Skip to content


Posts from the Neighborhoods Category


Correcting Konkol: South and West Sides Received the Bulk of New Bike Lanes


Mark Konkol

Just because you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize doesn’t mean you always get your story straight.

DNAinfo’s Mark Konkol posted a column today arguing that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bike initiatives are a frivolous distraction from the city’s pressing crime, education, and budget issues. He also claims that Emanuel’s administration hasn’t been giving low-income communities their fair share of bike facilities. As is often the case when Konkol writes about cycling, he turns the truth into roadkill.

He argues that Chicago’s increasing bike-friendliness is only good news for the people who live or work in the city’s wealthier areas:

That’s where you’ll find most of Emanuel’s protected bike lanes and Divvy Bike stations. It’s another example of the growing economic divide that splits Chicago into two cities — one where the rich get pampered and the other where the poor suffer under Emanuel’s administration.

When the first 300 Divvy stations debuted in 2013, the service area was spread fairly evenly north and south of Madison Street, and a number of low-income communities got stations. However, it is true that the city installed a higher density of stations in the densest parts of town in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. These areas, including downtown and the North Lakefront, do tend to be relatively affluent.

But when the city added 175 more stations this year, they used uniform half-mile station spacing and expanded service to many more low-income areas. While the station density is still higher downtown and in North Lakefront neighborhoods, 23 percent of residents who live within the current service area are below the poverty level, the same as the city’s overall percentage, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

21561259916_d1b1b74ce4_o 2

Divvy users in East Garfield Park. Photo: John Greenfield

As Konkol’s DNA colleague Tanveer Ali mentioned today, CDOT plans to add 75 more stations next spring, largely in low-income West Side neighborhoods. They’re also considering installing more new stations on the South Side.

Konkol wonders aloud whether stations installed in South Side neighborhoods with a relatively low rate of biking may have been “put there to create the illusion of fairness or to meet an unwritten South Side quota.” But in the next paragraph he gripes that the Divvy service area hasn’t been expanded fast enough. That is to say, “The food is terrible — and such small portions.”

More importantly, while arguing that the Divvy system shortchanges poor people, Konkol ignores the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity initiative, which offers $5 annual memberships to qualifying Chicagoans, and waives the usual credit card requirement. Almost 1,000 people have signed up since the program launched in July. Before claiming that Divvy has little benefit for people in low-income neighborhoods, Konkol should talk to D4E members like LaTonya Brown, a United Center Park resident who recently told me she uses the system to commute to work at Navy Pier.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: Delivery Drivers Are Blocking New Clybourn Bike Lane

Delivery trucks and vans, including one from Gordon Food Service, are parked in the buffered bike lane on Clybourn Ave., and are nearly blocking the curb-protected bike lane.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The new curb-protected bike lane on Clybourn Avenue and Division Street in Old Town aren’t even finished yet, but they’re already getting great use. Bike-specific traffic signals should be added later this fall, completing the project. However, there’s already a fly in the ointment – delivery drivers are blocking the lanes on a regular basis.

The bike lanes are located on Clybourn from Hasted Street to Division, and Division from Clybourn to Orleans Street. The problem is taking place by New City, a new mixed-use development on the southeast corner of Clybourn and Halsted, which includes 199 apartments and a shopping center. A movie theater and Mariano’s grocery store will be opening in the future.

There are loading zones on Clybourn near Halsted for truck and van drivers making deliveries to New City. However, the delivery drivers are also parking further south in the bike lane. On this stretch, the bikeway exists as a short, curbside buffered lane, and there are “No Parking” signs posted.


The Clybourn lanes have become popular with cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog reader Justin Haugens rides this stretch of Clybourn several days a week on his commute between Rogers Park and the South Loop. He reports that there are vehicles in the bike lane “one-third to one-half of the time.”

What’s particularly frustrating about this situation is that New City was built with seven underground loading spaces to accommodate all the deliveries for the 370,000 square foot mall, with the goal of keep trucks off the streets. “Burying the docks was also a popular move with the neighbors,” Mike Drew, principal at the firm Structured Development, told Chicago Magazine last November.

Not only are the delivery drivers parking in the buffered lanes, but their trucks and vans are often parked very close to the start of the curb-protected section. That forces bicyclists to hit their brakes and make a tricky maneuver around a vehicle to enter the curb-protected portion.

