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.

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What keeps an El car from falling off the tracks on tight curves?

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1977 derailment at Wabash and Lake – photo by Mark Llanuza

[This piece also ran in Time Out Chicago magazine.]

Q: Since I’ve switched from the straight-shot Red Line to the winding Brown Line, where you often feel like you’re about to ride right off the rails (and right into a nearby condo building), I’ve been wondering: At what speed would El trains hitting sharp curves come off the tracks?

A: A CTA train’s extremely low center of gravity and speed limits allow it to safely navigate the El’s many curves, according to spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. As a train goes around a bend, like the tight S-curve on the Brown and Purple Lines just north of the Merchandise Mart, the car may seem to sway at an impossible angle, but most of the weight is still directed straight down, Hosinski says. This overcomes centrifugal force and keeps the wheels on the rails. “Also, a train’s speed through each curve is limited by the automated train control system,” she says. “This system enforces a maximum train speed that’s much lower than the speed that could cause a train to leave the rails.”

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Local transit authorities Tracy Swartz and Greg Borzo celebrate the CTA

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Note Greg’s CTA map necktie. See more photos from the event.

Tuesday night I dropped by a meet-up for Active Transportation Alliance’s Riders for Better Transit campaign featuring Chicago writers Greg Borzo and Tracy Swartz at the Blue Frog, 22 E. Hubbard. Greg wrote the book The Chicago “L,” a very thorough history with lots of great archival photos. Greg also wrote the book Where to Bike Chicago, and contributed a chapter to the new anthology On Bicycles by Momentum magazine cofounder Amy Walker. Tracy writes the CTA-centric weekly column “Going Public” for RedEye. Since April 2009 she’s been riding a different CTA bus line every week, and in December she completed the last route, an impressive accomplishment.

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George Christensen critiques our book “On Bicycles”

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Christensen, left, with bike racing great Christian Vande Velde – photo by Bike_Ema

For many Grid Chicago readers, George Christensen needs no introduction. A longtime Chicago bike messenger, George is one of Chicago’s best-traveled bicyclists, having toured dozens of countries on two wheels. A movie buff, he attends many of the world’s great film fests as well, and every year he rides the entire Tour de France route. You can read about his amazing adventures on the blog George the Cyclist. When I asked Christensen to write a guest post for Grid Chicago he offered the following review of On Bicycles (New World Library 2011), a new anthology by Amy Walker, to which local author Greg Borzo and I contributed chapters.

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