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Why Isn’t There a Crosswalk Here? A Pedestrian Desire Line in Wicker Park

Located just north of a Blue Line station, the North/Damen/Milwaukee junction is the epicenter of the Wicker Park and Bucktown shopping district and one of the busiest locations in town for foot and bicycle traffic. But it’s also one of the city’s most dysfunctional intersections in terms of traffic management.

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Pedestrians heading north on Damen from the Starbucks to the Walgreens are currently required to cross to the Coyote Tower first, but few do so. Image: Google Maps

Case in point is the phenomenon illustrated in these videos, shot this evening between 4:45 and 5 p.m. from in front of the Walgreens at the northern corner of the six-way, looking south. Commuters heading north on from the train station who want to continue north on Damen are supposed to detour west and make two different crossings in crosswalks.

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An aerial view of the complex intersection. Image: Google Maps

Instead, most people choose to take the most direct route by making a beeline from the Starbucks to the Walgreens. It’s the most logical path but, because the intersection is set up to prioritize car traffic, this is an illegal, and risky, maneuver.

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Chicago Joins Vision Zero Network While Pedestrian Fatality Rate is in Flux

AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo questioned the efficacy of doing motorist outreach when red light running is "epidemic" in Chicago.

AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo questioned the efficacy of doing motorist outreach (“High Visibility Crosswalk Enforcement”) when red light running is “epidemic” in Chicago.

At yesterday’s quarterly meeting of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld mentioned the “somber” statistics that there was a significant increase in Chicago pedestrian fatalities in 2015 compared to previous years.

There were 35 pedestrian deaths in the city in 2014, according to official Illinois Department of Transportation figures, and 46 fatalities in 2015, according to unofficial figures from the Chicago Police Department – a 24-percent increase. IDOT data for 2015 won’t be available until the fall.

“This is still a decrease if you look at the 10-year trend,” Scheinfeld said. “We are headed in the right direction for the long-term trend, but we still have our work cut out for us.”

As part of Chicago’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths, last month it was announced that the city would be joining the Vision Zero Network as one of ten focus cities this year. “Each focus city will have a multi-departmental effort,” Scheinfeld said at the MPAC meeting. “We will have reps from the Chicago Police Department, CDOT, Department of Public Health, and the Mayor’s Office.”

“Vision Zero is an international traffic safety movement guided by the principle that no loss of life on our streets is acceptable,” explained Active Transportation Alliance campaign director Kyle Whitehead in a blog post last week.

Nearly a year ago, the group noted that Chicago had already created several resources for analyzing what’s causing crashes throughout the city and determining how they can be prevented, including the Chicago Pedestrian Plan, the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and Chicago Forward Action Agenda. However, they noted that there was no Vision Zero action plan at the time – which is still true today.

Scheinfeld noted two trends that CDOT has seen among last year’s pedestrian fatalities. Despite the growing number of speed cameras in the city, she said “we still saw a significant amount” of pedestrian fatalities “hit by motor vehicles that were moving at excessively high speeds.” And more than half – 56 percent – of the deadly crashes occurred in or very near intersections.

The commissioner credited speed cameras for reducing crashes and injuries near parks and schools. She said that in locations where cameras were installed in 2013, there were 18 percent fewer injury crashes in 2014, compared to only a four percent reduction citywide. The total number of crashes in 2014 at locations with speed cameras fell two percent, while crashes were up by six percent citywide.

Deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton said that speeding violations dropped an average of 53 percent in the first 90 days after camera installation, and that most vehicles issued a citation aren’t cited again. “So [drivers are] learning from having this violation imposed on them,” Hamilton said. “That’s the intention in the first place, to teach people it’s not acceptable to speed.”

CDOT pedestrian program manager Eric Hanss shared his analysis of pedestrian crash and injury data for the ten-year period of 2005-2014. “When we look at the ten year [interval, pedestrian crashes are] down, but when we look at five years, it’s flatter.”

Hanss said that nowadays in Chicago, fewer than 3,000 pedestrians are struck annually, and the decline in pedestrian crashes is occurring at a faster rate than the city’s overall decline in crashes.

Because people on foot are more likely to die if a crash occurs than any other type of road user, CDOT is focusing its efforts on reducing pedestrian crashes, Hanss said. Fourteen percent of pedestrians involved in collisions are seriously injured or killed, compared to only 1.2 percent of all people involved in crashes.

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Eyes on the Street: Eight TOD Buildings Under Construction Along Milwaukee

500 N Milwaukee: The Kenect building overlooks a busy intersection

The “Kenect” pair of buildings at 500 N Milwaukee Ave, photographed last Thursday, will have 227 units and 88 car parking spaces. View all the photos in this gallery.

