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Mega Mall Developer Adds Housing, Reduces Number of Car Parking Spots

Mega Mall - Logan's Crossing, north elevation

Motorists moving in and out of the parking garage would disturb people walking up and down walking. Rendering: Terraco/Antunovich Associates

The company that’s redeveloping the Discount Mega Mall site in Logan Square has released a reworked proposal that adds much needed housing and dials back the number of car parking spaces, which makes the project a better fit for the walkable, transit accessible neighborhood. Terraco Real Estate and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack are hosting a public meeting on the development, dubbed Logan’s Crossing, at the Mega Mall on Thursday, May 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Terraco originally proposed a low-rise building for retail use, including a medium-sized grocery store and a two-story fitness center, zero residences, and 426 parking spaces at the site, which is located one long block southeast of the Logan Square Blue Line stop. The latest proposal adds several stories to the development to make room for 268 residences, and has 387 parking spaces – 39 fewer than before.

In general, the city’s zoning rules require a 1:1 ratio of car parking spaces to housing units for new buildings, but the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance reduces this to a 1:2 ratio for developments within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. However, Logan’s Crossing will be about 1,000 feet from the ‘L’ station, so it’s not eligible for the parking requirement reduction. This means there will need to be one parking space per unit, regardless of whether the occupants own a car.

Terraco’s first proposal provided more car parking than required, and the addition of 268 residences and the reduction in parking spots means the ratio of people to cars on the site would be much improved. However, 387 car spots may still be excessive for this location, in a walkable, bikeable area with the lowest car ownership along the Blue Line, the sixth-busiest Blue Line station, and good bus access.

The TOD ordinance has generally been working out well – it has spurred the development of nearly 20 multi-family buildings near CTA stations. However, the short distance threshold is problematic, since 600 feet is less than one standard city block. Most people are willing to walk several blocks to access rapid transit, and a couple of blocks to get to a bus stop.

The ordinance hasn’t been updated to reflect that reality. It doesn’t even offer a smaller reduction in the number of required spaces for developments located more than 600 feet from rapid transit. An exception to the 600-foot rule, however, is made for developments on Pedestrian Streets – these projects can be up to 1,200 feet from stations and still be eligible for the 1:2 ratio.

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Transportation Wins in 45th Ward PB Vote; Milwaukee Remix Moving Forward

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CDOT will be implementing the least robust of the three Milwaukee road diet proposals, shown in this rendering.

There were a number of gains for walking and biking in last week’s participatory budgeting election in the 45th Ward, a Far Northwest Side district represented by Alderman John Arena. Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with a safety overhaul of a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue within the ward. This project was watered down due to pressure from residents, but it will still be an improvement to the high-crash corridor.

The participatory budgeting process was first pioneered in the U.S. six years ago by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, whose district includes Rogers Park. In the Chicago-style PB process, residents propose infrastructure projects to be funded by $1 million of the ward’s annual discretionary funds, known as menu money, and then vote on the projects. In addition to elections last week in Moore and Arena’s districts, a PB vote also took place in Alderman Ricardo Muñoz’s 22nd Ward, on the Southwest Side.

The 49th Ward had its biggest PB turnout ever last week, with over 1,800 voters. They chose to spend 62 percent of the PB budget on meat-and-potatoes infrastructure such as street and alley repaving, and curb repair. They also voted to fund a few sustainable transportation initiatives, including an improved pedestrian crossing at Clark and Chase, six new bus stop benches, and five murals to brighten up dismal CTA and Metra viaducts.

The results of last week’s 22nd Ward PB vote haven’t been released yet, but over 700 people took part, up from the low 600s last year, according to Muñoz’s assistant Amanda Cortes. Walking-related projects on the ballot included speed humps, viaduct lighting, and yellow-diamond pedestrian crossing signs.

While roughly 650 people voted in the 45th Ward’s first PB election in 2013, and around 500 participated last year, only about 450 residents took part this year. They voted to spend 54.7 percent of the $1 million set aside for PB on street repaving.

