Friday, January 7, 2011

Chainlinkers' tips for finding love in the bike lane

by John Greenfield

[This piece also runs in momentum magazine, Thanks to cyclists from, a Chicago online bike community for sharing their bike dating ideas.]

There’s something very romantic about winter biking: the snug feeling of being warmed from within as you pedal; that “winter spirit” camaraderie of hanging out with other cyclists; and the hushed beauty of back streets after a snowfall. It’s an especially nice time to meet someone special to share pedal-powered adventures and coziness afterwards, but these two-wheeled dating tips work any time of year.

If you’re going through a dry spell, check listings for bike events in your area and show up for lots of them. Conversation-paced rides like Critical Mass, neighborhood tours and bar crawls are particularly good for meeting like-minded people. I’ve witnessed several love connections being made on the Tour de Tiki rides I lead, pedaling to Polynesian-themed pubs (although not on the ride pictured below).

While on these events, be sure to chat with members of your target dating demographic. If you hit it off with someone, wait until the end and discreetly ask if they'd like to get coffee or a drink afterwards, or go for a bike ride in the future. If it's the latter, exchange numbers.

Preparation and patience are key for an enjoyable bike date, especially if the other person is a newbie cyclist. Bring along flat-fix stuff, snacks and an extra raincoat for your companion, just in case. Figure out a quiet side street route to the restaurant, theater or club in advance so you’ll be able to have relaxed conversation while you ride. Let the slower person lead, and discuss stoplight preferences in advance so you your date won’t be scowling after you blow a red.

If all goes well, you might get to kiss your companion goodnight after escorting him or her home. Smooching while both partners are straddling their bicycles in the moonlight can be oddly romantic, but necking in balaclavas is not recommended.

A few more ideas to get the wheels of love spinning:

· Keep an eye out for stickers and spoke cards on bikes and use those at conversation starters.

· A great winter bike date (and SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder]-buster): pedaling to your local tropical plant conservatory.

· Make laminated calling cards that double as spoke cards and offer them to bicyclists you’d like to know better.

· If you meet a transit rider for a date and want continue on to another venue together, bring your bike along on the bus or train, or put it in a cab’s trunk.

· Working at a bike shop is a great way to meet (but not hit on!) cute cyclists.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bicycling, transit and parks highlights of 2010

Chicago Cross Cup (photo by Luke Seemann,

by John Greenfield

[These listings are from New City magazine's Top 5 and Best of Chicago issues,]

Top 5 Local Bike Stories

Emanuele Bianchi proposes Chicago Velo Campus velodrome complex at former U.S. Steel site

Drunk drivers who intentionally strike cyclists in Brookfield get a slap on the wrist

Rising popularity of the zany Chicago Cross Cup cyclocross racing series

Active Transportation Alliance launches Crash Support Hotline

Daley’s impending retirement has cyclists hoping for a bike-friendly new mayor

Top 5 Chicago Park District Stories

Lush, twenty-seven-acre Palmisano (aka Stearns Quarry) Park dedicated in Bridgeport

View from the hill in Palmisano Park

Legendary commissioner Margaret Burroughs, founder of DuSable Museum, dies at 95

Park District and “starchitect” Jeanne Gang unveil the Northerly Island Framework Plan

Pristine new 41st Street Beach opens with breathtaking views of the Loop

City Council approves $41 million in TIF money for 2011 Park District capital projects

Top 5 Chicago Transit Authority Stories

CTA uses Homeland Security funds to install 3,000 new security cameras system-wide

A civilian dons a driver’s uniform and steals a bus from the 103rd Street garage

New 5000-series prototype rail cars with NYC-style aisle-facing seats debut

CTA pilots the long-awaited Train Tracker system

Study shows that five percent of Free Rides for Seniors passes now in use belong to dead people

Best news for Chicago bicycling in 2010

In this economy it can be tough to find money for green transportation projects. But in October Governor Quinn announced roughly $49 million in federal funds will go to state bicycling initiatives, largely in Chicagoland, via the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. $2.8 million will go towards the Calumet-Sag Trail, a 26-mile path paralleling the city’s southern border. The grant will also bankroll an expansion of the Burham Greenway, the short-but-sweet multiuse path on the Southeast Side. And the CDOT will use ITEP funding to pilot a mile-long Dutch-style “cycle track,” separating bike traffic from cars, on South Stony Island Avenue.

