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Posts from the "Design" Category

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95 Problems: A Walk Down the South Side’s Most Notorious “Stroad”

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Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn crash. Photo: John Greenfield

[A version of this article also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

“I avoid 95th Street as much as possible for my safety and sanity,” said Beverly resident and Streetsblog contributor Anne Alt, in the wake of a horrific multi-car crash on the massive road earlier this month. This senseless disaster in west suburban Oak Lawn injured almost a dozen people and killed three, including two nuns.

On Sunday, October 5, at around 4:30 p.m., witnesses noticed retired contractor Edward Carthans, eighty-one, slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup near 95th and Western, police said. Carthans refused help and instead sped west on 95th, colliding with three cars at Keeler. He kept driving, blew a red light at Cicero, and then veered into the eastbound lanes, causing an eleven-car pile-up. After his truck became airborne, he was killed, along with Sister Jean Stickney, 86, and Sister Kab Kyoung Kim, 48, who were driving home from a shopping trip.

“It’s a miracle that we don’t have serious crashes on 95th more often than we do,” Alt commented on Streetsblog. She noted that much of 95th is a “stroad,” a street/road hybrid with straight geometry and multiple, wide lanes that encourage highway speeds within populated areas. “The mix of congestion and speeding — depending on location and time of day — can be quite scary, even when the situation isn’t as extreme as what happened on Sunday.”

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95th Street near the Oak Lawn Metra stop. Photo: John Greenfield

Before this tragedy occurred, I was already planning to walk the entire length of 95th in Chicago. So far, I’ve hiked more than a dozen streets, as part of my ongoing quest to see as much of the city on foot as possible. After 19th Ward Alderman Matthew O’Shea recently blamed Beverly’s lackluster retail scene on a supposed dearth of parking along 95th, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance suggested I stroll the 7.5-mile street. It’s one of the least pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares in town, but I’m never one to say no to a sustainable transportation challenge.

When I get off Metra’s Southwest Service line in Oak Lawn on a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon, I gaze at the bleak, seven-lane expanse of 95th and wonder if I’d bitten off more than I can chew. As I trudge east through several blocks of big-box retail, I encounter almost no pedestrians. There are a handful of people on bikes, but they’re all riding on the sidewalk.

I get an eerie feeling as I approach 95th and Cicero, the gigantic intersection where Carthan’s trail of destruction ended. Next to an empty storefront, there are two white, wooden crosses for Stickney and Kim, plus a red, wooden heart for Carthans. Stuffed animals and flowers are scattered at the bases of the memorials, and nearby someone has lit a votive candle for Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations. A wide groove, between the sidewalk and the curb, is still filled with shattered auto glass.

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Active Trans Launches a New Crusade Against Dangerous Intersections

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McCormick and Touhy in Skokie was ranked the worst intersection for pedestrians in suburban Cook County. Image: Google Maps

The Active Transportation Alliance was instrumental in creating the Transit Future campaign, with the goal of creating a dedicated funding source for regional transit. Now they’re also pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure, while raising awareness of Chicagoland’s many hazardous intersections, with their new Safe Crossings initiative.

“It’s really important that we recognize the challenges that pedestrians face across the region,” Active Trans’ director of campaigns, Kyle Whitehead, told me. “People tend to assume that these dangerous and difficult intersections are going to stay that way. We want people to realize that there are proven solutions to address these issues. If we can raise awareness and muster resources, there’s the potential to solve these problems throughout the region.”

This morning, Active Trans released a list of ten of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Chicago, and ten of the most hazardous junctions in suburban Cook County. Topping the urban list is the notoriously chaotic North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park, with 43 reported pedestrian and bike crashes between 2006 and 2012. In the ‘burbs, the worst-ranked junction is Skokie’s McCormick and Touhy intersection, where two six-lane roads cross next to the North Shore Channel Trail bike-and-pedestrian path.

