Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bike Picture Books For Quiet Winter Days Again

We have a little side bar that lists our favorite books for the smallest cyclists but often new readers have not found them yet. Here again, admittedly for the second winter season, are our favorite picture books brimming with stories and pictures of bikes. We haven't found good new books but the old ones are still worth a look!
On this rainy quiet Saturday here in Chicago we wish everyone time to sit down together with a good book. 

Winter Gift Books for the Small Cyclists in Your Life 
As we've mentioned often reading about or just meeting pictures of riders in children's books can be a fun way to share bikes with your smallest soon to be riders. We've talked about many of our favorites this year but want to mention them again since the season for sharing books as gifts for special friends and loved ones has begun. Here is a big mix of our reviews from the year. 
Always at the top is the terrific Bear's Bicycle.

The Bear’s Bicycle by Emilie Warren McLeod and illustrated by David McPhail is an absolute favorite. It is a wonderful book about biking from 1975 that is actually very current. It covers everything from making turns and checking tires to not getting doored, as a young boy (a clever rider) and his brought-to-life teddy bear (rather reckless) go off on their daily ride. Perfect for the learning rider, it says it all with sly humor and clever pictures. My kids crack up at the Bear’s cycling antics every time.  Though it’s pre-helmet era, the boy’s puffy cap looks suspiciously like a chic Yakkay hat helmet. 
You can probably find it at the library or order it from your trusty neighborhood book store — like Sandmeyer’s or Women and Children First.  (link to this book here)Usually there is plenty to watch on our wintery city rides, be it a new building going up or the perennial hit — some gigantic machinery next to a huge hole getting dug in the road. More than buildings grows in Chicago, and a nice trip game we play is to spy winter trees we pass on a ride and identify them from their shapes. Carole Gerber’s Winter Trees was our original inspiration for this game. A book perfect for the younger rider, Leslie Evans’s sweet linoleum block, watercolor and collage illustrations bring the shapes of winter trees to life. They especially piqued my middle guy’s curiosity about which trees we passed on our daily rides. It’s a nice counterpoint to the bulldozers and street cleaning machines! I like that Winter Trees gently describes the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees and gives tactile clues for telling seven different trees apart — a good number for the budding arborist to remember. 

Anatole by Eve Titus with pictures by Paul Galdone is a stealth bike book. It was the Caldecott Medal winner for 1956 and stands the test of time with beautiful line drawings washed with blues, red and black.  Anatole is a Parisian mouse searching for a way to take care of his growing family.  It just so happens that he and his mouse friends use their bikes to get everywhere. Their classic bicycles are sprinkled throughout  the book with cool bright front lights and bells on the handlebars. It's especially good for kids that like cheese.... 
Along A Long Road is a brand new book by New Yorker cartoonist Frank Viva. Our guys love the dynamic drawings that tell the story of a long fast ride through towns, tunnels over bridges. They don't pay so much attention to the words. Making up their own stories for where the rider is going and about the curious pregnant lady and her son who appear and disappear seems to be more fun. Just in case you are a stickler, the rider is not wearing a helmet...  but we love looking at the pictures in this book anyway. 
New Red Bike a new book by James E. Ransome is all about the story and pictures. Tom's new bike is beautiful and the swooping ride he takes to visit his friend Sam is a favorite especially with our youngest.The older guys have a running debate about Tom and Sam's friendship which takes a turn when Sam steals Toms bike and disappears.  Should Tom hang out with Sam anymore or should he just ride that terrific red bike off into the sunset? You'll have to choose your own side.

 Wheels of Change is a light hearted trip, for any age reader, through the blasting meteor landing of bikes in the lives of women at the turn of the last century.  Cycling changed everything from how women went out to what they wore.  Sue Macy's well researched book talks about why women first took to the road, then learned to race; and it addresses how the bloomer controversy shook the nation. Bloomers were more World Naked Bike Ride than Tweed Ride for the people of that era. I didn't know that at one time women actually cycled on bikes with both pedals on the same side of the bike. Great pictures of amazing bikes and bold women fill the pages.  
Elsa von Blumen looking great and going really fast! She's just one of the
many interesting women rolling through Wheels of Change by Sue Macy.

