Skip to content

Streetsblog USA No Comments

Are Children Parasites on Cities’ Finances?

Photo: Bruce Chan

Photo: Bruce Chan

No sooner did Streetsblog LA roll out its new series (and hashtag) #streetsr4families than the Washington Post asked whether it really benefits cities to attract families at all. After all, wrote Lydia DePillis yesterday, while single twenty-somethings freely spend their money on $12 cocktails and $50 concert tickets, parents avail themselves of taxpayer-funded services like public schools and parks. Parasites on the system.

DePillis referenced a 2001 Brookings Institution study, “Envisioning a Future Washington,” [PDF] which put a price tag on attracting different types of new residents. The researchers found that a two-parent family with two kids would cost the city $6,200 annually, mostly because they use public schools, while a childless couple generates a net gain for the city of $13,000.

As someone who takes it on faith that children truly are an indicator species of a healthy city, reading that shook me. Could it be that we parents are, after all, a drain on the cities we love?

The topic is especially salient right now, as I’ve been engrossed in the Sightline Institute’s ongoing series, “Family-Friendly Cities.” In it, author Jennifer Langston writes at length about what cities can do to attract families. (More on that later.) But DePillis’s words made me suddenly uncomfortable with the whole proposition. Why should cities bend over backwards for families — letting valuable real estate become children’s play areas, sullying its eateries with crayons and kids’ menus, preserving three-bedroom row houses amid the rush to build studio apartments — when those families actually end up bringing the city down?

DePillis answered her own question, of course. Parents are often in their prime earning years, and they buy expensive houses. Those houses become more expensive when the schools improve — “Trulia crunched the numbers, and found that homes in districts with highly-rated schools are a third more expensive than the metro average, while those in districts with poor schools are much cheaper,” DePillis wrote. That relegates lower-income kids to the city’s worst schools — but if we’re just looking through a lens of GDP, those pricey homes add to the city’s bottom line.

Read more…

2 Comments

“Walk To Transit” Targets 20 CTA Stations For Quick Safety Fixes

Untitled

Passengers arriving at the Clinton Station often can’t find the Greyhound, Union, or Divvy stations.

A new “Walk To Transit” initiative by the Chicago Department of Transportation will target 20 CTA stations for a slew of simple pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. People walking to several Blue Line stations on the west side and along Milwaukee Avenue, along with stations on the south and north sides, will see safety and usability improvements like re-striped zebra crosswalks, curb extensions, repaired or widened sidewalks, and new signage.

Suzanne Carlson, pedestrian program coordinator at the Chicago Department of Transportation, said at last week’s Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting (theme: connectivity) that construction on a first phase of ten stations should begin in the spring of 2015. CDOT has grant funding for another ten stations, yet to be identified. She said that the designs [PDF] were published “at 30 percent,” and “a few design details or elements may change.”

Some stations will get new and improved wayfinding signage. New signs outside the Blue Line’s Clinton station, hidden underneath a Eisenhower Expressway overpass, will direct CTA riders to Metra, Amtrak, and Greyhound, and vice versa. Even among the majority of American adults who carry smartphones, figuring out where to go from the Clinton station can be a puzzle: The other stations aren’t immediately visible from any of the station’s four dark exits. Adding “breadcrumb” sign posts along the way would help. CTA and CDOT managing deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel have had conversations about adding Divvy wayfinding signs within stops like Clinton, where Divvy is similarly hiding around the corner from the station entrance, “but we haven’t reached a definitive agreement at this point.”

This is where Divvy signage should be displayed

Signs within the Clinton Blue Line station point CTA riders to Greyhound and Metra, but not Divvy — and once above ground, no further clues are available.

Above the Blue Line station at Grand-Milwaukee-Halsted, CDOT proposes reprogramming the signal with “leading pedestrian intervals,” which will give people walking across the street a green light before drivers can make a turn. New curb extensions (bulb-outs) at Ohio Street, between the station and Milwaukee’s bridge over the Ohio Street Connector, will slow down drivers and prevent them from driving down Milwaukee’s faded bike lane.

Around the Pulaski Blue Line station in West Garfield Park, which is within the median of the Eisenhower Expressway, recommended improvements include curb extensions to slow turning drivers at all corners of Harrison and Pulaski, a pedestrian refuge island within Pulaski at Van Buren, and signs that will direct bicyclists to and from the station from Keeler Avenue — a nearby “neighborhood route” under the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.

