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Tell Us Your “Commuter Idyll” Story Today, Be a Tour de Fat VIP

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Try out a wacky bicycle in the rodeo. Photo: Josh Koonce

Today’s the last day of our Commuter Idyll contest. That means it’s your last chance to tell us how you switched from a stressful car commute to a relaxing transit ride or stress-relieving walk to work — and win one of several prizes!

Last year’s contest was run by Streetsblog USA, and the winner was Jake Williams from Chicago, who switched from a 26-mile drive to Lincolnshire to a 12-minute walking commute to a new job.

We’ve got cool prizes this year thanks to a generous sponsorship from New Belgium Brewing, the employee-owned company from Fort Collins, Colorado who’s bringing Tour de Fat back to Palmer Square Park this coming Saturday.

What’s your commuting story? Did you give up on the cost and headaches of constant car breakdowns, then switched to listening to Talking Headways on Metra? Were you so sick of stop-and-go traffic on the Kennedy or Eisenhower that you instead chose to park the car and hop aboard the Blue Line instead?

Even if you don’t yet have an Idyllic story yet, but want to give it a try, New Belgium is also looking for someone to give up their car at the fest and get a new bike in return. You’ll have to apply online beforehand.

The Tour brings “bikes, beer, and bemusement” to every stop, including numerous live bands and a wacky bicycle rodeo, and also raises funds for local bicycle nonprofits. For Chicago, 100 percent of beer proceeds will be donated to West Town Bikes, a bike kitchen in Humboldt Park which teaches high school students how to repair bikes and manage a store.

John will be holding down the fort at the Streetsblog Chicago table, while I’ll be pouring $5 drafts of Snapshot and Fat Tire for West Town Bikes until 2:30 p.m.

Last year’s fest drew 8,000 attendees and raised more than $40,000 for after school programs at West Town Bikes. The fest starts with a bicycle parade (and cargo bike roll call) around Logan Square. Costumes are encouraged, so look for 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón in his Zorro outfit. Read more…

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Garrido Grandstands Against Milwaukee Road Diet at Public Meeting

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John Garrido and Dave Wians, holding stack of petitions. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, announced aldermanic candidate John Garrido hijacked a crowded community meeting about the city’s proposal for a safety overhaul of Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. He interrupted the event to present Chicago Department of Transportation engineers with what he said were 4,000 signatures in opposition to any reconfiguration of the street that would involve fewer travel lanes.

Most of this stretch of Milwaukee is a five-lane speedway, and the project area saw 910 crashes between 2008 and 2012, causing at least 17 serious injuries and three deaths, according to CDOT. In January of this year, two men were killed in a rollover crash on the 6000 block of the street, just south of Elston.

This section consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles, making it the least busy stretch of Milwaukee in the city. But while Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is generally a two-lane street, north of the Kennedy it has two travel lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, and the excess capacity encourages speeding. Recent CDOT traffic studies found that 75 percent of motorists broke the 30 mph speed limit, and 14 percent exceeded 40 mph, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are almost always fatal.

This stretch of Milwaukee is slated to be resurfaced next year, and CDOT plans to use the opportunity to reconfigure the street to improve safety for pedestrians, bike riders, transit users and drivers. The project would use $1.5 million in funding, eighty percent of which would come from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

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Current conditions on Milwaukee north of the Kennedy. Photo: John Greenfield

At the open house at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, CDOT presented various scenarios for the street makeover [PDF of presentation]. Currently, Milwaukee between Lawrence and the Kennedy, including the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center, is a two-lane street with rush-hour parking controls. CDOT has proposed eliminating the RHPCs on this stretch to make room for buffered bike lanes.

The department presented three possible configurations for the stretch of Milwaukee between the Kennedy and Elston, which has five lanes. Option A would retain all travel lanes and add a buffer on one side of the existing conventional lanes. Option B would convert one travel lane in each direction to wide bike lanes with buffers on both sides. Option C would convert travel lanes to parking-protected bike lanes, which would provide the greatest benefit in safety for all road users, since the bike lanes would also shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage speeding by motorists.

All three scenarios would also add high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian islands, and better traffic signal coordination. Studies have shown that street configurations with a total of two travel lanes plus a turn lane in each direction can easily handle up to 20,000 vehicles per day, so CDOT predicts that options B and C would have little negative impact on traffic flow and would actually improve northbound traffic flow during the morning rush.

