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Millennial Trains Project Stopped in Chicago to Discuss Affordable TOD Issues

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Logan Square’s Twin Towers TOD development under construction earlier this year. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this week the Millennial Trains project stopped in Chicago on its five-city national tour on Amtrak, bringing a group of 26 young people to meet with locals within each city. They discussed how issues of housing affordability and inequality, and transit affect their lives, and talked about ideas for improving conditions in Chicago.

This leg of the westbound tour is also making stops in Pittsburg, Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles. Next week another group of Young people will travel eastbound from L.A., stopping in San Francisco, Denver, Milwaukee, and Detroit. The national affordable housing and renters advocacy campaign Make Room is a sponsor.

Rachel Reilly Carroll headshot

Rachel Reilly Carroll. Photo: Millennial Trains Project

I caught up on the phone with Rachel Reilly Carroll, an employee of Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based nonprofit that helps develop affordable housing, who is one of the tour participants, shortly after she arrived in Chicago.

Among other projects, Enterprise’s Chicago office has been involved with efforts to encourage affordable transit-oriented development across the region. According to their website, this year they provided grants to ten community developers working on TOD projects in Chicagoland.

They also launched the Enterprise eTOD Collaborative in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in an effort to support these projects and organizations. They’ve also been promoting TOD in the south suburbs through the Southland Community Loan Fund, and through technical assistance to developers and municipalities. They hope to work on several south suburban TOD projects in 2016.

The goal of these efforts is create affordable housing with good access to jobs, schools, healthcare, and recreation, while reducing car dependency.

“Equitable TOD is about ensuring that transit access remains available to folks who have lived near transit, and reducing car dependency for others who may currently have long transit or car commutes, so that they can benefit from the time and cost savings,” Carroll said.

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Transit-Oriented Housing Proposals Finally Make it to the South Side

A rendering of the proposed Woodlawn Station development next to the Cottage Grove Green Line station.

A rendering of the proposed Woodlawn Station development next to the Cottage Grove Green Line station. Image: Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)

Earlier this year, transit-oriented development made the jump from being proposed and built only next to Chicago Transit Authority stations to also being proposed next to a Metra station. Now, the trend that has brought hundreds of new market-rate and affordable designated housing units to vacant lots near Chicago ‘L’ stations has jumped to the South Side. A two and a half-year-old ordinance is the cause for these new housing development patterns in the city.

Back in May, Curbed Chicago reported on a proposal from Preservation of Affordable Housing build 70 apartments in Woodlawn next to the CTA’s Cottage Grove Green Line station. The building will have a mix of market-rate, moderate-income, and low-income units, as well as 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

It’s part of the affordable housing developer’s program, “Woodlawn Choice Initiative.” The new building, called Woodlawn Station, would join a program that’s renovating their other buildings, and a new squash facility at 6100 S. Cottage Grove Ave. that has after-school tutoring programs for students who live or attend school in the neighborhood.

While a city ordinance that preceded the TOD ordinance already reduced the minimum number of required car parking spaces at affordable housing developments, it doesn’t apply to retail and commercial spaces. Additionally, the TOD ordinance goes even further than that one by eliminating the minimum requirement for residential and commercial uses because the building is so accessible by rail transit – the affordable housing parking minimum still requires some car parking. There are also two bus routes here.

Earlier this week Curbed Chicago reported on proposal for a vacant lot across the CTA’s 35th/Archer station on the Orange Line, with information shared by the McKinleyPark.org website. Dan Mark, a developer, and owner of Mark Properties, presented at a community meeting last week his proposal to build 39 efficiency apartments – targeted to college students – with only three car parking spaces.

Map of proposed TOD parcel at Archer/Leavitt

A map of the area around the 35th/Archer CTA station. The apartment building is proposed for the green parcel at the bottom.

According to McKinleyPark.org, there was the usual gripe about competition for parking. Alder George Cardenas (12th Ward) countered that and “noted the trade-offs of higher density: Although it can cause congestion, it can also bring more disposable income to an area, making it more attractive to the consumer-focused chains and other businesses that McKinley Park currently lacks.”

The zoning district must change before it can be built which will trigger a requirement to designate 10 percent of the units as affordable, for residents who earn less than 60 percent of the area median income.

The Orange Line corridor is especially ripe for mixed-use and denser development. Its construction in the early 1990s followed freight rail lines instead of existing residential areas. There are plenty more developable lots along the rapid transit line, some of which are highlighted on Metropolitan Planning Council’s TOD calculator and map.

