Talking transportation with 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino


Laurino walks home from the opening of the Sauganash Trail in 2008. Image courtesy of 39th Ward.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

As “mini mayors,” Chicago aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use “menu money” discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, as when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone put the kibosh on a bike bridge over the North Shore Channel in West Rogers Park.

39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino’s Far Northwest Side district includes parts of the Albany Park, North Park, Sauganash, Mayfair, Independence Park and Old Irving Park neighborhoods. The chairman of the City Council’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, she’s probably best known to cyclists as the sponsor of a new ordinance that bans texting and talking on cell phones while cycling. But she’s actually one of City Hall’s outspoken advocates for sustainable transportation.

As part of our ongoing project to interview all fifty of Chicago’s aldermen about sustainable transportation issues in their districts, I recently caught up with Laurino at her ward service office, 4404 West Lawrence, to get her views on walking, biking and transit issues in her ward and citywide.

Continue reading Talking transportation with 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino

Merchandise mart: Wicker Park’s Transit Tees shop celebrates the CTA


I’m surprised it took me so long to actually visit Transit Tees, 1371 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park, since I pedal by the store regularly, and much of the transportation-themed gear they sell is right up my alley. Founded by Tim Gillengerten, the business has been selling t-shirts featuring CTA- and bicycle-inspired designs at local street festivals for years. This fall they opened the brick-and-mortar store, packed with shirts, wall art, mugs, neckties, messenger bags, jewelry and even stuffed pigeons. Almost all of the products are designed and manufactured by the company, with much of the work being done in the back of the store. Tim told me about the history of the the business, talked about some of his bestsellers and explained why he thinks mass transit-themed schwag is an idea whose time has arrived.

How long has the store been open?

We’ve been open at the retail location here since November 15, so it’s about two months.

And did Transit Tees exist as a business before that?

It did. We evolved it and refocused it as transportation-focused so we sort of shed all of our other product lines and now we’re mostly focusing on subway, bicycle, any form of transportation, planes, walking, and also Chicago and the Midwest, Great Lakes region.

Continue reading Merchandise mart: Wicker Park’s Transit Tees shop celebrates the CTA

Cool New York City transportation stuff I’d love to see in Chicago


One-way protected bike lane leading downtown to pedestrianized Times Square. While NYC has some terrific bicycle facilities, it also has its fair share of bike salmon and bike ninjas.

View more photos from John’s Manhattan bike ride here.

Last week I wrote, “[Chicago is] now the national leader in providing enhanced on-street bikeways.” It’s probably true that we have the highest total number of miles of protected and buffered bike lanes, 12.5 and 14.5 miles, respectively, for a total of 27 miles. (The Chicago Department of Transportation recently started counting both types as “protected,” but I’m sticking with the standard definition of protected lanes as ones with a physical barrier, such as parked cars, between cyclists and motorized traffic.)

But on a visit to New York City a few days later, I found out we still haven’t beat the Big Apple in terms of physically separated protected lanes; there are currently about twenty miles of them in the five boros, according to Streetsblog editor-in-chief Ben Fried. (I’m still trying to track down the number of buffered lane miles.) New York has been building protected lanes since 2007 but Chicago, which only started last year, is currently installing the lanes at a much faster rate, so it’s very possible we’ll overtake them in the near future.

Continue reading Cool New York City transportation stuff I’d love to see in Chicago

State of Independence: The protected lane will change to a buffered lane


The city has placed barricades in the protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard to discourage cycling in them until they are converted to buffered lanes. 

View more photos of the Independence Boulevard bike lanes here.

In December Red Bike and Green’s Eboni Senai Hawkins notified me that residents of Lawndale, an underserved community on Chicago’s West Side, were “up in arms” about the new protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard. This roughly mile-long stretch connects the Garfield Park green space with Douglas Boulevard and is part of a new 4.5-mile network of protected and buffered lanes leading from the park to Little Village. I interviewed Hawkins for her perspective on the situation.

Hawkins, a Lawndale resident, told me the locals had a number of complaints. After the new lanes, which move the parking lane from the curb to the left of the bike lane, were striped but not yet signed, dozens of motorists who parked curbside were ticketed. Those tickets, and all subsequent tickets were eventually dismissed. Independence is home to several churches and the pastors felt that the new lanes made it difficult for members of their congregations to park.

