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Posts from the Neighborhoods Category


Big Marsh Is a Hit With Local Cyclists, But It’s Still Challenging to Bike There


A rider catching air on the medium terrain trail. Photo: Derrick James

Sunday’s grand opening for Big Marsh bike park and nature reserve was a long-anticipated celebration. If you’re not familiar with Big Marsh or its history, Streetsblog’s John Greenfield previously covered the plans and the challenges of accessing the site by bike.

I started my day by biking to the Pullman Porter Museum to meet up with a ride organized by Slow Roll Chicago and two other groups coming from further north. From there we rode east 103rd Street, a wide, high-speed road, finding safety in numbers. Having a group of over 50 people) allowed us to take the center lane while passing the highway ramps that create dangerous situations when riding alone or in a small group. After turning off 103rd, the wide shoulder on Stony Island Avenue offered a reasonable alternative when traffic needed to pass.

The grand opening started with a press conference and ribbon cutting, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, park district chief Michael Kelly, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and Deloris Lucas, a transportation advocate from the greater Altgeld Gardens area who serves on the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

Big Marsh Park Grand Opening

Emanuel speaks at the ribbon cutting. Photo: Jeff Zoline

After the presentation, the mayor stepped away from the crowd, helmet in hand. I asked him “Are you ready to ride?” With a big smile on his face, he said “I am so ready.” He jumped on a borrowed bike and took a spin on the dirt trail that circles the pump track and other terrain areas in the park.

The park’s features include areas designed for BMX riding, cyclocross, mountain biking and casual trail riding on a 44-acre site. Hundreds of people of all ages tested out the park’s terrain on a wide range of bikes, from BMX to cyclocross to mountain bikes and more.

The remainder of the park (234 acres) is a nature reserve, a significant bird watching area where a wide range of water birds, raptors, migrating species, native songbirds and other wildlife can be seen. I volunteered at a habitat restoration workday last spring, where we worked at removing invasive plant species. I was rewarded by seeing a red-tailed hawk on a nest, a bald eagle in flight, great blue herons and many other species of water birds.

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What’s the Significance of the Color Scheme for the Argyle Shared Street?

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The Argyle Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

In a recent post about the grand opening of the Argyle Shared Street, a pedestrian-priority makeover of Chicago’s Southeast Asian shopping and dining district, I wondered out loud whether the red, green, and orange hues in the new streetscape were inspired by the vivid colors of the Vietnamese cuisine for which the strip is famous. Later I ran the question by Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey, who put me in touch with Ernest Wong, an architect with Site Design Group, which designed the shared street.

“While I appreciate the reference to food and the vibrancy of Vietnamese cuisine, the streetscape elements took on a more cultural reference,” Wong explained via email. “We were following the graphic colors from the original [Argyle ‘L’ station] signage posts that were selected through a community process.


A pedestrian island, high-visibility crosswalk, and neighborhood identification pillar was added on Argyle at Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

Wong said that, in general, however, colors have significant meanings in Vietnamese culture:

For instance, orange represents energy, green represents calmness/springtime and new beginnings, red is a celebratory color, which represents good luck and scares away evil spirits, and yellow (and red) are traditional colors for prosperity.  Golden yellow has its own meaning with references to royalty, but has taken on a new meaning of freedom and patriotism for a lot of the Vietnamese expatriates. 

So there you have it. While the streetscape palate may bring to mind gỏi cuốn spring rolls and bánh mì sandwiches for hungry visitors, it has a much deeper significance for the folks who turned Argyle into a bustling retail district. Hopefully the slower vehicle speeds and increased pedestrian space created by the people-friendly redesign will make the strip even more successful.

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Chicago’s First “Shared Street” on Argyle Is Officially Open for Business


The Chinese Mutual Aid Society’s dragon dancers perform at the opening of the shared street. Photo: John Greenfield

This afternoon in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman, and other local officials cut the ribbon on the Argyle “shared street,” a pedestrian-priority design inspired by similar streets in Asia and Europe. By calming traffic and blurring the lines between spaces for walking and vehicles, as well as providing more room for sidewalk cafes and special events, the streetscape should increase safety while giving a boost to businesses on Chicago’s Southeast Asian retail strip.

Emanuel, who spent part of his childhood living nearby on Winona Street, said the project has improved the aesthetics of the dining and shopping district, “inviting people from all around the city and the area to come and experience the cultural diversity” of the neighborhood. He indicated that Chicago may try similar people-friendly street designs in other neighborhoods in the future.


