Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chicago = Transportation Awesomeness

Now that I'm settled back in the 904, I have to tell you that Chi-town and Renegade was pretty amazing. After a super long drive up there with all my pottery and art show gear stuffed into my hatchback, I was super excited to ditch the car for a few days and ride around town on my friend's loaner bike. My friend Val has no car and has never had a driver's license; she walks to work and most other places and uses a bike, train, or bus to get to places farther than a few blocks. She spent a few years in Jacksonville, and getting around by way of public transportation here is not easy. I was glad to get to see Chicago with Val, and was even more excited to experience a city where it's possible to get around with all different kinds of transportation!

My first day in town, we just bummed around on bikes with no real game plan. We stuck to Lincoln Square, Lakeview/Boystown area, and Wicker Park.  I got to stop in a couple of bike shops I'd been wanting to visit, and hit up a couple of cute shops and awesome eateries.  The biking situation was pretty similar to what I am used to in Jacksonville, but many times more effective-- an abundance of bike lanes, and a pretty lake-front segregated path that is miles long. Traffic jams of cyclists(!) occurred at stop signs and red lights. I saw so many normal people on all kinds of bikes, going to work, running errands, or trekking to school, and they mostly used bikes with fenders and paniers or baskets. I know, I must sound a little country, talking about how excited I was to see dove bars and bike baskets everywhere. Even though the practical bikes are becoming a more normal sight in Jacksonville, it's still far from the norm. The sheer amount of cyclists riding around was the biggest and most inspiring difference between Chi-town and River City, and I must admit that it kind of blew my mind. I didn't get any great photos of cycling traffic jams in action, but I did get some shots at the Lakefront Trail, close to the "beach."
Koula, with the pretty city skyline!
Val, and the bikes!
The Lakefront Trail, as seen from my handlebars. It was busy in the middle of the day!
My second day in town, we decided to trek over to the Garfield Park Conservatory. We ditched the bikes in lieu of the L- Train, as the west side of town was pretty far from my friend's apartment in Lakeview. Also, the conservatory was literally steps away from the L station, so riding the train just made sense.
Bring your bike on the train!
Notice that sticker on the side of the train? You're allowed to bring bikes on the L-train; bikes are restricted to two per car during peak hours. It seems a little awkward to carry a full-sized bike on the train cars, but totally do-able and a great solution if a bike is one's main mode of transportation. Jacksonville has a Skyway system that runs around different parts of the urban core, and it seems that taking bikes on the train cars could be easily integrated into our rail system.

The conservatory was quite beautiful and I'm not sure I saw the whole thing, even though we were there for a few hours. I was glad to see it instead of alot of touristy places, for sure. The Desert House, with all kinds of succulents and cacti, was my favorite area, as well as the outdoor City Garden area. Taking the Green Line was stress-free, and very easy. Chicago makes it relatively easy and intuitive to take the train, bike, and walk to various parts of town, and I loved the freedom from my car for a few days.
Outdoor City Garden, Garfield Park Conservatory
Desert House, Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago wasn't perfect, and I certainly won't ditch my sunny digs here for that "wintery mix" bullshit.  We rode bikes on a road with no bike infrastructure at all, and encountered some poorly planned bike lanes next to parked cars, lanes that disappeared in intersections so cyclists had to fend for themselves for a few hundred feet. It is quite evident however, that the city is responding in a positive fashion to so much of the public riding bikes, and Chicago is taking steps to make things better for cyclists.  It was great to visit a city where even the mayor is proactive about installing protected bike lanes; it seems like cyclists have a voice there, and it's apparent that the bicycling community is being heard. Such an inspiration!  I think the biggest take-away I got from Chicago is that having multiple choices of transportation available is a goal that my city should strive for, and it's certainly something I will fight for. Jacksonville has so much to offer, in so many (far away) places, and if we could add more safe bike paths as well as improve upon our public transportation system, we'd be one world-class city indeed!


Jenny said...

Love the writing! Love the references to other articles where Chicago is taking bicycling seriously! Love how inspired I am now after having read this!

Edith Canon said...

Sounds like you had a nice biking trip around Chicago. Great photos. Biking with friends is also what I love to do.