A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum…

Background Reading


You can never put a genie back in the bottle. When theAtlanticCities article appeared a few days ago there was a tepid recognition of what that might mean for the ChainLink. The group has become over the years very insular and self-absorbed. Lots of very wild comments have wafted through its virtual halls. And frankly quite a bit of it is driven by one person who by means of a dozen or so alter-egos drives conversations in directions they should never have taken. It has been a revisitation of the Walls of Jericho strategy for quite some time now.

A year ago someone in the group decided that if Critical Mass as a concept could work in the real world why not try the same thing in the virtual one. So we did what Chicagoans have done for dozens of decades, we employed our version of the Walls of Jericho by having a roundtable of signups of new members of the ChainLink.

Overnight the number of users climbed to nearly 8,000 and now is sitting at 9,000. Pretty impressive for a city with such a paltry number of actual commuters in play. And then the big play was made for some sort of redoing of the forum and it was determined that there would be a need for some $15K of services. Of course nothing seems to have occurred as yet. But someone is sitting on a wad of cash and most of that was given by under 500 donors and of that 500 or so quite a few gave their sums in installments over a few days. Again the Walls of Jericho.

ChainLink Is A Shill For Active Transportation Alliance

If you think that Chicago politics is incestuous you only need to take a look at the overly cozy relationship between ChainLink and Active Transportation Alliance. The ChainLink functions as conduit for the propaganda that flows out of the Active Transportation Alliance. Whenever John Kass writes an article critical of the Urban Cycling Community it is the hue and cry from the ChainLink that sets in motion the effort by the Executive Director of the Active Transportation Alliance to counter the “bad press“.

Ron Burke dashes off a letter to the editor with the usual phrases like “if only we had more bicycle infrastructure all would be sweetness and light” or “why try and crackdown on scofflaw cyclists when it’s those pesky motorists who are the real problem” or “blah, blah, blah“.

Then there are the two jokers from GridChicago and now BlogStreet who rather than keeping the ChainLink crowd at arms length to maintain some sort of reportorial objectiveness belly up for dim sum with the gang and everyone is congratulatory about their ability to make something like 500 souls appear to be an army of follows numbering in the thousands. If this were a series of corporations looking to shelter cash one could understand all the chumminess. But these are supposed to be folks who are hard at work trying to change the cycling scene for the better.

But things are a bit too incestuous. The GridChicago guys have a clearly articulate history of despising the suburbs from which most of the money donated on an annual basis for running the ATA actually comes. One would guess that over time suburbanites that start to pick over the threads on the ChainLink would discover just how unwanted they really are.

But The ‘Pushback’ Is Coming From An Unexpected Source

I Ride a Bike and Drive A Car

I Ride a Bike and Drive A Car

The ChainLink really ought to change its name to the PressureValve. Its primary function is to allow self-absorbed activists who despite this kind of blather (see graphic at right) actually hate cars and openly express the wish to have them dropped into sink holes and buried.

In fact the level of venom towards motorists in general is pretty amusing. But over time you realize that this kind of venting by young Muslims here in the US is what leads to home grown terrorist cells and suddenly nothing is really that funny.

A thread on Utility Company work is what caught my eye. Chicago is full of active street work all the time. I ride the north, west and south side streets of the city and am intimately aware of just how troublesome the aftermath of street digging can be. You get these mounds of rough concrete which on a bike equipped with narrow high pressure tires can  be a bone shaking experience.

The participants start offering up information like this to explain the seemingly chaotic patterns left in the concrete:

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km on Tuesday

  1. These extended stretches are not done by utility companies, but by the city or it’s subcontractors. They are typically water main replacements. Typically the sign “Building a New Chicago” will give it away.
  2. It’s understood that these concrete patches are not the permanent pavement, right? I agree that it often takes longer than one would think is necessary, but ultimately they are all getting repaved with fresh asphalt.

Just sayin’

Since this forum is essentially the playground of activists it does not take long before someone will suggest a letter writing campaign or a crushing phone calling effort to put pressure on the powers that be in City Hall. But there is a delicate balance between being too aggressive with the city and having some patience because after all if the Mayor gets upset then CDOT gets fewer funds to make the streets pretty shades of green with PVC bollards to in effect make cycling better for everyone on the planet.

