Thursday, June 30, 2011

VWYF is on hiatus - come join me at Grid Chicago

Fellow green transportation journalist Steven Vance ( and I recently launched Grid Chicago, a new blog about walking, biking and transit in the Windy City and beyond. Please visit us at, where I'll be posting new articles regularly.

For the time being Vote With Your Feet will be dormant, but feel free to browse the archives for older articles about my Chicago street walks, tips on car-free road trips, guides to bike friendly neighborhoods, interviews with leaders in the local sustainable transportation scene and much more. Thanks for reading!

- John Greenfield

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making strides: the Chicago Pedestrian Plan

By John Greenfield

[This piece also appears in Newcity.]

This June evening is too pretty for the subway, so I bicycle south to the Pink Line’s California station to meet up with the Active Transportation Alliance’s Tony Giron. He’s leading a march across the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Little Village to Farragut High School for the first of seven public input meetings on the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

Similar to the Bike 2015 Plan, this Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) document will be a roadmap for making the city a safer and easier place to walk. The goal is to reduce pedestrian injuries by half and fatalities by one hundred percent. “Chicago is a great city for walking,” says Giron. “But along with park paths and tree-lined streets, we still have roads that are difficult to cross, dangerous intersections and places that are inaccessible to people walking.”

Fellow green transportation journalist Steven Vance ( and I recently launched Grid Chicago, a new blog about walking, biking and transit in Chicago and beyond. Read the rest of this story at

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The 2012 messenger championships in Chicago

Augie Montes by Christopher Dilts

Interview by John Greenfield

[This piece also runs at]

Every year hundreds of bike couriers from around the globe descend on a different city for the Cycle Messenger World Championships, with races, arts events and parties celebrating one of the toughest, most enjoyable jobs around. This y the 19th annual worlds take place in Warsaw on July 27-31 (; next year Chicago does the honors (

Augie Montes, an eleven-year veteran of the delivery biz who spearheaded the 2008 North American Cycle Courier Championships [NACCC] in Chicago, talked with me about the recent championships in Tokyo and Panajachel, Guatemala, and filled us in on the Windy City’s plans for hosting the worlds in 2012.

Fellow green transportation journalist Steven Vance ( and I recently launched Grid, a new blog about walking, biking and transit in Chicago and beyond. Read the rest of this story at

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A car-free Exodus to "Little Egypt"

A loop around Southern Illinois via train and bike reveals the area’s unique culture

by John Greenfield

Most people think of the Land of Lincoln as Chicago plus pancake-flat prairie, but Southern Illinois is completely different. The region, nicknamed “Little Egypt” because it’s located in the delta of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, is blanketed by the lush Shawnee National Forest and roller-coaster hills, which makes it a challenging, beautiful destination for bicycle travel.

Flooding along the Mississippi hit Southern Illinois hard this spring. My buddy Kevin was interested in checking out the aftermath, as well as the area’s unusual geography and historical landmarks. So on Memorial Day weekend we hauled our touring bikes onboard Amtrak’s Saluki Line from Chicago to Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University, for a three-day cycling adventure.

Fellow green transportation journalist Steven Vance ( and I recently launched Grid, a new blog about walking, biking and transit in Chicago and beyond. Read the rest of this story at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gabe Klein meets Chicago's bicycle community

CDOT bike coordinator Ben Gomberg, CDOT commissioner Gabe Kline, CDOT deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton

By John Greenfield

Today’s Bike to Work Week rally in Daley Plaza was inspiring, a far cry from last year’s lackluster event, thanks to big plans for bicycling from new mayorRahm Emanuel and forward-thinking transportation commissioner Gabe Klein.

In 2010 Chicago’s efforts to become a world-class bike town had stagnated. The city had installed over 100 miles of bike lanes and over 10,000 parking racks, achieved bike access on transit and educated multitudes about safe cycling, but we seemed to be resting on our laurels. Meanwhile other U.S. cities were pioneering car-separated bike lanes, automated bike sharing systems, on-street parking corrals, traffic-calmed “bike boulevard” streets, car-free “ciclovia” events and more.

This week fellow green transportation journalist Steven Vance ( and I launched Grid Chicago, a new sustainable transportation blog. Read the rest of this story at

Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Kinzie Street on the right (cycle) track?

Chicagoans sound off about the city's first car-separated bike lanes

By John Greenfield

[This piece also appears on Gapers Block,]

Richard M. Daley had a widespread, if somewhat undeserved, reputation as a bicycle-friendly mayor. But with Rahm Emanuel in power, along with progressive new transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, it looks like there’s going to be a sea change in the way the city pushes pedaling.

Emmanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan includes three bold, possibly unrealistic, bike goals. But it’s refreshing that the city is finally making big plans that have, to paraphrase Daniel Burnham, magic to stir cyclists’ blood.

The mayor’s bike proposal, obviously influenced by transition team member Randy Neufeld, former director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, calls for expanding our anemic automated public bike sharing system from only 100 cycles to thousands of vehicles. The mayor also promises to build the Bloomingdale Trail, a 2.65-mile elevated rails-to-trails conversion on the Northwest Side within his first term, although it’s taken two years just to get the design contract approved and the price tag for the trail is estimated at $50-70 million.

The third goal may be the least realistic but most exciting, and there’s already rubber, nay bike lane paint, on the road. Rahm has pledged to install 100 miles of European-style “cycle tracks,” bike lanes that are physically separated from cars by medians, parked cars and/or posts, within his first four years in office. This would require a lot more money than is currently spent on striping eight miles of conventional bike lanes per year, and it would involve taking away travel lanes and parking spaces from automobiles.

Many bicycle advocates argue that separated bike lanes are the missing link for getting large numbers of people on bikes in North America. By removing some of the dangers of speeding motor traffic and opening car doors, cycle tracks take away the fear factor that prevents average Chicagoans from trying transportation cycling. Separated bike lanes have debuted with much fanfare in Portland, OR, New York and Washington, D.C.

However, cycle tracks can be problematic if they’re not done right. European cities with successful separated bikeway networks like Amsterdam and Copenhagen generally use special bicycle traffic lights to prevent collisions between right-turning cars and bikes emerging from the cycle track to cross an intersection. There will be no such lights on Kinzie, only signs warning turning motorists to stop for bikes and pedestrians.

People love to walk in cycle tracks, and garbage, broken glass and snow will accumulate in the separated lanes unless the city is careful to maintain them. Faster bicyclists may prefer to ride in the regular travel lane, but local laws require cyclists to use separate bike paths when available. As a result, those pedaling outside of the cycle track may be unable to successfully sue if a reckless motorist hits them.

Nonetheless Chicago cyclists, including this one, are getting excited about the cycle track that the Chicago Department of Transportation is currently installing on Kinzie Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street, connecting two of the city’s best-used bike lane streets. In general, the new separated lanes will be located next to the curb, to the right of the parking lane, and separated from parked cars by a diagonally striped buffer zone and flexible posts.

Though recent rains have delayed the project, the cycle track should be finished by the end of next week. Emanuel is sure to boast about it during his first speech at the Bike to Work Week rally next Friday, June 17, 7:30 – 9:30 am at Daley Plaza.

