Street Smart Chicago
Sep 04

Checkerboard City: Open Streets, Closed Coffers

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green, Loop, Wicker Park No Comments »

Julia Kim at Open Streets on State Street/Photo courtesy of Active Trans

By John Greenfield

Last year I wrote a Newcity cover story with the subtitle, “Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?” For this year at least, the answer was no.

Since 2005, I’ve been chronicling the Active Transportation Alliance’s valiant efforts to stage ciclovías, Latin American-style events that shut down streets to car traffic, encouraging healthy recreation, community and commerce. It’s hard to believe I still have to report on the relative lack of support from the city, especially since Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein have generally been terrific on sustainable transportation issues.

Don’t get me wrong. All the ciclovias Active Trans has organized so far have been fabulous, with thousands of Chicagoans of all stripes coming out to stroll, jog, pedal, play, dance and relax on car-free streets. And I’m certain that this year’s events—Open Streets in the Loop this Saturday and Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown on Sunday, September 16—will be the best ones yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 28

Checkerboard City: Dowell Does Denmark

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »

Pat Dowell with bike campers/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell wasn’t always a bike-friendly politician. But she says a recent visit to bike-crazy Northern Europe opened her eyes to the potential benefits of cycling for South Siders.

Dowell’s Near South district includes parts of Bronzeville, Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas and the South Loop. Last February, as part of Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build one-hundred miles of car-protected bike lanes in his first term, the Chicago Department of Transportation proposed installing protected lanes along Martin Luther King Drive in her ward. Local community leaders bristled and the alderman herself was worried that the white flexible posts used to delineate the lanes would take away from the ambiance of the historic boulevard. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 14

Checkerboard City: Are Smart Cars Smart?

Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

It’s no secret that I dislike automobiles, or rather Chicago’s over-dependence on them. Privately owned autos, especially big ones, contribute to all kinds of problems in our region, including traffic deaths, congestion, climate change, obesity and urban sprawl. Car parking gobbles up valuable land, with Chicago’s on-street parking alone occupying an area roughly the size of Hyde Park, not to mention the hundreds of acres used for parking lots. The first Mayor Daley carved up the city with expressways and allowed Louis Sullivan masterpieces to be razed for garages, and an eight-lane superhighway cuts off residents from one of our city’s greatest assets, the lake shore. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 31

Checkerboard City: Message of Camaraderie

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Events 1 Comment »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Mayor Daley’s campaign to host the 2016 Olympics in Chicago failed, but local bike messengers are realizing their dream to bring the Olympics of two-wheeled delivery to town. As the athletic action heats up in London, this weekend hundreds of couriers from around the globe will converge in our city for the 20th Annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, with a packed schedule of races, arts events and parties celebrating their unique lifestyle.

The championships take place from Thursday, August 2, to Sunday, August 5, with the main competitions happening all day Saturday and Sunday in the south parking lot of Soldier Field, 18th Street and the Lakefront Trail. Other highlights include track racing at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook, a nighttime “alleycat” (messenger-style race in live traffic), a movie night with courier-themed films, an opening party featuring punk-rock legends Agent Orange and the infamous Messenger Prom. Check out the full schedule of events at Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 17

Checkerboard City: Pilsen Pedaling

Checkerboard City, Pilsen No Comments »

Arturo Abel, Ricardo Ortiz, Veronica Ortiz and Angel Carabes/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

One thing I love about bicycle stores is they often double as community centers. Irv’s Bike Shop, a mom-and-pop store in Pilsen that marks its fortieth anniversary this month, is a great example. “We have a family vibe because it’s family and close friends that work here, and our customers see that,” says staffer Veronica Ortiz, whose brother-in-law Enrique “Henry” Ortiz owns the shop and husband Ricardo “Rick” Ortiz manages it. “And our shop is considered loyal to the neighborhood because we’ve been part of the community for so long.”

