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Has the South Chicago Velodrome Finally Come to the End of the Road?

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Velodrome association vice president John Cline took what might be his last spin on the track last weekend. Photo: Keven Leitner

The South Chicago Velodrome Association recently announced that the city’s only bike racing track is probably going to lose its lease and cease operations. According to bike shop owner Marcus Moore, who has spearheaded recent efforts to keep the facility in the city, there’s still a glimmer of hope that the track can be saved. But this could only happen if landlord U.S. Steel agrees to relax terms of the lease, or else if opportunities arise to pay off the tens of thousands of dollars still owed to the velodrome’s manufacturer and/or find a new location for the portable facility.

Built in 2011 at 8615 South Burley on U.S. Steel’s former South Works site, the track supposed to be the first step in a grand plan for the South Chicago Velo Campus, brainstormed by luxury pet accessory mogul Emanuele Bianchi. After hosting races for adults, plus education programs for youth from the surrounding low-to-middle-income communities for a few years, Bianchi and his partners gave up on the project in September 2014, citing a lack of support from the Chicago bike community.

But Marcus Moore, owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike store, and other cycling enthusiasts stepped in to stop the track from being repossessed by its manufacturer, V-Worldwide, based near Detroit. The advocates were able to raise about $30,000 out of the $110,000 owed to the company through crowdfunding and persuaded the owner to let them hold onto the track while they continued to fundraise.

The real estate company McCaffery Interests, which was managing the South Works site for the steel company and working with them on a plan to redevelop the land as “Lakeside,” agreed to let the new track boosters use the land rent-free. However U.S. Steele requires a whopping $15 million in aggregate coverage, while a typical track only needs $2-3 million in coverage, according to Moore.

As a result the velodrome association has had to pay about $2,500 a month in insurance premiums and they’ve struggled to keep up with this expense. While they have paid V-Worldwide a total of $39,000 for the facility, they’re now many months behind in payment and have periodically had to put of calls for donations to cover the insurance bill.

Moore, who says he’s needed to scale back his own involvement with the velodrome in order to focus on running his shop, says it looks like the boosters’ track racing dreams may have come a dead end. “It’s not totally conclusive yet, but technically our land lease and insurance expired Sunday night,” he explained.

U.S. Steel’s partnership with McCaffery collapsed last February, and the steel company is now looking to sell the land rather than redevelop it. As such, they’re only willing to renew the track’s lease until October 31, and they’re still not willing to lower the insurance requirements, Moore says.

Continuing the existing insurance would require a $6,091 payment up front plus monthly payments of about $2,500, but that’s a moot point because the current insurer isn’t interested in renewing the policy for only a few months, according to Moore. He added that it would be difficult to find new $15 million short-term coverage. Moore says he’s been negotiating with the steel company over the insurance issue recently, but so far they haven’t budged.

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Eyes on the Street: Vigil at the Avondale Corner Where Virginia Murray Died

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Parents of fallen cyclist Virginia Murray’s childhood friends recite two prayers at a vigil to install a ghost bike in her memory.

Motorists drove carefully around the large crowd of supporters that had gathered and spilled into the roadway last night at the corner of Belmont and Sacramento, where Virginia Murray was fatally struck while riding a bicycle on July 1.

Over 40 people had come for a vigil for Murray, and to watch the installation of a ghost bike in her honor. Ghost bikes are a worldwide tradition memorializing the life of someone who died riding a bicycle. Anthony Arce, a nearby resident who witnessed the crash, and Kristen Green, a former neighbor of Murray, organized the event.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Anthony Arce, a witness to Murray’s fatal crash, helped organize the vigil with Kristen Green.

Around 9 a.m. on Friday, July 1, Murray was riding northbound on Sacramento when the nortbound driver of an AB Hardwood Flooring flatbed truck turned east onto Belmont, running over Murray. Security camera video from the gas station across the street proves that this was a “right hook” crash. Attorney Mike Keating (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) wrote about the crash on his blog, stating that “Ms. Murray’s path was exactly the one that a Chicago bicyclist should follow.”

The crowd was silent for nearly 15 minutes, while friends and family placed candles, balloons, flyers, and other mementos. Pamela Lowe, the parent of one of Murray’s friends, broke the silence and said, “In times when there’s a lot of upheaval in our world, Ginny stood for everything that was good,” according to DNAinfo. Then Lowe and other parents of Virginia’s childhood friends recited the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers.