Some of the gang offers explanations of why things are the way they are when construction season approaches:

Reply by Davo on Tuesday
FWIW a friend explained why these stretches are left “grooved”

  1. The concrete and asphalt is laid by 2 different crews. Some weird city ordinance states that any sort of road work that goes over a “10 hr” period of time needs to have another crew/business come to finish it. So the city or utility company has to fill the hole but the finished work goes conveniently over this “10 hr limit” so another contractor has to finish it.
  2. Asphalt needs certain conditions for it to be applied properly. This doesn’t explain why some stretches have been like this for over a year now though.
  3. I have heard that concrete, in many ways, is cheeper and better than asphalt. But asphalt looks “prettier” so we go with that instead.

This is all third hand info though so take from it what you will.

And this kind of exchange goes on endlessly on the ChainLink. Back in the day when party lines were common from the phone company your personal business could be all over town in short order. This is happening for Chicago right now and for the ChainLink is specific as their notoriety increases. It will have repercussions for everyone concerned.

Now one fellow offers up a response:

Reply by Steve Cohen on Tuesday
I don’t fully accept the “two crews explanation”. Yes, I know that asphalt requires different technology and therefore different crews than concrete, but if the lag time was going to be close to a year they should have made them smooth the concrete and not accepted this half-finished work.

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance on Tuesday
Hey friends, we saw this (Steve, we saw your blog comment too…also, thanks for being a member)…we’ve talked to CDOT and others about this and will respond in more detail soon.
Thanks much,
Ethan Spotts, Active Trans

Like I said the coziness of the relationship between the ChainLink and ATA is pretty impressive. ATA is monitoring the conversations here to know how best to lead. It’s a bit like being a GOP Senator and about to vote on a controversial bill so instead of doing what you think is right you call your donors and ask what they think and have your aides tally up the dollars lost or gained by your vote. If the Tea Party is not threatening to run a primary challenge against you then you forge ahead with whatever will bring in the biggest numbers in terms of contributions and you hie yourself off to a cocktail party after casting your vote.

The conversation gets steered towards a comparison of how things are done in the suburbs vs. the city:

Reply by Liz yesterday
I wonder if this is an issue in terms of the city/utility contract agreements to pavement design. Since the concrete strips are designed to meet the general specifications by the city, the utilities likely use them over asphalt so they don’t have to worry about the grade of backfill being used and proper compaction (this is what causes so many sink holes). The use of concrete is to cover up poor installation practices with asphalt patching.

City specification for street repair are a disaster, I’ve worked in a public works department for a suburb and the standards and supervision are much higher. Part of the problem is that the roadway repairs and CDOT are vastly underfunded, and aren’t allocated the correct resources for utility work inspection.

I wonder if CDOT requirements include the need to trowel or broom finish concrete? If not the utilities are fulfilling their requirements with the rough surface. If they are required to finish to surface, then they’re liable to replace sections that have not been properly installed.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in news outlets across the country as reporters suddenly realize that you do not need to call individuals on the phone to get at the dirty laundry of Chicago, just listen in to the ChainLink on a regular basis.

Reply by Steve Cohen 23 hours ago
Well, I submitted a street cut complaint. I may call the alderman, but he’s not MY alderman, I don’t even live in the City so how far will that go?

I have to say, I think we’re getting a little bit of the runaround here. What I still want to know is what is POLICY on this matter?

  1. Why are construction crews being paid for construction that fails to meet standards. Would an asphalt paving job of this level of bumpiness be accepted? Shouldn’t it be POLICY that all road-construction work have a smoothness requirement?
  2. If the plans are to eventually cover with asphalt, what is POLICY on lag time between the two coverings? Is a year acceptable? Two years? What?

I would like to see ATA make a public issue out of this, something more than telling members to call their alderman, though that is a start.

I think Mayor Rahm Emmanuel wanted to have more transparency in government. But this is the sort of thing that really cannot be managed by your press secretary to help steer the conversation where you want it to go. This is an unfettered look at how things are done and how residents respond to them.

Reply by h’ 1.0 22 hours ago
I would like ATA to offer a scoop of free mint chocolate chip ice cream at every major intersection to anyone on foot or on a bike.

