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CDOT Tells Council Improved Red Light Cameras Might Mean More Tickets

Rate of fatal crashes due to red light running has dropped more than rate of fatal crashes due to all other causes between the period Chicago didn't have and did have red light cameras.

In 12 of 14 cities surveyed, fatal crashes due to red light running dropped relative to all fatal crashes after red light camera enforcement began. Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian & Traffic Safety that equipment problems that have plagued the city’s red light camera enforcement program have mostly been resolved. Although some aldermen were there to pounce upon the media ruckus around the cameras, other aldermen understood that red light cameras can play a role in keeping Chicago’s streets safer.

Alderman Deborah Graham (29th) recounted her experience with a motorist who ran a red light caused a car crash two years ago. “I was going through an intersection at Lake and Sacramento, and a woman trying to beat the traffic light cut me off, and I struck the CTA support beam,” she told the committee at their regular meeting on Tuesday. “I had to have a major surgery,” she said, adding, “So I have a real concern when we’re approaching intersections and dealing with the (red light) cameras.”

Graham was asking Scheinfeld about how CDOT plans to keep equipment in “top-notch” form since the city changed vendors from Redflex, which used unreliable induction loop detectors, to Xerox, which uses a more accurate radar system that can easily be checked remotely.

Alderman Deb Mell (33rd) expressed her confidence in the changes that CDOT had made in response to the IG’s investigation. “I think people drive way too fast in this city,” she said, adding, “I’m really happy that we had this [hearing], and kind of air it out, and going forward, [red light cameras will] do their job.”

Scheinfeld described changes CDOT has made to their agreement with Xerox, which include financial penalties if Xerox flags too many “false positives.” (Violations are sent to IBM for a second review.) CDOT also reduced the allowable rate of “close calls” from 15 percent in Redflex’s contract to 10 percent in Xerox’s contract. The new contract has already had results: CDOT has already fined Xerox $28,867 for “failure to meet specified performance metrics.”

She said these new “business rules” will be posted on the CDOT website, along with the violation data that’s already been posted to the city’s open data portal. If there are “spikes” in the future, an “early warning system” will alert Xerox staff, who will be required to consult with CDOT staff. Scheinfeld said that CDOT’s own staff will also be monitoring violations data themselves, watching for anomalies.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson was also at the meeting to answer questions about his report [PDF], which detailed Redflex’s poor record keeping and CDOT’s lax management. Since the report was issued, he said, “CDOT has been extremely responsive to all of our suggestions.”

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Slow Roll Chicago’s Founders: “Potential Is Endless” To Connect Communities

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In October, Slow Roll Chicago visited Pullman’s former railcar factory and the Pullman Porter museum. Photo by E. Espoz.

Slow Roll Chicago is a new addition to our city’s already impressive roster of community-based bicycling organizations. Inspired by a global bicycle movement that started in Detroit, the local chapter works to strengthen neighborhoods, connect diverse citizens, and transform communities through bicycling.

Last weekend, I met with co-founders Olatunji Oboi Reed and Jamal Julien to discuss how Slow Roll provides south and west side communities with a venue to explore their vibrant, beautiful streets.

Lorena Cupcake: How did you two get involved with Slow Roll?

Oboi Reed: Slow Roll is a global bicycling movement. It was founded as a movement in Detroit by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool in 2010. It started out small, with a few people riding on a weekly basis, and over the years it grew to several hundred, and eventually it grew to several thousand, and just earlier this year, it kind of caught fire in Detroit. Right now, to this day, the Slow Roll average in Detroit is three to four thousand people every Monday night.

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Families joined Slow Roll’s ride to the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

Jamal and I, maybe about six months ago, found out about Slow Roll in Detroit via Facebook. We saw some videos and we just loved this idea of all of these thousands of people rolling slow through Detroit. It’s just an incredible sight to see, even just watching a video. We kind of fell in love with the concept, but for a while we just watched from afar.

One day, Jamal and I just both had this idea: we could bring this to Chicago. We reached out to the organizers, the founders of Slow Roll Detroit, and we started a conversation with them about potentially bringing it to Chicago. It took some work, some time, but after a lot of effort we made it happen. We did our first ride here in Chicago on September 20th, and here we are.

LC: Can you tell me about the Big Marsh Ride you did this morning?

