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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Some of my favorite new sustainable transportation stuff of 2012

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Jana Kinsman of Bike-A-Bee.

Newcity magazine recently invited me to highlight some of my favorite aspects of the local sustainable transportation scene for their Best of Chicago issue. Here’s what I selected:

Best bike-centric Kickstarter campaign

Bike-a-Bee

Jana Kinsman’s pedal-powered apiculture service has generated quite a buzz. Last winter Kinsman, a graphic designer and illustrator with the all-female collective Quite Strong, used the “crowdfunding” website to raise $8,646 for beekeeping equipment and packages of bees, plus a bicycle trailer to transport the gear. She now maintains hives at community gardens and urban farms all over town, such as Eden Place, a nature education center at 43rd Place and Shield Avenue in the underserved Fuller Park community. The hives help pollinate nearby plants and serve as educational tools for neighborhood kids. It’s a honey of a project!

BikeABee.com

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Parking space party: celebrating Chicago’s first permanent parklets

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The Lakeview “People Spot.”

A new city initiative is taking land that’s currently dead space, or used only for parking cars, and turning it into public space that could energize neighborhood business strips. On Friday the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) officially launched its “Make Way for People” program to transform surplus asphalt into seating areas and lively plazas, unveiling a new parklet in the parking lane in front of Heritage Bicycles, 2959 N. Lincoln Avenue.

The $25,000 installation, which CDOT is calling a “People Spot”, was paid for by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce via Special Service Area (SSA) #27. (An SSA is a designated district where additional services, programs and projects are funded by an additional property tax.) The parklet, which will be removed in the fall and re-installed in the spring, will be maintained by the bike shop/café, but non-customers are welcome to use the space as well. Due to the city’s contract with LAZ Parking, removing the two metered parking spaces in front of Heritage for the parklet required creating two new metered spots elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Last week a new People Spot also debuted in Andersonville at the T-shaped intersection of Clark Street and Farragut Avenue. It was funded by SSA #22, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and a Kickstarter campaign. for a total of about $20,000. Two more parklets are proposed for the neighborhood, and an on-street bike parking corral is slated to open this fall in front of Hopleaf, a tavern at 5148 N. Clark, where it’s sorely needed. Another pair of People Spots funded by SSA #47 / Quad Communities Development Corporation should open in Bronzeville next week, at 47th and Champlain Avenue, and at 47th and Greenwood Avenue.

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The Andersonville parklet.

In addition to the parking lane seating areas, CDOT plans to convert cul-de sacs, dead-end streets and other excess pavement into public spaces called “People Streets.” Underutilized existing public plazas, malls and triangles will become “People Plazas” with better maintenance and new event programming, possibly bankrolled by private sponsorship. “People Alleys” will be alleyways used for seating, artwalks and other events.

Here’s a partial transcript of CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein’s remarks at the celebration:

People Spots are a new use of our public space. It’s fun and good for business. It’s a way to enhance our public space and activate it, make it more inviting and also to create space for people to hang out, read or have a nonalcoholic drink where there might not be enough public space. And in this case we’re using two parking spaces, which we’ve offset with two parking spaces somewhere else. [“In my ward,” chimed in 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, who attended along with 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack – the parklet is located in Waguespack’s district.]

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Klein, Waguespack and Tunney.

[Klein thanked the aldermen, the city’s law department (which drafted the ordinance that permitted the new land use), Lakeview Chamber of Commerce director Heather Way and Heritage owner Michael Salvatore.]

I was talking to the mayor yesterday and we were talking about a host of different topics including the Make Way for People program, and he said something that I found inspiring. We were talking about this and we were talking about the Open Streets event that’s going to happen in the next month or so and he said, “When you think of all these different things that we’re doing with public space, what it’s really all about is celebrating Chicago.” And I think what he meant is that Chicago is known for its public space, its architecture, for its arts and its creativity, and this celebrates all of those things. And Chicago should be leading the country in utilizing its public space in the smartest ways possible.

