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How Friends of the Parks Saved a Parking Lot and Killed the Lucas Museum

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The original Lucas Museum plan called for building on Soldier Field’s south lot. Photo: Chris Riha, Chicago Reader

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate 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.]

As a sustainable ransportation advocate, I’m jazzed whenever land that’s been unnecessarily earmarked for moving or storing automobiles is put to more productive use.

So when Mayor Emanuel first proposed bringing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts to Chicago two years ago, one of the potential benefits that most excited me was the prospect of replacing a 1,500-car parking lot with a world-class cultural amenity, plus four acres of new green space.

The ugly expanse of asphalt where the museum would have gone is Soldier Field’s south lot, located on prime lakefront real estate between the football stadium and McCormick Place’s monolithic Lakeside Center.

Granted, this blacktop blemish also serves as a spot for tailgating, an age-old Chicago Bears tradition. In addition, it accommodates other special events that generate revenue for the city. But the Lucas plan would have largely moved the surface parking off the lakefront, while providing new tailgating opportunities in other locations.

So I was bummed when the advocacy organization Friends of the Parks launched a legal battle against the south lot proposal. While the group said it supports bringing the Lucas facility to our city, it argued that building it on the parking lot site would violate the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which states that “in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.”

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Cast Your Vote for the Milwaukee Avenue Bike Counter Design

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Wicker Park/Bucktown

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Comic Book

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1st Ward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a chance to have your say on what Chicago’s newest piece of bike infrastructure will look like.

The real estate company LG Development, in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Transportation, is planning to install a bike counter in front of a transit-oriented development they’re building at 1241 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park. They received three different proposals for the image panels of the counter, a vertical, rectangular device called an Eco-TOTEM, manufactured by the Montreal-based company Eco Counter, and they’ve asked Streetsblog to host the poll to pick the winner

The proposed designs include “Wicker Park/Bucktown” by Transit Tees, “Comic Book” by J. Byrnes from Fourth is King, and “1st Ward” by Clemente High School. You can cast your vote by clicking on one of the buttons below. The poll will be open until Saturday, April 30.

A display at the top of the bike counter will show the number of cyclists who have passed each day. A vertical display will show the total number of bike trips on the stretch for the year. As in other cities, the nearly real-time data will be posted on a website, and CDOT will also have direct access to the info.

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Dozens of Residents Showed Up for This Week’s South Side Bikeways Meetings

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Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Anne Alt

After poor turnout from locals at last month’s two West Side bikeways hearing, with a total of only five area residents attending, there was a much better turnout at the two South Side meetings this week. The input sessions are part of a strategy by the Chicago Department of Transportation to improve bike equity for these parts of the city, which have historically gotten sparser bike lane coverage than the North and Northwest Sides, where more residents have advocated for them.

Monday night about 20 people attended a hearing at the Vodak-East Side Library in the East Side neighborhood, according to CDOT officials. I went to Tuesday’s meeting in Pullman where about 40 people showed up, including a staffer for 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale. Many Pullman residents were there, along with people from the Riverdale community area, Beverly, and South Shore. Both meetings focused on the area roughly bounded by Vincennes, 91st, the lake, Indiana, and the Calumet River.

CDOT’s Mike Amsden of CDOT did a presentation explaining the planning process for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which was released in 2012. “What happened to the Bike 2015 Plan?” asked one attendee. Amsden explained that Bike 2015 was all about policy, while Streets for Cycling focuses on building a citywide bike network.

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The South Side study area

Prior to these meetings, CDOT reps met with Beale, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and staff for aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Greg Mitchell (7th). Aldermen Howard Brookins (21st) and Michelle Harris (8th) were notified but did not schedule meetings.

Additional meetings were held with community organizations and institutions, including Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Chicago Commission Pullman Civic Organization, Chicago State University, LISC Chicago, and Beverly Area Planning Association.

CDOT is taking public input on a draft of the proposed route map and weighing it along with technical criteria (route and feasibility analysis, as described in the presentation) in order to prioritize which routes should be built next.

Funding for route design is available now, although construction funding is not available for all mapped routes. Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds can be used, but planning and approval for CMAQ-funded bikeways takes a few years. Locally funded projects can be built faster, but city and state budget issues limit that option.

