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Tell Us Your “Commuter Idyll” Story Today, Be a Tour de Fat VIP

Bike Pit

Try out a wacky bicycle in the rodeo. Photo: Josh Koonce

Today’s the last day of our Commuter Idyll contest. That means it’s your last chance to tell us how you switched from a stressful car commute to a relaxing transit ride or stress-relieving walk to work — and win one of several prizes!

Last year’s contest was run by Streetsblog USA, and the winner was Jake Williams from Chicago, who switched from a 26-mile drive to Lincolnshire to a 12-minute walking commute to a new job.

We’ve got cool prizes this year thanks to a generous sponsorship from New Belgium Brewing, the employee-owned company from Fort Collins, Colorado who’s bringing Tour de Fat back to Palmer Square Park this coming Saturday.

What’s your commuting story? Did you give up on the cost and headaches of constant car breakdowns, then switched to listening to Talking Headways on Metra? Were you so sick of stop-and-go traffic on the Kennedy or Eisenhower that you instead chose to park the car and hop aboard the Blue Line instead?

Even if you don’t yet have an Idyllic story yet, but want to give it a try, New Belgium is also looking for someone to give up their car at the fest and get a new bike in return. You’ll have to apply online beforehand.

The Tour brings “bikes, beer, and bemusement” to every stop, including numerous live bands and a wacky bicycle rodeo, and also raises funds for local bicycle nonprofits. For Chicago, 100 percent of beer proceeds will be donated to West Town Bikes, a bike kitchen in Humboldt Park which teaches high school students how to repair bikes and manage a store.

John will be holding down the fort at the Streetsblog Chicago table, while I’ll be pouring $5 drafts of Snapshot and Fat Tire for West Town Bikes until 2:30 p.m.

Last year’s fest drew 8,000 attendees and raised more than $40,000 for after school programs at West Town Bikes. The fest starts with a bicycle parade (and cargo bike roll call) around Logan Square. Costumes are encouraged, so look for 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón in his Zorro outfit. Read more…

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Right-Turning Cement Truck Driver Kills Young Woman on Bike


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The crash site at Cicero and Belmont.

28-year-old Portage Park resident Barbara “Barbie” Eno was killed on her bicycle last Thursday by a right-turning cement truck driver.

That morning, Eno had cycled to the Secretary of State’s office to replace a stolen ID and was returning to her home on the 4800 block of West Addison, DNAinfo reported. At about 10:35 am, she was biking north on the 3100 block of North Cicero, according to Office José Estrada from Police News Affairs. The 51-year-old male driver of the truck, a Kenworth W900, was also traveling northbound, Estrada said.

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Barbie Eno. Photo: DNAinfo

After the driver turned right onto Belmont, “he heard a thump and heard several people screaming at him to stop,” Estrada said. The trucker then pulled over and attempted to render aid to Eno until the ambulance arrived, according to Estrada. Eno was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 11:31, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Eno, who was remembered by family and friends as a “sweetheart” who loved animals, was struck within a short distance of the apartment where she grew up as a child, DNA reported. Her older sister, Chrissy Eno told DNA that Barbie started bicycle commuting four years earlier. “She loved riding her bike all the time,” Chrissy said. “I always used to tell her to be careful.

The truck driver was not arrested or cited, Estrada said. Police are talking to witnesses and looking for surveillance video, DNA reported. Bike lawyer Brendan Kevenides (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) noted in a blog post that there are traffic cameras at Cicero and Belmont, so it’s likely that the police will be able to determine what caused the crash.

Kevenides wrote that this type of “right hook” crash is all too common:

Because cyclists are required by law to travel along the right side of the roadway, they may find themselves cut off by a careless driver traveling in the same direction who attempt to turn right without looking for bicycle traffic. All drivers own a duty of reasonable care to all roadway users, including people on bicycles.  For the right turning driver this duty requires: (1) Using a turn signal; (2) Turning right from the right lane; and (3) Looking right for bikes before starting to turn.

