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Posts from the Neighborhoods Category

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Solving The Problem of Snow Being Pushed Into Protected Lanes

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No, this is not an expanse of arctic tundra, its one of the Broadway protected bike lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

In general, protected bike lanes are great for encouraging “interested-but-concerned” folks to try urban cycling. However, as I discussed last week, when the lanes aren’t maintained well during the winter, they can actually make cycling more difficult. And when snow- or ice-filled PBLs force bike riders to share narrow travel lanes with motorists, that decreases safety.

Even when the Chicago Department of Transportation does a good job of plowing the protected lanes, there’s often a problem with snow later being pushed off sidewalks in front of businesses, into the curbside bike lanes. Last fall the city passed an ordinance that makes it clear it’s illegal to do this, as well as raises fines for property owners who don’t shovel their sidewalks, but CDOT officials said there were no plans to increase enforcement.

It’s great when merchants are conscientious about clearing their sidewalks for pedestrians. However, many business owners, or at least the people they hire to shovel, seem oblivious to the fact that plenty of Chicagoans use the protected lanes year-round, and that it’s illegal to dump snow in them.

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The Clybourn bike lane, after Unity had it cleared. Photo: Marcus Moore.

The good new is that once people are made aware of these facts, they may change their behavior. After a cyclist contacted Unity Manufacturing, 1260 North Clybourn, and asked them to stop pushing snow off their sidewalk into one of the Clybourn curb-protected lanes, the business had a path cleared for bike riders.

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Last year, I took Broadway PBL snow clearance into my own hands. Photo: Justin Haugens

The protected lanes on the short segment of Broadway between Wilson and Montrose, one of the few stretches of PBLs in Chicago along a retail strip, are especially prone to being filled with shoveled snow. Last winter, I took matters into my own hands and shoveled out a section of the bike lanes myself.

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Allegedly Intoxicated Driver Fatally Strikes Woman in Back of the Yards

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The 1900 block of West Garfield Boulevard. Image: Google Street View

A 49-year-old woman was struck and killed by an allegedly intoxicated driver in the Back of the Yards neighborhood early this morning.

At about 5:50 this morning, the pedestrian was crossing southbound on the 1900 block of West Garfield Boulevard when the 50-year-old male driver hit her, according to Officer Nicole Trainor from Police News Affairs. The woman was transported to Stroger Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:42 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The name of the victim has not been released, pending notification of kin, according to the medical examiner’s office. An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday.

The driver, who stayed on the scene, was charged with misdemeanor DUI, failure to give right-of-way to a pedestrian, and driving without insurance, according to Trainor. He was bonded out this morning. A court date is scheduled for January 21 at the Daley Center.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 31 (12 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 7 (two were hit-and-run crashes)

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Where the Sidewalk Ends: New Hope for Pedestrians in Altgeld Gardens

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Altgeld Gardens residents return from Rosebud Farm Stand on the dirt road next to the market. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating 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.]

For years, Altgeld Gardens-area resident Deloris Lucas has pushed for a sidewalk on 130th Street, an interstate-like truck route that serves as the northern boundary of this far south-side public housing project.

“[Altgeld is] a poor area that’s a food desert, where people don’t even realize we lack facilities like sidewalks and bus shelters,” says Lucas, 59. Since 1967, Lucas has lived in Golden Gate, a quaint enclave of single-family homes just west of the housing project.

Due to lack of interest from decision makers, her crusade hasn’t gained much traction since she first told me about it in July 2014. But a new multimodal transportation plan for the area from the Chicago Department of Transportation may lead to Lucas finally getting her sidewalk.

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Deloris Lucas. Photo: John Greenfield

For context, the Altgeld area is hemmed in by the Little Calumet River to the south and west, a water reclamation plant to the north, and the Bishop Ford to the east. CTA service is limited, and bike infrastructure is nonexistent. Median household income is less than a third of the city’s median of $47,250. Only about half of households own cars, compared with 72 percent citywide.