Last Friday afternoon I stopped by Kinzie to check out the work in progress. The sky was leaden but the air was perfumed by the Blommer Chocolate factory at the five-way intersection of Kinzie, Milwaukee and Desplaines.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the new lanes on Kinzie continue as dashed lines across every intersection between Milwaukee and Wells. Plus, at the five-way a new “bike box” waiting area and a curving, dashed lane across the intersection will make it much easier for southbound cyclists on Milwaukee to make a left turn onto Kinzie.

Right now cars are still parking next to the curbs in the cycle track instead of the new parking lane, but this will stop after the posts are installed and bike symbols are marked on the bike lanes.

I flagged down a few bike commuters to get their reactions to the new cycle track. Abigail Jasper, riding a Trek hybrid, says she’s excited about the separated lanes. “They’re going to protect bicyclists from drivers who may be too busy doing other things to pay attention to cyclists,” she says. She notes that it may take a little while for motorists and bike riders to get used to the new lanes. “There’s going to be a learning curve but we’ll figure it out.”

Scott Lambert, on a Masi single-speed road bike, is looking forward to protection from cars. “It’s great that the city is doing something for bikers,” he says. “I’ve been hit more than twelve times.” However he’s skeptical that the current cycle track layout is going to function well. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen at the intersections. This is a great idea in theory but they’re probably going to have to modify the design before it becomes sufficient.”

Newby bike commuter Patrick Crokin, pedaling a Giant mountain bike, is glad the new lanes will eliminate the risk of bicyclists getting hit by opening car doors. “This is really a great idea,” he says. “I’m just curious to see how they’re going to pay for all the new lanes.”

When I duck into the Blommer factory’s chocolate shop next to the five-way intersection, manager Kevin Schultz tells me the cycle track is pointless. “They should be spending money to improve the traffic and pedestrian flow here instead of wasting money on these bike lanes,” he says. “This is one of the worst intersections in the city. We stand here all day and watch people almost get hit when they cross Desplaines to the Jewel.” He says the city should instead be spending money for a turn signal to keep westbound vehicles turning left from Kinzie to Desplaines from hitting these pedestrians. “One of these days some lady with a kid or someone walking their dog is going to get killed.”

But Michael Bordenaro, waiting for the traffic light outside Blommer on his Raleigh mountain bike, thinks the city’s plan for 25 miles of cycle tracks per year is too conservative. “Citizens should go out with white paint and stripe 25 miles of bike lanes themselves this weekend and say, ‘Mayor Emanuel, thank you for your leadership. Now keep up with us.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Spaces Between nighttime bike tour

Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop

By John Greenfield

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

Time Out recently invited me to test ride the following bike tour which you can ride in later this month:

GUIDE Martin Hazard
LENGTH 12 miles, 2.5 hours
STARTS Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan Ave.)
TOC EXCLUSIVE TOUR June 18 at 8:30 pm; free. Bring your own bicycle, helmet and lights. Future tours TBD. (Call Hazard at 773-885-0900 to sign up, or just show up.)

“We’re going on a tour of places that are all around us but are two steps off the beaten path,” says Martin Hazard with a Marlboro clenched in his teeth as we unlock our steeds outside the subterranean Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan) on a Tuesday night. He’s president of the Midnight Marauders, a nighttime cycling group that does saucy late-night excursions on the third Saturday of every month, including the notorious Porn Ride tour of strip clubs, sex shops and S & M dungeons.

Soon Hazard is leading me through the labyrinth of the Loop’s multi-leveled streets including Michigan, Wacker and Randolph. We whiz up and down ramps, around steel pillars, past ragged homeless people and lonely security guards outside loading docks. After a brief jaunt on a path along the Chicago River, we’re at a pretty little green space at the center of the new Lakeshore East development (430 E. Waterside Dr). “I love this park because you can’t see it from most of the surface streets so nobody knows it’s here,” Hazard says.

Climbing a hill past the development’s gateway, a pair of stainless-steel sails, we cruise across the eerily calm Central Business District to Mary Bartelme Park (115 S. Sangamon), opened last year in the West Loop. It boasts an undulating landscape and huge gateways that look like tilted silver picture frames. “They spray mist during the summer so it’s a great place to cool off,” says my guide.

Returning east, as we wait for a red among the neon signs of Greektown someone asks us for spare change. “I’ve never been panhandled on a bike before,” I note. We head down Wells street past Bertrand Goldberg’s curvy River City condo building (800 S. Wells) and peek through a fence underneath arching Roosevelt Road. Just beyond it is a large piece of barren earth bordering the river which Hazard calls the Brownlands – a popular spot for bonfires.

We make our way under the half-moon to Roosevelt and Michigan and the creepy 9’ trunk-less legs of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Agora” installation. We take the pedestrian bridge at 11th Street and a series of curving paths under Columbus and Lakeshore Drive to the Shedd Aquarium and then over to the Children’s Garden (1330 S. Museum Campus Drive) in the shadow of Soldier Field, featuring a geodesic climbing net and a large stone sphere that you can you can spin slowly with your hands. “I like that this park is hidden by the surrounding dirt embankments,” says Hazard.

As we roll down Solidarity Drive to Northerly Island Park, a coyote crosses our path(fear not: The animals roaming the city help control our rat population). We take a lap on the paved paths circling the former Meigs Field which will forever symbolize Richard M. Daley’s love of parks and autocratic governing style. “There’s no better place to check out the skyline at night,” Hazard says.

Soon we’re zooming back up the Lakefront Trail with a tailwind and cutting west on the riverside bike path back to the cozy confines of the tavern. With mugs of Billy Goat Dark we toast the end of an awesome urban assault.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A bike tour of Humboldt & Logan Square history

by John Greenfield

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

Time Out recently invited me to test ride the following bike tour which you can ride in later this month:

GUIDE Chicago Architecture Foundation
LENGTH 3.5 miles, 2 hours
STARTS AT Humboldt Park Boathouse (1401 N. Humboldt Dr.)
NEXT TOUR June 18 at 11am; $15, free for CAF members. Bring your own bicycle and helmet. Future tours TBD.

“We’re going to point out little details you’ve never noticed in buildings you probably go by all the time,” promises Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) docent Tom Drebenstedt, straddling an old-school Fuji Sandblaster mountain bike by the stately Humboldt Park Boathouse (1401 N. Humboldt). For years he’s led the CAF’s Bike the Lakefront tour ( showcasing the history of Chicago’s shoreline. On this gorgeous spring morning he’s leading me on a new route highlighting Humboldt Park and Logan Square’s architectural gems.

Nearby stands an 1892 statue of Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt with an adorable bronze lizard crawling on a manuscript by his feet. Crossing von Humboldt’s namesake boulevard to the west side of the park, Drebenstedt points out the man-made river created by Danish immigrant Jens Jensen, who quickly rose up the Chicago Park District’s ranks to become its foremost landscape architect. Recently the park district installed solar- and wind-powered pumps to create a current and prevent stagnation.

Two blocks south is the circular rose garden Jensen designed, flanked by bronze bison and Japanese-inspired light fixtures. I suspect that two men in hoodies lurking beneath the trellis on the far side of the garden are doing a drug deal. We roll across Division Street to the 1895 Humboldt Park Stables (1150 N. Humboldt), with Hansel-and-Gretel-esque gables and half timbers, slated to re-open as the Institute for Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

Humboldt Park Stables - Jens Jensen's office was in corner turret

Rolling north along the park’s perimeter trails, we startle a pair of young women sashaying down the path, then catch a whiff of roast pork from La Esquina del Sabor food truck (1500 N. Humboldt). Drebenstedt pulls over at North/Humboldt by a kiosk outlining the development of the Boulevard System. In 1870 the West Park District hired architect William Le Baron Jenney to design the major western parks, including Humboldt, and tree-lined thoroughfares to connect them.