Of the resident-proposed projects that will be funded, the top vote getter was one that had been on the ballot the previous two years: striping conventional bike lanes on Milwaukee from Addison to Lawrence, at a cost of $60,000. Coming in second was a project to improve pedestrian safety along Pulaski and Avondale by the Kennedy Expressway with better lighting, plus new crosswalks, guardrails, pedestrian crossing signs, and security cameras, at a price tag of $45,000.

Voters also chose to spend $30,000 on three “People Spot” mini parks near Irving Park/Cicero/Milwaukee, Lawrence/Milwaukee, and Lawrence/Austin. Specific locations and designs have not been chosen yet, but Arena said several businesses are interested in having the on-street seating areas installed nearby.

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Slow Roll Launches Weekly Series to Promote Biking in Communities of Color

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Participants in the “West Side Slow Roll Into Spring.” Photo: West Humboldt Park Development Council

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

Slow Roll Chicago is helping to bridge Chicago’s geographic divides,” says cofounder Oboi Reed. “We’re getting people from all over the city to show up for rides that are not in their neighborhoods.” The group, whose focus is getting more people on bikes in low-to-middle-income communities of color, is putting on thirty-one bike tours this year, mostly on the South and West Sides.

These include neighborhood rides every Wednesday evening during the warmer months, organized with local nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and churches. “These rides are created with input from the people who live and work in these neighborhoods, so there’s a sense of ownership and involvement,” says Reed [a Streetsblog Chicago board member and occasional contributor].

The Chicago rides were inspired by Slow Roll Detroit, which was launched in 2010 by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool. The Motown events take place every Monday night and regularly draw about 4,000 participants for a relaxed, law-abiding pedal around the city. The Slow Roll movement has spread to several other U.S. cities, as well as three Swedish cities, Berlin, and even the city of Slemani, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Reed and his childhood friend Jamal Julien founded the Chicago chapter last September. “We envision bicycles as effective forms of transportation, contributing to reducing violence, improving health, and creating jobs in communities across Chicago,” states their website.

While Julien is a real estate managing broker, Reed is working full-time at organizing the many rides, each of which involves multiple partners and sponsors, as well as advocacy work and fundraising. He recently graduated from Roosevelt University with a degree in economics, and is trying to parlay his Slow Roll activities into a paying job. “When I graduated, I decided to give myself six months to grow the organization and get paid for it, and not have to find a job that would potentially take me away from this work.” he says.

In addition to organizing rides, Slow Roll Chicago has been involved in lobbying the city for a more equitable distribution of bike resources to the South and West Sides. “From protected bike lanes to Divvy, if we can have more community input and ownership of those projects, people will be more likely to use those resources,” Reed says. The group is also working on launching youth cyclocross and BMX teams.

The weekly Signature Ride Series is the cornerstone of this year’s Slow Roll Chicago agenda. These free tours generally meet at 6pm and depart at 6:30pm. So far, there has been a ride from Edgewater to Evanston, a “West Side Slow Roll Into Spring” that visited Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and “The Conservatory Ride: From the Glass to the Park and Back.” The latter event celebrated the full reopening of the Garfield Park Conservatory, four years after its glass roof was destroyed by a freak hailstorm.

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Artist Hopes Water-Inspired Mural at 69th St. Stop Will Refresh Commuters

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“Sanctuary” installation at the 69th Street station. Photo: Doug Fogelson

Local artist Doug Fogelson wants his new, water-inspired installation at the Red Line’s 69th station to have a ripple effect, improving the daily commute for thousands of Chicagoans. “My goal was to to create something timeless, elemental, and slightly abstract, that would enhance the experiences of people moving through the station or working there, over a long time span,” he said.

The work, entitled “Sanctuary,” consists of a permanent photo collage featuring images of ripples and waves, printed on six glass window panels on the west side of the station. It’s the third and latest art installation as part of the $425 million CTA’s Red Line South reconstruction project, which replaced 10.2 miles of track last year and rehabbed all eight ‘L’ stops between 87th Street and Cermak. The 95th Streets station is currently undergoing a massive, $240 million overhaul.

