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Sposato Drops Opposition to Jeff Park Bump-outs; More Safety Infra Planned

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A driver who failed to yield fatally struck Noah Katz and injured his mother. The planned bump-outs could help prevent similar crashes. Photo courtesy of the family

After a reckless driver fatally struck Noah Katz, 2, and injured his mother in a Jefferson Park crosswalk last month, 45th Ward alderman John Arena and the city front-burnered existing plans to install curb bump-outs at the intersection. But alderman Nicholas Sposato of the 38th Ward, located just south of Arena’s district spoke out against the project, arguing it would inconvenience motorists.

Fortunately, Sposato recently saw the light on the issue and dropped his resistance, and the proposal is moving forward. What’s more, several other pedestrian safety improvements are in the works for the area, including within Sposato’s own ward.

At about 4:10 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, Noah and his mother Rachel, 39, were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue. Van driver Alexander Vasquez, 48, was heading west on Giddings and turned south on Central, striking them. Noah was pronounced dead on the scene; Rachel was hospitalized with minor injuries. Vasquez was issued citations for failure to stop at a stop sign, failure to reduce speed, and failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, police said.

In mid-2015, 45th Ward residents had voted to use ward money for the sidewalk extensions at the intersection, which would shorten crossing distances and help calm traffic. To install bump-outs at the crash site, first rush hour parking restrictions need to be removed on this stretch of Central. The parking restrictions are currently in place northbound from 7-9 am and southbound from 4-6 p.m., with the theory being that clearing the parking lanes facilitates traffic heading to and from the Kennedy Expressway.

The restrictions on Central also exist in Sposato’s ward, which had previously expressed resistance to lifting the rush hour parking ban, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh told me last month. In late November Arena introduced an ordinance to City Council to remove the parking restrictions on Central within his ward.

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Good News: IDOT Reconsiders Trading Car Lanes for Bus Lanes on the Drive

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After reviewing recent data on travel demand, the department is considering the possibility of creating bus-only lanes on the drive without widening the road. Image: IDOT

On a cold afternoon earlier this month, almost a year after the Illinois Department of Transportation held a hearing to update the public on the “Redefine the Drive” project to rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, IDOT hosted another community meeting to discuss design alternatives. While it’s encouraging to see the state proposing a somewhat less car-centric version of the shoreline highway, their plans still leave a lot to be desired.

The hearing started out with a quick update work to create separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists on the Lakefront Trail. Work on building a bike-only “commuter trail” on the South Side between 31st and 51st is progressing faster than originally anticipated, and there will be hearings about doing a similar project on the North Side next year. In fact, the North Side path separation work could be completed years ahead the North LSD reconstruction.

Next the discussion turned to the highway reconstruction. Residents have submitted over 1,200 ideas for improving Lake Shore Drive by various means. IDOT has already rejected many of these suggestions due to cost, as well as concerns about reducing so-called “Level of Service,” i.e. a measure of unimpeded traffic flow for drivers.

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A project is currently underway to separate pedestrian and bike traffic on the Lakefront Trail between 31st and 51st. There will be hearings next year about doing similar work on the North Side. Photo: John Greenfield

Several ideas for tunnels and/or causeways (roads on an embankment above a body of water) were scrapped due to expense. These would have involved either digging an express tunnel under existing North Lake Shore or building a massive tunnel or causeway bypass extending deep into the lake.

The state also rejected proposals to build a light rail line as part of the reconstruction (along with any hope of heavy rail in the future) due to cost. While no map was provided, an IDOT official did mention they had considered a plan for an 11-mile line that would have run from the McCormick Place convention center all the way to Loyola University in Rogers Park. The $4 billion price tag for the proposal was considered to be a deal-breaker.

Another proposal that the state threw out was to create at-grade intersections at Montrose, Wilson, and Lawrence, eliminating the viaducts. A possible motivation for this idea is the backlash from some local residents against homeless encampments in some of these underpasses. While IDOT is open to a possible reduction in lanes on the drive in this stretch due to relatively low traffic, they have already eliminated the possibility of at-grade intersections because the stoplights would delay motorists on the highway.

