And They’re Off! Strategies for Electric Scooters in Chicago

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

A five-month pilot program for an innovative transit mode debuted in Chicago June 15, with all the fanfare expected.  As a transportation guy of some renown (well, at least in my own mind) I believe this new option has the potential to truly be a game-changer and improve the way people get from here to there.

Yes, but for the program to work, the City must form a sound strategy to ensure this novel way of getting around is safe and equitable, and compliments the current transportation network.

A line of scooters parked on the plaza at the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station.

The subject at hand: The dockless electric scooter program, which allows riders the option to download an app and, well, scoot away for a ride, then park the device in a “proper” location that does not impede pedestrian traffic, provide a hazard to those in wheelchairs or block entry to homes and businesses.

This recent report from the online source Curbed Chicago states that some 60,000 electric scooter rides were taken during the first week. Obviously, there was a demand and interest.

Like with most things new, there have been challenges.  I’ve witnessed the following:

  • While strolling on Milwaukee Avenue last week, I observed a young woman scooter rider who apparently hit a pothole, causing her to fall.  She rose with a bloody nose, but was able to continue her ride.
  • On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I observed a quartet of spirited scooter riders engaged in a circular “catch me if you can” game at the intersection across from our home. They later sped away, traveling against traffic on a one-way street.
  • And, throughout my neighborhood, I’ve seen scooters parked inappropriately on sidewalks and lawns or left flat on the pavement. Reports have shown scooters propelled into trees or flung into park lagoons.

Other news sources report riders have sustained injuries that require medical attention.  Given the warm-weather weeks ahead, one can anticipate more scooter-related injuries, hopefully none serious.

In a laudable attempt to help my home city, I offer the following scooter-centered thoughts for the Mayor’s office to consider. These strategies, goals and objectives have roots in effective public relations practices.

Goals:

  • Make scooters a safe, accepted and affordable mode of transportation in Chicago.
  • Expand the scooter network to neighborhoods that could benefit from shared micro-transit options.

Strategies:

  • Explore scooter programs in other cities — U.S. and overseas — to learn what worked, and what did not.
  • Collaborate with transit service bureaus, associations and community groups for ways to incorporate scooters into existing transit options.

Objectives:

  • Build awareness for the value scooters can make in enhancing mobility and alleviating “last mile” issues.
  • Cultivate acceptance of scooters as a legitimate transit mode; address need for safety and improper scooter use.
  • Work toward making the pilot program permanent in 2020.

There are many tactics that could advance this plan, but that’s for another post.  Back to the above, what would you add?

Two final thoughts:

  1. The dockless program already has resulted in some chaos. For the program to work, there need to be docking stations, like Divvy bikes.
  2. Electric scooters can be “fun” to ride, I suppose. But scooters must have a higher purpose — reduce cars on the road, help people reach destinations not available by public transit, provide mobility for those who need assistance.

Okay. Now it’s time for me to scoot. Figuratively, of course.

 

 

 

 

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Suggestion for Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot: Add An APR (Or Perhaps Several) to Communications Team

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The recent Chicago mayoral election, which led to the election of attorney and prescribed reformer Lori Lightfoot, would have been an ideal opportunity for this avowed real Chicago guy to share thoughts in this space.

But, for some reason — actually several reasons, including school, work and spring break — I did not publish any commentary.

Flash forward: A column published today by Chicago Tribune commentator Eric Zorn provided inspiration.

Sound communications counsel will prove invaluable to Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot in the years ahead. Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

The focus of Zorn’s piece, “A lesson for Lori Lightfoot in the lingering Jussie Smollett controversy,” centers on communications, and the value and importance of sound media relations practices in helping Mayor-Elect Lightfoot advance her agenda and remain focused during what certainly will be challenging and contentious months ahead.

