WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/tags/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Morning Shift: Is procrastination really a problem? http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-14/morning-shift-procrastination-really-problem-110017 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/by L-T-L.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>With tax day looming, we tackle the procrastination problem...or is it a problem? Plus, Malian musical guest Sidi Touré.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-is-procrastination-really-a-problem/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-is-procrastination-really-a-problem.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-is-procrastination-really-a-problem" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Is procrastination really a problem?" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 08:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-14/morning-shift-procrastination-really-problem-110017 Chicago to Mexico, by bus http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicago-mexico-bus-109747 <p><p><em><strong>This story is made for your ears. Please push play above! </strong></em></p><p>Every week, hundreds of people board coach buses in Chicago and travel to Mexico. I used to live in Mexico, and have taken the 2,000-mile trip nearly a dozen times to and from Zamora, Michoacán. On my most recent trip, I brought a tape recorder along, and made this audio travelogue.</p><p><em>Your attention please. Everybody with your tickets on your hand! </em><em>Por favor, todos tengan su boleto en la mano, que ahorita se lo voy a quitar!</em></p><p>The soundtrack of a bus trip to Mexico consists of the driver on the public address system, the 45 other passengers and their snores, cries,the rustle of plastic bags, cell phone conversations, back-to-back movies shown on the six screens suspended from the ceiling, the bus driver&rsquo;s radio, and always, the drone of the bus engine .</p><p>Every time you start one of these trips, you consider the variables. And you hope. Sleek paint jobs and tinted windows mean these buses almost always look better on the outside than they do on the inside. The small amount of legroom can be alarming, and uncomfortable. Other variables: the temperature, the smells.</p><p><em>How lucky are we? </em>I ask our driver.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Oh, beautiful, beautiful! We got Wi-Fi, we got a switch where you can recharge your battery. </em></p><p>The driver tells me his approach to the job: make everybody happy. His immediate strategy involves 80s music on the radio (for him) and back-to-back movies (for us). <em>Lethal Weapon 3 </em>is in progress as we board. It&rsquo;s repeated later in its entirety, for those who boarded late.</p><p>Chicago is connected to a world of small Mexican towns that most people have never heard of. If I want to visit my mother-in-law in provincial Mexico, I can walk to a bus station in my Chicago neighborhood and buy a direct ticket to Zamora, Michoacán (well, they call it a direct ticket, you&rsquo;ll see what that means).</p><p>The ride takes 48 hours, two days and two nights. And, no, there is not a sleeping car.</p><p>Like most people on the bus, my family of five is here for one reason: during peak travel seasons, it&rsquo;s a lot cheaper than a plane.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/INSIDE.jpg" title="Variables inside the bus: legroom, temperature, smell. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p><em>Welcome and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemens. Thank you for choosing El Expreso. I&rsquo;m sorry for the de-late. </em></p><p>The names of the bus lines traveling to Mexico are meant to make you think the trip will fly by. There&rsquo;s El Conejo, the Rabbit. Tornado. We&rsquo;re traveling this time on El Expreso (right.)</p><p>Every two-day bus trip starts with a little welcome speech. And every speech includes some variation on this rule:</p><p><em>El baño. Favor de usar el numero 1 si es posible, porque el numero 2 está un poquito fuerte y no queremos que vaya un olor fuerte en la estancia.&nbsp; </em></p><p>Do NOT use the bus bathroom&mdash;basically, unless you&rsquo;re dying. Absolutely no Number 2.</p><p><em>We do not want strong odors on the bus</em>, the driver says. <em>Hay que tener mucho respeto por las demás gentes. </em></p><p>From the moment you buy your ticket, you&rsquo;re stepping into a different world, a world you do not control, a world where things will not go as planned, small things and big things.</p><p>The 1 pm bus leaves at 2:30 pm. That&rsquo;s not too bad.&nbsp; The Wi-Fi? Actually&hellip; no Wi-Fi.</p><p>Last year, we were stranded for 20 hours in Matamoros. Another time, one of the side windows of the bus just fell out. The driver went back to look for it on I-35&mdash;no luck. So we just kept going, the 100-degree Texas heat blowing through the bus all the way to Dallas.</p><p>These bus companies have been sued over accidents; I try not to think about that when I buy the tickets.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p><em>Please do take advantage of this stop, because the next stop won&rsquo;t be until Jackson, so it&rsquo;s quite a ways. Go ahead and take advantage of it. </em><em>Aquí 25 minutos. 25 minutes. </em></p><p>If you do this trip a few times, you get to know all the stops: Effingham, Illinois; Matthews, Missouri&mdash;that&rsquo;s where we are right now. The sound of the bus is everywhere. Even when you&rsquo;re not on it, it&rsquo;s idling nearby. We look pale, dazed under the fluorescent gas station lights.&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MATTHEWS%20TRAVEL.JPG" title="Matthews, Missouri (Credo Duarte)" /></div><p>Next will be Jackson and McComb, Mississippi; Lafayette, Arkansas; Houston, Beeville, and McAllen, Texas. And on the Mexico side: Monterrey, Matehuala, San Luis, Celaya, Zamora.</p><p>We pack the TA Travel Center bathroom. We brush our teeth, line up for the toilet, spray deodorant, change the babies. Little by little you get to know where everyone is from, where everyone&rsquo;s going, places that have sent generations of immigrants to the Chicago area, mostly: Michoacán, Zacatecas, Jalisco. The college student from Beloit is going to Durango.</p><p><em>Yeah, so it&rsquo;s like, another 13 hours after Houston. I don&rsquo;t even know&hellip; I get motion sickness, so I&rsquo;m like half awake, half asleep the whole ride. </em></p><p>She&rsquo;ll come back in a week, do this all again but in reverse.</p><p>The lady from Guanajuato, I feel like I know her life story. (Would this ever happen on a plane?) How her daughter got married at age 16, how she made a deal with God to get her immigration papers...</p><p><em>&hellip;Y agarré a mi niño y me pase a la recámara. No lloraba, pero &iexcl;se imagina todo lo que estaba pasando! Que de una manera y de otra y no había manera de pasarme. &nbsp;Y yo agarré y me hinqué y yo le dije, &lsquo;Señor, tú sabes&rsquo;&mdash;ahora sí como que lo obligué&mdash;&lsquo;tú SABES que yo TENGO que estar con mi esposo. Yo no sé como le vas a hacer, pero tú me vas a llevar.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp; Y al otro día, que me dice la prima, &ldquo;Oye, &iquest;por qué no sacas otra vez tu pasaporte&hellip; </em></p><p>8 hours down, 40 to go.</p><p>The movies stop and the lights get turned off at 11:30 pm. The clatter of the bus over the highway is rhythmic. Snores follow, the click click of video games continues.&nbsp; Low voices talk on phones with girlfriends back in Chicago.</p><p align="center"><strong>* * *</strong></p><p>While the bus companies in Chicago sell you &ldquo;direct&rdquo; tickets to little towns in Mexico, that doesn&rsquo;t mean you&rsquo;re riding the same bus all the way. In Houston, we all get off.</p><p><em>Si se encuentra Marcela Gálvez, puede pasar a la Taquilla Número 2. Marcela, Marcela Gálvez&hellip;</em>(And continuing over the PA system: &iquest;<em>Tú eres Marcela? &iquest;Es tu mamá?</em> )</p><p>And that&rsquo;s when I meet Eliseo Orejel. He&rsquo;s traveling with his wife and three kids. They&rsquo;re from LaGrange, and it just so happens they&rsquo;re also travelling to Zamora.</p><p>Eliseo is surrounded by suitcases.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Here--everything, up to there. Because we&rsquo;re allowed 400 pounds. Two 40-pound bags per (person), and we&rsquo;re five. I&rsquo;m like 345 pounds. But more than half of this is staying over there, so&hellip;.</em></p><p>Eliseo&rsquo;s kids like the bus.</p><p><em>Do you think we&rsquo;re going to have any adventures on this bus trip?</em> I ask. They immediately know what I mean by &ldquo;adventures.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Yes! I think so!</em> They say. They recount past adventures. <em>Like, one time a wheel popped. We could just feel like the bus was getting lower on the back. And it took a long while. And then it popped again.</em></p><p>I can top that! One time I actually <em>drove</em> the bus. Well, it was a passenger van at that point, but still!&nbsp; The driver wanted to make some extra cash by dropping a señora off at her out-of-the-way village, up in some hills. &nbsp;It was rainy season, and we got stuck in the mud. So I drove, the driver and my husband pushed, and our kids watched from the edge of the muddy farm field.</p><p><em>Los que vienen de Chicago! Las personas que vienen de Chicago! Van a ir con Flecha Roja. Aquí a la Ventanilla 3.</em></p><p>Mexico has a great bus system. The buses are modern. They run on time. Most everything is computerized. These international immigrant buses hand out paper tickets. They oversell seats. They never know how many people to expect, or what their final destinations are.</p><p>After an hour or so in Houston, we are issued new handwritten paper tickets. And we&rsquo;re on our way, though for some reason Eliseo, the guy going to the same place we are, is not on our new bus.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/HANDWRITTEN.jpg" title="" /></div><p><em>Bienvenidos al autobus Flecha Roja...</em></p><p>Our feet are swollen from sitting so long. People doze. Behind me, a señora talks on her cell phone. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Next time I&rsquo;m going by plane,</em> she tells someone.</p><p>The granddaughter traveling with her gets on the phone next, with an older sister. &nbsp;Then there are miles and miles of Vanessa, age 9:&nbsp;</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m so lucky, Lupe&mdash;because you can&rsquo;t touch me. I&rsquo;m all the way over here; you&rsquo;re all the way over there. You can&rsquo;t do nothing. </em></p><p><em>I&rsquo;m bored! </em></p><p><em>Oh, um&hellip; did you find those little ligas to make the bracelet? It&rsquo;s so HOT in here.