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Active Trans Launches a New Proposal for a Grand Riverfront Trail System


Erie Park in River North includes a couple blocks of riverfront path. Photo: John Greenfield

On Monday the Active Transportation Alliance released their action plan for a continuous Chicago River Trail, one that would provide a corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists along the north and south branches of the river, connecting with existing suburban trails. You can read an executive summary of their proposal here.

The advocacy group argues that while Chicago’s lakefront park and trail system is excellent, our riverfront still isn’t living up to its full potential. They say that the heavy use of local trails like the Lakefront Trail and the Bloomingdale shows there is latent demand for a robust riverfront trail system that would serve as both a recreation and healthy transportation facility.

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A map from the executive summary shows potential locations for new trail segments. Click to enlarge.

The new system would also be a shot in the arm for the local economy, providing sustainable economic development opportunities, including tourism and retail. Active Trans notes that nearly one million Chicagoans live within a mile of the river.

Civic leaders have been calling for a continuous Chicago River Trail ever since Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Recently, Our Great Rivers, a visioning document for all three of Chicago’s rivers, was released as part of a project led by the Metropolitan Planning Council, in partnership with the city, Friends of the Chicago River, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, with input from thousands of residents.

According to Active Trans, almost half of the 27 miles of Chicago riverfront has existing trail segments, and several more miles are planned over the next few years. 14.8 miles of riverfront have no trail, but seven miles of river would be relatively easy to build trail segments on in the foreseeable future, the group says.

Active Trans has been in talks with neighborhood organizations in various communities along the river corridor to get input on the needs for the trail in local communities, ways to improve river access, and upcoming projects that could affect the construction of future stretches of trail.

The advocacy group notes that several upcoming projects offer opportunities to build new trail segments, including sections built as part of privately funded developments. Potential sites include El Paseo Trail project in Little Village and Pilsen, the south extension of the North Branch Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk expansion, the Bridgeport rowing center, the former Finkl Steel site, the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes, and planned developments in the South Loop and on Goose Island.

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Working-Class Chicagoans Discuss the Highs and Lows of Bike Commuting


Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park. Day laborer Jesus Yanez (not pictured) says Lawrence is one of the better biking streets in the neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

Since biking is a convenient and affordable way to travel in the city, many blue-collar workers use bikes to access job opportunities. Streetsblog contributor Lynda Lopez interviewed two Chicagoans who fit this profile to get their take on the benefits of bike commuting in this city, as well as some of the issues they want to see addressed.

Cedric Johnson, 48, gets up bright and early to get ready for work. A lifelong resident of Humboldt Park, Johnson has a long commute ahead towards the Loop where he works at a food distribution company doing sanitation and maintenance.

Johnson says he rides his bike to work six or seven days a week and averages 20 miles a day. He tries to change up his route every day, and he prefers to take ride on quiet side streets and through alleys. He explains that he rarely takes the main roads to work, citing an experience on his bike that scarred him.

One day, Johnson was biking near Clybourn and North Avenue when a driver knocked him off his bike. Fortunately his injuries were minor, but his bike was totaled. “I was so shaken up,” he says. Ever since then, he has become more cautious about riding in traffic, but safety concerns haven’t kept him off his bike. He loves riding too much.

“I just feel free when I’m on my bike — gives me peace of mind,” Johnson says. “If you are driving a car, you miss a lot in the community.” He says he notices a lot of details about his surroundings when he’s riding.

Johnson adds that bike riders can help make communities safer, because they’re more likely to notice and help out others who may need assistance. “When you’re driving, you’re only trying to make it to work. You’re not thinking about what’s and who’s around you,” he says.

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Slow Roll’s Jamal Julien Discusses the Ups and Downs of the 2016 Season


A Slow Roll Chicago ride last May. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

In Slow Roll Chicago‘s third year of operations, the bike equity group faced some challenges, as cofounder Oboi Reed, who previously had been the driving force behind the organization, was largely out of the picture due to health-related issues. But it speaks well of the group’s resilience that other members were able to keep operations going in 2016, hosting dozens of community rides and encouraging scores of residents to sign up for low-cost Divvy for Everyone (D4E) bike-share memberships.