Tillie the Terrible Swede 
by Sue Staufacher and illustrated by Sarah Mc Menemy is a terrific kid's book about Tillie Anderson, the Swedish transplant to Chicago who took the 1890s bicycle track by storm. She eventually set four track speed records and became champion of the world. Our guys love the bright clear illustrations and solid story. Tillie stands up to family and friends who discourage her. She builds her own strength and rides on. She even finds love with the friend who turns her on to racing, and then totally supports her rise to the top. 
Spoiler alert: The only downside to either of these books are the last pages where cycling fades to the car. Even our dear Tillie turns to the motor car on the last pages. Hey, you could always glue those two closed!In Chicago Tillie is a staple at the gift shop at the Swedish American Museum and at Women and Children First.  

Jonathan London's Froggy Rides a Bike is a last read that we came across this fall. It's good for kids who love the Froggy series. All about Froggy getting his new bike but struggling to get going  on two wheels. Bring on the pedal bikes!
We hope you find a book here to delight a small cyclist in your life. What could be as fun as bikes -- well really besides something delicious to eat maybe it's got to be books.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What makes a bike lane good?

After news of a handful of heartbreaking cycling accidents here in Chicago, a little pneumonia (but still plenty of riding), we have been thinking a lot about what is it to be a family rider here in Chicago.  The city now promises huge changes and brings a new rush of lanes and plenty of boasting about how many miles they are building.

Family riders, the older and the not bold have a different need for what makes a bike lane safe and usable than a hypothetical 22-38 year old male strong rider. Attracting this huge segment of bike traveler - people like us - is the constant mantra of the major cycling organizations in the country— including in Chicago. It follows that lanes which comfortably accommodate the largest swath of potential riders are the best long term investment for our city.  Good lanes speak for themselves. They get used without fanfare all over the United States.

In honor of the debut of the Dearborn Lane tomorrow here is our own yardstick from a family rider perspective for measuring the new lanes erupting in Chicago. It just so happens that we really do have riders in the family from 8-80!

Is the new lane...
     Protected enough?
     Likely to leave you hanging?
     Connecting useful destinations?

A protected lane should be so protected from other traffic (and car doors) that your 8 year old nephew can ride it with you and tell you all about Star Wars without making you nervous. In other American cities (except e.g. Washington DC) and in other countries, this usually involves concrete. A concrete wall, car-proof barrier, or at least a curb keeps the teenage texting driver away from your kid, and vice versa. This is much better than a little plastic bat or simple paint as generally used in Chicago. Trees or planters or steel barriers are also strong enough to protect lanes.
Here in Chicago the gold standard protected lane is the Lakefront Path, which is separated by an entire park from traffic along much of its length.
A truly protected lane is also durable enough to last for years without much upkeep. If the bike lane is divided from the other traffic with concrete Jersey highway barriers it'll last a lot longer, be safer and be cheaper than one divided by paint or plastic bats, even without upkeep. You can't see paint under dust and snow or after it's worn away. You can see concrete.
Summary: Lanes get full marks if drivers can't drive into the lane; plastic bats and bollards are, um, protected-ish? Paint is just, well, paint.

Won't leave you hanging?
If Grandma and Junior are headed off to school on the bike lane and it only goes halfway before stopping and spilling them out into car traffic, like (among many examples) Kinzie at Wells, the lane doesn't make riding easier; it increases their chance of scaring them off their bikes. Lanes have to go the whole way somewhere without stranding riders in the middle of nowhere. A lane that is hard to get on and hard to get off is not helpful.
Summary: No good lane is an island.

Connecting useful destinations?
If a lane doesn't go near where normal casual family riders need to ride, it isn't that useful. A lane on Elston is nice but few families can use it to go anywhere efficiently. Why not put car traffic back on Elston and block off half of Milwaukee for bikes instead? Schools and shopping and train stations and so on should all be linked by the bike path network, not just factories and empty lots.
Summary: Simple routes to popular places.

