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Chicago Might Be Broke, Corrupt And Cold-Blooded But It's Bike Friendly Too

By Mark Konkol | October 13, 2015 5:38am
 Rahm Emanuel touts Chicago as a bike-friendly city amid budget crisis and corruption scandal.
Rahm Emanuel touts Chicago as a bike-friendly city amid budget crisis and corruption scandal.
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Flickr Creative Commons

Chicago is becoming a tough place to call home.

If all the shooting and killing isn’t bad enough, our city continues to teeter on the brink of financial ruin.

Homeowners prepare to get socked with a historic property tax hike, and another bureaucrat — the arrogant, greedy former Chicago Public Schools chief, who appears headed to the federal pokey for allegedly spending taxpayer cash in exchange for kickbacks — again proves you can’t kill corruption in our town.

But let’s not blame any of those troubles on Chicago’s boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

He’ll tell you he didn’t create Chicago’s troubles and he’s doing his best to fix them.

So, there’s no point in discussing it any longer.

Instead, let’s talk about bicycling.

That’s the sunshine-and-rainbows topic Emanuel’s spin machine pumped out Monday to give the boss a little cover as he faced reporters for the first time since the feds indicted Barbara Byrd-Bennett — the mayor’s handpicked, school-slaying former CPS boss — for allegedly scheming to get kickbacks for doling out a $20 million no-bid contract.

Good news, the spin machine said, there’s going to be a new “bike park” in the West Loop for tech-industry millennials to lock up their two-wheel, pedal-powered, Earth-saving transportation machines.

Woo-hoo!

And — OMG, smiley face emoji, as the kids might post on Instagram — Emanuel’s administration delivered on a big-time campaign promise aimed at courting the bicycle vote with the recently completed 103 miles of protected bike lanes.

Don’t forget, Bicycle Magazine named Chicago the No. 2 most bike-friendly city in America — the equivalent of making TripAdvisor.com’s top places to eat pizza — and Mayor Emanuel wants to add 50 more miles of bike lanes protected by plastic pylons, among other things.

By the way, according to the City Hall spin machine, it’s another record year for Divvy Bike ridership.

Together, all these pro-bicycling investments gives people living in bike-friendly Chicago a “new alternative for transportation.”

You can thank one guy for that. That’s right, Mayor Emanuel.

Everyone can agree that’s great news … if you live or work in wealthiest parts of Chicago.

That’s where you’ll find most of Emanuel’s protected bike lanes and Divvy Bike stations.

It’s another example of the growing economic divide that splits Chicago into two cities — one where the rich get pampered and the other where the poor suffer under Emanuel’s administration.

DNAinfo.com data reporter Tanveer Ali put together a couple maps that illustrate the cycling infrastructure disparity in Chicago, America’s newly dubbed Second City of bike riding.

Take a look and you’ll see that Divvy prefers to pack stations close together — sometimes a block a part — in parts of town where the average household income tops $120,000 along the lakefront, North Side CTA train lines and, for the tourists and suburban commuters, in The Loop.

In neighborhoods south of Cermak, rare Divvy stations are sparsely located — a half-mile apart or farther.

A cynic might think those bike-sharing depots — especially the hardly used stations in Englewood that average a ride or two per month — were put there to create the illusion of fairness or to meet an unwritten South Side quota.

There isn’t a single bike-sharing station west of Western Avenue along the Orange Line leading to the working class neighborhoods near Midway Airport, south of 76th Street along the Red Line or the Metra lines that snake connect Beverly, Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood to the city center.

The entire West Side beyond Pulaski is a bike-sharing desert. The same goes for working class Northwest Side neighborhoods of Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook and Portage Park where, in some cases, catching public transit might be faster and more convenient via Divvy.

Take a peek at a map of Emanuel’s highly-touted protected bike lanes and you’ll see most of Chicago’s new, bike-friendly streets, whether it’s coincidental or not, are located in the wealthy parts of Chicago most densely dotted with Divvy stations.

Now, I’m not suggesting that City Hall bureaucrats would spend federal grant money to build protected bike lanes in rich parts of town to best benefit a bike-sharing company that once employed former transportation commissioner Gabe “Treehouse” Klein as a consultant and won $65 million contract to set up shop in Chicago without even being the lowest bidder.

That kind of thing would never happen in Chicago.

And even if you’re one of those cynical folks who think city government is always an insider’s game, there’s no way Emanuel would be involved in something like that.

The mayor made that perfectly clear Monday after spreading the good news about bicycling in Chicago.

When reporters asked if he knew anything about the $20 million contract his former schools chief set up as way to make an extra buck on the taxpayer dime, the mayor said with great sincerity, “I don’t get involved in contracts.”

Now that we've got that out of the way, there's no point discussing it anymore.

Instead, let's talk about them Cubbies.

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