Original owner Irv Rout, eighty-three, grew up in Pilsen a few blocks from the store at 17th and Racine. After serving in two wars he opened a general merchandise shop with his wife Zora “Violet” Rout in the next storefront west of the present-day bike shop. In 1972 he opened the current location and began stocking bike parts. “A fellow said ‘Why don’t you sell tires and tubes,’” Irv tells me over the telephone from his home in suburban Hillside. “‘The kids will find you.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 02

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 »

Jun 19

Checkerboard City: Savage Ride

Andersonville, Avondale, Beverly, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Rogers Park, Uptown No Comments »

Bill Savage/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Nelson Algren wrote, ‘It isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks or its flashing ballet,’” says Algren scholar Bill Savage, strapping on his bicycle helmet. “‘But you never truly love it until you can love its alleys too.’ So there’s this dynamic in the city between the boulevard and the alley, between the beautiful urban spaces and the place where the garbage and the rats are, and if you really love Chicago you’ve got to love both.”

An English lecturer at Northwestern University, Bill grew up in Rogers Park with his brother, sex advice columnist Dan Savage, and still lives in the neighborhood. “I tell my students, it’s very easy to experience the city secondhand, in books and movies and online,” Bill says. “But if you’re not out there on the pavement, whether on foot or on a bicycle or in a car or on public transportation, you’re missing something.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 05

Checkerboard City: Gimme Shelter

Checkerboard City, Loop, South Loop No Comments »

photo by John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

This year when you walk to the Printers Row Lit Fest it’s a little less likely you’ll be killed by a car. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently wrapping up the $18 million Congress Parkway Reconstruction Project, from Wells Street to Michigan Avenue. The rehab has already brought a slew of pedestrian safety improvements, including new “pedestrian refuge” islands, making it safer, easier and more pleasant to walk across and along the massive street that forms the southern boundary of the Loop.

Construction on Congress Parkway began in October 2010 and the road reopened to traffic on May 15, just in time for the NATO summit. CDOT expects the final tasks, including finishing planter medians and installing decorative trellises and lighting, will be done by June 30.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 29

Checkerboard City: Island Delights

Bicycling, Blue Island, Checkerboard City No Comments »

Kids from Cal-Sag Cycles by the mural of Major Taylor along his namesake trail /Photo: Jane Healy:

By John Greenfield

Jane Healy is a diehard booster of the blue-collar south suburb of Blue Island, and she’s the ultimate biker mama. Along with her husband Mike and kids Will, Katie and Genevieve, she usually pedals to get around this scruffy railroad town of some 22,500 people, located just south of Chicago and straddling the Calumet-Sag Channel. Jane is board president of the Active Transportation Alliance advocacy group, and she’s been spearheading Blue Island’s current bike boom, helping get hundreds of local kids jazzed about cycling.

In 2006 Healy got the idea to lead a “bike train,” escorting a group of children to and from her kids’ school on cycles. “Pretty soon every time I’d open my garage door I’d have hordes of small children running toward me asking to go on a bike ride.” Soon she found grant money to launch Cal-Sag Cycles, an earn-a-bike program where teens learn bike safety and repair skills and build their own Fuji hybrids. Read the rest of this entry »

May 22

Checkerboard City: Gangster Rap

Bicycling, Checkerboard City No Comments »

Lorena Cupcake Caiazzo/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

In a Midwestern town where folks dress conservatively, Chicago bike style icon Lorena Cupcake (her legal middle name) Caiazzo stands out like a handful of Skittles scattered across the Wall Street Journal. Easily spotted by her candy-colored outfits, rainbow-and-lollipops tattoo and messenger bag emblazoned “Cupcake Gangster,” she’s also an astute commentator on the local cycling, drinking and foodie scenes via her frequently updated, often hilarious Twitter feed, @lorenacupcake.

But Caiazzo, twenty-five, is far from just a hipster gadfly. A frequent participant and volunteer at “alleycats,” underground messenger-style checkpoint races, she runs the bike event Twitter calendar @chicagoholdup and helps stage the annual Bicycle Film Festival. Last year she and a few other petite fixed-gear enthusiasts formed Tiny Fix, a bike gang especially for women under five-foot-two-inches, which organizes bar nights, dance parties and now their first alleycat. The Tiny Fix Ace Race happens Saturday, May 26–visit for details.  Read the rest of this entry »

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