All we wanted for the holidays was a nice bike lane in the Loop. We can't wait to try out Dearborn tomorrow and see what is in the box!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making it Count for CDOT

Saturday my son and I spent two lovely hours together on the Monroe Street Bridge counting east- and westgoing bikes for the quarterly CDOT bike count. CDOT counts bikes at various intersections each season in an effort to study where riders are right now, where ridership might be grown with better infrastructure, where cyclists are crowded, and where sparse. You know what huge fans of honestly good all-ages bike infrastructure we are. It was high time for our family to get counting to help keep those good lanes coming. 

So my medium boy and I ran out of the house a little behind, after our computer printer refused to print out our charts. We grabbed extra paper, a few pencils and some snacks and hurried through the almost deserted Saturday streets through the outer loop to our assigned spot. We took a few minutes to find the best place to enjoy watching the shimmery sun on the river and see bikes coming from both directions. Then we cobbled together a chart from my memory of counting Tuesday morning. 

Counts happen in fifteen minute increments. We were counting both east- and westgoing riders. Men and women riders are noted separately. (My guy was wondering when they might start counting kids? Or old ladies? Hmmm..) Saturdays on Monroe Bridge are pretty quiet right now. Other counters were out on more buzzy bike thoroughfares.

Just when it started getting a little ho hum we noticed the bridges north of us were swarmed with men in orange vests. City kids love orange vests.  We traded off keeping our eye on the bikes and guessing about the swarm. Of course. The bridges were all opening to let the boats through from the lake. This was perfect, watched from our little perch from which we could see each bridge north. Open, close. Open, close. It was the most exciting when they moved us off our bridge and opened it right above us. He liked that we didn’t have to worry about missing any bikes while we watched.

After the bridges closed we played word games, got caught up together on everything happening everywhere and counted the bikes. It occurred to us that other kids might like counting bikes for CDOT as well. 

Counting bikes on a sunny Saturday morning might sound a little dull maybe but we were busy working with our clock to keep in the right quarter hour on the chart and remembering which compass direction the riders were coming from. My son loved being in charge of the pencil, clock and direction remembering. We also got a little silly noticing all of the different kinds of riders.

We both considered, perhaps, that this would be a fun non-ride weekend event for other Kidicalmassers and families that want to help the city grow into a better place for us all to get around. Family Math activity junkies obviously note oodles of math mania built right into our morning... A little team of kids and parents could take a busier place and trade off counting and playing to pass a very quick two hours. The next quarterly count will be in January. Maybe it'd be even better in winter with some snowballs and a big thermos of hot chocolate.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. If it sounds good to you check out the CDOT bike program page here and contact the project head to join the team working the quarterly counts.  Finishing up we traded tales with the other counters when we all met afterwards at the Picasso to turn in our data. The cyclist who counted alone on the hugely crowded lakefront trail was especially funny. Hint. Hint.

See you out there in January? 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ride on a Beautiful Fall Afternoon

sliding on the Picasso sculpture at Daley Plaza

down the Lakefront Path and meeting friends by chance

night fell at Belmont Harbor boat playground. 
Pulled everyone out of the tugboat and turned back home

almost there

Monday, September 24, 2012

Comfortable Seat and Easy Hill Climbing

"Oh, no! My new bike is great but now I can't ride up a hill!"

Is this you?

Seat Tubes have Changed
Is the slack seat tube angle a feature, or a bug?
Lately there has been a move in bike frame design, especially for city bikes, toward a "slack" seat tube angle. Designers made the tube that the seat is attached to lean further back, relative to the pedals, so today's riders can more easily get on the bike and put feet down at intersections. As we all become a less athletic group of people, with increasing obesity, this simple change keeps bicycling possible for many of us. Lots of city bikes, including some of the bikes we discuss in this blog, have become more "slack". The Electra brand of bikes are designed largely around this idea, and American style "cruisers" are also notorious for it. Even Bakfiets made the seat tube somewhat slacker when they redesigned the Cargobike a few years ago (the ones with the fin on the bottom are less slack than the ones with the loop near the pedals). Workcycles did it with some of their bikes, too, compared to old Gazelle, Batavus, etc designs. Frequently this is advertised as a feature.