</em></p><p><em>Lupe, oh! I saw a Marilyn Monroe shirt! It&rsquo;s pretty&hellip;I can&rsquo;t&mdash;I&rsquo;m on the bus! How can I buy it? I&rsquo;m on the bus!</em></p><p>One thing about traveling on these bus lines: Every time we pull into a station, we wonder two things: what will the next bus be like&mdash;are we trading up or down? And when will it leave?</p><p>When we get to McAllen, it&rsquo;s dark already.</p><p><em>Bueno, sí. Buenas noches. Vamos a bajar de esta unidad, se les va a entregar el equipaje, y ésta unidad se va a retirar, y se va a acercar la siguiente unidad, en la que van a abordar&hellip;</em></p><p>Things don&rsquo;t go well. Not everyone fits on the next bus, we&rsquo;re told. Or perhaps it is the luggage that does not fit&mdash;there are conflicting stories. The official says he&rsquo;s only boarding to three cities.</p><p><em>Ahorita se van a subir aquí: Irapuato, Salamanca y Celaya. Tengo otro autobús, no más necesito despachar este primero&hellip; </em></p><p>It does not matter that other destinations, including ours, are practically next door to these three cities, he&rsquo;s only boarding to these three cities. The family from Salvatierra has been told there are no buses there until morning.</p><p><em>&hellip;que para Salvatierra van a salir hasta mañana. &iquest;Cómo lo vamos a hacer?</em></p><p>He promises he has two other buses in the wings, but nobody quite believes him, and nobody wants to sleep in McAllen.</p><p><em>Aquí tengo tres autobuses! Le digo! Los estoy acomodando. </em></p><p>Finally, another bus does show up&mdash;and so does Eliseo Orejel&mdash;the guy with the 345 pounds of luggage.</p><p><em>Nos volvemos a encontrar! What a mess, now it&rsquo;s REALLY messed!</em> he greets us.</p><p>As we get underway, the passengers debate which bus line is the worst.</p><p><em>&iexcl;Ésta es la línea más garra esta que hay! </em></p><p>At this point, we&rsquo;ve been traveling 30 hours. We&rsquo;re 6 hours behind schedule. This is our third bus. &nbsp;And that is the context for what happens next.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p>The driver gets on the loudspeaker.</p><p><em>OK, aaah. &iquest;Me escuchan? </em></p><p>Can you hear me? The driver asks. We&rsquo;re right on the border now.</p><p><em>OK, &iquest;Me escuchan? </em></p><p><em>&iexcl;Sí! </em>the passengers shout.</p><p><em>OK. Damas y caballeros, ah bueno. Aquí es una revisión fiscal. Aquí vamos a bajar con los oficiales de la fiscal, de aquí de la aduana. Me da pena decirles, me dice el oficial que vamos a bajar todo, todo el equipaje que traigan en las cajuelas, todo lo que traigan aquí arriba del autobús también, vamos a pasar a revisión, allí adentro de la banda. </em></p><p>Ladies and gentlemen, he&rsquo;s says. We&rsquo;ve come to a fiscal checkpoint. I hate to tell you this. But the customs official has let me know that we are going to have to take everything&mdash;everything&mdash;off the bus. Everything we have in the compartments underneath the bus, everything inside the bus. And we&rsquo;re going through customs.</p><p><em>Pero, me hace un comentario. Me dice que si le juntamos una cooperación, evitamos bajar todo nuestro equipaje. Ya es a consideración de ustedes. </em></p><p>However, the bus driver says, the customs official has mentioned something: If we take up a little donation, he says, we can avoid customs completely.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Ya eso, ya es a consideración de ustedes. No sé si ustedes quieren, nos juntamos una cooperación para entregarle al oficial, para que no bajemos todo nuestro equipaje. </em></p><p>This kind of shakedown has happened on every bus trip I&rsquo;ve ever taken to Mexico.</p><p><em>How much already?</em> one passenger shouts.</p><p>The driver suggests a $5 donation per person, which passengers revise to $5 per family. We&rsquo;ve been charged $20 per family before, but if you go higher than that, people without much luggage&mdash;or people without anything that might interest a customs official&mdash;start to grumble.</p><p><em>Ténganlo a la mano y yo lo recojo. Ténganlo a la mano.</em></p><p>Have your money out, the driver says. I&rsquo;ll come by to collect.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BRIBE.JPG" title="However, the bus driver says, the customs official has mentioned something: If we take up a little donation, he says, we can avoid customs completely. (Credo Duarte)" /></div><p>Once he&rsquo;s been through the bus, the driver steps out into the cool Reynosa air&mdash;he and another guy in a button-down shirt compare big wads of cash. Inside the bus, the passengers shake their heads and joke.</p><p><em>Welcome to Mexico! &iexcl;Te están dando la bienvenida!</em></p><p>When the driver comes back, we drive right under the checkpoint with the giant red letters that say MÉXICO.</p><p>Incredibly, we change buses two more times after this, including in Monterrey, where a young official tries a trick I have never heard before:</p><p><em>Miren, salidas a Moroleón, Guadalajara, Celaya, Morelia, Cuernavaca, Acámbaro, no hay nada. Está todo lleno aquí en la ciudad de Monterrey. No hay nada hasta para el día 3, 4 de enero&hellip;</em></p><p>He tells us there will be no buses to any destination for 10 days. &nbsp;So when one appears only two hours later and our names are called, it feels like a gift!</p><p><em>Felipe Ortega! Rosa Nuñez! Linda! </em></p><p>Oh, and the LaGrange family going to the same place we are? Not on this bus.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WINDOW%20SIGN.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p>As we get further and further into Mexico, the frustration in the bus dissipates. Along with all the delays there are also homemade tortillas at a roadside restaurant. Barbacoa tacos. Soup. The warm sun. And the thought of piñatas and weddings and quinceañera parties, all the family waiting for us.</p><p><em>It&rsquo;s been a pretty good trip</em>, the guy in front of me says.</p><p>The bus official at our very last stop &ndash;51 hours down, 4 to go&mdash;sees it like this:</p><p><em>Lo bueno es que ya va a llegar a su destino. Que tenga buen viaje, y bienvenida a México. </em></p><p>The good thing is you&rsquo;re almost there. Have a very nice trip. Welcome to Mexico.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p>I was not going to tape on the return trip to Chicago. But I could not help myself when this happened&hellip;</p><p><em>BBBBBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. &nbsp;BEEP. </em></p><p>Buses inside Mexico are equipped with annoying, piercing alarms that sound every time the driver goes over the speed limit. These international immigrant buses don&rsquo;t usually have those alarms. But yep, we got one.</p><p><em>BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.</em></p><p>All night long, no one complained.</p><p>I feel that&rsquo;s a very Mexican response, I tell my Mexican husband.</p><p><em>What would be the point of complaining?</em> he asks. <em>The driver can&rsquo;t do anything but go slower. And we don&rsquo;t want to go slower.</em> But he agrees: if this had been a bus full of gringos, they definitely would have complained.</p><p>The bus beeped all the way to northern Mexico. It was still dark, but ahead I could see a long, thin line of lights running left and right across the highway&mdash; the border.</p><p>The thing about taking the bus to Mexico, you actually physically feel the distance between the two places that make up your life. You feel the border&mdash;with its checkpoints and flashing lights and immigration officials with their walkie-talkies.</p><p><em>Hello, Sir. 10-4, 10-4. </em></p><p>On the way back to Chicago, the bus drivers put on classic Mexican movies, heightening nostalgia for the place we were leaving behind, the narrow black highway stretched out like a thread between Mexico and Chicago, the bus moving along it.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/TORNADO.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></p> Fri, 21 Feb 2014 08:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicago-mexico-bus-109747 Morning Shift: To code or not to code http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-12-20/morning-shift-code-or-not-code-109418 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Code cover Flickr QualityFrog.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Wired editor Brendan Koerner and tech writer Jathan Sadowski debate the merits of teaching computer science in public school. We examine Americans&#39; shifting belief in a higher power. And, Vic Miguel &amp; Friends bring their ukes down to Studio 6.</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-to-code-or-not-to-code/embed?header=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-to-code-or-not-to-code.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-to-code-or-not-to-code" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: To code or not to code" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Fri, 20 Dec 2013 08:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-12-20/morning-shift-code-or-not-code-109418 Youth and the city http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-12/youth-and-city-109289 <p><div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP332906622549.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="(AP/Paul Beaty)" /></div></div><div>&ldquo;I forgot how easy it is to be young here,&rdquo; a friend said to me over the holiday weekend. He was in town visiting his mother, and he made the statement in assessment of a night out.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It&rsquo;s true.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Chicago, it is easy to find quality entertainment, cheap drinks, delicious food, and relatively affordable living and transportation options, especially compared to other cities.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>His comments reminded me of another from last year. A friend visited the city to see whether or not she wanted to move here. In the end, she chose New York. In terms of her career, it made sense. But did Chicago not provide enough of a challenge? Does it matter if Chicago is &ldquo;easy&rdquo; compared to other cities?&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Well, for one, who said that Chicago is easy?&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Earlier this summer, another friend said, &ldquo;Everyone&rsquo;s just dying,&rdquo; when explaining one of his reasons for wanting to move out of the city. Despite the frequent reports of violence in the city, it is easy to forget that the ease and accessibility of the city do not exist for a large segment of the city&rsquo;s population. Many of the amenities and much of the entertairnment people enjoy in the city tends to cater to one specific population.