Outside the 63rd Street Red Line station in Englewood, new trees will enliven a dull corner at Princeton Avenue — and also replace a dangerous gas station driveway, which eliminates the conflict between cars turning across the sidewalk into the gas station, right by a bus stop. Such dangerous curb cuts are not forever, since they have to be renewed annually.

pedestrian improvements for 63rd/Princeton

CDOT proposes to remove this driveway at 63rd and Princeton and replace it with trees. That small change will make waiting for the bus, or walking to the Red Line, safer and much more pleasant. Image: Google Maps

Some of the proposals don’t do enough to calm car traffic outside busy rail stations. Above the Division Blue Line station, for example, CDOT proposes to add a much-needed refuge island at Greenview to allow pedestrians to cross wide Division Street in two stages. But where Division meets Milwaukee, CDOT’s proposal of repainting faded crosswalks does little to shield pedestrians from drivers making wide (and fast) right turns from Division onto Milwaukee. New curb extensions there could tighten the angle a bit, and require drivers to turn more carefully and considerately.

The stations that will benefit from the first round of Walk To Transit are:

  • North/Clybourn (Red)
  • Clinton (Blue)
  • Central-Lake (Green)
  • 63rd Street (Red)
  • Pulaski-Congress (Blue)
  • Grand-Milwaukee (Blue)
  • Kedzie-Homan (Blue)
  • Division (Blue)
  • Kimball (Brown)
  • 35-Bronzeville-IIT (Green)
2 Comments

No Longer Marooned: U. of C. Unifies Campus With New Pedestrian Spaces

14666182529_3dba61d431_o

The new pedestrian street on 58th, across from Robie House. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings]

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks.

Last year, changes included a new pedestrian space on the west side of campus, by the University of Chicago Hospitals, a new passageway through the administration building, and the completion of the Midway Crossings, bridge-like structures uniting the north and south sides of campus. In June of this year, the university finished converting a block of 58th Street, between University and Woodlawn avenues, into a lively promenade.

“The outdoor spaces on campus can be as important as the indoor spaces,” said university architect Steve Wiesenthal in a statement in spring 2013, before most of the construction started. “These projects will connect parts of campus that have felt distant from each other because of features of our buildings and landscape. They will contribute to our sense of community and the integrated nature of the University.”

IMG_1833

One of the Midway Crossings on Ellis Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

A few years ago, the university began building the Midway Crossings, a roughly $8 million streetscaping project, designed to provide better connections between the main campus and buildings south of the Midway Plaisance. Although the Midway, located between 59th and 60th streets, is only one block wide, psychologically the distance felt much longer, especially during the winter, and many people felt unsafe crossing the parkland at night.

To make the trek across the Midway feel shorter and safer, the school created the new walkways along Ellis, Woodlawn and Dorchester avenues. The design was inspired by the green space’s architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who originally conceived the Midway as a water route between Jackson and Washington parks, traversed by bridges. Workers completed the construction of the crossings in spring 2013.

The Midway Crossings treatments include wider sidewalks, which make it easier for people to travel in groups. Illuminated railings, retaining walls, and lighting masts, dozens of feet tall and affectionately known as the “light sabers” by the students, further increase the sense of security by increasing visibility in general and making it easier to see the faces of other pedestrians.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Will Spokane Give Downtown Transit Riders the Boot?

Transit in Spokane, Washington, is centered around a well-designed plaza in downtown. While the transit plaza is considered a national example of how to design good amenities for riders, a group of business owners is trying to move it somewhere else, reports Bruce Nourish at Seattle Transit Blog.

Spokane's transit plaza is considered a national example of a dignified waiting environment. Will business leaders succeed in forcing it out of downtown? Photo: Jdubman via Seattle Transit Blog

Spokane’s transit plaza is considered a national example of a dignified waiting environment. Will business leaders succeed in forcing it out of downtown? Photo: Jdubman via Seattle Transit Blog

Nourish says that would be a real blow to the city’s transit system and to downtown itself:

Photos of the Plaza are shown around the world by Jarrett Walker as an example of the kind of civilized, humane waiting-place that transit customers should expect, and which can be built even by not-lavishly-funded agencies. Such facilities are especially important to small-city transit agencies like STA, where there is no rapid transit system around which to organize the rest of the transit network, nor enough money to run a full grid of frequent routes out to the limits of the service area, and thus many customers need to make connections through a single central hub.

Recently, a handful of well-connected downtown Spokane property owners have tried to force STA to move this flagship facility out of the downtown core. The events involved in the lead-up to this are a little complicated: there’s a recently-reactivated plan to refurbish the plaza, the removal (and then replacement) of a smoking area for plaza patrons, and a sudden flare up of concerns about crime, vagrancy and indigence in the retail core. The opposition’s stated reasons will be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s been involved in any major expansion of transit out to suburban areas: Putatively, transit facilities are full of ne’er-do-wells and criminals, loitering around waiting to rob or beg someone of their money, and the solution is to make these people disappear by making the facility disappear — and besides, all those buses are empty anyway. Of course, none of these things are actually true.

