Chicago Sun-Times

June 2010 Archives

For the close of bike-to-work week Friday, the city of Chicago held a transportation forum on bicycling at the Cultural Center. The panelists included musician and bike enthusiast David Byrne (interviewed here), who also turned out to be the evening's A.V. guy.

He helped both Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton and Center for Neighborhood Technology vice president of policy Jacky Grimshaw start their computer slideshow presentations. When Grimshaw ran into a little technical trouble toward the end of her talk, she called out plaintively "David!" and he sprinted over to get her to the right slide.

The panelists, who also included SRAM Cycling Fund Director Randy Neufeld, all discussed options for expanding bicycling.

Byrne showed slides of the "dead" areas created in cities by facilities for cars, including massive parking lots and expressway cloverleafs. He noted that sometimes when he's on a U.S. tour, his view from a hotel room is just acres of parking.

"It's really depressing. There's no life there whatsoever," said Byrne. "It turned a city, which is a place... where people interact and meet one another and do all sorts of things ... into a place where no one is near one another."

Byrne said he thinks this car-centric approach seems to be changing, as cities like New York turn some streets into places that are more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, with protected bike lanes and bike parking.

Hamilton's presentation included the surprising statistic that more than 20 percent of the traffic on Milwaukee Avenue is bicycles, in the Bucktown/Wicker Park area where there's a bike lane. "Biking has become a competitive form of transportation and is not just a recreational pastime anymore," Hamilton said.

Check out today's Chicago Reader for a fascinating article by Robert Loerzel about the push for the government to take over the private city rail lines.

If you thought the Illinois legislature was uncivil now, you should have been there on April 23, 1903, when the Democrats and Republicans were fighting over competing bills amending state law to give Chicago authority to take over the city traction companies. According to Loerzel's piece, without taking a roll call, the Republican speaker, John Henry Miller, banged his gavel and declared the Republican bill had passed. Miller was called "a liar," legislators smashed chairs, someone threw an inkstand, and a legislator rushed Miller, and was "flung to the floor" by a guard. "Pale and trembling, the speaker excited the chamber." The Democratic version of the bill then passed.

There is lots of other good stuff about the "robber baron" rail owner Charles Tyson Yerkes, and the terrible conditions on the old streetcars.

The article is a reminder that before we privatize any public asset -- we need to remember history, and see what the arguments have been for and against private ownership. There were reasons why water and transit were made public.

(And yes, this original post said 1093, rather than 1903, when there was a different civilization in Springfield. Thanks to readers for pointing out my error, and yes, there are copyeditors at the newspaper, but they don't edit this blog. Aren't you glad there are newspapers, instead of just blogs?)

In 1933, Mayor Ed Kelly tried to change the name of a Chicago street in response to a request by Emily Napieralski, a key supporter. But business owners on the street objected to the name change, and it took 19 years of legal battles to get it done. What was the street?

The answer is Pulaski Road, which was once (and still is, in the suburbs) Crawford Avenue. Many people knew the correct answer on this one, but the first one in was Dan Kobel of Chicago, so Dan gets the umbrella.

Ford is saying goodbye to the 71-year-old Mercury Brand this year. The analyst talk on this I've seen suggests this is a good thing for Ford, which keeps doing better. Here's a Bloomberg story.

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