Burnham Greenway (photo by Jennifer from General Carlessness,

Best thing to name after Richard M. Daley

A bike racing track on Northerly Island

As “Cyclist-in-chief,” Mayor Daley’s legacy is a mixed bag. He gets credit for all the federally-funded lanes, paths and racks that materialized during his tenure, the good work of his eponymous Bicycling Ambassadors, and more. But under Daley, City Hall was reluctant to put cycling in the city budget, resulting in the fizzled Open Streets ciclovia; the anemic B-cycle bike share network; the bike parking famine that resulted after 30,000 meters were uprooted; and other disappointments. Still, a bike shop owner acquaintance tells me the mayor actually rides a bike here, early in the morning on the Lakefront Trail, and it seems like the his heart was in the right place when it came to supporting cycling. So why not remember him with a velodrome on Chicago’s peninsula park. At least it will justify his bulldozing Meigs Field.

Northerly Island (Photo by David Kee,

Best public beach

Montrose Beach

All Chicago beaches have their pros and cons but Montrose Beach has a nearly perfect storm of cool attributes. It’s far enough away from Lake Shore Drive that you can’t hear traffic. The vibe is blue-collar and family-friendly, free of the douchebaggery that plagues North Avenue and Oak Street beaches. You can buy tasty Mexican food from the snack bar, elote carts and strolling peddlers on the sand. The water is pristine and kayaks are available for rent. A stroll down the pier provides an awesome skyline view, while the adjacent Magic Hedge nature sanctuary offers bird-watching and gay cruising opportunities. There’s something for everyone.

The lakefront between Montrose and Lawrence

Best new public park

Adams-Sangamon Park

Many Chicago parks are merely utilitarian: flat rectangles of grass broken up by a few baseball diamonds and basketball courts. So it’s exciting when the Park District thinks outside the box and creates a unique green space. Opened last summer in the shadow of the Sear Tower, Adams-Sangamon Park features a huge, groovy playground with drawbridges and climbing nets, a dog run and man-made hills covered with native grasses. Boulders and seating cubes are strewn about in pleasingly random patterns. The coolest element? Huge, silver gateways shaped like crooked picture frames, spraying refreshing mist in hot weather.

Adams and Sangamon

Did police cover up a Pritzker hit-and-run?

The crash site

by John Greenfield

[This article also appears in Time Out Chicago magazine,]

A federal complaint filed last month accuses Matthew Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, of intentionally striking a bicyclist with his SUV and fleeing. The suit also claims police protected Pritzker with a cover-up.

The 28-year-old defendant is one of the Chicago Pritzkers, who have been near the top of Forbes magazine’s “America’s Richest Families” list for decades. The family has made major donations to Chicago schools, hospitals and cultural institutions (Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion is named for Matthew’s uncle). Matthew is a real-estate entrepreneur, the head of the Matthew Pritzker Company and an investor in Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza Company and State Street Pictures.

Here’s what the complaint and the plaintiff’s lead counsel, Dana Kurtz, allege: On July 16, 2009, artist John Ibarra, now 28, was riding his bicycle west on North Avenue through Old Town at 8pm. Pritzker, driving west in his SUV, “was speeding and driving erratically and came very close to hitting [Ibarra] on his bicycle,” the complaint states. When Pritzker stopped at a red light at Sedgwick Street, Ibarra tapped on the passenger door to tell him he’d passed too closely. After the driver cursed at him, the cyclist rolled forward and “Pritzker then began to hit Ibarra while on his bicycle with [Pritzker’s] vehicle,” according to the complaint. Ibarra then reportedly struck the hood with his U-lock “in self-defense,” and the force of the car threw him off his bicycle. Pritzker allegedly ran over the bike and sped north on Sedgwick, dragging the cycle under his car. (While the complaint represents his version of events, Ibarra, on his counsel’s advice, did not speak with us.)

