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Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2012. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

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What’s Rush Hour Traffic Really Like at the Lincoln Hub?

There have been have been plenty of complaints in the media that the Lincoln Hub placemaking project is causing a traffic nightmare at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. The intiative was spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce in order to create safer conditions for all road users and encourage people to linger and spend money at the six-way intersection.

The project uses flexible posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes. The curb extensions double as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provide additional protection from cars.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently criticized the street redesign, arguing that replacing the slip lanes with pedestrian space has created a headache for drivers:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs, the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Local resident Luis Monje launched an online petition to “redesign/rethink/rescind” the Lincoln Hub, which has garnered over 580 signatures. He delivered a printout of the signatures to local alderman Scott Waguespack on July 15. “We have noticed a MARKED increase in the amount of traffic congestion on our block as cars/trucks/service vehicles struggle with the sharp turns that have been made much tighter due to this ‘improvement,’” Monje wrote in the petition.

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MPC’s “Grow Chicago” Campaign Calls for Beefing Up the TOD Ordinance

SBC readers learned about the 1611 W. Division building, which has no parking for residents, on our TOD bike tour last spring. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Planning Council launched “Grow Chicago,” a new policy change initiative to unleash growth in the city by leveraging our public transportation assets and promoting transit-oriented development.

The push includes a report penned by MPC and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy recommending broader zoning and financial incentives to attract more development near rapid transit stations. The Grow Chicago website also features an interactive TOD calculator that will help quantify the potential benefits of proposed developments.

MPC executive vice present Peter Skosey, project manager Yonah Freemark, and communications director Mandy Burrell Booth discussed the new campaign. “We’re at a point in time in this country where people are gravitating towards cities with good transit systems,” said Skosey. “Chicago needs to capture that growth and ride that trend.” He noted that the populations of other cities with mature transit systems are growing at a much higher rate. Minneapolis, with even harsher winters than Chicago’s, is growing five times as fast.

“We need to build on this asset we have and make it possible for more people to avail themselves of the benefits of public transit,” Skosey said. He pointed out that while Chicago has recently seen growth downtown and in parts of the Southwest Side, “hot” transit-friendly neighborhoods like Lincoln Square and North Center have actually been losing population. This can partly be attributed to deconversion (reducing the number of units in buildings), smaller households, and high demand for housing, which leads to higher prices and rent.

While Grow Chicago seeks to create more housing in high-demand areas, it also aims to ensure that development near transit benefits Chicagoans of all income levels, according to Burrell Booth. “We’re advocating for including affordability in strong housing markets, and also using TOD to bring amenities to underserved neighborhoods.”

The website summarizes the different proposed initiatives. While the city’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance has been wildly successful in encouraging new projects, with over 20 buildings proposed and six currently under construction, the MPC/ITDP report calls for expanding it. The law currently reduces the minimum parking requirements and allows additional density for new and renovated buildings located within 600 feet or a rapid transit stop, 1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets.

The report recommends providing these incentives for all new construction within at least 1,200 feet of stations, possibly further away, and doing away with minimum parking requirements within these zones altogether. It also calls for streamlining the approval process for TOD projects.

“We’re not calling for completely eliminating parking at these buildings,” Skosey said. “But let’s let the developer and the community make that decision on the right amount based on actual market demand, which the TOD calculator will help predict, rather than having the zoning ordinance dictate it. Excess parking spaces are $20,000 a pop, and that translates to higher sale prices and rents.”

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New Uptown Buildings Would Have 240 Units, Only 72 Parking Spots

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Rendering of the 975 W. Wilson Ave. proposal.

Cedar Street Cos., the company behind the FLATS Chicago developments, which typically involve converting single-room occupancy buildings to more upscale rental units, has proposed two new apartment buildings near the Wilson ‘L’ station in Uptown.

