Wednesday, August 4, 2010

OK to bike on the Lakefront Trail after 11 pm?

[Image courtesy of]

By John Greenfield

[This piece also runs in Time Out Chicago,]

Q: If Chicago’s parks and beaches are public property, then why can police kick people out at 11pm? Is there some sort of loophole that will let me use the parks after closing time?

A: The Chicago Park District’s legal code says beaches and parks are off-limits from 11 pm to 6 am, with exceptions made for events like the vampire-friendly L.A.T.E. Ride. “Those hours are set for the safety of patrons,” explains park district spokeswoman Marta Juaniza. To prevent drug dealing, prostitution and violent crime? “Whatever can happen in the dark,” Juaniza says.

Friends of the Parks’ Erma Tranter supports the curfew, noting New York has similar rules. “If there’s a basketball game going on after midnight, that’s a problem for people who need to sleep.” But if you want to use the Lakefront Trail for a late-night jog or to pedal home after last call, you’re in luck. Tranter says cops generally don’t ticket trail users. “They use common sense and don’t bother people who are recreating,” she says.

“Responsible users are not being hassled,” agrees Active Transportation Alliance’s Adolfo Hernandez, adding his group wants to see this de facto policy made official. “People rely on the Lakefront Trail for their commute during all hours of the day.”

Columbia College Chicago’s Urban Bike Project

Repair kit design by Team Cognition

By John Greenfield

For the past three years Carl Boyd has taught an innovative class at Columbia College Chicago in which industrial design students brainstorm products to promote bicycling and help launch bike-powered businesses.

They have partnered with organizations and businesses like Active Transportation Alliance, West Town Bikes, Time Out Chicago, Metropolis Coffee, De Fietsfabriek and Po Campo and have come up with fresh designs for items like bike trailers, panniers, clothing and accessories.

Last January I caught up with Cal at New Wave CafĂ© to talk about the history of the program, the projects that particularly excited him, and his plans for this year’s class. You can view the projects online at All images here are taken from the website.

Carl, tell me how you got the idea to do the Urban Bike Project class.

Kevin Henry, who was the sole director of the program at Columbia at the time, had spent some time really researching bike culture. He went and interviewed and videotaped [Working Bikes founder] Lee Ravenscroft, [West Town Bikes director] Alex Wilson, and a couple people who were part of Critical Mass. They were interested in being involved with a class like this.

This is a class that is offered every year for product design students at Columbia. It’s their last big studio project where they work in teams. In 2006 they worked with a fitness equipment company designing stationary bikes and did some excellent work with that. But they really wanted to get into bike culture and designing for low-income people, designing for people who have to ride a bike, rather than people who can afford to drive a car.

Spats by Team Omni

So in 2007 I agreed to teach a class with Kent Solberg and we decided to design it around the theme of bicycles. There’s a very well-entrenched bicycle culture in Chicago, primarily the advocacy groups like West Town, and the messengers, and the really diehard cyclists. I knew a few of the people. I’d heard of [CDOT Bike Program Coordinator] and I contacted him, and I knew Alex Wilson from Critical Mass and I knew I wanted to tie in West Town Bikes to the project.

Ben Gomberg really wanted us to do something to promote the Bike 2015 Plan which the bike federation had just helped them write. So they invited us to the Mayor’s Bike Advisory Council meetings. We went to MBAC meetings and eventually presented at one. We had students read the 2015 Plan and do research about bicycling culture.

Kent used to be the design director at SRAM, so he knew a lot about bike technology. The first year we just let the students find there way to a problem that they wanted to solve. It started with them meeting with Lee Ravenscroft and Working Bikes. I saw the videos they did with him and I found it really inspiring.

One team was very interested in the idea of bike sharing. Bike sharing has its advantages but it’s got its problems. There’s been a huge problem with vandalism and theft of bikes from the Velib system in Paris, where upwards of 80 percent of the bikes have been stolen or vandalized to unusability. And that’s out of 20,000 bikes. And ironically that’s because of culture differences between the suburbs and the city.

Anyway, there’s multiple bike sharing systems in existence and this one team came up with a bike sharing system for Columbia and pitched it to the university but they didn’t nibble because they don’t have enough real estate to dedicate to indoor parking.