Read more…


Ghost Parcels Show How Urban Highways Squandered Valuable Land

Here’s a great illustration of how incredibly destructive and wasteful it is to run elevated highways through cities. New York City-based artist and planning consultant Neil Freeman, who grew up in Chicago, put together these haunting images of Cook County land parcel maps superimposed over aerials of expressway interchanges in the West Loop, River West, Bridgeport and Chinatown.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.28.23 PM

The Jane Byrne Interchange in the West Loop, currently being expanded. Image: Neil Freeman

The visuals are a byproduct of a research project Freeman is doing on housing typologies. The base layer is from Bing satellite images, and the parcels are from the Cook County assessor’s office. “Love that Cook County still keeps track of the parcels under the expressways punched through Chicago,” Freeman tweeted.So why does the county still maintain records of property lines that haven’t had meaning since the Richard J. Daley era? Read more…


Eyes on the Street: Roosevelt Bike Lane and Bus Shelters Nearly Complete

Roosevelt Streetscape features

Each side of Roosevelt now has a long bus stop canopy with a massive “CTA” sign. Photo: Justin Haugens

The Chicago Department of Transportation may soon be cutting the ribbon on the Roosevelt Road streetscape and raised bikeway project. The initiative involved widening the sidewalk along Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan Avenue to make room for the two-way bike lane, which replaced conventional bike lanes on the same block of Roosevelt.

The new lanes extend a block or so past Michigan on the north sidewalk of Roosevelt, ending near the trunkless legs of the “Agora” sculptures and the Grant Park skate park. The last major step of the project is to install green pavement markings and bike symbols on the bike lanes. CDOT recently posted on Facebook that work will be done by November.

As part of the Roosevelt streetscape, crews installed new metal benches in places where people might actually want to sit. That’s not a given, considering that many of the benches put in as part of a similar road diet project on Lawrence Avenue in Ravenswood wound up facing blank walls or parking lots.

The Roosevelt benches, as well as decorative pavers inscribed with an odd group of words that are meant to be thought-provoking, or evoke the cultural facilities of the nearby Museum Campus.

Near the CTA ‘L’ station at Roosevelt and State, which serves the Red, Orange, and Green Lines, the department has installed extra-long bus shelters that will have ad panels. The #12 Roosevelt, #18 16th-18th, and #146 Museum Campus buses stop at this location. Above the canopies are massive vertical structures with the CTA’s logo and station name.

Between State and Wabash Avenue, the bikeway will exist as a pair of one-way bike lanes (just like now), located in the street. Eastbound bicyclists will use a special “crossbike” – a crosswalk for bikes – to move to the bi-directional raised bike lane on the north side of Roosevelt east of Wabash.

Read more…


West Siders Discuss the “Divvy for Everyone” Equity Program

21561259916_d1b1b74ce4_o 2

Divvy employee Michael Clark (red cap) and friends took a cruise on one of the free bike-share days last month. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Before the Divvy bike-share system launched in June of 2013, city officials promised that attracting an ethnically and economically diverse ridership was a top priority. “Since we’re using public dollars, it’s important that the folks who are using the service reflect everybody in the community,” said Scott Kubly, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation at the time. “It’s a challenge, but we’re going to crack it.”

That hasn’t happened yet. Like most American bike-share systems, Divvy’s membership has skewed white, male, young, educated and relatively affluent.

The system currently has about 30,000 annual members. Of the hundreds who responded to a recent survey, sixty-five percent were male, and seventy-nine percent were non-Hispanic whites—a group that makes up only about thirty-two percent of the city’s population. The average age was thirty-four, the majority of respondents have middle-to-upper incomes, and ninety-three percent have a college degree or more.

One reason for this lopsided demographic is that, while yearly passes are a bargain at $75, the up-front cost is still a barrier to some low-income people. Moreover, the fact that a credit card has been required to use the bikes has excluded unbanked Chicagoans.

To help reverse that trend, the city launched the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity initiative on July 7. Funded by a $75,000 grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership, plus matching funds from Divvy sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the program offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income individuals. Residents can sign up in person, and no credit card is required—the funding serves as insurance for any lost or damaged bikes.

So far, D4E has been wildly popular. The city’s goal was to sign up 800 people in the first twelve months, but 869 had joined within the first two months. And that was before CDOT contracted the community organization Go Bronzeville and the bike group Slow Roll Chicago to do outreach about the program on the Near South Side  and across the city, respectively.

In September, CDOT tried another experiment to encourage more people to give Divvy a spin. On three different Saturdays, the usual $9.95 fee for a twenty-four-hour pass was waived, thanks to sponsorship from T-Mobile. I pedaled around the West Side on September 19 and staked out several docking stations to see how residents were using the system, and ask what they thought of D4E.

At the Chicago/Kedzie station in East Garfield Park, I came across Divvy employee Michael Clark, who was cruising around with three friends, two of whom were trying the system for the first time. The young men, who live in West Humboldt Park and Lawndale, had just come back from a visit to Michigan Avenue.

