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Posts from the "Design" Category

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Montrose Green Planner: The Time Is Right for Transit-Oriented Development

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Rendering of Montrose Green, a proposed mixed-use, parking-lite development by the Brown Line.

Montrose Green is a new mixed-use, parking-lite building proposed for a vacant lot at 1819 West Montrose in Ravenswood. The location has all the transit access you could ask for in a development. The parcel sits just west of the Brown Line’s Montrose station, and is served by the #78 Montrose and #50 Damen buses. There’s a Divvy station across the street, and Metra’s Ravenswood stop is three blocks north. The lot sits on a bustling pedestrian-oriented retail strip, full of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Developer Harrington Brown plans to take advantage of the prime location, and Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, to build a five-story building with 24 rental units and 10 parking spaces. That’s far below the city’s standard requirement of a 1:1 ratio. “People are seeking opportunities to live, work, shop, and dine near transit hubs,” said Harrington Brown owner David Brown. “This approach reflects where we are as a society — not every single renter has a car or needs a car.”

The building would mostly be made up of one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom units. The 5,300 square-foot ground floor space would likely be leased to a restaurant. A 3,000 square-foot, penthouse-like structure on the 5th floor is planned as office space for tech startups and other innovative small businesses. The developer hopes to start construction next spring.

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The development would be in a transit- and retail-rich location. Image: Google Streetview

Harrington Brown purchased the land during a CTA auction five years ago, during the depths of the Great Recession, and Brown said it was his intention to hold onto the property until the real estate market improved. In the meantime, the space has housed the Montrose Green community garden, as well as events like an outdoor Irish Christmas market, held last December. “That turned out to be more of a Polar Vortex street party,” he joked.

Brown said he’s not a developer by trade, but comes from a public policy and urban planning background, and that his strategy for the new building reflects his planning philosophy. “What we’re finding in neighborhoods today is that the demand for parking among renters is much lower than what was previously perceived,” he said. “If we’re wrong about that, we won’t be successful in renting the apartments.”

Typically, Chicago parking requirements mandate the construction of at least one parking spot per residence. The city’s TOD ordinance relaxes the rules near transit, requiring developers to provide one parking spot for every two housing units in buildings within one full block of a transit station, or within a two-block radius on designated Pedestrian Streets. Harrington Brown is also taking advantage of a provision that allows developers to apply for a variance to reduce the number of spots by an additional 20 percent. The 10 spaces would be located behind the building.

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BOMA Misses the Memo on How Loop BRT Will Work

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Rendering of BRT on Washington at LaSalle.

File this one under “People unclear on the concept.” On September 29, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced it had launched the bidding process for the $32.5 million Central Loop BRT project and released final plans for the corridor. Yesterday, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago published an ill-informed op-ed piece in Crain’s, warning that the current design for Washington Street will create carmaggedon, including crashes caused by right-turning vehicles.

It’s odd that the article, written by BOMA vice president Michael Cornicelli, contains so many misconceptions about the plan. The city met with the association several times to discuss the project, according to CDOT spokesman Pete Scales.

“It’s difficult to imagine Chicago’s downtown traffic becoming worse, but that could be the result if the city of Chicago doesn’t steer its Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit plan in the right direction,” Cornicelli warns. He claims that the BRT project will reduce the number of lanes available to motorists on Washington from the current four or five to only two, in order to make room for the dedicated bus lanes, island bus stations, and a protected bike lane. “Reducing vehicular capacity by half on this heavily traveled route means a dramatic increase in congestion and delays.”

Actually, in addition to maintaining two through lanes for motorists at all times, the design provides left- and right-turn lanes where these turns are permitted, which means three or four lanes will be available to motorists. True, car traffic will move somewhat slower on eastbound Washington and westbound Madison after BRT is implemented on these streets, but there are plenty of parallel streets that can be used as alternatives.

Meanwhile, CDOT predicts the project will make an eastbound trip across the Loop 25 percent shorter, and a westbound trip 15 percent shorter. While cars and taxis occupy most of the downtown street space and cause most of the congestion, buses make up only four percent of motor vehicles in the Loop but move 47 percent of the people traveling in vehicles. BRT will speed commutes for an estimated 30,000 people per day, which more than justifies slightly longer travel times for a much smaller number of drivers.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike Lanes on the North Side

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New buffered lanes on the 2300 block of North Elston. Photo: CDOT

This is the time of year when the Chicago Department of Transportation hustles to get the last of the new bikeways installed before it’s too cold to stripe thermoplastic. Since the threshold is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this week’s cold snap could mean the end of the construction season. Hopefully, this year, CDOT won’t attempt to continue striping after it’s too cold, which has previously led to problems with quickly disappearing bike lane markings.