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Architect Urges Big-Picture, Design Thinking For North Lake Shore Drive

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Krause suggests dipping Lake Shore Drive below ground at interchanges, with the Inner Drive and a new light rail line staying at street level. Image: John Krause

Local architect John Krause sees the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s most scenic locations, as a chance to think big — not just about the road, but also about parks, transit, trails, the shoreline, and the future of the city alongside it. The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t used to thinking like that, though, and so Krause sees its “Redefine the Drive” project as a process “that looks and feels suboptimal.”

IDOT is currently in the study phase of a decade-long project that will recreate both the boulevard and access to Lincoln Park. It will be years until IDOT has a refined design, so as a first step IDOT must identify what, exactly, they want to do — what they call a Purpose and Needs Statement for the project. Krause is on one of the project task forces, and helped bring to light that IDOT’s original objectives focused on personal vehicle congestion and traffic issues, and was blind to the road’s effects upon parks, the Lakefront Trail, and citywide mobility.

Krause has crafted an alternative vision – one of two, the other by VOA Associates – to redesign the Drive [PDF]. He created it to start a broader conversation about not just how to rebuild a road, but instead to create a legacy project for Chicago that could reimagine both how people move along the lakefront, as well as the lakefront itself.

The way the system is set up, the design team can’t discuss the project with the public, engineering firms are afraid to get involved for fear of being conflicted out of the future project, and the amateur general public is invited to give our unqualified opinions [at public meetings].

“It’s a shame,” he says, “that there isn’t more public engagement of talented designers in this important process.” He adds that a competition, similar to one hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to solicit designs for Central Loop BRT stations, “might be a way to get Chicago’s professional designers involved.”

IDOT’s study approach started off by lamenting the delays and congestion drivers experienced, Krause says, and so was “propagating a [highway] status quo…that has been discredited for a long time. Great design often emerges through collaboration among people with complementary skills and viewpoints. In this case, maybe civil engineers, transit planners, urbanists, park designers,” and others could work together, rather than letting IDOT’s highway engineers run the show.

A recent example of how IDOT has not looked outside its professional silo occurred at a recent task force meeting. As Krause describes it, “lots of people are pushing for a dedicated transit lane, but no one from the CTA is allowed to offer any guidance or encouragement. To be fair, I know that CTA and CDOT are struggling with IDOT behind closed doors, but whatever is said there has no impact on either the general public or the city’s design professionals.”

Krause says Redefine the Drive needs to redefine the entire lakefront as well. It “needs some real headline attractions… new features that would show up on a tourist brochure of things to do in Chicago.” Or, more importantly, he says, “things that would get the mayor and Friends of the Parks to stand up to IDOT” and get them to do something other than “business as usual” highway-paving.

As an example of what broader thinking could bring to the Redefine the Drive process, Krause has illustrated his own conceptual idea of what the North Lake Shore Drive study area could become. His proposal divides the area, which reaches from Grand Avenue at Navy Pier on the south up to Hollywood Avenue on the north, into four sections.

One principal component of Krause’s scheme is a light rail transit route down the center of the Drive, which would help meet the mobility needs of nearly 70,000 people each weekday. Stops would be spaced every 1/4 to 1/2 mile, including stops at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Edgewater Sports Campus. Throughout his scheme, Krause suggests dipping the Drive below each interchange, removing the elevated bridges that block views towards the lake. The rail line would continue at grade, so that trains will align with bus stops and sidewalks at ground level.

Read more…

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Go Pilsen TDM Program Encourages Walking, Biking and Transit Use

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Go Pilsen ambassadors Alex Velazquez and Ray Arroyo. Photo: Active Trans

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

Last September, the Chicago Department of Transportation launched the Go Bronzeville transportation demand program in the historic Near South neighborhood otherwise known as the Black Metropolis. The initiative provided resources for residents interested in getting around their community and the city on foot, bike, transit and car-sharing, with the goal of reducing the number of drive-alone trips.

