cars move at a cautious crawl. A scruffy, bearded guy in a hooded jacket trudges across the street toward me with wet snow blowing into his face. “No, it ain’t shitty out,” he says with a grin. Me, I’m planning to take a pass on this nasty weather and spend the rest of the day in warmth and comfort as I go urban spelunking in the Chicago Pedway, an overlooked layer of Chicago’s transportation system.

The Pedway is downtown’s network of indoor pedestrian pathways, including below-ground tunnels, street-level concourses and overhead skyways, covering about five miles, and connecting more than forty city blocks. Tens of thousands of downtown workers use it every day to traverse the Loop without having to deal with cold, heat, rain, snow or the Loop’s hectic, often dangerous, street traffic. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Cycle: How did Chicago’s progressive new transportation czar Gabe Klein get that way?

Bicycling, City Life, Transit 5 Comments »

Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

“Gabe Klein has always viewed his work as a canvas to create a contribution, and is inspired by ventures that give something back to the community, versus strictly producing profit. This is why he only works on projects that invoke his passion.” —From “Gabe Klein’s TreE-House,” gabeklein.com

“True love knows no bargains. It is one-way traffic: giving, giving, giving.” —Swami Satchidananda, Klein’s childhood guru

When forward-thinking Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein reported for work on May 16 as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new administration, it marked a sea change in the city’s priorities. After spending most of the twentieth century trying to make it easier to drive, City Hall was switching its focus to promoting healthier modes: walking, biking and transit. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Gain: Six Ideas Chicago Should Steal from Other Cities

Architecture, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Loop, Pilsen, Transit, West Loop, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »

Rendering of the Dallas park expressway cap via the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation

By Sam Feldman

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Chicago’s received its fair share. We pioneered the steel-frame skyscraper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric blues, all worldwide hits. We started studying the idea of turning the abandoned two-point-seven-mile Bloomingdale Line into an elevated park in 1998, a year before the High Line was a gleam in anybody’s eye, though it’s New York’s elevated park that’s gotten all the attention. (To be fair, New York’s park does have the advantage of actually existing.)

But other cities have some good ideas too sometimes, and every so often we should glance around and see what might be worth stealing. We’ve made a good start with the recent announcement of a 300-kiosk bike-sharing system arriving by next summer, an idea we stole from Washington, DC, along with our new transportation chief Gabe Klein. But there’s a lot more we can rip off. There are areas where we haven’t been keeping up, or we’ve been making small plans, or we just haven’t taken the lead. Some of these ideas would cost money, but some of them would make money. Some of them might be immediately popular, while others could take some convincing. Some of them won’t happen—but some of them will. Read the rest of this entry »