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Once Again, the South Shore Line Is Standing in the Way of Bike Progress

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NICTD is standing in the way of closing the Burnhap Gap. Image: The Burnham Plan Centennial

Last August, the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District did the right thing by voting to dramatically reduce the wait until customers are allowed to bring bikes on South Shore Line trains. While NICTD had previously been talking about delaying the bikes-on-board pilot until 2021, they instead agreed to test the program this April. Their decision was surely influenced by the Active Transportation Alliance sarcastically giving them the Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.”

But there’s another important bike issue that NICTD is still dragging their feet about. The 11-mile Burnham Greenway Trail will eventually connect Chicago’s Lakefront Trail with the growing network of multiuse paths in the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, including the Cal-Sag Trail. However, there’s a two-mile gap in the trail in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood and the suburb of Burnham.

The gap forces cyclists to ride on wide roads with fast traffic, or else detour several miles out of the way. Although the needed two-mile stretch of trail is already designed, approved, and funded, the transit agency doesn’t want to let the trail cross its tracks at grade level. Instead, NICTD, along with the South Shore Freight Line, is insisting that a multimillion-dollar bridge be built, a project that would take years to complete.

The trail crossing in question would be on Burnham Avenue just south of Brainerd Avenue, near the South Shore’s Hegewisch station. “NICTD is worried about safety and liability,” explains Active Trans suburban outreach coordinator Leslie Phemister. “But right now there’s nothing to stop a pedestrian from walking onto the tracks when a train is coming.” There are currently crossing gates and warning signals for drivers, but not for pedestrians.

The planned trail crossing would involve widening the existing sidewalk to accommodate bikes, adding bollards to keep pedestrians and cyclists out of the street, and adding gates that would block the sidewalk when a train approaches. Phemister says the transit agency should welcome these improvements, which would benefit people walking to the station. “Safety is everyone’s concern,” she says. “No one wants to get hit by a train.”

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How Cities Clear Snow from Protected Bike Lanes: A Starter Guide

A Kubota sweeper/plow, center left, clears the sidewalk at 300 South and 200 West, Salt Lake City. Image: SLC.

pfb logo 100x22This post is by Tyler Golly of Stantec and Michael Andersen of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes.

As protected bike lanes have spread from city to city across North America, a problem has followed: snow.

Most protected bike lanes are too narrow for standard street plows. So how are cities supposed to keep them clean?

Last year, the two of us decided to try and help more cities solve this problem by researching the best equipment to use for clearing snow from protected bike lanes. We wanted something like PeopleForBikes’ past post about the best sweepers for clearing protected bike lanes of leaves and debris.

But after talking to city staffers across North America and Europe, we realized that the challenges of winter are different than the challenges of fall. The reason is that winters themselves are so different from city to city.

The snow that piles into a protected bike lane in Chicago is very different in quantity, weight and thaw pattern than the snow in Calgary, which is very different than the snow in New York City.

Moreover, there’s just not as much variation among snow-plowing equipment. As one staffer we spoke to put it, the perfect plow rig for your bike lane is the biggest one that isn’t too big.

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Man Fatally Struck After Falling Into Street During Altercation in River North

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The 400 block of North State Street. Image: Google Street View

A 32-year old man died Sunday after he fell into the street during an altercation and was struck and killed by a cab driver. At about 4:20 a.m., Marques Gaines was involved in an altercation near Hubbard and State in River North, according to the Chicago Police. After a man punched him in the head, he fell into the roadway.

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Marques Gaines

The driver of a Ford taxi then ran over Gaines, police said. He was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and was pronounced dead at 8:14 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The cab driver stayed at the crash site and was not cited, police said. The person who punched Gaines fled the scene and has not been apprehended, according to police.

Although the medical examiner’s office reported Gaines’ residence as being on the 1400 block of West Chicago Avenue, friends told Loop North News he actually lived in Lakeview.

Friends also disputed the police department’s characterization of the altercation between Gaines, who worked at a nearby hotel, and the other man as a “fight.” They told the website it was more likely the victim “intervened on behalf of someone who was being treated unfairly but it led to tragedy.”

Fatality Tracker: 2016 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 4 (none were hit-and-run crashes)

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Where Are the Best Places for Protected Intersections in Your City?

How a protected intersection could fit into the Portland streetscape. Image: Nick Falbo via Bike Portland

How a protected intersection could fit into the Portland streetscape. Image: Nick Falbo via Bike Portland

Protected intersections are the best new thing in American bike infrastructure since, well, protected bike lanes. They greatly reduce the potential for turning conflicts between drivers and cyclists — left turns on a bike, especially, become easier and less stressful — and they make pedestrian crossings much safer too.