The Chicago City Council passed the first comprehensive transit-oriented development ordinance in 2013, and the first buildings to take advantage of that law, which reduced the minimum parking requirement and allowed smaller or more units in buildings near CTA and Metra stations, are now being built. Some of them will open to new residents this year.

The Milwaukee Avenue corridor is replete with construction. There are eight buildings at various stages of construction on Milwaukee, or one block away, between the Grand Blue Line station at Halsted and the California Blue Line station, a distance just over three miles.

Collectively the buildings have 1,146 units and 572 car parking spaces, for an average parking space to unit ratio of just under 0.50 spaces. That’s a savings of 574 parking spaces, and hundreds of fewer drivers in a pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and retail-heavy corridor.

2211 N Milwaukee: "The L" building really grabs that corner with Talman

“The L” at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave. (at Talman Ave.) will have 120 units and 60 car parking spaces, but also 120 bike parking spaces with an exclusive bike entrance.

The TOD ordinance at the time allowed a reduction of the normally required 1 parking space per unit to 1 car space per 2 units. City Council revised the ordinance on its two-year anniversary last year to extend the distance a building can be from a train station, and to allow a 100 percent reduction in the number of required car parking spaces for residential buildings. Developers can now build 51-100 percent fewer parking spaces than the 1:2 ratio if they go through an additional zoning process.

There are still no TOD buildings near Metra stations.

2237 N Milwaukee: Crane in the sky

The unnamed two towers development in Logan Square one block from the California Blue Line station was probably the most controversial. View all the photos in this gallery.

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Developer of Bucktown TOD Grilled Over Lack of On-Site Affordable Housing

1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno gracefully – given the circumstances – moderates the meeting.

1st Ward Alder Proco “Joe” Moreno speaks in 2014 about a TOD proposal in his ward in Logan Square that would include affordable housing units.

Yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved River North-based developer Vequity’s proposal for a new transit-oriented development in Bucktown. This puts the plan for a six-story building with 44 units and ten car parking spaces at 1920 N. Milwaukee Ave. on track for approval by the full City Council. However, it didn’t happen without a heated debate about the lack of on-site affordable housing in the project.

The architect, David Brininstool of Brininstool and Lynch, seemed to succeed in persuading the commissioners that the building would successfully reactive the southeast corner of Western and Milwaukee Avenues, currently a shuttlered title loan store. He argued that the new tower would “celebrate the corner” with more foot traffic and transit-oriented retail. But the developer doesn’t plan to include required affordable units in the building, and the developer wasn’t able to convince all the members of the commission that this decision is justified.

According to the city’s affordable housing law, developers that request a zoning change or receive a subsidy from the city, including tax-increment financing, are required to provide ten percent of the units – 20 percent if they get a subsidy – at an affordable sales price or monthly rent. Those details are managed by the city and adjusted annually based on Census figures, and represent what should be affordable to an individual or family of different sizes earning 60 percent or less of the region’s median income.

The developer can either build the affordable units on-site, pay a fee into the city’s low-income housing trust fund to build the affordable units elsewhere, or do a combination of the two. Before the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance was revised last year, simply paying into the trust fund was always an option, unless the local alder insisted on on-site affordable units.

Now, however, developers must build at least a quarter of the require affordable units on-site, or else in a different building within one mile of the development getting the zoning change or subsidy. The other three-quarters of the affordable units can be bought out for a fee per unit. The fee depends on the building’s location.

Vequity, like all of the other developers that had their projects approved at yesterday’s plan commission meeting, applied for approval before the new affordable housing ordinance took effect. They’ve opted to pay $100,000 into the trust fund for each of the five affordable-designated units they’re not building, a move that was condoned by local alder Scott Waguespack (32nd).

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South Siders Spar Over Proposed Stony Island Protected Bike Lanes

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Elihu Blanks and Waymond Smith on Stony Island, a few blocks north of the Skyway access ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For much of its length, Stony Island Avenue is basically an expressway with stoplights. Located on the southeast side between 56th and 130th, it generally has eight travel lanes, the same number as Lake Shore Drive, although it carries half as many vehicles per day—35,000 versus 70,000. Due to this excess lane capacity, speeding is rampant.

The city has proposed converting a lane or two of Stony between 67th and 79th into protected bike lanes. Some residents, and Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, fear the “road diet” would cause traffic jams, and argue the street is too dangerous for bike lanes. Other neighbors say Stony is too dangerous not to have them.