Now Your Heels Touch The Ground, But The Hills Get Harder
"Aaaah! I'm falling backward and
it's hard to pedal!" The mannikin
should be leaning forward with
his elbows sticking out.
Unfortunately, there is a side effect. With a slack seat tube, riding up a hill becomes a lot harder. Your body weight is less in line with the direction you are pedaling in: "down" moves further back as the bike points uphill, but your feet and legs are pointing more forward. You have to lean forward just to balance yourself on the bike. You can't stand up well because there isn't enough room in front. Look at a Tour de France racing bike or anything else designed to help you go fast or climb hills easily and one feature you won't find is a "slack" seat tube angle. (Recumbents, where you sit on a padded chair and the pedals are way in front of you, are a different kettle of fish since you can push off against the seat back instead of using gravity).

Many cities, like Chicago and Amsterdam, don't have hills so it isn't an issue, but if you live in San Francisco or even somewhere with moderate hills like New York City, you might want to fix this. Fixing it in Chicago or Amsterdam can probably help you go faster on the flat, too.

So fix it!
There is a simple fix you might want to try, and a more complicated one if you need more. With some of these bikes you just can't get the seat to be comfortable and also get up a hill happily, but with most bikes you can.

You know how the seat is attached to the seat post? The clamp there? See how the rails on the bottom of the seat can slide back and forth in the clamp? Just loosen the clamp a bit, slide the seat as far forward as you can get it, and tighten it again. Somewhere between this position and the original one is a really comfortable place that will let you pedal on a hill too. Maybe you can point the front of the seat less upward too at this point. You might also want to raise the seat, so your knees are straight when your heels are on the pedals. We arrange ours so we can sit on the seat and just barely reach the ground on both sides with our tiptoes. (There's another trend in bike design that affects this, raising the bottom bracket, but you can read about that somewhere else. More modern bikes are built so you have to slide forward off the seat to touch the ground at intersections if your seat is set for efficient pedaling. It's yet another reason to prefer vintage bikes.)

Seats in General
A seat should be completely comfortable to sit on as you ride. Back, forth, up, down, angled up or down or side to side in front - there are a lot of ways to adjust them. The first thing I adjust is the height, with my heels on the pedals and straight knees; then I make the seat as level as possible and move it back and forth until I'm happy. (When I'm riding I put the balls of my feet on the pedals, which gives my legs a little more room. At this height you should be able to just barely touch the ground with your toes.) If I feel like I'm sliding forward as I ride (ouch!), I move the seat forward more and possibly raise the front angle a little. Sometimes if it's too far forward that doesn't help; then I try moving it backwards a little. If my thighs hurt from pushing on the seat, usually (but not always) forward also helps. Finally, when the height and the back-and-forth position are right, I angle the seat up or down if I need to. Usually level is best. The more upright your seating position is, the wider a saddle you will like, too.
The height of your handlebars and the distance forward you have to reach also affect comfort- if you like leaning forward with weight on your hands you'll choose a different seat adjustment than if you like to sit bolt upright with no weight on the hands.
or even as far as this
from far back, to this
You really have to ride it around a little and test it out, but you'll find a position that feels made for you like old comfortable shoes if you keep at it. A half an inch, about 1cm, in any direction can make all the difference. As a leather saddle forms to your body, things get even more comfortable, but a fancy saddle is really not necessary as long as the position is OK.
Ride it for an hour or two and adjust it a little more. The rules of thumb you see on other sites about how your knee when bent at so-and-so many degrees should be 1.6 cm forward of the midpoint of the etcetera are useless and foolish, in my opinion, so just find a position you like. Peter White has a helpful approach to this problem on his website too.