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Despite Chicago&rsquo;s conflicting narrative, many organizations do find the city worthy of praise. Chicago was ranked as the <a href="http://www.youthfulcities.com/#!Chicago/zoom/c5tu/i4awu" target="_blank">6th most &ldquo;youthful&rdquo; city</a> (out of 25 large urban global cities) as part of the 2014 YouthfulCities Index, created as &ldquo;the first index to rank cities from a youth perspective.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>For their index, the top five largest cities were chosen from five regions: Africa, Asia, English-speaking North America, Europe and Latin America. Youth was defined as 15-29 years old, and categories included public space, transportation and affordability and employment and fashion, among others.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Their rankings were based on 10 months of research with more than 75 people, &ldquo;contributing to 16 categories, 80 Global Indicators, and 2000 data points.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>What does all of that mean?&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Well, for many young people, especially those fresh out of college, Chicago provides an ideal environment to thrive. We have many youth-friendly neighborhoods, bars, music venues, cheap restaurants, and affordable housing. But is any of this sustainable?&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to YouthfulCities, &ldquo;50 per cent of the world&#39;s population is under 30 years of age and 50 per cent of the world&#39;s population now live in cities.&rdquo; What happens when that population ages? In Chicago, growing out of the &ldquo;youthful&rdquo; phase does not always offer the accessibility and ease that can be found when young.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to the Index, Chicago ranks 2nd in public space, sports, and gaming. Our thankful abundance of public parks, beautiful waterfront, and loveable sports teams speaks to this easily. A middle-class lifestyle as a young 20-something is an ideal situation in Chicago.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>However, a middle-class lifestyle while trying to raise young children presents new hurdles. In the Index, Chicago ranked 21st overall in environmental sustainability. And while the Index claimed we were ranked 6th in the &ldquo;Economic Status Sub Index&rdquo; (comprised of indicators such as minimum wage, housing, and student housing), it does not speak to the sustainability and viability of these numbers in the long run.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Thirty-five is not as easy as 25. And with greater adulthood comes greater concerns.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Where are the quality, affordable, and accessible education options for all children? Where are the numerous housing options in safe neighborhoods? Where are the jobs that provide more than just the minimum wage?</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to the Index, <a href="http://media.wix.com/ugd/3a3a66_f8a747d9e1b244ceade7cdc6a6c90c3f.pdf" target="_blank">Chicago ranks 16th</a> in &ldquo;Civic Participation,&rdquo; a number that is not terrible, but is not worthy of praise. Only one American city &ndash; New York City &ndash; ranks within the Top 10. For Chicago to sustain itself as a city beyond &ldquo;youth&rdquo; it must grow into a place that is livable for all. And it is the people living within it (especially the youth who find it so charming and easy right now) who must take greater steps to secure its future.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Britt Julious&nbsp;blogs about culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow her essays for WBEZ&#39;s Tumblr&nbsp;<a href="http://wbez.tumblr.com/">here</a>&nbsp;and on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms" target="_blank">@britticisms</a>.</em></div></p> Tue, 03 Dec 2013 11:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-12/youth-and-city-109289 Street sweeping: Essential service or revenue scam? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/street-sweeping-essential-service-or-revenue-scam-109221 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: We&#39;ve updated this story with answers to <a href="#questions">follow-up questions you submitted. </a>Sincere thanks for those. Please keep them coming!</em></p><p>Street-sweepers. It turns out those zamboni-looking vehicles are some of the most complicated machines in Chicago&rsquo;s Streets and Sanitation Department. And coincidentally, they seem to be causing lots of complications for drivers (and boyfriends of drivers) across the city.</p><p>One of those boyfriends in particular is Dan Costalis, a web developer who lives in Chicago&rsquo;s West Lakeview neighborhood. Dan hasn&rsquo;t owned a car in about five years or so, but his girlfriend does, and according to Dan, knowing when and where to move her car to avoid tickets during street-cleaning season totally stresses her out. &nbsp;</p><p>So he turned to Curious City and asked:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>What&rsquo;s the deal with street cleaning? Does it actually do anything?</em></p><p>Dan feels like this whole street-sweeping thing might sorta be a scam; perhaps the work is less about leaves, and more about raking in the dough.</p><p>&ldquo;From what I&rsquo;ve seen, you know, the before and after doesn&rsquo;t look much different,&rdquo; Dan said. &ldquo;And if they&rsquo;re giving out tickets and putting up parking restrictions and these aren&rsquo;t doing anything, you know, what&rsquo;s the point?&rdquo;</p><p>Now, we here at Curious City can&rsquo;t change any minds about whether to feel scammed (or not scammed) by the street sweeping service or the related tickets. But we can certainly lay out the facts (there are a lot of them), how the service works, and what, if anything, it does to keep Chicago running well.</p><p><strong>The how and why of street sweeping</strong></p><p>To understand &ldquo;what the deal is&rdquo; (per Dan&rsquo;s vocabulary), it helps to understand how street sweepers operate, so I headed to the intersection of Erie Street and Milwaukee Avenue on a brisk, fall (or, let&rsquo;s be honest, early winter) morning in November. There to greet me was one of the city&rsquo;s 50 street sweepers. This particular machine was decked out with Blackhawks logos as well as the &ldquo;One Goal&rdquo; motto that celebrated the hockey team&rsquo;s 2013 Stanley Cup win. Our driver: Stan Newsome, a seven-year street sweeping veteran.</p><p>We let our <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmoSemxMLzY" target="_blank">video </a>do the heavy lifting when it comes to how the process works. In it, you can see that Newsome&rsquo;s ride is equipped with multiple brooms that whisk leaves and debris off the street and into a container. There&rsquo;s also a little water-sprayer off the side that helps wash away any additional stuff that&rsquo;s left over. These sweepers take what they collect and dump it into a dumpster before heading to the next section. Multimedia producer Jian Chung Lee caught Newsome&rsquo;s sweeper miss some things on the first pass, but after the second or third runs there was little left but a few broken leaves. As you can see, too, stray parked cars make the work less effective.</p><p>More on that later ...</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/photo 1_0.JPG" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 247px; width: 185px;" title="The view from the left side interior of a city of Chicago street sweeping machine. For ease of operation, controls include a dial that measures speed in the range between turtle and rabbit. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" />But what about the <em>why </em>of the whole operation?</p><p>Streets and Sanitation Deputy Commissioner Charles Williams offered a short explanation.</p><p>&ldquo;[In] Chicago, we maintain very clean streets with these street sweepers,&rdquo; he said, adding that clean streets translate into cleaner sewers as well &mdash; year round.</p><p>&ldquo;The way the city is built, it&rsquo;s real important to have all the water drain down,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Say, for instance, in the wintertime when you have all the snow plows out and they&rsquo;re melting the snow, if the water has nowhere to drain, all the streets are clogged up with excess slush.&rdquo;</p><p>Gross. And, more than that, potentially dangerous.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re gonna have huge puddles of water. ... That&rsquo;s gonna freeze over and you&rsquo;re gonna have ice.&rdquo;</p><p>And Williams said there&rsquo;s no other option or better machine available than a sweeper. They can run year round, except, of course, during inclement winter weather, though you&rsquo;ll most likely to see them from the spring to late fall. Each sweeper has a price tag of $168,000 and each racks up approximately $40-45 thousand dollars in annual maintenance costs.</p><p>According to Williams, without sweepers, the city would have to resort to a much more expensive option: manual labor.</p><p><strong>The math and the calendar</strong></p><p>So, now that we understand why street sweeping happens in the first place, let&rsquo;s get into Dan&rsquo;s sneaking suspicion that ticket revenue is in the proverbial driver&rsquo;s seat.</p><p>Right now if you leave your car parked in an area that&rsquo;s going to be cleaned, you can practically guarantee your vehicle will be adorned with a bright, orange $50 ticket. Next year, the city could raise the cost to $60.</p><p>If this is a familiar territory for you, dear reader, you are far from alone. According to data from the Department of Revenue, the city has taken in more than $15 million in just street-sweeping ticket revenue every year for the past five years. So far this year, drivers have paid $15,336,802. That&rsquo;s about 17 percent of the total revenue brought in by parking tickets this year. And the sweeping season&rsquo;s not finished; foliage was delayed this year, Williams said, and crews will be sweeping later than usual to grab leaves before the heavy snow comes around.</p><p>According to city spokeswoman Kelley Quinn, every dollar paid from these tickets goes into the city&rsquo;s corporate fund, which means the revenue&rsquo;s not earmarked for anything in particular. So it&rsquo;s not as if Dan&rsquo;s friend pays a street-sweeping parking ticket and it goes directly to the Streets and Sanitation guys and gals: It all goes into one pot.