Access to nearby Rosebud Farm Stand, 525 E. 130th, is a particular sore spot. It’s the area’s sole grocery store, but it’s difficult to access by foot. The only way to walk there from the west is via a narrow trail pedestrians have worn on the south side of the five-lane highway. Walking north to Rosebud from Altgeld means taking a rutted dirt lane.

Lucas began her advocacy after she was laid off from her job as a CPS teaching assistant in 2013. She launched the grassroots Safety and Transit Action Council, currently made up of a dozen or so neighbors. The group soon partnered with the Active Transportation Alliance and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to assess her neighborhood’s walkability. In addition to sidewalks, the groups determined the community needs more crosswalks, STOP FOR PEDESTRIAN signs, pedestrian islands, speed humps, and streetlights.

The Chicago Housing Authority has earmarked money to pave the lane between Altgeld Gardens and Rosebud, and the project is currently out to bid, according to an Active Trans rep.

But the sidewalk on 130th has been a tougher nut to crack. It’s a state route, which would normally give the Illinois Department of Transportation control over upgrades. However, agency spokesman Guy Tridgell said 130th is actually maintained by CDOT, which is also responsible for sidewalk construction in the city.

Read the rest of the article on the Chicago Reader website.

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A New Hope in the Land of the NIMBY? Introducing Jefferson Park Forward

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Jefferson Park Forward want more development near the local transit center. Photo: Andrea Bauer, Chicago Reader

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating 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.]

There’s a culture war going on in Jefferson Park, a middle-class community in Chicago’s northwest side bungalow belt that’s home to many city and county workers. Some longtime residents want the neighborhood to remain an enclave of low-slung houses and two-flats, where driving and parking are prioritized. Others, many of them newer arrivals, want to see the community become more urban, with more apartments near the Jefferson Park Transit Center, and better conditions for walking and biking.

“I choose to live here because I like the way it is,” wrote Carlene Blumenthal, a board member of the conservative Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association. “I am a proud NIMBY.”

Indeed, in recent years, the neighborhood association has spearheaded “Not In My Back Yard”-type opposition to several proposed multiunit buildings and sustainable transportation improvements.

“This is a semi-suburban area,” recently-elected board president Bob Bank told me. “We’d like nothing [taller] than what’s the current zoning in downtown Jefferson Park, mostly four stories or less.” The 56-year-old AT&T employee and his wife have lived and raised their three now-adult children in Jefferson Park since 1983.

On the progressive side of this battle are people like 34-year-old transportation planner Ryan Richter. Richter grew up in Jefferson Park and moved back in 2009 after buying a house, where he lives with his wife and two young daughters. He joined the neighborhood association in January, then ran against Bank in September to be its new board president. (He didn’t win.)

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Ryan Richter. Photo: Andrea Bauer, Chicago Reader

“The JPNA doesn’t see how important density is for taking advantage of our rich transit resources,” Richter argues. The transit center, located just northwest of the Lawrence/Milwaukee commercial district, is served by the Blue Line, Metra, and 12 bus routes. The neighborhood association has fought several plans for development near the station.

“There’s no vision there,” Richter griped. “They’re against everything, but they’re not for anything.”

The neighborhood association has also been a constant irritant to 45th Ward alderman John Arena, who is himself a thorn in Mayor Emanuel’s side as a leader of City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

Like Richter, Arena has argued that transit-friendly housing and walkable, bikeable streets are crucial for revitalizing a neighborhood blighted by vacant lots and empty storefronts. “We are blessed with tremendous access to public transit,” 45th Ward chief of staff Owen Brugh told DNAinfo’s Heather Cherone last year. “We should play to our strengths.”

This ideological clash came to a head during the September board election. Bank, who had previously made unsuccessful bids for alderman and committeeman, says he ran for president at the behest of board members who feared the organization was being taken over by urbanists like Richter. Bank won by a vote of 60 to 27.