Alder Deb Mell (33rd Ward) joined the vigil and spoke with the parents, Lowe, and Green. Mell’s office organizes a Transportation Action Committee, of which I’m a founding member, to advise her on active transportation issues in the ward, which includes parts of Avondale, Albany Park, and Ravenswood Manor.

Mell told DNAinfo that plans to install bike lanes on Belmont from Kedzie to Halsted had “been put on hold.” Staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program told the Transportation Action Committee two times in 2014 that CDOT was planning to install the bike lanes that year or in 2015.

I’ve asked CDOT to comment on the status of this project and will update this post if they provide one. Bike lanes on Belmont would help remind drivers to check for bicyclists before turning onto the street, which could help prevent crashes like Murray’s in the future.CDOT and Divvy staff also attended the vigil. The TAC meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at Horner Park Fieldhouse.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Mourners and supporters mingle after the prayer. 33rd ward Alder Deb Mell speaks to vigil organizer Kristen green in the background.

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Parks Group Endorses Plan to Replace Two Acres of Green Space With Asphalt

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. Friends of the Parks has endorsed the park district’s plan to more than double the size of the west lot, center. Image: Google Maps

[Last year the Chicago Reader 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.]

It’s another case of parks versus parking lots.

The Chicago Park District plans to put more than 250 new parking spots near the recently revamped 31st Street Beach and Harbor, in addition to the more than 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces already available within a roughly five-minute walk of the beach. That would make for a whopping grand total of more than 900 stalls at the lakeside facility.

On top of that, to make room for the additional parking, the project would involve the elimination of 85,000 square feet of existing green space south of a current car park.

The Park District says the additional parking is meant to accommodate future demand for access to the 900-slip harbor—although a spokesperson admits the department hasn’t conducted a parking demand study.

But here’s what really gets me: the parking lot expansion has been endorsed by none other than Friends of the Parks, the same group that helped tank George Lucas’s proposal to replace Soldier Field’s 1,500-space south lot with his Museum of Narrative Arts.

“Friends of the Parks has been hearing from stakeholders as well as the Chicago Park District about the great demand for parking for both beachgoers and boaters at the 31st Street Beach,” executive director Juaniza Irizarry said via e-mail this week.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Friends of the Parks’ previous advocacy work. I respect the group’s role as a guardian of our city’s recreational spaces—working, for example, to stop private music festivals from destroying public parks. It’s also taken progressive stances on parking at other parks. Still, I saw its stance in rejecting the Lucas Museum as a case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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Virginia Murray, 25, Fatally Struck While Riding a Divvy Bike in Avondale

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Virginia Murray

Virginia Murray, 25, was fatally struck by a truck driver this morning while riding a Divvy bike at Belmont Avenue and Sacramento Avenue in Avondale, according to police. The case appears to be the first fatal crash involving a bike-share user in the U.S.

At about 9:00 a.m. Murray and the driver of a 2001 Chevrolet flatbed truck were both traveling northbound on Sacramento, according to Officer Kevin Quaid from Police News Affairs. At Belmont, the driver made a right turn to head eastbound, Quaid said. “They collided, causing severe injury to the bicyclist,” the crash report reads.

Murray, of the1200 block of North Marion Court in Wicker Park, was rushed to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 9:58 a.m.

So far the driver has received no traffic citations or criminal charges, Quaid said. Major Accidents is investigating. According to ABC, there is security camera video of the crash that shows the driver striking Murray. According to ABC, the driver works for a nearby flooring company AB Hardwood Flooring.

According to Murray’s LinkedIn profile, she had been working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, since 2013, most recently as a lead marketing communications consultant. A spokeswoman for the company provided this statement:

Friday’s fatal collision is a tragedy and we join Divvy and the Chicago Department of Transportation in offering our condolences to the Murray family. This touches many of us personally, as until a few weeks ago Ginny Murray worked at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. She was an avid Divvy supporter, a wonderful employee and a special person. She will be missed.

The Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy provided this statement: “This morning a cyclist was involved in a fatal collision with a truck [driver] on the Northwest Side. Divvy and the City of Chicago express our deepest condolences to the rider’s family and loved ones.” A source confirmed that this was the first fatality involving a Divvy user since the system launched in June 2013. Almost 8 million rides were taken during that time.

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Looking north on Sacramento at Belmont. Image: Google Maps

The North American Bikeshare Association released this statement today in response to the fatal crash:  

This morning, a young woman using bikeshare in Chicago was involved in a fatal crash. The North American Bikeshare Association joins Divvy and the Chicago Department of Transportation in expressing our sincere sympathies and deepest condolences to her loved ones and the community impacted by this great loss.