A witness, who asked that only her last name, Johnson, be printed, tells us via e-mail that she was standing outside Angelo’s Taverna at 1612 North Sedgwick at the time. “As the car drove past me, the driver [had] an angry look on his face,” and when the bike came loose it popped a tire, but Pritzker continued to flee, Johnson says.

An officer who responded to a 911 call “told [Ibarra] he was going to charge the driver with attempted murder,” the complaint says. Police traced Pritzker to his home, a few blocks from the crash site.

By 9pm, about eight police cars were at the site, Johnson says. Around this time, she says, officers brought Pritzker back to the crash site in a squad car. When Johnson identified him as the hit-and-run motorist, she says an officer berated her. “He told me that the driver of the Range Rover had a dented car from the biker and that I obviously didn’t see the whole thing because it was the biker’s fault,” Johnson says. “At this point, there was a drastic change in how the officers were handling this. Witnesses felt as though the officers were protecting this driver, and we began to suspect that this young kid was a kid of someone who is politically involved in this city.”

The police then arrested Ibarra and told him he would be charged with aggravated assault, according to Kurtz. The police released Ibarra that night without charging him but impounded his Waterford bicycle as evidence, later telling his lawyers the bike was destroyed in September 2009, Kurtz says. (Cook County State’s Attorney spokesman Andy Conklin says he found no record of Ibarra being charged with a criminal offense.)

According to Jennifer Hoyle from the city’s law department, Pritzker was ticketed for failure to yield, and the case was dismissed on September 28, 2009, for want of prosecution. “‘Want of prosecution’ typically means that the complaining witness didn’t show up,” Hoyle says. “However, it’s not clear from the computer system who the complaining witness is.”

The lawsuit also accuses police of altering reports about the crash. On the police report (pictured), the statement “Vehicle #1 [Pritzker’s car] struck vehicle #2 [Ibarra’s bike]” appears to have been written, then crossed out. Under the heading “hit & run,” the “yes” box seems to have been checked, then crossed out, and the “no” box is checked.

Pritzker’s spokesman, Elliot Sloane, declined to discuss the complaint, saying, “We do not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy.”

A Chicago Police Department spokesman, officer Veejay Zala, also declined to comment, explaining, “We don’t make statements about ongoing court actions.”

Kurtz, who specializes in civil-rights and police-misconduct cases, says, “Based upon the information we have, this is further evidence of the City of Chicago protecting those with political clout.”

Northern Exposure: Biking in Rogers Park

View from Loyola Beach's pier

by John Greenfield

[This article also runs in the current issue of Momentum magazine,]

“Rogers Park is universal,” says Wayne Johnson, an army vet who rides a battle-scarred mountain bike to window washing and janitorial gigs around Chicago’s northeastern-most neighborhood. “It’s cool - people of all different nationalities are here. I work with Mexicans, Pakistanis, Haitians and Koreans.”

Wayne Johnson

This cosmopolitan mix, plus Loyola University, help make the area a home for progressive politics, reflected in its many community-oriented and eco-friendly businesses, plus a burgeoning bike scene. Throw in a gaggle of serene beaches, unspoiled by Lake Shore Drive, and there’s lots of reasons to pedal up to the ‘hood.

A good first stop is the Recyclery, a community cycle center which opened last year at 7628 N. Paulina. Their FreeCyclery program donates bikes to clients of homeless shelters and immigrant advocacy organizations. “Biking’s not just a hip or environmental thing for these people,” says volunteer Jesse Miller. “It’s cheap, fast way to get around for folks who can’t afford the CTA,”

Frolian Landeros at the Recyclery

The Recyclery was a helpful port-of-entry for Tucson resident Lauren Frisk after she pedaled from Arizona to Chicago via Florida with her boyfriend Jared Votel last fall and decided to settle in Rogers Park for a spell. Frisk began volunteering at the center and board member Sharlyn Grace soon found her an apprenticeship at Roberts Cycle, 7054 N. Clark, the neighborhood’s only bike shop.

