This is the first post co-written by both Grid Chicago bloggers. 

Last Friday’s ribbon cutting for the new on-street bicycle racks at Milwauke/North/Damen in Wicker Park, the first in the city, was a bittersweet occasion for John.

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A bus and cyclist pass by Chicago’s first on-street bike parking corral in Wicker Park on Friday, July 29, 2011. 

As many Grid Chicago readers know, both John Greenfield and Steven Vance are veterans of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Bicycle Program who worked on parking projects. Around 2004 the owner of Andersonville’s Cheetah Gym, 5248 N Clark, approached John about getting a 12-bike rack, which the bike program had in stock, installed in a car parking space in front of his business and even offered to pay for planters to protect the bikes from cars.

The local chamber of commerce was all for it, the alderman approved, and on-street bike corrals had already been done successfully in Portland and San Francisco. But the CDOT brass put the kibosh on the project, arguing it was too dangerous to install bike racks on a street. So, if not for the backwardness of the CDOT leadership at the time, we would have celebrated this milestone about seven years ago.

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CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA program manager Eleanor Mayer, and 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno, use extra large scissors to cut the party streamers draped across Chicago’s first on-street bike parking corral. 

City’s bike agenda

That said, it’s terrific that Mayor Emanuel and CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are now pushing an aggressive, progressive bicycle agenda. Last week brought citizen cyclists ribbon cuttings for two cool new facilities: the Kinzie protected bike lane and the Wicker Park bike corral. With cheerful orange racksyellow curbs and reflective signage, flanked by white bike symbols on the street, the corral looks great. And it’s in an ideal location. The six-way intersection, affectionately known as “The Crotch” is ground zero for one of Chicago’s most bike-crazy neighborhoods, with a constant stream of foot and bike traffic.

The corral provides much-needed parking in a location with scant room on the sidewalk for additional racks. It makes it obvious bicycling is an ideal way to access the area’s many shops, restaurants and clubs. And the corral advertises the space-efficiency of bicycles: the racks accommodate 12 bikes in about the same amount of space as one car parking spot.

We have one one minor criticism. When John checked out the racks Thursday night (the day of installation) after a downpour they were sitting in two inches of water, the only flooded spot on the block. The corral is located by a drain which had clogged – the city should fix this problem.

Alderman Moreno leading the charge

Dozens of people showed up in blazing weather for Friday’s ribbon-cutting in front of the Flat Ion Arts Building, 1579 N Milwaukee. Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, of the 1st Ward, addressed the crowd, promising that the corral is “not just a cute thing” but the first step in installing multiple on-street parking sites in his ward, as well as a protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue. “Let’s keep promoting and agitating to get more cycle tracks and bike corrals,” he said.

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Alderman Moreno talks about the importance of this installation, and its contribution to the future protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue. 

Where to put more bike corrals

In a phone interview two weeks ago in July, Alderman Moreno offered Steven his own suggestions for where new bike parking corrals should go. Where are they?

  • Western Blue Line
  • California Blue Line
  • Polish Triangle –  near the Division Blue Line

As a bike parking planner by trade, Steven supports all three locations. The tough part will be finding the right place around these stations. For the Western Blue Line, on-street bike parking would be useful on Homer Street in front of the Green Eye (2403 W Homer), doubly serving the CTA station. Or put it on Western Avenue to serve the Green Eye, CTA station, and Belly Shack.

For the California Blue Line, a bike parking corral could go in front of the Boiler Room to share with the CTA station, or in front of Logan Bar & Grill and Taqueria Moran (2226 N California). Additionally, on Milwaukee, there’s a need for bike parking in front of Revolution Brewing and Cafe Mustache (2323 N Milwaukee).

The Polish Triangle presents more difficult options: installing a corral against the triangle (island) itself is unlikely because of bus stops and taxi zones and the tendency for traffic to take up three lanes on Ashland and Division. The corral could go on Milwaukee Avenue in front of Aldo and Chase Bank (1230 N Milwaukee). Since the sidewalks on Ashland and in the triangle have plenty of width, putting WPB RIDES u-racks there may be a better solution.

Protected bike lane on Milwaukee

Steven also chatted about the progress of a protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue. Moreno’s already talked to Alderman Colón of the 35th Ward, and he’s been discussing the project with Active Transportation Alliance – Moreno’s intention is to build a protected bike lane from the start of the Kinzie bike lane at Des Plaines all the way to Logan Square.

Because of all the metered parking, “LAZ Parking [and Chicago Parking Meters, LLC] has to be part of the solution,” Moreno said. “We have to start now. If they’re going to be sticks in the mud, we have to move forward.” Moreno is aware of all the barriers in his way. “I talked to the mayor’s people, they’re more interested in low-hanging fruit. Milwaukee has to have a robust plan. If we repeat Kinzie, it just becomes ‘cute.’ It’s gotta be robust, and there’s gotta be political will for it.”

Cost-benefit of bike facilities

Commissioner Klein then took the megaphone, noting that while he’s a social liberal he’s fiscally conservative, and bicycle projects like racks and lanes provide maximum bang for the transportation buck. “Studies have shown that having bike facilities in front of your business can increase business by double digits,” he said and promised we’ll be seeing more on-street corrals around the city soon.

Afterwards the group crossed the street for a reception at Francesca’s Forno, where the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area (SSA), which paid for the racks, curbs and installation, set up a display requesting input on future bike parking locations. A survey asked “Are you comfortable parking your bike in the street?” and “How far would you walk from your destination to a bike rack?” Attendees were invited to stick pushpins in a map to indicate where they’d like to see future on-street bike corrals.

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Bill gives his input to the SSA’s questions on bike parking in the district. 

John’s vote? In front of the Subterranean music club, 2011 W North, where the super-skinny sidewalk is way too narrow for racks.

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