Clark found out about his job, which involves cycling between stations to maintain the bikes, via a staffing agency about six months ago. “It’s a wonderful place to work,” he said. “We’re out and about. It’s good exercise, and you get to meet new people, ‘cause you’re outside all day.”

When I asked if they knew about D4E, Clark explained to the other men that the $5 memberships are available to single people who make about $35,000 or less. His friend Jonathan Smith said he heard about the discount through the Year Up Chicago job-training program, and now uses bike-share to commute to work as a computer technician.

Read more…


Lakeview’s Car-Free Sunday Events Are Returning, In a More Intimate Setting

Sunday Play Spot 7

One of last year’s Sunday Play Streets events. Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce.

The popular car-free happenings that pedestrianized a Lakeview street on several Sundays last year are returning this month, albeit in a somewhat scaled-down format. But the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce hopes that moving the events from a one-block stretch of Lincoln Avenue to a half-block, narrower stretch of Paulina Street will make these celebrations of art, music and play more intimate, as well as more vibrant.

Sunday Play Spots debuted last year on Lincoln between School and Roscoe streets, an underperforming retail strip. The chamber hoped the mix of musical performances, fitness classes, craft demonstrations, a pop-up seating plaza, art installations, and more would energize the district and help foster a sense of community. The events did bring plenty of people to the street, with up to a thousand people turning out on each of the four Sundays, according to Dillon Goodson, who manages the local Special Service Area program for the chamber.


The logo for this years events emphasizes that car space will be transformed into people space.

This year, the series is returning as Sunday Spots, on Paulina between Roscoe and Henderson Street, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., on three weekends in October. According to Goodson, the word  “Play” has been dropped from the name because each of the three events will focus on a different area: Art on 4th, Music on the 11th, and Play on the 18th. Last year’s events mostly drew families with children, so the name change may also help attract a wider demographic.

There is one less event this year because the fourth Sunday of October is the Chamber’s Trick or Treat on Southport event, which also pedestrianizes that nearby business district, according to Goodson. The $10,000 cost of Sunday Spots is being funded by SSA money plus sponsorship from Whole Foods.

Unlike the retail-rich stretch of Lincoln, the segment of Paulina only borders a handful of storefronts, but Goodson argued that it’s a plus that the event will connect residential and business areas. He said that pushback from merchants against the street closure and temporary conversion of car parking doesn’t seem to have been a major factor in the decision to move the event. “All the business owners seem to be really supportive.”

He added that the shorter, narrower car-free space will consolidate the action and provide a sense of containment, while last year’s events on broad Lincoln Avenue felt a bit spread out. “Lincoln is such a beast, so this will provide a nice sense of scale by comparison.”

Read more…

No Comments

New Census Data Says Chicago’s Bike Mode Share Is at an All-Time High

Bike commute mode share using ACS 1-year estimates

The Census published one-year long survey estimates for 2014. Chicago’s bike commute mode share is up slightly from 2012, and up significantly from 2013. However, the Active Transportation Alliance doesn’t believe 2013 dip is accurate.

Last week, the United States Census Bureau released new American Community Survey one-year estimate data, including estimates on the percentage of workers who who commute by bicycle. Chicago’s bike mode share, as measured in 2014, seems to be on the rise compared to 2012 and 2013.

However, there are several major caveats about the data. Survey participants are only asked to identify what their more distant mode of getting to work was in the past week. For example, if you ride your bike a mile to an ‘L’ stop and then take the train two miles downtown, that’s only counted as a transit commute.

The Census conducts the surveys in the spring, when many Chicagoans may still be using their winter travel modes and have not taken bikes out of storage yet. And the estimates have a margin of error of 0.2 percentage points, so it’s possible that a year that’s reported to have had a decrease in biking could actually have seen the mode share stay the same, or it may have even increased slightly.

According to the new ACS data, about 1.7 percent of Chicagoans 16 and older rode a bike to work in 2014 – the highest figure the Census has ever reported for our city. That’s up from the 1.4-percent mode share reported in 2013, and a slight increase from the 1.6 percent figure in 2012.

However, the 0.2-percent margin of error means it’s possible the real mode share was as low as 1.5 percent, or as high as 1.9. Therefore we should take the reported 1.7 percent figure with a grain of salt.

Read more…

No Comments

What Will It Take to Build a More Equitable Chicago Bike Network?


A recent tour of Englewood hosted by the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network, LISC Chicago and Slow Roll Chicago, a group that is pushing for bike equity for the South and West Sides. Photo: LISC

Earlier this month, the League of American bicyclists released a report with a method for using Census info and geographic information system data to measure how well bicycle networks serve communities that have the greatest need for better infrastructure. Using Chicago as the case study, the author concluded that the city’s “planned network” of new bikeways wouldn’t provide a fair share of access to African-American and Latino communities.

