BRT comes to Chicago and “Dr.” Wally goes to Berthold’s

April 7, 2013

Bus Rapid Transit comes to Chicago (almost)

On November 12, 2012, commuters along the Jeffery Boulevard corridor found that they had a way to get downtown a little faster. On that day, Chicago launched the Jeffery Jump J14 service, the first part of an effort to introduce Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to the City.

The Jeffery Jump J14 service runs from 103rd Street to Metra’s Ogilvie and Union Stations. Corridor improvements have been made from 67th to 103rd Streets, with dedicated, rush hour lanes along Jeffery Boulevard between 67th and 83rd Streets. Jeffery Jump is an enhanced version of the existing #14 Jeffery Express service.

As I stated, this is just the first of at least three corridors that could have BRT runs within the next few years. But even the Jeffery Jump is only partially complete. There are a number of elements that make a BRT system different from tradition bus service, as listed on the Chicago BRT site:

  • Dedicated bus lanes or separate bus right of way from normal street traffic.
  • Traffic signal prioritization (TSP) which extends green lights and shortens red lights for buses.
  • The ability to bypass regular vehicular traffic
  • Fewer stops and additional customer amenities at special kiosks including pre-board payment stations, maps and digital customer information displaying bus and train arrival information.
  • A uniquely identifiable fleet with a distinct look and branding
  • BRT combines the efficiency and consistency of rail rapid transit with the flexibility and comparatively lower cost of bus service. BRT service has been implemented in cities throughout the world, including several U. S. cities.

In the case of the Jeffery Jump, dedicated lanes have been designated on only a portion of the run–the two miles from 67th to 83rd Streets–and even those lanes are bus-only during the rush hour times of 7-9am and 4-6pm weekdays. Also missing are the prioritized traffic signals, the ability to pay before boarding, and bus stops in the medians.

BRT systems have been shown to work in other cities. A notable example is the HealthLine in Cleveland, where the BRT has pumped as much as $4.3 billion into the City’s economy. Other cities that have incorporated BRT elements into their transportation systems are Los Angeles, New York and Eugene, Oregon. Not every city implements every aspect of BRT systems, yet the roll out of even parts of the concept have been shown to improve commuting experiences.

If you’re wondering where the money is coming from, the Jump is funded by an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant. There are also a lot of partners in this venture, including the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Active Transportation Alliance, Metropolitan Planning Council, Urban Land Institute Civic Consulting Alliance, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and The Chicago Community Trust, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation

What’s next? The Central Loop BRT Corridor will move express buses along Washington and Madison streets, connecting Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Station, North Michigan Avenue, and Navy Pier. Six current bus routes will benefit from BRT improvements. Service along the Central Loop Corridor is expected to begin in 2014 and it’s financed by a $24.6 million Federal Transit Administration grant and $7.3 in local Tax Increment Financing funds.

When funding becomes available (always a sticking point), the City is exploring options for a BRT service on Western and Ashland Avenues. A study is being conducted for the approximately 21 mile length along Western and Ashland Avenues, from Howard Street on the north to 95th Street on the south.

I’m pleased to have Christopher Ziemann, Chicago BRT project manager, in studio this morning. Funded through support from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ziemann works between the Chicago Community Trust, the CTA and the Chicago Dept. of Transportation, and coordinates the efforts of civic nonprofit groups with city agencies.

“Dr. Wally” is back…and now he’s at Berthold’s!

If “Dr. Wally” is in the house this morning to answer questions, it has to be spring! For years, he has been a fixture at Pesche’s Garden Center. But with a new growing season, comes a new location. “Dr. Wally” Schmidtke (and you should know that he’s not a real doctor, he just likes the “M.D” license plates on his Radio Flyer Wagon), is now holding court at Berthold’s Floral, Gift and Garden, though we just call it Berthold’s Garden Center.

At the same time, Berthold’s has become a new sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show. Coincidence? I’ll leave that to you to figure out. Here’s what they have to say about bringing Wally into their operation:

Wally will lead us in various areas including:

  • Digital Pathology – Bring in a sample of a plant material with an insect or disease problem for diagnosis using a Celestron digital microscope.
  • Emails with topical gardening information.
  • Workshops and seminars presented at Berthold’s Seminar Building.
  • Presentations to garden clubs on various horticultural topics.
  • Expanded selection of ‘green’ gardening of curatives and amendments and how to properly use these organic/natural products.
  • Additional varieties of vegetables and herbs that perform well in our Chicago land area.

If you need any horticultural help, please stop in and find out why Wally has earned the nickname “Dr. Wally” from his customers and associates in the industry!

I couldn’t have said it any better. Throughout the year, you can expect gardening tips from “Dr. Wally,” some of which will be posted on this very website.

Amy Stewart: In search of the perfect horticultural cocktail

Here she goes again.