As we pedal north up the quiet service drive along Humboldt Boulevard Drebenstedt points out the occasional mid-1800s wood-frame house. “If you ignore all the other buildings around them you get a sense of what it was like then – farm houses in the middle of a prairie.” Bicycle magnate Ignaz Schwinn’s mansion used to stand at the southwest corner of Humboldt and Palmer, and bike racers competed on the oval-shaped roadways around Palmer Square Park (2100 N. Humboldt).

The traffic circle at Logan/Milwaukee features Henry Bacon’s eagle-topped Illinois Centennial Monument, dedicated in 1918. We spin east to the John Rath House (2703 W. Logan), designed by George Maher in 1907. Drebenstedt tells me it’s one of the best Prairie-style homes in the neighborhood, incorporating the long, narrow “Roman bricks” favored by Frank Lloyd Wright, gracefully curved “barrel vaults” and leaded glass with floral motifs.

Making our way south to Humboldt Park we check out twin mansions at 3069 and 3071 W. Palmer, built at the turn of the century for two men who co-owned a tannery. One house is drab beige brick but the other is now painted with cheerful scarlet and green accents.

Back in the park Drebenstedt points out a 1901 bronze sculpture of Viking explorer Leif Erikson (1400 N. Humboldt), sculpted by Sigvald Asbjornsen, and bankrolled by the local Norwegian community. At the boathouse, old men fish off a pier at the north side of the building with the Sears Tower looming in the distance. Although I’ve lived in Logan for years, I feel like I’ve just seen the neighborhood in a whole new way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chicago gets its first on-street bike corral

On-street racks in Portland (photo courtesy of City of Portland)

By John Greenfield

[This article also appears in Time Out Chicago,]

Chicago has over 72,000 on-street car parking spaces occupying a total area of over 3.6 square miles, more than twice the size of Hyde Park. This summer the city will help even the score for bicyclists by dedicating 140 square feet of roadway in Wicker Park for Chicago’s first on-street bike corral.

The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to install six “inverted U” bike racks protected by curb stops in a 20’ X 7’ swath of street next to a Bank of America branch at 1585 N. Milwaukee, just south of the buzzing North/Damen intersection. The Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce is donating the racks, curbs and installation, at a cost of under $5,000, according to the chamber’s Eleanor Mayer.

“On-street bike parking offers an opportunity to provide a lot of bike parking at locations attractive to bicyclists, while keeping sidewalks clear for pedestrians,” explains CDOT bicycle program coordinator Ben Gomberg.

Replacing automobile parking spaces with on-street bike racks is already common in bike-friendly West Coast towns like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Since 2008, Portland has removed 107 car spaces and put in 64 on-street bike corrals at a cost of about $2,500 each, accommodating 1,140 bikes.

Chicago bike activist Payton Chung, a former board member of the Wicker Park chamber, first proposed the on-street bike rack concept to the neighborhood, leading to its inclusion in the chamber’s 2008 master plan. The chamber began discussing the idea with the Chicago Department of Transportation shortly after the plan came out, Chung says.

The Wicker Park racks will park twelve bikes in the same amount of space required for just one automobile. However, the corral will not actually displace any car parking since the space is currently a loading zone, which will be relocated 30’ north to what is now a no-parking zone.

The future location of the Wicker Park bike corral

“Milwaukee Avenue is a great place to test this out,” says Ethan Spotts of the advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance. “We hope to see CDOT, local businesses and chambers of commerce embrace bike corrals around the city.”

Todd Gee from Break the Gridlock, a grassroots that promotes alternative transportation, is also excited about the on-street racks but says his group would have preferred to have car parking removed as part of the pilot, as has been done in other towns. “We’d like to see driving become less convenient, especially in areas like Wicker Park that are easy to access by transit.”

On a recent, sultry Monday evening, a steady flow of two-wheeled traffic rolls up Milwaukee towards the six-way intersection. “An on-street bike rack will be awesome,” says Kimberly Norris, straddling a baby blue, single-speed Mercier road bike.

Sure, cyclists dig it, but will motorists revolt if sections of roadway are occupied by bicycle parking, especially if it means removing car spaces? “When we propose a corral sometimes there’s a little bit of pushback from neighbors,” says Sarah Figliozzi, who manages Portland’s on-street bike rack program. “Our response is, let’s see how it works for six months.” She says her city hasn’t removed a single corral and there are roughly seventy businesses on a waiting list to get one.

If Chicago motorist Brian Keigher is typical, there won’t be a major backlash here. Stopped at a red by the Flat Iron Building in his silver Subaru he responds, “There’s too many f---ing cars in this city, so it’s great they’re dedicating a little bit of space for the bikers.”

Keigher’s not the only one dropping F-bombs in his enthusiasm for new bike inittiatives. In March, 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, whose ward includes Wicker Park, visited Seville, Spain, for the Velo-City bicycle conference. Joining him were fellow bike-friendly, Spanish-speaking Northwest Side politicians, 30th Ward alderman Ariel Reyboras and 35th Ward alderman Rey Colon.

“Six years ago Chicago was ahead of Seville in terms of biking,” says Moreno. “Now Seville has physically-separated bike lanes and a bike sharing system, and they’ve closed down their center city to cars. It’s so easy to bike there everybody’s doing it: old people on adult tricycles, young men in suits and women in heels.”

The aldermen presented their findings last month during an Active Transportation Alliance gathering at Logan Square’s Boiler Room pizzeria. Moreno discussed the Wicker Park bike corral and other innovative ideas to push pedaling in the neighborhood. Since recent CDOT counts show bikes make up 22% of daytime traffic on parts of Milwaukee, Moreno is exploring the possibility of removing one lane of car parking on Milwaukee from California to Division to make room for a Seville-style separated bike lane. Asked how meter lessee LAZ Parking would react to the loss of revenue if car spaces were removed, Moreno responded, “F--- ‘em.” The crowd of cyclists went wild.

“What I meant was, this is 2011. I’ve talked to Rahm Emmanuel and he’s on board with moving forward in a bold direction so I’m not going to stop,” Moreno later explained. The alderman says he might be willing to swap LAZ’s lost parking spaces for a high-density garage on Milwaukee. “I say to them, if you want to be part of the solution, great. If not, feel free to sue the city.”

Forty: an epic walk from Logan Square to Aurora

By John Greenfield

[This article also appears in New City,]

It’s a Sunday night in Aurora and a fiberglass dinosaur wearing the #34 jersey of Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton smiles down at my friend Eric and me as we clink glasses of Sweetness Stout, toasting the end of another epic walk. We’re at America’s Brewpub at the Roundhouse Complex, formerly co-owned by the late running back. The massive circular limestone structure was built in 1856 as a railroad maintenance workshop.

The dark beer helps kill the pain in my weary shoulders and blistered feet. I’ve just finished a forty-mile-plus hike from Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood across the entire width of the western suburbs. For two-and-a-half days I’ve traversed a landscape of cul-de-sacs, strip malls, parking lots and freeways, mitigated by miles on the lush Illinois Prairie Path trail system and multiple stops at brewpubs and tiki bars. In a half hour I’ll catch a Metra commuter train home from the station next door—I’m eager to return to the city and its dense, pedestrian-friendly grid.