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CDOT’s 2015 Bikeways Report Highlights Last Year’s Many Innovative Projects

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CDOT tried lots of new stuff this year, including this treatment at Washington/Franklin, inspired by Dutch “protected intersections.” Photo: CDOT

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s new report “2015 Bikeways – Year in Review” showcases the fact that the CDOT bike program got a heck of a lot of stuff done last year. It quantifies the significant progress that was made in 2015, the year the city debuted curb-protected bike lanes.

All told, CDOT installed about 20 miles of new buffered bike lanes and roughly three miles of protected lanes, as well as restriping some 19 miles of existing, faded lanes. The city has put in a total of 108 miles of bike lanes since Mayor Emanuel took office in 2011, including many miles of existing conventional lanes that were upgraded to buffered or protected lanes. Currently there are 87 miles of buffered lanes and 21.35 miles of protected lanes.

The city’s first curb-protected lanes went in on Sacramento, Milwaukee, Clybourn, Washington, and 31st Street. Concrete protection represents a big step forward towards creating a bike network that so-called “interested but concerned” types will feel comfortable using.

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The Clybourn curb-protected bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

The new curb protection on 31st represents an upgrade from the old PBLs, which were chiefly separated from car traffic by plastic posts. “This project exemplifies the strategy of installing bike infrastructure quickly and then upgrading the project through future inprovements,” the report states.

CDOT also built the city’s first raised bike lanes on the north sidewalk of a short stretch of Roosevelt between State and the Grant Park skate park. Green “crosswalks for bikes” still need to be marked to shepherd cyclists through the cross streets.

While the Roosevelt bikeway is more of a demonstration project than a particularly useful route, hopefully the city will build a longer raised bikeway in the near future. It would be great to see Chicago pilot Copenhagen-style facilities, where the bike lane is located above the street level but below the sidewalk, which helps keep walkers out of the bike lane.

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City Begins Work on Next 50 Miles of Bikeways, Funds Bikes N’ Roses

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IIT grad student Yuan Zheng rides in a new curb-protected bike lane on 31st. Photo: John Greenfield

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Today at a ribbon cutting for curb-protected bike lanes on 31st Street by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mayor Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld elaborated on the city’s previously announced plan to build 50 more miles of bikeways by 2019.

This represents a slower pace of installation than the city’s previous achievement of installing 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes in about 4.5 years, starting in 2011. However, while 83.5 miles of those lanes were buffered, merely paint on the road, it’s possible that a higher percentage of the new bikeways will feature better protection from car traffic.

Scheinfeld say the upcoming 50 miles will include many so-called “better bike lanes,” including off-street paths, new “neighborhood greenway” routes on traffic-calmed residential streets, concrete-protected lanes, and safety improvements at key intersections.

Cortland/Ashland in Bucktown, near the eastern terminus of the Bloomingdale Trail, and Logan/Western in Logan Square spring to mind as intersections with high bike traffic that also are scary junctions with high crash rates – hopefully these are on the shortlist for improvements.

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Scheinfeld and Emanuel in of the 31st Street lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

“We’ve made progress installing protected bike lanes in neighborhoods across Chicago, making it easier and safer for everyone – no matter their age or ability – to get around on a bicycle,” Emanuel said. “Today, we’re building on that progress and looking to the future.”

Today’s event highlighted the new roughly half-mile, seven-foot-wide bikeway on 31st between State and LaSalle. It’s a mix of buffered lanes, curbside lanes protected by plastic posts, and concrete-protected lanes, with the majority of the concrete near the college campus. After I took a quick spin on the facility my impression is that it’s a well-designed bikeway, although we’ll have to see how it holds up in rainy and snowy weather – which has been an issue with the city’s other major curb-protected bikeway on Clybourn.

This year the city plans to install nine more miles of “better bikeways,” up to 18 more bikes of other (“worse”?) bikeways, and restripe up to 20 miles of existing bike lanes. “As we focus on building better bike lanes, CDOT will continue to strengthen and improve the connectivity of Chicago’s existing bike network so that bicycling continues to grow and serve as a safe and enjoyable way to travel around our city,” said Scheinfeld.

The commissioner added that protected bike lanes seem to be effective in reducing crashes, partly due to their traffic calming effect. For example, CDOT reports that, since the 55th Street protected bike lanes were installed on 55th Street in Hyde Park in 2012, overall crashes have dropped by 32 percent. CDOT recently released the new bike lane report 2015 Bikeways: Year in Review, which has more info on their findings. I’ll provide an analysis of that document tomorrow.