In conjunction with that one group designed a new kind of lock that would be attached to the bike. And they came up with a commuter kit, which I thought was great. When you buy a bike you can just say you want to upgrade to the commuter kit, which would include fenders, rack, blinky lights and skewers to reduce the theft-ability of your wheels.

Commuter kit concept

The next team I had taken on a tour of the Millennium Park Bike Station and they really wanted to go back and interview the police, because they had the police station in there. The police said, “You should really talk to the guys who ride bikes as paramedics.”

We talked to the paramedics and they had been using the plain old police bags that just sit on top of the back rack. And they’re trying to carry oxygen, defibulators, all these drugs and bandages and equipment and it wasn’t working with the bags. So this team designed a bag with a fold-out work surface, with separate areas for the drugs, the oxygen, the defibulators, and their personal items. They even color coded the areas so that when you pull out this bag it’s the blue bag, the green bag, the red bag for different equipment.

The next year I taught the class by myself. I had had a conversation with Jim Gregory who runs Bikes at Work and he’s the inventor of the Fresh Air Trailer and he wrote this book about how to make a living through cycling.

I was really excited about how to start more bike businesses in the city. You’d see the messengers, you’d occasionally see one or two promotion bikes, a handful of pedicabs, mostly down in the Loop. But I know in other cities in America, certainly in other parts of the world, bikes carry a lot more of the workload. And I wanted to see what we could do to make this work in Chicago. So this was our mission: to use design to empower businesses to conduct daily operations via bike.

In Brooklyn there’s a delivery service that uses a Long John [Dutch-style front-loaded cargo bike] and front-loaded trikes. And this is the Puppet Bike [Boyd shows a picture of the bike that doubles as a theater for guerrilla puppet shows on Chicago street corners]. That’s a working bike – people borrow the bike from the owner and they spend the day with it making money for tips. One guy got it for three days in a row because he wanted money for his wedding. He made enough money to pay for their honeymoon as well.

I went out and found four clients, because the previous year the students spent way too much time in ideation mode so I wanted to hand them a real design problem. When you work as a product designer, a client is going to come to you and say, “We need this, this, this and this, it’s got to fit in this size box, it’s got to sell at this price point, it’s gotta be made here.” I went and found real Chicago clients and we sorted out what we were going to make for them.

So for Christy Webber Landscaping, they have these huge rigs that they take everywhere and it’s typically a four-man crew and they’re doing 15 to 20 sites a day with that one crew. But there’s a lot of neighborhoods where this is a problem. When they pull the truck down a narrow, residential street in Lincoln Park , that street is unusable for the duration of that job.

And they had explored the idea of how they could send out lighter crews in lighter vehicles. And I had heard about people doing lawn work with bike trailers. So I wanted the team to take inspiration for this from Gregory’s Fresh Air trailers. He was able to link up three trailers in a row and carry half a ton of cargo.

Of course I’m not sure how he managed to stop. Because T.C. O’Rourke [who formerly managed newsstand distribution for Time Out Chicago magazine and now has his own bike-powered magazine distribution business] said once you get over 400 pounds on a trailer and the trailer doesn’t have breaks, the trailer’s just going to push you through an intersection.

The students interviewed the landscape workers, they interviewed one of the supervisors and Christy Webber, they photographed and videotaped what goes into the truck when they go to a job site, what are they doing. And they figured out that they could get away with one lawnmower, one rake, one leaf blower, and one edge trimmer. All these things are these little gas-powered machines. And then they just needed to have a tank of gas and then bags to fill up with trimmings, and this could all fit on one trailer.

The students made their own trailer based on Alex Wilson’s method of building trailers. They figured out a way of locking everything in place so that it wouldn’t be theft-able and it wouldn’t be falling off. We had all the teams make CAD [Computer Aided Design] renderings of what a mass-produced product might look like and they field-tested all of them to show that the devices would work.

Landscaping trailer prototype

Another team was working with Time Out Chicago magazine. T.C. O’Rourke took this picture of what it looks like when they loaded up their trailers to deliver the magazines on a Wednesday morning [back when Time Out had three cyclists with trailers and four cars delivering the magazine to newsstands. Currently O'Rourke does most of these deliveries by bike trailer himself, so despite having fewer delivery riders, the magazine has actually expanded the number of deliveries done by bicycle.] I think they were all actually Alex Wilson’s trailers. The typically loaded up two or three hundred pounds on their bikes and were out delivering all over downtown.

