The Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront is a grassroots coalition to remove Lakeshore Drive from Grant Park, and eventually the entire Chicago shoreline.

Bicyclists Depave the Way, June 6, 2007

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MARK LAWTON | Staff Writer
Wicker Park Booster

Riding in the Tour de Depaving on Sunday, its easy to find one's self thinking of Don Quixote tilting his lance at windmills. The bicycle tour was organized by the Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront, a group composed mostly of bicycle activists whose stated goal is to remove Lake Shore Drive — first from Grant Park, then from the rest of the city.

"The lakefront is our most valuable land," said Michael Burton, campaign secretary and a Logan Square resident. "It speaks volumes to what we value. If we value traveling in the most consumption-oriented way, the current system makes sense. If we value other things . . ."

While the campaign's goal may be lofty, their methods are grounded in the environmental movement's mantra to think global, act local. And have some fun along the way.

A couple dozen participants showed up at Buckingham Fountain at 2 p.m. Sunday including several members of Mayor Daley's Bicycling Ambassadors, whose presence added an official patina to the tour.

The activities started on a note separate from the main theme with participant Kathy Schubert imitating Queen Elizabeth during her 1959 visit to Chicago. Wearing a silver tiara on top of her bike helmet and carrying a toilet scrub brush for a scepter, Schubert spoke of how disappointed she was by the removal two years ago of the traffic light and crosswalk from Buckingham Fountain over Lake Shore Drive to the lakefront.

The tour then started. Burton, who had a stereo system powered by a motorcycle battery attached to a rack on his brown Raleigh, blasted out "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols as the tour rode north in Grant Park to its first stop at Daley Bicentennial Plaza.

There, with a plaque of Mayor Richard J. Daley behind, Streeterville resident Meta Brown spoke of the city's plans to move the Chicago Children's Museum off of Navy Pier and into the north end of Grant Park.

"I'm trying to preserve this as open space," said Brown, who spoke about her group gathering 2,000 signatures against the museum and persuading former Alderman Burton Natarus to take their side.

The next stop was at the Cancer Survivor's Garden. The space used to be part of Lake Shore Drive until the state decided to smooth out an S-curve in the Drive in the 1980s.

There, Burton spoke of other cities that had made similar depaving efforts. In the 1980s, for example, Portland, Ore chose to get rid of the Bayview expressway on the Willamette River — which runs through the center of that city — and replace it with a park.

Too, gas prices have doubled in recent years, which make the idea of replacing the eight lanes of Lake Shore Drive with grass and maybe a light rail system, more appealing.

"It's exciting to see big ideas like this," said Burton. "The mayor talks about green roofs but what about a green lakefront?"

Then back to the bikes. To the sound of Joni Mitchell singing "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," tour participants rode along Randolph, Dearborn and Kinzie, riding over the Chicago River and Interstate 94. Riders take a lane, sometime two, of the downtown streets, an oddly powerful feeling.

The bicyclists move west on Hubbard, passing murals painted in 1973 on the Hubbard Street Train embankment. They pass paintings of a rhino, wolves, monkeys, crabs and a lizard. Lights occasionally turn red while half the bicyclists are in an intersection. A rider or two block off car traffic while the bicyclists ride through.

The next three stops are elementary schools in Ukrainian Village. The first is Talcott School, 1840 W. Ohio.

"Six years ago this was all concrete," says Burton, pointing at the playground. In 1997, the city started its Campus Park Program and began converting asphalt playground to grass. Since then it has converted about 100 playgrounds. Today, Talcott sports a mostly grass playground with an asphalt running track surrounding it.

In contrast, nearby Mitchell School, 2233 W. Ohio, looks like it was flooded by a sea of cracked concrete. There is a small section of grass at the east end, but it resembles a sprig of parsley on a large plate.

The tour then proceeds up Oakley, then Augusta. "Crosstown Traffic" by Jimi Hendrix and "Convoy" play while bicyclists ride past Greek churches.

A priest in a black robe waves to the tour. Less flattering is a young boy on a porch, who calls out "bicycle geeks." Other boys, riding BMX bicycles, join the tour for several blocks.

The bicyclists stop at Columbus School, 1003 N. Leavitt, only to find that the asphalt has been replaced by artificial grass.

"Nothing to see here, folks," says Burton, laughing. "Let's move on."

The Tour de Depaving visits two stops in Logan Square, where a co-op and a homeowner have replaced the asphalt parking lots behind their residences with lawn. The ride ends ironically with the music of Steppenwolf.

"Get your motor running, Head out on the highway."