The crash data, provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, was only one of the factors Active Trans used to compile the lists. They also incorporated feedback from their planning and outreach staff, plus public input. The group received more than 800 responses to an online survey that was posted on their blog, shared via social media, and emailed to members. Here are the full lists:

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An Update on the Lawrence Streetscape and the Ravenswood Metra Stop

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A curb bump-out and a pedestrian island makes it much easier to cross Lawrence than before, while a new bike lane encourages cycling. Photo: John Greenfield

The long-awaited Lawrence streetscape and road diet is is almost complete, and the project has already transformed a corridor that had been unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists into a much more livable street. Meanwhile, construction is also wrapping up on a new, supersized Metra station house on Lawrence.

First announced in 2010 and launched in July of 2013, the streetscape has changed the stretch of Lawrence between Western and Clark from a four-lane speedway into a much calmer street, with two mixed-traffic lanes plus a turn lane. This was formerly a “reverse bottleneck,” since it was the only section of Lawrence in the city with four lanes. The road diet has made room for wider sidewalks, which will provide space for café seating, plus non-buffered bike lanes, where there were formerly only shared-lane markings.

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The same intersection as the above photo, Lawrence and Seeley, before the road diet. Image: Google Maps

The section from Ravenswood – where the new Metra stop is located – to Western is largely completed. Many pedestrian islands have been built. In a few locations, there are also curb bump-outs that reduce crossing distances for people traversing Lawrence. Crosswalks made of eye-catching red asphalt, stamped in a brick pattern, have been put in at all intersections.

Workers have installed old-fashioned acorn-style streetlamps, as well as standard inverted-U bike racks, according to to Brad Gregorka, an assistant to 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. Benches and trash cans will soon be added. Two Divvy bike-share stations have been returned or relocated to spots by the Metra stop and at Lawrence/Leavitt.

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Neighbors Meet Artist Whose Work Will Grace Damen ‘L’ Stop

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The Damen station house. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

On Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority hosted a public meeting to introduce Wicker Park residents to artist Gaston Noques, whose team will create a new work for the Damen Blue Line station, adjacent to the busy Wicker Park intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen. The ‘L’ stop will receive substantial improvements as part of the Your New Blue project, which will also rehab the neighboring California and Western stations on the O’Hare Line. Noques’ artwork will remain at the Damen stop for at least five years.

The Damen station will be closed from October 20th to December 22nd, with CTA trains running express between Division and Western. While the station is closed, construction crews will repair and repaint the Damen station house, as well as install new platforms with improved lighting, new signage, and new bike racks. The CTA will temporarily increase service on the #56 Milwaukee bus line to serve Wicker Park and Bucktown customers while the station is closed.

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Nogues’ “Air Garden” installation at LAX Airport. Photo: Joshua White

The Damen stop is registered as a local and national historic landmark. Built at the turn of the century, it currently handles about 12 million riders a year. The remodel aims to preserve the station’s historic integrity while making the station safer, more comfortable, and more pleasant to use. “[The station is] really cinematic,” Wicker Park resident Ashley Galloway commented during the meeting. ”Every time I’m at La Colombe [a neighboring coffee house], I feel like I’m in a movie. It’s the heart of this neighborhood.”

The CTA selected a proposal by Nogues’ Los Angeles-based art studio Ball-Nogues from 100 submissions received during a public call for artists. ”Our environment is very important,” Nogues told the attendees at the meeting, held at the Silver Room jewelry boutique. He showed photos of his design and fabrication studio, which is full of heavy machinery and large artworks in various states of assembly. “When you’re doing something, when you’re fabricating something, you have that connection to that artwork being made… Unlike a lot of people, we make what we design.”

Nogues compared his studio’s design and fabrication techniques to those of automobile magnate Henry Ford. “To create the Model T, he had to invent the production line,” the artisit said. “He had to invent the production line to create what we have outside right now — [car] traffic.”

Ball-Nogues’ version of the production line uses custom-built assembly machinery, as well as proprietary computer software that allows them to visualize many different potential versions of a project much faster than traditional modeling, Nogues said. Their creative process is rooted in playing with materials in innovative ways: inflating metal, burning items with a lens, or creating massive papier mâché works with concrete.

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CDOT Is Finally Moving Forward With the Loop BRT Project

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Rendering of BRT on Washington at LaSalle.