And the thing that I saw that was missing was nobody knew they were doing this. And I had seen a lot of the covered pedicabs that they use in Europe and they actually brand those. They’re wrapped up just like a car to sell advertising, which would help support the cost of hiring someone to deliver the magazines. Because look at the truck behind them – it’s got advertising all over it.

They students wanted to provide the delivery bikers with some rain coverage and provide surface area for advertising, but not get in the way of access to the cargo and not make it any wider than necessary. Because sometimes the bikers have to take the trailers into buildings. The only thing is the students put these bars in the design without telling me about it, and the bars might get in the way.

The students built these trailers and shot videos of the trailers being used to haul boxes around town in the rain.

How well did the trailers work out?

They worked great because Alex Wilson built them a special trailer and then they built all the housing on top of it. These trailers worked as well as any other bike trailers and they’re made to take several hundred pounds of weight.

Time Out never took these and tried these out because they had a lot of shifts in how they were doing their deliveries. I’m waiting for one of these projects to actually be put into effect. It’s hard because I don’t have enough of my own personal time to push these into being adapted by a business. I encourage my students to do this but they often don’t have the time.

Time Out Chicago trailer design

One team was working with Metropolis Coffee to create a sample sale cart serving hot coffee, with bags of coffee stored in the back. They built a prototype and tested it out. Metropolis liked the idea, and the students designed the cart to make sure it would fit in Metropolis’ building. But Metropolis didn’t have enough time to follow through and the team didn’t have enough energy to keep pressuring them to follow through. I want to find a way to get clients to follow through.

That year [2008] I thought that some of the projects were a little too ambitious, mostly cargo bikes, and one team did a series of bags for maids. So this year I tried to slim down the assignment to something more reasonable. I met Jon Lind from De Fietsfabriek and I wanted to bring them in. And I had heard about Po Campo, which is two women who started a company whose first product offerings were handbags made to go on bikes.

And the whole logic of it was sort of the Dutch/Danish model of fashionable women who will wear their pumps on their bikes. They won’t wear any special gear because the culture there is really about: how you want down the street, is how you ride your bike, is how go to a party, is how you go to work. It’s all the same.

Po Campo is marketing their bags as fashion accessories, which has gotten them a lot of media coverage and sold a lot of bags for them. Their bags are actually priced in the range of Gucci or Prada bags. And they’re made in Oak Park. I really like that idea – trying to manufacture locally.

We had students go out and photograph and interview people on the street, asking, “How’s your bag working? What could we do better for you? What kind of tasks do you wish you could do by your bike but you really can’t do by your bike?” The students all gravitated towards bags and said, this about getting Po Campo to expand into a new product realm. And with De Fietsfabriek, to get them to explore doing things they hadn’t done yet.

One team started looking at clothing people were wearing for dealing with weather. Team Cazann! started dealing with being visible at night. A couple teams did work with carrying things like lunch or a space pare of shoes. As for De Fietsfabriek we had two different people working on a concept for a retail bike that Jon could sell to companies that would want to use them, either as a promotional bike or as a farmers market or exhibition type of retail bike.

Team HoHo came up with a duster coat for Po Campo with really big buttons and Po campo really liked the buttons. Po Campo was a great client because they’re both designers so they understand the design process and they were really looking for new products to release. They were very communicative – they really e-mailed and talked on the phone with students a lot. The students got to take a tour of the factory where the bags are made. They got lots of input.

Duster coat by Team HoHo

Team HoHo also came up with these gloves with two layers. You get the summer layer with finger-less gloves and then pullovers for winter weather. And then their coat has sleeves that roll down and underneath there’s reflective material, because when wear normal coat and you stretch out on your bike the sleeves pull up. So this actually folds down to make it longer and give you reflective strips.

And it has the duster concept. You know, cowboys riding horses wear dusters they will strap on either side of their legs so that the duster stays wrapped around them while they’re riding. And I told them they should totally play up the idea of riding horses, riding bikes. It’s kind of the same geometry of riding.