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North Lawndale Residents: Restoring Ogden Bus Would Improve Job Access

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Bus and train routes in and near North Lawndale. Residents say extending the #157 route along Ogden from California to Pulaski would fill in a service gap. Map: CTA

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

In the second half of the 20th century, the North Lawndale community area on Chicago’s west side was devastated by redlining and other racist lending practices that led to civil unrest among the neighborhood’s by then booming black population. Fifty years ago this summer, Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family to an apartment in the neighborhood to highlight the need for fair housing and other improvements in black areas of northern cities.

North Lawndale never recovered economically from the disinvestment and social upheavals of the last 50 years. The area’s population plummeted from a high of 124,937 in 1960 to 35,623 in 2014. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income is currently $25,797, far below the city average of $47,408.

In April the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and others launched the neighborhood’s first comprehensive plan since 1958, covering infrastructure, housing, economic development, transit, and more. Last week, the council hosted a panel discussion that featured a pair of speakers, Cynthia Hudson from the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue from the Red Line Extension Coalition, to discuss possible transit improvements in North Lawndale and share best practices from transit advocacy elsewhere in the city. Read a separate post about LaFargue’s advocacy efforts here.

The area—bounded roughly by Taylor Street, Kenton Avenue, Metra’s BNSF Line, and Campbell Avenue—has four CTA Pink Line stations. The Blue and Green Lines aren’t far away. But community leaders say further improving public transportation access is key in creating more opportunities for residents. Specifically, NLCCC members argue that restoring bus service on Ogden Avenue and other corridors would be a shot in the arm for the struggling neighborhood.

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Transit Advocate: TOD Could Revitalize Area Around the 95th Red Line Stop

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Cynthia Hudson of the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue of the Red Line Extension Coalition at last week’s town hall meeting.

Last week at a town hall meeting hosted by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, West Chesterfield resident and transit advocate Michael LaFargue discussed efforts to improve transportation access and encourage investment on the Far South Side.

LaFargue, a board member with the Red Line Extension Coalition, and Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Hudson were invited to share their experiences with NLCCC members who wish to improve transit service on the West Side. “We’ll steal some good ideas and then share them back and forth,” explained council member Valerie Leonard.

LaFargue, who also chairs a transportation committee for South Side representative Elgie Sims (34th), began his presentation by providing background on West Chesterfield, an enclave that many longtime Chicagoans may be unfamiliar with. The half-square-mile community sits directly east of the station in the area bounded by 87th Street, the Dan Ryan, 95th Street, and King Drive. It lies within the official Chatham and Roseland community areas.

“It’s a historically Black area,” LaFargue said. “We started moving into this area after World War I, before there were streets and sewers and lights. We love it — we call it a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. But we’ve been challenged by crime and the economy. The recession of 2007 affected the community heavily.”

La Fargue noted that the 95th Street station, opened in 1969, is one of the area’s greatest assets. “It’s Chicago’s busiest transportation terminal, with 50,000 people coming through daily, 14 CTA buses serving the station, six Pace buses, and a Greyhound terminal.”

The 95th stop is currently undergoing a $280 million overhaul, which started in fall 2014 and is slated for completion in 2018. “We’re hoping that this station will wind up being the north end of the Red Line extension,” LaFague said. “The Red Line extension has been talked about since the 1960s. But even before that, circa 1900, we had the Burnham Plan that said there should be light rail to all sides of the city.”

“But the [Red Line] route ends at 95th,” LaFargue added. “That’s not the end of our city. There’s a whole group of people in the Altgeld Gardens area that are traveling an extra 35 or 45 minutes to work, and that’s not fair.”

LaFargue discussed how the current CTA proposal for the Red Line extension would parallel Union Pacific Railroad Tracks, with stops at 103rd, 111th, 115th (near Michigan Avenue), and 130th in Altgeld Gardens. It would require significant land acquisition, and the transit agency projects it would cost more than $2 billion.

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Obama Library’s Jackson Park Location Will Be Easy to Visit Without Driving

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The Obama library site, located between 60st, 63rd, Stony Island, and Cornell, will be easy to access by Metra, bus, and bike. Image: Google Maps.

Today a spokesman for the Obama Foundation officially confirmed that the Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side, and he lauded the project as the nation’s first urban presidential library. “For the first time, a presidential center will be in the heart of an urban community,” foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt, said in a statement.

It was previously announced that Washington Park, to the west of Hyde Park, where the president previously worked as a University of Chicago law professor, and Jackson Park, to the southeast, were under consideration. As opposed to a more glamorous downtown location, siting the museum in either park would have had the benefit spurring investment in struggling nearby communities, in keeping with Obama’s former role as a community organizer. Each park is also well served by transit.

While there are two Green Line stops just west of Washington Park, the Jackson Park location has an edge when it comes to sustainable transportation access. The library will be located on a narrow, 20-acre parcel between 60th and 63rd streets, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, land currently occupied by a running track, football field, and baseball diamonds.

