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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

WPB parking infographic

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.

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out New Bikeways Across the City

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Protected bike lanes on Broadway in Uptown. Photo: John Greenfield

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

For a bike-infrastructure geek like myself, this is the most exciting time of the year, when the city is in the thick of rolling out the season’s new lanes. Most of the twenty miles of new bikeways planned for 2014 aren’t as groundbreaking as in previous years, when protected lanes debuted on Kinzie, Dearborn and Milwaukee. However, there are some interesting projects going in this year, and it’s always a treat to ride a bikeway for the first time, a thrill akin to unwrapping a present.

I recently set out to pedal a gaggle of new lanes, a journey that will took me many miles from Edgewater on the North Side to Auburn Gresham on the South Side to Little Village on the West Side. I start my trip at Bryn Mawr and Sheridan, where I’m pleased to see that the Chicago Department of Transportation has solved an annoying problem.

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The new contraflow lane on Bryn Mawr. Photo: John Greenfield

Previously, the street ran one-way westbound under Lake Shore Drive, with a two-lane on-ramp for drivers heading southbound on the drive. That meant that to access the Lakefront Trail, people on bikes had to cross two lanes of right-turning car traffic, and then take the sidewalk or bike through a yellow-striped no man’s land under the drive.

CDOT eliminated one of the two on-ramp lanes to make room for an eastbound contraflow bike lane that escorts cyclists to the lake in relative safety. Along the way, they can enjoy views of a colorful mosaic in the viaduct, featuring scenes from the neighborhood plus images of giant birds, bugs, and fish.

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The Bryn Mawr lanes pass by colorful murals. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s also a new westbound buffered lane here that I take into the Bryn Mawr Historic District, which contains some of my favorite local Art Deco buildings. Heading south on Broadway, past the Southeast Asian business district on Argyle, I see a procession with dozens of orange-clad Buddhist monks. Onlookers put donations in their alms bowls.

CDOT has striped buffered lanes on Broadway from Foster to Wilson, and is currently building protected lanes from Wilson to Montrose, at a total cost of $200,000. This project reconfigures the street from four mixed-traffic lanes to two, which will discourage speeding by drivers. The protected lanes are largely completed, and most cars parked along the PBLs are where they should be, to the left of the curbside bike lanes.

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CDOT Will Add Bike Lanes to Harrison, Improve Jog at State

Harrison/State intersection jog

Harrison jogs at State Street, forcing motorists and bicyclists to make two opposing turns, sometimes around another motorist or bicyclist coming in the opposite direction.

Harrison Street is often used by many bicyclists as a stealth route, particularly since it has one of the rare bridges without open metal grates, sees surprisingly light car traffic, and is the only east-west route that connects the South Loop and UIC. Harrison is marked as a “crosstown bike route” from Loomis Avenue (1400 W) to Michigan Avenue (200 E) in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, so it’s due for an upgrade.

However, Harrison isn’t perfect: It’s too wide and thus invites motorists to speed, it lacks bicycle infrastructure, and its intersection at State Street is a bit confusing because the two sides are offset. We originally reported that Harrison would get bike lanes back in April, but have since obtained more details.

A majority of the 0.9 mile project length – from Desplaines Street to Wabash Avenue – will have protected bike lanes, and buffered bike lanes would be used in other locations “where lane widths and vehicle paths preclude barrier-protection.”

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Lakeview SSA Readies Placemaking Plan For Lincoln Avenue

Lincoln Avenue & SSA #27 placemaking project

Lee Crandell, left, shows drawings of the proposed “Lincoln Crossing” place the special service area he manages wants to build this year.

Lisa Santos hopes that a new Lincoln Avenue Placemaking Plan will “slow down traffic – people, too – on Lincoln Avenue, so they can see our independent businesses.” Santos owns Southport Grocery and also chairs the West Lakeview Special Service Area #27, one of Chicago’s 44 business improvement districts. The SSA and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are working with Site Design Group to highlight Lincoln’s street corners and “keep people walking” down the street.

The project includes just over half a mile of Lincoln, from Diversey to Belmont, and follows up on the Lakeview Area Master Plan. Santos said they wanted to “stitch together pedestrian activity” along a street that has a different mix of uses than other parts of the business improvement district. Right now, Lincoln feels a little overlooked: It was long one of the North Side’s busiest streetcar corridors, but the 2012 loss of the #11 Lincoln bus route has hurt retailers’ visibility.

Lincoln Avenue, she said, has more homes and professional offices and less continuous retail: “It’s offices interspersed with retail.” Santos added that the plan will add “gateways,” or sidewalk structures, that will encourage people to “stop, slow down, park their bikes, sit down, and share books” – Santos mentioned the take-a-book, leave-a-book “libraries” in Wicker Park and Logan Square repurposed from newspaper racks. The gateways will also serve to give the neighborhood a brand, and to visually connect each block to the next.

Chamber president Heather Way Kitzes said that her favorite component of the plan would be the colorful “Lincoln Crossing” at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport. The plan paints curb extensions of green and blue painted dots, which mark different areas for moving and lingering, create a square around the angled intersection, and reduces walking distances across the streets.

The SSA plans to use inexpensive planters and seating to create informal gathering spaces around the intersection’s anchors, like St. Alphonsus Church, Athenaeum Theater, Chase Bank, and the Golden Apple restaurant, all of which ensure a steady stream of foot traffic. Designers also propose an artificial turf dome for children to play on, outside the church’s front steps.

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Lack of Planning Along Orange Line Resulted in Missed Opportunities

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CTA’s Orange Line runs within a heavily industrial freight rail corridor. Photo: Tripp, via Flickr

Ever since it opened in 1993, the CTA’s Orange Line has become the public transit backbone of the Southwest Side, with over 60,000 rides on an average weekday. But unlike the patrons of many other ‘L’ lines, who step out of their neighborhood stations onto commercial streets lined with restaurants, shops, and other businesses, Orange Line riders are more likely to see bus turnarounds, parking lots, and forbidding industrial corridors.

A new report by a University of Chicago graduate student, presented at this year’s Transportation Research Board meeting, suggests that those conditions are holding back the full potential of the city’s investment – and has serious implications for the rest of the Chicagoland region. The paper, by Julie Cooper, a graduating masters student at the Harris School of Public Policy, looks at the Orange Line’s effect on economic development in the neighborhoods around three stations: Western, Kedzie, and Pulaski.

It finds little evidence that the opening of the Orange Line brought job growth to the area around those stations, or that jobs in the area relocated to be near them. “Transit stations alone,” Cooper concludes, “will not definitely spur commercial development. Complementary and holistic planning is needed.”

The study identifies three factors that may be holding back job growth along the Orange Line. First, zoning was not updated when the line was built. Much of the land around the three stations studied is zoned for manufacturing, which prohibits the neighborhood-serving retail — like corner stores, hardware stores, and restaurants — that clusters around other ‘L’ stations all over the city. On top of that, most residential streets near stations were zoned to allow only single-family homes. This prevents the construction of three-flats and courtyard-sized buildings, which provide a large customer base that supports local businesses in other transit-oriented neighborhoods across the city.

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