A few things you need to know about Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein:
- Klein’s father, a Freedom Rider who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., once operated a coffee shop in San Francisco, where he was Neal Cassady’s roommate; later, he ran a bike shop in Connecticut and repaired Cadillacs for his guru, Swami Satchidananda, who opened the Woodstock Festival with a benediction.
- Klein left home at age 11 to study at an interfaith yoga academy in Virginia. While a student there, he played Dungeons & Dragons with Rivers Cuomo, who became the lead singer of Weezer.
- Klein is “half Jewish and half Catholic, but I grew up more Hindu.”
- Klein bicycles to work in the mornings, wearing a vintage brown suit he purchased for $56.
- Klein interacts with the public on Twitter and Facebook; according to his Twitter profile, he is interested in hip hop and international beaches.
- These details are all from an excellent profile of Klein in the current issue of Newcity. Why are they important? Because they confirm the criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to make Chicago the nation’s most bike-friendly city: it’s really a hippie plot to take away our cars.
As the Tribune’s John McCarron wrote last month, in an article titled “Chicago’s war on cars”:
We’re going to reinstall bus lanes on already-choked streets in the heart of the Loop. And if that doesn’t work, well, you can just rent one of the city’s new bicycles and pedal wherever you like. It’s all very heart-healthy and New Age. The city advises that the bike docking stations will be solar powered.
McCarron is right that there’s a war on cars on Chicago. As he points out, “the mayor’s 2012 budget jacks up the tax on downtown parking garages, parking meter violations and vehicle stickers. His main legislative win in Springfield is getting state permission to set electronic speed traps all over town.”
But Chicago’s war on cars began under the Daley Administration, with the installation of red light cameras and the sale of the parking meter concession to Morgan Stanley. Those are the two factors that, at least for me, made driving in the city an intolerable financial risk, and inspired me to buy a bicycle, so I can run errands without worrying about tickets. Having inherited such an anti-car city, Emanuel was right to hire a cycling advocate to run CDOT.
It is indeed a new age of transportation in Chicago, but Gabe Klein didn’t initiate it.
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