Many of the people who participated in the free workshops, walking tours and bike rides found that using active transportation helped save them money, improved their health and gave them new opportunities to spend time with their family, friends and neighbors. Now, CDOT plans to run TDM programs in another four neighborhoods, at a cost of about $250,000 per community, mostly funded by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

Pilsen, the largely Mexican-American community located three miles southwest of the Loop, was a logical choice for the next location, according to CDOT deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel. The area is well served by transit, including several CTA bus routes, the Pink Line and Metra’s BNSF line, and it has nearly a dozen Divvy bike-share stations. The Go Pilsen program debuted on June 4. Portland, Oregon-based Alta Planning + Design helped design the program, and the Active Transportation Alliance’s Maggie Melin is coordinating it on the local level.

As was the case in Bronzeville, Go Pilsen is reaching out to 7,500 residents, with the goal of having 750 of them fill out a survey on their travel habits and which active transportation modes they’re interested in using more frequently. Before the program launched, the department met with fifteen different local community organizations to gather input, such as El Hogar del Niño, an early childhood development center, and the Resurrection Project, a community development nonprofit.

The two Go Pilsen outreach ambassadors are Alex Velazquez and Ray Arroyo. Velazquez, who has worked as a community organizer for three years, heard about the job at the local bike shop Wheel of Time, which specializes in custom fixies. Arroyo, who has taught art via National Museum of Mexican Art programs, learned about the opportunity through Ciclovamos, a group that puts on monthly bike events in Pilsen and Little Village.

“I was a bicyclist for about three years, and I got in a couple of crashes that put me off the bike for a few years,” Arroyo said. “I took the job as my personal challenge to get back on my bike and learn about getting around and safe cycling.”

The ambassadors are distributing “Go Kits,” reusable shopping bags full of transportation resources, gifts and incentives, to residents. Tailored to each person’s interests, these include brochures on subjects like walking, safe bicycling, and how to drive safely around pedestrians and cyclists. The kits also may include transit and bike maps, one-day Divvy passes, coupons for local businesses, and gifts like Go Pilsen t-shirts, water bottles, and reflective bike gear.

The Go Kits also include a detailed map of the neighborhood, featuring transit stops, bike lanes, Divvy stations, bike parking, local landmarks, and public art. On the back is a map of a bike route to the lakefront, including protected bike lanes on 18th from Canal to Clark, and the hard-to-find bridge that allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Metra tracks near Soldier Field. “When we were talking to people, even though the lakefront is so close, they didn’t know a safe way to get there,” explains Alta’s Kristen Maddox (a former Streetsblog Chicago contributor) who helped design the map.

Almost all of the Go Pilsen literature is printed in both Spanish and English. “Sometimes bilingual materials can be a little bit stuffy, so Ray and I go over everything to make sure the language is relatable,” Velazquez says. “It helps that both of us are native Spanish speakers.”

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Garrido Grandstands Against Milwaukee Road Diet at Public Meeting

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John Garrido and Dave Wians, holding stack of petitions. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, announced aldermanic candidate John Garrido hijacked a crowded community meeting about the city’s proposal for a safety overhaul of Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. He interrupted the event to present Chicago Department of Transportation engineers with what he said were 4,000 signatures in opposition to any reconfiguration of the street that would involve fewer travel lanes.

Most of this stretch of Milwaukee is a five-lane speedway, and the project area saw 910 crashes between 2008 and 2012, causing at least 17 serious injuries and three deaths, according to CDOT. In January of this year, two men were killed in a rollover crash on the 6000 block of the street, just south of Elston.

This section consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles, making it the least busy stretch of Milwaukee in the city. But while Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is generally a two-lane street, north of the Kennedy it has two travel lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, and the excess capacity encourages speeding. Recent CDOT traffic studies found that 75 percent of motorists broke the 30 mph speed limit, and 14 percent exceeded 40 mph, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are almost always fatal.