The Active Transportation previously put out a call for the city to install 100 miles of better bikeways by 2020, but director Ron Burke says OK with the city’s current, more modest mileage goal of 50 miles, although he still hopes CDOT will wind up installing more.

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After Driver Injures Senior at Devon/Greenview, City May Fix Intersection

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Devon and Greenview, looking east. Image: Google Street View

On Wednesday at around 4 p.m. a motorist struck and injured an elderly woman at the intersection of Devon and Greenview, on the border between Edgewater and Rogers Park.

The woman who was struck is 70 years old and she was taken to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition, according to Officer Kevin Quaid from Police News Affairs. As of Saturday afternoon, the woman was in intensive care. The driver, a 43-year-old man, was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the roadway and driving without a license.

Local resident Alana Hanson saw the crash occur as she was walking to pick up her young son from a daycare center near the intersection. “It was horrifying to witness, but I can’t say it was surprising given how much harassment I face crossing that street with my son twice a day,” she said.

Hanson added that drivers on Devon, the main street, routinely ignore the intersection’s four-way stop signs and fail to yield to pedestrians crossing north-south. “I’ve had drivers lay on their horn, rev their engines at me, and zoom around me as I’m in the crosswalk with a stroller,” she said. She added that the Chicago Department of Transportation previously installed “Stop for Pedestrians” signs at the intersection, but they were both flattened within two weeks.

Devon is the border of the 48th and 49th Ward, and Hanson says she has contacted both offices to ask if other pedestrian safety improvements could be made at the intersection, such as restriping of the crosswalks, or the construction of curb bump-outs, a pedestrian island or raised crosswalks – which have proved effective in reducing speeding by Palmer Square park.

Hanson hopes the city will make robust changes to the dangerous intersection. “I feel like the only way to get anyone to drive considerately is to force the behavior with physical barriers,” she said. “Making drivers worry about damaging their cars is the only thing I’ve ever seen have a real effect on dangerous driving.”

Greenview jogs west north of Devon, which makes for poor sightlines. There are also curb cuts for a gas station at the northwest corner, and the parking lot of the Devon Market grocery store on the northeast corner, which present a hazard for pedestrians.

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Outgoing 606 Project Manager Discusses The Trail’s Impact on Neighborhoods

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Beth White on the half-finished Bloomingdale Trail in December 2014. Photo: John Greenfield

The Trust for Public Land’s Chicago director Beth White announced last week that she will be leaving Chicago to take a new job as president and CEO of the nonprofit Houston Parks Board, beginning in June.

White is best known here as the woman who led the development of the $95 million, 2.7-mile Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway and its access parks, a collectively known as The 606. Jamie Simone, currently the director of TPL’s Chicago urban parks program, will take over as the organization’s interim director after White steps down.

In her new position, White will oversee the implementation of the $220 million Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative to create 160-mile system of interconnected trails and parks along the Texas city’s waterways. The project was made possible by a $100 million city bond measure, which TPL helped get passed.

I checked in yesterday with White to discuss the challenges of managing The 606, which recently won an award from the American Planning Association, and what she believes its legacy will be.

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White, Mayor Emanuel, CDOT’s Rebekah Scheinfeld, and the park district’s Michael Kelly tour the trail prior to opening day. Photo: John Greenfield

White told me that one of most difficult aspects of getting the trail built was coordinating with all the different entities involved. These included multiple city departments, Canadian National Railway (which previously owned the right-of-way the trail is built on), the design team, community organizations and residents, and private donors.

“There were so many moving parts, and sustaining the project over time was challenging, what with all the ups and downs in the economy and the changes in leadership,” she said. “But it’s a testament to the project that so many people were committed to it that we were able to get it done.”

The greenway has been nearly universally cited as a wonderful amenity for Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. However, many have argued that the trail has accelerated the pace of gentrification in Humboldt and Logan.

For example, in January dozens of residents held an anti-displacement rally after a developer announced plans for luxury town houses a block south of the trail, priced at $929,000 each. Community leaders in Pilsen and Little Village recently told me they feel the city should be more proactive about preserving affordability when it builds the recently announced Paseo trail through these neighborhoods.

