Depave downtown Chicago

By James Liu

Last Friday, I went to a Critical Mass ride. No, I don’t mean that exhibit sponsored by the Smart Museum. Rather, I mean one of those post-industrial anarchistic phenomena that could only have started in the late nineties.

The general idea of the ride is that if there are enough cyclists on the road, all at the same time, all in the same place, you get something going. Well, really, you get something stopped, as in traffic. It really looks like a Chinese city in the middle of rush hour. There are too many bicycles for the cars to move at all.

The ride itself, of course, is a lot more disorganized. Imagine five hundred anarchists, without the black clothes or the bombs, all of them on bicycles, with the goal of making car travel impossible. There was a map that came with the ride, but nobody followed it. Last month, Critical Mass took over I-290. This time, after a little bit of spontaneous chanting of “Lake Shore Drive,” we took over that little stretch of raod. At the front, you could see a mile ahead of clear road, behind you, a mass of cyclists followed by some very pissed off motorists. It was lots of fun.

Hanging around anarchists, I suddenly rememberd my own radical proposals for Chicago. Even though our fair city may have been rated the most friendly bike city, at the end of the ride, I heard someone say that if he had been in his car, he would have just “run them all over.” People, when they’re driving, become competely different creatures. You see it when teenagers pass that magical age marker of 16 and you see it when a mild mannered middle manager becomes a road raged maniac.

What Chicago needs is a large stretch of downtown turned over entirely to public transportation, pedestrians, and cyclists, much like the lake front is. Let’s take all of the literal Loop, or a few streets in it (Wabash, State, and Dearborn come to mind) and shunt all of the cars underground, like Lower Wacker. Instead of an already impassable traffic snarl, we would have a garden right in the heart of the urban canyon of downtown.