The eight train stops were upgraded with new lights, paint, electrical substation work, and other improvements. As part of the makeovers, each station is also getting new public art. All except the Cermak-Chinatown stop had existing artwork that will remain in place. The price tag for the eight new pieces, including artist fees, fabrication, shipping and other expenses, but excluding installation, is $590,400, bankrolled by transit enhancement funds from the Federal Transportation Administration.

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69th Street ‘L’ stop, looking south. Image: Google Maps

The CTA held a call for artists in June 2013, but re-advertised the bid that November, “acting in our best interest,” according to spokeswoman Catherin Hosinski. Altogether, the CTA received more than 300 submissions, which were evaluated by a committee on the basis of artistic merit, qualifications, and professional recognition of the artists, Hosinski said.

A piece by Andrew Hall was installed in mid-February at the 47th Street station, followed by a work by McArthur Binion at the 79th Street stop in late March. Fogelson’s installation went in last week. The remaining five pieces should be installed this year.

Prior to this commission, Fogelson (an old acquaintance of mine) had an “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” relationship to the CTA. About ten years ago, he was short-listed to create art for a Blue Line station in Lawndale, and eight years ago he was a finalist to provide an installation for another ‘L’ stop. “The third time was the charm,” he said. He declined to say how much he was paid for the work, but noted that the artist’s fee can only make up ten percent of the total cost of a CTA art piece.

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Ex-Chicago Bike Czar Ben Gomberg Is Taking Off to the Great White North

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Gomberg on a Bikes Belong-sponsored research trip in Denmark. 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell and Scott Kubly are directly behind him. Photo: Bikes Belong

Tomorrow, former Chicago bicycle program coordinator Ben Gomberg will cross the border and return to his homeland of Canada for good. On Monday, he starts a new job as active transportation manager for the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Perhaps you’ve never heard of the town, but with 713,443 residents, it’s Canada’s sixth-largest municipality by population, bigger than the city of Vancouver.

Gomberg came to Chicago in 1996 to serve as our city’s first and only bike coordinator, back when there was little infrastructure for cyclists here. Laboring under a multitude of different bosses during his 17 years at the Chicago Department of Transportation, some of whom seemed fairly indifferent to cycling, he was able to build up an impressive tally of bike lanes and racks.

Gomberg’s accomplishments also included launching the city’s Bicycling Ambassador program and drafting the city’s Bike 2015 Plan. He was known as a skilled project manager, adept at navigating the often-maddening bureaucracies at the city, state, and federal levels. Steven Vance and I both worked on CDOT bike parking projects under Gomberg at different times during the 2000s.

After Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, he appointed transportation commissioner Gabe Klein to implement three major cycling initiatives within four years: installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes, establishing the Divvy bike-share system, and building the Bloomingdale Trail. Instead of having to persuade his superiors to let him to make modest bike improvements, Gomberg found himself with a mandate from above to complete the first two projects, plus other cycling initiatives, within a relatively short period of time.

By March of 2013, Gomberg was no longer managing the day-to-day operations of the bike program, which are now largely supervised by CDOT Project Director Janet Attarian. Instead he was focusing his efforts on the Divvy launch, including siting stations and setting up distribution and maintenance procedures. At the time, Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly told me he appreciated Gomberg’s role in making the Emanuel-era cycling gains possible. “Ben’s 16-plus years of work on bicycle projects has laid the foundation that got us to this point.” By that September, after the first 300 Divvy stations were installed, Gomberg had left the department.

Soon after leaving CDOT, Gomberg taught a grad school class on implementing complete streets at the University of Illinois’ Urban Planning and Policy program. In the last year or so he has done consulting work for other cities to help them implement their bike plans, including Atlanta, Miami, St. Paul, and London, Ontario, where he had worked as an urban planner before coming to Chicago.

