28 February 2007

Elections are always fun

The municipal general election was yesterday; perhaps you noticed. Perhaps you were even one of the 30% of registered voters in the city of Chicago who actually showed up. I confess that I initially wasn't going to bother voting myself--his royal highness Richard M. "We want to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States" Daley wasn't going anywhere (as much support as Bill "Dock" "My first act as mayor will be to reopen Meigs Field" Walls had from the Friends of Meigs Field), and neither was my alderman, Toni Preckwinkle, a champion for affordable housing in an area being unevenly gentrified at the hands of the University of Chicago. [Sorry, I can't find a regular Web page on the Employer-Assisted Housing Program. If you can, please let me know.]

But various cowokers had pestered me about it all day ("You're betraying your celtic ancestors who came to this country illegally!"), so after work I stopped at my polling place to do my civic duty and cast my ceremonial vote. Well, the city that works still does. The highlight of my election day was being stopped at the required distance from my polling place by a campaign worker handing out flyers for an aldermanic candidate in a different ward. Someone else who didn't get their postcard?

Up in the 50th Ward, which I mentioned in a previous post, it looks like Bernard Stone will keep his seat and the North Shore Channel trail will probably remain indefinitely bridgeless. Drat. Well, it's not my neck of the woods--but it's all the same woods anyway, so yeah, I'm irked.

Edit: As was pointed out to me, Stone didn't win anything yet. There will be a runoff election in the 50th Ward come April. Keep the revolution rolling, northsiders!

Update: Okay, Stone won.

26 February 2007

Speaking of alternative fuels...

The plot ever thickens: now more ethanol = less beer?

From the Financial Times:
Blow for beer as biofuels clean out barley

"Jean-François van Boxmeer, chief executive of Heineken the Dutch brewer, warned last week that the expansion of the biofuel sector was beginning to cause a 'structural shift' in European and US agricultural markets.

"One consequence, he said, could be a long-term shift upwards in the price of beer. Barley and hops account for about 7-8 per cent of brewing costs."

That's right, increased demand for biofuel crops means less barley, which means higher beer prices. (It's not fair--I don't ever buy gas!) My advice: start hoarding six-packs of your favorite microbrews. Call it "collecting" and build a fancy rack if your wine snob friends object. Just a thought.

22 February 2007

If Illinois politics is a spectator sport, then Chicago politics is pro wrestling.

from Time Out Chicago:
Trails and tribulations

"Today, you can ride the [North Shore Channel Trail] north unhindered—-until you go underneath the busy intersection of Peterson and Lincoln Avenues, where the trail peters out. Oddly, it picks up almost immediately on the other side of the river. With no way across the water, cyclists must double back to Lincoln and cross the roadway bridge (with car traffic), or proceed north along Kedzie Avenue to Devon Avenue, where they can cross the river (again with traffic) on the Devon bridge before picking up the trail and continuing north.

"For the past two years, cycling advocates and Ald. Bernard Stone of the 50th Ward have butted heads over a bike bridge just north of Peterson that was supposed to solve that problem. The bridge was planned for and funded, according to Chicagoland Bicycle Federation officials, but Stone has chosen not to move forward with the project.

"Stone faces three opponents on the February 27 ballot, including Naisy Dolar, a former member of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and cyclist who has embraced the issue. On Saturday 17, bike activists are hosting the 'Build the Bridge!' concert to benefit Dolar, who, if elected, would become the city’s first Asian-American alderman."

I didn't think that gap--admittedly a bizarre one--was that bad when I rode on the North Shore Channel Trail (on my way to Wisconsin), but then again (1) I generally know what I'm doing and (2) compared to Lawrence Ave. under construction on a Wednesday afternoon that one little hiccup in the trail was a piece of cake. (The detour is well marked.) But I can easily see how that would be a major problem for most of the people who would want to use that trail. I'm just endlessly amused by the fact that they're actually turning it into a campaign issue up there.

21 February 2007

Because I can dream, right?

Cycling Wales
Nothing against Illinois, I just need to get out [of the country] more.

Speaking of new uses for old railroad right-of-ways...

Remember the crosstown expressway? Neither do I--the idea died before I was born, but it looks like someone is trying to revive it.

from the Chicago Tribune:
Madigan revives crosstown highway talk

" The Crosstown would be built along railroad right of way east of the Cicero Avenue corridor. It would run from near the junction of the Kennedy and Edens Expressways south to about 75th Street and east to the Dan Ryan Expressway."

Okay, tell me again why they can't just, you know, run a train along it? I know I'm not the only person to have this idea, but apparently it's a pretty bad one.

from Time Out Chicago:
If we ran the CTA

"7. Create an El line that runs along a West Side thoroughfare, say Western or Cicero Avenue

"Why: There are too many gaps in El service along the West Side, and bus travel from one end of the city to the other takes forever. Is it too much to ask for an El train to take us from the South Side to the Northwest Side without going into the Loop?

"Reality check: Apparently, the answer is, Yes, it is too much to ask—-building the new infrastructure would be just too damn expensive. 'This is a better neighborhood idea than the Circle Line (see page 22), but the reality is that new rail lines are horribly expensive,' [Joseph] Schofer [professor, department of civil and environmental engineering, Northwestern University] says, noting the eminent domain costs would be astronomical. 'And the ridership will never justify them in objective terms.' [Jim] LaBelle [deputy director, Chicago Metropolis 2020] agrees: 'An El line would be nice, but expensive.' CTA spokeswoman Taylor gives the final kibosh: 'The Circle Line is designed to do just that, provide neighborhood connections without having to travel to the Loop to make connections.'"