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lauren_chart.jpg" style="float: right; margin: 5px;" title="According to data from the Chicago Department of Revenue, the city has taken in at least 14 million dollars in parking ticket revenue from street-sweeping violations alone each year for the past five years. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /><a name="Chart"></a>To keep that $15 million figure in perspective, it costs the city about $8.5 million a year for street-sweeping itself.&nbsp;</p><p>Here&rsquo;s one more relevant detail: The timing of street cleaning is another point of drama for some drivers. Williams says every spring, the city meets with ward superintendents to plan out the sweeping calendar. Schedules are <a href="https://data.cityofchicago.org/Sanitation/Map-Street-Sweeping-2013/rjwk-epe7" target="_blank">posted online</a> so residents can &ldquo;plan ahead.&rdquo; Once it&rsquo;s sweeping time, the city will post bright orange signs the day before or the morning of to warn drivers of what&rsquo;s to come.</p><p>To Dan&rsquo;s concerns that ticketing during cleaning might be a revenue grab, the city contends that&rsquo;s not the case.</p><p>&ldquo;If they just pay attention to the signs, they don&rsquo;t get a ticket,&rdquo; Williams said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not a revenue thing, we would actually prefer them not to park on the street so that we can do our jobs and keep the streets clean.&rdquo;</p><p>For his part, Dan says all this makes sense, calling the process &ldquo;uncomfortably logical,&rdquo; but he is struck by the raw numbers involved. (&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a lot of money,&rdquo; he said). And he also wonders if maybe the city could work a harder to ensure drivers know when it&rsquo;s time to move their cars. He&rsquo;s had friends say they parked overnight, only to wake to a signs (and tickets) that weren&rsquo;t there the night before.</p><p>&ldquo;I know they&rsquo;ve got a job to do. I know they&rsquo;ve gotta make sure the drains don&rsquo;t clog and they&rsquo;re doing it for the good of the roads and everybody,&rdquo; Dan said. &ldquo;But if you don&rsquo;t have a chance to move your car, they can&rsquo;t do their job, and you get a ticket.&rdquo;</p><p><a name="questions"></a></p><p><strong>Your follow-up questions</strong></p><p>Turns out, Curious Citizen Dan Costalis wasn&rsquo;t the only Chicagoan interested in how the city sweeps its streets. Shortly after we published this story, readers left comments below, hit our Facebook page and tweeted burning questions that we couldn&#39;t ignore. We&rsquo;re happy to report we hit the airwaves about some of these on WBEZ&#39;s Morning Shift program as well as here.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/124519058&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="350"></iframe></p><p><em><strong>If it&rsquo;s so important to clean the streets, why wouldn&rsquo;t the offending cars get towed instead of ticketed?</strong></em></p><p>The city says in order to tow a vehicle, it still has to be ticketed first, so there&rsquo;s no avoiding that. Also, according to Molly Poppe, spokeswoman for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, towing vehicles would require additional staff that the department doesn&rsquo;t have.</p><p>Other cities, such as Boston, do tow vehicles for parking during designated street cleaning days. Boston city workers walk around and ticket offending vehicles, just like Chicago does; however, Boston contracts with private tow companies to whisk away any vehicle sporting a ticket.</p><p><em><strong>I noticed there&rsquo;s been a marked decrease in the city&rsquo;s street sweeping ticket collection since 2010, I wonder what explains this drop.</strong></em></p><p>The Department of Revenue wasn&rsquo;t able to come up with an answer at this time. And since there are a number of factors &mdash; and, perhaps, different departments&rsquo; opinions &mdash; that could play played into this, we&rsquo;re not on safe ground to say much more. But, we will keep digging!</p><p><em><strong>I&rsquo;ve been told the city can write a ticket every 15 minutes. That sounds like a revenue scheme to me!</strong></em></p><p>City spokeswoman Kelley Quinn offered to debunk this myth for us. She says motorists should only receive one street cleaning violation per day, per location. If you do get more than one ticket on the same day, in the same location, Quinn says the driver should contest those subsequent violations. Details on challenging parking tickets can be found <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/fin/supp_info/revenue/challenging_tickets.html" target="_blank">here</a>.</p><p><em><strong>If they have to extend the street sweeping schedule into December, how do they let people know?</strong></em></p><p>This actually happened while we were reporting out this story: The foliage came a bit late this year, so all of the leaves hadn&rsquo;t fallen by November 30th, the end of the regular sweeping schedule. Poppe says they&rsquo;ll stick signs up 36-24 hours in advance to let people know.</p><p>Also, it turns out the city is able to sweep in the winter &mdash; weather permitting, of course. Poppe says it&rsquo;s usually to keep the main arterials clean, so there&rsquo;s not much parking involved on those streets. But if there is, or if a residential street needs a sweep, Poppe says the signs will give residents a heads up that sweepers are coming.</p><p><em><strong>Still shaky on the details?</strong></em></p><p>Our listeners and social media followers had a lot of great tips about smartphone apps and websites meant to help ease car owners&rsquo; pain.</p><ul><li><a href="http://sweeparound.us/">http://sweeparound.us/</a> came to us via Twitter. Drivers can punch in their home address and the site uses city data to figure out when the next sweeping date is, what sweep area the house or apartment is in, and can even help set the driver up for alerts.</li><li><a href="http://en.seeclickfix.com/apps">SeeClickFix app </a>was an app we learned about from a commenter. It essentially is your smart phone&rsquo;s way to report neighborhood issues to 311</li></ul><p>Lastly, if you&rsquo;re a Chicago resident, it behooves you to ask your alderman questions. They might have an alert system set up for you. For example, Alderman Tunney office sends emails and text alerts the evening before and the morning of street sweeping operations within the 44th Ward.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p><div><em>Correction: An earlier text version of this story suggested the Streets and Sanitation annual budget was $8.5 million. The department&#39;s budget for 2014 is $216 million, while the budget for street sweeping activity is $8.5 million.</em></div></p> Thu, 21 Nov 2013 19:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/street-sweeping-essential-service-or-revenue-scam-109221 Chicago's Divvy bike program expanding, could become nation's largest bike share system http://www.wbez.org/news/chicagos-divvy-bike-program-expanding-could-become-nations-largest-bike-share-system-109101 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Divvy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s Divvy bike program is expanding, thanks to federal funding which officials say could make it the largest bike-share system in North America. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>There are currently 300 Divvy <a href="http://divvybikes.com/stations">stations </a>up and running around Chicago, with 100 more stations in the works to be installed by next spring. Officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation said Wednesday they&rsquo;ve secured a $3 million federal grant to build 75 additional stations next year, bringing the total to 475 by next year. The grant comes from the US Department of Transportation&rsquo;s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.</p><p>So far, the U.S. DOT has provided $25 million dollars in federal grant funding toward the Divvy bike share program.</p><p>There&rsquo;s been some <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/divvy-blues-bike-share-program-leaves-some-behind-107893">criticism </a>that Divvy stations are concentrated downtown, and don&rsquo;t serve the south or west sides of the city. CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, speaking to alderman at his department&rsquo;s city budget hearing Wednesday, said they&rsquo;ll bring Divvy to Englewood by spring, and with this grant, they&rsquo;ll be able to expand the program farther in all directions.</p><p>&ldquo;Just like when you&rsquo;re building the CTA or a bus network, you have to start in one place, usually the densest area like the Loop where all the CTA rail is,&rdquo; Klein said. &ldquo;But we&rsquo;re gonna grow it out to the entire city overtime.&rdquo;</p><p>When asked by alderman how much revenue Divvy has brought to the city, Klein said he couldn&rsquo;t give an estimate until the bike share program had run for an entire year. But he says CDOT is close to signing an &ldquo;eight-figure&rdquo; sponsorship deal for the bikes by the end of this year. Klein says Divvy won&rsquo;t lose its name or brand in the sponsorship. In New York, the bike-share system is sponsored by Citibank, and is called citibike.</p><p>In other Divvy news, Klein says two suburbs - Oak Park and Evanston - have submitted their own federal grant applications to put bikes in their neighborhoods.</p><p>Wednesday likely marked Klein&rsquo;s last budget hearing in Chicago&rsquo;s City Hall. He said this month that he&rsquo;ll be stepping down from his post by Thanksgiving after serving for two and a half years. Klein&rsquo;s said he&rsquo;s stepping down for family obligations and plans to return to the private sector.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 18:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicagos-divvy-bike-program-expanding-could-become-nations-largest-bike-share-system-109101 Final phase of Ventra rollout suspended, developer apologizes http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Ventra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago commuters will be able to hold on to those old Chicago Cards and magnetic strip cards for a little while longer. Chicago Transit Authority officials announced the the final phase of the new <a href="http://ventrachicago.com/">Ventra </a>system&rsquo;s rollout will be suspended until a few of its problems are fixed. Chicago Cards and Chicago Card Plus were supposed to be phased out by November 15.</p><p dir="ltr">CTA President Forrest Claypool also said the agency won&rsquo;t pay the developer, Cubic Transportation Systems, any of the $454 million, 12-year contract, until the company meets three criterion: customer service wait times must be five minutes or less, processing times for the tap-and-go function of a Ventra card must be under two and a half seconds--99 percent of the time--and all readers and vending machines must be operational 99 percent of the time.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The bottom line is that too many of our customers are confused and frustrated and that&rsquo;s our fault,&rdquo; Claypool told members of the City Club at a luncheon Tuesday.</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic&rsquo;s head of North American operations, Richard Wunderle, was on hand to answer some questions as well.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This transition period wasn&rsquo;t our shining light, and for that I want to apologize to the riders of CTA,&rdquo; said Wunderle. &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t our best effort but it will get better, so I apologize for that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic isn&rsquo;t new to the public transit game: They&rsquo;ve got 400 fare-collection projects in operation across the world, including systems in Sydney, London and Washington, D.C. But the Ventra system marks the first time the company&rsquo;s tackled an open-fare, contactless card system; and officials say it&rsquo;s the first of its kind in North America.</p><p dir="ltr">Wunderle said Cubic engineers are already at work on a number of fixes to get things up to speed.</p><p dir="ltr">One issue that&rsquo;s drawn many complaints from CTA riders is being charged for multiple taps of their Ventra card at the turnstile. Officials say customers would tap their card, and after not immediately seeing a green &ldquo;Go&rdquo; signal, they&rsquo;d tap multiple times or move to a different lane. As of Tuesday, Cubic said they added a new &ldquo;processing&rdquo; screen to show riders the system is working before it lets them through. Engineers will also be upgrading the Ventra software over the weekend to try and bring processing times down on card readers to two-and-a-half seconds or less. CTA officials said that&rsquo;s happening 95 percent of the time--but the other 5 percent of the time, processing times varied from three to 10 seconds, sometimes more.</p><p dir="ltr">Claypool said the issue that&rsquo;s upset him the most is the long wait times for callers trying to reach a customer service agent, calling it a &ldquo;self-inflicted wound.&rdquo; The CTA chief said on one day last month, the center was overwhelmed with 20,000 calls. Some customers couldn&rsquo;t get through to an agent at all, while others waited, and waited - in some cases, for more than 30 minutes. Cubic has hired more customer service agents since then, and plans to expand further.</p><p dir="ltr">No timeline has been set for when the Ventra rollout will continue. Wunderle said he can&rsquo;t really give a &ldquo;best guess&rdquo; how long it will take the company to address the CTA&rsquo;s three benchmarks, only estimating &ldquo;weeks&rdquo; when pressed by a reporter.</p><p dir="ltr">Other interesting Ventra facts:</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">The entire Ventra contract lasts 12 years: The two years allotted for engineering the system are almost up. The next 10 years of the contract will be for the service.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Cubic paid $92 million up front toward the transition: installing card readers, vending machines, call center operations, etc.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">CTA lawyers will be looking into how many fares they&rsquo;ve missed because of bus drivers waving people through when there seemed to be problems with the Ventra card</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">50 percent of CTA riders are now using Ventra cards</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Card readers will now display a &ldquo;low balance&rdquo; screen that lets customers know their Ventra card balance is under $10</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 Neon no more: Lincoln Avenue's motel row http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/neon-no-more-lincoln-avenues-motel-row-109050 <p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123057494&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe>There&#39;s only a handful of the motels left, tucked between the shopping plazas and condos on north Lincoln Avenue on the city&rsquo;s Northwest Side. Some, like the Guest House, are covered in vines and peeling paint. Others, like the River Park Motel, have changed names over the years or toned down their datedness. Most of the remaining motels on Lincoln Avenue have seen better days, but &mdash; somehow &mdash; they&#39;re all still in business.</p><p>Nicole Kirkwood lives on Lincoln Avenue and passes the Summit Motel on her way to Dominicks. But it wasn&#39;t until she started driving farther north &mdash; to reach restaurants and shops on Devon Avenue &mdash; that she noticed the motels seemed out of place.</p><p>&quot;I just realized how many of them there are in a concentrated area that is not at all a draw for tourists,&quot; she says.</p><p>So, she asked Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Why were so many motels built on one stretch of Lincoln Avenue? How do they survive?</em></p><p>After some talking to a motel owner, a historian and the local alderman, we learn the motels&rsquo; survival is due to a fair share of luck. But their story&rsquo;s remarkable because &mdash; more than sixty years after the golden age of roadside motels &mdash; Lincoln Avenue&rsquo;s motel row has weathered tectonic shifts in transportation, the ire of City Hall and its own seedy reputation.</p><p><strong>Your local highway</strong></p><p>To answer Nicole&rsquo;s question, let&rsquo;s zoom out. Geographically.</p><p>Between Foster Avenue and Skokie Boulevard, Lincoln Avenue overlaps with a cross-country highway. Designated in 1926, U.S. Route 41 stretches 2,000 miles between the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to Miami, Florida.</p><p>Mid-century, it was considered a major route, but today it&rsquo;s easy to forget that U.S. 41 moves well beyond the city limits and that only a five-mile stretch includes a portion of Lincoln Avenue.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/800px-US_41_map.png" style="height: 161px; width: 275px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="U.S. Route 41 expands from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Miami, Florida. In Chicago, the highway overlaps with Lincoln Avenue for five miles. (Wikimedia Commons/Nick Nolte)" />Instead, Nicole and most Chicagoans see Lincoln Avenue as a diagonal street that moves through several North Side neighborhoods. Or, it&rsquo;s the route to Lake Shore Drive or a way return home from the grocery store.</p><p>&quot;If you live on the North Side and know Lincoln Avenue, you think of it as your highway,&quot; says Patrick Steffes, editor of the history blog Forgotten Chicago. &quot;You&#39;re not thinking that this [U.S. 41] is an interstate highway that goes from near Canada to near Cuba.&quot;</p><p>So it&rsquo;s little wonder the motels can seem out of place to Nicole or anyone else. There was a time, though, when worn out travelers along U.S. 41 entered the edge of Chicago and were glad to have motels at the ready. To understand the context for the hotels&rsquo; rise and eventual decline, it&rsquo;s best to encounter them from the vantage of travelers back in the day. For that, I call up Steffes and tell him I&rsquo;ve got an idea.</p><p><strong>Are we there yet?</strong></p><p>On a Monday morning, Patrick Steffes and I exit off the Edens Expressway and make a right turn onto U.S. 41. We&#39;re getting into character. We pretend we&#39;re a couple with two imaginary kids in the back seat. We pretend our Honda Civic is a actually a &lsquo;55 Ford station wagon and that we&#39;re driving from Wisconsin to Chicago. The year is 1957.</p><p>Steffes points out what we would&#39;ve seen along the way. That Bank of America across from the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie? That was once an upscale department store. The Wendy&rsquo;s? Those were probably Big Boy drive-ups or diners. We&#39;re still a few miles outside of Chicago and, so far, we&#39;ve been heading southeast the entire time.</p><p>It&#39;s not quite a road trip, but I still feel kind of excited as we approach the city limits. Remember, I&#39;m pretending to be a Midwest mom with a beehive hairdo who hasn&#39;t gotten out of Sheboygan in a while. If my kids in the back were perpetually chanting &quot;Are we there yet?&quot; now would be the time I&#39;d answer &quot;Yes.&quot;</p><p>Crossing over Devon and into Chicago, the motel signs start rippling by. They&#39;re still hard to ignore, even if they&#39;re not flashing in neon or promising color television.</p><p>&ldquo;You would&rsquo;ve been a weary traveler coming in from wherever you&rsquo;re coming from, and the signs really made you want to stop for the night,&rdquo; Steffes says.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/acres motel postcard.jpg" style="float: left; height: 209px; width: 320px;" title="A postcard from the Acres Motel, demolished in 2005. (Photo courtesy Patrick Steffes)" />The motels are the first places travelers (like ourselves) can get some rest within city limits. They&rsquo;re kind of like flags at the end of a race. The neon signs are more than flashy advertising; they&rsquo;re signals that you made it.</p><p>A little ways down Lincoln, we pass the O-Mi, the Rio, and the empty lot still staked with a sign for the Stars Motel. As the road takes a sharp right, we pass Foster Avenue. The wide lanes narrow, the buildings close in on the street, people are walking. Suddenly, it feels like we&#39;re in a city. It becomes clear that everything between Devon and Foster is Lincoln Square&#39;s edge of town.</p><p>&ldquo;That stretch north of Foster is kind of like no-man&rsquo;s land,&rdquo; Steffes says, sticking to his 1950s persona. &ldquo;Things had not yet been built and there was space available. Now, we&rsquo;ve only gone a few blocks and it&rsquo;s a dense, Chicago, urban-looking environment.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Back to reality</strong></p><p>The fact that Lincoln Avenue was once along a major highway explains why there&rsquo;s a motel row there, but Steffes (out of character now) says there&#39;s another reason why the motels have that distinctive &lsquo;50s flair. Chicago&rsquo;s zoning regulations, he says, didn&rsquo;t allow motels within the city limits until 1953. It took only a few years for many of them to pop up.