Fix it More?
Does sliding the seat forward improve things but not enough? Try flipping the seat clamp around. Often the seat post tube goes in front of the clamp bolt, and by turning the clamp over, reinstalling it backwards, or twisting the seat post around the other way, you can move the seat even further forward. This is often needed on Brooks saddles, which have very little adjustment in their notoriously short rails.  With old, standard seat clamps you take the seat off, twist the loop of the clamp from the front to the back, and put it back. On less-old ones there might be a lip blocking the top of that loop, so you take the clamp off the seat and put it back on the other way. On a modern seatpost with integrated clamp you can flip the whole post around and install the seat "backwards".
These seats are really far forward to compensate
for the bottom bracket and crank position
that permit good folding
Look at the Brompton and you'll see that this kind of seat attachment is part of the plan (to compensate for the pedals in front of the seat tube) so it must be safe to do.

Even More?
If even that isn't enough you can get an extension for the clamp, a 2 or 3 inch piece that makes the seat post into an upside down letter "L". Early Bakfiets used to use them (to make the angle slacker, but they tended to break), and Brompton still makes them I think. They are probably a special order item but any bike shop should be able to get them. Point the extension forward. Or you can look for a BMX style bent seat post and point it the wrong way, toward the front. Then a regular seat post clamp can be used with the loop pointing down. If you need to do this to be comfortable you may find it worthwhile to look at a different bike.

Now Go Ride
You might not need to do everything in this post, but if you find that little ramp up and over the highway to be a big problem on your city bike or Bakfiets, moving the seat forward can really help. You can also level the seat out and stop leaning forward so much, taking weight off your numb hands or private parts, by doing this. Go ride around and fiddle with it a little more until your bike is as comfortable as you can make it - it's almost certainly going to be better than it was when you started.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Time to Order Your Bakfiets or Onderwater

OK, so we try to be advertising-free, but of course we also try to support the local cargo bike dealers in Chicago when we can, since they can sell people the stuff they need to ride around on a cargo bike with kids. And it's worth mentioning that now, after a longish break without a Bakfiets or Onderwater dealer, Chicago will be getting one again.
Bakfiets cargobike long

We just spoke to Jon at JC Lind Bike Company. It is official now that they will be a dealer for Bakfiets, Workcycles, Onderwater and possibly some other brands in Chicago starting late this fall, in addition to the Gazelle, Pilen, Christiania, Winther, Yuba, JC Lind and Linus cycles they have in stock. These new additions are excellent quality bikes and they fill some niches that nothing else available in Chicago can do.

JC Lind World Headquarters on Wells St, Chicago

Onderwater Tandemtransporter
If you have a particular bike (or possibly accessory) that you'd like to have shipped from Holland, JC Lind is preparing an order now for a container. This doesn't happen every day, so get in touch with Jon and put in your order by Thanksgiving. I'm not sure but this may also be an opportunity to discuss special ordering adaptive bikes with him. Don't forget to consider the Bakfiets trike in addition to the Cargobike, and the huge Onderwater XL that could seat 5 of you on one tandem.

The XL Onderwater and the regular
Jon Lind also showed us the new Yuba Boda Boda, a dopey name for a slightly shorter and narrower version of the Mundo longtail with a swoopy cruiser looking frame and bamboo wooden parts. It seems as well made as its larger cousin but obviously doesn't hold as much. Maybe it's a stylish cargo carrier?

Rapid Transit just got a shipment of Brompton folding bikes that will sell quickly, especially now that Brompton is at capacity and the special order wait time has increased a bit. Check them out now if you have a particular preference in mind while they have a good selection in stock. We keep nagging them to look into kid carrying options for that bike - you can join us and help nag if you'd like.
They also recently began carrying the Weehoo I-go bike trailer, which many people seem to like a lot. Have a look, if for some reason carrying kids and grownup on the same bike doesn't work well for you. Like many, they also carry longtails from Kona and Xtracycle.

Copenhagen Cyclery is the other place in town with box type cargo bikes, carrying Bullitt, Velorbis and an old fashioned Long John or two.

