Updated ClearStreets, alternative to Plow Tracker, brings new features and mobile-friendly design

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ClearStreets’s new look. 

Last January I told you about ClearStreets, an alternative to the City of Chicago’s Plow Tracker website. The main difference is that Plow Tracker shows the current location of snow plows while ClearStreets tracks where they’ve been. Both sites have been updated today in time for our first winter storm, but since the world is ending tonight, you better look at them quickly.

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Photo of mobile-friendly Plow Tracker by Dan O’Neil.

Plow Tracker has been updated to better display on mobile devices, at a different URL: http://m.cityofchicago.org/plowtracker. If you load it on a desktop browser, it doesn’t appear correctly.

During my conversation with lead creator of ClearStreets, Derek Eder, I told him that I believe there’s a weak relationship with the focus of Grid Chicago – sustainable transportation. The updates don’t change that, but we had a good discussion about the future of ClearStreets, and the implications and potential it has, as a platform, for other ideas and apps where that relationship could improve. Also, I’ve been exploring technology and transportation with this blog for some time as I’m a programmer myself. Continue reading Updated ClearStreets, alternative to Plow Tracker, brings new features and mobile-friendly design

Concerns from locals about protected lanes on the West Side boulevards

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Cyclist on Douglas Boulevard in the 24th Ward before protected lanes were installed.

Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of the local chapter of the African-American cycling group Red Bike and Green, recently emailed me that some local residents are “up in arms” about the protected bike lanes being built along the West Side boulevards. This 4.5-mile route leads from Garfield Park to 24th Street in Little Village. 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler has asked the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to suspend construction of the lanes on Independence Boulevard, which runs south from Garfield Park, until these issues are resolved. I called Eboni last night for more info and her perspective on the situation.

So what are people’s concerns?

Basically they’re creating a protected bike lane on one side [of Independence] by moving the parked cars to the middle on [the southbound] side, and on the other side going north they’re just doing it as a buffered bike lane, with the bike lane to the left of the parked cars. So essentially they started implementing this particular design for these bike lanes and then there was ticketing that wasn’t supposed to happen that all of the sudden happened because people didn’t know where to park. The lanes are half constructed. So all these tickets were issued and everyone’s up in arms in this particular community, which is mostly Lawndale. [The tickets have since been dismissed.]

A special concern is the number of churches that are along this corridor. They’re concerned about their congregation and their ability to park. And there’s also this concern about safety. Basically people kept saying at the meeting, you have to get out of your car in the middle of the street.

Continue reading Concerns from locals about protected lanes on the West Side boulevards

Strong Towns and Playborhoods: A talk with Charles Marohn and Mike Lanza

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Mike Lanza and Charles Marohn. Photo by Steven.

Earlier this week New York-based livable streets activist Mark Gorton invited sustainable transportation leaders from around the country to Chicago for a discussion of ways to encourage the development of walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities across the nation. Gorton’s new campaign is tentatively called the American Streets Renaissance.

Dani Simons, director of the campaign, invited Steven and me to drop by after the meeting at the SRAM headquarters to interview two of the participants. Charles Marohn is executive director of Strong Towns, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable, fiscally responsible communities. Mike Lanza, author of the book Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play (buy on Amazon), advocates for public spaces that allow children to play and move about independently, fostering self-reliance.

John: Mike tell us about your book and the other projects you’re working on.

Mike: Sure. I write a blog and I’ve written a book about children and neighborhoods and play, the central idea being that children should be empowered by their parents and by their communities to be outside in their neighborhoods and to learn how to be independent. It’s something that used to be obvious to people a few generations ago but today it’s very uncommon for children to have independent lives on their own in their neighborhoods. In my mind, the immediate neighborhood right outside their front door, that means their yard, their block, is the foundation to having independent mobility, to being able to ride their bike to school, to walk to school and go to retail stores.

And so I write about other communities outside of my own that have done some very innovative things. I also write a lot about what I’ve done and my own personal journey and trying to make what I call a “playborhood,” a neighborhood of play for kids in my community. One important part of it is making a third place if you will, a neighborhood hangout for kids right where they live. It’s something that has left American life. We used to have places where we could just show up and see people we know, like the Cheers bar. As a kid, I had a street right next to my house where we used to play ball all the time. So having one place to go where you can feel that there’s a pretty decent probability there will be other kids, there’s something to do, there’s a place where you can just show up and hang out with people, is really important.

Continue reading Strong Towns and Playborhoods: A talk with Charles Marohn and Mike Lanza

Dude, share my car? A look at peer-to-peer car sharing

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

Last year Zipcar, the world’s largest car-sharing company, really got my goat with its “Sometimes you just need a car” ad campaign, featuring images of people looking miserable while pedaling to a meeting or riding the bus to a music gig. Fact is, my friends and I do these things all the time, and cyclists and transit users make up a big chunk of the company’s customer base. Why insult your clientele?

But Zipcar did have a point. Even sustainable-transportation blackbelts can use an automobile now and then for road trips, hauling cargo or giving rides to friends and family. Zipcar and I-GO, operated by the local nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology, provide a great service to car-free Chicagoans by allowing us to include driving in our toolbox of travel options.

The new breed of peer-to-peer car-sharing companies takes a different approach by helping individuals rent directly from private car owners. This model may actually be a bit more eco-friendly, since it eliminates the need for the company to purchase a fleet of new vehicles and lease off-street parking spaces for them.

The peer-to-peer service Relay Rides, founded by Northwestern University grad Shelby Clark and based in San Francisco, opened in Chicago earlier this year and now operates in nineteen U.S. cities. Its competitor Getaround, also headquartered in San Francisco, launched here in September and currently serves Austin, San Diego and Portland, Oregon, as well. I recently called cofounder Jessica Scorpio to learn how the wheels of fortune spin.

Continue reading Dude, share my car? A look at peer-to-peer car sharing

Danish History: How Copenhagen became bike-friendly again

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Jens Loft Rasmussen and Mai-Britt Kristensen.

When I visited Copenhagen last July, I was wowed by the seamless bicycle infrastructure and the many car-free streets and plazas. But the Danish capital wasn’t always a pedaler’s paradise. In the postwar era the city pursued American-style, auto-centric urban planning, but the 1973 oil crisis caused Copenhagen residents to rethink their transportation priorities. Over the course of several decades they rebuilt their city into the sustainable transportation Mecca it is today. As efforts to reallocate public space from cars to greener modes gain momentum in Chicago, Copenhagen’s story is an encouraging one.

While I was in town I stopped by the headquarters of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and met with director Jens Loft Rasmussen and project manager Mai-Britt Kristensen. Over coffee and Danish pastry in their office’s lovely courtyard, they told me about how Copenhagen succeeded in changing course and what lies on the horizon. Jens also offered a bit of advice to Mayor Emanuel for creating a bike-friendly Chicago.

Continue reading Danish History: How Copenhagen became bike-friendly again

Danish Modern: Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s Mikael Colville-Andersen

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Mikael Colville-Andersen with his kids Felix and Lulu-Sophia.

[This article originally ran in Urban Velo magazine.]

As “The Pope of Urban Cycling,” Mikael Colville-Andersen is one of today’s leading bicycle advocates, but also one of the most controversial. He’s known as the kingpin of the stylish cycling movement via his award-winning photo blog Copenhagen Cycle Chic. The site mostly features candid photographs of attractive, well-dressed women on wheels, for a largely female readership. For his day job as CEO of Copenhagenize, a nine-person transportation consulting firm, he travels to cities around the world, advising politicians, planners and advocates on ways to emulate the success of the bike-friendly Danish capital.

Mikael’s blogs have a global following—Cycle Chic has inspired some 150 spin-offs in other cities. He’s also a sought-after public speaker who gave the keynote address at this year’s Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference in Long Beach, California. But he’s not without his critics. His outspoken opposition to helmet promotion troubles many North American advocates. And at least two female bike bloggers have critiqued his Cycle Chic aesthetic and rhetoric as being sexist, elitist and counterproductive for encouraging regular folks to ride.

In July I visited Copenhagen for the first time and, as advertised, it’s a biker’s paradise with mellow traffic, grade-separated bike lanes on all major streets and good-looking, stylish people on classy Dutch cycles everywhere you turn. I met up with Mikael, a bright-eyed, energetic man, at his flat in Frederiksberg, a town completely surrounded by Copenhagen. We sipped cans of Carlsberg as his young kids Felix and Lulu-Sophia practiced soccer and picked flowers in their lush back yard. Mikael and I discussed his views on helmets, the differences between Copenhagen and Amsterdam, why he’s underwhelmed by Portland, and why bikes should be marketed more like vacuum cleaners.

Continue reading Danish Modern: Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s Mikael Colville-Andersen