So far, a few cities around the country have raced to install their first protected intersection, but the design is still very rare. That means there are a ton of opportunities in American cities to create safer and more inviting intersections for biking and walking.

Which locations could benefit from protected intersections? Here’s a fun exercise courtesy of Nick Falbo, a key figure in the introduction of this design in the U.S. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland says Falbo sketched out what six sites in the city would look like with protected intersections:

Nick Falbo, who works as a senior planner for Alta Planning and Design but did this project as a volunteer on his own time, said he got the idea to create them after he gave a presentation about protected intersections at a conference last fall. A city employee who was attending, he said, asked where in Portland protected intersections could go.

“I’m thinking, like, where can’t they go?” he said.

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Today’s Headlines for Thursday, February 11

  • A Preview of the CTA’s New 7000-series ‘L’ Cars, With More Forward-Facing Seats (DNA)
  • CTA Adding 940 New Security Cameras to Buses This Year (Sun-Times)
  • Active Trans: U.S. Rep Lipinski Has a Strong Record of Supporting Transit & Biking
  • Metra Up/West Service Resumed Today After Fire Damaged Signal Equipment (Sun-Times)
  • Driver Pleads Guilty to Fatal 2011 DUI Crash in Riverside (Sun-Times)
  • Ald. Beale Proposes 50-Cent Surcharge for Cab Customers Who Pay With Credit Cards (Tribune)
  • State Rep Introduces Bill Calling for Red Light Crash Data to Be Posted Online (Herald)
  • Chicago’s Most Dangerous (Mostly North Side) Intersections, According to Runners (DNA)
  • Why Beverly Residents Shouldn’t Feel Slighted by Divvy’s Expansion Into the ‘Burbs (Ridge 99)
  • Next Hearing in the Bobby Cann Case Scheduled for Tuesday 2/16 at 10 a.m. (The Chainlink)

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It’s Getting Real: $281M in Funding Earmarked for Red and Purple Rehab

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A northbound Red Line train at the Sheridan stop. Photo: Cragin Spring

The first phase of the Red and Purple Modernization Program – including the hotly contested plan for the Belmont flyover – took a step closer to becoming a reality yesterday. Officials announced that $281 million in federal funding has been earmarked for the initiative, which also includes rebuilding the track structures, viaducts, and stations between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. That’s nearly 30 percent of the $956.6 million in federal funding the CTA is seeking for Phase 1, now estimated to cost $2.131 billion.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. announced that Barack Obama’s proposed federal fiscal 2017 budget includes $125 million of funding in 2017 for RPM Phase 1. The money would come from the Federal Transit Administration’s Core Capacity Improvements program, which provides dollars for improvements to older “legacy” transit systems. This news isn’t a surprise, because last September the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning approved the project for the FTA funding.

Also announced on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation has allocated a separate $156 million in new funding provided by Congress for Phase 1. This money had been budgeted for in previous years but never appropriated. The CTA is currently seeking approval of a full-funding agreement from the USDOT. If this is OKed, the transit agency will get the $156 million.

Back in 2014, the CTA received a $35 million Core Capacity grant, which allowed the agency to complete the preliminary planning and engineering work for Phase 1 last year. In December, the modernization project passed its environmental review by the FTA, allowing the project to move on to its engineering phase, which would be followed by construction. Last month CTA officials said the rehab work on the nearly 100-year old train lines could start as early as late 2017.

But it’s important to keep in mind that the announced $125 million in Core Capacity funding isn’t a sure thing, since Obama’s budget is merely a proposal right now. And, of course, there’s a heck of a lot more federal and local money that needs to be found before construction can begin.

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Washington State GOP Claims a Scalp in the Name of Socialized Roads

Republicans in the Washington State Senate are sending a message: Don’t mess with our socialized highways. To show they’re serious about subsidizing roads, they ended the tenure of Washington DOT chief Lynn Peterson.

Lynn Peterson was ousted as head of Washington DOT last week by Senate Republicans for presiding over an effective, but unpopular tolling program. Photo via Seattle Transit Blog

Lynn Peterson was ousted as head of Washington DOT last week by Senate Republicans for presiding over an effective but unpopular tolling program. Photo via Seattle Transit Blog

Senate Republicans used their confirmation authority to give Peterson “one week notice” that she would be fired, as one Democrat put it.

