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By Popular Demand, CTA Will Test Restored Lincoln and 31st Street Bus Lines

#11 Lincoln CTA Bus Route

Currently, the #11 terminates at Western Avenue. Photo: Jeff Zoline

At Monday’s Chicago Transit Authority budget hearing, politicians and residents implored the CTA board to bring restore the 31st Street bus and Lincoln Avenue bus routes. The #31 bus line was canceled in 1997, while the segment of the #11 Lincoln route between Western and Fullerton was eliminated in 2012.

At the hearing, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who has helped lead the charge for restored service, noted that the Lincoln bus was formerly a lifeline for seniors in his ward. Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) noted that a new development planned for Lincoln Park will bring over 1,000 residences to the neighborhood, increasing the demand for transit. Ald. Patrick Daley (11th) proposed a new 31st Street route that would connect the 31st/Ashland Orange Line stop, the Sox/35th Red Line station, and 31st Street Beach. A number of their constituents spoke up as well.

Despite this urging, it seemed unlikely the board could make a decision on the matter and revise their proposed 2016 spending plan in time for today’s scheduled budget vote. However, at this afternoon’s meeting, CTA President Dorval Carter made a surprise announcement that next spring the agency will conduct pilots of the restored #31 and #11 bus service.

Details are still being finalized, including the exact locations, days and times of the service, and the duration of the pilot, according to a source at the CTA. As soon as those details are known, the agency will work with the aldermen and their communities to promote the pilot tests. Depending on how much ridership the routes get, service may ultimately be restored on a permanent basis, the source said.

“We’re thrilled about the news,” said Pawar’s community outreach director Dara Salk. “We’re very grateful to the board for listening to our concerns and taking action.”


Residents and Politicians Urge CTA to Restore Lincoln, 31st Street Bus Service

They want their bus back

CTA riders have been donning yellow shirts to signify that they want the agency to restore bus routes on Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street.

During the public comment period of last night’s Chicago Transit Authority’s budget hearing, the only one the agency is holding this year, many politicians and residents urged the CTA board to restore the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street bus routes.

The hearing opened with budget director Tom McKone providing an overview of the 2016 spending plan. It maintains virtually all current bus service and brings back the old express bus routes on Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue. As a strategy to avoid a fare hike, the budget includes layoffs for some management staff, plus eliminating some vacant positions.

When the floor was opened for comments, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she was once again there to “respectfully request” that the board find a place in the budget to restore the full #11 Lincoln bus route. In 2012, as part of several bus line cuts to help fund the CTA’s “de-crowding plan” for additional train service, the agency cancelled bus service on Lincoln between the Brown Line’s Western stop and the Fullerton station. Smith said the strategy hasn’t been a success.

Smith noted that her Lincoln Park ward includes many college students, young professionals, and seniors – the most common demographics for frequent transit users, both locally and nationally, she said. Smith added new developments, including the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, will bring over 1,000 new residences and over 150,000 square feet of retail to the Lincoln Avenue corridor.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who has been leading the charge to restore the #11 ever since service was cut, was more somber when he addressed the board. Pawar said he wants his ward to include affordable neighborhoods where people can age in place. He added that, despite the increased capacity on the Brown Line, the elimination of Lincoln service makes it harder for many of his constituents to get to destinations within the ward.

Alder Ameya Pawar (47th) asking the board to reinstate the 11-Lincoln Ave bus

Ald. Pawar appeared again before the CTA board asking for them to reinstate the 11-Lincoln bus.

One North Side resident testified that the Brown Line is often too crowded to be a satisfactory replacement for the Lincoln bus. Another asked that the existing #11 route be extended north from Fullerton to at least Belmont Avenue, so that she could access a nearby Jewel-Osco.

Bridgeport’s Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th), elected this year, spoke up in favor of restoring the #31 bus, which was cut in 1997. “A lot has changed in our community” since then, Thompson said, noting that there has been a new wave of development in recent years and better transit could help reduce congestion. He proposed a bus route that would serve the 31st/Ashland Orange Line station and the Sox/35th Red Line stop, ending at 31st Street beach. Read more…


The New Ventra App Will Make Metra Easier to Ride For Millions of People

Update Nov. 18: The Ventra app is available half a day early. Download for Android and iOS

The Ventra app will be released this month, making it more convenient to pay your Metra fare, whether you’re an occasional rider or a daily commuter. The best thing about the app is that it allows you to buy tickets and passes via your smartphone. That means no waiting in line at a ticket booth, using an ill-designed ticket vending machine, or paying a surcharge on board. That’s a big plus if you’re rushing to catch a train and don’t have time to buy a ticket at the station.