Richter has since launched a new group called Jefferson Park Forward. “A lot of people were disgusted with the JPNA and wanted an outlet for positive change,” he said. “Many of them are relatively new to the community and somewhat younger, and they want more bike facilities, walkable urban spaces, and independent businesses.”

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

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Sorry Reilly, 71 Units Plus 128 Parking Spaces Does Not Equal TOD

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Rendering of the proposed 300 West Huron tower by Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture

As Steven Vance wrote last month, downtown alderman Brendan Reilly has a good record when it comes to promoting residential building projects with sensible amounts of car parking, and he’s made smart comments about this issue in the past.

For example, he recently got the developer of an apartment tower at Kinzie and Desplaines to lower the number of off-street spaces. At a community meeting, he explained, “If you’re this close to central business district with lots of modes to get you there, you shouldn’t have a lot of parking.”

Reilly’s newsletter included similar comments about a planned residential high-rise in Streeterville. It said he also requested a reduction of parking spaces for that project “not only to press down on large, multi-story parking bases, but also for practical reasons – the profile of renters downtown does not generally include car ownership.”

So it’s a mystery why Reilly is now supporting a plan for a 71-unit condo tower that would have, in effect, 128 parking spaces, located a two-minute walk from an ‘L’ station. JFJ Development is proposing the 24-story building for a site at 300 West Huron, a mere 423 feet from the Brown Line’s Chicago Avenue stop.

On the plus side, the structure would replace a longtime surface parking lot with the residential units, plus a yet-to-be-determined two-story retail establishment.

DNAinfo reports the architect is Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, which is also designing a 22-story apartment tower nearby at 640 North Wells, the former site of Ed Debevic’s diner. That project, located about a quarter-mile from the Chicago Brown Line stop and spearheaded by JDL Development, will have 251 apartments plus retail, but only includes 117 parking spaces.

In contrast, the 300 West Huron plan calls for one parking stall for each of the 71 condos, and 57 of those stalls would feature a lift, allowing residents to stack two cars in one spot. JFJ is essentially building 1.8 parking spaces for every unit, although the city’s new transit-oriented development ordinance doesn’t require any parking for new residential buildings within a quarter-mile of transit stations. Since 2,500 square-foot units in the new tower will run about $1.3 million, the developer presumably believes many well-heeled buyers will want parking for two cars.

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By Popular Demand, CTA Will Test Restored Lincoln and 31st Street Bus Lines

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Currently, the #11 terminates at Western Avenue. Photo: Jeff Zoline

At Monday’s Chicago Transit Authority budget hearing, politicians and residents implored the CTA board to bring restore the 31st Street bus and Lincoln Avenue bus routes. The #31 bus line was canceled in 1997, while the segment of the #11 Lincoln route between Western and Fullerton was eliminated in 2012.

At the hearing, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who has helped lead the charge for restored service, noted that the Lincoln bus was formerly a lifeline for seniors in his ward. Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) noted that a new development planned for Lincoln Park will bring over 1,000 residences to the neighborhood, increasing the demand for transit. Ald. Patrick Daley (11th) proposed a new 31st Street route that would connect the 31st/Ashland Orange Line stop, the Sox/35th Red Line station, and 31st Street Beach. A number of their constituents spoke up as well.

Despite this urging, it seemed unlikely the board could make a decision on the matter and revise their proposed 2016 spending plan in time for today’s scheduled budget vote. However, at this afternoon’s meeting, CTA President Dorval Carter made a surprise announcement that next spring the agency will conduct pilots of the restored #31 and #11 bus service.

Details are still being finalized, including the exact locations, days and times of the service, and the duration of the pilot, according to a source at the CTA. As soon as those details are known, the agency will work with the aldermen and their communities to promote the pilot tests. Depending on how much ridership the routes get, service may ultimately be restored on a permanent basis, the source said.