And whenever things start to get a bit over the top you can always count on Howard Kaplan or one of his alter egos to pop up and say something ironic or in fact simply inane.

Reply by Steve Cohen 21 hours ago
What is the point of this snark? The question is how we move forward. Individual complaints may help but I still think we should be able to do better than that?

There is not point to the “snarkiness“. It just happens. This after all is the ChainLink. And as the audience for this fiasco of a forum grows so will the perception that Chicagoans are assholes.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 19 hours ago
I think the first step is figure out if the problem is with how the standards are written, or how they’re enforced. What exactly are the utility crews required to do? If they’re just required to fill the hole, then they have fulfilled their duty and we should be lobbying for better restoration standards (ie. exposed concrete shall be broom finished). If they’re required to restore the pavement to a smooth surface, then the utility crews are not fulfilling their requirements and we should be lobbying for better enforcement.

If someone has some free time during the day to dig into this, or if we had an advocacy organization willing to question CDOT, a FOIA request to look at the restoration requirements that CDOT puts into permits for digging up a street would answer this.

Reply by h’ 1.0 19 hours ago
ATA is a tiny and overstrapped organization trying to make change in a huge metropolitan area.

There’s a common misperception that they have staff standing by to throw themselves into solving the next problem that the bike community faces, and as someone with a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes there, I can assure you that everyone is being strapped to the max to prepare for Bike the Drive, without which the staff they currently have couldn’t be sustained. That anyone had time to read and respond to this thread is fairly noteworthy.

I am right with you on wanting these problems to be addressed, up to the point that you throw it back in Active Trans’ lap.

Evidently Howard is on the payroll of ATA. He’s trying his best to fulfill his obligations to help manage expectations of ATA services. But given the monies that ATA brings in each year from all those hated suburban contributors and its willingness to do things for the Chicago ChainLink crowd without being asked the level of service expectation is going to be hard to manage.

Reply by Steve Cohen 18 hours ago
Fair enough.
if ATA is not the organization that could do this, maybe something else needs to exist? My frustration with their inability/unwillingness to do more on this is what caused me to search this place out and post this here. I’m for whatever works. How can we be more effective at advancing our concern?

Oops! Didn’t see that one coming. You get a few dollars to help manage expectations and suddenly people are suggesting that if ATA cannot do it then we should find someone who can. Bummer. Better get on the phone with Ron Burke and ask for guidance on how to handle this.

Reply by h’ 1.0 18 hours ago
I apologize for snarking, and especially for directing it at you.This discussion has been rather heavy on “somebody shoulds” and they tend to be kind of a button pusher for me.

I have also been in the habit of pinning various frustrations on Acitive Trans in the past– it’s really hard to know how busy everyone is without seeing it firsthand, becaues, well, they don’t really have all that much time to tell us about it…
From my perspective some good strategies have been identified here, including Active Trans expressing that they’ll look into it; the main prong I see missing, as I not 100% jokingly expressed earlier, is that one of our members who seems to have a direct line to Gabe Klein could bring it to him and let us know what the deal is.

Those sounds you hear are groveling and the kissing of hind end. I am relishing seeing Howard have to do this.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 17 hours ago
An angry mob, perhaps?

Steve Cohen said:
Fair enough.
if ATA is not the organization that could do this, maybe something else needs to exist? My frustration with their inability/unwillingness to do more on this is what caused me to search this place out and post this here. I’m for whatever works. How can we be more effective at advancing our concern?

See that snarkiness thing is endemic here in the Big Windy. We have no fucking idea when to turn this shit off. Just as we were managing to get the ruffled feathers of one member put back into place another jackass decides to make things worse. And to think that John Kass takes a great deal of heat from this group for his comments. Hell, he can sit down and draw a paycheck for the rest of his life. His work here is done. ChainLinkers will self-destruct without any help from him.

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance 16 hours ago
Hey folks, we’re definitely going to keep looking into this and working on it…it’s good to hear that people think it’s important (we do too).

We will also keep addressing it with CDOT, of course.

I think it’s important to keep in mind there’s no shortage of potential advocacy issues for all of us to engage in, but as a mission-driven organization with limited capacity we have to make strategic decisions about how to maximize the impact of our time and other resources.