Why am I so confident that the Ventra App will be convenient to use? I’m part of the app’s beta testing group, and I recently used the app during a Metra excursion to the South Deering neighborhood for a fried fish snack at Calumet Fisheries. Aside from some visual quirks that I find very annoying, including flashing screens and unpolished buttons and dialog boxes, I found that the app performs all functions flawlessly.

You’ll be able to use the Ventra app to start, stop, and change auto-load preferences on your account, setting how much money you want drawn from your credit or debit card when it dips below $10. The Ventra app also has a built-in transit tracker. It shows the nearest Metra and ‘L’ stations, as well as bus stops, plus the predicted time the train or bus will show up or, in the case of Metra, the scheduled departure time.

Read more…


Ald. Reilly Has a Responsible Approach to Off-Street Parking

Rendering of new building (right) in West Loop

The proposed building is on the right. The building on the left, K2 Apartments, has 30 percent less parking than the city’s standard 1:1 ratio, but only about half of those spaces are used. Rendering: Pappageorge Haymes

When it comes to parking management in Chicago, there have been a couple of encouraging developments recently. In September, City Council passed a beefed-up revision of the transit-oriented development ordinance, which makes it easier than ever to build dense, parking-lite developments near train stations. And, recently, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) made some very sensible statements about the fact that downtown buildings shouldn’t have tons of car spaces.

It’s not as if Reilly is particularly progressive when it comes to transportation and public space issues. While he has supported some bike infrastructure in his downtown district, he recently tried to pass an ordinance forcing the Chicago Department of Transportation to remove the Kinzie protected lanes.

He blocked CDOT from installing Divvy stations on the Magnificent Mile, and he was was the driving force behind a new law that severely restricts the use of pedicabs in the central business district. And, last week, he lobbied to ban food carts from portions of dozens of streets in his ward, even though the carts offer consumers affordable food choices and add vitality to the public way.

But Reilly might be one of the most forward-thinking City Council members when it comes to promoting residential buildings without an excessive amount of car parking. He has encouraged developers to only build the number of spaces that is appropriate for the location of the project as well as the expected car-ownership rate of the residents. He has noted that buildings with many floors of garage parking make streets less attractive, and most downtown renters don’t own cars.

For example, Cardiff Mason Development is currently pitching a 38-story residential building at 352 North Union Ave. in River West, near the Jewel-Osco at Kinzie and Desplaines. It would have 373 apartments and 158 tenant car parking spaces, for a ratio of 0.42 spaces per unit. However, DNAinfo reported, the developer originally proposed a “substantially higher” number of off-street spots but lowered the number after a meeting with Reilly.

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

Screenshot 2015-11-02 15.37.50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Some Ways, The 606 Isn’t as Good as the High Line — It’s Better

Ridgeway from the air on Opening Day

According to Renn, The 606 is not “a project of citywide significance, nor a bona fide tourist attraction.” Photo: Trust for Public Land

Nationally known urbanist and ex-Chicagoan Aaron Renn recently threw shade on our city’s beloved new linear park with a blog post titled “How Chicago’s 606 Trail Fell Short of Expectations.” He wrote that the new path, aka the Bloomingdale Trail, doesn’t hold a candle to the High Line in Manhattan, where he now resides. However, I’d argue that The 606 is superior on a few different levels.

During a recent visit to Chicago, Renn checked out three of the city’s new public spaces and was wowed by the new riverwalk extension and Maggie Daley Park. However, he was unimpressed with the 2.7-mile trail-and-parks system on the Northwest Side:

The problem with The 606 is not that it’s bad. In fact, it’s a nice, eminently serviceable rail trail. I won’t do a full writeup since Edward Keegan had a good review in Crain’s in which he asks, “Is that all there is?’ that I think gets it basically right… What I will do is highlight three areas that I think contribute to Keegan being underwhelmed: inflated expectations, financing problems, and an odd lack of attention to design detail.

What Keegan, actually wrote is that visitors to the new path might ask themselves “Is that all there is?” because it lacks the show-stopping design elements of the High Line or Millennium Park. But Keegan himself wasn’t underwhelmed – he argued that The 606’s relative minimalism is appropriate. “It’s an example of simple, clear and modest design being almost the right answer.” The “almost” is there because he thinks the designers should have been bolder with a few elements, such as the trail’s “clumsy and inelegant” Milwaukee Avenue bridge, and he wishes there were more places to sit and linger.