But do we really need another expressway cutting through the city? I know that a direct expressway link with Midway would be awfully convenient for, well, everyone, but how would a tollway from the junction to the Dan Ryan serve that purpose better than just a spur off the Stevenson? And wouldn't it create more problems than it would solve, in the end? Imagine traffic reports giving astronomically high rush-hour travel times for yet another choked expressway corridor, another famous name to curse every day, another huge, artifical gap in the urban landscape that arbitrarily divides communities.

Then again, I don't know anything about traffic flow patterns. If Cicero Ave. is already a heavily traveled corridor, then maybe it would be a good idea after all to divert some of that traffic onto a limited-access highway. Heavy traffic (accompanied by increased accident rates, or so I've heard) along the various alternate routes is certainly among the many woes of the Dan Ryan reconstruction project, and only some fraction of those drivers are people who theoretically could have taken the train instead.

19 February 2007

The dirt on "clean" fuels

FYI: Walked to work today. Too wet and slushy outside to feel entirely safe, and I sort of exploded an inner tube when I inflated my tires this morning. Whatever that brand is I bought last time, I need to stop buying it.

Anyway, thank you Gristmill:
Politicians do not appear to be comprehending the complexities
"Most environmental types have become familiar with the many negatives of corn ethanol by now. [For example.] They are just now warming up to the negatives of biodiesel made from soybeans, which takes five times as much land as corn to produce the same gas mileage. Your average American would stuff about 15 acres of soybean oil into their car annually, removing a valuable food commodity from futures markets. [Yeah! We could by hydrogenating all that soybean oil instead!]
"Second, I can convert my car to run on natural gas in a few days. Anyone can. Almost nobody does because they don't want to install a giant cylinder in their trunk and have to fill up every other day. This is an old idea that just refuses to catch on for lots of good reasons.
A diagram of why hydrogen is so inefficient can be found here."


16 February 2007

Speaking of rail beds in the north shore area...

from Wilmette Life via the CBF Media Center:
Towns eye railway bed for bike trail

"Officials from Glenview, Northbrook, Northfield and Wilmette are expected soon to team up to determine whether an abandoned railroad track can be developed as a bicycle trail.

"Concerned that the 8.5 miles abandoned by the Union Pacific Railroad might be developed for parking or utilities, Wilmette officials a year ago got their counterparts in the other suburbs talking about a North Shore trail."
"Additionally, an open house to present the preliminary plans tentatively has been scheduled from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. April 19 at Northbrook Village Hall, 1225 Cedar Lane."

Are you aware of how many problems this would solve for cyclists trying to get through northern Cook County? (Hint: many, if it's where I think it is.)

Update: I did some spying via Google Maps, and I think this rail bed runs parallel to the Edens. I might have to see about going to that open house in April.

In other just barely relevant news

It's Chicago's most important, most cherished, and yet most abused natural resource--Lake Michigan.

The winter 2007 issue of Chicago Wilderness Magazine has a special report on it.
Water: Demand & Supply

15 February 2007

In just barely relevant news

Mmm, truthiness...

Ben & Jerry's introduced a new flavor, Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream. It's just barely relevant because I guess you could eat it to supplement the global-warming-mitigating effect of riding your bike instead of driving. Alternatively, you could ride your bike to mitigate the effect of eating ice cream.

Hey, the news was deemed worthy of Gristmill, so I had to pass it on.

12 February 2007

And the hypocrite award goes to...

... the young woman who drove from Elgin for Critical Mass's protest of the Chicago Auto Show.

from the Chicago Tribune via the CBF Media Center:
Pedaling protest takes on car show

"Dressed as polar bears and Santa Claus and towing signs that read "True Patriots Don't Burn Oil" and "Be a Hero: Drive Less," a group of bicyclists gathered Saturday in front of McCormick Place to protest the Chicago Auto Show.
"Though it was cold and a little windy, Caitlin Casey, 18, said the protest was worth it. She drove from Elgin to participate."

Three words: bikes on Metra.

06 February 2007

Stop sign in the name of love

Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune asks, Who stops for stop signs?

Nobody, it seems--especially cyclists:

"As an avid cyclist, I am in favor of any attempt to control the dangerous behavior of drivers..."

"ZORN REPLY -- Zero point zero is surely the percentage of cyclists who obey stop signs absent other reasons to do so."

"Finally, a cyclist...complaining...about drivers...stopping at stop signs...sorry, the chutzpah is crushing me, I can barely breathe here."

Come on guys, you're making the rest of us look bad! Stop signs don't exist to keep cars from hitting you, they theoretically exist to keep everyone from hitting adorable little children with puppies.

Giving the Hiawatha a run for its money

Or, Wasn't there already one of these, like, a hundred years ago or something, and now it's a rails-to-trails conversion, so maybe, as my froworker says, we should bring existing abandoned railroad tracks back into service instead of converting them to trails, although I guess he's never heard of railbanking, except this new line would also utilize existing tracks, in which case, why are there so many redundant sets of tracks everywhere in the first place, and I still want to know, why doesn't the Hiawatha run along this line anyway, although I guess then it wouldn't have direct service to Mitchell Airport, but really, who the heck stops in Sturtevant, and does anyone else find all of this just incredibly ironic?

From the Chicago Tribune via the CBF Media Center:
Metra-Milwaukee link seen

"A Wisconsin agency pushing a $200 million Kenosha-to-Milwaukee commuter rail line that would link with Metra has come up with a funding plan and hopes trains could be running as soon as 2010, officials said Monday.

"The 33-mile, nine-stop line would use existing tracks and share a station with Metra in Kenosha, said Carl Mueller, a spokesman for the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority. The commission hopes to sell up to $50 million in bonds and pay them off by raising the $2 car rental fee in the affected counties to $15, Mueller said."

Edit: Hey, you can actually become a member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, or even join their network for free. And here I thought they just wanted my money.