The east half of the shared street as it appeared today. Photo: John Greenfield

The makeover of three-block stretch of Argyle, located between Broadway and Sheridan, raised the street up to sidewalk level, eliminated the curbs, delineated different uses of the right of way with various colors of pavers and street furniture, and made the strip fully wheelchair accessible. The roughly $4.5 million project was funded through a combination of tax-increment financing, ward, and Department of Water infrastructure funding.


A new pedestrian island with a decorative pole featuring (with colors inspired by Vietnamese cuisine?) on Broadway at Argyle. Photo: John Greenfield

Green elements of the design include more efficient streetlights, permeable pavers, and infiltration planters to soak up rainwater. The latter were recently landscaped with small trees and flowers, so the concrete basins are finally full of vegetation instead of garbage.

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The Cubs World Series Victory Parade Transforms the Streets of Lakeview


Clark Street south of Wrigley Field. Photo: John Greenfield

If you’ll indulge this bandwagon-jumper in a bit more Cubs-mania (don’t worry, we’ll have another serious post or two today), I thought SBC readers might enjoy a few shots of how the in-progress Cubs victory parade has filled the streets of the Lakeview neighborhood with humans instead of motor vehicles. It’s more evidence that some of the most memorable moments in cities can happen when right of way is used for something other than just moving and storing metal boxes.


Addison Street west of the ballpark. Photo: John Greenfield


Halsted Street south of Addison. Photo: John Greenfield

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After Cubs Victory, the Streets Were Filled With Happy People Instead of Cars


People filled the streets at Newport/Sheffield/Clark in Lakeview. Photo: John Greenfield

Whether you are a diehard Cubs fan, bandwagon jumper (guilty as charged), or couldn’t care less about baseball, if you love cities you have to appreciate the transformation Chicago underwent after last night’s historic World Series victory. Most people take for granted that roadways are for moving and storing motor vehicles. But on occasions when the streets are filled with people rather than cars, it can set the stage for fun human interaction that isn’t otherwise possible.


The scene last night at the normally car-choked North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park. Photo: John Greenfield

It must be noted that the authorities might not have tolerated similar behavior on the South and West Sides. But last night’s postgame celebrations on North Side thoroughfares were scenes of unbridled joy, the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before in 27 years of living in this city.

A lot of that had to do with the revelry spilling out into pedestrianized streets. And it appears that the celebration was overwhelmingly good-natured – I didn’t witness or read about any acts of violence or vandalism, despite the fact that many tens of thousands of people participated. As you can see from this video, transit riders got in on the fun as well.

Following last night’s Streetsblog reader meetup at Lagunitas Brewery in North Lawndale, I stopped in Wicker Park to watch the end of the game. My Divvy ride home to Uptown via Wrigleyville was memorable, to say the least – my palms are still sore from all the on-bike high fives.

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CTA to Spend Millions on Building Parking Garages for Red Line Extension

The CTA doesn't want you to see the 7-story parking garage it would build, so it published this rendering showing the view from hundreds of feet away.

The CTA doesn’t want you to see the 7-story parking garage it would build, so it published this rendering showing the view from hundreds of feet away. (This is the “after” view. It takes a second to realize the difference between this and the EIS’s “before” view.)

The Chicago Transit Authority published its Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Red Line extension from 95th St. to 130th St. in the Riverdale community area last month, and it includes a couple of good and bad surprises. An EIS is a study that federal law requires before the United States Department of Transportation fund any highway or transit infrastructure.

map of Metra Electric district and proposed Red Line extension

A map of Metra Electric district lines and the proposed Red Line extension. Map: The Chicago Dispatch

Scattered within it, the CTA describes how it intends to operate service on the extension, on which it’s proposed four new stops, at 130th, in Roseland, Pullman, West Pullman, and Riverdale.

The EIS outlines the CTA’s intention to build thousands of expensive new car parking spaces next to each of the stations, an atrocious use of public funds. The CTA’s parking study for this project was conducted in 2009 and concluded that the Red Line extension could attract drivers affects by heavy expressway congestion getting to work or pay high costs to park downtown.

The CTA intends to build 3,700 car parking spaces across all four stations, with 3,300 of them at two stations.

Transit agency-built parking facilities have negative affects: they waste transit agency  – public – money and aren’t a significant draw of riders.