Blue City Cycles is a Yuba dealer too and right next to the best dumpling house in town.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Come Bike the 25th Ward on Sunday

Sunday brings us the Third Annual Bike the 25th Ward ride with Alderman Danny Solís, who has been a voice in favor of bicycle infrastructure in Chicago the past few years. It starts at 9 am, leaving after snacks at 10 am, at Harrison Park in Pilsen just near the Mexican Fine Arts Museum. The past couple of rides have been fun, well attended, and last year not only the Alderman but also the Commissioner of Transportation Gabe Klein rode along and chatted with people.  The 25th Ward includes Little Italy, Chinatown and Pilsen, so it's a fun place to see by bike. We wrote about it last year too. Come on down to our neighborhood and check it out.

Here's the information link to the 25th Ward website
"This year’s 6 mile, leisurely ride features the new 18th Street protected bike lane and winds through the great neighborhoods of the 25th Ward – Pilsen, Chinatown, University Village and Little Italy. All ages are welcome to participate in this FREE event!There will be free kids bike helmets, bike safety tips from the Bike Ambassadors and healthy snacks. Join us for this family-friendly event!"
We recommend: Bathrooms at Harrison Park. Good food at the Maxwell St Market stalls, basement of San Pio church, and many great inexpensive restaurants near the ride.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Look out for Sucker Poles!

If you ride your bike in Chicago, eventually you will have to lock it to something outside. Even cyclists with an empty garage and a place next to their desk at work need to stop and buy milk or something on the way home sooner or later

photo from Brompton website
1996 T5 Mk 2
A brief look at the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry quickly tells you the most important factor to prevent bike theft: actually lock it to something. Most of the bikes stolen seem not to have been locked to anything. They were left unlocked for just a minute, or they were in locked garages or backyards or bike rooms or porches and considered safe. So even if you won't be a minute or your bike is in a locked space, lock it to something too. (This happened to us once when a house one of our bikes was in got broken into - keep your eyes open for a red and black Brompton Mk-2 T-5 with a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub?  :-)

The second most important thing seems to be: Don't use a cable lock. Bikes locked with cables are more often stolen than others. We've been over locks in another post, with recommendations for locks we like. We don't like combination locks either but maybe you do.

So where can you lock your bike safely? 
Wooden railings and trees are no-nos of course, and metal fencing is easy to cut (wire fence) or smash (cast iron), so of course you wouldn't use those. This generally includes the little fences around trees and planters downtown too. The giant-staple-like loops that the City puts on the sidewalk are supposedly pretty good (though we know of one that pops up off its base - was it on Randolph Street near the El?). Even they are not infallible. We use them a lot.

If a city bike rack is unavailable or full, you often need to lock to a city pole.

Sucker and Other Poles:
even this isn't very safe though...

If the pole isn't secured to its base, you've found a Sucker Pole like the one at the top of this post. Look! Someone could just twist it, lift it up and throw it on the curbside. If you park your bike to it, kiss your wheels goodbye before you go. Don't be a sucker! Here's what it is supposed to look like --->

But just since it's not a loose, removable Sucker Pole doesn't mean it's perfectly safe. A sign post, like this one that's bolted down, might be OK in a pinch, but all the thief has to do is cut or unscrew that bolt, lift the pole, and throw your bike into the van, so maybe you'd be happier with something a little more substantial.

A Substantial Thing to lock to:

This one is a good choice.
We like big thick steel (or sometimes aluminum) streetlight posts that nobody could lift without a crane, preferably ones with high voltage cables running inside them. This one is an example from downtown that needs at least a 39 inch / 1 meter chain. Of course, with all that voltage inside you should be careful that your bike or chain doesn't touch it - often the little access door is broken open and your pedal or kickstand could touch the wires inside. Bzzzt! Look first. Pretty much everything bikes are made of conducts electricity, even carbon fiber. So do you, but badly.

Once the first bike is secured, we'll often bend the rules and lock any other bikes we have onto the first bike's chain and frame. Generally we'll also use a second lock on everything if we can. We try to use the side near the street so we don't block pedestrians.

