Holiday Express: A Chicago sustainable transportation gift guide


[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.


The Tuning Fork by Toynbee Carriage Co.

Columbia College sustainable design prof Carl Boyd recently launched his own company, Toynbee Carriage Co., producing handy accessories for urbanites on foot, bike and transit. The Spokebug is a clever little device that keeps your bike upright while you load and unload cargo. The Tuning Fork is an eating utensil that also incorporates a spoke wrench, earbud wrap and bottle opener. Boyd suggests you wipe off the spoke nipple lube before digging into your Pad Thai. Spokebug $42, Tuning Fork $22, shipping included, at

For the “cycle chic” fan on your list, you can’t go wrong with bags by Po Campo (a Grid Chicago Sponsor), currently made in Chicago and China. The brand’s stylish purses and handbags are designed to clip onto your handlebars or rear rack. The Windy City Gift Set includes Po Campo’s Six Corners Wristlet mini bag and a Portlandia-esque Reflective Bird Pin, plus Chicago-made treats: a bag of Intelligentsia Coffee and a Vosges Haute Chocolate candy bar. Gift set $60 at Po Campo’s headquarters, 700 North Carpenter, bags sold at bike stores citywide.

Chicago transit authority Greg Borzo (a Grid Chicago sponsor) explores a little-known but fascinating chapter in local transportation history in his new book “Chicago Cable Cars.” Surprisingly, it was the Windy City, not San Francisco that pioneered the cable car boom, which in turn paved the way for trolleys, subways and elevated trains. The most colorful chapters detail the exploits of the South Side Car Barn Bandits and the ridiculously corrupt cable car magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes. The book is chock full of terrific period photos, sure to please steampunks and mustache aficionados alike. $24.99 at The Book Cellar, 4736 North Lincoln.


Cap by Kozie Prery.

Bike Snob NYC joked that as soon as you get off a plane in Portland, Oregon, you’re presented with a handmade cycling cap, sometimes called a “Portland lei,” but Chicago’s no slouch in the headgear department either. Erin Rensink’s brand Kozie Prery makes unique bike caps and neckwarmers from recycled materials. Her cold-weather caps with generous earflaps are just the thing to keep your loved ones “Kozie” this winter. Caps $20-$40 at Roscoe Village Cycles, 2016 West Roscoe,

The Chicago Transit Authority’s online giftshop has tons of great ideas for the “foamers” (train enthusiasts) on your list. My CTA rail map shower curtain has been great for helping me memorize the system while I brush my teeth, and the website now offers more than one-hundred transit-themed products. New items include smartphone covers inspired by the Sox/35th and Addison stops for baseball fans, toy trains based on the new 5000-series railcars and blown glass Ornament ‘L’ (get it?) cars for Christmas trees. Various prices,


Wooden Red Line car.

A great gift for newbie cyclists is “Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips” by local writer Dave “Mr. Bike” Glowacz. Packed with informative photos and diagrams, plus amusing cartoons, the book provides sound advice on how to find, ride, lock and maintain your ride. For thrill seekers, Glowacz also tells you the best ways to “skitch” a tow from a motor vehicle, confront a would-be mugger and smash a windshield with your U-lock. $14.99 at Boulevard Bikes, 2535 North Kedzie.

Carless in Chicago by Jason Rothstein, a thorough guide to navigating the Windy City by foot, bike, transit, taxis and car-sharing, would make a thoughtful present for someone who’s thinking about ditching their auto. The book outlines how going car-free can make you healthier and wealthier, and my favorite section is a travel guide that describes points of interest near every ‘L’ stop in the city. $15.95 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th.

For the “retrogrouch” on your list, the local brand Winter Session makes classy, minimalist bags in muted colors with leather accents, many featuring old-fashioned waxed canvas, which makes them surprisingly weather-resistant. The Garrison shoulder bag works great for a CTA commute and fits nicely in a bike basket. The Roll-up is a simple case that’s handy for carrying bike tools and accessories. Garrison Bag $285, Roll-up $65, at Neighborly, 2003 West Montrose.


The Chief by Heritage Bicycles, photographed at the Lincoln Hotel.

Since just about all mid-price bicycles are made in Taiwan nowadays, it’s great that Heritage Bicycles, Chicago’s first bike store/coffee shop, sells locally made cycles that won’t break the bank. The Chief diamond-frame and Daisy mixte (a type of step-through frame) bikes are elegantly simple one-speeds that can be customized with racks, fenders, chainguards and other accessories. The shop also stocks a wide selection of stylish, American-made bike clothes and gear, and the sunny café is a nice place to take a break with a cup of Joe during a hard day of shopping. Bikes start at $775, 2959 North Lincoln.

Like Heritage, PieBox is a business that combines bicycles with pastry, an unbeatable combo. These handsome raw-pine containers, made in Chicago, are designed to do only one thing: safely transport pie. The boxes stack nicely on a rear bike rack, and they also provide protection when you’re carrying the eponymous baked good on foot, bus or train. I must admit, I’m completely charmed by this concept. $35 at The Haymaker Shop, 5507 North Clark,

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

3 thoughts on “Holiday Express: A Chicago sustainable transportation gift guide”

  1. That CTA shower curtains bugs the crap out of me. Why on earth did they print temporary station closures (it was made during the brown line rehab) on it?!?! I get that it’s not possible for it to stay up to date (eg new Morgan station), but why didn’t someone think through not putting temporary closures on it?

      1. It’d be nice if they’d do a new one. I’ve wanted one, but it’s always been the same one and I just think the closures on it look really stupid. The one they have has to be from 2007 or so, because it has both pink and blue on the douglas branch

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