“I think we did a pretty good job of sustaining our momentum, although we didn’t see the growth we would have like to have seen,” said Slow Roll cofounder Jamal Julien, a friend of Reed’s since childhood.

One project Slow Roll hoped to get off the ground this year that didn’t pan out was their idea of a bicycle lending library with bikes provided by Trek, a Slow Roll sponsor. The library would allow residents to check out bikes for two or three weeks at a time, just like a library book, and it would be targeted towards neighborhoods that don’t yet have Divvy stations.

Slow Roll, along with transportation advocacy group Go Bronzeville, is contracted by the city to do outreach about the D4E program on rides and at community events. This year Dan Black served as Slow Roll’s Divvy outreach manager. “The outreach is working, and we’ve got some ideas about how we can work more efficiently and effectively to get the word out,” said Julien. More than 1,400 people have signed up for D4E so far.

“While we truly appreciate our relationship with Divvy and what they’ve done, they’re still not in every neighborhood and we can help fill that void in the short term with the bike library,” Julien added. The library would be geared towards local people who aren’t ready to commit to buying a bike, but residents would also be able to use it to borrow cycles for visiting family and friends. “Hopefully after this year’s ride season ends we’ll be able to pick up that conversation with Trek.”

Weather was also a challenge this year. Although Slow Roll moved the start of their weekly ride season back from early April to early May this year, there were still a number of rides that took place in May and June on rainy days, and a few were rained out. However, turnout continued to grow in the second half of the season.

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Is $2 Billion Red Line Extension Best Way to Provide Transit in Far South Side?

Architect's rendering of a proposed CTA Red Line station at 103rd Street and Eggleston Avenue. The Union Pacific railroad tracks are left of the station.

Architect’s rendering of a proposed CTA Red Line station at 103rd Street and Eggleston Avenue. The Union Pacific railroad tracks are left of the station.

The Chicago Transit Authority released a major study today, the next step in the developing project to extend the Red Line southward from the 95th Street terminal to 130th Street in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood. The Environmental Impact Study is required by the federal government before the CTA can ask for funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The CTA has been studying the Red Line extension for decades. Former mayor Richard J. Daley promised it to residents of Roseland and Pullman when the Red Line’s Dan Ryan branch opened in 1969. In 2009 the CTA finished a required “Alternatives Analysis” wherein they studied different routes and modes to provide transit service in the area that the extension would serve.

The CTA determined it would be in their and residents’ best interest to extend the Red Line, using the same kinds of tracks and vehicles as the existing rail service, from 95th Street, west to Eggleston Avenue (400 West), and then south along an existing Union Pacific-owned freight railroad right of way.

Four new stations would be built at 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Ave at 116th Street, and on 130th Street, at approximately 950 East.

The CTA said the project would cost about $2.3 billion. The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the extension could be up and running in ten years, with construction starting in 2022. That’s an optimistic timeline, and it presumes that funding can be secured from many sources, primarily the federal government. Required matching local funds could be provided by an existing TIF district and, in theory, the state of Illinois, although it’s been a long time since state lawmakers have been able to pass a budget.

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Active Trans Wins $150K Grant to Help Accelerate Slow Chicago Bus Service


Prepaid boarding is currently being tested at Madison/Dearborn — riders swipe their fare card at a portable reader before the bus arrives. Photo: John Greenfield

There was some good news for Chicago straphangers last week. TransitCenter, a New York-based foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility, awarded 16 grants, totaling more than $17 million, to civic organizations, universities, and municipalities, and the Active Transportation Alliance was one of the winners. The Active Trans proposal, called Speeding Up Chicago’s Buses, involves working with the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation to eliminate some of the roadblocks to faster transit and higher ridership.

Like many large U.S. cities, Chicago has seen an increase in rail ridership but a decrease in bus use in recent years. In 2015, ‘L’ ridership hit record levels, with 241.7 million rides. But, while buses still accounted for the majority of the rides last year, bus use dropped for the third year in a row, falling by 0.6 percent from 2014 levels to 274.3 rides.

“Declining bus use is not acceptable,” said Kyle Whitehead, director of government relations for Active Trans. When bus ridership falls, he noted, it can lead to reductions in the hours and frequency of service, which in turn can reduce ridership, creating a vicious cycle.