OR: Today, Jamal and I rode with two people from SRAM, a global bike component manufacturing company headquartered here in Chicago. We worked very closely with Randy Neufeld, who’s the SRAM Cycling Fund director (he runs the company’s foundation), and Dan Stefiuk, the manager of road sports marketing at SRAM. ​We also had with us two people from the management team of Slow Roll Chicago, the team we call #SquadChicago. That includes David Peterson, the executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, and our good friend Vaughn Coney Varaski, who works for the railroad and is a longtime resident of Pullman.

This morning, the five of us rode on out to Big Marsh to explore the creation of Big Marsh into an eco-recreation park. A lot of resources and time and effort are going into that piece of land, and we wanted to just experience it for ourself. [We wanted] to really think about how Slow Roll Chicago could help with community engagement on that project, to ensure that black, brown, and low- to moderate-income people in Pullman, in Roseland, and surrounding communities are engaged in the planning process from the beginning. [They'll] feel connected to that process, feel a sense of ownership in Big Marsh, and really want to engage beyond just visiting once in a while.

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Quinn Talks Good Game On Active Transportation, But Does He Deliver?

6.24.13 Governor Quinn and Indiana Governor Mike Pence Open Business Development Forum in Rosemont

Governor Quinn supports active transportation policy in spirit, but his administration has lavished funds on wider roads and the Illiana Tollway. Photo: Governor Quinn

Governor Pat Quinn, who is up for re-election next week, shared warm words about sustainable transportation with the Active Transportation Alliance in response to their candidate questionnaire [PDF]. His words haven’t always been matched by actions from his five-year-old administration — but unlike opponent Bruce Rauner, at least he’s talking to advocates.

Quinn’s written response stated that, between eight options that Active Trans listed to improve the public’s ability to to get around Illinois, “All are priorities for my administration… with the exception of widening existing roads.” He added that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, “where we believe in accommodating the transportation needs of all residents.” Indeed, Illinois was the first state to adopt Complete Streets as law, back in 2007.

Yet under Quinn’s administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation has demonstrated that its priorities include widening existing roads, rather than bus rapid transit, congestion pricing, or the other options Active Trans outlined. IDOT has widened dozens of miles of roads throughout the suburbs, and even widened Harrison Street through the South Loop in 2012 — a move that the Chicago Department of Transportation partially reversed this year with a road diet and buffered bike lanes.

Quinn has also championed the expensive and unnecessary Illiana Tollway as his top priority for IDOT, thereby depriving all other priorities of crucial state funding. That’s even as support for the road continues to diminish: although the state has repeatedly claimed that the road is necessary to support truck traffic, major trucking interests have soured on the proposal.

According to Active Trans, IDOT’s own survey “identified Protected Bike Lanes as the most preferred treatment for making roads safer and comfortable for biking,” but the department currently bans cities from installing protected bike lanes on state roads. Quinn pledges that, during his next term, he’ll install 20 miles of PBLs on state roads. He also took credit for IDOT’s newly cooperative stance regarding a curb-separated protected bike lane on state-administered Clybourn Avenue, after an allegedly drunk driver hit and killed Bobby Cann while Cann was bicycling on Clybourn.

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Road Diet Curbs Lawrence Avenue’s Dangerous Mile

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Refuge islands allow pedestrians to cross the street one lane at a time. Bump-outs, in the background, shorten the distance across the street and reduce the chance that motorists will park in the crosswalk. Photo: John Greenfield

The one mile of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western avenues, through the Ravenswood neighborhood, went on a road diet this year. The diet slimmed Lawrence from four to two travel lanes, and used the extra space to create room for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extensive landscaping. The streetscape project right-sized this stretch of Lawrence, bringing it in line with the two-lane segments both west of Western and east of Ashland.

Crashes at Damen and Lawrence

11 people were injured in pedestrian crashes at Lawrence and Damen avenues, near McPherson elementary school and the Levy senior center. Source: IDOT, via ChicagoCrashes.org

“Road diets” are a widely accepted method to make streets safer, and (as on Lawrence) are often combined with other safety-enhancing streetscape improvements like bump-outs and median pedestrian refuges. Just the road diet, though, can be enough to reduce speeding by drivers and cut the number of crashes and injuries, while also opening up space for uses like bike lanes, street trees, and sidewalk cafés.

