Street Smart Chicago

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,”

“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 »

Cycle of Regeneration: A bicycle store dies, a bike shop café is born

Bicycling, Food & Drink, Humboldt Park, Lakeview, Transit, Wicker Park No Comments »

Michael Salvatore outside soon-to-open Heritage Bicycles/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Chicago just lost one of its coolest bike shops, but we’re gaining one that may be even cooler. Last week Dutch Bike Co. abruptly closed its Chicago location, only three months after relocating from Lincoln Park to Wicker Park. Founded in Seattle, the company opened its only satellite store three years ago at 651 West Armitage in a gallery-like storefront. They offered beautiful, practical European-style city bikes by brands like WorkCycles and Linus, most costing over $1,000.

This summer the shop moved to 2010 West Pierce, around the corner from Penny’s Noodles, in search of lower rent and higher foot traffic, says owner Dave Schmidt, speaking from Seattle. But even in bike-crazy Wicker Park, sales were not what he’d hoped for. It probably didn’t help matters that Wicker Park mainstay Rapid Transit Cycleshop, 1900 West North, and Copenhagen Cyclery, another Euro-style store at 1375 North Milwaukee, were only a stone’s throw away. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010

Bicycling, City Life, News etc., Politics, Transit No Comments »

Once again, Newcity ends its year with lists that compile the best, mostly, of the year that was, in the arts, the city, pop culture and the slightly offbeat, more than seventy in all. See you in 2011!

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: City Life and Pop Culture

Top 5 People Who Passed Away That You Thought Were Already Dead
Art Linkletter, 97, TV-show host and ad-lib interviewer (“Kids Say the Darndest Things”)
Mitch Miller, 99, recording artist and 1960s TV-show host (“Sing Along with Mitch; follow the bouncing ball”)
Patricia Neal, 84, Oscar-winning actress (“Hud,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still”)
Teddy Pendergrass, 59, R&B soul singer (severely paralyzed in 1982)
Art Clokey, 88, animator (creator of “Gumby”)
—Sarah Louise Klose

Top 5 Sports Moments That Make You Say “Huh?”
Blackhawks nab Stanley Cup, dismantle championship team
Cubs attendance dips in 2010, ticket prices rise in 2011
Wrigley Field hosts Northwestern vs. Illinois football, only one end zone used for both teams
Evan Lysacek wins Olympic gold medal, loses “Dancing with the Stars”
LeBron James teases Cavs, runs with Bulls and takes the Heat
—Sarah Louise Klose

Read the rest of this entry »

Rough Ride: The region’s transit agencies tighten their belts

Transit No Comments »

Photo: Gilbert Feliciano

On an icy Monday night, a handful of citizens braved the cold to visit the Loop office of the Regional Transit Authority, which sets the budgets and provides oversight for CTA, Metra and Pace. They’re here for the last of several public hearings on the RTA’s 2011 financial plan. Several of the attendees are transit activists who show up regularly for these kind of meetings. There are also a few people with disabilities here, and there’s a sign-language interpreter at the front of the room.

Joseph Costello, the RTA’s mild-mannered executive director, starts the hearing by explaining how the sour economy has impacted the three transit agencies. Reduced consumer spending means the RTA’s largest source of public funding, a 1.5 percent share of Cook County sales-tax receipts plus .5 percent of receipts from the five collar counties, dropped from about $750 million in 2007 to roughly $650 in 2010. Meanwhile, the cash-strapped state government has been delaying its payments to the RTA, making it tough for the transit oversight body to pay its own bills. Read the rest of this entry »

January Strip: Improv Mafia enforces a no-pants ride

City Life, Events, Transit No Comments »

“I’m sorry. This probably sounds like a bizarre question, but are you here for the no-pants thing?” Upon hearing it a woman, Val, turns with her three children toward the inquisitor and raises her eyebrows. “Yeah, I am,” she replies, “but I won’t be taking any pants off because I have my daughters with me.”

The Eighth Annual No Pants Subway Ride, hosted by Improv Mafia, begins at noon, and a number of participants arrive at the Granville Red Line stop exactly on time.
On the platform the participants walk up with quirky greetings like, “Hey guys. Mind if I take my pants off?” followed by a half-strip in Chicago’s bitter cold. Many leave their shoes, socks and coats on but desert their pants with bravery, even standing up against the three police officers who patiently pace the train platform in case anyone had decided to go “commando.”

Erica, along with about fifteen others, rides the train (with officers in tow) from Granville to Monroe, where they shake hands and take pictures to commemorate the experience. At the end of it all, half of the group goes out for a late breakfast while the other half decides to go out for drinks at a bar. “If we can take off our pants in Chicago in January,” one says, “I think we can go to a bar at noon.” (Micah McCrary)

Protect and Serve: The Guardian Angels still prowl

City Life, Transit No Comments »

Blue-line riders witness peculiar sights on a regular basis, but a quick glimpse outside of their window just past the Jackson stop on this Thursday evening offers one serious head-scratcher: eight men donning red berets simultaneously kicking and jabbing into the air. Before the onlookers can observe anything more, the train skirts by, but the Taekwondo-like training session continues. “Right cross, round house, round house, left elbow strike,” the training leader says, explaining the move step by step, and the rest of the guys, lined up two by two, strike accordingly, some even whispering “pow!” to accentuate their effectiveness.

Thankfully, these guys are on our side—the Chicago chapter of the Guardian Angels, a volunteer-based organization founded in New York City in 1979 to combat crime by patrolling the city, attempting to defuse testy situations and protect the citizenry from harm. The Chicago chapter is headed by Mike Fuentes, who can clearly multi-task. Upon the patroller’s arrival at the station, he immediately starts a job interview with a new recruit and outlines the evening’s itinerary, all while being filmed by a documentary crew from DePaul (he also perks up at every possible fishy sight or sound, as if the assignment was hardwired into his brain). Fuentes lays down a few rules: don’t show up intoxicated, no weapons of any kind, always cooperate with police, don’t flirt. “Chances are if you weren’t wearing the red beret and t-shirt, she wouldn’t think you’re cute,” Fuentes says. Aside from the Guardian Angels’ t-shirt, which features an eye inside a pyramid that dons heavenly wings, the preference is for black-dominant clothing. “You can be Bruce Lee, you can be Chuck Norris,” Fuentes says. “But if you’re wearing yellow shoes or a pink shirt, when you get on the streets, you’re gonna get a lot of people who are gonna try to test you.”

After the training session, the patrol officially begins. This is a diverse group of Angels—African-American, Caucasian, Latino, college students, middle-aged, big and muscular, thin and lanky—and each has a code name: 914, Jinx, Iceman, Tut and Tow Truck. “Thanks for protecting,” one rider tells Fuentes as the group boards the Red Line towards Howard, and he responds with a polite “You’re welcome.” The guys roam from car to car, looking for the obvious (drunken tirades) to the not-so-obvious (a hidden weapon), as Fuentes uses hand signals to communicate to the his teammates. But this is a quiet evening—no mishaps to report—and thus, a successful evening. They’re not always like this. Fuentes says after one of the Bulls championships in the early 1990s, the Angels had a run-in with a gang, leading to a showdown between the two groups just as the police became involved. “One of the guys pulled out a gun and started shooting at us, and the cops are like, ‘Get down!'” Fuentes says, explaining that he and Tow Truck charged the group as the gunman shot at them five or six times. “I’m thinking, ‘Damn, I haven’t been shot yet,’ so I ran faster.” (Andy Seifert)