Read more…

25 Comments

Today’s Headlines

  • Development With 426 Parking Spaces Proposed for Logan Mega Mall Site (Curbed)
  • Alderman Arena Discusses Jeff Park P-Street Proposal (DNA)
  • RedEye Takes a Tour of the Bloomingdale Trail
  • Barrington Hills NIMBYs Continue to Freak Out Over Bike Lane Plan (Herald)
  • Fagel Gets Judge to Nix 2 Red Light Tickets But Loses 3 Speeding Tickets (Expired Meter)
  • 49th Ward Launches Logo Design Competition for 100 Rogers Park Bike Racks (DNA)
  • Uptown Residents Vote on Mural Designs for Wilson, Lawrence Viaducts (DNA)
  • Defunct News Kiosks Will Be Converted Into Healthy Food Stands (Tribune)
  • Cool Photographs From the CTA’s Past (Time Out)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

29 Comments

Illegal Stickers and Signs at U. of C. Hospitals Discourage Biking

IMG_2113

Illegal sticker on a city-owned stop sign. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, I reported how the AMA building unlawfully installed a “No Bike Parking” sign on a city sign pole, then removed a bike that was legally locked to it. In response, Streetsblog reader and University of Chicago employee Elizabeth Edwards alerted me to a similar situation at the U. of C. Hospitals.

IMG_2104

Photo: John Greenfield

It appears that someone, perhaps acting on behalf of the hospitals, has undertaken an obsessive, rather passive-aggressive campaign to keep bikes off street furniture. Stickers reading “Not a Bike Rack” have been stuck on just about every fence, handrail, light post and sign pole next to hospital buildings on 59th, 58th, Maryland, and Drexel. In a few cases, a metal placard with the message has been affixed to a city-owned sign pole. On some fences, there are signs warning that locked bicycles will be removed.

The desire to prevent parked bikes from obstructing the path of patients and visitors, especially wheelchair users, is completely understandable. It’s very inconsiderate for cyclists to lock bikes to handrails and in other locations where they obviously cause an obstruction. Moreover, the hospitals would be within their rights to install signage telling people not to lock to fences and other fixtures on private property. If these warnings are ignored, they would have the right to remove the offending bikes.

Read more…

4 Comments

Local Architects Envision “Meeting Place” At Empty Logan Square Plaza

Nushu's orange chairs at the Logan Square Blue Line station

Sitting and staying, exactly as Nushu architects intended.

This past Sunday, the usually forlorn bus transfer plaza above the Logan Square Blue Line station suddenly looked very different. Architects Krista Petkovsek and Kara Boyd had scrounged nearby alleys, rounded up a couple dozen used chairs, painted them orange, and scattered them around the plaza to spark a conversation about how to enliven the empty space, which is surrounded by an ever-increasing number of shops and restaurants.

Petkovsek and Boyd placed the chairs in two axes spanning the plaza last weekend, spurred by the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks placemaking contest. The duo, co-founders of Nushu Studio, found out about the contest from Katherine Darnstadt. Her firm, Latent Design, won last year’s MPC placemaking contest for Union Station with its Blah Blah Blob! entry.

The two picked the Logan Square Blue Line station plaza as a prime example of the contest’s call to “choose a space in the city that needed a little attention,” Petkovsek said, and “to make some suggestions about what could happen in this space in the future.” A splash of color and a place to sit, she explained, could be a “starting point to grab people’s attention.”

Not coincidentally, MPC will host three meetings in September about the plaza, part of a long-term Corridor Development Initiative that MPC is managing in Logan Square. The meetings, according to Petkovsek, are where people can tell the city “what they’d like to see happen here.” The chairs are a good way to draw some attention to the plaza and advertise the upcoming meetings, “because not everybody sees social media,” she said.

In preparing for the event, Petkovsek discovered that 7,000 people pass the plaza each day: 5,625 enter the Blue Line subway there every day, 300 get on or off the 56-Milwaukee bus on the northbound side, scores of people use the Divvy station there, hundreds board and alight the 76-Diversey bus, and plenty of people just walk through.

Petkovsek and Boyd wanted to create a focal point for all that motion and activity precisely “because it’s such a transit hub.” Petkovsek cited the Akita dog statue at Tokyo’s Shibuya rail station: ”There’s a whole story behind it, and everyone uses it as their meeting place. It’s really cool.” Read more…

2 Comments

Plantings, Art, Down-A-Clown Enliven Unloved Ravenswood Lot

_DSC8837

Brainstorming ideas for the under-used lot. Photo: Bohuslav Jelen

Last weekend, community groups across the city staged placemaking events in under-used lots, plazas and corners, all part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks contest. The Grow Space Picnic, held in a gravel parking lot at Ravenswood and Wilson, was a great example of how fun, games, and art can energize ho-hum spaces – and help build community.