The thing was, the “planned network” map that the report analyzed wasn’t actually the planned network from the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – it was actually based on old “recommended routes” from the city’s bike map. After two Streetsblog Chicago posts about the problem, the League finally overhauled the report with the correct map data and reached the opposite conclusion: The 2020 Plan will significantly boost bikeway equity for communities of color.

In the midst of lobbying the LAB to fix the report, I emailed local sustainable transportation leaders to get their thoughts on the topic. Active Transportation Alliance cofounder Randy Neufeld, now with the SRAM Cycling Fund, had a response that put the bike equity issue in perspective.

“A GIS exercise that relates lines on a map or a plan to demographic information is not a useful equity analysis,” he argued. “Those lines are not all the same thing. They represent very different conditions in different places. Plus, just because there’s a Crosstown Bike Route within a certain distance of your house doesn’t mean you live in a bikeable neighborhood…what’s fair and equitable as far as neighborhood bikeways is very different.”

Neufeld added that equity analysis is worth doing, but it’s going to take more than studying a map to determine how to make Chicago’s bike network more equitable. “Aldermanic leadership is key,” he said. “We have a few wards with bike-ped-transit committees. Maybe we need some more.” He suggested that a simple criteria could be devised for a ward cycling audit, which could help gauge the relative levels of bikeability in different parts of the city. That would better inform decisions about where new bike lanes and paths should be prioritized, he said.

Read more…

1 Comment

The Expanded TOD Ordinance Will Likely Pass Tomorrow, With a Few Tweaks

IMG_2242 (1)

Brown Line commuters pass by a TOD construction site next to the Paulina station. Photo: John Greenfield

Tomorrow’s the big day. On Monday, City Council’s Zoning Committee unanimously passed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed reforms to Chicago’s existing transit-oriented development ordinance. On Thursday, the full council will almost certainly approve the new legislation, paving the way for a new wave of dense, parking-lite development near train stations. However, the committee made three notable changes to the new ordinance.

The TOD reform ordinance will more than double the reach of the original TOD ordinance, passed in 2013. Currently, new residential buildings within 600 feet of a Metra or ‘L’ stop (1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets) are required to provide at least a 1:2 ratio of parking spots to units, instead of the usual 1:1 ratio.

Under the reform ordinance, land zoned for business (B), commercial (C), downtown (D) or industrial (M) uses within 1,320 feet of a station will be freed from the minimum parking requirements altogether, including. On Pedestrian Streets, the zone would be expanded to 2,640 feet.

The legislation will also increase the density allowance for certain parcels within these new TOD districts if the developer provides on-site affordable housing. Buildings in which ten percent of the units are affordable will get the maximum density bonus.

These changes will increase the housing supply near rapid transit and encourage walkable retail. This will make it easier for residents to access jobs and will reduce car dependency. Families will save on transportation costs, and the additional population density will help local merchants. Because developers won’t be forced to include more off-street parking than the market demands – at least $20,000 per space – expanded TOD may also help reduce housing costs.

However, some of the dense, low-parking development that has occurred under the current ordinance has been controversial. Many of the new buildings have faced oppositions from neighbors who fear that more residents in a community necessarily means more cars, and have pushed for higher parking ratios.

Read more…


After Fixing Flawed Study, LAB Finds Chicago Bike Plan Will Boost Equity

New Image3

Residents check out info about the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan at a South Side input meeting. Photo: Steven Vance

Earlier this month, the League of American Bicyclists released a report with a method for exploring how well bike networks provide access to underserved communities. Using Chicago as a case study, the report found that our city’s “planned network” would provide African-American and Latino neighborhoods with less than their fair share of access to bike lanes and paths.

However, the map that the report analyzed was not actually a map of Chicago’s planned bike network. After Streetsblog Chicago ran two posts drawing attention to the problem, the League has finally overhauled the report using the correct data. As a result, the study now finds Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 would significantly improve access for communities of color.

The report, “Equity of Access to Bicycle Infrastructure,” was written by Rachel Prelog, a Colorado-based urban planning grad student. Using data from the city of Chicago’s geographic information system portal, Prelog analyzed what she thought was the network of proposed streets for new bikeways.

Although the 2020 Plan was created after an extensive public input process, with the goal of creating a network that serves all Chicagoans equitably, Prelog’s original report suggested that the effort was a failure. She wrote that African Americans would “account for a large proportion of the residents who would not benefit from the expanded system.”

Read more…