Sunday morning and Humboldt Boulevard, usually dominated by speeding metal boxes, is filled instead with smiling faces: tots on trikes, parents with strollers, joggers, bladers and every kind of bicyclist. It’s like a more family-friendly Critical Mass, minus the pissed-off motorists. Are we in some alternate universe?
No, says a green-skinned alien who’s waving to folks as they roll past a temporary skate park that’s been set up for the occasion, hip-hop on the sound system. He’s actually 50-ish Rafael Boria, in costume to promote his son’s skateboard company, but he refuses to break character. “Coming from planet Yuron, I am pleased to see you Earthlings have created this inviting environment,” he monotones.
It’s Sunday Parkways, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s scheme to turn roadways into temporary car-free space for healthy recreation, inspired by Bogota, Colombia’s Ciclovia (“Cycle Way” in Spanish) which draws up to two million residents every week to play on a seventy-mile street network.
The bike federation is staging two three-and-a-half-mile pilots of the program along Chicago’s boulevard system this month: last week’s North Side route which winds from Logan Square’s Centennial Monument to Garfield Park; and another test on October 26, from Garfield Park to 24th and California in Little Village. The federation organized and paid for these events but hopes to persuade Mayor Daley, an outspoken cycling advocate, to fund and expand Sunday Parkways next year.
Just south of the eagle-topped monument in Logan Square, Armitage Baptist Church has set up a makeshift café, handing out free java to fuel the cyclists. A few blocks down the route an “activity station” at Palmer Square Park hosts aerobics, yoga and fencing demos. “This is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors,” says Gloria Alcala, watching with her daughters Viviana, 9, and Valeria, 7, who have balloon animals tied to the front of their two-wheelers.
Marcus and Juvy Radford push their daughter Zoe, 2, past the Humboldt Park boathouse, where salsa dancing, a steel drum concert and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines combat with music and dance, take place. “I think we should have this more often—and later in the day,” says the drowsy mom. A Henry Rollins lookalike pedals by, carrying a female friend in the front cargo hold of his Dutch work bike.
At the south end of the route in Garfield Park, at a live taping of the local TV show “Chic-A-Go-Go,” hostess Miss Mia and her puppet sidekick Ratso are leading a crowd of kids and their parents in line dances like the Cuban Shuffle, the Soulja Boy and the Cha-Cha Slide. They’re swarmed by a flock of Canada geese and Park says, “We’re trying to get geese to dance with us.”
At 1pm, just before rain sets in, city workers start moving traffic cones and barricades to open the streets to motorized traffic. “Oh, they’re letting the cars back in,” says a hipster. “Yeah,” replies a senior. “That sucks.” (John Greenfield)