“That has an equity impact,” Whitehead said. “Many parts of town without easy rail access are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. If bus service declines, it disproportionately affects people in these neighborhoods.”

Whitehead said Active Trans will use the grant to expand on the transit advocacy they’ve done over the last few years, including outreach on the city’s Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit proposal. That project is currently on hold due to backlash from residents and merchants against plans to create bus-only lanes and limit left turns from the avenue. But if the downtown Loop Link BRT corridor, which opened last December, is ultimately judged a success, it could lead to renewed interest in the Ashland proposal.

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Hundreds Gathered at Memorial for Anastasia, Who Died Biking on Monday

Photo: Liz Farina Markel/Tipping Point Photography

Anastasia Kondrasheva’s family mourns at her ghost bike memorial. Photo: Liz Farina Markel/Tipping Point Photography

Note: Streetsblog Chicago will be on vacation on Monday, October 3, and will resume publication on Tuesday.

Over 300 people came to the intersection of Addison Street and Damen Avenue in Roscoe Village yesterday evening to pay their respects to Anastasia Kondrasheva and her family, friends, and coworkers. There were so many people that a handful of police officers diverted east-west vehicle traffic while letting CTA buses pass the somber scene.

Kondrasheva, 23 years old and a health coach at Harken Center, was killed in a “right hook” crash on Monday morning after being run over by a truck semi-trailer whose driver was turning right from Damen onto Addison.

Anastasia Kondrasheva

Anastasia Kondrasheva

The vigil was co-organized by Rebecca Resman, Elsbeth Cool, and Kristen Green, none of whom knew Kondrasheva. Resman and Cool cycle daily with their children and founded Chicago Family Biking. Green recently founded Ghost Bikes Chicago, and arranged for a ghost bike to be installed at the southeast corner for Kondrasheva.

Kondrasheva’s family declined to speak to the press and to those gathered. Alese Affatato said she was speaking on behalf of the family said that Anastasia babysat her daughter for six years, and remarked that “[Anastasia] felt life on her bike, she loved biking in the city, this is a beautiful way to honor her.”

Resman spoke to rally the crowd saying, “This [fatal crash] is everybody’s problem,” she said, adding, “I want to urge everyone here today to demand better…and in the days and months ahead, we hope that you will all join us to organize and demand safe streets now.” Resman and others are discussing future organizing steps on the Facebook event for last night’s memorial.

Mourners place candles at Anastasia's ghost bike

Mourners place lights at Anastasia’s ghost bike.

Kondrasheva’s death follows a string of fatal crashes this summer with commercial vehicle drivers. Two others happened similarly. The drivers of trailer trucks turning or merging right ran over and killed Virginia Murray and Lisa Kuivenen in separate crashes in August. Two additional bicyclists have died in crashes with commercial vehicles. Blaine Klingenberg was hit by a tour bus driver in June, and Francisco Cruz was hit by a panel van driver in September. The driver who hit Cruz didn’t stay behind, making it a hit-and-run crash.

Active Transportation Alliance is asking people to sign their new letter, a Vision Zero call to action, that asks the “mayor, Chicago City Council and relevant city agencies to immediately put into place proven strategies that can prevent more fatalities due to crashes involving large vehicles.” John Greenfield published a column in the Chicago Reader yesterday advocating for the use of side guards on trucks.

When commenting on articles about traffic fatalities, please be mindful of the fact that family members and friends of the deceased person may be reading the post.


The New Wilson ‘L’ Platform Will Be Massive – The Widest in the System

Wilson current project state - aerial lowres (1)

A recent aerial view of the Wilson station. The old platform is on the left. The much wider new island platform is on the right. Photo: CTA

This morning the CTA celebrated the completion of more than 50 percent of the Wilson station reconstruction project, shortly after all customer boarding was moved to the recently completed west island platform. Now that both sides of the new platform are completed and the transit agency is working on demolishing the old one, you can get a sense of just how big the station will be when both island platforms are in place. The entire track and platform combo will be the widest in the system, dwarfing even the double-island-platform at the Belmont Red/Purple/Brown station.

This week the transit agency is beginning the third phase of the $203 million reconstruction project, which includes rebuilding the station house to make it wheelchair accessible and reconstructing all track structures next to the station. After Phase Three is completed in late 2017, the train stop will become a new transfer point between the Red and Purple lines.