Navigating the next development in the Smollett controversy is the most top-of-mind issue, given the international coverage the story has received and the local divisiveness it has caused. But Chicago’s unrelenting street crime, reforming City Hall, pension shortfalls, neighborhood gentrification and an increasing lack of affordable housing also will require that Ms. Lightfoot and her team respond to many, many other media and public inquiries.

Open and honest communications from the Lightfoot administration will prove critical to the success during her years as mayor, and to Chicago, to its citizens, organizations and businesses, and to the way the city is perceived around the world.

Mr. Zorn advises the Mayor-Elect to “Hire the best communications team you can find.” He sagely goes on to state: “They will serve as strategists, not just mouthpieces, and will be unafraid to tell you when you deserve the brickbats.”

Should Ms. Lightfoot or her transition team read this post, I offer this suggestion on one criteria that should be considered in making selections on communicators: Consider professionals who hold the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

Okay. Some regular readers may have anticipated my recommendation.  And, yes, I am an Accredited professional, have served on the Universal Accreditation Board and currently am the Accreditation Chair for PRSA Chicago.

With the disclosure out of the way, let me share this one thought about the value of Accreditation. As Mr. Zorn noted, modern communicators must think strategically and not dispense knee-jerk counsel.

Those who earn the APR demonstrate through their personal study, during the Panel Presentation process and when taking the Comprehensive Examination that they can provide counsel based on strategies rather than “no comment.”

Should Mayor-Elect Lightfoot or her transition team need recommendations on who to consider, please respond to this post. And, for the record: This Accredited member would respectfully decline any position offered for the simple reason that I have no real experience in the political arena, aside from be a voter.

 

Homelessness: The True Image of a National Emergency

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The concept of a “national emergency” dominated media coverage in recent weeks, driven by President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this month to demand federal funding to build the wall on the nation’s southern border.

This controversial use of presidential power certainly raised questions, primarily:

  • Is there, indeed, a crisis along our border with Mexico in terms of illegal entry, drug smuggling and other criminal activity?
  • Does this president, or any president, have the constitutional authority to declare a national emergency and demand federal funds without Congressional approval?

Perhaps there have been true national emergencies taking place here in the United States for a prolonged time in our history; but, they just don’t make headlines.

Note the image within this post. This lady shared a CTA Blue Line car with me, other Chicagoans and visitors one morning this week.  Most passengers on this train probably were headed to work, school, an appointment or home.

From what’s depicted here, this lady was probably going to none of the above.

Look closely, she’s there, behind the glass partition, wearing a brown jacket and maneuvering a cart loaded with sacks containing what’s likely her worldly possessions.

As she was about to exit at the Jackson station platform, I handed her some cash, about what I would spend on two beers these days, minus tip.

She paused, smiled, said thank you and put the bill in her pocket. I sensed dignity in this lady by the way she looked at me, responded to my offer and effectively moved her cart and belongings off the el car and onto the platform.

I hope the President or someone within his administration recognizes that homelessness is a true national emergency, and it’s taking place in many, many other cities and towns across the nation. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 550,000 in this nation are homeless.  Here in Illinois, more than 10,000 experience homelessness.

After my encounter with the lady, I continued on with my work day, then I headed home.

My regret is that I all I did was give this lady some money. My hope is that she finds a true home someday soon.

One Image, One Question: January 30, 2019

By Edward M. Bury, APR

Some topics — sports, politics, popular culture — have widespread interest among the public at large, while others often are relegated to the fringes.

But when extreme weather becomes the focus, everyone takes notice.

A few months from now, this view from the back porch of our Avondale home will be much, much more inviting.

It’s that way here in Chicago and across much of the Midwest. Dangerous, unprecedented arctic cold has descended, dropping air temperatures to minus 20 degrees (or colder) and wind chill factors to minus 50 in some areas.

The technical term is polar vortex.

News reports shout caution — stay indoors, bundle up if you have to go out, help those in need, limit the time spent exercising your dog. We hear lots about the impact of the cold, its dangers, its causes and, unfortunately, its often devastating results on people, animals, buildings, cars, the economy and the environment.