[Klein thanked CDOT staffers Janet Attarian and Gerardo Garcia, who managed the parklet project. He then defined People Streets, People Plazas and People Alleys and mentioned that the city wants to turn a Loop alley, Couch Place, as public space.]

Next year we envision a much larger, more formal rollout of the program, again with People Spots, plazas, alleys and so on. And so we want to hear from the public, what they like, and their ideas. We’d like to hear from the SSAs. The SSA is extremely important for the funding, managing the construction, and also making sure that they’re maintained afterwards. So this is a true public/private partnership and we’re very excited about it.

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Afterwards I asked Klein about the issue of the parking contract, which requires the city to compensate LAZ for any loss of revenue due to the removal of metered parking spaces, limiting the amount of space available for People Spots and other novel uses of the public way, like protected bike lanes

Great project. You guys did a great job of getting around the problem with the parking meters on this. But it seems like the parking meter contract has really hampered your ability to do creative projects like this citywide. Is anything being done to reverse the contract so that you can do more innovative projects like this in other parts of the city?

It’s funny you bring that up. I was joking with David Spielfogel, who’s the head of policy and strategy for the mayor, this morning on Twitter about all of the obstacles that we come up against in our jobs and I used the quote, “Persistence always overcomes resistance.” There’s always a way to do things if you’re creative. So what’s wonderful about this project is the incredible partnership between all these people that you see out here and the public in general. If we all put our minds together we can get something done.

With the parking meter issue in particular, there is unregulated space, we just have to find it. So we looked around here and we found some space that wasn’t metered. The beauty of it is that will become a permanent space that will produce revenue all year [while parking revenue will only be lost in front of Heritage for half the year] and we can bank it, so that next year we’re covered as well.

But are there any efforts to overturn the parking meter contract that you can tell us about?

You know I don’t actually manage that, and not that I know of.

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Heritage Bicycles opening party was a good time

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The owner talks to party guests. You can see the small food menu above him. 

Guests to Saturday night’s opening party at Heritage Bicycles and General Store (2959 N Lincoln Avenue) had their choice of free wine and any coffee drink the baristas could make. There were hors d’oeuvres and delicious cupcakes, too.

John met Michael Salvatore, the owner, several months ago, but I met him for the first time. He was surprised that so many people showed up (over 70 while I was there), and impressed and appreciative of all the attention his shop has received locally and nationwide (people all around the country have been linking in).

My friend Alexander Richard came, too, and he said the idea of a café and bike shop is well thought, adding, “it’s something entirely progressive, which is what this city needs”.

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Grounds for celebration: Chicago’s first bike & coffee shop is almost open

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Heritage Bicycles staff

It was a nice surprise when I checked e-mail Monday morning and saw an announcement for the grand opening party for Heritage Bicycles General Store, Chicago’s first bike shop café, on Saturday, January 28, 6-11 pm at 2959 N. Lincoln. I immediately called up owner Michael Salvatore to ask for a sneak peek at the nearly completed space.

When I checked out the storefront back in October, Salvatore told me he hoped to open the shop in November but, unsurprisingly, it’s taken a little longer than expected for this unique business to navigate the city’s permitting process. “The City of Chicago was quite the hurdle,” he said when I visited on Tuesday. “This has been a learning process for me, the architect and the entire crew, but it’s been a fun experience. And if we’d opened in November the Christmas rush would have killed us, so the timing turned out for the best.”

When I dropped by, city workers were poking around with flashlights inspecting the shop’s electrical work, and the space was still a work in progress. But it’s clear this will soon be one of the most attractive coffee shops, let alone bike stores, in town.

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A Dutch bike store dies, a bicycle café is born

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Michael Salvatore, owner of Heritage Bicycles

[This article also appears in Newcity magazine.]

Chicago just lost one of its coolest bike shops, but we’re gaining one that may be even cooler. Last week Dutch Bike Co. abruptly closed its Chicago location, only three months after relocating from Lincoln Park to Wicker Park. Founded in Seattle, the company opened its only satellite store three years ago at 651 W. Armitage in a gallery-like storefront. They offered beautiful, practical European-style city bikes by brands like WorkCycles and Linus, most costing over $1,000.

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