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Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2012. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

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What’s Rush Hour Traffic Really Like at the Lincoln Hub?

There have been have been plenty of complaints in the media that the Lincoln Hub placemaking project is causing a traffic nightmare at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. The intiative was spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce in order to create safer conditions for all road users and encourage people to linger and spend money at the six-way intersection.

The project uses flexible posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes. The curb extensions double as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provide additional protection from cars.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently criticized the street redesign, arguing that replacing the slip lanes with pedestrian space has created a headache for drivers:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs, the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Local resident Luis Monje launched an online petition to “redesign/rethink/rescind” the Lincoln Hub, which has garnered over 580 signatures. He delivered a printout of the signatures to local alderman Scott Waguespack on July 15. “We have noticed a MARKED increase in the amount of traffic congestion on our block as cars/trucks/service vehicles struggle with the sharp turns that have been made much tighter due to this ‘improvement,’” Monje wrote in the petition.

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CDOT Says Controversial Jeff Park Street Closure Is About Reducing Crashes

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Arena blockaded CDOT’s cul-de-sac construction site on Monday morning. Photo: Kenji Kerins

Some Streetsblog Chicago commenters have argued that Steven Vance and myself are always in favor of limiting car access in the name of street safety, but that’s not the case. We’re still not sure whether a Chicago Department of Transportation street closure project in Jefferson Park was prompted by a speeding and crash problem, as CDOT claims, or if the main motivation was to make room for a digital billboard.

On Monday morning, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena used his car to blockade the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Lamon Avenue, where CDOT crews were tearing up the asphalt in preparation for building cul-de-sacs. Arena says the department did not notify him of the work before it started last weekend, and he’s opposed to the project because he feels its main purpose is to give public space to a private billboard company. The alderman’s stunt resulted in plenty of media coverage, and it was also effective in getting CDOT to the bargaining table – officials met with him that day to negotiate, and agreed to halt the project until a public meeting can be held.

Back in 2013, City Council voted to allow the advertising company J.C. Decaux to install a digital signs at this location by the Kennedy Expressway and many other spots near expressways across the city. Arena, a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus who often opposes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiatives, voted against the deal.

The original proposal was to install the Wilson/Lamon sign on the front lawn of the adjacent Mayfair Pumping Station, but permanently closing the intersection will allow the 90-foot tall sign to be erected in the middle of Wilson. However, in a statement released on Monday before the meeting with Arena, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said that the decision to build cul-de-sacs was in response to “a history of excessive speeding on Lamon and Wilson due to cut-through traffic.”:

“These improvements, while addressing traffic safety and improving conditions on the increasingly residential section of Lamon, also accommodate the placement of a digital sign which was approved by City Council in 2013,” Claffey stated. “These changes will address the speeding problem, eliminate crashes from cars that lose control at the curve from Lamon to Wilson, and reduce the number of trucks that strike the low-clearance viaduct on Wilson.”

After meeting with CDOT, Arena told DNAinfo that the department agreed to fill in the hole they dug and temporarily cover it to allow car access. In addition to holding a yet-to-be-scheduled community meeting about the project, CDOT promised to look into alternative locations for the sign and study the potential traffic impacts of the road closure, Arena said. “Special interests like the lobbyists behind the digital billboard industry in Chicago should not control the streets in our communities,” he added.

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Survey Says: Lots of Lakeview Residents Like the Lincoln Hub

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The Lincoln Hub, yesterday around 7 p.m. Photo: John Greenfield

As mentioned last Friday, Streetsblog Chicago will be on vacation from July 13-17 and will resume publication of Today’s Headlines and daily articles on Monday, July 20. There may be some occasional posts next week. Have a great weekend!

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently wrote a column slamming the “functional faults” of the Lincoln Hub placemaking initiative in Lakeview, which he claimed have led to a cacophony of horn blasting from aggravated motorists. I responded with a post acknowledging Kamin’s valid criticisms that the seating plazas lack shade, and they don’t offer enough obvious physical protection from cars for some people to feel comfortable using them.

However, I also pointed out that a supposedly well informed urbanist like Kamin shouldn’t be lamenting the removal of dangerous slip lanes to make more space for pedestrians, simply because it forces drivers to slow down a bit. He wasn’t pleased:

An entertaining Twitter exchange ensued. Eventually Luis Monje, a local resident who launched an online petition against “Polka Dot Park,” got involved:

Of course, not all of the signees on Monje’s petition (there were 535 as of this afternoon) live in the neighborhood – some the addresses listed aren’t even in Illinois. But Monje has a point: While his petition does suggest that a significant number of residents dislike the hub, there hasn’t been much in the media about neighbors who like the new street layout.