Today marks a tragic milestone we wished would never come. 

This is the first time that we’ve lost someone from our bikeshare community in the eight years that bikeshare has operated in the United States. Today’s loss extends beyond Chicago and into the hearts and homes across the nation.

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Lakeview News: Right Turns Are Back at Grace/Halsted, Curbside Cafes Debut

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El Nuevo Mexicano owner Maria Rodiguez cuts the ribbon on the restaurant’s Curbside Cafe. Photo: Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.

The controversial right-turn ban at Grace/Halsted/Broadway in Lakeview East may have created a new Chicago record for the number of community meetings held over a pair of traffic signs. Fortunately, it appears that a compromise has been reached which should satisfy the drivers who groused about the turn ban, as well as folks who are concerned about improving pedestrian safety.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation recently put up “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs by the slip lane that previously allowed drivers to make quick turns from northbound Halsted to southeast-bound Broadway. Slip lanes, also called channelized right turns or “porkchop islands,” are problematic because they allow motorists to whip around corners at high speeds into the path of people on foot, and they create longer pedestrian crossing distances.

CDOT decided to try banning the right turn as a test, in advance of a street repaving project on Broadway between Belmont and Irving Park, slated for late 2016 or early 2017. If the test was deemed a success, the slip lane would be replaced by a curb extension during the road project.

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Banning right turns onto Broadway kept pedestrians from being endangered by quick-turning drivers. Photo: John Greenfield

But some residents, merchants, and the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce weren’t happy about the turn ban, and the chamber launched an online petition asking CDOT to take down the signs. They argued that the new rule made it harder to drive in the neighborhood, and caused motorist to take circuitous routes on residential streets to access Broadway south of Grace.

However, northbound drivers on Halsted who needed to access the the 3700 block of North Broadway could do so by turning east on Waveland, a block south of Grace. Moreover, CDOT rush hour traffic counts done on a single day last October found that, even during the busiest hour, 8 to 9 a.m., only 14 northbound drivers made the hard right turn onto Broadway. Overall, only 4.5 percent of all northbound motorists used the slip lane during the a.m. rush, and a mere 3.9 percent used it during the p.m. rush.

Nevertheless, CDOT recently took down the turn-ban signs and replaced them with a “No U-Turn for Trucks” sign. When I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about the change, he referred me to local alderman James Cappleman’s latest newsletter.

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Cycle of Peace Event Will Bring 500 Bikes to Kids in North Lawndale

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Kids at the Bronzeville Bike Builder bike giveaway in 2014. Photo: TAG Foundation

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Two years ago the TAG Foundation and Working Bikes joined forces to stage the Bronzeville Bike Builder, distributing 500 refurbished bicycles to local families. Kids 12 and under were invited to come learn bike safety skills and leave with a free cycle.

This year they’ve partnered with the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Hub to stage the event, rebranded as The Cycle of Peace, on the West Side. The bike giveaway takes place on Saturday, June 25, at North Lawndale College Prep’s Collins Campus, 1313 South Sacramento, starting at 9 a.m.

The TAG Foundation, a nonprofit promoting sustainable, healthy, and affordable living in Chicago’s communities of color, is run by Angela Ford, a sustainability consultant. The foundation has done much of the coordination for the event. “Putting 500 bikes in a neighborhood changes people’s perception of the community,” Ford said. “It also changes a community’s perspective on bicycles as active transportation.”

Working Bikes, a community bike shop located at 2434 South Western in Little Village, is sending 13 shipping containers of 500 bikes to partners in other nations this year. They view the Cycle of Peace as a similar initiative: getting bikes in the hands of youth who can benefit from them, right here in Chicago.

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Manor Greenway Could Become City’s Best By Cutting Cut-Through Motorists

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed its proposal to connect riverfront paths, reduce cut through traffic, and make it safer to walk and bike along streets in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. CDOT developed the plan for a “neighborhood greenway” between Horner Park and Ronan Park along the north branch of the Chicago River over the past two years, at the request of 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell, and the Transportation Action Committee she started.

I’ve been a member of the TAC since its beginning, and I know the plan well. While I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I think that Patty Wetli’s article in DNAinfo thoroughly captured the concerns people have.