Last July, City Hall broke the news that the start of construction on the $32.5 million Central Loop BRT project was being delayed from this fall until at least next year, if not later. That spurred concern that the project might be in jeopardy, or that it might be a low priority for Mayor Emanuel. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation today announced it has launched the bidding process for BRT system, as well as the $43 million Union Station Transit Center, and the $75 million Washington/Wabash CTA station.

All three projects will break ground by March 31, according to CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. The transit center and BRT route will be in operation by the end of 2015, and the station will open in 2016, she said. “Any one of these would be a big deal,” she said. “But it’s exciting for downtown, the neighborhoods, and the region that we’re working on all three – there are synergies between these projects.”

Walter Hook, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which is consulting on Chicago’s Loop and Ashland BRT projects, previously speculated that Mayor Emanuel had pushed back these initiatives for political reasons. It seems likely that the Loop BRT construction work, and ensuing traffic headaches, won’t begin until after the February 24 election.

The Loop BRT system will feature dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, running between Union Station and Michigan Avenue, plus several other time-saving features. CDOT predicts these will make a westbound trip across the Loop 15 percent shorter, and an eastbound trip 25 percent shorter.

Eight extra-long stations, averaging 90 feet in length, will be built on Washington (at Franklin, LaSalle, Clark, and State) and on Madison (at Franklin, LaSalle, Dearborn, and State). The stations will be long enough to accommodate two articulated buses at a time.

Seven existing stops will be eliminated on Madison (Clark, Wells, and Wacker), Canal (Washington, Monroe, and Van Buren), and Clinton (Van Buren). Having stops roughly every other block, instead of every block, will definitely speed things up.

The buses will get a type of traffic signal prioritization at seven intersections, most of which already give pedestrians a head start on motor vehicle traffic. When pedestrians get the early walk signal, a special signal will also give buses a head start over cars. Since buses won’t be turning right at these intersections, there shouldn’t be conflicts with pedestrians.

All stations will feature level boarding, which will eliminate the time needed to make buses “kneel” for seniors and people with disabilities. However, for starters, only the Madison/Dearborn station will feature prepaid boarding.

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Emily Fredbloom Dies After Taxi Crash on the LaSalle Street Speedway


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The 1400 block of North LaSalle, where Emily Fredbloom was struck.

Last Friday, Emily Fredbloom, 26, died from injuries sustained in late August, when she was struck by a cab driver while crossing LaSalle Street in Old Town.

On the Near North Side, LaSalle is a wide, five-lane street, which encourages speeding by drivers, and creates wide crossing distances for pedestrians. These issues were, or may have been, factors in a several recent serious crashes on this stretch of LaSalle.

On March 23, 2012, around 2:30 a.m., law student Jesse Bradley, 32, was crossing LaSalle westbound at Division Street (1200 North). Southbound motorist Bianca Garcia fatally struck him and fled the scene. Witnesses said she driving at a high rate of speed, and tests found she was intoxicated. Last July, Garcia was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Last Tuesday, September 16, around 4:50 a.m., a 23-year-old man was attempting to cross LaSalle at Chicago Avenue (800 North). Witnesses said the man “darted” across the street and was hit by a southbound female motorist, according to police. The man was critically injured and the driver was not cited.

In the most recent case, Fredbloom, a resident of south-suburban Lansing, was trying to cross westbound on the 1400 block of North LaSalle on Saturday, August 30, around 2:05 a.m., according to Officer Janel Sedovic from News Affairs. Witnesses say Fredbloom, who worked at a nurse at Northwestern Hospital, “bolted out into the street,” according to Sedovic.

Fredbloom was struck by a northbound cab driver, Sedovic said. The driver, a 51-year-old man, was cited for failure to exercise due care for a pedestrian in the roadway, and failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash.

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Car-Free Cappleman Touts Wilson Station Rehab as a Catalyst for TOD

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Rendering of the new station, including the restored Gerber building.

At a community meeting Wednesday on the upcoming reconstruction of the Red Line’s Wilson stop, 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman argued that one of the best things about the new station is that it will encourage walkable, transit-friendly development.