Josh Feit at Publicola explains:

[State Senator Andy] Hill said it was “nothing personal” but the senate needed to use its “blunt instrument” (its confirmation powers) to “impose accountability” on an agency that was responsible for imposing unpopular tolls on I-405. “I have no confidence that this agency is in any position to fix the problems it has,” he said about an agency he accused of unfairly executing its tolling program.

Dan Ryan at Seattle Transit Blog says the tolls are actually working pretty well:

Notwithstanding its unpopularity with some SOV drivers (at least those who don’t use the lanes), it has been rather successful in managing traffic. Travel times in both the express and general purpose lanes are better, saving drivers 14 minutes in the express lanes and 7 minutes southbound in the regular lanes. Bus riders have seen improved speed and reliability. Community Transit riders save six minutes at peak times, while Metro riders are saving eight minutes. After just a few months, ridership is up 4% on CT, and 6% on Metro routes in the corridor.

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Today’s Headlines for Wednesday, February 19

  • $281 Million in Federal Funding Earmarked for CTA‘s Red-Purple Modernization Project
  • Police: After Man Fell Into Street During Fight, Driver Accidentally Struck and Killed Him (Sun-Times)
  • Truck Driver Fatally Strikes Man in Franklin Park, Drags Him 500 Feet (Sun-Times)
  • Olmstead Expert Recommends Making Washington Park Less Car-Focused (DNA)
  • Chicago Transfering $800K in Federal CMAQ Grants to Burbs for Divvy (Tribune)
  • Oak Park Is Gearing Up for Divvy Station Installations (Tribune)
  • Chicago State University Students Take Over Loop Streets to Protest Budget Stalemate (Sun-Times)
  • Chicago Gas Prices Have Taken a Rare 11-Day Dip Below the National Average (Tribune)
  • Looks Like Parking Lot at North & North Park in Old Town Will Be Redeveloped (Curbed)
  • DNA Survey Finds CTA Riders Really Prefer Not to Sit Next to Each Other
  • CTA Fails” Founder Says His Campaign Has Highlighted Problems With Transit (RedEye)
  • Man Shows His Passion for the CTA With an ‘L’ Map Tattoo (Chicagoist)

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Why Isn’t There a Crosswalk Here? A Pedestrian Desire Line in Wicker Park

Located just north of a Blue Line station, the North/Damen/Milwaukee junction is the epicenter of the Wicker Park and Bucktown shopping district and one of the busiest locations in town for foot and bicycle traffic. But it’s also one of the city’s most dysfunctional intersections in terms of traffic management.

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Pedestrians heading north on Damen from the Starbucks to the Walgreens are currently required to cross to the Coyote Tower first, but few do so. Image: Google Maps

Case in point is the phenomenon illustrated in these videos, shot this evening between 4:45 and 5 p.m. from in front of the Walgreens at the northern corner of the six-way, looking south. Commuters heading north on from the train station who want to continue north on Damen are supposed to detour west and make two different crossings in crosswalks.

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An aerial view of the complex intersection. Image: Google Maps

Instead, most people choose to take the most direct route by making a beeline from the Starbucks to the Walgreens. It’s the most logical path but, because the intersection is set up to prioritize car traffic, this is an illegal, and risky, maneuver.

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Contested Elston Bike Lanes Are Finally Here, But Divvy Station Might Leave

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The new bike lanes on Elston still need bike symbols and crosshatching in the buffers. Photo: John Greenfield

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Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

It’s been a long time coming, but buffered bike lanes have finally materialized on Elston between North and Webster. With this new segment, just about all of the nine-mile-long diagonal street has the lanes.

Buffered lanes usually serve as a consolation prize for cyclists on streets where there isn’t enough right of way, or political will, to install physically protected bike lanes. Since they’re merely paint on the road, and they generally don’t inquire the elimination of any car parking spaces, they’re really not much of an imposition drivers.

But the buffered lanes on this stretch of Elston were surprisingly controversial. When Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed the plan for them at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council back in December 2013, there was stiff resistance. Although there was already a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane north of North, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

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The bike lanes near Kohl’s, a little south of Webster. Photo: John Greenfield

As an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle detour proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” Fortunately, the department held its ground, pointing out there was already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and more than a quarter of injury crashes on the street involved cyclists.

In spring of 2014, CDOT presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, and the industrial council grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes were slated for construction within a year, but installation didn’t begin until almost two years later.

Following the repaving of this stretch, the parallel lines for the lanes and buffers were installed, but the bike symbols and crosshatching for the buffers haven’t been put in yet, but the lanes are already functional. The rest of the work should be completed in the early spring, once the weather is warm enough for pavement marking, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

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