This stretch of Milwaukee is slated to be resurfaced next year, and CDOT plans to use the opportunity to reconfigure the street to improve safety for pedestrians, bike riders, transit users and drivers. The project would use $1.5 million in funding, eighty percent of which would come from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

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Current conditions on Milwaukee north of the Kennedy. Photo: John Greenfield

At the open house at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, CDOT presented various scenarios for the street makeover [PDF of presentation]. Currently, Milwaukee between Lawrence and the Kennedy, including the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center, is a two-lane street with rush-hour parking controls. CDOT has proposed eliminating the RHPCs on this stretch to make room for buffered bike lanes.

The department presented three possible configurations for the stretch of Milwaukee between the Kennedy and Elston, which has five lanes. Option A would retain all travel lanes and add a buffer on one side of the existing conventional lanes. Option B would convert one travel lane in each direction to wide bike lanes with buffers on both sides. Option C would convert travel lanes to parking-protected bike lanes, which would provide the greatest benefit in safety for all road users, since the bike lanes would also shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage speeding by motorists.

All three scenarios would also add high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian islands, and better traffic signal coordination. Studies have shown that street configurations with a total of two travel lanes plus a turn lane in each direction can easily handle up to 20,000 vehicles per day, so CDOT predicts that options B and C would have little negative impact on traffic flow and would actually improve northbound traffic flow during the morning rush.

Option C would require removing roughly 20 percent of on-street parking spaces to maintain sight lines. However, parking counts show that, in general, spaces on this stretch of Milwaukee are currently used as little as 50 percent of the time, and not more than 90 percent of the time, so there would be a relatively minor impact on the availability of parking.

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Wicker Park Counts Up Better Ways to Use Its 11,650 Parking Spaces

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A CMAP infographic about transportation around Wicker Park and Bucktown.

Every Saturday night at dusk, the main streets in Wicker Park and Bucktown seize up. The stalled lines of cars don’t just infuriate drivers — they also stall buses, block crosswalks, and push cyclists into the dangerous door zone. These crowds don’t descend out of nowhere to watch the sunset, or to pile into shows at the Double Door. No, this dangerous mess stems in large part from poorly managed public parking.

To better understand the parking situation in WPB and how to improve it, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently completed an Innovation in Parking Management Plan, with help from the WPB Special Service Area and the Metropolitan Planning Council. They found that WPB actually has an ample supply of parking. And that existing supply can be better managed, even under current policies like the parking meter contract.

Lindsay Bayley, who managed the project for CMAP, said that the parking plan grew out of the neighborhood’s earlier planning efforts. WPB’s 2009 master plan had “a lot of recommendations regarding parking. After the parking meter deal, they needed to get a handle for what was going on the ground and what they could do.”

CMAP has worked on parking in suburban downtowns like Berwyn and Hinsdale, but had not yet had a chance to examine how parking management strategies might apply to city neighborhoods. Chicago has a particularly interesting situation, since the city controls much less about parking than a suburban village does — the city operates neither garages nor meters in the neighborhoods.

WPB’s long “overall support of active transportation” made it a particularly good community to study, said Bayley. “Their transportation committee is really well versed in how transportation affects the business district and how parking specifically affects it,” she said. “Within the SSA, they understand that they really need a balance between walking, biking, transit, and driving” to get everyone to and through the neighborhood.

The parking plan began with an exhaustive inventory of parking supply and demand in the neighborhood, as well as public outreach through interviews, public meetings, and an online survey, that cumulatively asked roughly 500 people about transportation in the neighborhood. The resulting Parking Management Plan, recently adopted by the SSA commission, will help decision-makers better understand the neighborhood’s parking and transportation situation.

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Share Your “Commuter Idyll” Story and Win Tour de Fat VIP Passes

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Mucca Pazza performs at the Tour de Fat. Photo: Steven Vance

Every year at the Chicago stop on Tour de Fat, the fantabulous bicycle and beer festival hosted by New Belgium Brewing, a gutsy “roll model” steps on stage to make the Car-for-Bike Swap. At the end of the fest, Saturday, July 12, in Palmer Square, a contestant will hand over his or her car keys, and pledge to live automobile-free, in exchange for a stipend to buy a new commuter bike. If you’ve been meaning to make the lifestyle switch yourself, can apply here to be this year’s swapper.