Option C would require removing roughly 20 percent of on-street parking spaces to maintain sight lines. However, parking counts show that, in general, spaces on this stretch of Milwaukee are currently used as little as 50 percent of the time, and not more than 90 percent of the time, so there would be a relatively minor impact on the availability of parking.

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CDOT & CPD Launch Annual Crosswalk Safety Stings

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A plain-clothes police officer (blue top) crosses the street. Photo: John Greenfield

You might have noticed many square, black bases bolted in the center of Chicago streets, which held “Stop for Pedestrians” signs before they were taken out by motorists. These testify to the fact that many local drivers don’t operate safely around crosswalks.

In an attempt to change that behavior, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Police Department once again launched a pedestrian safety campaign, including crosswalk stings and ads reminding drivers to stop for people in crosswalks. As part of last year’s campaign, the police department wrote more than 1,200 tickets to motorists who failed to stop, resulting in $120 fines.

Earlier today, the city held a press conference at Clark Street and Germania Place in Old Town, where the police were conducting a sting. There’s a pedestrian island here, with chunks of concrete missing due to careless drivers, and “Stop for Pedestrians” signs were installed a while ago at crosswalks on the north and south legs of the intersection. Signs further north and south of the intersection warned drivers of the crosswalk enforcement event. Unfortunately, one of them was partially blocking the bike lane on Clark.

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What would Alanis Morisette have to say about this? Photo: John Greenfield

Plain-clothes police officers repeatedly crossed the street, while another officer in a squad car stood by, waiting to chase down drivers who failed to yield. In general, motorists were stopping when pedestrians were in the crosswalk, and sometimes even when the crosswalk was empty. Occasionally, the cop in the car would zoom out of his spot with lights and siren on to ticket an offender.

A nearby resident I spoke to said that drivers are generally pretty good about yielding to people on foot at this location. However, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said this intersection was chosen for the sting because there have been some crashes here. Similar “crosswalk awareness initiatives” are planned citywide at 60 crossings near schools, senior housing and business strips. The program is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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Active Trans’ Ron Burke, Scheinfeld and IDOT’s Bola Delano face the cameras. Photo: John Greenfield

“On average, roughly 3,000 pedestrians are hit by motor vehicle [drivers] every year in Chicago, resulting in an average of 30 deaths per year,” Scheinfeld told reporters. “This is unacceptable. Our goal is to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent over the next five years, and to eliminate pedestrian fatalities within ten years.”

Scheinfeld cited CDOT safety initiatives like bumpouts, speed humps, and countdown walk signals as part of that effort, along with the Safe Routes Ambassadors program, which educates school children about safe walking and biking. 800 “Stop for Pedestrians” PSAs are going up on CTA buses, 100 are being installed in bus shelter posters, 50 are being displayed on news racks, and 40 are going up on solar garbage compactors. Notably, each ad includes an image of a bicyclist, which implies that lawbreaking behavior by bicyclists is a comparable threat to pedestrians as dangerous driving, when that’s obviously not the case.

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Share Your “Commuter Idyll” Story and Win Tour de Fat VIP Passes

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Mucca Pazza performs at the Tour de Fat. Photo: Steven Vance

Every year at the Chicago stop on Tour de Fat, the fantabulous bicycle and beer festival hosted by New Belgium Brewing, a gutsy “roll model” steps on stage to make the Car-for-Bike Swap. At the end of the fest, Saturday, July 12, in Palmer Square, a contestant will hand over his or her car keys, and pledge to live automobile-free, in exchange for a stipend to buy a new commuter bike. If you’ve been meaning to make the lifestyle switch yourself, can apply here to be this year’s swapper.

For the first time this year, New Belgium is also generously sponsoring Streetsblog Chicago’s Commuter Idyll contest. In last year’s contest, put on by Streetsblog USA, readers were asked to share their stories of how they changed their daily work trip from a hellish car commute to a relaxing stroll, pedal, or transit ride.

Since our city has some of the worst conditions for driving in the country — which is one reason this is a good city for walking, biking and public transportation — it was no surprise that the national winner was a Chicagoan. Engineer Jake Williams told the inspiring tale of how he ditched his nightmarish 26-mile drive to a job in Lincolnshire and started a new gig in the city, which he could walk to in 12 minutes, greatly improving his health and happiness.

Jake’s girlfriend and her co-worker at Sam Schwartz Engineering were so excited that he won Streetsblog’s “Commuter Idyll” challenge that they created this “infographic” of his commutes.