The proposals that IDOT hasn’t yet rejected include some very bus-friendly ideas. These include several managed lane options, as well as dedicated bus lanes. At the December 2015 meeting IDOT project and environmental studies section chief John Baczek indicated that adding dedicated bus lanes would probably require widening the highway, because it was unlikely existing car lanes would be converted to bus-only lanes. But, surprisingly, at the recent hearing there were signs that the department may be willing to convert two of the existing lanes after all.

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City Is Wrapping Up Loop Link Improvements on Canal, Prepaid Boarding Pilot

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The new mid-block crosswalk and pedestrian island on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield

About a year after the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor debuted downtown, the city is continuing to improve the route. Back in August the Union Station Transit Center opened, making it easier to transfer between buses, Metra, and Amtrak, and helping to organize West Loop traffic. Recently the Chicago Department of Transportation added new stretches of red bus-only lanes on Jackson and Canal streets, and completed other changes to Canal to sort out the different travel modes.

Previously there was a northbound conventional bike lane on Canal, which was difficult to use due to the chaotic mix of CTA buses, private buses, taxis, and private cars. As part of Loop Link, the Canal bike lane was removed and a two-way protected bike lane was built a block west on Clinton Street.

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Canal Street, as it appeared prior to the recent street remix. Image: Google Street View

CTA buses on Canal previously picked up and dropped off passengers at the train station via a southbound lane on the otherwise northbound street, separated from other traffic via a concrete Jersey barrier. That bus loading area has been moved to the transit center, located on a former parking lot directly south of the station, with a stairway, elevator, and tunnel under Jackson Boulevard providing a car-free pedestrian route to the Metra and Amtrak platforms.

The old bus lane in front of the station on Canal has been replaced with a cabstand. There are two mixed-traffic through lanes to the right of that.

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The current configuration on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield

A median has been striped in the middle of the road, and then there’s the red bus lane, which also has a wheelchair symbol on it to indicate that people with disabilities may use it to access the station. To the right of that is a curbside lane that may used by private vehicle drivers from drop-offs, pick-ups, and right turns.

A mid-block crosswalk with a pedestrian island has also been added in front of the station. Previously the Jersey wall prevented people from crossing the street in this location.

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Discussing TIFs, Trump and Boneheaded Road Users on “Chicago Newsroom”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining veteran newsman Ken Davis on his CAN TV program “Chicago Newsroom” to discuss recent local and national transportation stories. We had a spirited conversation that threatened to become a heated debate when the question of whether lawbreaking cycling is a bigger problem than reckless driving came up. But overall it was a fun dialogue with an insightful interviewer. If you’re short on time, here are some of the highlights.

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North LaSalle Street Is a Deathtrap for Pedestrians. How Can We Fix It?

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LaSalle and Chicago, where Phillip Levato Jr. was fatally struck. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

Days after a man was fatally struck by a hit-and-run SUV driver in River North, there were still chunks of road salt on the west side of LaSalle Street just north of Chicago Avenue. According to a security guard at a nearby building, city workers hosed the victim’s blood off the street after the crash and spread the salt to keep the pavement from icing over in the freezing weather.

According to police, 23-year-old Phillip “Philly” Lovato Jr. was in a crosswalk at the intersection at about 4 AM on Sunday, November 20, when he was run over by the southbound driver of a white 2016 Jeep Compass with the Indiana license plate number BU3440. The driver continued south without stopping to render aid.

Levato, of the 1300 block of West 32nd Place in Bridgeport, was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 4:35 AM, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Then, on Wednesday, November 23, 26-year-old Kyle Hawkins of the 2600 block of South 13th Avenue in Broadview turned himself in to Chicago police, the department says. Hawkins was charged with a felony for failing to report an accident resulting in a death.