However, Keegan noted that “the designers deftly move the path from side to side and up and down to the extent possible to provide as interesting a path as possible for its users.” He also praises the wide plaza at Damen, the stadium-style seating area at Humboldt Boulevard, and the poplar grove between St. Louis and Drake, as well as the thoughtful trail lighting.

In his own post, Renn notes that the city of Chicago set up expectations that The 606 would surpass the High Line, but he argues that it isn’t even in the same class:

The 606 is not even remotely another High Line, nor a project of citywide significance, nor a bona fide tourist attraction for the masses. It’s a neighborhood-serving rail-trail that is elevated above the streets with some nice features like lighting that you don’t see often.

While the Bloomingdale may never be the tourist attraction that the High Line is, it certainly draws people from many different parts of Chicago, and it beats the NYC facility in three different departments. It’s nearly twice as long as the 1.45-mile Manhattan path. Unlike the High Line, you can bike on the Bloomingdale, and it provides direct access to many public schools, so it functions as a very useful transportation link.

Thirdly, The 606 is more democratic. The High Line runs through some of the nation’s priciest real estate and, during the three times I’ve visited it, the crowd seemed to be pretty homogenous.

Read more…


Once Again, the Construction of a Mariano’s Creates a Hazard for Pedestrians

People walking in the road on Broadway

People walking the street on Broadway past a sidewalk closed for the construction for the parking-rich Mariano’s development. Photo: J. Patrick Lynch

Broadway is a city-designated Pedestrian Street between Diversey and Cornelia in Lakeview. But during the construction of a new car-centric development, people on foot are encountering a decidedly pedestrian-unfriendly situation.

A massive new complex featuring a Mariano’s grocery store and an XSport Fitness gym, plus 279 car parking spaces, is currently being built at 3030 N. Broadway. For the past several weeks, the sidewalk on the west side of Broadway has been closed to accommodate the construction.

Streetsblog Chicago reader J. Patrick Lynch sent us photos of the situation, which is all-too-common in Chicago. Since the sidewalk closure signs are located mid-block, people who encounter them are supposed to backtrack half a block to the crosswalk in order to detour to the east sidewalk. Lynch tells us that many people simply opt to walk in the street.

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CDOT Will Create a Multi-Modal Transportation Plan for Altgeld Gardens Area

Map of Riverdale community area

Rail lines, viaducts, the Bishop Ford Expressway, the Calumet River and bridges surrounding Riverdale all create barriers for people walking or biking. Image: CDOT

Residents in the Riverdale community area, which includes the Altgeld Gardens, Eden Green, Golden Gate, and Riverdale neighborhoods, are surrounded by barriers that make it hard to travel within and beyond the area. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently awarded the Chicago Department of Transportation a Local Technical Assistance grant to create a multi-modal transportation plan for the area. In the grant application [PDF] CDOT noted that Riverdale residents are hemmed in by large industrial land uses, the Bishop Ford Expressway, four railroads, and the Little Calumet River. Additionally, all of the arterial streets are recommend truck routes, “creating an additional challenge for people walking and biking due to high truck traffic and speeds.”

“There is a need to improve access to adjacent neighborhoods, recreational opportunities, transit service, and employment centers,” said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. He added that there are many “nearby developments…or existing resources that support active transportation…but are difficult to access via walking, biking, or transit.” These include the Cal-Sag Trail, Major Taylor Trail, Wolf Lake Trail System, Millennium Reserve, and the Pullman National Historic Monument. In addition, Claffey noted, local residents are in support of improving transportation options.

In the application, CDOT pointed out that there’s a much lower rate of car ownership in these communities compared to the rest of the city. The area has limited transit access, sidewalks are often missing, and there are no bikeways. The median household income ranges from $13,000 to $14,500, far below the city’s median of $47,250.

The transportation plan will be a collaborative effort, Claffey said. They’ll work with a local organization called the Safety & Transit Action Council, led by Deloris Lucas. CDOT said in the application that they would also involve other organizations working on nearby projects, including Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, and Slow Roll Chicago. We Keep You Rollin’, a new biking group that launched in the Riverdale area last February, will also be involved.

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Once Again, DNAinfo Lowballs Ridership for a New South Side Divvy Station


The station at 76th and Jeffery in South Shore. Photo: John Greenfield

I appreciate DNAinfo’s efforts in crunching Divvy ridership data to produce a series on usage patterns in neighborhoods like Uptown, Logan Square, and Lakeview. However, their method has resulted in a couple of articles that dramatically underreported the number of rides taken to and from new South Side stations.