The road diet on Lawrence will improve the safety of a notoriously dangerous street. Traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation tells us that from 2005 to 2012, 72 people were injured in pedestrian-car crashes within the nine blocks (just over one mile) of Lawrence between Clark and Western avenues.

That means that there have been many more pedestrian-car crashes along this stretch of Lawrence than on comparable streets: This stretch of Lawrence has 11 times more injuries from crashes than the average mile of street in Chicago.

Lawrence even has many more injuries than comparable busy arterial streets. 60 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes occurred on this previously four-lane stretch of Lawrence than on the one-mile stretch to its west through Albany Park. There were even 54 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes on the dangerous mile of Lawrence than on a comparable one-mile stretch of Halsted, between Grand and Van Buren through Greektown. That part of Halsted carries a similar number of cars on its two lanes, but probably sees more pedestrians due to its thriving shops and nightlife.

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CDOT Announces Proposed Divvy Locations for 33rd Ward

Proposed Divvy stations in 2015

Proposed 33rd Ward Divvy locations.

At the 33rd Ward transportation committee meeting last Thursday, deputy transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel presented the locations for nine proposed Divvy stations in the Northwest Side district. Alderman Deb Mell has approved all of the spots.

The locations include the three westernmost Brown Line stations and two sites near Horner Park, plus locations near Montrose/Kedzie, Irving Park/Kedzie, Elston/Addison/Kedzie, and Elston/Belmont/California. These would be installed in March, at the earliest. Installation of one of the proposed Horner Park stations, at the northeast corner of Irving Park/California, may conflict with riverbank restoration work at the park, so CDOT and the ward are looking for an alternative location.

Wiedel showed a map of the locations, as well as renderings of how each station would be oriented. In a few cases, the stations will replace metered parking spots. These metered spaces will be moved elsewhere in the ward, in keeping with the city’s parking contract.

One constituent suggested relocating the proposed Divvy station that would serve the Brown Line’s Kimball stop. The bike-share station would be installed in the street on the south side of Lawrence, just east of Christiana.

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CDOT plans to install a Divvy station to the left of this bus stop at Lawrence/Christiana. Image: Google Streetview

Currently, the north-south crosswalk for this T-shaped intersection runs right into an eastbound bus stop for the #81 Lawrence bus, so buses often block the crosswalk. To address this problem, the resident suggested moving the bus stop east of Christiana, to where the Divvy station is proposed. The bike-share station could then be placed where the bus stop is now.

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Proposed River West Towers Would Be Better With Even Less Parking

1001 W. Chicago Ave.

Proposed development at 1001 W. Chicago Ave. Rendering by FitzGerald Associates.

Security Properties from Seattle recently received Plan Commission approval to build 14- and 15-story buildings on the site of the Gonnella bakery at 1001 W. Chicago Avenue, near the busy intersection with Milwaukee and Ogden avenues and the Blue Line’s Chicago stop. 363 apartments and 35,000 square feet of retail would fill the two towers, helping to meet the burgeoning demand to live near transit and downtown and potentially bringing a grocery store to the neighborhood. The alley between the towers would become a shared space plaza, fronted by a bike repair room for residents. Less fortunately, though, the buildings will also include 318 car parking spaces.

The city’s transit oriented development (TOD) ordinance allows developers to build 50 percent fewer car parking spaces than normally required for buildings whose main entrances are within 600 feet of a train station. The proposed zoning for this development would require only 182 car parking spaces for the residences and none for the retail space — but instead of a 50 percent reduction, Security has only requested 12 percent fewer spaces than the usual requirement.

This many new parking spaces would add even more cars to the six-way junction out front. The long queues of cars here slow buses along the Chicago Transit Authority’s 56-Milwaukee and 66-Chicago bus routes, and also make it difficult for bicyclists to navigate the hazardous intersection.

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New Ventra App Takes Small Step Towards Transit Fare Integration

CTA and Globe Sherpa provided this image showing a potential app design.

CTA and Globe Sherpa showed off one potential app design.