“We’re thrilled about the news,” said Pawar’s community outreach director Dara Salk. “We’re very grateful to the board for listening to our concerns and taking action.”

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Residents and Politicians Urge CTA to Restore Lincoln, 31st Street Bus Service

They want their bus back

CTA riders have been donning yellow shirts to signify that they want the agency to restore bus routes on Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street.

During the public comment period of last night’s Chicago Transit Authority’s budget hearing, the only one the agency is holding this year, many politicians and residents urged the CTA board to restore the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street bus routes.

The hearing opened with budget director Tom McKone providing an overview of the 2016 spending plan. It maintains virtually all current bus service and brings back the old express bus routes on Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue. As a strategy to avoid a fare hike, the budget includes layoffs for some management staff, plus eliminating some vacant positions.

When the floor was opened for comments, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she was once again there to “respectfully request” that the board find a place in the budget to restore the full #11 Lincoln bus route. In 2012, as part of several bus line cuts to help fund the CTA’s “de-crowding plan” for additional train service, the agency cancelled bus service on Lincoln between the Brown Line’s Western stop and the Fullerton station. Smith said the strategy hasn’t been a success.

Smith noted that her Lincoln Park ward includes many college students, young professionals, and seniors – the most common demographics for frequent transit users, both locally and nationally, she said. Smith added new developments, including the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, will bring over 1,000 new residences and over 150,000 square feet of retail to the Lincoln Avenue corridor.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who has been leading the charge to restore the #11 ever since service was cut, was more somber when he addressed the board. Pawar said he wants his ward to include affordable neighborhoods where people can age in place. He added that, despite the increased capacity on the Brown Line, the elimination of Lincoln service makes it harder for many of his constituents to get to destinations within the ward.

Alder Ameya Pawar (47th) asking the board to reinstate the 11-Lincoln Ave bus

Ald. Pawar appeared again before the CTA board asking for them to reinstate the 11-Lincoln bus.

One North Side resident testified that the Brown Line is often too crowded to be a satisfactory replacement for the Lincoln bus. Another asked that the existing #11 route be extended north from Fullerton to at least Belmont Avenue, so that she could access a nearby Jewel-Osco.

Bridgeport’s Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th), elected this year, spoke up in favor of restoring the #31 bus, which was cut in 1997. “A lot has changed in our community” since then, Thompson said, noting that there has been a new wave of development in recent years and better transit could help reduce congestion. He proposed a bus route that would serve the 31st/Ashland Orange Line station and the Sox/35th Red Line stop, ending at 31st Street beach. Read more…

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The New Ventra App Will Make Metra Easier to Ride For Millions of People

Update Nov. 18: The Ventra app is available half a day early. Download for Android and iOS

The Ventra app will be released this month, making it more convenient to pay your Metra fare, whether you’re an occasional rider or a daily commuter. The best thing about the app is that it allows you to buy tickets and passes via your smartphone. That means no waiting in line at a ticket booth, using an ill-designed ticket vending machine, or paying a surcharge on board. That’s a big plus if you’re rushing to catch a train and don’t have time to buy a ticket at the station.

Why am I so confident that the Ventra App will be convenient to use? I’m part of the app’s beta testing group, and I recently used the app during a Metra excursion to the South Deering neighborhood for a fried fish snack at Calumet Fisheries. Aside from some visual quirks that I find very annoying, including flashing screens and unpolished buttons and dialog boxes, I found that the app performs all functions flawlessly.

You’ll be able to use the Ventra app to start, stop, and change auto-load preferences on your account, setting how much money you want drawn from your credit or debit card when it dips below $10. The Ventra app also has a built-in transit tracker. It shows the nearest Metra and ‘L’ stations, as well as bus stops, plus the predicted time the train or bus will show up or, in the case of Metra, the scheduled departure time.

