Streetside footrest for Chicago cyclists is small but significant collaboration

This month Chicago’s cyclists saw the installation of a new streetside footrest and handrail called Curbee, whose goal is to encourage riders to rest and wait for a green light, rather than run through a red. This novel construction, inspired by biker footrests in Copenhagen, is the result of a small-scale collaboration among citizens, private sector partners, non-profit organizations, the Chicago cycling community, and municipal government. The story of its development shows how even a tiny project — a modest piece of metal “street furniture” at just one Chicago corner — can demand significant collaboration across sectors.

The Curbee (profiled recently in CityLab and StreetsBlog Chicago) was conceived and designed by Steven Vance, a transportation writer for Streetsblog Chicago, and Ryan Lakes, an architect and designer — both active members of Chicago’s cycling community. Although the pair designed their first wooden prototype and began their push to install the first Curbee in March of 2013, riders didn’t see the Curbee until more than a year later. The process of engaging partners across sectors was complex and lengthy.

Steven and Ryan first reached out to local organizations and the private sector for support. FK Law agreed to fund Curbee and Pedal to the People bike repair service agreed to build it. The team then turned to the biking community. They would need a city-issued public-use permit to install what Chicago code refers to as “street furniture,” and local non-profit West Town Bikes stepped in to sponsor the permit.

Approval of the public-use permit, however, required the input of the public sector, particularly the Chicago Department of Transportation and of the local representative of the community in which the Curbee would be installed. Steven and Ryan invited the Department of Transportation chief to try out the footrest. While he agreed to support the permit, the alderman thought the targeted corner it was already too cluttered for a Curbee.

Luckily, Alderman Walter Burnett, local representative for the corner of Milwaukee and Ogden avenues, had used bike footrests on a fact-finding trip to Copenhagen sponsored by the advocacy group Bike Belong, and was open to the idea. Steven and Ryan rented a bike for Burnett so that the alderman could try out the footrest himself, and he was convinced that the Curbee would encourage cyclists to wait for the green light. With Burnet’s endorsement, the pair submitted the permit application and were granted approval to install the Curbee.

Private sector funders, manufacturers, non-profit sector sponsors, a supportive biking community, and government gatekeepers: in society today, with overlapping, conflicting and constantly expanding rules, regulations, and practices, individuals must be able to engage and work across sectors to bring about innovations as small as Curbee and as grand as large-scale projects in urban revitalization.

Visit Curbee to find out more.