According to the Chicago Crash Browser website, created by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, 53 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists were injured along Stony Island between 67th Street (the southern border of Jackson Park) and 79th Street (where access ramps connect Stony with the Chicago Skyway) between 2010 and 2013.

Two pedestrians and a person in a car  were killed in crashes on this stretch between 2010 and 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. Last year was unusually deadly, with two fatal pedestrian crashes and two bike fatalities.

The complex intersection of Stony Island, 79th, and South Chicago, a diagonal street, is particularly problematic. Located beneath a mess of serpentine Skyway access ramps, the six-way junction has terrible sightlines. It was the site of 444 traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013, the most of any Chicago intersection, according to CDOT.

Adding protected bike lanes could change this equation, making Stony, among other things, a useful bike route. Due to the Chicago Skyway and other barriers like railroad tracks, cul-de-sacs, and a cemetery, it’s one of the few continuous north-south streets in this part of town.

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44-Unit TOD Building Proposed at an Abandoned Drive-Through in Bucktown

A rendering of the proposed building at 1920 N Milwaukee Ave. Image: Vequity/YouTube

A rendering of the proposed building at 1920 N Milwaukee Ave. Image: Vequity

A proposal for a transit-oriented development in Bucktown is going before the Chicago Plan Commission for approval this Thursday. River North-based developer Vequity wants to build a six-story residential tower with minimal parking at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Western avenues in Bucktown, right next door to the Western stop on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch.

Vequity needs the Plan Commission to approve a zoning change from the current manufacturing and low-density business designation to slightly higher-density mixed-use zoning. A shuttered title loan store has occupied the property for a few years. Before that it was a Checkers drive-through burger joint.

The proposal calls for 44 apartments but only ten car parking spaces, plus 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, or about three shops. The revised TOD ordinance passed last year eliminated the minimum parking requirement for residential buildings within two blocks of rapid transit stations.

Street view of 1920 N Milwaukee Ave

An abandoned title loan store, formerly a drive-through fast food restaurant, occupies a site that may become a mixed-use TOD building. Image: Google Street View

Vequity’s sales video (below) points out the fact that a Bloomingdale Trail access point is a block away. It also highlights how busy the intersection is, noting that over 6,000 people use the Blue Line station daily, while over 43,000 motorists and 6,000 bicyclists pass by each day.

By restoring the urban street wall at the corner and adding over 50 new residents, the new building would help make the intersection more vibrant. At six stories, it would be one level higher than the tallest nearby building, located across the street. Adding housing and retail density, without adding a lot of new parking, will make the neighborhood less car-dependent. Hopefully, pressure from neighbors won’t result in a shorter building with more parking spots.

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Report: In Chicago, Bike Amenities Correlate With Gentrication

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The Division Street bike lanes in Humboldt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The idea that new bike infrastructure is linked to of gentrification is nothing new in Chicago. Leaders of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community originally opposed bike lanes on the neighborhood’s Division Street business strip because they believed the city was installing the lanes mostly for the benefit of new, wealthier residents. And while the recently opened Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway has attracted an economically and ethnically diverse crowd of users, many longtime residents are worried that a real estate boom around the trail will displace low-income and working-class families.

Researchers at McGill University and the University of Quebec in Montreal wanted to lend credibility to the claims that cycling infrastructure and gentrification are related. In a study presented this week at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, Elizabeth Flanagan, Ahmed El-Geneidy and Ugo Lachapelle found a correlation between bike infrastructure and socioeconomic indicators related to gentrification in Chicago and Portland.

For the report, titled “Riding tandem: Does cycling infrastructure investment mirror gentrification and privilege in Portland, OR and Chicago, IL?,” the researchers looked changes in the rates of home ownership, home values, college education, age, employment, and race in neighborhoods between 1990 and 2010. Then they mapped these demographic changes alongside the locations of bike lanes, bike rack, and, in Chicago, Divvy stations.

While they found that dense neighborhoods and areas close to downtown tended to have infrastructure, they also found that demographic characteristics were a big factor. In Portland, changes in home ownership and education level had the largest influence. However, in Chicago, probably because our city is more diverse, race and home value also played a large role.

The study found that Chicago neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents are people of color are less likely to gentrify and have bike infrastructure. Interestingly, however, it also found that, in neighborhoods where 60 percent or more residents are white, a higher percentage of people of color corresponds with more bike infrastructure.

