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Advocates Request a Fair Share of Bike Resources for Black Communities

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield

A group of African-American bike advocates says they want to do whatever it takes to make sure more black Chicagoans have a chance to enjoy the health, economic, and social benefits of cycling. They’ve called for the city and state, as well as other advocacy groups, to commit to a more equitable distribution of bike facilities and education to low-income, African-American communities on the South and West Sides.

“In the past, the city’s philosophy has been that the communities that already bike the most deserve the most resources,” said Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike & Green, and Southside Critical Mass. “That just perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows fast in some neighborhood and not others. Biking leads to better physical and mental health, safer streets, more connected communities, and support for local businesses. Black communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

As it stands, Chicago has a higher overall density, and better connectivity, of bike lanes downtown and in relatively affluent North Side neighborhoods with higher population density and bike mode share. Their South and West Side counterparts have received more miles of protected bike lanes, due to the fact that wide roads with available right-of-way are more common in these parts of town.

While a number of low-income communities of color, such as Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, and Bronzeville, have received Divvy bike-share, a majority of the stations have been installed downtown and on the North Side. The system is slated to expand to more South and West Side neighborhoods next year. The more bikeable areas of the city also have a higher density of parking racks, which residents can request via a Chicago Department of Transportation website.

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Active Trans’ Bikeways Tracker shows the distribution of protected lanes (green) and buffered lanes (blue). Red is proposed bikeways.

In an effort to win more bike resources for black communities, Reed has partnered with Peter Taylor, an Active Transportation Alliance board member and president of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Shawn Conley, head of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago. On November 1, they met in an Englewood café to strategize with Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of RBG Chicago and a member of the League of American Bicyclists’ Equity Advisory Council, Latrice Williams from Bronzeville Bikes, as well as black bike advocates from Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Out of that meeting came an open letter to the city, state and other advocacy groups, asking for a more fair distribution of bike infrastructure and education, and that more consideration be given to the needs and concerns of black residents when allocating these resources. The letter makes seven specific requests. Among these are that the local governments make a public commitment to prioritize equity, and require contractors who work on transportation projects to do so as well.

The advocates ask the city and state to commit to spending a fair amount of tax dollars on bike resources between 2015 and 2020 in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The city is also asked to provide an update on the status of recommendations made by community advisory groups for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – Reed and Taylor served as leaders for South Side advisory groups.

The black advocates gave a presentation on their campaign at last week’s Mayor’s Advisory Council meeting. At the assembly, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld and Active Trans director Ron Burke acknowledged that more effort needs to be made to promote cycling in communities that don’t already have high ridership. Scheinfeld promised that equity would be strongly considered in prioritizing future projects. One of the 2020 Plan’s goals is to ensure that every Chicagoan lives within a half mile of a bikeway.

“CDOT has been focused on building a comprehensive bikeway network throughout Chicago and we are pleased to have advocates like [Reed, Taylor, and Conley] to partner with to help reach those goals,” said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales “We look forward to continuing to work with them to help determine the needs for cycling facilities in every community.”

“The equity statement delivered at MBAC is an outstanding example of the kind of grassroots leadership we need in Chicago,” said Active Trans’ Jim Merrill. He argued that the city is already working hard to equitably distribute new bike infrastructure. “We hope this call for a renewed look at bike equity in Chicago can amplify those efforts, and we look forward to collaborating with advocates throughout the city to build a bike network that serves all Chicagoans equally.”

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Uptown Developer Finds New Bikes Enticing New Tenants

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The new Heritage Outpost under construction at 1325 W. Wilson Ave. Photo by John Greenfield.

Visitors staying overnight at some Chicago hotels have long been able to borrow bikes during their stays, but now one apartment building owner has upped the ante and is giving away bikes for rather longer-term stays.

Cedar Street Companies is offering free custom bicycles as an incentive for new tenants to sign two-year leases before year’s end at its FLATS Chicago apartment buildings. The bikes will be built to order by Heritage Bicycles, a Lakeview-based bicycle and coffee shop. Heritage will also bring “outposts,” serving up food but not bikes, within two FLATS buildings in Uptown, at 1325 W. Wilson Avenue and at the former Lawrence House Hotel.