“One of the things I’ve pushed for as alderman is transit-oriented development, [which is a] good, sound urban planning practice,” he told residents during the hearing at Truman College. “We want to create more density closest to the ‘L’ stop.”

Cappleman noted that 45 percent of ward residents don’t own cars. “I am one of those people,” he said. “We also found that that 50 percent of the disposable income that you spend is spent outside the ward. So if we are going to make this a livable, walkable community, we need to make sure you can do your shopping here. “

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Rendering of the new main entrance on the south side of Wilson.

He added that the ward has been working with the mayor’s office and various city departments on strategies to fill empty storefronts near the station. “From my discussions with many developers, they are banging on the doors wanting to do something, so you’re going to see some exciting things, and it’s because of this Wilson ‘L’ stop,” Cappleman said. “The trick is making sure that, while we do that, we keep [the ward] as diverse as possible.”

At the meeting, officials updated residents on construction plans for the $203 million project, a massive overhaul of a station that RedEye readers have thrice voted Chicago’s grungiest. Originally built in 1923, the station has badly deteriorated over the last century, and it is not ADA accessible.

The new station will function as an additional transfer point between the Red and Purple lines, which means Uptown residents will be able to catch the Evanston Express for a faster ride downtown or to Evanston during rush hours. To accommodate Purple Line service, there will be two different “island” platforms, with canopies to shelter riders from the elements.

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Exploring New Bikeways on Marquette Road

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Biking the new buffered lanes in the Marquette Park neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, I navigated a couple of Chicago’s newest bikeways on Marquette Road, named for Father Jacques Marquette, one of the first Europeans to map out the northern Mississippi River. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently striped buffered lanes on Marquette (generally 6700 South) between Stony Island (1600 East) and Cottage Grove (800 East), and between Damen (2000 West) and California (2800 West).

Marquette, a relatively low-traffic, two-lane street, has the potential to become a bike-friendly east-west route, running about nine miles from the city’s western boundary at Cicero (4800 West) all the way to the Lakefront Trail. The upgrades to these one-mile stretches are a step in the right direction.

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This bike path paralleling Marquette Road through Jackson Park is a low-stress way to get to the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

At Stony Island, Marquette connects to a nicely marked, two-way off-street bike path that runs half a mile through Jackson Park to an underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive that escorts cyclists to the Lakefront Trail. Making Marquette west of Stony Island more bikeable will create a nice, low-stress route to the beaches.

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Buffered lane at Marquette and Stony Island. Photo: John Greenfield

The stretch of Marquette from Stony Island to Cottage Grove, in the Woodlawn community, features curbside bike lanes with a buffer striped to the left and no car parking lane. The lanes were striped on the existing pavement, which is in decent shape, rather than freshly laid asphalt. It would be a nice touch to add flexible posts to the buffers to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

On the current Chicago Bike Map, Marquette is shown as having non-buffered bike lanes on the entire stretch between Stony Island and Central Park Avenue (3600 West). However, unlike on streets where CDOT has scraped out conventional bike lanes and replaced them with buffered lanes, there was no evidence of the old bike lanes on the Stony Island to Cottage Grove segment. This suggests that bike lanes were striped several years ago but weren’t refreshed, so they faded to black, or perhaps the street was repaved but the lanes weren’t restriped.

Immediately west of Cottage Grove, a previously striped conventional bike lane is still easy to see. But most of the roughly 3.5-mile stretch between Cottage Grove and Damen, which is supposed to have conventional lanes on its entire stretch, is hit-or-miss. There are plenty of segments where the lanes are barely visible, and others where they disappear completely. All told, I’d estimate that only about half of this stretch has usable bike lanes.

