Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Norway or the Highway?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Loop, Transit No Comments »
Madison Street, part of the Loop Link bus route, could be made car-free. Photo: John Greenfield

Maybe Madison Street, part of the Loop Link bus route, could be made car-free/Photo: John Greenfield

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they’ve accomplished,” socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said recently. That statement surely gave the Republicans hives.

One area where U.S. cities like Chicago should definitely look to Scandinavia for inspiration is traffic management. Last month, the newly elected city council of Oslo, Norway, announced that it plans to make the central city free of private cars by 2019. It’s part of a plan to cut greenhouse emissions in half within five years, as compared to 1990 levels.

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Checkerboard City: Dense Thinking

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Logan Square No Comments »

The 1611 West Division building has 99 units but zero parking for residents./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Believe it or not, back in the early nineties, ex-mayor Richard M. Daley was planning to tear out an entire branch of the El system. “The Lake Street branch of what’s now the Green Line had terrible slow zones and you could almost walk to Oak Park faster,” recalls Jacky Grimshaw, the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s vice president for policy. “The mayor and the CTA president wanted to take it down.”

Grimshaw says this moment of crisis was the birth of Chicago’s transit-oriented development (TOD) movement, a push to create dense, parking-light housing and retail near rapid-transit stations in order to reduce car dependency. CNT and the West Side community organization Bethel New Life teamed up to present the CTA with a plan for TOD near the Lake/Pulaski stop, but it fell on deaf ears. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

Checkerboard City, City Life, Loop No Comments »
Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor. Photo: John Greenfield

Tight turns and bottlenecks making cycling on the riverwalk a tricky endeavor./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act Loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which has stone-like concrete seating units and will feature kayak rentals, and the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops will double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments. Upcoming amenities include amphitheater seating, a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Rickshaw Republic

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Wrigleyville No Comments »
Darren Hilton outside Wrigley Field. Photo: Peter Mueller

Darren Hilton outside Wrigley Field/Photo: Peter Mueller

By John Greenfield

“Some people think pedicabbers are nuisance, but we’re really only here to help people,” says Darren Hilton, forty-two. A former bicycle messenger, he’s been in the bike taxi business for five years. “As pedicab operators, our job is to give visitors red-carpet service and keep them coming back to Chicago.”

Hilton says Chicago’s pedicab ordinance, which passed City Council about a year ago, is too restrictive, and has led to some of his colleagues being slapped with thousands of dollars in fines. He has received a few $500 tickets himself.

The purpose of the local ordinance was to regulate what some officials saw as a somewhat anarchic industry. The law was introduced by 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, whose district includes Wrigley Field. Downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly pushed to include geographic restrictions: pedicabbers are now banned from State and Michigan, between Congress and Oak, at all times. They’re also prohibited from working in the Loop during rush hours. Read the rest of this entry »

The Parking Game: There’s Lots of Competition in Wrigleyville. Lots and Lots.

City Life, Sports, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »
Photo: John Moss

Photo: John Moss

By John Moss

To check the pulse of the Chicago Cubs during any given season, you can take in a game at Wrigley Field or follow the team on television, through the box scores, or in the standings. You can glance up at the flag flying above the center field scoreboard as you pass by on the train, white for a victory that day, blue for a loss. Or, a less obvious yet still effective method, you can simply go by what the lots around the stadium, most of which are owned independently of the team, are charging for a place to park during a game.

Unlike at U.S. Cellular Field, the United Center and Toyota Park, where Chicago’s other professional sports teams play, no great sea of parking space exists outside Wrigley Field; instead, it is more like a cluster of small ponds. One-hundred years old last April, Wrigley is famously situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood. One moment you are walking north on tree-lined Sheffield Avenue past a row of three-flats, then all of a sudden there it is—an overwhelming burst of concrete and steel dwarfing you and everything in its shadow: a 40,000-plus-capacity baseball stadium.

At the time Wrigley was built, its location, a few steps from the El and within bustling turn-of-the-century Lakeview, made it ideal, Margaret Gripshover notes  in her essay, “Lake View, Baseball, and Wrigleyville: The History of a Chicago Neighborhood.” Most fans back then would have traveled to the game on foot or by train.