The forthcoming smartphone ticket app for Metra will also make it possible for Chicago Transit Authority and Pace customers to manage their Ventra transit accounts on their phones, the CTA announced last week. Even though the three agencies will spend $2.5 million on the app (plus nearly $16,000 in monthly fees), the Ventra app won’t at first offer customers many more functions than the existing Ventra website.

CTA communications manager Tony Coppoletta pointed out to Streetsblog that the 80 percent of CTA customers who have smartphones could use the app to skip the lines at station vending machines or at Ventra retailers, and have easier on-the-go access to their Ventra accounts. Bus passengers, who currently have to go out of their way to reload their Ventra accounts, may find the app particularly useful.

As we’ve reported before, the app will also help occasional Metra riders by finally making it possible to instantly purchase Metra tickets from anywhere. For example, an individual who loads $130 every month in pre-tax transit benefits into into a Ventra account could purchase a $100 monthly CTA/Pace pass, and still have $30 each month to spend on Metra tickets.

Yet many transit riders won’t benefit from the app. The 20 percent of CTA riders who don’t have smartphones, and others who don’t use bank cards, add up to hundreds of thousands who won’t be able to use the app. Many more CTA riders automatically deposit funds into their Ventra accounts, using Ventra’s auto-load function or pre-tax transit benefits. Similarly, any Metra riders who don’t have smartphones will still have to buy their tickets by mail or in person.

Two more crucial technologies that would further simplify transit payments are still set for the indefinite future. Read more…

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95 Problems: A Walk Down the South Side’s Most Notorious “Stroad”

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Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn crash. Photo: John Greenfield

[A version of this article also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

“I avoid 95th Street as much as possible for my safety and sanity,” said Beverly resident and Streetsblog contributor Anne Alt, in the wake of a horrific multi-car crash on the massive road earlier this month. This senseless disaster in west suburban Oak Lawn injured almost a dozen people and killed three, including two nuns.

On Sunday, October 5, at around 4:30 p.m., witnesses noticed retired contractor Edward Carthans, eighty-one, slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup near 95th and Western, police said. Carthans refused help and instead sped west on 95th, colliding with three cars at Keeler. He kept driving, blew a red light at Cicero, and then veered into the eastbound lanes, causing an eleven-car pile-up. After his truck became airborne, he was killed, along with Sister Jean Stickney, 86, and Sister Kab Kyoung Kim, 48, who were driving home from a shopping trip.

“It’s a miracle that we don’t have serious crashes on 95th more often than we do,” Alt commented on Streetsblog. She noted that much of 95th is a “stroad,” a street/road hybrid with straight geometry and multiple, wide lanes that encourage highway speeds within populated areas. “The mix of congestion and speeding — depending on location and time of day — can be quite scary, even when the situation isn’t as extreme as what happened on Sunday.”

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95th Street near the Oak Lawn Metra stop. Photo: John Greenfield

Before this tragedy occurred, I was already planning to walk the entire length of 95th in Chicago. So far, I’ve hiked more than a dozen streets, as part of my ongoing quest to see as much of the city on foot as possible. After 19th Ward Alderman Matthew O’Shea recently blamed Beverly’s lackluster retail scene on a supposed dearth of parking along 95th, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance suggested I stroll the 7.5-mile street. It’s one of the least pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares in town, but I’m never one to say no to a sustainable transportation challenge.

When I get off Metra’s Southwest Service line in Oak Lawn on a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon, I gaze at the bleak, seven-lane expanse of 95th and wonder if I’d bitten off more than I can chew. As I trudge east through several blocks of big-box retail, I encounter almost no pedestrians. There are a handful of people on bikes, but they’re all riding on the sidewalk.

I get an eerie feeling as I approach 95th and Cicero, the gigantic intersection where Carthan’s trail of destruction ended. Next to an empty storefront, there are two white, wooden crosses for Stickney and Kim, plus a red, wooden heart for Carthans. Stuffed animals and flowers are scattered at the bases of the memorials, and nearby someone has lit a votive candle for Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations. A wide groove, between the sidewalk and the curb, is still filled with shattered auto glass.

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Cook County’s Transportation Plan Thinking Big, But Where’s The Money?

All Aboard Cook County transportation plan scenario

A description of Cook County’s draft “All Aboard” transportation plan scenario.

