Media gallery from Open Streets on State Street

Photos and one video of Open Streets on State Street by John Greenfield (JG) and Steven Vance (SV).


A north to south video tour of Open Streets filmed by Brandon Gobel and Steven Vance from the cargo deck of a Bullitt bike. SV


Families playing in the imagination playground. Adolfo Hernandez at the Active Transportation Alliance described his experience, saying, “I saw people, moms with kids, were instinctively picking up the blocks and putting them together”. JG


The only time this artist could sit in the middle of State Street to paint the northern view. JG


Even the kids were breakdancing. JG


Hula hoops were everywhere. And in use. JG


People practicing capoeira. SV


Playing real-life four square. SV


Mike Garcia of Brickheadz breakdancing for the Illinois Center for Broadcasting camera crew. SV


This drawing was creating one square at a time by multiple people. SV


Winners of the three-legged race. SV

More photos


Does biking in large groups, like the monthly ride called Critical Mass, help or hurt cyclists and the cycling movement?

Updated September 29 and 30 to add my thoughts and to clarify that when I asked my friends on Facebook for their thoughts, only four people replied. Also included the fourth reply. Added information about the “Aftermass” documentary effort in Portland, Oregon. Added Critical Mass alternatives.

This debate aired on Chicago Tonight on Thursday, September 27, 2011, at 7 PM. I haven’t watched it yet – I just wanted to get it out there for you. Features cycling mom and friend of Grid Chicago, Gin Kilgore, as well as Ethan Spotts, director of communications at Active Transportation Alliance, and Scott Rowan, co-author of The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide.

I asked my friends on Facebook about this issue; here’s what the only four who responded said:

Dan Ciskey

In the summer it’s nothing more than a frat party on wheels. They block other bikers who need to use the street in the opposite direction by riding across the entire street. Even when the opposite direction has its own bike lane. At that point it’s not bike-positive, it’s just a bunch of jerks. I had a driver who got stuck in Mass throw change at me, even though we were past and I was riding away from the group. They’re really winning hearts and minds!

I’ve never run into them in the winter (when I’m sure they’re much smaller; most of the riders don’t seem too serious).

Friend who wanted to remain anonymous

I think that if nothing else, Critical Mass should avoid riding by Union Station whenever possible (which is always). There’s a huge throng of pedestrian traffic headed toward onion station at the exact time of day as Critical Mass – and they’re consistently blocked from being able to cross Adams Street to get to the entrance.

Anne Alt

For years, I’ve felt that Critical Mass is a mixed bag. Our main Chicago ride, fun as it may be, has gotten too big. It’s difficult to have something the size of a parade NOT alienate a fair number of people.

If riders are friendly to pedestrians and drivers, the response is usually friendly. If riders are confrontational or thuggish, it gives our bike community a collective black eye.

If we want to build greater acceptance for cycling and get more people out riding on the streets, alienating the general public will NOT help us make progress towards a more bike friendly city. It’s more likely to provoke a Tea Party-style backlash. I suspect that the negative responses we see in newspaper article comment sections and bike bashing on talk radio are just the tip of the iceberg. Road rage incidents reinforce this opinion.

I think the smaller neighborhood Critical Mass rides are more effective at promoting the idea of sharing the road and peacefully coexisting. I appreciate what Critical Mass has done to popularize the idea of bike riding in cities, but I think the big rides of recent years have become counterproductive. I also appreciate the efforts that some of our local CMers have made with the multi-mass idea – difficult as that is to pull off.

I’d rather be part of a mellow, friendly social ride than a drunken frat party on wheels. Just my $0.02… Your mileage may vary.

Dan Korn

 It’s true that it might not be the best tool to encourage people to ride, but I think its greatest value is the energy it gives to its participants, and that’s been a huge factor in the growth of the cycling movement, which has, admittedly slowly, but surely, led to improvements like protected bike lanes and events like Bike the Drive here in Chicago, and similar advances in other cities with large Critical Mass rides and communities. These kinds of changes wouldn’t have been possible, I submit, without the sense of community and vision that Critical Mass fosters. To me, that far outweighs any negatives. Although, if people are now talking about cycling, for almost any reason, that’s a good thing too.