The CTA would spend tens of millions on a 7-story car parking garage with 2,300 spaces at the 130th St. terminal station. The EIS doesn’t project the cost of these garages, but if the median cost per space in Chicago is $22,425, according to a review of actual construction costs, this structure would cost over $51 million.

At the Michigan Ave. and 116th St. station, the CTA would build a 3- or 5-story garage for 1,000 cars, at a cost of over $22 million. Some existing buildings would be acquired or condemned and then demolished in order to build the garages.

Other parking studies show higher per-space costs.

Building publicly-owned and indebted car parking garages are not good public investments. Deloris Lucas, a Riverdale resident who’s asked the city to build a simple sidewalk so people can walk to a grocery store, said she also wants “a full-line grocery store, a pharmacy, currency exchange, a library, a dry cleaner and a community center.”

One of CTA’s parking structures could pay for all of those venues to open, and fund many public services in the area for years.

The CTA is hosting a public hearing tonight at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, at 211 E. 115th St., from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Comments can also be made online at: Public comments are accepted through Nov. 30, 2016. You can also your comments to Chicago Transit Authority, Strategic Planning & Policy, 10th Floor, Attn: Red Line Extension Project, 567 W. Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60661-1465.

I’ll discuss one of the positive surprises in a separate post.

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Council Approves Milwaukee Ave. Bike Counter, Slated for Spring Installation

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

At yesterday’s City Council meeting, aldermen passed an ordinance, supported by First Ward alderman Joe Moreno, to allow the developer LG Partners to install a bike counter in front of its new building at the northeast corner of Division, Ashland, and Milwaukee. Here’s the announcement from the mayor’s office:


The panels for the bike counter at the the Eco Counter workshop in Montreal. Photo courtesy of LG Partners

An ordinance that passed today will allow the developer of an upcoming transit-oriented development at 1237 North Milwaukee to install an Eco-Totem bike counter on the adjacent sidewalk. The counter will be installed at no cost to the City and will feature a digital display to inform the public about the number people using the city’s most heavily-used bike route. Under the proposed ordinance CDOT will receive a livestream of the data from the counter, which will inform future decisions about bicycle infrastructure in the area. Additionally, the public display of the data can show businesses along the corridor the number of potential customers bicycling by their establishments.

Milwaukee, aka “The Hipster Highway” is well known for its heavy bike traffic, and the corridor has also seen an epidemic of dooring crashes in recent years. Better quantifying the number of cyclists could help build support for reconfiguring the street in Wicker Park to make it safer.

LG Partners received three different proposals for the image panels of the counter, a vertical, rectangular device called an Eco-TOTEM, manufactured by the Montreal-based company Eco Counter, and they asked Streetsblog to host the poll to pick the winner. The design titled “Enjoy the Ride” by Jay Byrnes from design company Fourth is King won with 326 votes out of the 531 total votes cast.

The bike counter project, which includes building a curb bump-out to hold the device, will cost $40,000, of which LG Development is paying the lion’s share. They previously asked the public to chip in the remaining $10,000 via a crowdfunding site, which raised about $3,500. There was some backlash to the funding campaign, according to LG’s Barry Howard. “We got painted on social media as greedy developers, so lesson learned,” he said.

But Howard says he’s excited about being able to add a useful amenity to the neighborhood, which will advertise its bike-friendliness. Eco Counter has already created the panels for the counter with Byrnes’ design. “It came out awesome,” Howard said. While most municipal bike counter designs are merely utilitarian, he said “ours is this wild, pop culture, pop art piece.”

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Greenway Questioned for First Time After Mell Cancels Diverter Trial Early

Alderman Deb Mell

Alder. Deb Mell (33) and her assistant Jeff Sobczyk in September.

Alder. Deb Mell (33rd Ward) told a large crowd gathered in the basement of Horner Park field house that she had instructed the Chicago Department of Transportation to end the car traffic diverter trial early. CDOT started the trial on September 19 with support from Mell and the ward’s Transportation Action Committee, among other community groups, in September. The trial was supposed to continue for two months until November 18. The barricades are being removed on Friday.

The public meeting tonight was for the monthly Transportation Action Committee, which I’ve been a member of since the first meeting in February 2014.

Two barricades at the intersection of Manor Ave. and Wilson Ave. required motorists to turn off of Manor Ave. People cycling could continue through the intersection.