Why did I subject myself to this death march across DuPage County? I love to walk. It’s a form of transportation that shows me details of my surroundings that I’d never notice on a bicycle, my usual travel mode, let alone in an automobile. So after my fortieth birthday this spring I decided to mark the occasion with a forty-mile pilgrimage to the Fox River, the western boundary of the Chicago metropolitan region. I hoped walking across the suburbs would reveal the redeeming qualities of a land built around cars.

After work on a Friday in late April a group of friends showed up to walk out of the city with me from my apartment in Logan Square. I live on the Albany Home Zone at the 2400 block of North Albany Avenue, a block where the needs of residents trump drivers’ desire to speed. My activist neighbors recently lobbied the city to create the home zone by reconfiguring the street with diagonal parking and large, landscaped bump-outs. This slows down traffic and provides additional green space, making the block a nicer place to walk, bike and hang out.

I’d stuffed aloha shirts, a raincoat, toiletries, snacks, water and more into a two-strap backpack. I’d learned my lesson from other long treks when I carried an overloaded single-strap messenger bag which threatened to cut off all feeling in my left arm. For a few blocks my entourage includes Kevin, my boss at a nearby bike shop, his wife Karen, and their little daughters Louisa, in a stroller, and Hazel, pedaling along with training wheels.

After Kevin takes the kids home, the rest of us continue west on Fullerton Avenue out of Logan Square, passing by taquerias, carnicerias, panaderias and paleterias. Outside a dive bar called the Levee, 4035 West Fullerton, a large shrub has been trimmed into the shape of a longneck bottle. “Do they serve Busch beer?” asks my buddy Jonathan.

At 6500 West, Fullerton merges with Grand Avenue; the Radio Flyer Company office stands at this juncture, with a twenty-seven-foot-long red “Coaster Boy” wagon out front. At Harlem Avenue, 7200 West, we leave the city limits and enter Elmwood Park, stopping at Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Market, a giant Italian grocery store, to pick up cannoli and cassatina, an incredibly sweet Sicilian confection made with sheep’s milk ricotta.

When we reach the Des Plaines River, the April showers have flooded the riverbanks, and nearby trees look ghostly in the moonlight with their trunks submerged in a few feet of water. Yellow lights reflecting off the river draw us to Gene and Jude’s, a River Grove hotdog stand in business since 1946. A long line of patrons waits to buy their minimalist take on the Chicago-style dog—mustard, relish, onions and sport peppers only—wrapped up with fresh-cut fries on top.

Ketchup on a hotdog is taboo in Chicago and Gene and Jude’s refuse to even stock the condiment. So in the parking lot I pull out the bottle of Heinz I brought for the occasion—for my fries only, I swear. A beefy guy with a camo-print doo-rag witnesses my transgression. “Hey, this guy brought his own ketchup,” he says to his buddies. “Gene must be rolling in his grave.”

Just north of the stand is our evening’s destination, a multi-room tiki lounge complex called Hala Kahiki, which means “House of Pineapple.” I trace my obsession with Polynesian pop culture back to my childhood when my family used to visit my dad’s cousin Leo’s tiki-themed motel, the Hawaiian Isle, in Miami Beach, Florida. Using the guidebook “Tiki Road Trip,” by local writer James Teitelbaum, I’ve visited all nine of the remaining tiki bars and restaurants in the region—a great way to beat the Chicago winter blues.

Opened in 1963 by Rose & Stanley Sacharski, Hala Kahiki is the granddaddy of them all, with what Teitelbaum calls a high TiPSY (Tikis Per Square Yard) factor. The place is packed with the carved wooden idols, fishing nets and puffer-fish lamps. There’s an outdoor garden with large Easter Island heads and a gift shop in back. My group is seated by a tinkling fountain with palm trees and a carved wooden heron.

Hala Kahiki doesn’t serve food but when a friend pulls out a bag of leftover fries, the sarong-clad hostess runs over scolding, “Guys, no Gene and Jude’s here.” We’ve walked almost eight miles and after tipping back multiple rounds of Mai Tais, Suffering Bastards and Fog Cutters, most of my entourage is starting to nod off. They hitch rides home with other friends who’ve driven to the bar—all except for Eric, who staggers with me four more blocks north along the river to crash at a Super 8 motel.

The next morning we walk southwest under a cobalt sky, following walking directions I’ve printed out from Google Maps. We cross the blue-collar, inner-ring suburbs of Franklin Park and Melrose Park, passing by modest homes, factories and churches offering services in English, Spanish and Polish.

The cue sheet takes us on a stairstep route mostly on quiet streets but the sidewalks often disappear, forcing us to walk on the left side of the road with gravel and crabapples crunching under our feet. It seems the city planners never considered that someone might want to travel these towns by foot and, in fact, we don’t cross paths with any pedestrians for the first hour and a half.

Walking conditions get downright dangerous when we head down North Avenue beneath the spaghetti-bowl interchange of the Tri-State Tollway and the Eisenhower Expressway. There are no sidewalks so we walk on the highway facing high-speed traffic, darting Frogger-style across several freeway off-ramps. Google Maps has let us down, although in fairness the site warns, “Walking directions are in beta. Use caution—This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.”

Things improve as we head into Elmhurst, an upscale village that poet Carl Sandburg and labor leader Eugene Debs once called home. We grab lunch at Jim’s Hamburger Heaven, in business since 1948, a neon-lit shack that looks straight out of “Happy Days.” The lady behind the counter tells me that McDonald’s, based in nearby Oak Brook, stole the idea for the Big Mac from Jim’s tasty little double-decker burgers.

We continue down residential streets lined with stately homes and lovely pink magnolia trees. Eric stops at a drugstore to buy Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts for his already-aching feet—his green suede boots don’t seem to be working out. “I wish I’d done this earlier,” he says. “It’s like laying your head on a pillow after someone’s been whacking it repeatedly with a fraternity paddle. It feels better but it still hurts.”

Our next destination is Villa Park, originally built as a factory town for Ovaltine, now home to another beverage producer, Lunar Brewing Company. This small brewpub looks like a typical neighborhood tap except that moons and stars dangle from the ceiling and signs for craft breweries from around the country hang on the walls.

As planned, three of my cycling buddies show up sweaty on bikes to meet us for a cold one, having pedaled out from Logan Square via the Prairie Path. I order a Jumping Cow cream ale but the barmaid mishears me and pours me a Lunar Raspberry cream ale, which tastes like dry, fruity soda. A regular smirks at me, saying, “That stuff’s strictly for the strippers.”

After saying goodbye to my pals, Eric and I detour a couple miles south to another tiki venue, a Chinese and Polynesian restaurant in a strip mall called Tong’s Tiki Hut. While the TiPSY factor here is lower than at Hala Kahiki, Tong’s has plenty of fun “exotic” décor: murals of beach scenes, monkeys carved out of coconuts, a Buddha statue and a nearly six-foot-tall carved idol.

Hawaiian music plays softly in the nearly empty restaurant as the middle-aged ladies who run the place converse in Mandarin. Co-owner Diane Yung tells me the place opened in 1981 and she took over in 1990. Eric and I order a pu-pu platter, the classic tiki-Chinese appetizer with deep-fried and barbecued tidbits arranged around a small bowl of fire. We wash these down with potent Zombies in mugs featuring voluptuous, grass-skirted maidens.