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Ald. Reilly Has a Responsible Approach to Off-Street Parking

Rendering of new building (right) in West Loop

The proposed building is on the right. The building on the left, K2 Apartments, has 30 percent less parking than the city’s standard 1:1 ratio, but only about half of those spaces are used. Rendering: Pappageorge Haymes

When it comes to parking management in Chicago, there have been a couple of encouraging developments recently. In September, City Council passed a beefed-up revision of the transit-oriented development ordinance, which makes it easier than ever to build dense, parking-lite developments near train stations. And, recently, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) made some very sensible statements about the fact that downtown buildings shouldn’t have tons of car spaces.

It’s not as if Reilly is particularly progressive when it comes to transportation and public space issues. While he has supported some bike infrastructure in his downtown district, he recently tried to pass an ordinance forcing the Chicago Department of Transportation to remove the Kinzie protected lanes.

He blocked CDOT from installing Divvy stations on the Magnificent Mile, and he was was the driving force behind a new law that severely restricts the use of pedicabs in the central business district. And, last week, he lobbied to ban food carts from portions of dozens of streets in his ward, even though the carts offer consumers affordable food choices and add vitality to the public way.

But Reilly might be one of the most forward-thinking City Council members when it comes to promoting residential buildings without an excessive amount of car parking. He has encouraged developers to only build the number of spaces that is appropriate for the location of the project as well as the expected car-ownership rate of the residents. He has noted that buildings with many floors of garage parking make streets less attractive, and most downtown renters don’t own cars.

For example, Cardiff Mason Development is currently pitching a 38-story residential building at 352 North Union Ave. in River West, near the Jewel-Osco at Kinzie and Desplaines. It would have 373 apartments and 158 tenant car parking spaces, for a ratio of 0.42 spaces per unit. However, DNAinfo reported, the developer originally proposed a “substantially higher” number of off-street spots but lowered the number after a meeting with Reilly.

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UIC Bike/Walk Project Didn’t Get the $17 Million in Federal Funds It Needs

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UIC has proposed eliminating the cul-de-sacs to create a pedestrian plaza, streamlined walking path, and a bike path at Morgan Street and Vernon Park Place between the library and Behavioral Sciences Building.

Unfortunately, a transportation project that has the potential to positively transform the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus was passed over for federal funding. The $29.3 million initiative, called Crossroads & Connections, would make significant changes to campus streets in order to make walking and biking safer and more convenient.

The university was seeking $17.2 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding. This discretionary grant program from the U.S. Department of Transportation finances “transformative” projects that would have at least a citywide impact on safety. The remaining funds would have come from UIC’s parking revenue, because the project would have included replacing asphalt in some parking lots with permeable pavers to reduce the amount of runoff sent to the city’s sewer system.

The only Chicagoland TIGER application to win funding this year was a railroad bridge over the Fox River near Elgin used by Metra trains. A new pedestrian bridge at 35th Street over railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive that’s currently under construction is also funded by TIGER.

Crossroads & Connections would have addressed many dangerous and annoying situations for people walking and bicycling on the UIC campus, including several pet peeves I accumulated while studying there for four years. It would create smoother cycling connections, build new pedestrian plazas, and legitimize walking routes that weren’t being accommodated before.

The university also wants to reduce crashes and injuries by modifying high-risk intersection and crossing points. The plan notes that that 252 people were injured in crashes with people walking and bicycling, from 2008-2012 on the eastern and western portions of the campus, and while making their way between the two areas.

Ever since the Student Recreation Facility opened at Halsted and Polk Streets in the mid-2000s, people have been crossing the streets diagonally and mid-block to access dorms or student center buildings. Some of them walk over planted medians to do so.

The C & C plan calls for creating a wide mid-block crosswalk on Halsted by cutting a gap into the median and adding a “High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk Beacon,” aka a HAWK signal. When pedestrians press a button on the signal, drivers would get a red light. While this is a “beg button” of sorts, it would make mid-block crossing here safer and more convenient.

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