One of the buildings would be virtually across the street from the station, at 1050 W. Wilson Ave., and the other would be a block east, at 975 W. Wilson, on the southeast corner of Wilson and Sheridan Road, DNAinfo reports. The first building at 1050 would feature 102 residential units and the second would have 138 units. Both structures would be seven stories tall.

The city’s zoning code usually requires one car-parking space per unit for new construction, regardless if the developer says residents won’t use them. However, Cedar Street is proposing transit-oriented developments with much lower parking ratios. 1050 W. Wilson would include 21 spaces, for a roughly 1:5 ratio, and 975 W. Wilson would have 52 spots, one space for every 2.7 units.

Since these buildings are a stone’s throw from the Red Line, these are sensible ratios, but there’s likely to be some opposition from existing residents. When dense, parking-lite TOD developments are proposed, neighbors typically argue that it result will in a parking crunch. At the same time, they worry that there will be more traffic congestion, which is exactly what happens when developers provide too much parking, encouraging new residents to bring cars to the neighborhood.

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CDOT Says Controversial Jeff Park Street Closure Is About Reducing Crashes

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Arena blockaded CDOT’s cul-de-sac construction site on Monday morning. Photo: Kenji Kerins

Some Streetsblog Chicago commenters have argued that Steven Vance and myself are always in favor of limiting car access in the name of street safety, but that’s not the case. We’re still not sure whether a Chicago Department of Transportation street closure project in Jefferson Park was prompted by a speeding and crash problem, as CDOT claims, or if the main motivation was to make room for a digital billboard.

On Monday morning, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena used his car to blockade the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Lamon Avenue, where CDOT crews were tearing up the asphalt in preparation for building cul-de-sacs. Arena says the department did not notify him of the work before it started last weekend, and he’s opposed to the project because he feels its main purpose is to give public space to a private billboard company. The alderman’s stunt resulted in plenty of media coverage, and it was also effective in getting CDOT to the bargaining table – officials met with him that day to negotiate, and agreed to halt the project until a public meeting can be held.

Back in 2013, City Council voted to allow the advertising company J.C. Decaux to install a digital signs at this location by the Kennedy Expressway and many other spots near expressways across the city. Arena, a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus who often opposes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiatives, voted against the deal.

The original proposal was to install the Wilson/Lamon sign on the front lawn of the adjacent Mayfair Pumping Station, but permanently closing the intersection will allow the 90-foot tall sign to be erected in the middle of Wilson. However, in a statement released on Monday before the meeting with Arena, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said that the decision to build cul-de-sacs was in response to “a history of excessive speeding on Lamon and Wilson due to cut-through traffic.”:

“These improvements, while addressing traffic safety and improving conditions on the increasingly residential section of Lamon, also accommodate the placement of a digital sign which was approved by City Council in 2013,” Claffey stated. “These changes will address the speeding problem, eliminate crashes from cars that lose control at the curve from Lamon to Wilson, and reduce the number of trucks that strike the low-clearance viaduct on Wilson.”

After meeting with CDOT, Arena told DNAinfo that the department agreed to fill in the hole they dug and temporarily cover it to allow car access. In addition to holding a yet-to-be-scheduled community meeting about the project, CDOT promised to look into alternative locations for the sign and study the potential traffic impacts of the road closure, Arena said. “Special interests like the lobbyists behind the digital billboard industry in Chicago should not control the streets in our communities,” he added.

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Survey Says: Lots of Lakeview Residents Like the Lincoln Hub

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The Lincoln Hub, yesterday around 7 p.m. Photo: John Greenfield

As mentioned last Friday, Streetsblog Chicago will be on vacation from July 13-17 and will resume publication of Today’s Headlines and daily articles on Monday, July 20. There may be some occasional posts next week. Have a great weekend!

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently wrote a column slamming the “functional faults” of the Lincoln Hub placemaking initiative in Lakeview, which he claimed have led to a cacophony of horn blasting from aggravated motorists. I responded with a post acknowledging Kamin’s valid criticisms that the seating plazas lack shade, and they don’t offer enough obvious physical protection from cars for some people to feel comfortable using them.