“It seemed to make a lot of sense to work with Heritage, who’s in our building now,” said Daly Donnellan of FLATS, which began the promotion a few weeks ago. “We’ve already gotten a handful of people signed up to get a free bike.” New residents can secure their bikes in bike rooms within each building, since FLATS apartments are known to be on the small side. Donnellan says that demand for bike parking has been healthy enough that the company has “look[ed] for other places to add additional storage… so far, it’s worked out.”

Newly bike-equipped residents can also easily go out for a ride with friends, thanks to a bike-share program that lets residents check out additional bikes from the front desk. FLATS has also requested bike corrals from the city to provide ample on-street parking for two-wheeled visitors to the buildings or their Heritage Outposts. None of the buildings offer car parking on site.

FLATS is currently leasing four buildings in Uptown, Edgewater, and Ravenswood, with two more under renovation and others on the way. Some neighbors, especially in Uptown, aren’t entirely happy with how Cedar Street has raised rents in the vintage buildings it has rebranded as FLATS, and recently helped to win city approval of an ordinance aimed at making such conversions more difficult.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Here I Am, Stuck in Seattle With You

podcast icon logoStuck in Seattle or Stuck in Sherman Oaks. There are so many places to get stuck these days and so many clowns and jokers making it worse.

First, poor Bertha, stuck 100 feet under Seattle. All the tunnel boring machine wanted to do was drill a 1.7-mile tunnel for a highway that won’t even access downtown and is projected to cause more congestion at a higher price than a parallel surface/transit option — and it got stuck just 1,000 feet in. Last December. Now the rescue plan is making downtown sink. It’s not going well. And to be honest, it was always destined to not go well. It was a crappy plan to begin with. Luckily, there is a rescue plan for the rescue plan, if anyone cares to carry it out. It starts with some accountability and ends — spoiler alert! — with pulling the damn plug.

But if the new tunnel to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct is likely to cause traffic tie-ups, it’s nothing compared to the perennial jam on LA’s I-405. The popular navigation app Waze has started directing drivers off the freeway and into the residential neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, infuriating the people who live there. Their solution: Try to convince Waze there are traffic jams in Sherman Oaks too. Our solution: Build a better transportation system.

And that’s it! This is our last podcast until the New Year. You can catch up on anything you missed on iTunes or Stitcher, and if you follow our RSS feed (or our Twitter feeds) you’ll be the first to know when a new episode is out.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Trails!

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Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to Rip Out City’s First Protected Bike Lane

Mt. Prospect Avenue in Newark has New Jersey’s first protected bike lane, as far as we know. But unfortunately it looks like the Garden State will soon be back to zero.

Merchants around the Prospect Avenue protected bike lane in Newark complained about losing parking, and the Mayor caved. Photo: WalkBikeJersey

After business owners near the Mt. Prospect Avenue bike lane in Newark complained about losing parking, Mayor Ras Baraka ordered its removal. Baraka is allowing drivers to block it in the meantime. Photo: WalkBikeJersey

Andrew Besold at WalkBikeJersey is reporting Mayor Ras Baraka has ordered the removal of the bike lane, and in the meantime is allowing people to park in it. The executive order follows some unfriendly news coverage, Besold says:

Well, it might have been too good while it lasted. If you read The Star-Ledger or have been following our Facebook page you are likely aware of the parking protected bike lanes on Mt. Prospect Ave in Newark’s North Ward, the first that we are aware of in New Jersey. Columnist Barry Carter has been writing a series (123) about the claimed hardships the streetscape redesign, particularly the parking protected bike lanes have caused the local residents and merchants. This Tuesday he claimed victory over the bike lanes after Mayor Baraka issued an executive order [allowing] drivers to park at the curb until the roadway could be entirely redesigned without the bike lanes as they are now.

