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Roger That! Low-Stress, North-South Bike Route Planned for Rogers Park

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Greenview north of Touhy, looking north. Image: Google Street View

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently held a public meeting about their clever proposal to install a contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood, between Ridge and Carmen, in Edgewater. More quietly, CDOT and the 49th Ward have been moving forward with an equally promising plan for a neighborhood greenway on Glenwood and and Greenview in Rogers Park.

CDOT staff declined to discuss the proposal, referring me to 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore’s office. “Our main goal was to create some kind of route from Devon Street, the southern boundary of the ward, up to Evanston,” explained Bob Fuller, an assistant to Moore. Glenwood and Greenview are already popular bike routes in Rogers Park, with cyclists accounting for up to 25 percent of rush hour traffic. “Instead of high-traffic streets like Sheridan, Clark, and Western, it made sense to put the greenway on these residential streets,” Fuller said.

The draft plan is to have the route run along Glenwood from Devon to either Pratt or Farwell. From there, the greenway would jog west a block to Greenview and continue to either Howard or Jonquil. From there, cyclists could head west to Clark or east to Sheridan in order to get to Evanston. The roughly 1.7-mile route would work both northbound and southbound.

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150 Car-Free PlayStreet Block Parties Will Promote Health and Community

Unsafe streets and poor health outcomes are two of the biggest challenges facing residents in Chicago’s low-to-moderate income communities. Launched in 2011, the city’s PlayStreets program addresses both issues by creating car-free spaces for healthy recreation, which also supports crime-prevention efforts. Last year over 26,000 people participated in 140 block party-style events.

This year’s program, which kicked off on June 11, features 150 events — more than ever before – in 36 neighborhoods, from Roseland to Archer Heights to Rogers Park. Streets are pedestrianized for three or more hours to make room for sports, games, bounce houses, fitness classes, and more. This provides a safe environment for kids to play, and it’s also a chance for adults to get exercise and meet their neighbors.

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A PlayStreets event in the South Chicago community. Photo: Claretian Associates

The program is spearheaded by the Chicago Department of Public Health as a key part of the city’s Healthy Chicago plan, with more than 200 strategies to improve Chicagoans’ wellbeing. The Gads Hill Center, the Active Transportation Alliance, World Sport Chicago and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago are coordinating this year’s PlayStreets events. They’re partnering with dozens of community-based organizations and churches (see the full list here) that are helping to run events in their neighborhoods and spread the word to clients and parishioners.

“PlayStreets is really about taking back public space for physical activity, healthy lifestyles and community building,” said Eric Bjorlin, who manages Active Trans’ school and education programs. “The hope is that these events will help get people active in lots of different ways.”

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Legalize It! Glenwood Route Will Make Contra-Flow Biking Safe & Predictable

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Rendering of the contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood.

Once in while, the Chicago Department of Transportation has a bikeway idea that’s so good, I wish that I’d thought of it first. Such is the case with the proposed Glenwood Avenue Neighborhood Route. This neighborhood greenway would run for 0.75 miles on Glenwood between Ridge and Carmen, and on Carmen for 0.25 miles between Glenwood and the Broadway buffered bike lanes. The project is expected to cost no more than $75,000, and CDOT hopes to install it later this summer.

The greenway would greatly improve the southbound route options from Rogers Park and northern Edgewater to Andersonville and Uptown. Currently, northbound cyclists can access Glenwood from Clark or Broadway via Argyle, just north of St. Boniface Cemetery.

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The project area.

Glenwood is a serene, leafy residential street that leads all the way to Rogers Park, providing a great alternative to the high-speed, four-lane stretches of Broadway north of Foster, and Clark north of the Andersonville retail district. The later stretch is designated as a recommended route on the Chicago Bike Map, but it really shouldn’t be, since speeding is common there.

However, southbound cyclists can’t legally make the whole trip on Glenwood because the street is one-way northbound between Ridge and Foster. I generally deal with this by heading west on Edgewater Avenue, located just south of Glenwood/Ridge, and continuing south on Clark along Andersonville business strip. That’s a reasonably bikeable stretch of Clark, but it’s probably a bit too hectic and stressful for less confident riders and families.

Many cyclists are already currently choosing to ride against traffic on Glenwood. Census data shows that four to seven percent of residents along the corridor bike to work, which is several times higher than the city average. CDOT counted up to 40 bicyclists an hour on the corridor during peak hours, representing 25 percent of traffic, with more than half of the cyclists riding against traffic.

Perhaps partly because drivers aren’t expecting southbound bike traffic on the northbound stretch of Glenwood, six bicyclists were injured in crashes there between 2009 and 2013. Half of them were under age 18.

CDOT plans to legalize southbound bike riding on the northbound segment of Glenwood by adding a contra-flow bike lane. The lane will be painted green near intersections to give motorists an additional heads-up, and shared-lane marking will be added for northbound bike traffic. Carmen, which is already two-way, will get shared lane markings in both directions. Stop signs and stop bars, and possibly bike traffic signals, will be installed for southbound cyclists.

The narrower travel lane for cars on northbound Glenwood will help calm traffic, and bike-friendly sinusoidal speed humps may be added as well. High visibility, zebra-striped crosswalks will be added, and other crosswalks will be refreshed. No parking will be eliminated. Therefore, the greenway is really a win for everyone involved: bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and neighboring residents.

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“Divvy for Everyone” Aims to Boost Ridership in Low-Income Areas

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride in Bronzeville. Divvy provides loaners for Slow Roll events. Photo: John Greenfield

Divvy bike-share has been a resounding success on many fronts, with 476 docking stations installed and more than four million trips taken since the system launched two years ago. However, like most bike-share networks across the country, there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to access and ridership in low-income communities. Thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership, announced last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation will be taking steps to help close the bike-share gap with a campaign called “Divvy for Everyone.”

Bike-share user surveys in other cities have revealed that membership tends to be disproportionately young, white, male, affluent, and college educated. While the CDOT has stats on age and gender based on Divvy membership applications, it has yet to release a full report on demographics. However, when the first 300 stations were installed in 2013, they were concentrated in parts of the city with a high density of people and destinations, which meant that downtown and relatively wealthy North Lakefront neighborhoods got the lion’s share.

A few low-income communities on the South and West Sides did get Divvy stations in the first round, and many more – such as Woodlawn, Washington Park, Canaryville, and East Garfield Park — got access to the system when 176 stations were added this spring. That expanded the number of Chicagoans who live in bike-share coverage areas from about 33 percent to 56 percent.

Meanwhile, CDOT has dispatched its Bicycling Ambassadors outreach team to talk up the benefits of bike-share to local merchants and give residents tips on using the system effectively. However, when I recently visited most of the stations on the perimeter of the new coverage area on a nice day, I only saw one person using the system.

Plenty of people I spoke with on the South and West Sides said they were glad to have access to Divvy, but weren’t clear on how the system works. A credit card is also required to buy a $7 day pass or $75 annual membership, which also serves as a barrier to unbanked individuals.

The BBSP money, along with $75,000 in matching funds from BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, will allow CDOT to work on removing barriers to bike-share use, and to shift its outreach efforts into high gear. The Chicago grant is part of nearly $375,000 in grants that the BBSP is awarding to recipients across the country working to make bike-share more equitable. The partnership is a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the PeopleForBikes Foundation and the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Other grants will go to improve bike-share access in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Austin, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The BBSP is also providing funding to researchers from Portland State University who will study Philadelphia’s Indego system to see how perceptions of bike-share, barriers to use, station siting, and specific interventions to increase use influence ridership. The PSU report will determine best practices for expanding access that can be used in other cities.

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Video: Ride the Bloomingdale Trail from End to End

Take a virtual bicycle ride on the Bloomingdale Trail, part of The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway and access park network, which opened Saturday on Chicago’s Northwest Side. I pedaled the trail from its western terminus at Ridgeway Avenue, a stone’s throw from the McCormick Tribune YMCA, to its eastern trailhead at Walsh Park, between Marshfield Avenue and Ashland Avenue. I filmed this around 11 a.m. on Monday, the first weekday the path was open.

I noticed large numbers of parents and caretakers pushing children in strollers, and biking with kids in baby seats, or pedaling beside them. There were also plenty of other adults riding bikes for transportation, exercise, or relaxation.

Construction and landscape workers were busy improving Walsh Park and the access park at Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street. One of the construction workers was traveling between the job sites on a bicycle, which was a very cool thing to see.

What have you seen on the Bloomingdale Trail?

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More Parking Meters Would Help, Not Hurt, City Neighborhoods

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Another way the city can re-earn revenue from the meters is by encouraging more people to use the smartphone app to pay for car parking as the city collects a portion of the service fee after a minimum amount. Photo: Mike Travis

It turns out that, despite Chicago’s disastrous parking meter deal, the city government can still use meters to benefit neighborhoods. During a recent discussion of Chicago’s parking challenges and their accompanying report, Metropolitan Planning Council vice president Peter Skosey and research director Chrissy Mancini Nichols told me how the city can make lemonade out of this lemon of a deal. There are a few issues that need to be resolved first, and this turnaround would require installing more meters, but that would only be a good thing for neighborhoods.