Amy Stewart has a knack for writing horticultural books that…well, that people actually want to read. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to cozy up in the bathroom with titles like Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities or Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects or The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. I’ll bet you want to click on one of those links and order a book this very minute.

This time, she’s written a book about the world’s favorite pasttime: drinking. To be more precise, the book is called The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks, and it’s about how horticulture and alcohol intersect. She writes:

It would be impossible to describe every plant that has ever flavored an alcoholic beverage. I am certain that at this very moment, a craft distiller in Brooklyn is plucking a weed from a crack in the sidewalk and wondering if it would make a good flavoring for a new line of bitters. Marc Wucher, an Alsatian eau- de- vie maker, once told a reporter, “We distill everything except our mothers- in- law,” and if you’ve ever been to Alsace, you know he wasn’t exaggerating.

Here is how the book is organized:

Part I
we explore the twin alchemical processes of fermentation and distillation, from which wine, beer, and spirits issue forth Proceeding in an Orderly Fashion through the Alphabet: The Classics, from Agave to Wheat, Then Moving onto a Sampling of More Obscure Sources of Alcohol from around the World: Strange Brews

Part II
we then suffuse our creations with a wondrous assortment of nature’s bounty Herbs & Spices, Flowers, Trees, Fruit, Nuts & Seeds.

Part III
at last we venture into the garden, where we encounter a seasonal array of botanical mixers and garnishes to be introduced to the cocktail in its final stage of preparation Sorted in a Similar Fashion: Herbs, Flowers, Trees, Berries & Vines, Fruits & Vegetables; including Recipes and Sufficient Horticultural Instruction

Stewart also includes a fair number of cocktail recipes, including

Classic Margarita
The French Intervention
The Vavilov Affair
Prickly Pear Sangria
Bison Grass Cocktail
Moscow Mule
Dombey’s Last Word
Dancing with the Green Fairy
The Douglas Expedition
The Frank Meyer Expedition
Buena Vista’s Irish Coffee
Blushing Mary

And a list of syrups, infusions and garnishes such as

Prickly Pear Syrup
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
Brine Your Own Olives
Limoncellow and Other Liqueurs

Before you get started on your own, Stewart offers a few words of advice:

To those of you with more than a passing interest in distillation or mixology, I urge you to be wary of experimenting with unknown plants. As the author of a book on poisonous plants, I can tell you that dropping the wrong herb into a still or a bottle for the purpose of extracting its active ingredients might be your last act of creativity. I’ve included some warnings about deadly look-alikes and dangerous botanical relatives. Do remember that plants employ powerful chemicals as defenses against the very thing you want to do to them, which is to pluck them from the ground and devour them. Before you go foraging, get a reputable field guide and follow it closely.

By the way, Stewart will be in the area for the next couple of days. On Monday, April 8th, at 7 p.m., she appears at The Bookstall at 811 Elm Street, Winnetka. Then, on Tuesday, April 9th, The Standard Club of Chicago will be hosting a reception and luncheon for Stewart at 11:30 a.m. That evening at
7 p.m., Anderson’s Books in Naperville will be hosting a Drunken Botanist party with an assortment of cocktail-friendly plants!

Who says horticulturists don’t know how to party? Ladies and gentlemen, start your cocktails!

Sand mine moratorium in LaSalle County?

File this story under the heading, “Too little, too late.” County Board to consider moratorium on new sand mines, reads the story from The Times in Ottawa, Illinois, dated April 3, 2013. The article was sent to me by a concerned citizen down that way. Here’s how it starts:

Next Thursday [April 11] the La Salle County Board will consider placing a moratorium on new sand mines in rural areas.

The moratorium would extend until Friday, Nov. 1, to give the county time to update its 5-year-old comprehensive plan.

The moratorium would not cease operations for any existing sand mines or prevent the start of sand mines “grandfathered” in the county zoning ordinance.

Neither would it prevent municipalities from annexing land for sand mine operations, such as Utica has done.

So while it might prevent future rural sand mines in the area, it doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the proposed mine outside of Starved Rock State Park. One more part of the story that I think you should read:

[ Mike Harsted, the county’s director of Environmental Services and Land Use] was philosophical on the issue.

“Ten years ago if the citizens of La Salle County would have taken part in the preparation and processing of the La Salle County comprehensive plan and the La Salle County zoning ordinance we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion on sand pits today,” he said.

“But instead, everybody spent their time and money in voting against countywide zoning because it put too many restrictions on the citizens. Well, guess what? Ten years later, low and behold, we didn’t put enough on. And they rely on you to right this for them.”

Cautionary tale?

Tracy Yang from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club writes to people in LaSalle County::

Now is our chance to start making a difference. We are planning to get something out on Monday next week, but if you all have time to pass on this list ( ) to your local networks before then, I would encourage you to get the word out to others and start making these calls now!

I also encourage you all to be present during the vote to continue applying pressure on your board members.