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Raised Crosswalks Have Dramatically Reduced Speeding by Palmer Square

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The easternmost raised crosswalk on Palmer Boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday evening Steven Vance and I conducted speed counts that quantify what we already suspected to be true. The new raised crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square park are calming traffic and making it safer for residents to access the green space. While, prior to installation, about 75 percent of motorists on the street were observed exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, yesterday less than 38 percent of them were.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation converted the two marked, mid-block crosswalks on the north side of the park to raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack funded the $115,000 project, which also included additional curb-and-gutter work, with ward menu money.

The change came about after years of advocacy by neighbors who said the quarter-mile stretch of Palmer Boulevard north of the green space was plagued by speeding. The street has three westbound travel lanes, with light traffic volumes and no stoplights or stop signs, which encourages high speeds.

In July 2014, Steven and Streetsblog contributor Justin Haugens used a speed gun to measure motor vehicle speeds on the north side of the park during the evening rush. During three 15-minute observations between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., they clocked 168 drivers — 75 percent of all observed motorists — exceeding the posted 25 mph speed limit. About a third of all observed drivers were going faster than 30 mph, the default citywide speed limit. Five drivers exceeded 40 mph.

Soon after the safety infrastructure went in, I observed that drivers were hitting their brakes as they approached the crosswalks. Last night Steven and I conducted two 15-minute counts between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m. on the westbound roadway. We did one count about a quarter of a block west of the easternmost speed table, and the other at about the same distance west of the westernmost one.

Out of the 93 motorists we clocked, only 35 – less than 38 percent – were exceeding the 25 mph posted speed limit. Only five drivers were going faster than 30 mph – that’s less than 6 percent. And no one was driving faster than 36 mph.

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Actually, the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont Remix Will Be a Major Improvement

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Before and after views of the intersection. Planned features include bumpouts, new crosswalks, bike lanes, and far-side bus stops.

Last week a ward staffer provided me with a preview of plans for the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont reconstruction project. From what I gathered from that conversation, the Chicago Department of Transportation was planning a relatively conservative redesign of one of the North Side’s most dangerous intersections.

But at a public meeting about the initiative last week, I learned that it’s actually going to be somewhat bolder than I thought, with significant improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. The project also includes streetscaping work on Belmont between Ashland and Southport, and Lincoln from Melrose to Wellington, which will further improve conditions for walking.

During the hearing at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont, CDOT’s complete streets manager Janet Attarian outlined the planned changes. She noted that Lincoln/Ashland Belmont was the 5th most dangerous intersection in the city in 2010, with 35 crashes.

New sidewalk bumpouts will be added on Lincoln and Ashland, which will narrow these streets at the intersection and shorten the turning radius for drivers, preventing high-speed turns. They will also improve sightlines and shorten pedestrian crossing distance. In addition, the bumpouts will help straighten out a kink in Lincoln which occurs at the six-way junction.

Left turns off of Lincoln will be banned. This will affect relatively few drivers, since these moves make up only 2-4% of traffic at the intersection, according to CDOT counts. During rush hours, left turns currently account for 8-16% of traffic on Lincoln.

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Why Didn’t More Locals Show Up for the West-Side Bikeway Hearings?

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House painter James Woods rides in the Lake Street protected bike lane in September 2014. 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.]

Residents and aldermen in wealthier north- and northwest-side wards have been more vocal about pushing for bike lanes and racks than their South- and West-Side counterparts. That’s one reason why the lion’s share of cycling infrastructure has been concentrated north of Madison.

After Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, that equation changed somewhat. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, 60 percent of the roughly 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes installed during the mayor’s first term went to south- and west-side neighborhoods, as defined by the city’s official community areas.

Still, when the Divvy system was rolled out in 2013, the bulk of the docking stations went to dense downtown and north-lakefront areas.

In December 2014, a group of African-American bike advocates pushed CDOT to do better, publishing an open letter to the mayor’s office requesting a more equitable distribution of resources.

“In the past, the city’s philosophy has been that the communities that already bike the most deserve the most resources,” Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed (now a Streetsblog board member) told me at the time. “That just perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows fast in some neighborhood and not others.” He argued Chicago’s African-American and Latino communities are the ones that most urgently need the health and economic benefits of biking.

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