Did you make the change from a similarly soul-numbing auto slog to a fun, energizing bike commute? Did you switch to riding CTA or Metra so you could up on emails, reading, or sleep on your way to work? Did you move closer to your job, or take a new position closer to your home, so that you could spend less time commuting and more time doing the things you love?

Tell us your story in the comments section. The grand prize winner will get a VIP pass to the Tour de Fat, including two complimentary beer tokens, free food and access to the VIP area, plus a goodie bag with a t-shirt, bottle opener and pants strap for cycling. Three runners-up will get VIP passes.

If you’ve never been to the Chicago Tour de Fat, you’ve been missing out on a heck of a bike party, for a great cause. The free, family-friendly event includes a costumed bike parade around the neighborhood, live entertainment, a corral full of Frankenbikes you can test ride, tasty chow and, of course, plenty of delicious craft beer. Best of all, the proceeds go to West Town Bikes, a bicycle education center in nearby Humboldt Park. Last year’s Chicago fest drew 8,000 attendees, raising more than $40,000 for West Town.

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Eyes on the Street: Construction on the Bloomingdale Trail

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At this location, the trailbed has been lowered several feet. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, Steven and I got a sneak peek at construction on the Bloomingdale Trail on a walking tour led by Jamie Simone from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the elevated trail and linear park project for the city and the park district.

Last Friday, there was some bad news and some good news about the Bloomingdale, AKA The 606. The Chicago Department of Transportation announced that the opening of the basic trail, previously slated for this fall, has been postponed until June 2015. Construction delays, caused by the unusually long winter, are to blame.

The $95 million project is currently about 45 percent complete, but cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to postpone the relocation of utilities and structural work, CDOT said. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings. The upside of this delay is that more of the landscaping will be done by the trail opens than was originally planned.

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Walking up the embankment at Whipple. Photo: John Greenfield

In a positive development, TPL also announced that it will be buying the Magid (not a typo) Glove factory at 1800 North Ridgeway for about $3 million, and converting it into the trail’s sixth ground-level access park. The new park will be located at the western trailhead, and will provide about four acres of new green space in Logan Square, the second-most park-poor community area in Chicago.

For the tour, we showed up at the field office of TransSystems, the company that is overseeing the trail construction. Joining us was a tour group from Version Festival, an art, planning, and placemaking fest spearheaded by Bridgeport cultural impresario Ed Marszewski. We donned hardhats and safety vests and strolled a couple blocks to a trailhead at Julia de Burgos Park, at Bloomingdale and Whipple.

Looking west from the top at Julie de Burgos park

Looking west from the trailhead by Julia de Burgos Park. Photo: Steven Vance

At access points, crews are lowering the trailbed so that it will slope down towards street level, making it accessible to people in wheelchairs, and everyone else, via gently sloping ramps. Trailheads will be provided every quarter-mile or so, and most locations won’t have stairs, Simone said. The linear park will generally be 16 to 18 feet above the ground and thirty feet wide, with the trail itself consisting of a ten-foot-wide concrete path, with two-foot-wide soft rubber shoulders for jogging.

The different heights of the trail will create an undulating effect, which will calm bike traffic and provide an interesting walking and cycling experience, according to Simone. “Chicago is a completely flat city,” she told out-of-towners on the tour. “So we just love any kind of hills. The trail will basically be the biggest hill in Chicago.”

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CDOT Aims to Install Over 1,000 Bike Parking Spaces in 2014

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CDOT recently installed this bike corral on Milwaukee Avenue, outside the Harding Tavern. Photo by author.

The new Chicago Department of Transportation bike parking program manager, Kathleen Murphy, described the upcoming summer and fall installation season during the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting two weeks ago. She outlined three initiatives that will get over a thousand new bicycle parking spaces installed on sidewalks and roadways.

Murphy is continuing the city’s long-standing program of siting and arranging installation of hundreds of regular Chicago U-racks. This year, she said, the city aims to install 400 new racks, a slight decrease from the 500-600 new racks that were installed in recent years but still a net gain of 800 bike parking spaces.

In-street bike parking corrals, with room for 12 bicycles apiece, will greatly expand across Chicago this year. Murphy pointed to a new bike parking corral that was installed just after the MBAC meeting, outside the Harding Tavern at 2732 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that it replaced one metered car parking space, which was swapped with a reserve space. Scales also said that the bike parking corral outside Intuit Art Center, on Milwaukee just south of Ogden and Chicago, will return next month after being removed for repaving.

Murphy sais she’s working on getting 15-20 more corrals installed this year. Scales said the corrals near the following sites are in different stages of the application process.