I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the report yet, but it appears that, unlike a recent League of American Bicyclists study that incorrectly claimed that Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 is inequitable, the Montreal researchers used accurate bike infrastructure data. It probably helped that Flanagan worked as a transportation planning intern at Bronzeville Bikes in the summer of 2014, which included discussing transportation equity issues with Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy staffers.

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South Side Groups: Make the Metra Electric Run Like the CTA ‘L’

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The Metra Electric line stations in Kenwood, Hyde Park, and South Shore supports their walkable neighborhoods. Photo: Eric Rogers

A dozen neighborhood organizations, along with the Active Transportation Alliance and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, are calling for the Metra Electric line, with its three branches that run through several South Side communities, to operate like a CTA ‘L’ line.

The fourteen organizations signed a letter to the editor of the Chicago Maroon, the independent student newspaper of the University of Chicago, stating that if Metra Electric trains were operated more like the Blue and Red Lines, “[it] could unlock the enormous development potential of the South Side and South Suburbs.” They described the neighborhoods and places the trains already reach:

The Metra Electric serves many key destinations on the South Side, such as the University of Chicago, the Pullman district, Chicago State University, the Museum of Science and Industry, Governor’s State University, McCormick Place, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the proposed Lakeside Development. The communities surrounding its stations are densely populated and walkable, ideal areas for rapid transit development.

The groups are absolutely right that the areas around the stations would be ideal for rapid transit service. They specifically ask transit agency heads and elected officials to make the following happen:

  • integrate fares and schedules with CTA and Pace operations, because the Metra Electric “is hampered by a fare structure more appropriate for suburban lines”
  • allow for discounted transfers among Metra and CTA and Pace
  • increase frequencies to 10-15 minutes

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Divvy Adding More Stations in Black Communities, Fewer Bikes Than Planned

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Photo by Wei Sun.

Back in September 2014, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced a $3 million grant to help expand the Divvy system into Oak Park and Evanston, as well new areas on Chicago’s West Side and in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The plan was to install 70 stations and 700 bikes by spring or summer of 2015.

Last summer, Chicago added 175 stations and 1,750 bikes, bankrolled by federal and city money, which expanded the original coverage area in all directions. But the state-funded equipment still hasn’t materialized yet.

Today, after introducing to City Council two intergovernmental agreements with the suburbs regarding Divvy, Mayor Emanuel announced a change to the state-funded expansion plan. Instead of 70 stations and 700 bikes, 96 stations and “more than” 250 bikes will be added to the system, with the roll-out taking place next summer.

Oak Park and Evanston, which are providing a combined $200,000 in matching funds to help fund the expansion, will be getting 13 and eight stations, respectively. Chicago, which is providing $550,000 in matching funds, will get 75 stations within the city.

Adding more stations and fewer bikes means that this year’s expansion will grow the service area faster, to include more Chicago neighborhoods than originally planned. The city had previously announced that the predominantly African-American, low-to-moderate-income Garfield Park and Austin communities on the West Side would be getting stations, as well as new sections of ethnically and economically diverse Rogers Park on the Far North Side.

However, today Emanuel said the expansion will also include several LMI or middle-class neighborhoods on the South and Southwest Sides. These include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, and Englewood. All of these are heavily African-American, except for Brighton Park, which is mostly Latino.

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“Transit Explorer” Map Shows Nine Upcoming Transit Projects in Chicagoland

Last week, Yonah Freemark and I published a new map called Transit Explorer, which shows all of the new transit projects that are under construction, or being planned, across United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Yonah, a project manager at the Metropolitan Planning Council and author of The Transport Politic blog, collected the data and created the map. I assisted him by writing the code for the map, which uses open source technologies, including OpenStreetMap.

Yonah has been tracking projects on his blog for seven years, and this is the first time he’s created an open-source map for the information. He says his goal was to make the map “easy-to-use and fun for anyone who’s interested in how public transportation can affect the future of their cities.”

The map (embedded above) shows a number of upcoming or proposed projects in the Chicago region, including five new or overhauled CTA and Metra stations, three new rapid bus lines, and the reconstruction of a CTA ‘L’ corridor.

Freemark said he’s most excited about the bus rapid transit line on Ashland Avenue, and the “arterial rapid transit” Pace is planning on Milwaukee Avenue. We hope you enjoy exploring the map and learning about upcoming transit projects all over North America.

Update Jan. 13: We reached out to Metra to learn the status of their Peterson/Ravenswood and 79th/Wallace stations. Here’s what their spokesperson Michael Gillis said, “Those two stations are among a group of state-funded projects that are currently on hold due to the state budget situation. We won’t know when we’ll be able to proceed until we hear from the state.”