Levato was at least the fourth pedestrian fatally struck within the last four years on this six-block stretch of LaSalle between Chicago, at 800 North, and Schiller, at 1400 North, making it one of the deadliest sections of roadway in the city. It appears that the layout of LaSalle, a broad, five-lane road that essentially functions as an extension of Lake Shore Drive, was a contributing factor in these tragedies.

On Sunday, March 24, 2012, around 2:30 AM, 32-year-old Northwestern University law student Jesse Bradley was crossing LaSalle westbound on Division when he was struck and killed by Bianca Garcia, 21 at the time, who was speeding south, according to police. Garcia, who was found to have twice the legal blood alcohol limit and a cocktail of hard drugs in her system, fled the scene but was soon arrested. She was eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison.

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After Noah Katz’ Death, Ald. Sposato Prioritizes Moving Cars Over Saving Lives

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Noah Katz

It’s bad enough that it took the death of a small child at a Northwest Side intersection to spur the city into moving forward with prior plans to improve safety at that location. But it’s downright shameful that 38th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato is still pushing back against the project on the grounds that it will inconvenience drivers.

At about 4:10 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, Noah Katz, 2, and his mother Rachel, 39, were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue in the Portage Park community area, according to police. Van driver Alexander Vasquez, 48, was heading west on Giddings and turned south on Central, striking them. Noah was pronounced dead on the scene; Rachel was hospitalized with minor injuries. Vasquez was issued one citation for failure to stop at a stop sign, two for failure to reduce speed, and two for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, police said.

According to local alderman John Arena’s office, in mid-2015 45th Ward residents voted via the participatory budget process to use the district’s discretionary “menu money” to install curb bump-outs at several locations, including the crash site. Spurred by Noah’s death, Arena and the Chicago Department of Transportation are working to get the curb extensions, which will shorten pedestrian crossing distances and help calm traffic, installed at Giddings/Central as soon as possible.

To install bump-outs at the crash site, first rush hour parking restrictions need to be removed on this stretch of Central. The parking restrictions are currently in place northbound from 7-9 am and southbound from 4-6 p.m., with the theory being that clearing the parking lanes facilitates traffic heading to and from the Kennedy Expressway.

The restrictions on Central also exist south of Arena’s district in the 38th Ward, which has previously expressed resistance to lifting the rush hour parking ban, Arena’s chief of staff Own Brugh told me last week. Therefore, Arena planned to negotiate with Aderman Sposato to only have the restrictions lifted in the 45th Ward on Central south of Lawrence.

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Take a Virtual Bike Ride on the New 35th Street Bike and Pedestrian Bridge

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The new bridge, viewed from the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

Thanks to an elegant new bridge over Lake Shore Drive, in the shadow of the Stephen Douglas memorial pillar, it’s now possible to bike directly down 35th Street from Bronzeville to the Lake Trail.

Billed as the city’s longest pedestrian bridge, spanning 620 feet and six Metra and South Shore Line railroad tracks, the single-cable suspension bridge was officially opened last week. It’s the first of five new bridges planned over the drive on the South Side.

Designed by Teng and Associates, the S-shaped span replaced a rusty old bridge build in 1933, which required users to climb a set of stairs and one end and descend a staircase at the other, making it impassible for wheelchair users and inconvenient for bike riders. The new bridge has a 20-foot-wide deck, and the A-shaped center support pylon is about 120 feet tall. The $26 million project was bankrolled with federal and state funds.

The bridge creates a new connection to a new arts and recreation center at Ellis Park, featuring a gym with basketball courts, an indoor pool, rooms for art and education programs, a fitness center and studio, a meeting hall, and music and theater performance spaces.

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After Noah Katz’s Death, Ald. Arena and CDOT Commit to Fixing Intersection

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Noah and Rachel Katz. Photo courtesy of the family

In the wake of the crash that tragically took the life of two-year-old Noah Katz and injured his mother Rachel, 39, as they crossed the street on Sunday afternoon in Portage Park, safety improvements are planned for the intersection.

At about 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Noah and Rachel were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue, according to police. Van driver Alexander Vasquez, 48, was heading west on Giddings and turned south on Central, striking them. Noah was pronounced dead on the scene; Rachel was hospitalized with injuries that were believed to be non-life-threatening.