</p><p>&ldquo;Chicago would&rsquo;ve welcomed the motels after that because the city also built in revenue with a new motel tax,&rdquo; Steffes says. &ldquo;And [U.S.] 41 offered lots of open space, plus being a major U.S. highway. It&rsquo;s the perfect place for them to be located.&rdquo;</p><p>There were once 14 motels on North Lincoln Avenue; nine remain today.</p><p>But what went wrong? How did places like the old Patio Motel with signs that read &ldquo;An adventure in living!&rdquo; come to feel so dead?</p><p>Put simply: It was the interstate system.</p><p><a href="http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/ref/collection/skokiepo02/id/602" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/edens%20superhighway.PNG" style="float: right; height: 247px; width: 350px;" title="The Edens Expressway opened in 1951. It took much of the car traffic from U.S. 41, leaving the motels hanging. Click on the image to flip through a scrapbook of the Interstate's opening. (Source: Illinois Digital Archives)" /></a><a href="http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/ref/collection/skokiepo02/id/602" target="_blank">The Edens Expressway opened in 1951</a>, creating a quick way in and out of downtown Chicago. Post-war economic prosperity was in full swing, and the interstate system promised a faster pace, an expansion of new frontiers and the freedom to travel the country at will. But it took decades for those first interstates to fulfill that promise.</p><p>&ldquo;They weren&rsquo;t how you&rsquo;d think of interstate highways today, with multiple exits every mile that are accessible with all points, Steffes says. &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t meant for people driving from, say, Highland Park to Skokie. It was meant for people driving to Ohio.&rdquo;</p><p>But the interstate system did eventually sideline important highway routes, including U.S. 41. As the system around Chicago expanded and modernized the motels were left hanging.</p><p><strong>What the motels were up against</strong></p><p>Which brings us to the second part of Nicole&#39;s question: How do those motels on Lincoln Avenue survive?</p><p>In the interstate age, the motels didn&#39;t have a good reason to be on Lincoln Avenue anymore;<a href="http://www.anyclip.com/movies/psycho/norman-bates-welcomes-marion-in/#!quotes/" target="_blank"> </a><a href="http://www.anyclip.com/movies/psycho/norman-bates-welcomes-marion-in/#!quotes/" target="_blank">anyone who went there probably didn&#39;t have a good reason to be there, either</a>. The operations now attracted a more local clientele and became havens for shenanigans on the edge of town.</p><p>The operations gained reputations as places for illegal activity, including crime and prostitution. But some, like the Spa Motel, were popular among traveling bands, too. Some motels even attracted permanent residents, who&rsquo;d live in their rooms for years.<iframe align="left" frameborder="0" height="100%" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/118007536" width="300"></iframe></p><p>The <em>Chicago Tribune</em> ran headlines like &ldquo;Checkout time motels live down to reputation&rdquo; (1993) and &ldquo;Lights out at seedy motels&rdquo; (1998). &nbsp;Perhaps the most high-profile crime was in 1981, when a series of rapes and robberies along motel row ended at the Patio Motel. The rapist broke into a first-floor room, locked a man and several children in the bathroom, then raped the man&#39;s wife and daughter.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;They became places that you wouldn&rsquo;t have a relative that was in town stay overnight,&rdquo; says Ald. Patrick O&rsquo;Connor (40th). &ldquo;It became apparent that [the motels] needed to leave.&rdquo;</p><p>Though the motels&rsquo; new clientele wasn&rsquo;t the clientele they had originally hoped to attract, they still kept the motels in business. At least for a while.</p><p>A turning point for the motels came in the late &lsquo;90s, when Mayor Richard M. Daley&rsquo;s public works campaign was well under way. Years before, the mayor began modernizing police stations and expanding branches of the Chicago Public Library system.</p><p>The motels had been placed into <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/untangling-tifs-108611" target="_blank">TIF (tax increment financing) districts</a> and Ald. O&rsquo;Connor had an idea of where to put a new police station and a new library &mdash; should anyone happen to ask.</p><p>Lo and behold, they did.</p><p>&ldquo;We had properties that we would be willing to go in, condemn and convert immediately without a great deal of controversy or without a lot of people in the neighborhood saying &lsquo;Oh no, don&rsquo;t take that, that&rsquo;s my favorite grocery store or that&rsquo;s my favorite dress shop,&rsquo; &rdquo; O&rsquo;Connor says. &ldquo;These were places that nobody in the neighborhood was lighting any candles to keep.&rdquo;</p><p>By 2000, Mayor Daley and Alderman O&rsquo;Connor helped demolish three motels: The Spa, The Riverside, and The Acres, with plans to build a police station, a park and a public library, respectively.</p><p>&ldquo;When those buildings came down, quite honestly the enjoyment was only matched by the days we cut the ribbons on the new uses,&rdquo; O&rsquo;Connor says.</p><p>The plan was to demolish each motel, O&rsquo;Connor says, but public money ran out before the city could raze them all. Again, nine of the 14 survived. Even a partial success, though, solidified public sentiment: The motels were officially unwelcome in their own community.</p><p><strong>Staying alive</strong></p><p>Manu Patel bought the Apache Motel at 5535 North Lincoln Avenue in 1987. Even at the time, he says, he knew he&rsquo;d have to fight motel row&rsquo;s seedy reputation in order to stay in business.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/apache%20owners%20portrait.jpg" style="float: right; height: 240px; width: 320px;" title="Manu Patel and his wife own the Apache Motel at 5535 N. Lincoln Ave. He says he runs the place family-style. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></p><p>&ldquo;With these motels going through so many different eras and so many different reputations, you know, the reputation stays,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So it takes time to clear up.&rdquo;</p><p>He started with simple renovations: getting rid of roaches, putting up new drywall, and painting the bathrooms. The place was almost falling down, he says, and had no option but to keep the place &ldquo;nice and clean and comfortable.&rdquo;</p><p>In the &lsquo;80s, Patel installed a security system that would notify the office if someone had unplugged one of the new color TVs. People used to steal them, he says.</p><p>More recently, he built a website and installed Wi-Fi.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the clientele is changing every day and their requirement is also changing,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So you have to stay up with these things. Any person walking in needs Internet, so you have to provide wireless.&rdquo;</p><p>Slowly, he attracted a different clientele than some of the motels around him.</p><p>&ldquo;The clientele was totally local then,&rdquo; Patel says of the early days. &ldquo;Nowadays everybody comes from out of state. I have a clientele that comes from Germany to England to Jamaica to Mexico. Everywhere. You&rsquo;d be surprised in this neighborhood. People know me by the name Patel because they have family that comes here.&rdquo;</p><p>And Patel&rsquo;s got an unexpected ally: the police station that was built over the former Spa Motel.</p><p>&ldquo;Now, the neighborhood is safe,&rdquo; Patel says. &ldquo;Plus, the police department is close by, so people feel safe. Slowly, Lincoln Avenue&rsquo;s reputation is changing. It&rsquo;s changed a lot.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/41 sign and apache.jpg" style="float: left; height: 240px; width: 320px;" title="The Apache Motel is on the part of Lincoln Avenue that overlaps with U.S. 41. Owner Manu Patel says he keeps the original sign because it has history. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" />But some things are still the same at the Apache Motel. The motel&rsquo;s vertical sign (topped with a fiberglass Apache head) has barely changed.</p><p>&ldquo;This is a sign all over and everybody knows the sign, so I didn&rsquo;t want to change it structurally because this is what the popularity came from,&rdquo; Patel says.</p><p>He did, though, replace the neon with LEDs.</p><p>As for the motels&rsquo; future?</p><p>Well, you can look at it this way: The neighborhood&rsquo;s still dealing with its history as a traveler&rsquo;s stop ... only to have modern-day drivers stay away. Ald. O&rsquo;Connor says he&rsquo;d still like the motels to disappear, and he&rsquo;s heard that could happen. This time, though, it would likely happen from private development &mdash; not public works projects.</p><p>Manu Patel says he&rsquo;ll keep improving his motel business.</p><p>But Nicole, our question asker, suggests her own survival tactic.</p><p>&ldquo;I think there&#39;s a huge opportunity if there was a joint marketing effort among [the motels],&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s certainly a demand, I would think, for low-cost lodging options in the city.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&#39;s multimedia producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Corrections: A typo in this story led to the misidentification of a road name. The correct name is Lincoln Avenue. Original language suggested that U.S. 41 was built in 1926. Much of the route&#39;s roads were already in place when the route was designated as U.S. 41 in 1926.</em></p></p> Thu, 31 Oct 2013 17:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/neon-no-more-lincoln-avenues-motel-row-109050 Bridges that span the river and the decades http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/bridges-span-river-and-decades-108903 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/topper%20bridge%20house%20mindfrieze%20flickr.jpg" title="The Kinzie Street rail bridge and deteriorated bridgehouse. (Flickr/Mindfrieze)" /><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F114901925&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>If you&rsquo;re admiring great architecture in the Loop, chances are you&rsquo;re looking at skyscrapers. But if you crane your neck a bit less, you might notice an often overlooked catalogue of Chicago&rsquo;s architectural movements. It&rsquo;s the parade of bridgehouses along the Chicago River. Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, Modernism &mdash; all the major architectural styles that typify the city are on display in the bridgehouses that line the river.</p><p>It can be enough to drive one to distraction, as it once did for Jim Brady.</p><p>&ldquo;I almost had an accident one time when I thought I saw a light in one of them,&rdquo; Brady says. &ldquo;I had to put my eyes back on Wacker Drive. So I never answered my question of if there&rsquo;s any life up there.&rdquo;</p><p>Brady, a journalist turned telecommunications specialist who lives in River Forest, tried to rectify this when he asked Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;Who stays in guard houses along Chicago bridges, and what do they do all day?&rdquo;</em></p><p>As we found out, the quick answer to Jim Brady&rsquo;s question is: Most of the time, nobody! But these beautiful structures still serve a function. Stories about the downtown river bridges and the workers who once tended them solidify the claim that Chicago&rsquo;s relationship with its river is every bit as notable as the one it has with Lake Michigan.</p><p><strong>Bridges to innovation</strong></p><p>Chicago has the most movable bridges<a href="http://www.landmarks.org/ten_most_2013_chicago_bascule_bridges.htm" target="_blank"> of any city in the world</a>. There are 37 in total, including 18 along the river&rsquo;s main branch downtown. Most are of a style called Bascule, from the French word for teeter-totter &mdash;&nbsp;drawbridges that lift up instead of swinging to the side.</p><p>Like a lot of its most impressive feats of architecture and engineering, the city&rsquo;s record-setting collection of drawbridges has its origin in a very practical concern.</p><p>&ldquo;We had all these big boats coming through and a pretty narrow river, so you couldn&rsquo;t really build those big bridge spans that would clear those large boats,&rdquo; says Ozana Balan-King, a <a href="http://www.chicagoriver.org/" target="_blank">Friends of the Chicago River</a> employee who helps run the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bridgehousemuseum.org/home/" target="_blank">&nbsp;McCormick Bridgehouse &amp; Chicago River Museum</a>.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jim Brady and bridge museum lady.jpg" style="height: 231px; width: 320px; float: left;" title="Our question asker Jim Brady with Ozana Balan-King, who helps run the McCormick Bridgehouse &amp; Chicago River Museum. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>She adds that since our bridges needed to move out of the way quickly, &ldquo;A lot of the movable bridge innovation in the world has really taken place here in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Now, a bridge for two seasons</strong></p><p>In 1920, the modern Michigan Avenue bridge&rsquo;s first year of operation, it opened 3,377 times. Back then bridgehouses were staffed around the clock and opened on demand. But the law began to favor landlubbers over boat traffic on the Chicago River, especially as commercial shipping shifted south to the Calumet Harbor.</p><p>Now bridges open only two times per week during a few months of the year:<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/apr/spring_bridge_liftsmarksstartoftheboatingseason.html" target="_blank"> Between April and June</a>, bridges open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to let sailboats into Lake Michigan. On the same days<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/sep/fall_bridge_liftschedule.html" target="_blank"> from late September until mid-November</a>, they open again so sailboats can return to the Chicago River system before winter.</p><p>That system has been in place since 1994. Since they&rsquo;re no longer staffed 24 hours a day, bridgehouses are usually unoccupied, though the 18th Street bridge is still staffed around the clock.</p><p>During bridge lifts, seven crews from the Chicago Department of Transportation work to open and close 27 city-owned bridges. Crews leapfrog one another to keep the process moving, but it can take up to five hours. They start between 9 and 10 a.m. to avoid the worst of the morning and afternoon rush hours.</p><p>Boat owners can talk to their boatyards about signing up for a bridge lift. To find out when lifts are scheduled, CDOT spokesman Peter Scales says to<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/sep/fall_bridge_liftschedule.html" target="_blank"> look out for press releases</a>. James Phillips, who runs the website<a href="http://www.chicagoloopbridges.com/" target="_blank"> ChicagoLoopBridges.com</a>, also<a href="https://twitter.com/chicagobridges" target="_blank"> tweets the dates of confirmed bridge lifts</a>.</p><p><strong>The grinding gears of bridge duty</strong></p><p>Back when bridgehouses were staffed, bridge tending often meant more than just making sure boat traffic ran smoothly.</p><p>&ldquo;There was always something burning in this area here,&rdquo; said Bruce Lampson, 67, a former bridgetender. &ldquo;I had two telephones: one directly to City Hall, and one to &mdash; in those days &mdash; the Illinois Bell Telephone Company.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WEB lampson-at-z-1 by Virginia Lampson_Bruce mom.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Bruce Lampson operating the former Z-1 bridge. His mom came to visit and snapped a few shots. (Courtesy Virginia Lampson)" /></p><p>From 1961 until he was drafted by the Army in 1965, Lampson ran the Z-1 bridge that used to carry railroad tracks northeast across the river just north of Kinzie Street. He grew up in the area and had learned to operate the bridge by watching people work the control panel when he was a child. Instead of going to high school, Lampson lied about his age and got the job when he was just 14 years old.</p><p>&ldquo;I was very tall for my age,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They never asked any questions. They just asked, &lsquo;Can you operate a bridge?&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>He worked from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for six days at a time, earning two days off and $65 &mdash; not much less than his mother made working as a secretary in City Hall. In addition to opening the bridge, he sometimes had to direct street traffic with red flags when extreme heat or cold would jam the gates that kept motorists from driving into the river at the neighboring Kinzie Street bridge. But, he says, sometimes they did so anyway. He says he was once at his post on the east bank of the river when a man committed suicide.</p><p>&ldquo;I watched a man jump off the [Kinzie Street] bridge, go down, pop back up almost back up to the bridge, go back into the water and that&rsquo;s it. I never saw him. He just floated away under the water,&rdquo; Lampson says. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve seen cows, horses, livestock floating down. I&rsquo;ve seen pieces of boats floating down. Anything that floated would float past you like that.&rdquo;</p><p>Z-1 was a bob-tail swing bridge that spun sideways instead of lifting up like a bascule bridge. It no longer exists, but the Z-2 bridge on North Avenue has a similar design.</p><p>In the summer of 2013, Chicago Tribune reporters Hal Dardick and John Byrne <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-06/news/ct-met-dick-mell-interview-20130706_1_alderman-70-jobs-popsicle">interviewed departing Alderman Richard Mell</a>, who says he &quot;put four kids through college as bridge tenders&rdquo;:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;I would get them on the second shift, from 3 to 11, where they could do their homework. Or 11 to 7, where they&#39;d sleep, and they were getting electrician&#39;s pay, and it was great. I helped.&rdquo;</em><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/z-1-bridge%20by%20Virginia%20Lampson%20web.jpg" style="height: 251px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="A look at the former Z-1 bridge. (Courtesy of Virginia Lampson)" /></p><p>Boat traffic on the Chicago River has dried up a bit since then, and the crew that operates the city&rsquo;s movable bridges has followed suit. Darryl Rouse, CDOT&rsquo;s Assistant Commissioner and Superintendent of Bridges, said his staff is down from hundreds of employees during the 1970s to just 51 today. The days of sleeping or doing homework on the job, he says, are long gone &mdash; the crew is too small, Rouse says, to give bridge tenders any time to slack off.</p><p>If our question asker, Jim Brady, wants a glimpse of the way things used to be, he can drop by five bridges in the Calumet system that are staffed 24 hours a day. Milwaukee also<a href="http://milwaukeeriverkeeper.org/content/milwaukee-bridge-overview"> still has several staffed bridgehouses</a>, although many of that city&rsquo;s bridges are operated automatically or by remote.</p><p>But maybe the bridgehouses themselves are enough, as Jim Brady and I learn when we tour the Bridgehouse Museum.</p><p>Brady leans out the window over Michigan Avenue. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a part of Chicago that Chicago can just walk right by if you&rsquo;re late for your 10 a.m. appointment,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot going on that we just don&rsquo;t see.&rdquo;<a name="bridgevideo"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/a6r_Wee7BxA" width="420"></iframe><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/mJhnaTKEPOU" width="560"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City. Follow him at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Oct 2013 13:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/bridges-span-river-and-decades-108903 Is biking in Chicago a risky proposition? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/biking-chicago-risky-proposition-108762 <p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37"><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F112494856" width="100%"></iframe>Motti Pikelny would fall in the group of people who are maybe less averse to risk than others. He used to pilot glider planes in competitions. Yet, the Oak Park resident won&rsquo;t commute to work by bicycle because he </span><em>thinks</em> it&rsquo;s too risky.</p><p>So, Pikelny turned to Curious City with this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How dangerous is it to bicycle commute in the city?</em></p><p>Pikelny would like to commute by bike for economical and environmental reasons. In fact, he has competed in century rides &mdash; 100-mile bike races &mdash; when he lived in Oregon. But the safety factor stops him from pedaling to work.