Just west are the Metra Electric District line’s 59th Street and 63rd Street stations. Four CTA bus lines run past the parcel on Stony Island: the #2 Hyde Park Express, the #6 Jackson Park Express, the #15 Jeffery Local, and the #28 Stony Island. The location is also accessible from the lakefront via an underpass and multiuse trails through the park, so it will be possible to bicycle there from downtown without having to share the road with cars.

The Green Line offers more frequent and consistent service to Washington Park than Metra’s train service to Jackson Park. However, it’s likely that decision makers assumed out-of-town visitors would be less comfortable taking the ‘L’ through the heart of the South Side than riding commuter rail towards the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Some local leaders hope that the addition of the library will spark the creation of a new South Side museum campus.

The Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric has been lobbying for the line to be converted to more frequent rapid transit-style service as well as fare integration with CTA and Pace, in order to increase job access for South Siders. Mayor Emanuel has shown interest in the proposal and the Obama library makes it even more likely that upgrade will happen. Moreover, it’s almost certain that the minimalist Metra stations near the library site will be overhauled in order to better accommodate crowds of visitors.

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Drink Beer and Help Save the Lincoln Bus With the 11 on 11 Passport Program

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The 11 on 11 Beer Explorers Passport.

On June 20, thanks to tireless lobbying efforts by transit advocates led by 47th Ward alderman Ameya Pawar, the restored #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route returned as a pilot program. The new service includes the stretch of Lincoln between the Brown Line’s Western station and the Fullerton ‘L’ stop in Lincoln Park.

Community members are stoked about the new service, but it’s not a sure thing that the CTA will continue running buses on this segment of Lincoln after the six-month test period is over. The agency set a target of rides per day during the pilot, and buses are only running between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, every 16 to 22 minutes.

Local chambers of commerce have teamed up with the Active Transportation Alliance to organize a clever promotion to help ensure the #11 gets sufficient ridership while promoting local businesses. During the month of August you can win prizes by visiting five or more drinking and dining establishments along Lincoln as part of the 11 on 11 Beer Explorer Passport program.

When you grab a brew or a bite at any of the 11 participating breweries, taverns and bars, from August 1-31 and you’ll be given a stamp for a passport, which you can download here. Collect five of them and you’ll be registered to win prizes ranging from $25 Lakeview Neighborhood gift cards to a $100 gift card to Bistro Campagne to a Giro Trinity bike helmet to a wooden toy CTA bus.

The passport must contain five different stamps and be submitted by September 9 to enter. Winners will be notified by September 16.

The idea for the Beer Explorer Passport came out a meeting Pawar hosted with stakeholders along the line, according to Lakeview Chamber of Commerce director Lee Crandell. “He brought on some of the other local chambers on board to start developing a promotion,” Crandell said.

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Toolkit Will Help Cities Bring Shared Mobility to Low-Income Neighborhoods

SUMC Mapping Chicago 07.26.16

A screenshot from SUMC’s new mapping tool showing the locations of car-share (blue dots) and Divvy locations downtown, and on the West and Near South sides. The map also shows high (purple) and medium (orange) opportunity areas for shared mobility.

The Chicago-based Shared-Use Mobility Center hopes their new interactive toolkit, released last week, will help cities expand the use of car-sharing, bike-sharing, and other forms of shared mobility, especially in low-income communities with limited transportation options. The toolkit includes a Shared Mobility Benefits Calculator, a Shared Mobility Policy Database, and an Interactive shared Mobility Mapping and Opportunity Analysis Tool.

SUMC executive director Sharon Feigon says the toolkit was developed in partnership with 27 North American cities through the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network. “They wanted to better understand and manage shared-mobility as new technologies emerge,” she said. “We’re hopeful that our toolkit will shed some light on how these technologies are working and shine some light on best practices.” To supplement the toolkit, they’ve also produced a report with an overview of each tool, plus policy recommendations, trends by city, size, and type, and shared mobility growth scenarios for each of the cities.

“Our interest is to really encourage the use of transit along with shared mobility to decrease the use of private cars,” Feigon added. “Our vision sees public transportation as the backbone and shared mobility as something that can enhance the transit system.” For example, services like bike-sharing and one-way car-sharing can facilitate “last mile” trips to and from rapid transit in locations where its difficult to access a station by walking or a fixed-route bus.

One-way car-sharing services like Car2Go, which allow customers to pick up a small car, drive it a short distance and leave it at any number of designated parking spots around town, have been popular in cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. But Feigon said the mode hasn’t come to Chicago yet because of the complications caused by our city’s much-reviled parking contract. Mayor Emanuel’s office is currently looking into whether it could be implemented here, she said.