Roberts carries new bikes by Raleigh and Diamondback plus vintage Schwinn cruisers and Bianchi and Mercier road bikes. Owner Richard Bonomo and head mechanic Chris Petersen have wrenched at the shop since the early ‘70s. “Nowadays everybody wants to sell you new, new, new and nobody wants to fix anything,” Bonomo says. “But we still do repairs on three-speed hubs and coaster brakes. Income in Rogers Park is not that great, so we don’t have the luxury of just selling people new parts.”

Richard Bonomo

Loyola University is another center for cycling. Volunteers from the Loyola Bike Club, an advocacy and social riding group provide free repairs for students and community members.

Last year club leader Tony Giron established a bike sharing service, allowing students to check out refurbished cycles and helmets for free. This year rental company Bike and Roll donated 30 B-cycle commuter bikes, valued at $30,000. Similar to the cycles used in European automated rental systems, these sleek rides feature full fenders, generator lights and three-speed hubs.

Tony Giron

Giron says the best thing about cycling in Rogers Park is proximity to the Lakefront Trail, a few blocks south of campus. The North Shore Channel Trail, an undulating greenway with wacky public art, lies just west of the neighborhood. And at Loyola Beach, a bike path runs for several blocks alongside a mural-covered wall.

Sculpture on the North Shore Channel Trail

But Giron feels that the area still doesn’t have its fair share of bikeways. “Especially near the lake,” he says. “People have to use back street routes and alleys to get around since Sheridan Road is so hard to ride on.”

He supports Friends of the Parks’ plan to extend the Lakefront Trail into Rogers Park as part of its proposal to connect and expand local beaches via infill, but that’s a very touchy subject. Grassroots groups like Stop the Landfill formed to fight the proposal, arguing it would wreck the tranquility of the beaches. “Any beach expansion is going to include the extension of Lake Shore Drive,” says Jonathan Roth, an everyday cyclist who lives on the lakefront. “It’s a slippery slope.”

Bill Savage, who teaches Chicago history at Northwestern and grew up in the neighborhood with his brother, sex advice columnist Dan Savage, argued in a Chicago Reader piece the $400 million project would waste money better spent on neglected inland parks. “I bike four thousand miles a year and I live right on the beach,” he says. “So the path extension would save me miles of riding on streets, but I still don’t want it.”

As co-chair of the 49th Ward’s Transportation Committee, Sharlyn Grace has an alternative bike path plan she believes could be implemented this year. Alderman Joe Moore, famous for crusading against big boxes and foie gras, agreed to let Grace’s committee spend part of the ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary funds.

Flatts and Sharpe music store

Grace wants to create an off-street route from Loyola Park to the Winthrop and Kenmore bike lanes, connecting to the Lakefront Trail. Eventually she’d like also like to create a northbound route. “Rogers Park is the black hole preventing there from being a bike path from Evanston all the way south to 71st,” she says.

If all this controversy is wearing you out, take a break at one of the neighborhood’s left-leaning eateries. Heartland CafĂ©, 7000 N. Glenwood, a favorite with hippies since 1976, features hearty meatless fare like veggie chili and cornbread, as well as buffalo burgers. The Heartland regularly hosts fundraisers for progressive causes, like bike drives for Latin America by the group Athletes United for Peace.

Tracey Stefforia and Jennifer Locke at Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Ground opened recently at 1401 W. Devon with environmentally-friendly features like an organic rooftop garden and solar panels for heating water. The menu focuses on locally-sourced comfort foods like wild mushroom risotto and pumpkin ravioli. Summer brunches mean a patio full of bicycles, says bartender Zach Drummond.

You could also enjoy Rogers Park’s diversity by rolling west on Devon to sample the dazzling array of ethnic eats between between Clark and Kedzie, including several blocks of Indian and Pakistani restaurants. Just don’t try bringing home sag paneer (curried spinach with cheese) in your saddlebag, or you might wind up with a soggy pannier.

Lauren Frisk and Jared Votel on Devon Street

The Recyclery:
Roberts Cycle:
Stop the Landfill: