UIC Bike/Walk Project Didn’t Get the $17 Million in Federal Funds It Needs

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UIC has proposed eliminating the cul-de-sacs to create a pedestrian plaza, streamlined walking path, and a bike path at Morgan Street and Vernon Park Place between the library and Behavioral Sciences Building.

Unfortunately, a transportation project that has the potential to positively transform the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus was passed over for federal funding. The $29.3 million initiative, called Crossroads & Connections, would make significant changes to campus streets in order to make walking and biking safer and more convenient.

The university was seeking $17.2 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding. This discretionary grant program from the U.S. Department of Transportation finances “transformative” projects that would have at least a citywide impact on safety. The remaining funds would have come from UIC’s parking revenue, because the project would have included replacing asphalt in some parking lots with permeable pavers to reduce the amount of runoff sent to the city’s sewer system.

The only Chicagoland TIGER application to win funding this year was a railroad bridge over the Fox River near Elgin used by Metra trains. A new pedestrian bridge at 35th Street over railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive that’s currently under construction is also funded by TIGER.

Crossroads & Connections would have addressed many dangerous and annoying situations for people walking and bicycling on the UIC campus, including several pet peeves I accumulated while studying there for four years. It would create smoother cycling connections, build new pedestrian plazas, and legitimize walking routes that weren’t being accommodated before.

The university also wants to reduce crashes and injuries by modifying high-risk intersection and crossing points. The plan notes that that 252 people were injured in crashes with people walking and bicycling, from 2008-2012 on the eastern and western portions of the campus, and while making their way between the two areas.

Ever since the Student Recreation Facility opened at Halsted and Polk Streets in the mid-2000s, people have been crossing the streets diagonally and mid-block to access dorms or student center buildings. Some of them walk over planted medians to do so.

The C & C plan calls for creating a wide mid-block crosswalk on Halsted by cutting a gap into the median and adding a “High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk Beacon,” aka a HAWK signal. When pedestrians press a button on the signal, drivers would get a red light. While this is a “beg button” of sorts, it would make mid-block crossing here safer and more convenient.

There’s currently a cycling barrier where Morgan Street meets Vernon Park Place, at the northwest corner of the eastern portion of the campus. Over 16 years ago, the block of Morgan south of Harrison Street was eliminated to expand the campus. This removed the Vernon Park/Morgan intersection and eliminated motor vehicle traffic at pedestrian-heavy junction connecting University Hall (UH), the Behavioral Sciences Building (BSB), the Richard J. Daley Library, and the Little Italy/Tri-Taylor neighborhood to the west.

However, the sidewalks here are too narrow, creating a bottleneck, and they’ve been in disrepair for about a decade. Pedestrians and bicyclists are squeezed onto the same route and, in winter, the dilapidated sidewalks flood and freeze, creating an icy pond.

UIC intends to remove even more of Vernon Park and Morgan, creating a pedestrian plaza. They want to build separate walking and biking paths, and repair and streamline the sidewalk connection from the Behavioral Sciences Building to parts of campus southeast of there.

The Crossroads & Connections project would also improve transit facilities. The plan calls for new bus shelters and Bus Tracker signs, plus traffic signal coordination in order to speed up buses.

Lastly, C & C proposes modest upgrades to pedestrian crossings along Roosevelt Road, Taylor Street, and other roadways. These would include walk signals with countdown timers and leading pedestrian interval timing, which gives people on foot a head start before drivers get a green. Travel lanes and crosswalk markings would be re-striped as needed. Additionally, several unmarked crosswalks will be marked.

Despite its strengths, the plan doesn’t fully address underlying reasons why some of the intersections by UIC are so dangerous. For example, Halsted/Harrison has an extremely wide turning radius from eastbound Harrison to southbound Halsted. That  encourages motorists to make fast turns at the location where many students are crossing to reach the 24-hour UIC-Halsted Blue Line station.

This intersection is undergoing changes during the Illinois Department of Transportation’s renovation and expansion of the Jane Byrne Interchange, but it unclear what modifications will be made. Halsted and Roosevelt has the same problem of wide turning radii on several corners. Here UIC plans more visible crosswalk markings, leading pedestrian intervals, and to install flashing yellow lights above crosswalks further down Roosevelt.