And Team Honey & Vinegar did a really great job of doing a lot of excellent drawings of a lunch bags. They did their research and their bag was very much in Po Campo’s aesthetic with these rings and they even got to use some of the same exact hardware Po Campo used.

Tyler Avery from Team Cognition is a hardcore bike dude. He works at a bike store in Wicker Park. He came up with the idea of a repair kit. A lot of repair kits are made to go in a bag under the seat. But he had an idea for a kit would carry around like a cosmetics set. Women often have a little cosmetics bag, so this would be a second little bag that carries your emergency kit. His teammate Chris Beaudoin came up with the idea of this little wallet you could carry around with you if you like. If there’s a day when it summer and you’re going to a party and you don’t really want to carry your purse, you could attach this to your bike while you’re riding and then carry it with you so you don’t have to have a long strap.

Team Cazann! Came up with a ring and a bracelet that all had reflective materials and the ring and the bracelet actually had blinky lights built into them. And it turns out that Po Campo was most interested in making those, because the technology already exists, you can buy the LED technology very inexpensively, for pennies.

Team Honey and Vinegar did interesting things with carrying you pumps special racks on your bike while you’re riding. And a lot of people said, why not just put them in your bag? And they said, well, they could get scuffed up or they could get crushed. And they liked the idea, and Po Campo really liked the idea, of broadcasting your femininity while you’re riding the bike.

It was part of the whole theme of being unabashedly feminine and not being afraid of doing something that seems highly impractical as far as bike culture goes. Because bike culture is usually about being practical and using the most practical accessories.

Did you draw any new conclusions from this year’s class?

I learned that I need to define the problem that they’re going to solve very quickly. The sooner they do, the better their projects will be.

What’s next year going to be like?

Good question. I keep saying I want to get into helping entrepreneurs start bike businesses. There was a woman who came to me last year who said she wanted to start delivering produce by bike. She needed a special trailer or cargo bike but she wasn’t sure how to get one because she couldn’t afford one of the Dutch bikes. But in 2008 when everyone in the class was making trailers that was too ambitious because it was hard for them to do and we don’t have welding facilities at Columbia so they were going to West Town or to someone’s job to get the welding done.

This year was an excellent balance and the result was the projects looked great and they had time to do nice presentations.

The Walking Man walks, from coast to coast

By John Greenfield

Recently, my old roommate Sherry forwarded an e-mail from a law school friend, saying that his buddy Matt Green was walking across the United States from Rockaway Beach, NY, to Rockaway Beach, OR. Matt was looking for a place to stay in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

I sent out the Bat Signal, and with incredible spontaneity Joe, another friend of a friend of mine, offered to host Matt, despite having a wife and two young daughters. They treated him to great hospitality, treating him to grilled sardines, peach cobbler and a cello recital.

The next morning I pedaled down to Hyde Park and had breakfast with Matt at Hyde Park’s legendary Valois Cafeteria, President Obama’s favorite local breakfast spot. Over pancakes Matt told me about his travels so far, why he’s walking and what he has learned so far on his trip. As I type this, he’s in Minnesota, a bit northwest of La Crosse, WI.

You can follow Matt’s progress at his blog,

So is there a raison d’etre, a reason to exist, for this trip?

Well, it started from an idea I first had a couple years ago that stuck it’s claws in my brain and kept hanging around. At first it didn’t seem like it was something I could really do. But I started reading about other people who did it and looking into the logistics of it all. Eventually all those reasons to not do it kind of faded away and I thought, “This is something I really could do.”

I was thinking about doing it last year and I didn’t really get everything in order in time. That was probably for the best – it was good to have a full extra year to get it together and make it reality in my head.

At the time I had the idea I’d started doing these long walks around New York and I really started to appreciate all that you can see from traveling at such a slow pace. When you’re moving at three miles an hour you see a lot more of what’s around you. And unlike being in a car you can actually hear and smell things – your more immersed in an area.

When I go on vacation, I never really feel at home in the place that I am, I’m always a visitor. It feels a little different when you’ve walked to a place – it feels like you must be at home. If it’s somewhere that you can walk from where you started, it must be in your neighborhood. And walking is such a natural way to get around. It makes me feel a little bit of ownership of the route that I’ve taken. Each of those roads and those area I pass through, I feel like I own a little bit of. I have a richer sense of what those places are like than someone who just drove there and got out of the car and looked around and left.