CDOT is using this trial to test the effects of a diverter on distributing vehicle traffic on other streets as a solution to reducing traffic volume on a street that more cyclists will be riding down as new riverfront trail sections open up in the next two years.


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

Mell apologized to those in attendance “if [the trial] put you out of your routine” and said, “I really wanted to give it a good shot.”

Mell said that when she called Mike Amsden to talk about ending it early he supported the decision because running this test was taxing their resources and that they had collected enough data to analyze. Read more…


Why the Belmont Blue Rehab Includes a Futuristic Canopy but No Elevators


Rendering of the redesigned Belmont Blue Line station, including its Jetsons-like canopy.

Early this month the city announced upgrades the Blue Line’s Belmont stop that will cost up to $15 million. The improvements to the station, which opened in 1970 and was originally designed by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, include several cosmetic changes, including a space-age-looking weather canopy. However, many residents are scratching their heads about why the rehab won’t include the addition of elevators to make the stations compliant with the Americans With Disabilities act.

The project, which is slated to begin next year, is part of the CTA’s Your New Blue initiative, which includes makeovers to several stations along the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch, as well as track improvements. Residents have previously complained about the fact that many of the station redesigns don’t include elevators, and the CTA has said they plan to make all stations ADA compliant sometime in the future.

The planned improvements include a community gateway for the street-level entrance to the Belmont subway station and improvements to a safer, more comfortable environment for pedestrians. Importantly, the CTA plans to permanently add prepaid bus boarding to the station, a timesaving feature the agency has been testing since this summer on westbound buses during evening rush hours.

Attendants with portable fare card readers have customers scan their cards and wait in a fenced in bullpen. When buses arrive the employees direct the riders to board through both the front and rear doors. The CTA didn’t provide additional details on how the permanent prepaid boarding system would work.

But spokesman Jeff Tolman said the Belmont test, as well as a similar pilot that recently launched at the Loop Link’s Madison/Dearborn station, seem to be going smoothly. “Anecdotally, customers have responded generally positively to both pilots and they have helped reduce boarding times,” he said.

The large, skeletal canopy, designed by the Chicago architecture firm Ross Barney Architects, will provide additional weather protection. It’s more evidence that the city has a “When in doubt go with something Santiago Calatrava-esque” design philosophy. See also the Loop Link and Union Station Transit Center bus shelters, as well as the upcoming Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station – all of them are vaguely reminiscent of dinosaur ribs.

“Projects like this bring notable architecture and design that celebrates and complements the character of our communities, enhance our neighborhoods and bring economic and cultural opportunities to residents and businesses,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement.

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Activists: Social Justice Issues Influence Black Residents’ Travel Decisions


Jason Ware campaigns on an ‘L’ train. Photo: Sarah-Ji Photography

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

When it comes to improving Chicago transportation, city officials and advocates often focus on infrastructure, reasoning that street redesigns, public transit improvements, and better pedestrian and bike facilities will help make travel safer and more convenient for all residents.

But decision makers sometimes overlook issues that are specific to Chicago’s lower-income communities of color on the south and west sides. Many of these areas have poor mass transit service, unsafe conditions for walking, and limited or no access to bikeways and Divvy stations. Transportation costs that may seem trivial to higher-income residents, like the price of a CTA ride or a traffic ticket, can be significant for poor and working-class people. And street crime and police harassment—problems that disproportionately affect African-American and Latino Chicagoans—can be major factors in their travel decisions.

To get some perspective on these topics, I spoke with two leaders associated with Chicago’s Black Lives Matter movement: Charlene Carruthers, national director of Black Youth Project 100, and Jason Ware, an organizer with the #LetUsBreathe Collective. (We’ll hear from Latino activists in a future column.)

Carruthers, 31, was born and raised on the south side and currently lives in Bronzeville. Her organization, made up of African-Americans ages 18 to 35, addresses issues like police abuse, mass incarceration, and LGBT and women’s rights “using a Black queer feminist lens.”

Ware, 21, grew up in Rochester, New York, and now lives in the Austin neighborhood, where he runs a restorative justice program at Austin College and Career Academy. #LetUsBreathe was formed as a fund-raising initiative to provide aid to Ferguson protesters. The group uses civil disobedience, as well as outreach through various art forms, to call for police and prison abolition.

“I do believe transportation access is an element of social justice,” Carruthers says.

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