For the first time this year, New Belgium is also generously sponsoring Streetsblog Chicago’s Commuter Idyll contest. In last year’s contest, put on by Streetsblog USA, readers were asked to share their stories of how they changed their daily work trip from a hellish car commute to a relaxing stroll, pedal, or transit ride.

Since our city has some of the worst conditions for driving in the country — which is one reason this is a good city for walking, biking and public transportation — it was no surprise that the national winner was a Chicagoan. Engineer Jake Williams told the inspiring tale of how he ditched his nightmarish 26-mile drive to a job in Lincolnshire and started a new gig in the city, which he could walk to in 12 minutes, greatly improving his health and happiness.

Jake’s girlfriend and her co-worker at Sam Schwartz Engineering were so excited that he won Streetsblog’s “Commuter Idyll” challenge that they created this “infographic” of his commutes.

Did you make the change from a similarly soul-numbing auto slog to a fun, energizing bike commute? Did you switch to riding CTA or Metra so you could up on emails, reading, or sleep on your way to work? Did you move closer to your job, or take a new position closer to your home, so that you could spend less time commuting and more time doing the things you love?

Tell us your story in the comments section. The grand prize winner will get a VIP pass to the Tour de Fat, including two complimentary beer tokens, free food and access to the VIP area, plus a goodie bag with a t-shirt, bottle opener and pants strap for cycling. Three runners-up will get VIP passes.

If you’ve never been to the Chicago Tour de Fat, you’ve been missing out on a heck of a bike party, for a great cause. The free, family-friendly event includes a costumed bike parade around the neighborhood, live entertainment, a corral full of Frankenbikes you can test ride, tasty chow and, of course, plenty of delicious craft beer. Best of all, the proceeds go to West Town Bikes, a bicycle education center in nearby Humboldt Park. Last year’s Chicago fest drew 8,000 attendees, raising more than $40,000 for West Town.

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What’s the Fastest Way Around Chicago? That Depends, Says New Map

Wicker Park in green will get you there

Wicker Park, in green, is one starting point where much of the city is fastest to reach by bicycle.

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab published an interactive map this week that shows a new way to measure access across Chicago via different transportation modes. Instead of assessing how far one can travel by a certain mode, like a previous online map has shown, or showing the cost of travel, this map looks solely at relative travel time across four modes.

Click on any census block group within city limits, and the map will show you what mode would be the fastest way to every other part of the city, and uses shading to show how long that mode will take. The map uses data from Google Maps’s Directions service.

Walking is only the fastest way to get anywhere within the block group you choose, while bicycling is the fastest transportation mode to any place up to two miles away. Most places in Chicago are reached quickest by driving: In a 227-square-mile city like Chicago, most of the city’s area is going to be more than two miles away. Also, dozens of square miles of the city are not particularly useful or easy to reach, like Wolf Lake or the runways at O’Hare airport. 

But in many relatively central neighborhoods, bicycling can be the quickest way to access a good chunk of the city.

Start in Wicker Park, and you’ll find that bicycling is the fastest way to reach 10.1 percent of Chicago, an area spanning from the Gold Coast to Ravenswood to the edge of Austin. Start in Lakeview, and that drops down to 5.9 percent, in part because Lake Michigan means that half of the bikeable area is underwater.

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Get a Leg Up: Steven and Friends Install the Nation’s First Bicycle Footrest

A video of Ryan Lakes using the footrest.
 

Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance doesn’t just report on transportation news — sometimes he makes it.

Case in point is the city’s newest cycling amenity, a bike footrest and handrail that Steven and his friend Ryan Lakes recently installed at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Ogden, across the street from the Matchbox bar. The footrest is a very simple piece of street furniture, a place to place your right foot and a bar to grab onto while waiting for a red light. The guys are calling their creation a “Curbee.”

This type of footrest is common in Copenhagen, but if I hadn’t been told otherwise, I might have assumed this Chicago version was the result of a guerrilla streetscaping intervention. However, the Curbee has the blessing of the local authorities.