Looking north from the new platform this morning. Old platform is visible on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

At today’s press conference, 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman argued that the station project is already providing a shot in the arm to the local economy. He noted that about 50 percent of nearby residents don’t own cars, but they often leave the neighborhood to shop. However, Cappleman said the new station has encouraged 18 new businesses to open in the ward, noting that there will soon be four independently owned coffee shops on Wilson near the station.

CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. said the Wilson station rehab is the latest in several upcoming planned Red Line improvements, including the Red-Purple Modernization project and the south Red Line extension. He put in a word for the city’s proposal for a new Transit TIF (tax-increment financing) district along the north Red Line to help fund RPM improvements.

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Diverter Test on Manor Avenue: “People Have to Change Their Habits”


Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night a group of about 130 people gathered to voice their questions, comments, and concerns, about a car traffic diverter that the Chicago Department of Transportation is testing in Ravenswood Manor. On Monday, CDOT set up two barricades on Manor Avenue at Wilson Avenue that diverts car traffic on Manor approaching Wilson onto Wilson, and prevents vehicle turns from Wilson onto Manor.

CDOT expects the diverter to reduce car traffic volume on Manor, which will “complement” the neighborhood greenway they’re building on Manor from Montrose to Lawrence to connect two riverfront multi-use trails. The neighborhood greenway is a set of traffic calming elements, including raised crosswalks at the entrances and shortened crosswalks through the use of bumpouts, to make it more comfortable to walk and bike on the street.

Mike Amsden, assistant director of transportation planning at CDOT, said that the test will end November 18, and that he’s been at the intersection three days this week to monitor car and bike traffic and talk to residents. David Smith, a consultant at CDOT, has also been out there each day. Amsden said that this is the highest number of people he’s seen attend meetings about city transportation projects he’s worked on.

The people who came to the meeting voiced a wide range of ideas about the impact of the barricades, ranging from an unexplained suggestion that the situation is making the intersection a more dangerous place, to commendations of CDOT for actually trying to resolve certain issues and that the test should run its course.

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.

The test involves counting car and bike traffic volumes and driver speeds at 15 locations starting two weeks after the test begins, to allow for an adjustment period. The count locations are within Ravenswood Manor and outside the neighborhood, defined by Sacramento on the west, Lawrence on the north, Montrose on the south, and the river on the east.

Amsden said the diverter was designed to address three goals:

  • Reduce car traffic on Manor Avenue
  • Simplify the intersection of Manor, Mozart, Wilson
  • Create a comfortable corridor for people walking and biking along Manor to access the CTA station and businesses, Ronan and Horner Parks, and the future river trail south of Montrose

In response to the question, “is there another option that might be trialled to figure out the best way” Amsden said that “we came up with several options, we felt this option did the best of addressing those goals.”

In between the range of opinions were questions about what other options are if the diverter turns out to be a failure, dissatisfaction about the process, and a claim that setting up the diverter amounted to closing down public streets and was illegal. “Just to be clear,” Amsden said, “we didn’t close a street.” Read more…

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How Can Chicago Make Sure Vision Zero Benefits Communities of Color?


A mural in West Humboldt Park. Chicago has several times as many homicides per year as traffic deaths, which will complicate efforts to implement Vision Zero. Photo: John Greenfield

This article also ran in the Chicago Reader weekly newspaper.

In May 2012 the Chicago Department of Transportation released its “Chicago Forward” agenda, including the stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2022. That target was inspired by the international Vision Zero movement, which began in Sweden in 1997. It’s based on the notion that road fatalities and serious injuries aren’t simply unavoidable  “accidents,” but rather outcomes that can be prevented through engineering, education, and enforcement.

In recent years the Vision Zero movement has spread to many major U.S. cities, most notably New York, where mayor Bill de Blasio has made it a hallmark of his administration. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that the Chicago announced a formal Vision Zero initiative, starting with a three-year interdepartmental action plan slated for release this fall. The deadline for reaching zero traffic deaths and serious injuries has been pushed back to 2026.

“Every day someone is injured or worse as the result of a car crash on Chicago’s streets—and that is simply unacceptable,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “These crashes are preventable, and that is why we are stepping up our efforts.”