The crux of the argument to remove the bike lanes was that they had eliminated valuable parking that was preventing customers from visiting the stores on the avenue. Also, since the addition of parking protected bike lanes had narrowed the width of the the avenue, customers now would no longer be able to double park to quickly visit a store. However in the hour I was there on Tuesday, December 16th, between 2pm and 3pm, parking was not at all a problem. Again, I arrived by car and was able to find a parking space on just about every block, if not on Mt. Prospect Ave itself, on the immediately adjacent side streets.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Tribune: New Study Proves Red Light Cams Don’t Improve Safety. Actually, They Do.
  • Emanuel Wants to Introduce His Own Ordinance to Codify Privatization Process (Sun-Times)
  • Broadway Named One of USA’s Best PBLs of 2014 (RedEyeChicagoist)
  • City Debuts an Online Map of Residential Parking Zones (DNA)
  • Emanuel Halts Rent-Free Use of City Land by United Center Parking Companies (Sun-Times)
  • Ice on the Ohio Feeder Ramp Leads to Crashes (CBS)
  • Service Disruptions on the Green Line This Wekend for Cermak Station Construction (DNA)
  • MPC Celebrates Its 80th Birthday
  • A Look at Chicago’s “Crash and Grab” Burglary Epidemic (ABC)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Montrose Green TOD Actually Fits Its Neighborhood Just Fine

Montrose Green

A year-old city ordinance could allow a neighborhood restaurant, not car parking spaces, to face the ‘L’ station entrance.

Developer David Brown wants to bring a neighborhood restaurant to a site right outside the the Chicago Transit Authority’s Montrose Brown Line station, along with 24 apartments, a small office space, and 10 car parking spaces. The city’s zoning ordinance would ordinarily require him to fill the entire ground floor of his proposed five-story Montrose Green building with 24 parking spaces. However, Brown has requested that 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar change the site’s zoning to permit more housing and less parking, under what the city terms transit-oriented development.

A meeting last week hosted by Brown and Pawar drew some of the usual complaints about the neighborhood having too many cars and too little on-street parking. For example, DNAinfo quoted Kristina Stevens saying, “Most of these people, I believe, are going to have cars and park on our streets. Taking the train does not mean you don’t own a car.”

In fact, many of Montrose Green’s neighbors in North Center take the train (and bus) and don’t own cars — and the new building would help even more make car-lite choices, and accelerate a neighborhood-wide (and nationwide) trend towards less driving.

Montrose Green current vs proposed zoning

Montrose Green actually provides more car parking spaces per resident (but fewer per unit) than current zoning requirements. Image: David Brown

42 percent of households in the building will be able to store a car behind the building, a percentage that nearly matches the 46 percent of households in nearby Census tracts who own one car. Even fewer residents own cars in the tracts closest to the Brown Line.

Not only are there fewer cars than one might expect in the neighborhood, there’s also less vehicle traffic — and even less with every passing year. Vehicle counts on Montrose, between Western and Ashland, show 42 percent fewer cars (5,000 cars per day) between 2006 and 2010, the most recent data available. Car traffic also declined by 23 percent, or 2,400 cars, on Damen across Montrose. Since then, citywide miles driven people have continued to fall, dropping by 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Meanwhile, transit use in North Center has gone up across the board, even though the surrounding Census tracts have shown minimal population growth. Brown Line boardings at Montrose increased by nearly 20 percent between 2010 and 2013, across both weekdays and weekends — a sign that people aren’t just using transit for work, but also for errands and social trips. (Fully 47.5 percent of local residents do take transit to work.) Bus ridership on the #78 Montrose bus increased by over 10 percent over the same period, as well.

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The Importance of Driving to the U.S. Economy Started Waning in the 70s

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Americans drive much less per unit of economic output than we did a generation ago.

Earlier this year, following a slight uptick in U.S. traffic volumes, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release, “More people driving means our economy is picking up speed.” He’s not the only person to equate traffic with economic growth. Even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said, “We like traffic, it means economic activity,” before his administration embraced ideas like congestion pricing, bus lanes, and protected bikeways.

In fact, the amount Americans drive is an increasingly poor reflection of the nation’s economic output. A forthcoming analysis from Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (sorry, no link available yet) finds that by some measures, driving has been “decoupling” from U.S. economic growth for a generation.

Sivak looked at two measures of driving activity in relation to economic growth: mileage per unit of gross domestic product and fuel consumed per unit of GDP. On both of those metrics, when GDP is adjusted for inflation, the amount of driving relative to economic output peaked in the 1970s.

Distance driven relative to economic output was highest in 1977. After that, it more or less plateaued until the 1990s, when it began to decline sharply, Sivak reports. Today it stands at about where it did in the 1940s.

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Kentucky Threatens 17 Louisville Street Trees, Citing Safety [Updated]

The Kentucky Department of Transportation objects to street trees on this stroad. Image: Google Maps

The Kentucky Department of Transportation says trees make this road dangerous. Image: Google Maps

Here’s a classic story of traffic engineering myopia. Officials at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are threatening to remove 17 newly planted street trees in a Louisville suburb.

As reported by Next City and Louisville’s Courier-Journal, the trees had been selected and planted in part to ameliorate the area’s growing urban heat island problem. Louisville has lost 9 percent of its tree cover over roughly the last decade.

But Kentucky officials say the trees are a hazard to motorists along Brownsboro Road in Rolling Hills.

“We are not anti-tree at the Transportation Cabinet,” state highway engineer Matt Bullock told the Courier-Journal. “We are pro-safety.”

The state has given the city until Christmas to remove the trees. Local officials have accused the state of “selective enforcement” and even “harassment.”

Charles Marohn, the civil engineer who founded Strong Towns, said Kentucky is looking at the problem in the wrong way. ”Street trees are dangerous,” he said, but only if “you have fast moving traffic.”

“They’re focused on the street trees and not the speed. Street trees are not a problem at reasonable speeds.”

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At Last, the Bloomingdale Looks Like a Trail

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Beth White stands under a lighting arch on the Humboldt Boulevard Bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In June, Steven Vance and I got a sneak peek at construction to build the Bloomingdale Trail, AKA The 606. On Tuesday, I went back up on the rail line for a tour with Beth White from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project, and saw that major progress has been made over the last six months. Work on bridges and utilities is largely complete, access ramps are in place, many blocks of railings have been installed, and most of the 2.7-mile route is paved.

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Much of the eastern portion of the trail now has railings. Photo: John Greenfield

The $95 million multiuse trail and linear park was supposed to debut this fall but construction delays, caused by the long, cold winter, have postponed the opening date until June. The upside of the delay is that more of the landscaping for the path and its access parks will be completed by opening time than was originally planned.

Almost all of the rail line, except for locations currently accessed by heavy trucks, now sports a 14-foot-wide ribbon of concrete that will serve as the walking and biking surface. Mile markers have been embedded in the pavement, and two-foot-wide rubber surfaces will be added to the outside edges of the path to provide a soft surface for running — a similar configuration as the Lakefront Trail.

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Cities Won’t Turn Out the Way Highway Builders Predict

What if the driving slump continues apace forever, asks Patrick Kennedy. Image: Street Smarts

What if the driving slump continues apace forever, asks Patrick Kennedy. Image: Street Smarts

The highway lobby in Dallas keeps beating the same drum: They talk about projected population growth and predict that highways will become a massive logjam. So they argue Dallas should be building, building, building new highways for these future drivers at a furious pace.

But Patrick Kennedy at Street Smart notes that if you look at more recent trends, they actually make the case for fewer highways. Ultimately, he says, basing complex decisions on simplistic trend line projections is just a bad way to plan for the future:

Let’s play a game then, if we’re following trend lines continually up and to the right. How much will DFW residents be driving in 2035 based on current trends? Well, according to Texas Transportation Institute, DFW averaged 13.26 miles driven per person per day in 2006. That number has since fallen to 11.90. Wha?! How could that be? All of our driving models show VMT going up (and therefore we base transportation funding and policy on said models). They couldn’t possibly be wrong. What is wrong is people. Who change and adapt and live and do things differently based on their time and circumstances which also change, unlike our models, which are exquisite and perfect and say we need moar damn highways.

If we’re dropping VMT per capita by 32% every 5 years certainly that trend line will continue for ever and ever. If it keeps dropping by 32% every 5 years, the average DFW resident will be driving 1.37 miles per day, about half as much as the average current New York City metro resident. Sounds ridiculous right?

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