My thoughts

I think that the people who enjoy doing Critical Mass should continue doing it. I will not ask them to stop, but I won’t ask them to continue. I don’t think it hurts the “cycling movement”. What hurts the cycling movement is the lack of political leadership to help move it. But that’s changing in Chicago. I rode in Critical Mass (the October ride is my favorite) because I enjoyed being around people who were having fun, and I liked the energy of the ride. I stopped riding in Critical Mass purely because it exacerbated my existing neck and back pain.

Joe Biel is making a documentary of “post-Critical Mass” Portland, Oregon. He writes on his Kickstarter page:

What does it mean that Portland, one of the best North American cities for cycling, has virtually no Critical Mass? Is it no longer relevant in the evolution of cyclists or has the police crackdown just been so successful? What are the new goals of cyclists? What is the new activism? How are objectives reached?


People riding in Critical Mass on Clybourn Avenue in summer 2011. Photo by Mike Travis. 

Critical Mass alternatives in Chicago

Next steps for 35th Ward student active transportation plan


I attended the first public meeting for the 35th Ward student active transportation plan, being managed by Sam Schwartz Engineering and Active Transportation Alliance (ActiveTrans), but left without understanding what the planners envision next, based on the outcomes of the meeting.

I asked Adolfo Hernandez at ActiveTrans about this. He replied:

The next steps include Sam Schwartz Engineering reviewing the community’s input and developing a set of approaches to improve walking and biking access to specific parks and schools within the ward. That set of strategies will be presented as a plan to the community in a public meeting. At that meeting, the public will have an opportunity to hear about the plan and its recommendations as well as help identify priority projects for implementation.

The plan will include some recommendations for short, mid and long term projects but we really want the community to guide prioritizing projects. The alderman [Rey Colón] has agreed to use the plan as a guide for making the ward safer for biking and walking. The alderman has committed to using some menu funds as well as leveraging other funding sources to help implement the plan.

Mark de la Vergne, at Sam Schwartz Engineering added:

During this time, we’ll also be working with the Alderman’s office and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to discuss the potential recommendations and how they may fit within current efforts.

I will inform you when the next meeting is scheduled.

Uninsured drivers and other tales


Yesterday I posted this statement about automobile crashes on my Facebook wall:

‎36.9% of all automobile crashes (including the ones involving pedestrians and bicyclists) in 2010 were labeled “hit and run” by IDOT.

I pulled this information from the crash data I’ll be analyzing and visualizing with three other people.

The first comment I received asked if that number was related to the number of uninsured motorists in Chicago. I found a report published by the Insurance Research Council (IRC; funded by property casualty insurance companies) that estimated, for 2009, 15% of drivers in Illinois do not have insurance. The estimates were “based on the ratio of uninsured motorist insurance claim frequency to bodily injury claim frequency.” I don’t know if this is a good, or the best measurement technique, but it’s one way that we can compare annual data. It seems this method will not include crashes where neither driver has insurance (driver or medical), or when no claim is made against the uninsured driver.

Then today I was at MicroCenter in Logan Square shopping for a computer hard drive. Someone else was standing next to me looking at some of the same products. He got a phone call. It went something like this. (Note: I did not hear anything the caller said – I’m making it up based on his responses.)

  • Caller: What are you doing?
  • Man: Shopping for hard drives.
  • Caller: How’d you get there?
  • Man: I’m borrowing this person’s car.
  • Caller: Let’s go somewhere.
  • Man: No, I don’t care, I’m not taking you on a joy ride. I haven’t had a license for three years. If I get pulled over, I’m going to jail.

What the heck does one do in this situation? Do you call the police and report that a driving crime is about to happen?

Simply because he has no license doesn’t make him a bad driver, but his tone and his message to the caller indicated, to me, that his license to drive was taken from him. But that was a little deterrent. He calculated his risk and concluded it was low enough to borrow someone’s car and drive to the store to buy a hard drive, but that driving any further (taking the caller on a joy ride) was too risky. There’s probably some correlation that the longer distance one drives, or the more time one drives, the more likely they will be pulled over. But for there to be that correlation, police officers would have to be 1) randomly distributed across the region where this person is driving, and 2) paying attention to driver infractions.