While Halsted has bike lanes between Harrison and Roosevelt, the plan acknowledges that motorists drive at high-speeds the four lanes, especially during evening hours. Converting Halsted from four lanes to two travel lanes plus a turn lane might be a good solution for calming traffic, but the plan states that this stretch sees 25,000 – 32,000 vehicles per day. That’s too many for a four-to-three road diet, since the Chicago Department of Transportation generally won’t do one on a four-lane street with over 20,000 trips per day.

However, it appears UIC’s traffic numbers for Halsted are inaccurate. Illinois Department of Transportation traffic counts from the past decade put Halsted consistently below 20,000. In addition to overlooking the opportunity for a road diet, Crossroads & Connections doesn’t recommend any changes to the street to reduce speeding.

Roosevelt Road is also a high-speed four-lane street with conventional bike lanes and it’s not a comfortable bike route, either. Taylor Street, two blocks north, is a good alternative – and marked as such with on-street signs – because it’s a two-lane street with car speeds. However, like Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, dooring is a hazard on Taylor because it’s a narrow, busy retail district with high parking turnover. As part of the C & C plan, UIC is proposing protected bike lanes for Taylor east of Halsted, which would connect with PBLs on Canal Street, a few blocks east.

IDOT's traffic counts are lower than the UIC plan indicates. The count in 2014 is significantly lower because some people are taking an alternative route during the Circle Interchange construction.
IDOT’s traffic counts are lower than the UIC plan indicates. The count in 2014 is significantly lower because drivers are taking alternative routes during the Jane Byrne Interchange reconstruction.

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  • Roland Solinski

    Truly a bone-headed plan if it doesn’t reverse the superblock planning that turned Harrison, Halsted, Ashland, and Roosevelt into giant auto sewers.

    The two severed halves of Morgan at Harrison especially should be restored, which could reduce the traffic on Halsted greatly and allow that street to go on a road diet.

  • I like that Morgan is essentially car-free, but the development on the street doesn’t fully take advantage of that. That would be a great place to put student housing (whether or not owned by the university) on the east side and eventually denser housing on the west side.

    The Catholic church and student center probably doesn’t need such a large parking lot.

    And the median on Morgan Street south of Vernon Park Place could be removed so that one-way traffic isn’t channelized (high-speed, but mitigated by the frequent speed humps). The landscaping on Morgan Street could be installed on widened sidewalks, and chicanes would calm automobile traffic.

  • Anne A

    I like pieces of the plan, like the added ped crossing on Halsted, improving Morgan for bikes and peds, and protected bike lanes on Taylor east of Halsted.

    The intersection of Halsted and Harrison MUST get substantial improvements for ped and bike safety. The current design prioritizes fast turning vehicle traffic, at the peril of all other users. If redesign of such a heavily traveled ped/bike location between campus and the blue line station does not make the intersection significantly safer for vulnerable users, this would be an inexcusable failure.

  • Anne A

    Don’t even get me started about Roosevelt Road, which is a traffic horror show from Wabash to Blue Island.

  • It’s not in this plan, but UIC wants to facilitate most Blue Line-campus walking through the Peoria Street entrance by creating a plaza there, between the rebuilt bridge and Harrison Street.

    That’s great and all, but there are tens of thousands of pedestrian movements to and from the UIC-Halsted station and all entrances get used. All entrances must have good pedestrian accommodations.

  • It’s annoying to see on Facebook CDOT thanking IDOT for restriping the bike lanes after IDOT resurfaced Roosevelt Road. One really shouldn’t bike on Roosevelt Road unless one is in a big hurry (it has fewer stops than Taylor) and willing to put up with fast fumes.

  • Anne A

    I’ve been threatened by fast and reckless traffic on the bridge section and by road ragers in the congested areas from the approach to Canal past the bridge over the highway. I’ll only use it if there is no other viable option to reach my destination.

  • Anne A

    Yes, all entrances should have good pedestrian accommodations. Some of the ped traffic I see on that section of Halsted is going past campus. Those folks should not be required to detour to Peoria to have a safe crossing of Harrison.

  • Anne A

    That section of Morgan (Taylor to Vernon Park) is pretty much wasted space in its current form.

  • I reluctantly use the phrase OMG to describe my irritation with the current condition of Roosevelt, it’s like they put in those bike lanes just to taunt us by letting them dissolve back into the universe.