Vasquez was issued one citation for failure to stop at a stop sign, two for failure to reduce speed, and two for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, police said. According to personal injury attorney Michael Keating (a Streetsblog sponsor) the multiple counts reflect the fact that there were two victims.

Keating added that the fact that Vasquez’s speed contributed to the crash could eventually lead to more serious charges. If, after further investigation, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office determines that the driver acted “recklessly,” he could potentially face felony charges.

However, the police recently told 45th Ward alderman John Arena they do not expect the charges to be upgraded, according to Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh.

“I am deeply saddened by Sunday’s tragic [crash],” said the alderman in a statement. “It is every parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child, and I send the family my deepest condolences.” He noted that a crowdfunding page has been created in support of the family. So far over $22,000 has been raised.

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Ped Improvements Made by School on Busy Chicago Avenue, More Are Needed

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The Chicago Academy for the Arts. Photo: Anna Weaver

Over the summer administrators and parents from the Chicago Academy for the Arts, a private school located at 1010 West Chicago Avenue contacted us about their campaign to improve pedestrian safety near the school. In particular they were concerned about the Chicago/Milwaukee/Ogden intersection, one of the most crash-prone in the city, located a block west of the school.

For example, Anna Weaver, whose 14-year-old son attends the school, was worried that it was unsafe for him to cross Chicago south on Ogden after classes to access an CTA bus stop just east of the six-way intersection, in order to ride home to the Near North Side. She said the administrators and parents of nearby had contacted the city’s 311 line, local alderman Walter Burnett, and the Chicago Department of Transportation several times asking for crosswalks at the six-way to be restriped plus other safety improvements, but had seemed to make no traction.

In September I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about their request. I also inquired about plans to simplify the confusing signal patterns for northwest-bound traffic at the south leg of Milwaukee/Ogden – something Streetsblog’s Steven Vance has been advocating for for years, which CDOT had previously said was in the works.

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Big Marsh Is a Hit With Local Cyclists, But It’s Still Challenging to Bike There

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A rider catching air on the medium terrain trail. Photo: Derrick James

Sunday’s grand opening for Big Marsh bike park and nature reserve was a long-anticipated celebration. If you’re not familiar with Big Marsh or its history, Streetsblog’s John Greenfield previously covered the plans and the challenges of accessing the site by bike.

I started my day by biking to the Pullman Porter Museum to meet up with a ride organized by Slow Roll Chicago and two other groups coming from further north. From there we rode east 103rd Street, a wide, high-speed road, finding safety in numbers. Having a group of over 50 people) allowed us to take the center lane while passing the highway ramps that create dangerous situations when riding alone or in a small group. After turning off 103rd, the wide shoulder on Stony Island Avenue offered a reasonable alternative when traffic needed to pass.

The grand opening started with a press conference and ribbon cutting, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, park district chief Michael Kelly, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and Deloris Lucas, a transportation advocate from the greater Altgeld Gardens area who serves on the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

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Emanuel speaks at the ribbon cutting. Photo: Jeff Zoline

After the presentation, the mayor stepped away from the crowd, helmet in hand. I asked him “Are you ready to ride?” With a big smile on his face, he said “I am so ready.” He jumped on a borrowed bike and took a spin on the dirt trail that circles the pump track and other terrain areas in the park.

The park’s features include areas designed for BMX riding, cyclocross, mountain biking and casual trail riding on a 44-acre site. Hundreds of people of all ages tested out the park’s terrain on a wide range of bikes, from BMX to cyclocross to mountain bikes and more.

The remainder of the park (234 acres) is a nature reserve, a significant bird watching area where a wide range of water birds, raptors, migrating species, native songbirds and other wildlife can be seen. I volunteered at a habitat restoration workday last spring, where we worked at removing invasive plant species. I was rewarded by seeing a red-tailed hawk on a nest, a bald eagle in flight, great blue herons and many other species of water birds.

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