That bring us to the question of this post: What does “cold” sound like?

To answer that question, earlier today (air temperature was minus 18), I ventured outside for around 15 minutes. What I heard this bright, sunny and frigid day was an almost eerie quiet. It was as if we surrendered to something we could not really control.

I recall three cars passed down our block during my short sojourn outside, and I encountered one man walking his dogs, hurriedly, I must add.  That’s it.

To the north, I could see jet planes heading to O’Hare International Airport, but of course, I could not hear any sounds.

Now back in our warm home, I’m encouraged by reports of a nearby laundry staying open to temporarily house those with no warm place to go, and ride share company Lyft offering no-cost rides to the many shelters set up in Chicago.

Later, I may venture out to listen again to the sound of cold.

 

One Question, One Image March 18, 2018

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka the PRDude)

This headline from last week certainly jumped off the page, so to say, for me and perhaps a million or so other Chicagoans who care about the future of the city:

Amazon HQ2 search team visiting Chicago March 21-22

As noted in the accompanying article published by Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago city officials are keeping the visit somewhat hush-hush, as requested by the folks from Amazon, who are considering my fair city along with 19 others for its “second headquarters.”

The under-construction Academic and Residential complex on the UIC campus.

As noted in this post from November of last year, I’m a solid supporter of Chicago gaining this once-in-a-generation corporate prize. I even liked the Chicago is all in Facebook page dedicated to helping communicate civic boosterism towards the HQ2 competition. (And, for the record, I shared the above post from last year, but it has yet to be included.)

Given the projected number of permanent jobs (50,000), high salaries for new Amazon employees (average of $100,000), and residual economic benefits (who knows for sure, but it will be a lot), there’s no question winning the Amazon prize would be tremendous for Chicago. (Although many claim the purported $2.25 billion incentive package is way too steep.)

So on to today’s question. The image above reveals progress made on the new Academic and Residential Complex at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  (Full disclosure: I work at UIC.)

This $100 million development, which I observe daily when exiting the CTA Blue Line UIC/Halsted station, is rising at remarkable speed. It’s a tangible example what Chicago does very well: Build stuff.

Since its inception and evolution in the late 19th Century into a truly world-class city, Chicago has built more than just iconic structures. Chicago has built industries — food processing and manufacturing, transportation, supply chain logistics and others — that rival those any place on earth.

That’s why I want to ask:

Does Chicago really need to win the Amazon HQ2 to maintain its position in the world today?

Regardless of the low profile hoped for during the meetings between the city and Amazon this week, I’m confident there will be many, many projections on where the bid stands.

 

 

Bravco Conjures Memories of the Old Rush Street

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Cities evolve and grow or fade into obscurity. But oftentimes, little parts of the urban fabric refuse to change, clinging to what made them special or memorable in the first place.

The Rush Street district on the Near North Side of Chicago has evolved and grown dramatically since I first was exposed to the area as a high school kid in the early 1970s.

The name, the two aisles, the fireplace, the ambiance, the permanence. Much the same as when I first arrived at Bravo as a high school stock boy in 1971.

The once bohemian quarter ran roughly from Chicago Avenue on the south to Division Street on the north and was home to cabarets and night clubs in the 1940s through the 1970s — legendary places like Mr. Kelly’s, Faces and Rush Up. In the decade or so that followed, Rush Street evolved to become Chicago’s disco scene — mirrored balls and lots of polyester included.

But there was more of a neighborhood back then. Along with the nightlife and denizens of party goers, Rush Street also housed small shops and restaurants, most decidedly Chicago in nature, and even modest apartments above the retailers.

Today, it’s a much different scene; the narrow streets are lined with soaring modern high-rise apartments and internationally-known designer stores, with just a few longstanding clubs and bars still in business.

And then, there’s the Bravco Beauty Centre at 43 E. Oak St.

The sweetest pension one could imagine.