Old Parking Meters (left as a convenience to cyclists) 
These old meters, left from the good old pre-Daley-parking-meter-fiasco days of 25-cent-an-hour parking, are as good as they ever were to lock to. Unfortunately, you have to have a U-lock that is narrow so it cannot under any circumstances be lifted over the head of the meter, yet wide enough to fit over your frame and wheel. Tricky. Chains and so on just lift right over. And these meters are usually near a streetlight anyway. And sometimes, they're Sucker Meters; check if they wiggle or twist. We don't use them.

CTA and other bus and train services are not as bike-parking-friendly as you'd think:
Never lock to a CTA pole!
Here, we'd use the green one behind it.
Don't ever lock to a pole with a CTA sign on it, or anywhere that might block CTA users getting on or off buses or into El stations, or the CTA will take your bike and impound it and you'll likely never find it again. If this happens you can try talking to the people at the station or end-of-the-line station for that bus stop, best done in person. If that doesn't work try following the information in this CTA webpage, calling the CTA at 1-888-YOUR-CTA, or contacting their feedback at  The Chicago Transit Authority has a lot of bike-unfriendly policies, some of which seem unnecessary. Check out the webpage link above. I'm not sure about locking onto the thick steel El support girders - we've never had a problem, but that isn't saying much.

I think Metra and other transit services in the Chicago area have similar policies, so I don't lock onto their stuff either. RTA has a summary page but it doesn't get into locking up your bike. Be careful using the CTA bus bike carriers, too - someone got run over unloading a bike, so tell the driver first, and sometimes your bike can fall off.

Look at racks before you trust them to keep your bike safe:
Country Rack visits the Big City
This metal rack might be fine out in Smallville, Illinois where bike theft might not be such a big thing, but in Chicago it isn't enough. It's bolted, not welded, and it's light gauge tubing, not hardened and thick. Give it a miss and find a lamppost. Tell the security guard at the building to look into getting the Chicago Department of Transportation, CDOT, to put in city racks nearby. (the link to request a rack is broken as of this writing but you can email here). Or take your drippy muddy bike inside? Lots of racks also can bend your wheels or prevent good locking due to their foolish designs.

More info?

The Stolen Bike Registry and Chainlink have more ideas, including not leaving your bike locked for a long time, overnight, or in a high risk place (like near a Metra or CTA station). Lots of the bikes that are stolen are new or at least look new. Maybe a used one is safer? Who knows what the thief is looking for.

It apparently takes a professional thief something like 30 seconds to steal most bikes, so making yours less appealing and more difficult to cut free may convince the thief to go to the one next to yours instead. Or not. Just do your best.

Open Streets Was Really Fun - Did You Go Too?

Went to today's Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue, and it was really enjoyable. Two of the kids took their bikes and zoomed around mostly safely, there was a lot to do and see, and many many other people (and dogs) were there enjoying the perfect sunny weather and the relaxed atmosphere that comes with not having to think about cars. A couple of pictures came out:

The blue things always draw a big crowd.
It was hard to pull the kids away. Again.
Some areas were wide open to ride, others had
lots of fun activities to try out or watch
like dancing, playing, drawing or fencing !
Lots of people took advantage of the
chance to get the family out onto
Milwaukee Ave without traffic.

Today's festival was a nice complement to the Open Streets that have occurred downtown in the Loop. This one on Milwaukee Ave was great for riding a distance without thinking about traffic much. The events down in the Loop have concentrated on using the street for many different activities at once so they weren't as bicycle oriented. Instead they demonstrated the scale of the Loop buildings in a pedestrian environment and brought fun activities to the middle of the road in the commercial heart of the city. 

Open Streets on Milwaukee Ave also offered many fun activities in the middle of the road - fencing demonstrations, Bhangra dancing, blue foam things, skateboarding, four square, chalk drawing...   These planned activities were expanded by the businesses along the route that joined in, putting furniture on the street or sidewalk for example, and made the festival even more fun. 