Like any movement for social change, building a more walking, biking and transit friendly Chicagoland is going to take many different individuals and groups pursuing diverse strategies over a long time, which is why spaces like The Chainlink are so important so we can all connect, discuss and find ways to take action together.

We’ll seek more clarity from CDOT on this so we can all better understand what the expectations should be and where there’s room for improvement.

Thanks again, Chainlink community, we appreciate the input and will continue to listen and stay involved.
Best – Jim Merrell, Active Trans

Judging from those sounds you are hearing in the background ass-kissing is going on hot and heavy. I guess that Ethan is off this particular hot seat and another poor soul has been made lapdog for the day.

Now if you have not gotten the picture, the ATA serves at the pleasure of a precious few Chicagoans who spend most of their workday chattering on the ChainLink when they should be doing what their bosses are paying them for. But instead they are getting “lap dances from ATA“. You gotta love Chicago. Not only do our street crews stand around watching a single guy do all the shoveling while everyone else discusses the big game from last night, our workers do essentially the same thing while complaining that the street crews are not doing their jobs. Go figure!

Reply by Skip Montanaro 12mi 16 hours ago
Are there:
Things we can do to improve your effectiveness
Things you can pass off to us
FAQ of things general bike nerds can do to help ATA
Just thinking out loud.

Heck, perhaps you guys could come help me cut my lawn and paint my house when you are done helping ATA do its work. This is great!

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 15 hours ago
Well said Jim, and nice to meet you virtually.
Like any movement for social change, building a more walking, biking and transit friendly Chicagoland is going to take many different individuals and groups pursuing diverse strategies over a long time, which is why spaces like The Chainlink are so important so we can all connect, discuss and find ways to take action together.

That bit of blather was from the Director of the ChainLink. I’m thinking she is either planning to run for office or toss her hat into the ring for that comptrollers job that just opened up at ATA. By the way you guys out in the suburbs, ever wonder why you don’t get this level of handholding from ATA?

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 13 hours ago
I understand that ATA is small organization with limited staff. My complaint is less about their response time and more about how they have increasing become cheerleaders for CDOT and the CTA very willing to put out glowing press releases, but less willing to offer criticism or take on a watchdog role as would be more typical of an advocacy organization.

Either donation season is about to begin for the ATA (which it is) or this is such an outpouring of love that I feel the need to break into a stanza of “Kumbaya“. I feel verklempt.

Reply by David crZven 10.6 13 hours ago
I think many of us are disappointed in the change of mission of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation into the ATA. While I agree that many of the goals of the ATA are good, and an organization is needed which works for the general promotion of alternate transportation and a unification of these alternatives, I wish it had not been done at the expense of killing a group which engaged in the advocacy of bicycling. There was room, in fact, a need, for both. The proper goals of the CBF should be the promoting of bicycling, even if it did not necessarily help the other forms of transportation. Cars have multiple advocacy groups. Bicyclists do not. The mission of ATA and CBF overlap, but are not a unity. For example, I would have hoped that a group with the mission of the old CBF would have fought very hard against the (idiotic) Ashland Bus Rapid Transit proposal. Its likely not good transportation policy — its really an Edsel trying to do many things with the result that it does nothing well — but it is clearly BAD bicycle policy. Ashland’s not a great bicycle street, but it was usable and a number of good bike routes cut across it. With this new BRT, its clearly no longer a bicycle street and it will likely cut off, or at least impede, some of the cross streets AND will make visibility poor at those cross streets increasing the number of bicyclists hit. But because the CBF had its mission co-opted, it now looks, to the public, that the bicyclists also support this (idiotic) proposal. And just as importantly, for those that keep track of these things (mostly the car advocacy groups) this will be another “benefit” being provided to bicyclists who “use the streets for free” and thus be used to try to shoot down other projects.

We need a CBF, and I would hope that thoughts are being undertaken as to what could be done to leave the ATA on its current mission and start up or restore an advocacy group for cyclists. My suggestion for a name… The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation….

Rap, rap on the television screen. Uh, guys! You do not need to recreate the CBF. Just shift your monies over to the LIB coffers.