How old are you?

29. I’m turning 30 in a few weeks.

And where are you from?

I used to live in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, but I actually moved out of my apartment about six months before I left on my walk. I just kind of bumped around New York and other places on the East Coast, kind of in preparation for leaving on this trip – not having to move out of my apartment at the last minute and figure out what to do with my stuff. I used it as an opportunity to see people I hadn’t seen in a while.

What were you doing in New York before you left?

I used to be a civil engineer – I designed roads. I did that for about five years. It was a fine job but I wasn’t really satisfied doing it. I didn’t really like being in the office all the time. So I don’t really know what I want to do next, other than be a walking mail carrier. But I don’t think the Post Office is going to be hiring any time soon.

Is there any connection between designing roads and your idea to walk across the country?

There’s just an underlying thing, that interest in the infrastructure and how things work. I didn’t particularly like doing that for my job but I’m still kind of interested in the field. But it all springs from that same underlying curiosity.

So you’re following Google walking directions. How’s that working out?

It’s been really great because I’m not really thinking about my route at all and I’m not really trying to go through certain points to see certain sights. I’m just blindly following this route that Google gives me. And it’s really showed me how there’s so much beauty and so many things to see on any arbitrary road you wind up on in this country, and probably the world, if you’re just looking for it.

Even in the most nondescript places there’s things to see, even if it’s just something in someone’s yard or a really nice tree, or you might get a really nice sunset. You don’t need to be somewhere spectacular to be seeing all these great things and having new experiences. Those things can happen wherever you are.

Can you outline your route for me?

Sure. It’s kind of like three legs, more or less. Kimd of due west from New York to Chicago, northwest from Chicago up to Fargo…

You know someone in Fargo?

I don’t. I decided I wanted to walk across North Dakota, though.

I’m guessing that North Dakota is one of the worst places to walk across in the United States.

Well maybe, but who would have suspected I would have enjoyed walking across Indiana so much. For me that was really the make-or-break state. I asked myself, do I really like walking for the sake of walking, even if I’m seeing the same things every day? If I’m in that area that seems in my head to be the bleakest place in the Lower 48 states, is that still something I can enjoy? A big part of this for me was learning to enjoy the experience of walking and not just always looking forward to a destination.

When you’re on a vacation or a road trip where you’re going to certain sights, you’re always focused on getting to that place and you’re not really enjoying the trip itself. So I wanted to subtract that idea of destinations from this walk. So I guess North Dakota is a destination because it’s a lack of one. And other than seeing my brother in Chicago and walking across North Dakota, I’ve just been kind of following Google’s directions and walking blindly.

After Chicago you’re staying in Buffalo Grove. Do you know someone there?

I don’t. That just kind of happens to be where I’ll be the first night. And then the night after that it looks like I’ll be out where there’s some farms again so I should be able to find a place to camp there. So if I don’t have any luck finding a place in Buffalo Grove I’ll probably try to contact a couple of churches out there and see if I have any luck. There’s a forest preserve there – if nothing else I can wait until it gets dark and then duck in there and sleep there.

Are you carrying anything with you that might surprise us?

I don’t think so. I have clothing, tent, sleeping bag, first aid stuff, a couple little good luck charms people gave me, food, water. I decided not to bring a stove, just to save weight. I tried just to be as minimalist as possible in my packing, so if it’s not something that I really needed I didn’t want to bring it.

So you’re “free” camping every night or staying at people’s houses, cooking food and not eating out much, so I figure it’s a pretty cheap way to travel.

Yeah, it’s really inexpensive. I spend money on groceries or occasionally I’ll eat at a restaurant but other than the initial cost of the equipment, I think food’s the only thing I’ve paid for on the whole trip. So it’s really quite a cheap way to live. A lot of people have this question of how am I affording to do this because in they’re mind they’re thinking about a seven-month vacation and how much it would cost to do that in terms of how much a vacation usually costs. But this is extremely cheap – a couple thousand bucks to spend the majority of the year on vacation.

And you’re not paying rent.

Right. I pay for health insurance. But that’s about it.

Have you had any dangerous or sketchy situations on the trip?

