When Mayor Richard M. Daley proposed in the late 1990s to "green" an open expanse of unsightly land along Chicago's lakefront, the Windy City embarked on an ambitious project destined to be regarded as one of the most significant millennium projects in the world.
Even though Chicago's spectacular Millennium Park wasn't completed in time to host the city's millennium festivities, its recent opening this past summer is cause for belated celebration. Located on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe Streets in downtown Chicago, the people-friendly, 24.5-acre park features such amenities as an outdoor music pavilion, a music and dance theatre, a perennial garden, a public fountain, an ice rink, eight acres of green space, an underground parking garage, and a $3.1 million bicycle station.
One of the most prominent features of the new park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry, the pavilion is described as the most sophisticated outdoor concert facility of its kind. It offers fixed seating for 4,000 and a 95,000-square-foot lawn area, allowing it to accommodate a total audience of 11,000. A network of speakers suspended from an overhead trellis is designed to provide uniformly excellent sound quality for concertgoers throughout the pavilion.
Located at the southeast corner of Millennium Park is the Lurie Garden, a 2.5-acre landscaped sanctuary of sun and shade featuring native prairie perennials, tall sculpted hedges and a pedestrian bridge. The garden is screened by tall hedges sculpted to resemble shoulders—recalling the 1916 poem in which Carl Sandburg called Chicago the "City of Big Shoulders."
In keeping with Mayor Daley's goal of making Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the country, Millennium Park also boasts a unique Bicycle Station offering secure, heated, indoor parking for 300 bicycles. The facility, which will be open all year round, occupies the fifth and sixth levels of the Millennium Park parking garage at the southwest corner of Randolph Street and Columbus Drive. It will serve downtown bike commuters and recreational cyclists, as well as runners and inline skaters.
Employing high-capacity, two-tiered racks, the 16,448-square-foot Bicycle Station allows more than twice as many bicycles to be stored in the same amount of floor space as traditional bike racks. The new facility, the first of its kind in the Midwest, also features lockers, showers, bicycle rental and repair, and a café. Appropriately, it's also the new home of the Chicago Police Lakefront Bicycle Patrol Unit.
Parking capacity at the facility is maximized with DoubleParker racks from Josta, a German manufacturer of high-capacity bicycle parking systems and bike stands. Cycle-Safe, Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., a manufacturer of bicycle lockers and racks, collaborated with the city of Chicago and Josta to coordinate this significant new installation. Funding for the Bicycle Station was provided by a federal grant awarded to projects designed to ease traffic congestion and improve air quality. The station is run by the Chicago Park District.
The Millennium Park Bicycle Station was constructed to encourage Chicago residents and visitors to bike to work, the park and nearby attractions, like the Art Institute of Chicago. By promoting this alternative method of transportation, city planners hope to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and encourage more people to enjoy the health benefits of cycling.
According to Bicycle Station Project Director Janet Attarian, Chicago's cyclists are taking note. Riders began taking advantage of the Bicycle Station from the moment it opened to the public.
"We couldn't get over the amount of activity the Bicycle Station attracted the first day," she says. "We didn't really know what to expect, but we had riders stopping by all day long."
And, according to Attarian, what the cyclists saw was more than they had expected.
"They were stunned to see that the same high level of quality that went into the rest of Millennium Park was also executed in the design and construction of the bike parking facility."
Now that Chicago cyclists have seen how good bike parking can be, the city's next big challenge may be to figure out where to construct similar facilities to meet the demand.
For more information
Millennium Park: www.millenniumpark.org
Millennium Park Bicycle Station: www.chicagobikestation.com
Cycle-Safe, Inc.: 888-850-6531
Richard Hartger is president of Cycle-Safe, Inc.