You can find out more about them here…

Reply by h’ 1.0 11 hours ago
I’d be interested in a projection of how many cyclists will be killed by the Ashland BRT project.
Anyone come across a good source of this type of data?

Howard has got some serious issues. He cannot fight the need to be snarky. He does it in several voices and believe me that is difficult. But the ChainLink would literally not be around if not for his generous efforts. He is kinda like that “odd Uncle” you have at all the family gatherings.

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 10 hours ago
David. This is a free country. why don’t. you start this advocacy org?

Reply by Steve Cohen 10 hours ago
OK, I’ll plead ignorance: Who’s Gabe Klein?

So now we are getting more snarkiness in a different voice from Howard. It figures. But this question about who is Gabe? Yikes! Is this guy from the suburbs? Things are starting to go dark in the room. I feel faint. Need to lie down…

Reply by David crZven 10.6 9 hours ago
I think that the concept of BRT is not that bad (not as good as streetcars, but not that bad). The problem in this case is the execution. The primary problem is the keeping of the Ashland local. This means that the one lane remaining in each direction will be badly slowed by the Ashland Local. if you are going to put in BRT, get rid of the local bus from the remaining lane. This will simply anger the drivers and force them off onto side streets (such as Damen and Greenview and Southport — which were good bike streets) and thus ruin the side streets as well with more traffic.

It looks like lots of expensive infrastructure to basically parallel the Red Line.

And it looks to be so badly executed that it will “hurt” real and usable BRT. (Irving, for example, is wider than Ashland. It doesn’t parallel any existing East West routes and the primary bike path crossings can be arranged so that they work.)

Now see this is the kind of cogent thinking that is likely to get this guy kicked off of the ChainLink Forum in short order. Is he some sort of GOP spy or something?

Reply by David crZven 10.6 9 hours ago

I hope someone will. Again, ATA is a great organization. But it is no longer a Bicycle Advocacy Group.
, its a “alternate transit” advocacy group and thus has different goals.

Duppie 13.5185km said:
David. This is a free country. why don’t. you start this advocacy org?

Ok folks, let’s focus here. The problem with ATA is not its size. The problem is that it lacks leadership. It is a lapdog for a tiny group of people who are incestuously organized around an inbred social structure whose main purpose is to provide meetups for singles who ride bikes. They all sit together getting drunker and planning the next wave of really neat Social Engineering to flood its way from Europe. And if you have not noticed it, the place reeks of Urban-centric Behavior.

What is odd however is that the guy who runs the thing is from the suburbs. But hey, that is merely a detail. What is important is that ATA did what it did to get closer to the revenue stream that is Washington DC. They do not give a rats ass about alternate transportation or anything else in their widened charter. Money is the aim and that is all you need to know.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 4.0 mi 1 hour ago
Gabe Klein: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/auto_generated/cdo…

An for the informationally challenged our resident Den Mother offers us a URL…

Reply by Skip Montanaro 12mi 16 minutes ago
This thread is the first this Evanstonian has heard of the Ashland BRT. If I understand it correctly (http://www.transitchicago.com/ashlandbrt/), the center lane and much of the median will be taken up with bus infrastructure, leaving one traffic lane and parallel parking in each direction. No bike lane, correct? Is there currently a bike lane on Ashland? Is there a street (or small network of streets) parallel to Ashland which could accommodate bike lanes? How are cars supposed to turn left off Ashland, make a right and go around the block?
Pointers to discussion here or elsewhere about this facility would be appreciated.

LIB-LogoSkip you obviously do not make it to enough of those weekend drinking parties. Guess being in the suburbs kinda leaves you at a distinct disadvantage?

And please Skip the very last thing you want to do with Chicago-designed and ATA backed Social Engineering projects is start analyzing them for anything cohesive in terms of design. That could get you kicked off the ChainLink Forum and or snarked at by the likes of Duppie, H or Zoetroope.

You now we really do need a replacement for the ATA. My vote goes for a mass shift over to the LIB coffers. They at least have an better understanding of all things suburban.

And you can be certain that they will be focused on what bicyclists need and not on whether the Mayor of Chicago or the Director of CDOT will be having lunch with them anytime soon.