Our directions tell us to walk west from here on Roosevelt Road, but it’s a nasty highway lined with big-box stores and no sidewalks, so we detour north onto residential streets. We get confused by the non-contiguous street pattern and have to navigate with Eric’s smart phone.

As we walk past silent ranch houses Eric says, “Notice how even on a nice day there are no people outside doing anything.” “Yeah,” I say. “It’s kind of creepy here. You can see why so many of Chicagoland’s famous mass murders happened in the suburbs, like the John Wayne Gacy killings, the Tylenol poisonings and the Brown’s Chicken massacre.”

We stairstep northwest into ritzy Glen Ellyn, formerly home to performance artist Laurie Anderson and Weathermen co-founder Bill Ayers. As we pass big, beautiful old homes on Park Boulevard, we see yard signs reading “Save our neighborhood / Say no / vote for the referendum.” An older couple out gardening explains that neighbors started a campaign to block the conversion of a small church nearby into a Montessori elementary school. “It’s a classic case of NIMBY-ism.”

After dinner at a Thai restaurant in downtown Glen Ellyn, we walk a bit further west to Wheaton, where we’re hosted by my boss’ mother-in-law, Margaret. Exhausted after walking twenty miles, Eric and I flop down on her couch with Fat Tire beers and watch “Saturday Night Live.” By coincidence, the opening sketch is Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprising their roles as Wayne and Garth, two metalheads from Aurora, our final destination.

Sunday is another beautiful morning and I’m raring to go, but Eric decides he can’t walk much further. Since he’s taller and brawnier than me, his feet have been taking more of a beating. “Every step is agony,” he complains. “My feet are swollen and puffy, pretty much everywhere they’re in contact with my shoes.” He decides to catch Metra back to the Loop, then ride another Metra line out to meet me in Aurora.

Wheaton College

Wheaton is nicknamed “The Button of the Bible Belt” since it’s home to dozens of religious organizations. On the other hand, the very profane John Belushi attended Wheaten Central High School. The largest religious school here is Wheaton College and evangelist Billy Graham is its most famous graduate. The preacher, now 92, has met with every U.S. president from Truman to Obama. I stop by the Billy Graham Center Museum but it isn’t open yet. I’ve read that the exhibit focuses on Graham’s humanitarian work and skips over his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.

In downtown Wheaton, I pick up the Aurora branch of the Illinois Prairie Path, the sixty-one-mile network of trails that fans across the western suburbs. I come to a boulder with a plaque honoring May Theilgaard Watts, a Morton Arboretum naturalist who first proposed converting abandoned railroad right-of-ways into the trails system in a 1963 letter to the Tribune. The villages of Wheaton and Glen Ellyn wanted to turn the land into parking lots, and in the letter Watts cautioned that “bulldozers are drooling.” The plaque includes a quote from Watts, “Footpaths are defended with spirit by their users.”

The Prairie Path soon becomes a green tunnel of budding maple and walnut trees and the crushed limestone surface of the trail crunches pleasantly under my sneakers. Birds are singing, the air smells like pollen and the sunshine feels good on my face as I walk southwest. There’s a steady stream of joggers and bicyclists in DayGlo Lycra. I stop and chat with an older man with a large backpack who’s training for a long hike in the Swiss Alps.

The trail passes by the Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve, an appealing green space with a large sledding hill and a lagoon where families fish for trout on this lovely afternoon. I soon encounter three horseback riders and have to step carefully to avoid the fresh manure they leave in their wake.

Detouring off the trail in Warrenville I arrive at Two Brothers Tap House, located in a bleak industrial zone. The brewery has little in the way of decor besides posters for house beers like Domaine DuPage French Country Ale and Prairie Path Golden Ale, but the brew and the food are tasty and the place is packed with young suburbanites. I belly up to the bar for a pint of Bitter End Pale Ale and a plate of bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

Next to me are Mary and Richard from Glen Ellyn, hardcore beer geeks. Mary receives a text that Three Floyds brewery in Munster, Indiana still has a few bottles of Dark Lord Russian Imperial stout left over from yesterday’s Dark Lord Day release party. The couple immediately get in their car and drive fifty-five miles to claim their prize.

Back on the trail for the final leg of my suburban safari, I pass a small pond where frogs are croaking, a flock of red-winged blackbirds perch on nearby branches and a beaver scurries by. It’s a treat to encounter wildlife you don’t normally find in Chicago, but I’m getting really sick of walking. I sit down on a bench, take off my socks and massage my throbbing feet, dotted with multiple blisters.

As I trudge the last few miles, I think about my journey so far. While the Chicago suburbs are not the cultural wasteland that city dwellers make them out to be, the interesting places are few and far between, it’s hard to live there without a car, and the lack of human interaction on the streets is alienating.

If I ever get married and have kids in Chicago I’ll face a dilemma that has confronted many of my friends with children. Unless Jean-Claude Brizard, the newly appointed CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, is able to fix our city’s educational system, it will be tempting to leave the city for the better public schools and cheaper, bigger houses of the suburbs. Will I sell out, abandoning the diverse, social, walkable streets of Chicago for what Oak Park native Ernest Hemingway called the “broad lawns and narrow minds” of the auto-centric western ‘burbs?

I hope not, having experienced suburban isolation firsthand on this walk. My friends with kids provide good role models for me—almost all of them have chosen to stay, proving that it’s possible to build a rich family life in the city. Most of them don’t even own cars. Instead they take advantage of Chicago’s many green transportation options, traveling with their children via the CTA, Metra, I-GO Car Sharing, taxis, bicycles and on foot.

Now I’m descending bluffs to the Fox River, a broad waterway where Canada geese swim against the current. I turn south down the Fox River Trail, a paved path that runs fifty miles from Aurora to McHenry, Illinois, at the northwest corner of the metro region. McHenry is the hometown of Alkaline Trio singer and guitarist Matt Skiba, a bike-messenger colleague of mine from the late nineties whose band went on to become one of Chicago’s most successful punk acts.

After rounding a bend in the path I catch sight of downtown Aurora, the Hollywood Casino and Walter Payton’s roundhouse. The suburb is nicknamed the “City of Lights” because it was one of the first U.S. municipalities with electric streetlamps. As I march triumphantly towards my finish line, one of Skiba’s anthemic songs plays in my head:

And all your lonely nights in the City of Lights are much like
All these crowded bars I so often find my stupid self stumbling through…
Fuck you Aurora, you took my only friend.
You won’t catch me behind the wheel of a Chrysler ever again.

