More from Marge: Alderman Laurino talks trails, bike sharing


Margaret Laurino with constituent and Grid Chicago commenter Bob Kastigar.

Since Checkerboard City, my weekly column that runs in print in Newcity magazine, is limited to about 1,000 words, some good material from my recent interview with bike-friendly 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino wound up on the cutting room floor. She had interesting things to say about bringing bike sharing to her district, as well as plans for extending the North Branch trail 4.2 miles south south to Foster Avenue. The latter will make it possible to bike roughly 25 miles from Belmont and the Chicago River in Lakeview to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in north suburban Glencoe on an almost entirely car-free route. We’ll get you more details on that exciting project in the near future.

Are there any transit improvement projects going on in your ward?

I think that any improvements that have happened have actually already happened. One of them that I happen to be interested in because of the current ward re-map – you know we’re picking up new areas that we hadn’t had before. The one that I’m going to focus on is that Forest Glenn Metra stop where once again I want it to be a little bit more bike-friendly. I want people to once again be able to bring their bicycles to that stop and then hop on the train and go downtown. I don’t know how many people in my community are actually hopping on a bike, getting on Elston Avenue and actually going all the way downtown. I don’t think that’s happening too much. But getting to the train station on your bicycle… what do we call it, the last mile?

Exactly, yeah.

The last mile, that’s something that I want to really concentrate on. So I’m going to hopefully do that with Metra in cooperation with the city of Chicago there. And then I’d very much like to see a bike share [rental kiosks] at our universities in our ward. The one that I’m really going to push is going to be at Northeastern Illinois University because it’s a commuter college. I’d like to see a bike share [kiosk] on, say, Bryn Mawr. Then they can just rent their bikes, hop on Kimball, which isn’t a bad street for biking and get to the Brown Line at Lawrence and Kimball.

Continue reading More from Marge: Alderman Laurino talks trails, bike sharing

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

Top 5 lists: essential parks, walking, biking and transit stories of 2012


The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane.

In 2012 the Emanuel administration kept the momentum going for walking, biking, transit and public space improvements, with a number of big projects announced and/or completed. For Newcity magazine’s annual “Top 5 of Everything” issue, I submitted the following lists of the most important or interesting sustainable transportation and parks stories of the year. Did I miss anything?

Top 5 Wheelie Exciting Chicago Bicycling Stories

Hundreds of cyclists provide input for 645-mile Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 network

Comrade Cycles, Chicago’s first worker-owned bike shop, opens in Ukrainian Village

Couriers from around the globe gather here for Cycle Messenger World Championships

Final plans for Bloomingdale trail and “linear park” released; construction slated for 2013

CDOT builds Chicago’s first two-way protected bike lane downtown on Dearborn Street


Bollywood dancing at Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue.

Top 5 Not-So-Pedestrian Local Walking Stories

Chicago’s speed camera ordinance passes, paving the way for safer walking conditions

Make Way for People plan to turn alleys, cul-de-sacs and parking spots into mini parks

City releases first-ever comprehensive Pedestrian Plan

Open Streets ciclovia expands to include Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park / Bucktown

Mayor Emanuel announces $100 million plan to complete the Chicago Riverwalk


The CTA Yellow Line’s new Oakton-Skokie station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Top 5 Rapidly Developing Transit Stories

CTA announces 5-month closure of south Red Line, $240 million 95th St. station rehab

Both CTA and Metra hike farecard prices

Sparkling new CTA stations open at Green/Pink Morgan and Yellow Oakton-Skokie

Amtrak train hits 111 MPH downstate, paving the way for high-speed service to St. Louis

Jeffery Jump debuts; plans for bus rapid transit downtown, and on Western, Ashland


Park district rendering of Northerly Island redesign.