Local transportation advocates like the Active Transportation Alliance applauded the news. After all, the city of New York has reported that between 2014 and 2015 there was a reduction in all traffic fatalities by 22 percent, with a 27 percent drop in pedestrian deaths (although this summer pedestrian fatalities spiked in NYC).


“Ghost bike” memorial to Hector Avalos, who was killed by a drunk driver near Douglas Park in 2013. Photo: Lorena Cupcake.

But it seems likely the devil will be in the details when it comes to ensuring Chicago’s safety program is a net positive for all residents, particularly those in low-to-moderate-income communities of color.

In these neighborhoods, increased traffic enforcement—especially ticketing for minor infractions a la the “broken windows theory” —may not necessarily be seen as a good thing. Significantly, several high-profile, police-involved deaths of African Americans across the country began with traffic enforcement stops.

Michael Brown was detained for walking in the street, Sandra Bland was arrested after failing to signal a lane change, and Philando Castile was pulled over partly due to a broken taillight. While behind the wheel, Castile had been stopped by police 46 times in 13 years, according to an NPR records analysis.

“One of the pillars of Vision Zero is increasing opportunities for police to apply their biases to street users, aka increased enforcement of traffic laws,” LA-based transportation consultant and anthropologist Adonia Lugo said last year in a widely shared blog post titled “Unsolicited Advice for Vision Zero.” “White people may look to police as allies in making streets safer; people of color may not.”

Lugo also argued that that Vision Zero is an overly top-down approach, rather than one driven by the community, and yet another example of U.S. transportation advocates, who usually look to cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen for best practices, exhibiting “Eurocentric thinking.”

Transportation equity consultant Naomi Doerner echoed some of those concerns in a recent interview with Streetsblog USA. “If we’re going to be giving more investment to police enforcement, it has to be communities telling police how and where and what,” said the former head of the New Orleans advocacy group Bike Easy. “This particular Vision Zero analysis had not been done by the advocacy community. I think that a lot of that really does have to do with the fact that a lot of the organized bike and walk community are not comprised of people of color.”

And rolling out Vision Zero in Chicago will be complicated by the fact that our gun-violence epidemic is arguably a much more urgent issue than traffic deaths. New York had about 330 homicides and 230 traffic fatalities in 2015; Chicago, with less than a third of the population of New York, had 491 homicides last year but averaged only about 110 traffic fatalities per year between 2010 and 2014 (the latest year for which the Illinois Department of Transportation has released crash data).

There have already been more than 3,000 people shot in Chicago this year and over 500 homicides—more than New York and L.A. combined. As such, it’s likely that some residents may feel that channeling city resources into preventing traffic deaths rather than homicides is misguided.

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Join Me for the Very First (Legal) Ride on the North Branch Trail Extension


Toni Preckwinkle and other officials cut the ribbon on the trail this afternoon at Thaddeus S. “Ted” Lechowicz Woods, 5901 N. Central Ave. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

I’m happy to report that I got to take the maiden voyage on the northern half of theNorth Branch Trail extension this afternoon after officials cut the ribbon on the 1.8-mile stretch of off-street path. You can take a virtual spin on the trail with me by watching the video below. It’s probably not riveting viewing, and the recording stopped a little before I reached the end of the new stretch but it will give you an idea of what it’s like traveling on this high-quality facility.

The just-opened segment runs from Forest Glen to the southeast trailhead of the existing 18-mile North Branch Trail, which runs all the way north to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Work is underway to build an additional 1.2 miles of path that will continue the trail southeast to Gompers Park near the the LaBaugh Woods and Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove at Foster Avenue.

“The Forest Preserves offer more than 300 miles of trails in Cook County, which serve as a gateway to nature,” said county board president Toni Preckwinkle in a statement. “We are proud to mark the completion of phase one of this extension, which will serve additional Chicago residents as well as those in eight neighboring suburbs.”

The first phase of the extension includes a ten-foot-wide asphalt trail and two new bridges; one over the North Branch of the Chicago River at Central Street, and another over Metra’s Milwaukee District North line tracks. There’s also a new crosswalk for the trail at Central Street, with a button-activated stoplight, by the Matthew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center, 6100 North Central Avenue.

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