I first walked into the unassuming two-aisle store one day in 1971, joining my neighborhood buddy, Steve, as a stock boy. It was my first real job, one I held after school and during the summer months for two years. Back then, the store was run by an engaging retailer named Milton Brav and his partner Jack Finley.

Working at Bravco put money in my pocket, and I got to experience the waning years of a now-gone pocket of Chicago history and culture.

Last week, while attending an awards reception at the Drake Hotel, another iconic presence on the North Side, I strolled into Bravco and met current owner Howard Gordon, who purchased the shop in 1980. Outwardly, not much has changed in the two-aisle store, shelves full of health and beauty aids.

“I used to work here!” I told Mr. Gordon, who commanded the cash register. “But that was in the early 1970s, when Mr. Brav owned the store.”

We engaged in a spirited conversation, waxing nostalgically about long-gone establishments like BurgerVille, the Acorn on Oak and even the scary-from-the-outside strip clubs on State Street; and I noted how I would try to flirt (mostly unsuccessfully) with the often stunning women customers seeking exotic hair and beauty products.

“I need to buy something,” I told Mr. Gordon, placing a package of Juicy Fruit gum on the counter. “This is on the house,” Mr. Gordon said. “Think of this as your pension.”

Now, one might wonder: How does this tiny specialty establishment remain in business in an upscale location during this era of online retail options and dominant national chains?

Through a quick Google search, I found a Crain’s Chicago Business article on Bravco from 2000 and learned the store’s continued success is the result of Mr. Gordon’s business savvy and selection of desirable beauty products. And, I’d like to think, Mr. Gordon’s personality and character. Why else would customers still patronize Bravco?

As I left the shop that Friday evening, I was proceeded by an elderly couple, both toting shopping bags branded by Treasure Island. I trust they had lived in the neighborhood for decades and been around when Rush Street was a thriving urban strip, less sanitized, more truly Chicago.

Like Bravco, the man and woman are still grasping to the remnants of what once was a truly singular part of the city.  I made my way east on Oak Street, quite happy at what I had discovered.

 

 

 

The Outlook of Hyperlocal News After the Demise of DNA Info

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The digital dust, so to say, has settled on the abrupt closing earlier this month of a no-cost online news source that provided subscribers with the little stories often not covered by the more established print and broadcast outlets, as well as many of the big stories.

The question now is: “What, if any, media source will fill the void created?”

Of course, I’m referring to DNA Info and Gothamist, the so-called hyperlocal news organizations covering Chicago and New York.

As a subscriber the Chicago edition, I often enjoyed reading the content researched and written by the current breed of  journalists.  Although, at times I passed over reading stories about the new watering hole in Logan Square featuring an acclaimed mixologist or the hip deli offering house made pickles. Also, the comments section that accompanied reports often was populated by real trolls who thrived on posting unsavory thoughts that prompted distasteful back-and-forth comments rather than adding to a rational discourse.

But, as a former newsman who began his career when Chicago still had three daily papers, I was saddened that dozens of staff reporters and freelance contributors are out of work.

Many have commented on the shutdown of the news site, including former columnist Mark Konkol, who wrote a compelling opinion piece about the big impact little stories can have in a city of neighborhoods like Chicago.

Clearly the business model behind the organizations — totally supported by advertising — didn’t work in this era of seemingly unlimited free online content, images and video. (After all, there’s no charge to read The PRDude, but I would accept a beer as an honorarium should you find value or enjoyment in reading this blog.)

But from another perspective, DNA Info really was not delivering a novel product. Community newspapers, which still exist in print and online formats, cover the small stories — the community meetings, the business openings, the stories of human interest.

So where will former DNA Info readers go for hyperlocal news?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But one option is to seek out relevant and accurate information disseminated through online sites maintained by established neighborhood associations or organizations, elected officials and local chambers of commerce.

Another is to reach out to neighbors and share news. The concept actually is ancient and known as vox populi, or voice of the people.

In theory, it means the people always are correct. But then again, theories need to be proven.