Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance doesn’t just report on transportation news — sometimes he makes it.
Case in point is the city’s newest cycling amenity, a bike footrest and handrail that Steven and his friend Ryan Lakes recently installed at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Ogden, across the street from the Matchbox bar. The footrest is a very simple piece of street furniture, a place to place your right foot and a bar to grab onto while waiting for a red light. The guys are calling their creation a “Curbee.”
This type of footrest is common in Copenhagen, but if I hadn’t been told otherwise, I might have assumed this Chicago version was the result of a guerrilla streetscaping intervention. However, the Curbee has the blessing of the local authorities.
However, this being regulation-happy Chicago, it’s not surprising that the project had a long rollout. Back in March 2013, Steven brainstormed the idea with Ryan, an architect, designer, and West Town Bikes board member. Ryan designed the footrest, and they quickly fashioned a prototype out of scrap wood.
After they pitched the final design to FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), the bicycle law firm agreed to fund the project. Steven and Ryan hired Adam Clark, owner of Pedal to the People mobile bike repair service, to fabricate the Curbee out of steel.
Getting a public use permit for a piece of street furniture, such as a bench or bike parking rack, requires the approval of the Chicago Department of Transportation and the local alderman. So, that July, Steven and Ryan invited then-CDOT chief Gabe Klein to test out the footrest next to the Dearborn protected lanes, at Monroe, as well as at its current Milwaukee location.
Klein liked the idea, but 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly opposed the Dearborn location, arguing that the Loop is too cluttered with street furniture as it is. However, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, who’d used Curbees on a fact-finding trip to Copenhagen sponsored by the advocacy group Bike Belong, was open to the idea.
In September, Burnett tried out the footrest at the Milwaukee location, using a Divvy bike that Steven checked out for him. The alderman was sold on the idea that the Curbee would encourage cyclists to wait for the green at Milwaukee/Ogden, where it’s tempting to disregard the stoplight, because there are several different signal phases.
With Burnett’s blessing, Steven submitted the permit application at the city’s Small Business Center in April, just before he left on a month-long trip to Europe. West Town Bikes, who is providing the insurance, sponsored the permit. Steven says he was pleasantly surprised that the application process only took 45 minutes, when he’d blocked out two hours for the task.
When he checked in earlier this month about the status of the application, he learned that City Council had approved the permit only ten days earlier. It’s pretty amazing that all 50 aldermen have to give approval before a piece of bent metal can be bolted to the sidewalk, isn’t it?
The footrest was installed last Sunday and Steven and Ryan have hung out on the Matchbox’s patio, sipping mojitos while observing how people use it. “We’ve seen and heard some good reactions, but from what we’ve seen it’s not obvious what people should do with it,” Steven told me. The footrest has no text on it, save for FK Law’s website address. “A very small number of people are pros: they coast up to the Curbee and put their right foot on it without even looking!”
If you’re stoked to try out the new footrest, the first that we’re aware of in the U.S., take a spin up Milwaukee this weekend and Curbee your enthusiasm. Let us know what you think in the comments section.