DuPage Dossier

Suburban milestones and diversions

America’s Brewpub at the Roundhouse Complex
205 North Broadway, Aurora, (630)892-0034,

Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Market
2400 North Harlem, Elmwood Park, (708)453-0155,

Billy Graham Center Museum
Wheaton College, 500 East College, Wheaton, (630)752-5909,

Gene and Jude’s
2720 River Road, River Grove, (708)452-7634

Hala Kahiki
2834 River Road, River Grove, (708)456-3222,

Jim’s Hamburger Heaven
281 North York, Elmurst, (630)832-3535

Lunar Brewing Company
54 East St. Charles, Villa Park, (630)530-2077,

Tong’s Tiki Hut
100 East Roosevelt, Villa Park, (630)834-7464

Two Brothers Tap House
30w315 Calumet, Warrenville, (630)393-2337,

Transit authorities discuss ways to fix the CTA

L-R: Schlickman, Renn, Wisniewski, Robling, Bey

A debate on the future of Chicago public transit is an “El” of a good time

By John Greenfield

It’s a Tuesday night and Cactus Bar and Grill, 404 S. Wells, usually packed with stockbrokers from the Chicago Board of Trade, is instead filled with transportation geeks and urban planning wonks. They’re here for “Chicago Public Transit: On Track or Derailed,” organized by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Participants will discuss the good, bad and ugly aspects of our local bus and train service, and propose ways to drag our outdated transit system kicking and screaming into the future.

The distinguished panel of experts includes Aaron Renn, who blogs about city planning at; Lee Bey, ex-Sun Times architecture critic and deputy chief of staff for Mayor Daley, now head of the Chicago Central Committee, which brainstorms ways to improve the Loop; Christopher Robling, principal of the P.R. firm Jayne Thompson & Associates; Stephen Schlickman, director of the UIC’s Urban Transportation Center; and former Sun Times transportation repor Mary Wisniewski, now working for Reuters. Cultural critic and blogger ( Edward Lifson is moderating. Dressed in dark suits and skirt they look a bit out of place among the bar’s surfboards, stuffed swordfish and mural advertising a tiki hotel, but they’re sharing a pitcher of beer.

Ed Zotti, who writes the Chicago Reader column “The Straight Dope” under the nom de plume Cecil Adams, introduces the debate. Zotti’s recent Reader cover story ( examines the upcoming $4 billion-plus renovation of the northern segments of the Red and Purple lines.

He argues that adding more stops and transfer points to the Purple Line north of Belmont and less south of Belmont, as well as re-routing the line to enter the Loop via the State Street subway as part of this rehab would improve the frequency and speed of service and alleviate crowding. However, it appears the CTA views the project strictly as a rehab of the existing infrastructure north of Belmont and is unwilling to consider major route changes or changes south of Belmont as part of the project. Zotti argues this is a missed opportunity.

“There’s four things we all can agree on,” continues Zotti. The first is the increasing importance of transit in Chicago – ridership on the Red Line recently surpassed its 1927 peak. Second, he says this is a city of disparate transportation needs – South Siders don’t have to worry about crowding on their end of the Red Line, but while trains serve the entire length of the North Side, the line terminates at 95th, five miles north of the city’s southern border. Third, there needs to be a more comprehensive approach to transit planning to allow for ambitious projects like creating a Circle Line to allow transfers between the various train lines a couple of miles outside the Loop. Fourth, there needs to be more transparency and openness in how these decisions are made, Zotti says.

Renn begins the discussion by asking the audience to “Imagine a public transit system that was a source of pride for residents.” Bey notes “Transit is this city is seen as the transportation of last resort.”

But Wisniewski says she is proud of Chicago transit. “Maybe it’s because I’m a transit geek but I take people from out of town to check out the CTA. I rode to every station in town for the Sun Times.”

Robling argues that “Service, service, service” should be the CTA’s priority, although he acknowledges, “In Chicago there’s a mandate for design because we’re the origin of modern design.”

Bey argues that design is key and South Side stations are sorely lacking in amenities. “At a nicely designed station you can buy a cup of coffee and drop off your dry cleaning and these businesses can be a revenue source for the CTA,” he says. “It would be great to put in something to make the Dan Ryan stations less bleak.”

Wisniewski agrees that making stations attractive and welcoming is important. “The 18th Street station in Pilsen has beautiful murals of Mexican life. This kind of thing isn’t very expensive and it gives you something to look at while you wait for the train.”

Next they discuss the merits of the CTA’s bus shelters. Schlickman says he was impressed to see J.C. Decaux, the street furniture company that maintains the shelters, shoveling them out the day after this winter’s snowpocalypse. “I find the shelters are OK, which in some cases is OK,” says Bey. But Renn finds the design of the shelters to be outdated and dull and argues, “The idea that they’re better than what we had before is a pernicious one. Mayor Daley understands we’re competing on a global level.”

To improve service on public transit, “We need to look into making it more difficult for cars to get into the city,” says Wisniewski. Schlickman proposes turning lanes of the Kennedy into “hot lanes” that would be reserved for buses as well as cars that pay a special toll.

Bey argues that bus rapid transit is an incomplete solution to the city’s transit woes. “If I’m at 120th and Indiana what does that do for me?” Wisniewski replies, “It doesn’t fix the entire system but it would help solve the problem of all our rapid transit being in a hub-and-spokes configuration instead of a grid. We were offered over $100 million in federal funding to test four bus rapid transit routes, but the city didn’t quite get its ducks in a row in time to take advantage.”

Robling calls for combining the CTA with the Pace suburban bus system and the Metra regional rail system and creating a unified fare structure. “We haven’t done this yet because we have nutso cognitive thinking in this city.”

Wisniewski says that improving transit is going to require bold, sometimes unpopular actions from politicians. “Mayor Daley has sometimes been good at making bold decisions like when he carved up Miegs Field to create Northerly Island.”

Lifson reads a question from the audience, “Is it possible to fix transit without fixing neighborhoods?” “Good question,” responds Bey. “Parts of the South Side have been depopulated.” But Schlickman notes that the RTA has studied the possibility of extending the Red Line to the far South Side and has determined that it would be the most worthwhile expansion of the CTA.

Another question form the crowd is, “Any advice for Rahm Emmanuel?” Bey responds, “The mayor of Chicago has to ride the CTA to really experience it. Daley didn’t do this.” Wisniewski says, “I would encourage him to think small and pay attention to details that affect the everyday transit rider’s experience, but also look at the big picture and think about everything that transit can be.”

Walking Lawrence Avenue

A stroll down Chicago’s most international street reveals delicious diversity

By John Greenfield

[This article also runs on the website Gapers Block,]

I’ve hiked the lengths of many Chicago streets over the years: Milwaukee, Western, Halsted, Archer, Grand, 63rd, Kedzie, Belmont, 79th and King. So it’s surprising that it never occurred to me to hike Lawrence, with its wildly varied strips of shops and restaurants, representing countries from all over the world.

But recently, on my way back from staying in a shack by the Wisconsin border, I took Metra south to the Ravenswood stop and then bicycled west on Lawrence at night. I needed to visit Flo’s Algiers Lounge, a dive at 5436 W. Montrose with a flashing Vegas-style sign and support pillars disguised as palm trees, for a magazine blurb. On the way I was dazzled by the neon along Lawrence in Albany Park, with signs in Spanish, Arabic, Korean and maybe a dozen other languages. The street definitely deserved a closer look.

Lawrence runs 10.5 miles across the city from Lake Michigan to Chevalier Woods, by the Des Plaines River. According to the book Streetwise Chicago by Don Hayner and Tom McNamee, real estate developer Lazarus Silverman was walking with his friend Bradford A. Lawrence through Silverman’s new Montrose subdivision when the developer reportedly said, “Let’s call this Lawrence Avenue.”

I get up painfully early on a Wednesday in early November to catch the 7:26 am sunrise at the lake at Lawrence. As I’m riding the Red Line north to the Lawrence stop the sky is striped cobalt, magenta and gold.

