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

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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

Year in review: 2012 was our first calendar year of blogging

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The road ahead. 2012 was also the most active year for new bike lanes in Chicago, including this one on Lake Street at Rockwell. We expect many more miles in 2013 as well as the advancement and launch of other new transportation projects. Photo by Gabriel Michael. 

Grid Chicago launched in June 2011, so 2012 represents our first calendar year of blogging. What did we write? A lot. We, including our many contributors, wrote 353,487 words in 466 posts (an average of 38.3 per month). For comparison, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead has 311,596 words. The table below lists the most popular posts (measured purely by page views in that month only) and the number of comments they received.

We also traveled a lot. The both of us, at different times, visited Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. Between us we visited many states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, Oregon, and New York (we didn’t write about every visit, though).

Most popular posts of 2012

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End of year donation appeal for West Town Bikes

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West Town Bikes hosts women and trans night each Wednesday. Photo by Kim Werst. 

At the end of every year, non-profit organizations make an appeal to be the source of your charitable donations. Giving to these organizations is needed at all times, though, and not just for December holidays. John and I have always highly regarded West Town Bikes on our blog. Briefly, West Town Bikes is a direct-service and community-learning bike shop in Humboldt Park. Lengthily, West Town Bikes and its executive director and founder Alex Wilson played a large part in my advocacy-tinged personal development, and in my transition to live car-free. West Town Bikes has also served me more selfishly: it hosted both Cargo Bike Roll Call block parties; and their tools and volunteers’ expertise helped me repair a bike I stupidly broke*.

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Alex Wilson leads a BickerBikes youth group on an excursion.

I asked John to chime in:

West Town Bikes represents the very best aspects of the Chicago bike scene. As a bike education center that’s a terrific resource for people of from all walks of life, it’s one of the most democratic cycling organizations in town. It’s a powerful example of how bicycles can be a tool for positive change, especially in the way its youth programs have helped literally hundreds of underserved young people get on the right track towards leading healthy, productive lives.

Alex Wilson is a true teacher of teachers who has helped get dozens of other people started in the bike education field. He’s also had a major influence on my own life in bicycling. Heck, the last time I broke a frame he gave me a replacement for free and helped me switch over the parts. It’s not an exaggeration to say bicycling in Chicago would not be nearly as far along as it is today without Alex and West Town.

Make a donation online. It’s also tax deductible.

* While still learning how bikes work, I once wiped off the grease from a seat tube. Later on, when I tried to adjust the seat height, I realized the seat post was permanently stuck. A several months long process, during which I manually removed the stuck seatpost, ended with using a reamer to make the seat tube new again.

Open thread: Post your CTA Holiday Train photos

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Santa rides the train outside! Photo by CTA. 

Every November and December the Chicago Transit Authority operates the Holiday Train, a revenue service train with a flatbed car and a brave Santa Claus (brave because he rides outside!).

The experience has become very popular in Chicago, akin to the cachet of the Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree in New York City. Saturday was the final day of operation for 2012.

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No space is left un-transformed for the special ride. This spot is usually reserved for service changes and announcements. Photo by CTA. 

See more photos by the CTA on their Flickr.

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The Holiday Train passes over the Wabash Avenue bridge. Photo by Drew Baker. 

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People wait to board the Holiday Train at the Forest Park Blue Line station. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

Post a link to your photos in the comments.

Holiday Express: A Chicago sustainable transportation gift guide

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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. Although we’re running this on Grid Chicago a bit late for some of the winter holidays, we hope you’ll enjoy reading about some of the great products coming out of Chicago nowadays and consider them for future purchases.]

A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. You can’t get much more politically correct than that.

Our city’s over-dependence on automobiles really makes you appreciate those rare spots where you can take a break from the sight, sound and smell of car traffic. Give the gift of tranquility with Peaceful Places Chicago by local journalist Anne Ford. Her book features over one-hundred serene locations, most of them accessible by transit, with many destinations for relaxing, strolling and biking. Some of my favorites include the Indiana Dunes, Bridgeport’s Stearns Quarry Park, The Magic Hedge bird sanctuary at Montrose Harbor, Rosehill Cemetery and the Osaka Japanese Garden in Jackson Park. $14.95 at Women and Children First, 5233 North Clark.

Continue reading Holiday Express: A Chicago sustainable transportation gift guide

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