“I haven’t been doing design or engineering,” he told me. “The focus has been on sharing my knowledge of how to find funding, build partnerships, and make the strategies in a bike plan happen, based on my experiences in Chicago.” Next month he’ll travel to Buffalo to lead a roundtable with the mayor, city engineers, advocates, and the private sector on building a $500-750K protected bike lane on that city’s Main Street.

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Eyes on the Street: Half-Finished “Lincoln Hub” Is Already Improving Safety

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The partially completed Lincoln Hub, as seen from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, construction started on the “Lincoln Hub,” a traffic calming and placemaking project at Lincoln/Wellington/Southport, and the intersection has already been transformed for the better. The makeover is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont, slated for completion around May 22.

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Lincoln Hub, inspired by Oriental rug designs. St. Alphonsus is on left side.

The Lincoln Hub will feature Chicago’s first painted curb extensions, with planters and flexible posts to keep cars out of the pedestrian space and shorten crossing distances. There will also be small seating plazas at the northwest and southeast corners of the six-way intersection. Patterns of blue and green dots will be painted on the sidewalks in a pattern reminiscent of an Oriental rug, which will help visually unify the intersection.

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Looking southeast on Lincoln. Photo: John Greenfield

The plastic posts have already been installed, and a number of round, concrete seating units have already been delivered, although most of them have not been unwrapped yet. These changes have already affected how people use the intersection. When I visited during the evening rush yesterday, car traffic was moving slowly, but steadily, and the neckdowns didn’t seem to be creating congestion issues.

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View from the northwest corner of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

The elimination of three slip lanes was slowing down turning drivers, creating a safer situation for pedestrians. People on foot, including many seniors and families with young children I observed, seemed to appreciate shorter crossing distances, although I didn’t see many people lingering on the car-free asphalt surfaces. This will change after the curb extensions are painted and the planters and seating are in place. It will be exciting to see how residents take advantage of their new, people-friendly space once it’s completed.

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One of the new seating elements at the northwest corner. Photo: John Greenfield

 View more photos of the Lincoln Hub here. 

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Rauner’s IDOT Listening Tour Only Includes a Sprinkling of Cook County Stops

Bruce Rauner at the MPC 2014 annual luncheton

Rauner at a Metropolitan Planning Council event last year. Photo: MPC

Cook County represents 41 percent of Illinois’ population yet only three of the 30 scheduled stops on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s upcoming listening tour regarding Governor Rauner’s proposed state budget will take place in the county: two in suburban Cook County and a single meeting in Chicago.

Rauner has proposed a budget that slashes funding for transit service across the state, which would impact everything from the CTA ‘L’ and Pace suburban buses to the transit systems of downstate cities. Meanwhile, the Republican governor wants to actually increase spending to build new roads.

The proposed fiscal year 2016 budget has reduced operating assistance for the Regional Transportation Authority and its three operators – the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace – by $100 million, and funding for downstate transit providers by $93 million. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has calculated that the $100 million that would be cut from the RTA is equivalent to the total operations costs for the Orange, Brown, and Red Lines.

IDOT spokesperson Guy Tridgell said the department is working on scheduling an additional Chicago stop. That’s good because the only meeting scheduled in the city is part of a Metropolitan Planning Council Infrastructure Week event, which has a $75 admission charge. “These aren’t intended to be formal public hearings, but rather sessions that allow us to participate in variety of venues throughout Illinois to discuss infrastructure challenges our state faces,” Tridgell said.

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke said the priority isn’t expanding the low number of Cook County sessions. “There are many ways in which IDOT and the state have historically short-changed metro Chicago, but let’s not read too much into how IDOT distributes their listening tour.”

Burke added that the region needs IDOT and the governor to do more, not less, to meet the Chicago region’s transportation needs.” His list of essentials includes:

  • A capital bill for transportation funding with a large share for transit
  • IDOT truly embracing the state’s complete streets law with policies that support walking and biking
  • Safety overhauls for the state arterial roads where a large percentage of Chicagoland traffic injuries and fatalities take place
  • Multi-modal transportation solutions for projects like the redesigns of North Lake Shore Drive and I-290

For those who cannot attend one of the 30 listening events, IDOT is accepting public input via a short online survey.