To get a sense of what kind support there is for the Lincoln Hub, I staked out the intersection last night between 7 and 8 p.m. and buttonholed passers-by. Granted, it wasn’t the thick of rush hour, but I saw no evidence of traffic problems and didn’t hear any of the “frustrated motorists honk[ing] their horns” Kamin wrote about.

All of the 16 people I spoke with were on foot, unless otherwise noted. I tried not to ask leading questions that would suggest I wanted a positive response, but simply asked for their opinion of the new street configuration.

The vast majority of the respondents told me they believe the curb extensions, including the removal of slip lanes, make the area safer and more pleasant for walking, and said the current layout doesn’t cause undue inconvenience for drivers. True, a couple of people did assert that the intersection is now a nightmare for motorists.

But, overall, this informal survey suggests that more neighbors may be in support of the Lincoln Hub than you might think from mainstream news reports, Kamin’s column, or Monje’s petition. Here are the responses, in chronological order, edited a bit for clarity.

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Eyes on the Street: Monumental Bike Parking on Lawrence Avenue

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Photo: John Greenfield

I spent about five years in the early 2000s coordinating bicycle rack installations for the Chicago Department of Transportation. One of the main takeaways from that very enjoyable job was that, when it comes to bike parking, form really does follow function. Although designers are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel by building a better bike rack, it’s hard to beat the no-frills “inverted U” style CDOT has been putting in since the early Nineties.

Therefore, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the rather grandiose bike parking structure that was recently installed as part of the successful Lawrence Avenue road diet and streetscaping project. That “four-to-three conversion” transformed the segment of Lawrence between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue from a desolate speedway into a people-friendly street with wider sidewalks, space for cafe seating, and bike lanes.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Even before that stretch became more bikeable, there was a huge demand for bike parking at the Ravenswood Metra station at Lawrence and Ravenswood Avenue, which has recently grown with the addition of a new supermarket and housing complex. There are “wave” racks with space for dozens of cycles under the Metra tracks, but that still isn’t enough capacity — bikes often overflow onto railings.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Therefore, it was a no-brainer that the streetscape project should include additional bike parking, but the design that was chosen is a bit of a head-scratcher. The streetscape included four colorful, roughly 30-foot-high “neighborhood identifier poles.” One of these, at the southeast corner of Lawrence/Ravenswood, was retrofitted with six curved bike parking fixtures made by Bike Arc, a company based in Palo Alto, California.

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Kamin on Placemaking Efforts: The Food Is Terrible, and Such Small Portions!

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The Lincoln Hub placemaking project. Photo: John Greenfield

Et tu Blair?

It wasn’t surprising when some disgruntled Lakeview residents launched a petition against the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which reclaimed asphalt at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection for pedestrians. After all, one purpose of the street remix was to increase safety by slowing down car traffic, and not all drivers are going to appreciate that. And, sure, the bright green-and-blue polka dots are not everyone’s cup of tea.

But it was distressing to read a recent column by Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin – who’s usually on the right page about urban planning issues – in which he picks apart several aspects of the design and laments that the new layout inconveniences motorists. “The aim of such projects is to ‘calm’ traffic, slowing vehicles and making conditions safer for cyclists and people on foot,” he writes. “It also aims to boost business by creating more inviting outdoor spaces. Yet this mission is far from accomplished.”

Kamin doesn’t have a problem with the colorful spots, and he notes that people on foot like the fact that they’ve been given more space through the use of paint, flexible posts, and planters, which shortens the crossing distance. He also concedes that, by slowing down drivers, the Lincoln Hub has enhanced traffic safety at the intersection, and may be helping turn the location into a place to spend time, rather than just pass through.

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

However, Kamin doesn’t like the fact that most of the seating in the new plazas is provided by round concrete stools rather than benches, which he thinks would be more comfortable. He laments the lack of shade at the intersection. And he argues that the on-street seating is located too close to traffic lanes, and there isn’t enough physical protection to make people feel safe using it.

There’s some validity to these criticisms, but it was disappointing to read this passage from a guy who’s supposed to be a well-informed urbanist:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs [to create pedestrian space], the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Kamin is referring to the elimination of the intersection’s slip lanes, aka channelized right turns, which have been incorporated into the curb extensions. That’s actually one of the best things about the Lincoln Hub. Slip lanes create longer crossing distances and additional conflict points between pedestrians and drivers, and they allow motorists to whip around corners at dangerous speeds.

Because of this, the Chicago Department of Transportation is generally no longer building slip lanes, and most six-way intersections in the city aren’t channelized. Rather than creating an aggravation for drivers, removing the slip lanes simply brought Lincoln/Wellington/Southport up to current standards for pedestrian safety.