  • On The Route Bicycles in Lakeview, at 3144 N. Lincoln
  • Second City in Old Town, at 1616 N. Wells
  • Fat Cat in Uptown, 4840 N. Broadway
  • Three locations near Six Corners, at 4820 W. Irving Park, 4015 N. Milwaukee, and 4018 N. Cicero
  • Outside several of FLATS Chicago’s residential buildings, mostly in Uptown and Edgewater

Murphy also said she is continuing CDOT’s program of relocating under-used racks. About 200 existing bike racks will be removed, refurbished, and reinstalled in new locations where they’ll see more use.

This summer, Murphy said that CDOT will launch a new website to collect suggestions for new bike rack locations. It will be similar to the Divvy station suggestion map, which was developed by Streetsblog’s parent organization, OpenPlans. Scales said the new website “will be available for public use in a couple of weeks.”

Finally, CDOT is looking for different types and designs of bike parking to be included in the next contract, and Murphy said you can email her with your suggestions.

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Scheinfeld Lauds Chicago’s Bike Gains at Rally; Pedicabbers Protest

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Members of the Chicago Pedicab Association protest at this morning’s rally. Photo: CPA

Despite the gloomy weather this morning, hundreds of people pedaled to Daley Plaza for the annual Bike to Work Rally, where city officials provided an update on Chicago cycling initiatives. Among the cyclists were pedicabbers defying the city’s recently enacted ban on rush-hour pedicab use in the Loop to protest the ordinance but, happily, no $500 tickets were issued.

Unlike last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not speak at the rally, but he did stop by for a few minutes near the end of the event to greet cyclists and take photos with them. Instead, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld gave the traditional “state of the union” speech on local bike efforts.

Scheinfeld noted that before Emanuel took office in 2011, Chicago’s reputation as a great cycling city had declined. In 2001, Bicycling Magazine rated Chicago the best big U.S. city for biking, but by 2010, New York City had claimed that honor. She argued that Emanuel’s support for cycling has brought our city back to the forefront.

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The Crowd at Daley Plaza. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

The commissioner noted that, under the current administration, the city has built roughly 40 miles of buffered bike lanes and 16.5 miles of protected lanes. The number of people riding bikes to work has tripled since 2000, and Chicago now has the second-highest total number of bike commuters of any American city, behind only NYC. She added that, on some Chicago streets, the number of bike trips is almost the same as car trips. For example, Milwaukee sometimes sees upwards of 7,000 bicycles a day.

The commissioner also touted the success of Divvy: in less than a year, the system has racked up 22,000 annual members, over 220,000 day pass sales, and 1.5 million rides, covering more than 3.3 million miles. She added that the recently announced $12.5 million Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois sponsorship of the system will help fund the expansion of bike-share into new neighborhoods, as well as bikeway maintenance and bike education programs.

However, Scheinfeld acknowledged that Chicago still has a long way to go before it is truly bike-friendly, noting that the city has seen two bike fatalities this year. The goal of the city’s “Zero in Ten” initiative, announced in 2012, is to eliminate all traffic fatalities. She argued that city efforts like innovative bikeways, safety education, and traffic cameras are helping to make this vision a reality.

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Pedicabbers Plan to Defy Loop Ban by Attending City’s Bike to Work Rally

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Pedicabs parked outside City Hall during a hearing on the ordinance. Photo: John Greenfield

Tomorrow’s Bike to Work Rally, 7 to 9 a.m. in Daley Plaza, will celebrate the act of using pedal power to get to your place of business. Mayor Rahm Emanuel may show up to give a speech touting Chicago’s strides towards becoming a more bike-friendly city. However, due to the city’s new pedicab ordinance, which bans the vehicles from the Loop during rush hours, many of those who bike for a living are prohibited from riding their work cycles to the rally.

The Chicago Pedicab Association, a nonprofit trade group, plans to highlight that irony with an act of civil disobedience. Members plan to pedal their vehicles to the plaza to conduct a press conference that will discuss how the new law, passed on April 30, is impacting their profession.

In addition to the Loop prohibition, pedicabbers are banned from pedaling on State and Michigan between Congress and Oak. They are required to obtain a $250 annual license and a $25 vehicle decal. Operators are required to carry liability insurance and post their fare structure on their vehicle, instead of negotiating the price before or after a ride. The number of pedicab licenses in the city is capped at 200.