It had a real neighborhood feeling, more so than the Loop events which celebrate Chicago's public face. It felt accessible. Three families we know who never go to street activities found themselves there, riding bikes or scooters and joining in and having a fantastic time. I think they'll be back. One hallmark of Chicago is the individual feeling of each separate neighborhood, and this event reflected the best of Wicker Park / Bucktown. The same event in a different neighborhood would be completely different. What could this kind of event be like in Pilsen or Devon Avenue or Bronzeville?

Some smaller members of our group would have enjoyed even more space for balance biking crazily back and forth without getting in anyone's way. Open Streets did address this issue somewhat - they put the REI demonstrations in the Aldi parking lot, which freed space in the street. This could serve as a good model for more activities in the future. This has been the approach used by NYC's Summer Streets, which took most activities off the main avenue and used smaller side streets instead. On the other hand, the advantage of the approach today on Milwaukee Ave was that it slowed traffic enough in several places that the spandex "on your left" riders spent the day somewhere else, leaving the strollers and balance bikers in peace.

It's really exciting that Active Transportation and the many Open Streets volunteers did such a good job planning and carrying out this nifty event today. Good work!

We also got to one of the Summer Streets festivals in New York this summer, and just found some pictures: 

Plenty of space to ride, walk, skate or anything else for miles,
but many main street crossings along the way

Extra events took place on small side streets off the main route.
They were also teaching adults.

coming through Grand Central Station

The Summer Streets route went all the way
from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park.
Everyone should ride a bike over this bridge once in their lives.

A Streetfilms video about the Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia is below (higher quality here). They have been doing Ciclovía (Cycleway) there since at least 1985 when I lived there, and it's the model for Summer Streets, Open Streets, the events in Paris, and around the world. If Bogotá can do it, why not every city? What's more, Bogotá is the model for bus rapid transit (BRT) coming soon to Chicago. More about that later? Streetfilms has something about that too I think. Meanwhile, this video is worth a view!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Open Streets again this Sunday - Hooray

Once again Chicago will offer a place to play in the street this Sunday the 16th from 10 to 3 on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park/Bucktown from the Polish Triangle at Division/Ashland to Western/Milwaukee, with most planned activities near the Blue Line stop at North/Damen/Milwaukee. You should really go. It's fun.

In New York we rode on Summer Streets this year, with a zillion biking, skateboarding, roller skating or walking others - it was a longer route but a similar idea. Being able to walk safely in the middle of a main street in a major city gives you a remarkable view of space and community that you just don't see when you have to be careful of the cars the whole time. When I lived in Bogotá in the 80s, the Ciclovía was the same: bustling loud dangerous downtown avenues turned into places for families to stroll in their jogging suits, and ring roads and highways gave aspiring racing cyclists a long loop to practice.

Now Chicago is expanding Open Streets out of the Loop neighborhood into a part of town with more to see and do. Go early and enjoy yourself, and let the organizers know what you think afterwards.

This map expands so you can read it if you click. Link is here too.

There are a hundred good places to grab a bite or relax a bit nearby. Near the Polish Triangle, the Boring Store is secret agent supply shop with an after school reading program hidden in back, and Podhalanka on the south side of the triangle is a great inexpensive place for a bowl of soup or a schnitzel or pierogis.  Lovely bakery is just south of the triangle on Milwaukee and has yummy baked goods (meh coffee); Bake also does great pastries with better coffee but is not quite on the route, on North near Western. Buzz, north on Damen, has the best coffee near the route. Piece and Big Star have pizza and tacos a step away from the main intersection on North and Damen respectively. The teacher supply store up Milwaukee near Western is good for kid supplies. Margie's Candies is at the north end of the route with old fashioned sundaes. There are many, many other places too.

Wicker Park itself, just down Damen a block from the main intersection, has bathrooms, as does the library up Milwaukee a block toward Western, and Open Streets will have them too.

If you need to buy a bike for the event (or fix one), Copenhagen bikes is on the route, Rapid Transit nearby on North, and The Bike Lane up a block or two north on Milwaukee; Quick Release is never open when I go but near Ashland and North.

By the way, the Travelon Gamelon we mentioned earlier this week is still looking for volunteers...