Earlier this year, Cook County embarked on its first transportation plan since 1940, asking residents to weigh in on how and where to improve transportation across the second most populous county in America. That feedback has helped the transportation department to draft a new vision statement [PDF] – that world-class transportation will spur economic growth and enhance quality of life – plus four scenarios for the future [PDF], which the public can vote on in an online survey

The new plan will guide policy choices that determine where and how the county invests its resources, and to estimate how much more revenue is needed to fulfill those goals. One key policy decision will determine whether or not the region will fight for more resources in Springfield. One particularly galling imbalance is the Illinois Department of Transportation’s strict 55/45 split, which sends an outsized proportion of dollars downstate even though most of the state’s people and economy reside in Chicagoland.

The most dour of the four scenarios envisioned is called “Running on Empty.” It supposes that the current conditions depressing local transportation investment – the 55/45 split, declining gas tax revenues, municipalities looking out only for themselves, and sprawling, low density growth – will continue to “undermine” Cook County’s transportation system, communities, and economy.

A slightly less depressing scenario, “Stuck in First Gear,” differs minimally from the first by supposing that the county will pursue additional grants from the state and federal governments. The county would rein in sprawl slightly by encouraging more density around train stations, for example. This would increase use of some underutilized bits of the transportation system, but also tax others, similar to how some parts of the CTA system are now becoming overcrowded. However, an overall lack of funding leads transit service quality to continue its long-term decline, making transit-oriented development a tough sell.

Scenarios three and four more closely reflect the goals of the GO TO 2040 regional plan, but depend on the state to update its antiquated policies. “Picking Up Steam” says that Cook County would stop diverting gas tax revenues away from infrastructure, and influence the state to do the same. And instead of distributing transportation funds by a strict 55/45 split, the Illinois Department of Transportation would use performance measures to guide dollars to where they’re most needed, e.g., densely populated Cook County. Those policy changes would add funds that could address the area’s considerable maintenance backlog, and start to invest in more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects. However, the third scenario isn’t all rosy: It’s marred by development that continues to drift further away from existing transit and freight facilities.

The final scenario, “All Aboard,” is one which supposes additional funding and new development surrounding existing transportation resources. Specifically, it assumes that the state gas tax will be raised by eight cents per gallon, and pegged to inflation. Policy changes would target county revenues towards compact and mixed-use development on infill locations, and expand regional transit “to reach underserved destinations.” Building within existing neighborhoods is a core tenet of GO TO 2040, and focusing new spending there would stabilize neighborhoods and expand businesses.

Give your feedback online. http://www.connectingcookcounty.org/involved-metroquest.html

Send Cook County your feedback on these four scenarios. Send general feedback to info@connectingcookcounty.org.

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#1 North Lake Shore Drive Request: Separate Bike, Pedestrian Trails

Chicago's Lakefront Trail and Lake Shore Drive

The current configuration of the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton rings a narrow path with dangerously low bollards, right next to a popular trail entrance and major attractions like Theater on the Lake and volleyball courts. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

This week, the Redefine the Drive study team listed the most requested improvements (PDF) that Chicagoans want to see as part of the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. By far the most popular is also among the easiest and least expensive ways to improve safety: creating separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the overcrowded Lakefront Trail.

Creating two paths would allow families to enjoy the scenery at a meandering child’s pace. It would result in fewer close calls and fewer “blame game” articles. Runners, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wouldn’t have to be startled by “on your left” anymore.

Theater on the Lake project

A park improvement will add new park space at Fullerton. The current shoreline is shown in red. Image: CDOT

One small step towards having more lakefront trail options advanced on Monday, when Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld broke ground on a rebuilt shoreline revetment at Fullerton Avenue. By 2016, the $31.5 million project will create nearly six new acres of park space south of Theater on the Lake, along with two through paths.

A new shoreline path for wanderers will hug the shoreline, while a path for through travel will run further from shore. People entering the park from the end of Fullerton Avenue will have several paths to choose from, replacing the current “big mixing bowl” setup that routes trail travelers through crowds of people entering or leaving the park.

The Chicago Park District made similar changes two years ago at 31st Street Beach, by moving the Lakefront Trail underneath the main path that visitors use to walk into the beach and park area. Between there and the 43rd Street beach, the Park District also added new paths that better accommodate users moving at different speeds and reduce congestion along the main trail.