CPA board member T.C. O’Rourke (a friend and former coworker of mine) estimates that the new rules have resulted in an 80 percent decrease in the number of pedicabs on the streets, and said his organization wants to call attention to the problem tomorrow. He expects that a handful of his colleagues will risk $500 tickets to attend the Bike to Work Rally. “We don’t want to be a disturbance,” he said. “We just want to draw attention to the fact that we can neither bike nor work downtown at that time.”

When the CPA tweeted about the ironic situation, downtown alderman Brendan Reilly, who helped spearhead the ban, was unsympathetic:

O’Rourke says the arduous requirements for licensing are one reason for the steep drop in the number of operators. These include a criminal background check, fingerprinting, a drug test, a physical exam, city debt clearance, a test on the ordinance and local geography, and a review of driving records.

By June 7, when the law was supposed to take effect, O’Rourke was the first and only person to have succeeded in getting a pedicab license. As a result, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection sent out a memo stating that, for the time being, licensing requirements would not be enforced. However, the memo said operating requirements, such as the geographic restrictions, would be enforced.

Chicago Rickshaw owner Rob Tipton, who owns 20 pedicabs and leases them to operators, said the ordinance has had a chilling effect on business. While there are usually 40 or 50 people renting his vehicles during the summer, this year he only has five operators. “I’m afraid we’re going to go out of business,” he said.

Tipton said it’s difficult for pedicabbers to make a living when they’re banned from the sections of town with the highest density of pedestrians and tourists. O’Rourke said it’s virtually impossible for operators to avoid State and Michigan without pedaling their heavy vehicles several blocks out of the way.

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Mia Birk Praised Chicago’s Bike Gains at Yesterday’s Meet-and-Greet

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Mia Birk talks to Streetsblog readers at yesterday’s meet-up.

It was great hanging with Streetsblog Chicago readers at yesterday’s meet-and-greet with noted bike and pedestrian planner Mia Birk, co-hosted by her planning firm, Alta Planning + Design at Vinyl in River North. Birk also heads Alta Bicycle Share, which runs the Divvy program for the city of Chicago. She served as Bicycle Program Manager for the city of Portland, Oregon, from 1993 to 1999, and helped launch the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Birk recently published the memoir Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet.

Speaking before the group, Birk heralded what she called a sea change in transportation planning across the country in recent years, and in Chicago in particular. “Chicago has already been on the leading edge because of Active Trans and because of former Mayor [Richard M.] Daley,” she said. “This city was already a bright light. But then, in the last few years, some things kind of clicked.”

“In my mind, those cities that are really clicking have some human elements that fall into place all at once,” she said. “They have really great advocacy organizations, but it could also be a blog, and it could also be a bike commuter group, or it could be neighborhood associations, or business associations. It’s leadership at the community level, clicking at the same moment that the political leadership is really not just saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, bikes, I like bikes, bikes are good’ — but is really leading on bikes, loves bikes, wants bikes, gets it.”

She noted that the movement towards a more bikeable Chicago picked up speed after Rahm Emanuel took office as mayor, and appointed former transportation chief Gabe Klein and current commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. “Amazing things have happened over the last few years in Chicago,” she said.

She brought up the thriving Divvy program, now approaching its one-year anniversary, as proof of the current administration’s success in getting big things done for biking in a short amount of time. “Divvy is really a great example of how game-changing bike-share can be,” she said. “If you’d asked me five years ago where city governments should put their money — protected bike lanes or bike share — I probably would have said protected bike lanes. Now, I would say both.”

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Join Us Tonight For Our Streetsblog Chicago / Alta Happy Hour

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Bike planner extraordinaire Mia Birk.

Tonight, Streetsblog Chicago will be co-hosting a happy hour with Mia Birk‘s planning firm, Alta Planning + Design. Join us from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. in the downstairs bar area at Vinyl, 121 W. Hubbard Street.

Mia served as Bicycle Program Manager for the city of Portland, Oregon, from 1993 to 1999, a pivotal period in the city’s transformation to a cycling Mecca. She also co-founded Portland State University’s Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation and the National Association of City Transportation Officials. At the happy hour, she’ll talk about her professional and personal experiences with transportation cycling.

Streetsblog events are a great place to meet fellow readers face-to-face, and share your passion for (and critiques of) walking, biking, and transit. Delicious craft beer and small plates will be available for purchase, or you can challenge other Streetsblog readers to a game of pool or darts.

Our intrepid Chicago editor, John Greenfield, will arrive at the event with a renewed appreciation for the Chicago region after his latest end-to-end exploration of the city and its environs. Take a moment tonight to ask him about his adventures!