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A bike footrest in Copenhagen. Text says, “Hi, cyclist! Rest your foot here… and thank you for cycling in the city.” Photo Mikael Colville Andersen, Copenhagenize.com

However, this being regulation-happy Chicago, it’s not surprising that the project had a long rollout. Back in March 2013, Steven brainstormed the idea with Ryan, an architect, designer, and West Town Bikes board member. Ryan designed the footrest, and they quickly fashioned a prototype out of scrap wood.

After they pitched the final design to FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), the bicycle law firm agreed to fund  the project. Steven and Ryan hired Adam Clark, owner of Pedal to the People mobile bike repair service, to fabricate the Curbee out of steel.

Getting a public use permit for a piece of street furniture, such as a bench or bike parking rack, requires the approval of the Chicago Department of Transportation and the local alderman. So, that July, Steven and Ryan invited then-CDOT chief Gabe Klein to test out the footrest next to the Dearborn protected lanes, at Monroe, as well as at its current Milwaukee location.

Klein liked the idea, but 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly opposed the Dearborn location, arguing that the Loop is too cluttered with street furniture as it is. However, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, who’d used Curbees on a fact-finding trip to Copenhagen sponsored by the advocacy group Bike Belong, was open to the idea.

In September, Burnett tried out the footrest at the Milwaukee location, using a Divvy bike that Steven checked out for him. The alderman was sold on the idea that the Curbee would encourage cyclists to wait for the green at Milwaukee/Ogden, where it’s tempting to disregard the stoplight, because there are several different signal phases.

With Burnett’s blessing, Steven submitted the permit application at the city’s Small Business Center in April, just before he left on a month-long trip to Europe. West Town Bikes, who is providing the insurance, sponsored the permit. Steven says he was pleasantly surprised that the application process only took 45 minutes, when he’d blocked out two hours for the task.

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CDOT Aims to Install Over 1,000 Bike Parking Spaces in 2014

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CDOT recently installed this bike corral on Milwaukee Avenue, outside the Harding Tavern. Photo by author.

The new Chicago Department of Transportation bike parking program manager, Kathleen Murphy, described the upcoming summer and fall installation season during the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting two weeks ago. She outlined three initiatives that will get over a thousand new bicycle parking spaces installed on sidewalks and roadways.

Murphy is continuing the city’s long-standing program of siting and arranging installation of hundreds of regular Chicago U-racks. This year, she said, the city aims to install 400 new racks, a slight decrease from the 500-600 new racks that were installed in recent years but still a net gain of 800 bike parking spaces.

In-street bike parking corrals, with room for 12 bicycles apiece, will greatly expand across Chicago this year. Murphy pointed to a new bike parking corral that was installed just after the MBAC meeting, outside the Harding Tavern at 2732 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that it replaced one metered car parking space, which was swapped with a reserve space. Scales also said that the bike parking corral outside Intuit Art Center, on Milwaukee just south of Ogden and Chicago, will return next month after being removed for repaving.

Murphy sais she’s working on getting 15-20 more corrals installed this year. Scales said the corrals near the following sites are in different stages of the application process.

  • On The Route Bicycles in Lakeview, at 3144 N. Lincoln
  • Second City in Old Town, at 1616 N. Wells
  • Fat Cat in Uptown, 4840 N. Broadway
  • Three locations near Six Corners, at 4820 W. Irving Park, 4015 N. Milwaukee, and 4018 N. Cicero
  • Outside several of FLATS Chicago’s residential buildings, mostly in Uptown and Edgewater

Murphy also said she is continuing CDOT’s program of relocating under-used racks. About 200 existing bike racks will be removed, refurbished, and reinstalled in new locations where they’ll see more use.

This summer, Murphy said that CDOT will launch a new website to collect suggestions for new bike rack locations. It will be similar to the Divvy station suggestion map, which was developed by Streetsblog’s parent organization, OpenPlans. Scales said the new website “will be available for public use in a couple of weeks.”

Finally, CDOT is looking for different types and designs of bike parking to be included in the next contract, and Murphy said you can email her with your suggestions.