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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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Roger That! Low-Stress, North-South Bike Route Planned for Rogers Park

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Greenview north of Touhy, looking north. Image: Google Street View

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently held a public meeting about their clever proposal to install a contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood, between Ridge and Carmen, in Edgewater. More quietly, CDOT and the 49th Ward have been moving forward with an equally promising plan for a neighborhood greenway on Glenwood and and Greenview in Rogers Park.

CDOT staff declined to discuss the proposal, referring me to 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore’s office. “Our main goal was to create some kind of route from Devon Street, the southern boundary of the ward, up to Evanston,” explained Bob Fuller, an assistant to Moore. Glenwood and Greenview are already popular bike routes in Rogers Park, with cyclists accounting for up to 25 percent of rush hour traffic. “Instead of high-traffic streets like Sheridan, Clark, and Western, it made sense to put the greenway on these residential streets,” Fuller said.

The draft plan is to have the route run along Glenwood from Devon to either Pratt or Farwell. From there, the greenway would jog west a block to Greenview and continue to either Howard or Jonquil. From there, cyclists could head west to Clark or east to Sheridan in order to get to Evanston. The roughly 1.7-mile route would work both northbound and southbound.

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Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

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A bottleneck along The Marina section of the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which features stone-like concrete seating units and kayak rentals, the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments, and The River Theater, featuring dramatic stair-step seating, criss-crossed by ramps. Upcoming amenities include a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded.

Gina Ford, a landscape architect at Sasaki Associates, which helped plan the riverwalk, offered to discuss the reasoning behind the design.

John Greenfield: The Riverwalk’s been getting rave reviews overall, but please tell me what you guys had in mind with the routing for pedestrians and cyclists.

Gina Ford: One of the challenges that we had to deal with on the riverwalk was how to accommodate what we felt should be included in a really small space. Part of that has to do with the fact that the [landfill to extend the riverbank] required a permit, and it took many years and an act of Congress to permit it. The dimensions of our buildout zone were very fixed in order to maintain safe harbor on the river and making sure that barge traffic has the right clearances.

We were really limited with the underbridge connections, where you have a twenty-foot offset [the maximum amount of land that could be built out from the existing shoreline] and a twenty-five-foot offset in each “room” of the riverwalk. So part of the right-angle turn critique we agree with. It would have been lovely if there was a much broader space, but there were other factors that determined that boundary and that shape.

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Don’t Worry, Clybourn Merchants — The PBL Parking Issue Is Covered

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Much of the on-street parking in the Clybourn project area gets little use. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article posted on DNAinfo yesterday, business owners along Clybourn Avenue in Old Town said they were worried that parking conversions for upcoming curb-protected bike lanes on the street might scare off customers. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project, and the Chicago DOT, which is consulting, have crunched the numbers on the parking issue, and it looks like everything will work out just fine.

This affected stretch of Clybourn, between North Avenue and Division Street, is under state jurisdiction. IDOT had previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city. However, after cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larabee Street in May of 2013, IDOT agreed to pilot a protected lane on this stretch. It will be the city’s second curb-protected lane, after CDOT installed one on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park last month.

Construction of the Clybourn lanes started on Monday. The bike lanes will be located next to the sidewalk and will be protected by three-foot-wide concrete medians. There will also be a short stretch of curb-protected lanes on Division between Clybourn and Orleans. To provide sufficient right-of-way for the lanes on Clybourn, car parking will be stripped from the west side of the street, with a net loss of 65 parking spaces.

Mohammad Rafiq, owner of New Zaika, a Pakistani restaurant at 1316 North Clybourn, told DNA he understands that the street need to be made safer, but he’s worried that the loss of parking spots will drive him out of business. The eatery is popular with cab drivers, including many Muslim people who visit several times a day to use the basement prayer room. “If they don’t come, who am I going to serve?” he asked.

Marcus Moore owns Yojimbo’s Garage, a bike shop at 1310 North Clybourn, across the street from a memorial to Cann. He’s a longtime bike advocate who recently won an award from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council for saving the South Chicago Velodrome, and he witnessed Cann’s fatal crash. However, DNA quoted him as saying the parking conversions could hurt business. “It’s going to be a big experiment,” he said. “I’m kind of neutral. I’m not sure what to expect.”

Obviously, creating a low-stress bikeway on Clybourn is going to attract more cyclists to the street and more two-wheeled customers to Yojimbos. That, plus a safer, more relaxing environment for walking due to less speeding by drivers, could also bring some additional diners to New Zaika.

Moreover, the flaw in the otherwise-solid DNA article is that the reporter didn’t check in with IDOT and CDOT about the parking issue. According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the agencies did a parking utilization study of the corridor to gauge the impact of the proposed design. They found that much of the parking on this stretch of Clybourn, which has relatively little retail, is underutilized.

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