Mayor Chris Koos might be the only normal mayor in the United States. Get it? Normal, like the town? Thank you ladies and gentlemen I’ll be here all week. Anyway I got to go there! On the morning of day 3 I got up at 6 to catch a train out of Chicago into Normal, Illinois for the day. The train ride itself was a breeze because crews on that route have been dealing with unboxed bikes since the mid 1990’s. It was also kind of cool because the train runs to Springfield, meaning that it was packed to the teeth with people who were lobbying that day and were all astonishingly perky for it being as early as it was. Pulling into the Normal station was just entirely different than I expected. I had heard about the major investments the city had made in Transportation Oriented Development championed by its mayor Chris Koos but the transportation hub in the Uptown section of the city was so beyond what I had imagined. It was airy, light and open while simultaneously extremely homey and comfortable. It seemed designed first and foremost to just be a really pleasant place to be, a good thing because it plays host to an Amtrak station, a bus system, city government offices, and (according to a little birdy) hopefully bike share in the not so distant future. Serving as an anchor point for the redevelopment of the Uptown area, it looks out on a roundabout park and is surrounded by everything from retail to a children’s museum. The Mayor’s office might actually have the best view of the park with massive windows overlooking it, and he informed me that they referred to this as “transparent governance”; definitely my favorite dad joke of the day.
Anyway fabulous building aside I was met at the station by two incredibly lovely people, Michael from Bike Blono ( a local bike advocacy group) and Mercy from the town planning department. I am deeply indebted to these two for several reasons, including but not limited to their introducing me to the worlds cutest coffee shop and the largest blueberry muffin I have ever seen. I guess I should also mention that they gave up a good chunk of their day to give me a bike tour of the seriously cool constitution trail, which serves as a recreation and major commuter path for the city of Bloomington-Normal. After the bike tour I was lucky enough to get to share a little bit about my trip with Mike from the local NPR station and learn about some of the more exciting issues in Normal, including the purchase of an old Route 66 service station.
For me though the most exciting parts of the day were much more low key than the amazing infrastructure investment. There are two major community initiatives that I saw in Normal, and would right this second like to have both adopted in my hometown. The first is a bike rehab program wherein old and used bikes are donated, worked on, and eventually redistributed to anyone who needs one. Accessible transit is so important and the very intimate scale at which this operates allows it to be a successful as it is, reminding me that really good things do come in small packages. Don’t worry about me, I’m just going to be over here with my clichés. The second community initiative was a tool library, which is exactly what it sounds like. Located on the first floor of a small house in the slightly more economically depressed area of town this service allows people to check out all kinds of tools for a week or two allowing them to make their own home improvements. In addition to providing the tools the library also gives classes on certain types of repairs, and laptops to use in the facility. Giving people the means to beautify their own community is just as valuable as working top down, and it was encouraging to see how residents were passionate about both.
As the day came to a close I unfortunately hopped back on a train to Chicago but I have a feeling I'll be back to Normal soon (the pun potential is just ridiculous).