Meetings

May 13, 8 a.m. at an Infrastructure Week event ($75)
Union League Club of Chicago
65 W. Jackson Blvd.

May 13, 11 a.m. hosted by the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
TBA

May 13, 2 p.m. at the Chicago Urban League
4510 S. Michigan Ave., 1st floor conference room

Updated April 29 to include details of the newly and already scheduled Chicago meetings.

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CDOT’s Sean Wiedel Provides an Update on Divvy Installation, Equity Efforts

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Divvy docking station parts are loaded onto flatbed trucks to prepare for installation. Photo: Divvy

“With all the challenges we’ve had with the equipment supplier, it’s gratifying to finally see the new Divvy stations on the ground,” said Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel regarding the city’s current bike-share expansion. “People are obviously clamoring for Divvy, so it’s exciting to be able to meet that demand.”

CDOT began installing new docking stations last week in Bronzeville and Hyde Park. They’re planning on expanding the system from its 2013 rollout of 300 docking stations and 3,000 bikes to 476 stations and 4,760 bikes by early June, in time for the annual Bike to Work Rally. The service area will nearly double, from 44.1 square miles, or 19 percent of the city’s geographic area, to 86.7 square miles, or 40 percent.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quick to point out, this means Chicago will have more stations and a larger service area than any other North American city, although New York and Montreal will still have far more bikes. The number of Chicago wards served will grow from 13 to 33 out of 50. The portion of the population that lives in bike-share coverage areas will expand from about 33 percent to 56 percent, so most Chicagoans will live close to a station.

Crews are currently installing five-to-ten stations a day and working six days a week, Wiedel said. About 60 stations have been installed so far. Almost all South Side installations should be complete today, and then work will begin on the West Side, and finally the North Side. Downtown installations are being done on weekends.

The system was supposed to expand last year. However, the January 2014 bankruptcy of the equipment supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike Share System Company, put a wrench in that plan. PBSC has new ownership now, and Wiedel says the expansion is going much smoother than the original roll-out. “The previous round was stressful due to supply chain issues, but this time the process has been low-key. All equipment has arrived on time.” PBSC will also provide upgrade software for Divvy within the next six-to-twelve months, Wiedel said.

He added that the October 2014 sale of the former Divvy concessionaire, Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, to NYC-based Motivate, also greased the wheels. “There has been much more corporate support for the Divvy employees like [general manager] Elliot Greenberger and [operations manager] Jon Mayer.”

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Three Transit Campaigns: Do They Compete or Complement Each Other?

CTA: Let's not take our resources for granted

An RTA funding campaign poster from 2005 on the CTA echoes a similar message about raising funds for transit. Campaigns now are more focused on transit as a necessary component to population and economy growth. Photo: Salim Virji

As the Chicago region grows in population, we’re going to need to provide efficient and affordable transportation options in order to compete in the global economy, and that’s going to require more and better transit. People who live near transit pay less in transportation costs as a portion of their household income, and have better access to jobs, compared to those who don’t. GO TO 2040, the region’s comprehensive plan, calls for doubling 2010 transit ridership levels by the year 2040 as a means to support population growth and reduce carbon emissions.

Chicagoland has a large network of CTA and Metra rail transit routes, but the network’s mileage and ridership are lower than they were in the 1950s, even though the regional population has grown.  Compared to other metropolitan regions we spend less per person on transit service and our population is growing slower. Two years ago, a Center for Neighborhood Technology study found that more housing is being built far from train stations than near them, and that still appears to be the case today.

The CTA increased train service three years ago, but to fund this, the agency cut bus service dramatically. Metra added a significant amount of service in 2006 by launching new lines and extending existing ones, but there has been no increase in service since then. Pace, the suburban bus network, is the only local transit agency in Chicagoland that’s currently adding service. Their first Pulse express bus route will run along on Milwaukee Avenue from Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood to the Golf Mill shopping center in Niles.