Although the lanes are designed to reduce speeding and shorten pedestrian crossing distances on the wide boulevard by narrowing the travel lanes, drivers said they felt uncomfortable parking in the new “floating” parking lanes. They said the new configuration made them feel more exposed to the still-speeding traffic as they exited their cars. They found the new street configuration, which incorporates sections of protected as well buffered lanes, to be confusing. And they objected to the removal of some parking spaces as part of the design.

Residents complained to 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler. Although Chandler had signed off on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) plans for the lanes a year earlier, at a couple of recent community meetings the alderman blasted the new design and asked CDOT to bring back curbside parking. The department has agreed to use paint to convert the protected lanes to buffered lanes later this winter at an estimated cost in the low $10,000s, according to deputy commissioner Scott Kubly.

Continue reading State of Independence: The protected lane will change to a buffered lane

Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology


The Wabash Avenue bike lanes, now classified as “buffer-protected.” Photo by John Lankford.

2012 was a banner year for bike lanes in Chicago. According to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bikeways Tracker, by the end of the year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had completed or was in the process of building a total of 12.5 miles of protected bike lanes and 14.5 miles of buffered bike lanes. When Rahm Emanuel took office in last year our city had no protected or buffered bike lanes, but nineteen months later we’re now the national leader in providing enhanced on-street bikeways. That’s a huge achievement.

One issue that has come up is CDOT’s recent adoption of the terms “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes to refer to what the department formerly called “protected” and “buffered” lanes. This change in terminology also seems to indicate a shift in goals.

Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Report, released in May of that year, announced the bold objective of building one hundred miles of protected bike lanes within the mayor’s first term. The document defined “protected lanes” as “separated from traveling cars and sit[ting] between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic.” As Grid Chicago readers know, buffered lanes are instead located to the left of the parking lane, with additional dead space striped on one or both sides of the bike lane to distance the bike lane from motorized traffic and/or opening car doors.

However, in recent months CDOT staff began using the new terminology, which redefines “protected lanes” to include buffered lanes. The press release for the terrific new two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn Street confirmed that the agency is now counting “buffer-protected” lanes towards the hundred-mile target. This means that instead of building one-hundred miles of physically separated lens by 2015, the new goal is to build a total of one hundred miles of “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes.

I certainly don’t blame CDOT for changing their target. Building one hundred miles of physically separated lanes, plus dozens of additional miles of buffered lanes, within four years always seemed a bit unrealistic. It took a Herculean effort by the department’s small bike program staff to install the current number of protected lanes, often working far more than a nine-to five schedule. And I for one would be delighted if Chicago reaches, say, sixty-five miles of protected lanes and thirty-five miles of buffered lanes by 2015. It would make a huge difference in the city’s bike-ability.

The question is, would it have made more sense for CDOT to simply acknowledge the shift to a more realistic goal, rather than redefining buffered lanes as “protected” lanes just so that the city will be able to claim they met the hundred-mile goal? Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly graciously took time out on last Saturday to share his perspective on the issue with me.

Continue reading Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

Ski for Yourself: The CTA’s Glide and Ride program


Cross-country skiing near the Waveland Clock Tower.

[This piece originally ran in Newcity.]

Although Chicago is a superior city in most respects, I suspect that Minneapolis, a much colder, snowier town, is actually a place where more people enjoy the winter. This is because residents of the Twin Cities, with their strong Scandinavian heritage, know how to embrace the season, donning cheerful woolen clothing and diving into cold-weather fun like sledding, skating and snowball fights, followed by large quantities of glögg.

Here in the Windy City, most people dress in black and view winter as something to survive, not celebrate. They see it as a series of hassles and indignities: freezing ‘L’ platforms, slushy sidewalks, salt-choked air and parking spots selfishly reserved with old furniture.

Not me. I’ve got a two-pronged strategy to make the most out of cold weather. The first is indoor coziness and/or winter denial: gastropubs, rock clubs and hot tubs; Hala Kahiki and the Garfield Park Conservatory. As I type this, I’m sitting in the ninth-floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, surrounded by leafy trees and ivy-covered walls.

My second tactic is making sure to get plenty of outside time in the brilliant winter sunshine. I bundle up and ride my bike daily, and take long walks around Logan Square after fresh snowfalls create an atmosphere of hushed beauty. One of these days I’m going to get up early, pedal to the Belmont Harbor peninsula and do (clumsy) yoga as the sun rises over the steaming water — I mean it.

Continue reading Ski for Yourself: The CTA’s Glide and Ride program