I walk east from the station to the lakefront and dip my fingers in the icy water at Montrose Beach as the fiery ball rises over the horizon. Seagulls, mallard ducks and crows chatter around me. Aside from the dull roar of traffic on Lake Shore Drive and the Hancock faintly visible to the south, this could be Cape Cod.

Heading back west, I come to an odd little house at 915 W. Lawrence with a sign that says “Hana To.” There are wavy, Asian-style shingles on the roof, boulders and a lion statue in front and a Buddha in the window. When I Google the address later it comes up as Hana to Yoko, a florist specializing in ikebana, Japanese flower arrangements.

The day has turned gray and chilly as I approach the Aragon Theater, 1106 W., where I notice architectural details I’ve never noticed before – colorful, mosaic-like designs on the windows and carved heads of maidens and jesters. On the west side of the adjacent el tracks there’s a colorful, surreal mural I’ve also never really looked at. My favorite element of the painting is a guy in a yachting cap with a pipe fishing at the lake.

The intersection of Lawrence and Broadway, 1200 W., filled with neon lights and theater marquees, is one of my favorites in Chicago. It’s surrounded by venues like the Aragon, the Kinetic Playground, the Green Mill, the Riviera and the shuttered Uptown Theater. Back in the 1920s when Charlie Chaplin was making films at nearby Essanay Studios the neighborhood must have been even more exciting.

I stop for a breakfast of potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream at the Golden House, 4744 N. Broadway, a cozy greasy spoon with red vinyl booths and mirrors on the walls with swirls printed on them. Next to me a thirty-something guy with graying hair and a hoodie strikes up a conversation, telling me his name is Binh and he’s from Vietnam.

I can barely understand him but I follow that he’s been in Chicago since 1989 and has also lived in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. He seems to have a mild mental disability. “I don’t eat here,” he says. “I just only drink coffee. “I eat at home – fried steak, noodles and rice. My grandfather says, ‘Eat rice, stay long.’”

A light rain begins as I continue west down Lawrence, past St. Bonifacius Cemetery, stopping to check out St. John’s Assyrian Church, 1421 W., and Manigua Academy of Dance and Music, 1756 W. offering classes in djembe, guiro and talking drum, Brazilian, Puerto Rican and Cuban dance. I stop into Sears, 1900 W., to take a break from the rain.

As I’m looking at boots, a guy with a Spanish accent says, “Oh, so you’re shopping for boots for the winter?” At first I think he’s an employee but then I turn around and see he’s a tall young man in a knit cap wearing Kelly-green running shorts. “Are you Jewish?” he asks. “Uh, why do you want to know?” I reply. “Well, I attended services at a synagogue recently and you look like the Jewish people I saw there,” he says. “Say, my apartment’s right behind the store – do you party?” “No I don’t, but thanks anyway,” I respond, walking away towards the jeans section. “Come on, fifteen minutes,” he calls after me.

The guy follows me to the stacks of Levis and explains, “I walked up to you because I’m gay and you were the handsomest guy in the store.” At 10:15 am I’m pretty much the only other guy in the store. “Look,” I say. “I’m flattered but I’m not interested.” “OK,” he says. “You know, I went to that synagogue because I wanted to learn about Kabala. They believe you can use spirituality to control God. You see, I’m a Satanist. I’ve seen Satan four times.” “OK, well, I think I’m going to shop for jeans now,” I say and he finally walks away.

Next I stop into George’s Deli, 1964 W., a Serbian place that sells roasted lamb and piglets, big jars of pickled peppers and fig jam, thick Bosnian sausages and slabs of dry bacon that look like spareribs. I duck into Farmers Garden Market, 2242 W., hoping to find a functioning farm stand but the shelves are almost bare except for a few seed packets. The old couple speaking to each other in another language at the counter tells me the growing season is over, but I later read that the place has been shut down for code violations.

I pass by the gateway to Lincoln Square’s semi-pedestrianized shopping area on Lincoln south of Lawrence, and stop at Avard Fairbanks’ 1956 statue of Honest Abe standing at Western, 2400 W. He’s standing at a podium with top hat in hand, gazing down his namesake avenue.

Isla Filipino restaurant, 2501 W. Lawrence, features some interesting sounding dishes like Kare-Kare: oxtails, tripe and green beans in peanut sauce with a side of shrimp paste brine; and Inihaw na Pusit: grilled squid stuffed with tomato and onions. Spaghetti Delight - ground beef, pork, hot dog, and Parmesan cheese in tomato sauce over noodles, served with fried chicken – seems to reflect the American influence on the archipelago, a former U.S. territory.

The incredible mix of ethnic eateries and shops has begun. TBS Restaurant, 2541 W. offers a buffet of Nigerian rice dishes and stews, plus American soul food. It’s just after the mid-term elections and the Olympic Club, 2615 W., a café catering to Greek immigrants, still has a sign for failed senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in the window.

I duck into Nhu Lan, a Vietnamese baker and sandwich shop at 2612 W., and munch a shrimp and pork roll while watching Obama discuss the recent election on TV. The shop also offers a wide selection of Banh Mi, sandwiches on French bread with pickled daikon and carrots, jalapenos and fillings pate and cold cuts, shrimp cake and meatballs. A big, yellow Buddha grins from atop a pastry case.

It’s just after Halloween, and there’s a sign up on the field house of Cross Park, 2700 W., “The supervisor has gone to Peterson Park to take down the Trail of Terror.” I continue past Sarajevo Restaurant, 2701 W., a Bosnian place specializing in Cevapcici, ground beef mini sausages served on fluffy bread with onions and melted cream cheese. Aden Live Poultry, 2731 W., slaughters chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, pigeons and quails in the Zabiha / Halal way, according to Muslim dietary laws.

Just east of the Chicago River, the headquarters of the Cambodian Association of Illinois, 2831 W., features intricate bas-relief designs and images of deities on the façade. Since 1976 the nonprofit has assisted refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide. The museum is closed at the moment, but two non-Cambodian women filming a documentary outside the building tell me an exhibit about survivors’ journeys from healing to productivity just closed.

As I cross the river I see old, half-sunken boats tied to the banks, and a Brown Line train passes on a bridge a block south. North of Lawrence on the river, the North Branch Sewage Pumping Station is a remarkably nice “Industrial Gothic” structure, when you consider its humble function.

The sun’s out again, lifting my spirits as I head into Albany Park. There’s a nice muffler man sculpture at 3 Stars Auto Body, 3011 W. Huaraches Restaurant, 3021 W., is one of many Michoacan-style Mexican restaurants along this stretch, offering a torta Cubana whose long ingredient list doesn’t have much in common with a traditional Cuban sandwich. Cuscaleco, 3125 W., is a Salvadorian and Guatemalan restaurant specializing in pupusas, thick discs of corn dough stuffed with various combinations of pork skin, beans, cheese and pumpkin.

As I approach Kedzie I start seeing business with signs in Arabic – Kedzie south of Lawrence is one of the areas major Middle Eastern business districts. Iraqi-owned Baghdad Kebab offers a $3.99 chicken shewarma or kefta kebab lunch special.

I duck into Novidades Latinas, a shop selling Ecuadorian products and other Latin American goods: groceries, soccer jerseys, wrestling masks and mini flags of many nations. Andean music plays on the sound system as I check out a DVD of a gangsta flick called “Cholo Americano.”