    Would it kill CPD to at least make some token efforts to enforce traffic laws during rush hour (and I don’t mean the “advertised ahead of time PR stunts”)?

    It’s basically a free-for-all in Chicago right now, drivers behave just like we’d expect when there is no consequence to breaking traffic laws.

  • I’d like to see this plan get a little more attention:

    http://chicago.curbed.com/archives/2014/12/15/uic-releases-second-round-obama-presidential-library-proposal.php

    “One of the more unique features of the concept is that the school would build part of the library and museum over the Eisenhower Expressway
    near the Jane Byrne Interchange. In addition to the its ambitious plan
    to blanket huge stretches of highway with trees and park space, the
    proposal states that the city’s development of bus rapid transit (BRT)
    along Roosevelt Road and the eventual reopening of the Kostner Blue Line
    station will help ensure that visitors will be able to get to the
    museum, but also will provide important transportation upgrades for
    residents of the areas.”

  • BlueFairlane

    While all this would be pretty, I think I’d prefer to see UIC focus on rising tuition, growing class size, shrinking class offerings, and falling instructor pay.

  • Some of the project elements could still be funded, with the parking revenue. I presume that parking revenues are allowed to only go towards improving parking, but I wonder if even the parking revenues are enough to cover the costs.

    Also, I think you’re playing the “this or that” zero-sum game (“focus on X instead of Y”) that I figured you wouldn’t want to play. UIC is probably capable of focusing on multiple projects…

  • Anne A

    I’m seeing occasional bursts of traffic enforcement on State St., but there’s no real incentive for drivers to behave in a civilized way because there is effectively NO punishment for doing otherwise.

  • BlueFairlane

    I can’t find the line item that tells me what the income from UIC’s parking lots is in the amount of time I’m interested in putting into it, and I don’t rule out that it would be high enough to fund some of this. But the notion nevertheless bothers me on a philosophical basis. I know how government budgets work and how funds get allocated for certain purposes, but this doesn’t really lessen the blow to UIC students and instructors when their institution is being told to cut their budget by 31.5%. And I can’t help but think some guy like Rauner would look at the parking funds spent to build a pretty sidewalk and say, “You know what? They don’t need Springfield money. Let’s cut them another 20% and make it an even hundred million.” Meanwhile, the bulk of UIC instructors are paid something less than $30,000.

    It would be nice to marginally increase the safety of students crossing a street, but it’s kind of pointless if once across they fall deep into debt for an increasingly worthless education.

  • rohmen

    That proposal is essentially dead: http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150512/hyde-park/its-official-obama-says-south-side-getting-his-library

    I always thought UofC was likely to get it considering the connection, but I agree the UIC proposal had the potential to be much more transformative for an institution. UofC would have marched on as a world class institution regardless of the library, while UIC could have actually seen a great bump from the resources and exposure (which to me is what these things should be about in the first place).

  • Oh, it was dead in the water, no doubt.

    But I think as we see the West Loop and UIC continue to grow, at some point there will be a critical mass of people (and wealthy people) who will see the value of covering that mess of asphalt.

    Aside from aesthetics and accessibility issues, the spike in property values/taxes would be considerable. Just look at what Millennium Park was done – that was a giant surface parking lot when I was a kid.

  • planetshwoop

    IF you look at where Taylor St dead-ends near Canal, it actually has concrete barriers to stop the road as it was designed to have a new bridge over the river.

    Dare to dream” Make that a ped/bike-only bridge to connect the South Loop residential with the shopping corridors on Canal. Roosevelt over the river is horrifying.

  • planetshwoop

    Not if you’re the chancellor and you need to park your car in the small lot in front of UH.

  • planetshwoop

    And when UIC gets sued for negligence for not maintaining the sidewalk, or there is an accident that provokes a lawsuit at one of the areas impacted, then perhaps it is worth it financially. That’s just as much a hypothetical as your Rauner example.

    As Steven said, it’s not a zero sum game.

  • Anne A

    Taylor St. would be a great location for a ped/bike bridge.

    Horrifying is a good way of describing a trip on Roosevelt over the river.

  • BlueFairlane

    You don’t need $17 million to maintain a sidewalk well enough to avoid being sued for negligence.

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