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Although there are bike lane signs on this stretch of Marquette, there really isn’t a bike lane here. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago bike lanes are usually built using federal grants that can only be used for building new infrastructure, not for maintaining the old. This federal money can be used for upgrading existing conventional lanes to buffered or protected lanes, but when Chicago bike lanes are re-striped as-is, the work is generally funded as part of a repaving project, or bankrolled by the local ward. CDOT currently has no dedicated funding for bike lane restriping, which is why so many of our older lanes are in such bad shape. City Hall really needs to allocate dedicated funding for bikeway maintenance.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bikeways on Central Park Avenue and Lake Street

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Riding in the Lake Street protected lane. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the Mayor Emanuel’s goal of building 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes in his first term, the Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along building new bikeways. Last week, I checked out buffered lanes on Central Park Avenue, between Jackson and Franklin boulevards, and protected lanes on Lake Street, from Central Park to Laramie Avenue.

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Buffered lane on Central Park by Garfield Park Conservatory. Photo: John Greenfield

Let’s start with the less controversial of the two bikeways, Central Park. As has happened in many other parts of town, CDOT has upgraded existing conventional lanes here by adding additional dead space on one side of each lane.

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On this section, near the Garfield Park field house, the buffer is on the left. Photo: John Greenfield

In areas where there’s no parking lane, or a parking lane that gets little use, the buffer has been striped on the left side of the bike lane, to help keep cyclists away from car traffic. In sections where there is a heavily used parking lane, the buffer is striped on the right side of the bike lane, to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone. Pavement quality is decent, and workers have patched some potholes with asphalt.

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CDOT Previews Chicago’s Next Round of New Bikeways

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New protected bike lanes on Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The quarterly meetings of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council are a good place to get up to speed on Chicago’s latest bike developments. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with updates on bike lane construction, off-street trails, Divvy bike-share, and more. The sessions take place during business hours, but if your schedule allows you to attend, you can get on the mailing list by contacting Carlin Thomas, a consultant with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program, at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton kicked things off by introducing MBAC’s four new community representatives. All four are seasoned bike advocates, so they’ll likely be an asset to the meetings, bringing on-the-ground knowledge of their respective districts.

Anne Alt, who works at the bike law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor) and volunteers with Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, will represent the South and Southwest Sides. Kathy Schubert, the founder of the Chicago Cycling Club who successfully lobbied CDOT to start installing non-slip “Kathy plates” on bridge decks, will cover the North Side.

Miguel Morales, a former networker for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children and current West Town Bikes board member, will represent the West Side. And Bob Kastigar, a longtime activist who launched petition drives in support of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann and the proposal for a safety overhaul on Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park, will cover the Northwest Side.

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Kastigar, Morales, Schubert, and Alt. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld somberly noted that Chicago has seen seven bike fatalities this year, up from three by this time last year. The crashes generally took place on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. All but one involved a driver, and the victims ranged in age from 20-year-old Jacob Bass to 59-year-old Suai Xie.

CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden provided an update on the department’s efforts to put in 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes by 2015. So far, 67.75 miles have been installed, with 19.5 miles built this year, Amsden said. An additional 23.5 miles of federally funded lanes are slated for construction in spring 2015. These include Lawrence (Central to Central Park) and Milwaukee (Lawrence to Elston).

Currently, 14 miles of bikeways are going through the approval process and could be built this fall or next spring. These include Elston (Webster to the northernmost intersection of Elston and Milwaukee, near Peterson), Kedzie (Milwaukee to Addison), and Pershing (King to Oakwood). Another 7.5 miles are tied to street repaving projects, and are slated for construction this fall or in spring 2015. These include Armitage (Western to Damen) and Augusta (Central Park to Grand). Presumably, the lion’s share of all of these upcoming bikeways will be buffered bike lanes, rather than protected lanes.

Amsden reported that recently built buffered and protected lanes on Broadway in Uptown have been getting positive reviews from business owners, pedestrians, and cyclists. A brand-new stretch of PBLs and BBLs on Lake Street from Central Park to Austin means you can now ride five miles from Damen to the city limits on next-generation lanes, albeit it under the shadow and noise of ‘L’ tracks. Buffered lanes were recently striped on Marquette, from Cottage Grove to Stony Island, and from California to Damen.

“Next we’re going to start focusing on closing the gaps in our network,” Amsden said. “We’re really trying to create a cohesive system by looking at areas of concern, like difficult intersections.”

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