I come to the Brown Line’s Kimball stop, the end of the line, its awning supported by pillars shaped like giant femurs. Kids are sparring playfully outside the station – a girl picks a boy up by the wrists at spins him around. “Elise, what are you doing?” asks a woman who walks by, possibly their teacher.

Intrigued by a sign advertising Middle Eastern and Mexican baked goods, I drop into the Pita House, 3441 W., but find that so far the shop only stocks the former, although the clerk, a tall, soft-spoken African man with dreads, tells me they’re trying to hire a Mexican baker. I tell him about my project and asks him what he thinks makes Lawrence special. “It’s a melting pot,” he says. “You see the diversity, you see all different nationalities going to the train. On Kedzie it’s more Middle Eastern but here it’s a mixture of every race.” I buy some hand-shaped cookies from him.

A lingerie store at 3546 W. has the charmingly ESL name Sexy Girls of the Hollywood. Across the street Golden Linens, 3601 W., has a giant pink tapestry with the Playboy logo hanging outside. The name of a store at 3647 W., selling toys, handbags and adult DVDs, catches my eye: Chicago John Imports.

I stop into Dok-Il Korean bakery, 3844 W. Lawrence, and pick up a white bean doughnut and a piece of goroke bread, a croquette stuffed with egg, carrot, cabbage, onions and potato. When I ask the Latina clerk what’s inside, she has trouble recalling all the English words for the ingredients, so she tells me in Spanish instead.

The Admiral Theater, 3940 W., which opened in 1927 as a vaudeville venue, has operated as an adult movie house and gentleman’s club since the early ‘70s. It recently hosted a “Night of the Stripping Dead,” with dancers made up to look like zombies. Just a couple storefronts west, El-Jeeb Hajib and gifts, 3944 W., sells the head coverings traditionally worn by Islamic women.

Continuing west past Pulaski, 4000 W., pillars with Prairie-style ornamentation alert me I’m in the Mayfair neighborhood. Ssyal Korean Ginseng House, 4201 W. specializes in ginseng-infused chicken soup that’s supposed to be good for everything from high blood pressure to impotence. I make a note to come back next time I have a cold.

Across the street Kim’s International Music, 4200 W., sells pianos and orchestra instruments and offers lessons. I go inside and chat a bit with a well-dressed young man behind a desk there who tells me he’s been suffering from vertigo lately, dizziness due to inner ear problems. There’s an interesting display of the complex mechanism that leads from a piano key to the hammer that hits the string. An ad on the wall for Yamaha band instruments shows a blonde boy playing clarinet, his eyes aglow.

I stop into the Mayfair Public Library, 4400 W. Lawrence, to use the restroom. School is out by now and there are plenty of people there, including half a dozen girls and women in Muslim headscarves.

The Dog House 2, a trailer at 4501 W., sells Chicago classics like hotdogs, Italian beefs, Polishes, gravy bread and tamales on a bun. There’s a nice folk-art rendition of a Chicago Dog on the side of the trailer.

I’m just north of the 90/94 split at Wilson, so at about 4800 W. I cross the Edens Expressway and then the Kennedy four blocks later. Entering the Jefferson Park neighborhood, I pass by the Copernicus Foundation, 5216 W., a Polish cultural center with an onion-domed clock tower, then come to Sportif Importers, 5225 W., home of the second-grumpiest bike shop owner in Chicago.

Years ago on a cold winter afternoon I dropped in and asked if they stock fleece skullcaps to wear under your helmet. “No,” replied the owner, and proceeded to ignore me, even though there was no one else in the shop. I grew more sympathetic to him in 2004 when the local alderman Patrick Levar tried to seize the property via eminent domain so that one of his developer friends could build condos on it.

Song’s Martial Arts, 4800 N. Milwaukee has a cool logo of a praying mantis superimposed on a yin-yang painted on the window. Inside I see Korean and American flags and lots of shiny armaments: dagger-like sais, spears, battle-axes and nunchucks.

There are a lot of Polish businesses along Lawrence now, and I also notice the headquarters for the Independent Order of Svithiod, 5518 W. Lawrence, a Scandinavian fraternal society founded in 1880.

The street soon becomes largely residential, with occasional businesses popping up like Brigadoon Tavern, 5748 W., with the slogan “A place like this … happens once every hundred years,” a reference to the eponymous Broadway musical in which a magical Scottish village appear only once a century. Muzyka and Sons funeral home, 5776 W., has a nice Grecian statue next to the parking lot.

There’s a cluster of diverse shops and restaurants near Austin Avenue. I stop into Sandy’s, a Serbian bakery and deli at 5857 W., to buy a slice of burek, a chewy, savory cheese pastry. Inside a display case a fried pig’s head grins up at me. A middle-aged guy is talking to the clerk in Serbian. When she invites him to sample some pork cracklings in a bowl by the counter he says, “I don’t eat that stuff,” but I try a chunk and enjoy its salty greasiness.

Sicilia Bakery, 5939 W., specializes in cannoli, Sicilian fried, tube-shaped pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese. Displayed on the counter there’s a giant cannoli shell the size of a sewer pipe. The shop’s version of the sweet features chunks of dried fruit and it’s absolutely delicious.

At Austin, Lawrence jogs half a block north and is temporarily called Gunnison. The sun is now setting rosily over the simple, postwar two-story houses that line the street. I stop for a quick MGD at the Friendly Tavern, 6124 W. Gunnison, where beefy contractors in work boots and hoodies sit around the horseshoe-shaped bar, debating the merits of doing a paving job in concrete or brick.

Crossing Nagle, 6400 W., I’m in Harwood Height a village that, along with Norridge, is one of two suburbs that are almost completely surrounded by Chicago communities. I’ll have to cross these on my way to Schorsch Forest View, a Chicago neighborhood next to the forest preserve marking the terminus of Lawrence in the city.

By now it’s dark, the street is poorly lit and there’s no retail as I pass by the ½ mile-long Ridgemoor Country Club. The street jogs south again at Harlem where it becomes Lawrence once more. I stop for dinner at Old Warsaw, 4750 N. Harlem, a Polish buffet in a glitzy dining room where schmaltzy oldies like “Moonlight in Vermont” play soothingly on the sound system.

Pleasantly stuffed with pierogi, roast chicken, stuffed cabbage and hunter’s stew, I continue west on the dark suburban street. There’s almost nobody else out on the sidewalk, but when I overtake three middle-aged woman strolling together, they switch their conversation from English to Polish.

It’s a pretty dull walk at this point, enlivened only by the sign for Lazer Knights bar and grill, 8540 W., featuring a guy in a suit of armor firing a ray gun. When I duck my head inside the bar doesn’t look like anything special, so I keep walking.

A couple blocks later I reach the forest preserve at 9200 W. and the end of my walk. After a pit stop in the woods I head east again, then sprint to catch a CTA bus at Cumberland, 8800 W.

As I’m relaxing on the ride back to the Jefferson Park Blue Line stop, I think about all the different cultures represented on my walk along Lawrence: Japanese, Serbian, German, Filipino, Nigerian, Greek, Vietnamese, Bosnian, Cambodian, Mexican, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, Iraqi, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Korean, Polish, Scandinavian, Sicilian and more. It’s a mix that makes our city, and our nation, a great place to be.