</p><p>He wanted us to approach the question from a statistical viewpoint. He wanted to know the dangers of biking in Chicago as compared to other modes of transportation (i.e., motorcycles) or recreational activities (i.e., skydiving).</p><p>We talked to a lot of experts, all of whom said the same thing: This question is impossible to answer, but they all gave different reasons for why. Some say there&rsquo;s not enough data. Others argue quantifying danger is subjective. Along the way, we learned how the decision to bike or not bike can be a heavy one &mdash; with or without key stats to help.</p><p><strong><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37">There are data, but are they the </span><em>right</em> data?</strong></p><p>Many municipalities, including Chicago, as well as the state of Illinois, record bike injuries and deaths involving crashes with motor vehicles. In April 2010, the city of Chicago began tracking &ldquo;dooring&rdquo; incidents (fatal and non-fatal), as well. That&rsquo;s when a driver or passenger opens a car door in the pathway of a biker and a crash occurs.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s some recent data from the Illinois Department of Transportation regarding bike injuries and deaths involving crashes with cars in Chicago.</p><ul dir="ltr"><li>2011: 1,302 bike injuries and seven deaths</li><li>2010: 1,583 bike injuries and five deaths</li><li><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37">2009: 1,402 bike injuries and six deaths.</span></li></ul><p>In 2011, there were 336 dooring crashes in Chicago.</p><p>This kind of data is important but it doesn&rsquo;t go far enough, said Jen Duthie, a researcher at the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research. Duthie is a bike commuter and gathers bike data.</p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37">What&rsquo;s unknown is the number of bikers on the road and how far they travel, said Steven Vance, author of </span><a href="http://chi.streetsblog.org/">Chicago Streetsblog</a>, a bike advocate and local data wizard.</p><p>Also, no data are collected on pedestrian-versus-bike crashes in Chicago or incidents where bikers collide with other cyclists.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m more scared of hitting a pedestrian on the phone than getting doored,&rdquo; said Thea Lux, a Groupon employee who commutes daily during the summer months.</p><p>Often, Lux said, people are talking on a cell phone and not paying attention as they walk into intersections.</p><p>Researchers and policy makers can make generalizations about biking danger on a per capita basis by looking at the number of crashes that occur and Chicago&rsquo;s population. But it&rsquo;s not an accurate reflection of bike safety here. Vance said it&rsquo;s impossible to say how likely a person is to crash on their bike.</p><p>Plus, Duthie added, near misses are not recorded, even though avoided crashes shape opinions on whether biking in Chicago is safe.</p><p><strong>When data don&rsquo;t help</strong></p><p>&ldquo;In my personal experience, it&rsquo;s slightly dangerous but mostly harrowing mentally,&rdquo; Vance said of biking in Chicago. &ldquo;The likelihood that you&rsquo;ll get into a crash, I believe, is quite low but I don&rsquo;t have data to prove that.&rdquo;</p><p>Harrowing, that is, because of all the near misses that scare bikers.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/TouringCyclist.jpg" style="float: right; height: 324px; width: 370px;" title="Bike infrastructure may be placed in areas that are most convenient instead of areas that are most dangerous to bikers, suspects Steven Vance. (Flickr/TouringCyclist)" /></p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37">Vance launched a blog in May called </span>Close Calls, which allows Chicagoans to record their near-crash biking experiences.</p><p>But Vance, ultimately, doesn&rsquo;t care how dangerous it is to bike in Chicago. Unlike Pikelny, he&rsquo;s already decided to commute by bike. That&rsquo;s not a question, in his mind, at least. What&rsquo;s more important to Vance is identifying specific intersections or stretches of roads that are the most dangerous &nbsp;&mdash; and fixing them.</p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37">His other outlet, </span>Chicago Streets Blog, pre-ordered a counter to track the number of cars and bikes passing through certain intersections. The city tracks that information in some cases, but he says his blog purchased the counter because the city wasn&rsquo;t getting him the data when he asked for it.</p><p>Vance wants to make the data available to the public, with the ultimate goal being to identify the most dangerous intersections and stretches of road in Chicago. He finds that bike infrastructure is often constructed in areas that are convenient, but not necessarily areas that bikers consider the most dangerous.</p><p>But even with all the bike data in the world, determining danger &mdash; or in this case, risk &mdash; is still impossible.</p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-73d020ab-55e7-a788-5dcc-18e53bee6a37">David Ropeik, instructor at Harvard and author of </span>How Risky Is It Really: Why Our Fears Don&rsquo;t Always Match Our Facts, says risk is subjective.</p><p>&ldquo;We delude ourselves about some risk that is higher than they actually feel by saying, well, my general feeling about this from my experience, from what I&#39;ve heard and read is that this won&#39;t happen to me,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>What that means is that biking in Chicago may seem dangerous to one person but may seem less to another.</p><p>And sometimes impressions change.</p><p><strong>What once seemed safe</strong></p><p>Catherine Bullard never thought that biking in Chicago could be fatal.</p><p>That was before Bullard, a biker, received an urgent Facebook message late one night from her boyfriend&rsquo;s roommate. It said please call when you can.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2953269838_fc23f067a8_z.jpg" style="float: left; height: 241px; width: 360px;" title="This is an example of a ghost bike, which memorializes bikers who have died on the road. (Flickr/rocketlass)" />&ldquo;Without even thinking about it I knew that Bobby had been in a cycling accident, but I didn&rsquo;t think for a second that he was dead,&rdquo; said Bullard, who recounted her story to us while standing near the intersection of Larrabee Street and Clybourn Avenue &mdash; the same spot where her boyfriend, Bobby Cann, died biking home from Groupon where he worked. Cann, Bullard said, was an avid, safe cyclist.</p><p>Cann was struck around 6:30 p.m. by a driver who was allegedly drunk at the wheel. Cann was wearing a helmet.</p><p>&ldquo;He was so, so safe,&rdquo; Bullard said. &ldquo;He knew hand signals I didn&rsquo;t even know.&rdquo;</p><p>Bullard hasn&rsquo;t biked to work since Cann&rsquo;s death. She&rsquo;s conflicted about biking now. She never used to worry about getting hurt on a bike.</p><p>Now she wonders: How is it that something that once seemed safe &mdash; especially for those who followed all the rules &mdash; now doesn&rsquo;t?</p><p>She wants to get back on the road. And she will. She&rsquo;s determined. Except, for now, biking just seems too risky.</p><p>&ldquo;Part of it is being afraid of what might happen, which I hate,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I hate that that is an impulse of mine and he would hate it, too.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Perspective from a biking community</strong></p><p>Again, the hard comparative data that our questioner Motti Pikelny wanted isn&rsquo;t available, so we reached out to riders to get qualitative perspectives. The goal was to get some perspective from bikers on the ground. What do they see? What do they experience? Riders we spoke with agree that Chicago is becoming more bike-friendly in the sense that biking is gaining a higher profile and the city&rsquo;s adding new bike lanes.</p><p>We found one particularly interesting set of riders at the Chicago headquarters of Groupon, the daily deals service. The office, located on the near North Side, has a robust biking community; among other things, it&rsquo;s a regular participant in the annual Bike To Work week. According to the &nbsp;Active Transportation Alliance, the event last year had 7,000 participants citywide.</p><p>As Groupon editor Sandy Kofler told us, just several years ago she was nervous about riding her bike on some downtown streets &mdash; enough that she would put her bike on the train, ride one stop, and then get off and resume her ride.</p><p>The addition of bike lanes since then has helped a lot, she said.</p><p>Today Kofler bikes to work, taking one of two routes to work from her home in Humboldt Park; the one she frequently rides has fewer bike lanes than the other, but at least she can avoid having to make two scary left turns.</p><p>When it comes to biking in Chicago, she said, &ldquo;The safe ways are safe but they take longer.&rdquo;</p><p>To get even more perspective, we recently solicited volunteers from Groupon to&nbsp;<a href="#GrouponLogs">log their bike routes</a> for three days. Consider these logs as anecdotes of what its like to pedal in the bike lane &hellip; or in some cases, the shoulder of the road.</p><p><strong>The takeaway</strong></p><p>I reported my findings &mdash; the limited data, the wealth of anecdotes &mdash; back to Pikelny, who wasn&#39;t that surprised that there&rsquo;s no answer to his question. It is, after all, what he suspected after he finished his own surface research.</p><p>That being said, though, he hopes for better data collection in the future. That would be good, he said, for him as well as others who are contemplating whether to bike commute at all. And that would be helpful, too, for people like Bullard, who could at least lean on firm data to help decide whether to put her feet back on the pedals.</p><p><em>Chelsi Moy is a Curious City intern. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/chelsimoy" target="_blank">@chelsimoy</a>.</em></p><p><a name="bike logs"></a><a name="GrouponLogs"></a><font color="#04B4A"><strong>*Click on a person to view his/her bike log.</strong></font></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="1300" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/INTERACTIVE+DATA+PUBLISHING/2013+Projects/September/Bike+Safety/BIKE+CODE+4.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>Correction: A caption misspelled the name of a Chicago blogger and developer. The correct spelling is Steven Vance.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 25 Sep 2013 11:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/biking-chicago-risky-proposition-108762