The project was initiated because there’s a gap between two riverfront trails in Horner and Ronan Parks, and Ravenswood Manor residents have been complaining about cut-through traffic, motorists who roll past stop signs, and speeding, for decades. The neighborhood greenway plan includes redesigning a handful of intersections, laying down a short multi-use paths to connect the parks to the streets, and pilot what would be a pioneering traffic diverter.

Homes abut the river in Ravenswood Manor, so there is no public space along the river on which to build a trail. The neighborhood greenway  would be an on-street connection.

On the project’s south end, CDOT would build a small path in the park so people in the park could reach the start of the on-street route at the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Manor Ave. To create a safer crossing here, CDOT would build a concrete island with two waiting areas, one for people using the route, and another for people walking on the sidewalk. This way, people can cross one direction of traffic at a time. The island blocks left turns from Manor Ave. onto Montrose Ave. and left turns from Montrose Ave. to Manor Ave. would use a dedicated lane. CDOT would build a raised crosswalk across Manor Ave. to slow incoming motorists.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT

CDOT showed this rendering, looking north on Manor at Wilson, of how the traffic diverter would work. Previous proposals, presented to the TAC, used concrete to physically prevent vehicles from going straight. Image: CDOT

On the north end, CDOT proposed building a new, short trail on an extended parkway along Lawrence between Manor Ave. and the Ronan Park entrance. A traffic island that’s nearly identically to the one at Montrose would offer a safe waiting area for people to cross in two-stages. There would be another raised crosswalk here at the entry of the neighborhood greenway.

The neighborhood greenway’s on-street route would be the city’s third. The first was installed on Berteau Avenue in Lakeview in 2014, and the second, albeit without any infrastructure changes, was built on Wood Street in Wicker Park.

The best way to increase safety for people walking and biking on neighborhood greenways is to limit speed and reduce the number of cars. Manor Ave.’s speed limit is already 20 m.p.h. but residents had said it was common to see people driving faster. The neighborhood’s many families, a park and a ballet school, all mean that lots of children are crossing Manor Ave. Read more…

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West Garfield and Austin Got Divvy Bikes Last Week. Will Anyone Use Them?

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Rob, an Austin resident and substitute teacher, by the new Divvy station at Austin Park. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last November the Chicago Reader launched a 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.]

Imagine if the Chicago Transit Authority, a public transportation system that’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars, were mostly serving wealthy white folks. That would be messed up, right?

Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation admitted to a similarly lopsided situation with the publicly funded Divvy network, which was launched in 2013. Its survey of annual members revealed that, as is the case with most U.S. bike-share systems, membership skewed heavily white, affluent, well educated, young, and male.

That finding was no surprise. Arguably, Divvy got off on the wrong foot from a social justice standpoint in 2013, when the city concentrated most of the first 300 docking stations in dense, well-off areas downtown and on the near-north lakefront in an effort to make the system financially sustainable.

And while stations in these areas were generally installed with tight quarter-mile spacing, making it easy to walk to and from the docks from many destinations, the rest of the city typically got less-convenient half-mile spacing. Moreover, the $75 (now $99) annual membership fee and credit card requirements were financial barriers to low-income and unbanked Chicagoans.

To its credit, CDOT has recently taken steps to address Divvy’s equity problem. When the system added 175 more stations last summer, many of them went to low-to-moderate-income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities on the south and west sides.

And last July the department rolled out the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program, which offers onetime $5 annual memberships to Chicagoans making $35,310 or less a year and waives the credit card requirement. More than 1,300 residents have signed up so far, well over CDOT’s target of 750 for the year.

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Here’s How the Wood Street Greenway Could Better Prioritize Bicycling

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The Wood Street neighborhood greenway is supposed to be specially designed to make cycling safer and more convenient. The black line shows where a curb could go to solidify the turn as part of the route. Image: Google Street View

Over the past few years the city has built a handful of “neighborhood greenways,” projects that involve small changes to side streets that can have a big impact in making them more bikeable, while connecting residential areas to the wider network of bike lanes. If the Chicago Department of Transportation picks up the pace on building these bikeways, it could actually create the kind of “8 to 80” bike network that the department says is its goal, and the Active Transportation Alliance and other advocates have been pushing for.

Neighborhood greenways can involve a number of different strategies that discourage cut-through traffic and speeding on residential streets, while making cycling more efficient and comfortable. For example, Chicago’s first neighborhood greenway on Berteau between Lincoln and Clark, completed in 2013, involved removing four-way stop signs at an intersection and replaced them with a traffic circle. This forces drivers to slow down to maneuver around the circle, but it doesn’t hinder bicyclists.