Yesterday, I took advantage of the nice weather to visit a few new facilities on the North Side. On my way out, I checked out the progress of the Lawrence streetscape in Ravenswood and Lincoln Square. It’s now largely finished from Clark to Western, save for a few details like bioswales and neighborhood identifier poles with “bike arcs” for locking cycles. Baby-blue metal chairs, an interesting alternative to benches, have been installed in a few spots.

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Street chairs on Lawrence Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

Next, I checked out a 1.25-mile stretch of new buffered bike lanes on Kedzie from Addison to Logan in Avondale and Logan Square. Previously, there were non-buffered lanes on the street from Logan to Barry, just south of the Kennedy Expressway. The new lanes, striped on reasonably smooth existing pavement, are buffered on both sides.

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New buffered lanes on Kedzie make it a little safer to ride under the Kennedy. Photo: CDOT

The BBLs help provide safer passage through viaducts under the expressway and nearby Metra tracks. Green paint has been added to the northbound bike lane by the Kennedy onramp, to remind drivers to look for cyclists before merging right. The buffered lanes also run right by Revolution Brewing’s production brewery, 3340 North Kedzie, which has a pleasant malt aroma. Aside from the Kinze protected lanes, located by the Blommer Chocolate factory, Kedzie may be the best-smelling bikeway in Chicago.

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Eyes on the Street: Loyola University’s New Kenmore Avenue Path

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A new crosswalk spans Sheridan Road, leading from the new Kenmore pedestrian mall to the center of Loyola’s campus. Photo: Melissa Manak

Loyola University Chicago recently expanded its Lake Shore campus south into the neighborhood, and took a different approach to connect the new buildings to its main campus across busy Sheridan Road. The university closed to car travel the entire 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue, between Rosemont Avenue and Sheridan Road, and replaced the avenue with a wide brick shared-use path — one of the first pedestrian-only streets on the far north side. The idea behind the new path was to allow a safer, car-free route between the southern portion of the school, which includes several dormitories and the new Institute of Environmental Sustainability building, and the main campus.

As Streetsblog reported earlier, some residents in the area were frustrated with the plan for two reasons, both closely associated with auto access. One issue was that several parking spaces would be eliminated in an area with a high demand for free parking, and another issue was that barring cars from Kenmore eliminated a short cut for far north-siders to take when Sheridan Road is congested.

Construction on this project started in 2013 when streets in the immediate area were closed entirely, and continued for over a year. In the meantime, cyclists and pedestrians alike had to take alternative routes using alleys or by biking the wrong way on parallel Winthrop Avenue. (The only other parallel street is the four-lane Sheridan Road speedway, where the city’s ban on sidewalk cycling is strictly enforced.) The university bought Kenmore from the city for over $300,000, and spent over $3.5 million dollars to renovate the property. This pathway now includes a permeable brick surface, green space, and flower gardens to fill what a space that once was rows of parked cars.

I frequently travel through the area and was curious to see what others in the community thought of this project. After two different days of visiting the site, it seems that other residents and students agree that it’s enhanced the area and created a safer way for them to reach the university.

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Road Diet Curbs Lawrence Avenue’s Dangerous Mile

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Refuge islands allow pedestrians to cross the street one lane at a time. Bump-outs, in the background, shorten the distance across the street and reduce the chance that motorists will park in the crosswalk. Photo: John Greenfield

The one mile of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western avenues, through the Ravenswood neighborhood, went on a road diet this year. The diet slimmed Lawrence from four to two travel lanes, and used the extra space to create room for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extensive landscaping. The streetscape project right-sized this stretch of Lawrence, bringing it in line with the two-lane segments both west of Western and east of Ashland.

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11 people were injured in pedestrian crashes at Lawrence and Damen avenues, near McPherson elementary school and the Levy senior center. Source: IDOT, via ChicagoCrashes.org

“Road diets” are a widely accepted method to make streets safer, and (as on Lawrence) are often combined with other safety-enhancing streetscape improvements like bump-outs and median pedestrian refuges. Just the road diet, though, can be enough to reduce speeding by drivers and cut the number of crashes and injuries, while also opening up space for uses like bike lanes, street trees, and sidewalk cafés.

The road diet on Lawrence will improve the safety of a notoriously dangerous street. Traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation tells us that from 2005 to 2012, 72 people were injured in pedestrian-car crashes within the nine blocks (just over one mile) of Lawrence between Clark and Western avenues.

That means that there have been many more pedestrian-car crashes along this stretch of Lawrence than on comparable streets: This stretch of Lawrence has 11 times more injuries from crashes than the average mile of street in Chicago.

Lawrence even has many more injuries than comparable busy arterial streets. 60 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes occurred on this previously four-lane stretch of Lawrence than on the one-mile stretch to its west through Albany Park. There were even 54 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes on the dangerous mile of Lawrence than on a comparable one-mile stretch of Halsted, between Grand and Van Buren through Greektown. That part of Halsted carries a similar number of cars on its two lanes, but probably sees more pedestrians due to its thriving shops and nightlife.

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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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