Wrigley Field is so old that only after automobiles became prevalent did its location become problematic. To say nothing of today, back in the early fifties the ward’s alderman cited parking and congestion as the main problems in the area, with the area around Wrigley, later to be known as Wrigleyville, being the worst. Any chunk of space could help ease the parking burden. A convent that once stood on the 1100 block of West Grace, a few blocks north of the stadium, allowed Cubs fans to park there on game days for a donation (though the operation later came under investigation, the Sisters having since contracted out to a private firm, for parking without a license). Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Transit Platforms

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Dime Stories, Green, News etc., Politics, Transit 4 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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Checkerboard City: Take This Job and Shovel

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green No Comments »
"Every Day I'm Shoveling" Photo: Active Trans

“Every Day I’m Shoveling”/Photo: Active Trans

By John Greenfield

After Mother Nature dumped 19.3 inches of snow on us earlier this month, many viewed Chicago as a post-apocalyptic hellscape, but I felt the city became something of a utopia. Drivers were forced to slow down to sensible speeds, and folks helped out neighbors and strangers in numerous ways. The main sour note was the reappearance of “dibs,” the selfish practice of reserving dug-out parking spaces with old junk.

The day after the blizzard, I found cross-country skiing to be the most efficient way to get around. As I shushed down the middle of unplowed side streets from my home to the library to band practice and back, I encountered five different stuck motorists. Helping them push their marooned automobiles out of the snow’s clutches gave me a warm feeling inside.

However, not everyone can strap on a pair of skis to avoid trudging through the white stuff on uncleared sidewalks. When property owners neglect their civic duty by failing to shovel in a timely manner, it creates a significant barrier for people with disabilities, seniors and young kids, and a major annoyance for the rest of us.

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke pointed out in a recent blog post that heavy snowfalls make it obvious most cities prioritize driving over walking and biking. Ever since Mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection in the wake of a 1979 blizzard that paralyzed Chicago, local mayors have generally done a bang-up job of getting the streets plowed for drivers.

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The Quarrywomen: How a Group of South Shore “Divas” Are Defying the Odds

City Life, Holidays, South Shore 3 Comments »
Veronica Kyle/Photo: Natalie Perkins

Veronica Kyle/Photo: Natalie Perkins

By Krisann Rehbein

I’m proud to say that the paper snowflakes were my idea. When my cab pulled up in front of The Quarry at the intersection of 75th and Phillips, my heart sank a little. Excited for the opportunity to write about an arts and artisan holiday pop-up market in South Shore, I was expecting things to look a little more festive. My cab driver was confused. There were bars on the windows and a combination of butcher paper and foam sheets slipped between the glass and the security bars.

A team of volunteer market decorators were assembled inside, staring at the bars. There was a general sense of anxiety. The owner of the space, Suzanne Armstrong, said the paper and foam could be removed as long as something went up that prevented people from looking inside. While worried a bit about crime, she was more concerned that curious passersby would walk in all day. The Quarry isn’t yet ready to operate outside of scheduled rental events.

My mind was spinning with this unfortunate design problem. I know! Paper snowflakes! I grabbed a pair of scissors and some scrap paper, whipped out a paper snowflake and stuck it on the foam outside of the bars. Somehow, it looked like snow. We could do this. Everyone started making snowflakes like crazy. In about an hour, it actually looked festive.

This is a story about women who are trying to make positive change in their community, against some unexpected odds. The holiday market was created by Veronica Kyle and Natalie Perkins with input and support from countless others. Collectively, they believe that artists can change communities for the better. Veronica got the idea while working with friends Mary Steenson and Sharon Louis Harris on an effort called the South Shore Sustainability Collaborative. That was four years ago. In the interim, they created a community garden, took over an adjacent vacant lot and constructed a community “hospitality table” and developed architectural tours with the Chicago Architecture Foundation (which I ran while I was on staff). No one had time to execute the pop-up vision. When Veronica met Natalie in August, the idea reemerged. “I don’t think people ever have time to execute the vision. Ultimately, you just step out and start doing the damn thing. I am just as busy now as I was four years ago. The thing is, I’ve learned a lot about the neighborhood in that time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Out of Place: The Neighbor Outside Looking (and Sneaking) In

City Life, Hyde Park No Comments »
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

By Scoop Jackson

I didn’t go to University of Chicago because I was not invited. Not sure I was ever welcome.

I grew up not in it, but damn sure around it. South Shore to Hyde Park  is what Cabrini-Green used to be to the Gold Coast: the neighbor(hood) on the outside looking in.

I was raised being told the history of Hyde Park. Of the racially restrictive covenants. Of the things that were done to keep black people out. Of the University of Chicago cosigning all of that. Money, race, ACT scores, socio-academic differences all played a role in why I’d look down on the kids that went to both Lab and the U of C the same way I assumed they were looking down at me. It was all fair game. The guys that went there were nerds to me, the girls weren’t cute and they never played hip-hop at Jimmy’s.

But as I got older I was able to see a different university than the one I grew up resenting. I saw the value, I saw the disparity. I saw the inner workings of an oasis of higher education that didn’t cater to or have any interest in someone like me (an outsider) but one that was serving a much greater purpose than educating or assisting in the plight of the ‘hoods and residents that encased it. 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 »