Celebrate the tollway--in the weirdest, most ironic way that you can imagine
My brain is overloading on weirdness.
The Illinois Tollway: bridging communities, connecting lives, destroying ecosystems, causing headaches. Open roads for a faster future, more motor vehicle traffic for a postapocalyptic dystopia. Let's celebrate!
Believe it or not, Roll the Tollway--a sold-out bike ride on the brand-new south extension of I-355, the Veterans Memorial Tollway--is just one event in the corridor-wide grand opening celebration on Sunday, November 11. There's also a 5K run/walk hosted by Salute, Inc. and the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, the usual dedication and ribbon cutting ("Celebrate our first new tollroad in 20 years"), and community festivals in Lemont, Lockport, Homer Glen, and New Lenox, as well as throughout Will County. There's even free parking and shuttle service.
Now, I see at least three competing sources of tremendous irony in all this:
0. Wait--people actually wanting to be on, or anywhere near, a tollway? Free parking and shuttle service for a tollway? Aaaaaa, my brain...
1. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation is hosting an event to celebrate the grand opening of the very thing that's most contrary to their mission:
"The mission of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, founded in 1985, is to improve the bicycling environment and thereby the quality of life in the region. With more than 5,000 members, we do this by promoting bicycle safety, education and facilities, and by encouraging use of the bicycle as an energy-efficient, economical and nonpolluting form of transportation and as a healthful and enjoyable form of recreation.
"The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation recognizes the synergies between promoting bicycling and promoting walking and public transit. We align our advocacy with social equity and community improvement and we embrace the power of a broad multi-modal coalition to achieve our mission."
Yes, so let's celebrate a bigger, better interstate. Is your mind blowing yet?
But hold on: the proceeds from Roll the Tollway "will help fund the construction of a multi-use trail alongside the new extension." See, there's a silver lining. No, that's not quite accurate--what's happening is that the CBF is making that silver lining. This does, in fact, fall exactly within the scope of their vision. They're saying hey, as long as there's no way, at least for now, to avoid building all these roads and interstates, then let's at least make sure that we do it right. Let's include bikeways and walking trails, sidepaths and sidewalks, and ped bridges and underpasses with each new project. Let's take advantage of the rights of way created by these motor vehicle corridors and build a network of "active transportation" corridors alongside them. Let's show everyone, particularly in the suburbs, that it's possible for multiple forms of transportation to coexist and be utilized in the same area, and let's make it happen.
So maybe it's not so ironic after all.
2. Homer Glen's festival, called "The Community and Nature in Harmony," will feature, among other things, military reenactments and "various military displays." Yeah. How natural and harmonious.
Then again, it is the Veterans Memorial Tollway, and November 11 is
3. Amidst all the ironic, patriotic, memorial-themed celebration, it's easy to forget the real reason why we should remain cynical: the havoc that this thing has wrecked--and will continue to wreck--on the environment. The I-355 extension featured prominently in an alarming and thoroughly depressing special report last year by Chicago Wilderness Magazine called Roads: The Great Divide. Various ecologically essential and picturesque natural spots have been cruelly, ruthlessly, unnecessarily raped by the evil Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. The poor endangered dragonflies. What have we done?
It's a given the Chicago Wilderness consortium is going to come out swinging against any and all construction projects like the I-355 extension. After all, such groups exist to put a stop to this sort of thing, and their own missions are rarely as accommodating of suburban sprawl as that of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. Unfortunately, this means that most people are are simply going to tune out the environmental concerns--because that's what most people do whenever the environmentalist crowd starts wailing and warning about this and that.
Then again, the environmentalist crowd (hi) has a point. Does it really not bother you that the Des Plaines River is in perpetual danger of turning out like the Sanitary and Ship Canal? You know, the channel so filthy that the Illinois Waterway has to say that they can't be held liable if anyone falls in?
It looks like much ado is being made about the extension's Des Plaines River valley bridge, but according to Chicago Wilderness it was built all wrong, and no one really cared:
"The construction of the I-355 extension will bring invasive species and harmful salt into nearby forest preserves. Enclosing the bridge over the river would offer more protection for nature--a suggestion that was disregarded."
I think the casual shrug-off of the actual well-being of all that scenery contained in the "dramatic views of the corridor and surrounding area" wins the Irony Award.
Hey, the epic Dan Ryan reconstruction project also just finally came to end, you know. Where's the party?
Quote of the day:
"'Oh I love this job,' [NASA astronaut Scott] Parazynski said as they worked 220 miles above southeast Asia. 'Beautiful view.'"
Shucks, now I want to be an astronaut when I grow up all over again.
In other news, this. And then this. Also this.