The benefits calculator allows cities to see the potential benefits of adding shared mobility nodes such as car-share and bike-share vehicles. For example, the calculator projects that – based on June 1, 2016 figures — Chicago could eliminate ten percent of private vehicle trips by adding 37,373 transit commuters, 8457 car-share vehicles, 6,908 bike-share cycles, and 18,313 ride-sharers or car-poolers. The result would be 11,167,065,800 fewer vehicle miles traveled, 418,800 fewer metric tons of emissions from personal vehicles, and $411,444,500 saved in personal vehicle transportation costs.

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Due to Limited Rapid Transit the Far South Side is Dependent on Bus Service

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A #87 bus at the 87th Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last fall the Chicago Reader launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Chicago’s ‘L’ system, with its iconic train cars, relatively fast speeds, and occasionally breathtaking views, is the sexier side of the CTA. But the city’s grid of 130 bus routes is really the meat and potatoes of our transit network, with 274.3 million boardings in 2015 compared to the train system’s 241.7 million trips.

Bus service is especially important on the far south side, where access to other forms of public transportation is limited; although the city extends as far south as 138th Street, the Red Line terminates at 95th, and the Divvy bike-share coverage area currently stops at 79th.

To get a sense of what it’s like riding buses on the far south side—and whether residents are satisfied with the level of service or feel that improvements are needed—last week I rode the entire route of the 87th Street bus, the southernmost bus line to cover a continuous east-west path across the entire width of the city.

The #87 runs ten miles, from Cicero Avenue in the quaintly named southwest suburb Hometown (near Oak Lawn) east to Buffalo Avenue in the hardscrabble South Chicago neighborhood. On the return trip the route dips south on Buffalo to 91st Street, heads west to Commercial Avenue, then back up to 87th. The route connects with the Red Line as well as Metra’s Rock Island and Electric District lines, which contributes to the route’s popularity—an average of nearly 13,000 people ride the 87th Street bus each weekday, according to the CTA. Except for Hometown, which is 97 percent white according to the U.S. Census, and South Chicago, which is about one-fifth Latino, just about all of the communities served by the bus line are solidly African-American.

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Meeting to Discuss Manor Greenway Amidst Opposition Set for Thursday

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

This street view rendering shows how bumpouts and signs would add “filtered permeability” on Manor Avenue, by allowing only bicyclists and pedestrians to continue north and south past Wilson Avenue. Image: CDOT

The 33rd Ward is holding the monthly meeting of its Transportation Action Committee on Thursday to discuss the Manor Greenway, a proposal from the Chicago Department of Transportation to connect two multi-use park paths via an on-street route on Manor Greenway. Jeff Sobczyk, assistant to Alder Deb Mell, said in the meeting announcement that the time would be used to improve understanding of the project’s goals. Neighborhood greenways are intended to make it safer and more convenient to cycle on Chicago’s side streets.

Soon after I first wrote about the proposal in June, opposition to it came online. Local resident Lawrence Brown started a petition in June calling for CDOT to scrap their plan to install a traffic diverter there for three months in the fall, but the petition is overlooking what actually makes the plan to increase bicycling safety and convenience work. The petition currently has 23 signatures.

The Manor Greenway would include the most robust traffic calming treatments of any neighborhood greenway CDOT has installed to date. The plan calls for installing a physical barrier at the intersection of Manor Avenue and Wilson Avenue to prevent motorists from continuing on Manor. This would reduce the amount of cars on the street, improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

At the north and south ends of the greenway, which are are also the north and south boundaries of Ravenswood Manor, CDOT would install raised crosswalks to slow incoming motorists and send the message that this street is for slower, residential car traffic, reminding drivers to watch out for vulnerable road users.

The petition says, “We can make a bike path and greenway through Ravenswood Manor without diverting the traffic flow.” That’s pretty much what happened with the Berteau Greenway in Lakeview, Ravenswood, and North Center. That plan originally included traffic diverters, but these were scrapped due to similar opposition from residents.

The watered-down treatment on Berteau, which involved contraflow bike lanes, curb bumpouts, and a traffic circle, made the street somewhat better for cycling than it was before. But due to the lack of traffic diverters, the street still gets plenty of cut-through car-traffic, which means it’s still not an “8-to-80” facility for biking, and it’s not as safe or pleasant a street for walking as it would have been with diverters. The lack of good infrastructure changes ensures that only the fittest and boldest will cycle.

The petition also says, “This planned diversion of traffic will force frustrated drivers onto streets that have far more homes than Manor Ave., thus creating an unsafe environment for the many families that reside on these adjacent blocks.” CDOT’s analysis of predicted traffic flows after the diverter is installed indeed show that other streets will likely see some additional cars, but the analysis was limited because it assumed all drivers diverted from Manor would use Sacramento and Francisco Avenues. Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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