On Friday morning, DNA ran a piece by Andrea V. Watson that initially claimed Englewood’s five bike-share stations have only been used a total of 267 times since they opened this spring. The station at 56th Street and Halsted has seen a mere 22 trips, Watson reported.

After I double checked the numbers with Divvy management and the Chicago Department of Transportation, it became clear that the DNA numbers only accounted for rides taken by June 30. That’s the latest date for which ridership data is available for download on the bike-share system’s website.

However, more recent data was readily available from CDOT and Divvy, if DNA had asked  for it. It turns out that the five stations were actually used a total of 798 times by September 30, about three times what DNA reported. The station at 56th and Halsted has actually seen 107 trips this year.

Old Divvy

The station at 76th and Jeffery is one of the southernmost in the system. The fact that it’s on the outskirts of the coverage area helps explain its low ridership numbers.

While it’s true the Englewood ridership numbers are low, they’re not nearly as dismal as what Watkins originally stated. DNA eventually edited the piece to note that their initial numbers only covered the roughly 2.5-month period between station installment and June 30, and they updated the article with the more recent numbers.

This morning, DNA made the same mistake again. An article by Sam Cholke about Divvy use in South Shore included the interesting observation that most local residents are using the bikes within the neighborhood, or to get to the lakefront or Hyde Park.

However, the piece stated that a station at Jeffery Boulevard and 76th Street, one of the southernmost in the system, has gotten little use, “with 70 rides so far this year.” “Perhaps downtown is just too much of a slog from Jeffery Boulevard and 76th Street,” the author theorized, noting that the station is mostly used for trips to or from seven stations in or near Jackson Park.

That figure also seemed suspiciously low, so I checked it with Divvy general manager Elliot Greenberger. Again, it turns out that DNA only used numbers for trips taken by June 30. Since the 76th and Jeffery station debuted on April 23, what Cholke called “so far this year” was really only about nine weeks. Here are the more recent figures for the station:

Read more…


Active Trans: Rahm Should Aim for 100 Miles of Bike Lanes Again, Not 50

Emanuel and Scheinfeld and Burnett on Milwaukee Avenue

27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett (wearing the cap), CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, and Mayor Emanuel inspect the city’s in-progress bikeway network at last Friday’s press conference. Photo: CDOT

Last week at a press event celebrating the installation of 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to build 50 miles of new bike lanes, including PBLs, over the next four years. The Active Transportation Alliance’s new “Bikeways for All” campaign, launched on Monday, urges the mayor to double that goal.

In a press release. Active Trans director Ron Burke congratulated the city for reaching the milestone, noting that, along with the Divvy system, the new lanes have transformed bicycling “into a mainstream mode of transportation.” However, the group says that, even with all the new lanes, only a third of Chicagoans who live outside of downtown have quarter-mile access to a protected lane, neighborhood greenway, or off-street trail.

The organization is asking the city to build 100 miles of these “low-stress bikeways” by 2020. “Even though the number of people cycling has multiplied, we still have a long way to go before the average person feels safe and comfortable getting on a bike to ride to work, run errands and drop off kids at school,” Burke said.

The city uses the Orwellian phrase “buffer-protected” to refer to buffered bike lanes and considers them to be a type of protected bike lane, even though they offer no physical protection. Active Trans’ 100-mile proposal wouldn’t count buffered bike lanes, but it would include existing bikeways that are upgraded to low-stress routes.

Bikeways for all: access to low-stress bike routes

The Active Transportation Alliance has called on Mayor Emanuel to focus on building more low-stress bike routes because few residents currently have quarter-mile access to them.

Active Trans says the proposal is called Bikeways for All because it “would allow people of all ages and abilities to get around efficiently and comfortably on a bike.” While’s they’re only calling for 100 miles of low-stress routes to be added by 2020, they’ve identified 180 miles of potential locations for the facilities. They say that if all 180 miles were built, 80 percent of Chicagoans would have quarter-mile access to a LSR.

While it might seem bold to propose a big expansion of the bike network in the middle of a city budget crisis, Active Trans notes that many of the bikeways could be federally funded. As it stands, the Chicago Department of Transportation mostly uses federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants to pay for bike projects. The Bikeways for All report states that CDOT uses less than 0.5 percent of its own budget to built bike routes.

In addition to expanding the bike network, Active Trans is asking the city to make it more equitable. The report states that while 82 percent of Chicagoans who live on the North Side have half-mile access to any type of bikeway, only 71 percent and 74 percent of those on the South and West Sides, respectively, have the same access. See a breakdown of the official community areas included in each region here.

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