The Berteau route also includes sections of contraflow bike lane that allow two-way cycling on one-way segments of the street; a reduced 20 mph speed limit; curb bump-outs that shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage fast turns by drivers; and a pedestrian island at Clark with a special cut-through that allows eastbound contraflow bike traffic to turn north onto Clark.

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The route of the Wood Street greenway between Division and Milwaukee. Image: Google Maps

However, the city’s second neighborhood greenway, completed in 2014 on Wood Street between Augusta and Milwaukee, doesn’t include any concrete infrastructure but only street markings. As such, the project was less effective making the street more bike-friendly. A bike infrastructure design from the Netherlands offers inspiration for additional changes that could be made to Wood that would emphasize the greenway’s role in the network and pilot a new kind of traffic calming in Chicago.

The Wood bike route makes three turns at Ellen, Wicker Park Avenue, and Wolcott – all within the span of two blocks. At the tricky “T” intersection of Wicker Park and Wolcott, bicyclists aren’t given any sort of priority.

Southbound bicyclists have to make a left turn from Wolcott to Wicker Park Ave. Signs here tell southbound cyclists that the greenway continues to the left, but they’re placed too close to the intersection. By the time a cyclist is close enough to read the sign and realize they need to turn left, it’s a little too late to conveniently merge left, and it’s also necessary to yield to oncoming traffic on Wolcott before turning. I’d argue that this doesn’t embody the safe and comfortable riding experience you’re supposed to enjoy on an neighborhood greenway.

In contrast, when you’re biking on a Dutch “fietsstraat” (bicycle street) in a town like Nijmegen (nigh-may-hen), cycling is prioritized even when the bike route turns from one street to another at a “T” intersection. This is indicated with signs and the red pavement – kind of like a red carpet – which is used throughout the Netherlands to denote bike-priority and bike-only routes. As the bikeway turns from one street to another at an intersection, the red pavement does, too.

“Shark’s teeth,” white triangular street markings that point in the opposite direction of traffic, indicate that those cyclists and motorists outside the red pavement must yield to those riding and driving on the red route.

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Why a Viral Tweet Blaming Divvy for School Funding Problems Is Misguided

Chicago residents have every right to be angry about the sorry state of the Chicago Public School funding. But don’t scapegoat the Divvy bike-share system, a bargain for local taxpayers that could have a positive effect on our city’s wealth inequality problem.

The above tweet, implying that Divvy is a frivolous project paid for by money that should have been spent on schools, has been retweeted over 1,200 times this month. I understand the sentiment that the city invests too much money on downtown tourist attractions while neglecting the neighborhoods, but bike-share doesn’t belong on this list.

First of all, Divvy is a smart investment for the city. After the system, which launched in 2013, expands this summer, it will include almost 6,000 bikes and 584 docking stations and serve 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards, so it’s evolving into a citywide public transportation network.

The total cost for all of the city’s bike-share infrastructure, plus some of the wages for siting the stations, is $35,838,780, with 80 percent of the bill covered by federal and state transportation grants. (The suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park lined up their own funding for ten and 13 stations, respectively).

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

$36 million sounds like a lot of money but – like most bike enhancements — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to car infrastructure costs. For example, the current work to expand Chicago’s Jayne Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange is costing $475 million. That’s more than 13 times the price tag of the city’s entire bike-share network, for a project that many transportation experts say won’t achieve its goal of reducing congestion.

Moreover, the federal and state grants that paid most of the cost of Divvy can only be used for transportation infrastructure. Chicago doesn’t have the option of spending that cash on schools.

OK, you might ask, but how about the 20-percent match the city had to provide – couldn’t that roughly $7.2 million have been spent on the CPS? Yes and no. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the local match was largely funded by ward “menu” money (which can also only be used for infrastructure), Divvy’s $12 million sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and payments from real estate developers who purchased docking stations to go in front of their buildings.

However, it is true that some of the $7.2 million came from Chicago’s tax-increment financing program, which has been widely criticized because it diverts property tax revenue from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies. But if we’re going to have a TIF program at all, spending a few million to fund Divvy stations is in line with the original intent of the program: earmarking tax revenue from a designated district for investments that benefit residents of that district.

As for the expenses associated with running and maintaining the system, CDOT says operations costs are currently being covered by user fees and revenue from the ad panels on the stations.

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