In 2008, then-mayor Richard M. Daley pushed the meter contract through City Council, where the vast majority of aldermen voted for it. The deal turned over the next 75 years of meter revenue to private investors in exchange for a lump sum payment of $1 billion, most of which Daley quickly spent on balancing the budget.

That was likely billions less than the concession was actually worth. To add insult to injury, the city is now required to repay the Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, a company representing the investors, anytime meter revenue is lost due to festivals and other street closures. (The city has started charging contractors for lost revenue when they close roads for construction.) It also means that any time the city strips metered parking for other street uses like bike or bus lanes, they must compensate CPM by installing meters of equal or better potential revenue nearby.

However, Mancini Nichols explained, the contract does allow the city to collect 85 percent of the revenue from new “reserve” meters it chooses to install. Rather than lining the pockets of the investors, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council could opt to use that money to pay off Chicago’s pension debt, or for investments in the neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we can’t start collecting that additional revenue until CPM gets the full annual revenue promised in the contract, based on the number of functioning meters that were available in 2009. Until CPM reaches that level of compensation, the city must use revenue from new meters to “true up” its payment to CPM at the end of every year. The meter availability is called “system in service,” and the 2009 level is considered 100 percent system in service. Currently, Chicago’s meters are at 96 percent system in service, Mancini Nichols said.

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The Bloomingdale, Chicago’s Awesome New Public Space, Makes Its Debut

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The Humboldt Boulevard bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In a 2009 Chicago Reader story, I noted that the best-case scenario for the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway would be a 2016 opening, in time for the Olympics, if then-mayor Richard M. Daley succeeded in winning the games. We all know what happened with the Olympic effort.

But here it is, only 2015, and thousands of Chicagoans of all ages and walks of life were already hanging out, strolling, jogging, biking, skating, and parading on the 2.7-mile path, last Saturday as part of the trail’s joyful opening celebration on a gorgeous spring day. The rails-to-trail conversion and the construction of several adjacent access parks never would have happened without tireless advocacy and activism from neighbors, particularly the grassroots nonprofit Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

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One of the many opening day processions. Photo: John Greenfield

We also need to give some credit for the speedy delivery of the trail to current mayor Rahm Emanuel. In July of 2009, the city announced its choice of the contractor to design the trail, but when Daley left office nearly two years later, the contract still hadn’t been awarded. “The project was really creeping along,” acknowledged Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton at the Saturday opening. She has been involved with discussions on converting the rail line since 1987.

After he was elected in 2011, Emanuel announced his intention to open the trail within four years, which seemed next-to-impossible at the time. However, soon after he took office, the design contract was awarded, and not long after that the city lined up $50 million in federal funding to build the $95 million project. The Trust for Public Land was recruited to manage the project and raise the additional money through private donations.

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Emanuel takes a spin on the trail. Photo: John Greenfield

The opening was originally scheduled for fall of 2014, but the opening was pushed back after a brutal winter delayed construction. However, it was surreal to see the nearly completed path and parks filled with revelers on Saturday. “Mayor Emanuel galvanized support for the trail,” Luann said.

The Bloomingdale is still a work in progress – the east end near Ashland Avenue is largely a construction site, and unfinished handrails on the California Avenue access ramp created a potential hazard. TPL still needs to raise $20 million more to fund additional landscaping, public art, and other amenities, and Governor Bruce Rauner has frozen some of the state funding for access parks by the eastern and western trailheads.

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Don’t Believe the Hype: Plenty of CTA Riders Support the Belmont Flyover

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Residents pour over a map of the project area at Wednesday’s open house. Photo: John Greenfield

Other local media outlets have given plenty of airtime to Lakeview residents who are opposed to the CTA’s Red-Purple Bypass project, better known as the Belmont Flyover. Their concern is completely understandable, since the transit agency’s plans call for 21 buildings on 16 parcels of land to be demolished, partially demolished, or relocated.

And, although CTA originally said the price tag for the project would be around $320 million, the environmental assessment released last on May 19 bumped that number up to $570 million, due to the inclusion of additional track and signal replacement north of the Belmont station. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

However, we haven’t heard much from the countless Red, Purple, and Brown Line Riders, from Roseland to Albany Park to Wilmette, who would benefit from the flyover. In a nutshell, the bypass would eliminate the existing convergence of Red, Purple, and Brown Line at a flat junction north of the Belmont station, as well as replace about 0.3 miles of track between Belmont and Newport (3430 North). This would increase capacity on the system’s busiest lines and reduce delays, especially during rush hours. Read Steven Vance’s analysis of the project here.

On Wednesday, the CTA held an open house at the Center on Halsted in Lakeview to give Chicagoans a chance to discuss the project with agency staff and provide input via comment cards and a court reporter. Contrary to what you might assume from mainstream news reports, lots of people I spoke to at the well-attended event voiced support for the bypass.

