NATO Transportation issues? Get a bike!

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t live in Chicago and don’t follow world events), NATO weekend is here! Thousands of people—be they dignitaries, VIPs, security, press, protestors, and tourists who didn’t do their homework—will be descending on Chicago this weekend for the big event, and many Chicago residents are scared shitless.

It will certainly not be “business as usual” for the city, but who says that’s a bad thing? Many of the people I know who work downtown have told me their offices are closed on Monday (some were even closed Friday) or that they’re choosing to work remotely so they won’t have to “deal with the hassle.” There were some pop-up protests and marches downtown during the week and may be some Saturday and Monday, but the big protest march is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure exactly what “hassle” people are talking about.

Actually, I do know what they’re talking about. They’re talking about the transportation nightmares that everyone is dreaming about. People trying to get around by car on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will certainly be challenged, especially near downtown and the south side. All Metra riders (though in particular those traveling under McCormick place) have some big issues to deal with, as Metra decided to severely restrict what you can and cannot have with you these next three days (liquids, bikes, briefcases), not only on trains passing under McCormick Place but across the whole system. And there’s also the Lakefront Trail being closed in certain areas and buses scheduled to be rerouted all or a portion of the “three-day weekend.”

As I write this blog post, I should be at a meeting, but I’m not because it was cancelled—cancelled on account of the perceived traffic problems brought about by NATO. I figured  Friday night, before any of the big closures were even scheduled to take effect, cancelling our event was overkill. The e-mail told me to treat NATO “as a major weather storm—it’s advisable for everyone to stay home.”

No thank you.

This is the kind of hysteria that happens because we live in a car-centric culture. As someone who gets around mostly by bike (and when not bike via bus, train, and foot), I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t care about rolling closures on the expressway because of motorcades shutting down some traffic. When thoughts of NATO challenges came up in Monday e-mail, I responded to the group, suggesting people think about taking public transportation, with responses basically proclaiming, “I never thought of that!” or “What a novel idea!”

I’ve been warned to stay away from the Lakefront Trail for a few days, and CTA trains are going to be running as usual, though with possible random delays likely (though, it must be said, this is also business as usual). One bit of advice from a Chicago Tribune article was simply that “people should be extremely flexible about their travel plans.” But shouldn’t that always be the case? However, I think the problem is that car users don’t see their transportation that way, while that those of us who rely on bikes, buses, and trains for our transportation needs recognize the need to be flexible on a regular basis.

So my advice to anyone worried about the transportation issues brought about by the NATO summit: pull your bike out of the garage or jump on the bus and train and join those of us who always leave the car behind; maybe you’ll realize that it’s not so bad after all.

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