As long as the man avoids making errors and ensures the borrowed car meets legal requirements to drive (lights, registration, etc…), then he will avoid being pulled over. Since the IRC estimates that 15% of drivers in Illinois have no insurance, it may be prudent for the police to randomly pull over a certain percentage of drivers each year simply to check for valid insurance. When there’s a crash with an uninsured driver, that infraction of driving without insurance is just as important to public safety as the action that caused the crash. Not every insured driver carries uninsured motorist insurance to protect themselves, monetarily, from this situation.

I searched Flickr for “uninsured driver” and this was one of the photos that appeared. The driver of the white car hit the dark car in the foreground. The photo was posted by one of the people in the dark car and says that the driver of the white car did not have driving insurance. Photo by vikisuzan in Kent, Washington. 

How hydrogen cars work

I wrote this summary to further inform readers who have questions about the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle and the article John wrote about its visit to The Drake hotel in Chicago.


Under the hood of Hyundai’s Tucson Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. 

What’s in the car?

Inside the car are fuel cells, devices that convert the chemical energy of hydrogen (or another chemical) to electricity. Hydrogen is used because of its simplicity: “An atom of hydrogen consists of a single electron and a single proton.” With the hydrogen,

The fuel cell generates electricity by stripping the electrons from the protons and using the electrons to create a pure stream of electricity. The ionized hydrogen atoms then combine with oxygen to form water. The other byproduct of this process is heat, so this water generally takes the form of steam. (HowStuffWorks)

Also inside the car are hydrogen tanks; the Hyundai Tucscon has one tank holding 12.3 pounds of hydrogen. With the electricity from the fuel cells, a 134 horsepower motor drives the car.

Where does the hydrogen come from?

Hydrogen is extracted from hydrocarbons, mainly natural gas, a fossil fuel. In 2010, the United States produced 89.4% of the natural gas it consumed, importing the remainder from Canada, Trinidad, Egypt, Qatar, and Nigeria (top 5 by imported volume).

How is the hydrogen obtained?

There are two methods, and most hydrogen in the United States (95%) is obtained with steam-methane reforming. When natural gas is used to extract hydrogen*, the methane in natural gas reacts with steam  at a temperature of 1,292°F (700°C) to 1,832°F (1,000°C), in the presence of a nickel-based catalyst, and produces hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide.

In the second process, called water-gas shift reaction, “the carbon monoxide and steam are reacted using a catalyst to produce carbon dioxide and more hydrogen” (U.S. DOE). In the final process, called pressure-swing adsorption, the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are removed, leaving the hydrogen.

*Alternatives to natural gas as a source for hydrogen include methanol, ethanol, propane, or gasoline (U.S. DOE).

Sources are linked and comprise HowStuffWorks, United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), and the United States Department of Energy (DOE), Haldor Topsoe (a catalyst research company), and Car & Driver. 

Tell Senate to pass clean extension to surface transportation bill

Updated September 16, 2011: Senate passes the bill. Now waiting for President Obama’s signature. Via Transportation 4 America


Photo of two Metra trains at Clinton Street by Eric Pancer. 

The House has passed a “clean extension” (the eighth one) of SAFETEA-LU on Tuesday, September 13, 2011. That’s the legislation that collects the 18.5 cents per gallon federal gas tax and distributes it to road, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects around the country. It’s already passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, but not yet the full Senate.

A “clean extension” means extending the existing legislation without amendments. Now’s not the time to debate amendments. Congress has had over two years to do that. They need to extend the legislation and then work faster on creating a replacement bill for surface transportation that reflects our nation’s current priorities, as the extension would only last until March 2012.

Additionally, some Congresspersons desire to remove a piece of the surface transportation legislation called Transportation Enhancements. This is a subsidiary funding mechanism that is often used to build bicycling trails, sidewalks, crosswalks, and more. (Bike lanes in Chicago are majority funded by grants from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality subsidiary funding.)

For more information, stay tuned with Active Transportation Alliance and Transportation 4 America.

You can get involved now by calling Illinois Senators Dick Durbin (312-353-4952) and Mark Kirk (312-886-3506).

Lastly, there’s a rally in Chicago next week, on Tuesday, September 20, at Union Station, to show your support for transit.