“I think the flyover is necessary for saving time,” said Mindy Williams, a homemaker who lives downtown and regularly travels on the Red Line. “You’ve got the trains that have to kind of cross through the switches, so they do a lot of sitting and waiting,” she said. “So the bypass, because it’s going to go over that, is going to cut the wait times.”

Of course, there were opponents present as well. Ellen Hughes, a Lakeview resident who runs the website Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover, told me that, while her house isn’t slated for demolition, there are several reason she’s fighting the bypass. “I’m actually in it for Lakeview and I’m in it for moral reasons,” she said.

Hughes listed the cost and aesthetics of the flyover as major concerns, and argued that the city is spending money on transit in an affluent North Side neighborhood while neglecting the South Side. In 2013, the CTA spent $425 million to completely rebuild the South Red Line tracks between Cermak and 95th and renovate most of the stations. The agency is currently reconstructing the 95th Street station at a cost of $240 million.

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Eyes on the Street: The Bloomingdale Trail Is Almost Ready for Its Close-Up

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Looking east from the top of the observatory, at the western trailhead. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicagoans are in for a treat this Saturday, when the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, finally opens to the public. For roughly two decades, residents have been pushing to turn the 2.7-mile railroad right-of-way into a multiuse path and linear park.

While the initiative slowly moved forward under the Richard M. Daley administration, Rahm Emanuel deserves credit for making the Bloomingdale a pet project and expediting it. A couple weeks after his second inauguration ceremony, Emanuel is more-or-less making good on his promise to open the trail within four years of taking office.

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White, Emanuel, CDOT’s Rebekah Scheinfeld, and the park district’s Michael Kelly. Photo: John Greenfield

On the cleverly selected date of Saturday, 6/06, there will be a wide range of festivities to celebrate the grand opening. At 8 a.m., there will be ribbon cuttings at each of the access ramps, followed by a procession on decorated bicycles, led by West Town Bikes. At 3:30 p.m., there will be a flag-waving parade, and at 8:30 p.m., a third procession will illuminate the trail.

Throughout the day, there will be live music and dance at two stages on Humboldt Boulevard, plus dozens of art, music, poetry, nature, and children’s events and activities at the various access parks. On Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be a community pancake breakfast at the western trailhead. See the full schedule here.

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The Divvy Perimeter Ride: Checking Out Bike-Share in Outlying Communities

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

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

This year’s Divvy bike-share expansion, beefing up the system from 300 docking stations to 476, has moved at warp speed. As of yesterday, 168 of the new stations have been installed since mid-April; The remaining seven are pending concrete pouring or other factors, and should be in by next month.

As Divvy grows, the city is also trying to make it more equitable. After the expansion, the portion of the population that lives in the service area will grow from about 53 percent to 56 percent, and several low-income communities are getting stations for the first time. Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Transportation is working on a strategy to provide Divvy access for residents who don’t have credit cards, and they promise they’ll have a major announcement about this by early summer.

To get a sense of how the stations are working out on the terra nova, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, I set out to pedal the perimeter of the completed service area on a sunny afternoon earlier this month. I began my quest at the southeastern-most outpost of the system at Rainbow Beach in South Shore, a mostly African-American community. There was an eerie fog on the shoreline, and the sound of the waves mingled with birdsongs as I undocked my Divvy.

As I made my way clockwise, stopping at every station along the perimeter to snap a photo, plenty of residents approached me to ask about the system. From small children to seniors, the first question was almost always a variation on “How much does it cost to rent those bikes?” I explained that a day pass is $7, and an annual membership is $75, but you have to be careful to check in your bike within a half hour, or else you start racking up late fees.

Outside Comer College Prep, a nice-looking public school at 71st and South Chicago in Grand Crossing, little kids are using a Divvy station as a coat rack, playing with the bungees and bells, and using the cycles like exercise bikes. Diane Griffin, an adult who’s waiting for the bus, is curious about the giant blue cycles.

Like most people I’ve spoken with, she’s unclear on how the system works, such as the fact that you don’t have to return your bike to the same station you got it from. But after I explain, she warms up to the idea. “I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s good exercise, and it beats riding a crowded bus.”

Pedaling along the system’s perimeter turns out to be pretty comfortable, since the docks tend to be located along designated bike routes, many of which have well-marked bike lanes. I make my way west to Englewood, and north to a station at 56th and Halsted.

Bobbie Flowers, a healthcare worker who’s going to the adjacent hardware store, asks me about the system and is pleased to learn that you can use it 24/7. Although it’s been a while since she’s ridden a bike, she’s curious to try a Divvy. “It seems like a nice alternative to sitting in the car and burning gas,” she says.

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