However, I also pointed out that a supposedly well informed urbanist like Kamin shouldn’t be lamenting the removal of dangerous slip lanes to make more space for pedestrians, simply because it forces drivers to slow down a bit. He wasn’t pleased:

An entertaining Twitter exchange ensued. Eventually Luis Monje, a local resident who launched an online petition against “Polka Dot Park,” got involved:

Of course, not all of the signees on Monje’s petition (there were 535 as of this afternoon) live in the neighborhood – some the addresses listed aren’t even in Illinois. But Monje has a point: While his petition does suggest that a significant number of residents dislike the hub, there hasn’t been much in the media about neighbors who like the new street layout.

To get a sense of what kind support there is for the Lincoln Hub, I staked out the intersection last night between 7 and 8 p.m. and buttonholed passers-by. Granted, it wasn’t the thick of rush hour, but I saw no evidence of traffic problems and didn’t hear any of the “frustrated motorists honk[ing] their horns” Kamin wrote about.

All of the 16 people I spoke with were on foot, unless otherwise noted. I tried not to ask leading questions that would suggest I wanted a positive response, but simply asked for their opinion of the new street configuration.

The vast majority of the respondents told me they believe the curb extensions, including the removal of slip lanes, make the area safer and more pleasant for walking, and said the current layout doesn’t cause undue inconvenience for drivers. True, a couple of people did assert that the intersection is now a nightmare for motorists.

But, overall, this informal survey suggests that more neighbors may be in support of the Lincoln Hub than you might think from mainstream news reports, Kamin’s column, or Monje’s petition. Here are the responses, in chronological order, edited a bit for clarity.

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City Launches “Divvy for Everyone” Bike-Share Equity Program

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Emanuel discusses the Divvy for Everyone program at this morning’s presser. Photo: John Greenfield

About a month ago, the Better Bike Share Partnership announced a $75,000 grant to the city of Chicago to launch the “Divvy for Everyone” campaign, a strategy to increase bike-share access and ridership among low-income residents. At the time, Chicago Department of Transportation officials declined to discuss the details of the program, but BBSP’s grant program manager provided info about the plan from CDOT’s grant proposal, and I shared it with Streetsblog readers.

Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office officially announced the initiative, and it’s almost exactly what I outlined a few weeks ago. To recap: Divvy for Everyone will offer a one-time annual membership to low-income residents for $5 – a deep discount from the normal $75 fee. To make the system accessible to unbanked individuals, the usual requirement of a credit card as collateral will be waived. Instead, the program funding will help cover the replacement costs for any lost or stolen cycles.

The D4E program (CDOT’s abbreviation) is available to Chicagoans with a maximum combined household income of 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four with an income of under $72,750 would be eligible.

Applicants must show up in person at one of five Financial Opportunity Centers operated by the Local Initiatives Support Coalition in Englewood, Bronzeville, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and Ravenswood, and provide proof of income and residency. After paying the $5 charge, they’ll be given an activated Divvy key and will be immediately able to check out a bike.

One advantage of the person-to-person approach is that it makes signing up for bike-share a more user-friendly experience. Instead of navigating the potentially confusing sign-up process solo at a Divvy kiosk or a computer in the library, residents will be assisted by a staff member. As an added perk, the first 250 applicants will receive a free bike helmet from Divvy sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, which is providing matching funds for the grant.

After the first year, D4E members will have to pay the full annual fee, but the city is looking into strategies to make it easier for low-income people to budget accordingly if they choose to renew their memberships. These include payment plans, cash payment options, and a financial literacy program offered by LISC, where participants learn strategies for saving money and building credit.

At a press conference this morning at The Cara Program, Quad Communities Center for Working Families, the Bronzeville headquarters for the D4E campaign, Mayor Emanuel heralded the program as a major step toward bridging Divvy’s economic gap. “This is a great day for the city of Chicago, a day in which we move forward, literally, as one city.”

CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told me the equity program compliments this spring’s expansion from 300 to 476 Divvy stations, which brought physical access to the system to many new neighborhoods, including a number of low-income communities. “It’s about providing more options for people to get to the jobs they’re seeking, to get to recreation in other parts of the city, to run errands and more.”

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Kamin on Placemaking Efforts: The Food Is Terrible, and Such Small Portions!

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The Lincoln Hub placemaking project. Photo: John Greenfield

Et tu Blair?

It wasn’t surprising when some disgruntled Lakeview residents launched a petition against the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which reclaimed asphalt at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection for pedestrians. After all, one purpose of the street remix was to increase safety by slowing down car traffic, and not all drivers are going to appreciate that. And, sure, the bright green-and-blue polka dots are not everyone’s cup of tea.

But it was distressing to read a recent column by Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin – who’s usually on the right page about urban planning issues – in which he picks apart several aspects of the design and laments that the new layout inconveniences motorists. “The aim of such projects is to ‘calm’ traffic, slowing vehicles and making conditions safer for cyclists and people on foot,” he writes. “It also aims to boost business by creating more inviting outdoor spaces. Yet this mission is far from accomplished.”

Kamin doesn’t have a problem with the colorful spots, and he notes that people on foot like the fact that they’ve been given more space through the use of paint, flexible posts, and planters, which shortens the crossing distance. He also concedes that, by slowing down drivers, the Lincoln Hub has enhanced traffic safety at the intersection, and may be helping turn the location into a place to spend time, rather than just pass through.

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

However, Kamin doesn’t like the fact that most of the seating in the new plazas is provided by round concrete stools rather than benches, which he thinks would be more comfortable. He laments the lack of shade at the intersection. And he argues that the on-street seating is located too close to traffic lanes, and there isn’t enough physical protection to make people feel safe using it.

There’s some validity to these criticisms, but it was disappointing to read this passage from a guy who’s supposed to be a well-informed urbanist:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs [to create pedestrian space], the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Kamin is referring to the elimination of the intersection’s slip lanes, aka channelized right turns, which have been incorporated into the curb extensions. That’s actually one of the best things about the Lincoln Hub. Slip lanes create longer crossing distances and additional conflict points between pedestrians and drivers, and they allow motorists to whip around corners at dangerous speeds.

Because of this, the Chicago Department of Transportation is generally no longer building slip lanes, and most six-way intersections in the city aren’t channelized. Rather than creating an aggravation for drivers, removing the slip lanes simply brought Lincoln/Wellington/Southport up to current standards for pedestrian safety.

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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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Police, Park District Still Disagree About Late-Night Travel on The 606

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Photo: John Greenfield

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway that connects Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. Many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

However, that’s not currently how things work. As it stands, Chicago police officers are enforcing the city’s 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they politely (according to all accounts I’ve heard) order the trail users to leave. When I looked into the issue two weeks ago, Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed that this is the department’s current protocol.

However, the police policy contradicts that of the Chicago Park District, which owns the Bloomingdale. Two weeks ago, spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code. “This allows commuters to use paths through our parks, including The 606, for transportation.”

When I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue. I made several follow-up calls to both agencies over the last two weeks, and was repeatedly promised an update in the near future.

In the meantime, I checked in with community leaders in the surrounding neighborhoods about the issue. Alderman Scott Waguespack’s 32nd Ward includes the Bloomingdale east of Western Avenue, where the trail is bordered by upscale housing. Prior to the path’s June 6 opening, constituents had expressed concerns that heavy foot and bike traffic would lead to a spike in crime. That fear hasn’t materialized, but there have been complaints about noisy skateboarders.

Waguespack seems to endorse the police-enforced curfew. “From early planning stages, the word was that the Bloomingdale Trail would be open during regular park hours only, and the hours would be enforced by the police or park district security,” he told me. “I don’t think that rule has changed and likely won’t.”

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