While most people agree that the region needs expanded transit service and better-maintained transit infrastructure, and that we need more funding in order to accomplish that, there isn’t consensus on how to raise that money. In the last year or so, local nonprofits have launched three different transit-funding initiatives.

One year ago, the Active Transportation Alliance and CNT kicked off the Transit Future campaign, with a focus on extending CTA train lines by raising funds at the Cook County level. Transit Future is largely inspired by Los Angeles’ Measure R campaign, in which L.A. County voters approved a sales tax. The new revenue is used to provide local matches for federal grants that bankroll transit projects.

The Chicagoland Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s FUND 2040 initiative proposes a small sales tax increase to pay for regional transit infrastructure projects: addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance and building new lines and stations. Priority would go to projects that meet multiple goals in the GO TO 2040 plan.

The Metropolitan Planning Council’s Accelerate Illinois campaign also calls for fixing our crumbling transportation infrastructure, but it’s a statewide initiative, and it also calls for better maintenance of roads. The campaign, which is endorsed by a diverse coalition of road builders, contractors, the three transit agencies, railroads and various businesses and nonprofits, doesn’t identify a particular funding mechanism. Read more…

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What’s Going on With Alderman Reilly and the Kinzie Protected Bike Lanes

Kinzie from the Orleans overpass - 2011

This part of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, from the River east to Dearborn, is supposed to be removed during Wolf Point construction. Photo: masMiguel.

Alderman Brendan Reilly submitted an order to city council on Wednesday that would compel Chicago Department of Transportation Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lane between Dearborn and the Chicago River because he says it conflicts with Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In 2013, under former commissioner Gabe Klein, CDOT agreed to a development plan [PDF], which was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and codified into law. The plan called for Hines, the Wolf Point developer, to pay for installing temporary protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie Street bike lanes to facilitate the construction project.

In the long term, it makes sense for there to be bike lanes on both Grand Avenue – already identified as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – and Kinzie Street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition asking other aldermen to oppose Reilly’s order. “Ald. Reilly has proposed installing new bike lanes on Grand Avenue as an alternative,” the petition stated. “But the reality is, people will continue to bike on Kinzie because it is less stressful than Grand Avenue with fewer cars and no buses, not to mention it provides the most logical and direct connection to the central business district.”

CDOT appears to have changed its position about the development plan. Spokesman Mike Claffey underscored the importance of the Kinzie bike lanes in a statement to Streetsblog:

“CDOT has safety concerns about removing the protected bike lanes on Kinzie, which is the second most popular street for bicycling in Chicago. The protected bike lane is in place to reduce conflicts and the risk of accidents between bicyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians. We have been in discussions with the Alderman about these concerns and will continue to work with him on this issue.”

Specifically, the development plan, identified as Planned Development 98, calls for:

  • Temporary removal of the protected bike lanes on Kinzie from Dearborn to Milwaukee
  • Eastbound and westbound PBLs on Grand from Milwaukee to Wells
  • Westbound PBL on Grand from Dearborn to Wells
  • Eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn
  • “An improved bicycle accommodation on Wells Street for cyclists traveling, between Grand Avenue and Illinois Street”

The Kinzie bike lanes are indeed important, but it’s unclear why Scheinfeld is now pushing back against the plan. Reilly told City Council that Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. We asked for a copy of this report but Claffey said he didn’t have one. The development plan also says that all of the developer’s designs for these temporary bicycle accommodations are subject to Scheinfeld’s departmental review.

CDOT could propose retaining the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes throughout the construction project, which started over a year ago. If that’s not feasible, and the bike lanes must come out, the agency should bring back their support for the original plan that temporarily relocates the bike lanes to Grand. However, it’s important the the Kinzie lanes be reinstalled, because Kinzie is the direct and route between the popular protected bike lanes on Milwaukee and bike lanes on Desplaines, Canal, Wells, and Dearborn.