Top 5 Blossoming Chicago Park District Stories

Rahm announces $290 million plan for 800 parks & rec projects citywide in next 5 years

Construction starts on four new boathouses along the Chicago River

$5 million Northerly Island rehab will add topography, native habitats and campsites

Take the Field plan earmarks $12 million for sports fields in underserved communities

North Grant Park, now Maggie Daley Park, will get climbing sculptures & skating ribbon

Illinois high-speed rail project hits a milestone at 111 miles per hour


A Lincoln Service Amtrak train passes Joliet, Illinois. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined United States Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood (who’s from Peoria) and Senator Dick Durbin on a special Amtrak train in Joliet on their way to Normal. They met to ride on a rebuilt stretch of track which carried their train at a top speed of 111 miles per hour (MPH).

The high-speed portion is between Dwight and Pontiac, Illinois, according to the LaHood’s blog, Fast Lane. The map below highlights the cities in this article along the route of the Lincoln Service Amtrak route to St. Louis, Missouri. NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes. “Amtrak says that by 2015, 75% of the route between Chicago and St. Louis will be high speed”.

Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and Federal Railroad Administrator Szabo celebrate reaching 111 MPH (visible in the lower-left corner of the TV). Photo by Harvey Tillis

LaHood said on the train, “Four years ago, we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it comes to high-speed rail”. Grid Chicago readers know that Illinois secured over $2 billion in federal grants through President Obama’s ARRA stimulus program to build new tracks, buy new trains, and study a possible new double-track alignment for the Lincoln Service route. Governor Quinn claimed that 111 MPH is the fastest train speed outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in America’s history; however, the Pioneer Zephyr ran from Denver to Chicago and hit a top speed of 112 MPH. The train is on display at the Museum of Science & Industry. The Northeast Corridor is fully electric and has routes that stop at Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.; Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, hits 150 MPH for a short distance.

View this map in a new browser window. Red markers indicate Amtrak stations; larger red markers highlight major stations on the Lincoln Service route from Chicago Union Station to St. Louis, Missouri. Map created using TileMill and freely available GIS shapefiles. 

Amtrak’s state-subsidized routes in Illinois have seen year-over-year ridership increases. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak. Lincoln Service trains have seen speeds improving since last year when significant lengths of brand-new track was laid. Cutting subsidies would likely slow the ridership increases which are based on Americans’ desire for additional and reliable transportation options; passenger rail provides an alternative to high gas prices.

Representative John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, whose state rejected high-speed rail funding from Washington, supports the profitable Amtrak routes (some in the NEC).

While recognizing the need for a central entity to coordinate routes nationwide, Mr. Mica said the government has no place handling Amtrak’s day-to-day operations. But he acknowledged that some less profitable routes can’t get by without some subsidies.

“I’m for the privatization, and if we can end them, we can,” he said.

The next time Representative Mica goes back to the office, concerned about the profitability of transportation routes, he should check the balance sheets for the nation’s non-tolled highways: 100% of them will be in the red.


Normal, Illinois, constructed and opened a new intermodal Amtrak station this year (in a multi-use building), along with some streetscape improvements in its downtown. Uptown Station, as it’s known, has Illinois’s second-highest ridership, after Chicago Union Station. Photo by Dan Kuchta. 

Watch the video on NBC5’s website.

Red all over: the 95th Street station rehab and other delights


Double-decker bike racks were added to the 95th Street station earlier this year.

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

After sprinting east down Fullerton Avenue on my bicycle, I make it to the turnstiles of the eponymous Red Line stop just before the 4 p.m. bike-and-ride cutoff. As I relax on board with my wheels, the train passes through the Near North Side, the Loop and the Near South Side, then decreases in speed as we pass through slow zones, sometimes decelerating to walking pace. In all, the 15-mile rail trip takes 45 minutes, with an average speed of only 20 MPH.

When we reach the end of the line at 95th Street, the roar of traffic assaults my ears, since the platform sits in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway. I’m on my way to a CTA open house at the Palmer Park fieldhouse to learn about the 95th Street Terminal Improvement Project. It’s estimated to cost $240 million in federal, state and CTA funds, about half the total bill for Millennium Park. The formal design process is slated for later this year, with construction in late 2014, after the Red Line South Track Renewal Project is completed.

Continue reading Red all over: the 95th Street station rehab and other delights