Not really. I never felt personally in danger from other people. I had one car in Pennsylvania kind of come up onto the shoulder and it would have hit me if I hadn’t moved out of the way. But when you’re walking you keep an eye on the cars coming towards you so I saw it coming from a ways away.

You walk on the left side of the road?

Yeah, I walk against traffic. And I’ve had a couple dogs kind of run out in the street at me but never tried to bite me or anything. So it’s been pretty free of scariness.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you?

I don’t think I’ve had anything particularly crazy happen or wild in any way. I did stay with an Amish family once – that was kind of cool and unusual. But the big thing has just been how friendly so many people have been, in a way that you wouldn’t expect. I constant met people on the trip who would say, “The way the world is today you have to be really careful,” like the world has been in decline in the last 50 years.

But my experience has been that’s not even remotely true. Person after person has been so kind to me and helpful and friendly. Some people say that I can’t stay on their property at night but the majority of people say yes. And it’s just been so interesting how friendly people are – people off all different political stripes, religions. None of that matters. People generally want to help other people no matter who they are.

And I think a think that keeps a lot of people from showing that side is fear. There have been a handful of people who’ve been really suspicious of me and because of that haven’t been willing to reach out to me. And I think that kind of suspicion against the world is the only thing keeping a lot of kindness from happening. I don’t think they’re bad people at heart, they’re just afraid to put themselves out there.

So I really’ve come to understand the idea of fear and how dangerous playing it safe can be. People look it that there’s no risk in not interacting with people, that you’re insulating yourself from the risk of those people possibly doing something bad to you. But what they don’t take into account is there is a real risk of all the great encounters and situations you miss out on, being afraif to go out and mix with other people.

What was it like staying with the Amish people. Did they appreciate your low-tech way of getting around?

It’s funny, I don’t think they did in the way I thought at first. I think the reason is that to them that way of life is very much dictated by religion. And so to them I think it’s the specifics of that life is what’s important. And even though it seems that my life is very similar, that it’s a simple way of life, taking it one step at a time, to them it’s totally different. Because I still have modern stuff like my cell phone and my cart. And I did learn that the Amish are not a homogenous group of people. The different orders vary greatly in their acceptance of different technologies.

But to them it’s kind of a superficial similarity between our two things, because I’m not doing it out of this religious belief. They were definitely interested in what I’m doing but I don’t think it really struck that chord with them that I thought it would.

But they were extremely welcoming to me. They took me in, made me meals. There was a mother and father in there seventies or eighties who lived in one house, and their son and his family who lived next door. So I started out at the son’s house. I asked his wife if I could stay there – she was working out in the yard. And then she made me dinner. They’re pretty much self-sufficient agriculturally. They gave me goat’s milk from their goats and they had steak from their own cattle that they canned to be able to have year-round, instead of keeping it in the freezer. And they had eggs from their chickens. I ended up staying in a little workshop building owned by the parents. And I had breakfast with them the next morning and that’s when I really had the chance to sit down and ask them about Amish culture and they were very open.

Where was this?

This was in Nappanee, Indiana.

Oh, I’ve ridden through there on a bike trip.

You see a lot of bikes there. I saw more bikes in Nappanee than I have the rest of my trip because I lot of the Amish there ride bikes. The son was thinking of letting me stay in his garage but it was kind of crowded because they had so many bikes packed in there.

So you’re you’re going to walk up the Lakefront Trail to the Loop and then up to your brother’s in Andersonville. Are you going to do anything special while you’re in Chicago or just relax?

I think just relax. My brother’s birthday was the day that I left on my trip and he turned 25 then and I’m turning 30 in a couple weeks so I think we’ll do some kind of birthday celebration. We might go see a show at the Lookingglass Theater where he works and he probably has a few other things planned. But mostly I just want to hang out with him and stay off my feet, let some blisters heal, that kind of thing.

What’s your favorite place been so far?

Every place has been good in it’s own way. Pennsylvania maybe was the most scenic and I was walking up and down mountains a lot. Indiana was super-friendly. It’s funny because you wouldn’t think that a state line has anything to do with that.

Any concluding remarks about your trip?

The big conclusion that I’m coming to is how friendly people are and they’re really not out to get you for the most part despite what the news tells you.