The lot, located next to an engraving workshop, under Metra’s UP-North Line, is normally an eyesore, according to Gene Wagendorf from the Ravenswood Community Council, which hosted the picnic along with the Midwest Pesticide Action Center. A large brick wall next to the space is a frequent target of graffiti, so many residents dislike walking past it, Wagendorf said.

However, the block gets plenty of foot traffic from the nearby Ravenswood Metra station and nearby homes and businesses, so Wagendorf says the lot is an ideal space to revitalize with a community asset, according to Wagendorf. The picnic, which ran from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., was designed to test that notion by activating the “blighted” spot with greenery, art, music, kids’ activities and refreshments.

IMG_20140818_162823

The transformed parking lot. Photo: Gene Wagendorf

The nearby American Indian Center, which has a program to build gardens with native plantings, and Artreach, the nonprofit sister organization of Lill Street Learning Center, also helped put on the event. Patch Landscaping contributed temporary landscaping, covering the lot’s driveway with sod-covered hills topped by small Japanese trees.

“We thought that if we were going to have a theme of green space, we needed to have more than just a gravel parking lot,” Wagendorf said. “I spent half the day sitting over there. When it was shady, I could have slept there.”

He estimates that 80 to 100 neighbors, many of them kids, showed up to play carnival games like Crazy Cats and Down-A-Clown, color worksheets featuring garden scenes and insects, and enjoy free ice cream and lemonade. They decorated a chain-link fence next to the wall with a textile-and-yarn installation, and chalked ideas for the space onto a blackboard.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Don’t Blame Hills for Pittsburgh’s Pedestrian Injuries

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an in-depth investigation of the city’s pedestrian safety record. The paper reported that 2,100 collisions injured or killed pedestrians in the city between 2006 and 2013.

Being a hilly city doesn't preclude being a great place to walk. Photo: Wikipedia

Being a hilly city doesn’t preclude being a safe place to walk. Photo: Wikipedia

That should be a wake-up call, says Bike PGH Executive Director Scott Bricker on the organization’s blog. But some local traffic engineers are trying to deflect blame to the city’s famously hilly topography. In a letter to the editor published in the Post-Gazette and on the Bike PGH blog, Bricker says blaming the city’s hills is a copout:

The suggestion by Todd Kravits, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 11 traffic engineer, that it is our topography that is at fault is confusing and unfounded. He suggests that if Pittsburgh had more streets resembling “nice flat tables,” it would enable our streets to be engineered more safely; in reality, according to the article’s accompanying map, our flattest stretches of roadway are seeing the highest number of crashes with pedestrians. Mr. Kravits’ assertion that our hills are at fault in some way for these crashes simply does not jibe with the data here.

Norway, home of the vertical city of Oslo, has the second-lowest pedestrian fatality rate in Europe. How do they do it? By putting people, not cars, first in their planning and roadway engineering. For 50 years engineers in the United States have done the opposite. Righting this wrong will not only save lives but also create great, walkable places at the same time.

The city of San Francisco, another famously hilly city, recently announced its adoption of “Vision Zero,” a plan to completely eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2024. I urge Pittsburgh and its partners at PennDOT to do the same. Adopting a Vision Zero policy will set in motion the strategies needed to eliminate serious crashes locally by uniting design and engineering, enforcement, legislation and public health into a singular vision for the safety and vibrancy of our streets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns wonders whether it’s wise to count streets as public assets, rather than liabilities. And Mobilizing the Region reports that New Jersey legislators are finally attempting to piece together a solution to the state’s transportation funding problems.

9 Comments

Today’s Headlines

  • Tribune Poll: Majority of Chicagoans Think Red Light Cams Should Be Retained
  • City Is Looking Into Selling Parking Lots, Garage in River North (Tribune)
  • 35th Ward Hosting 3 Meetings to Discuss Plans for Logan Circle, Milwaukee Ave. (DNA)
  • New Eatery at Halsted Green Stop Will Provide Job Training for Teens (RedEye)
  • CTA Working on Getting New Tenants for Granville, Morse (DNA)
  • Cyclist Doored in Riverside Wins Settlement (Keating)
  • Fill Out Active Trans‘ Survey to Help Them Advocate for Secure Bike Parking
  • Lakeview Chamber Hosts Bike Scavenger Hunt This Sunday (DNA)
  • Checking Out a Chicago-Made City Bike (Ding Ding)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA