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Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways

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Drivers continue to respect the parking ban on Milwaukee, so there’s sufficient space for northbound cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along, creating new buffered and protected bike lanes this summer. Recently, new stretches of buffered lanes were striped striped in Noble Square, on Noble between Erie and Augusta, and downtown, on Upper Randolph between Michigan and the bike station.

Before I went to check out a couple of new stretches of buffered lanes this morning, I stopped by the construction bottleneck on Milwaukee north of North. I was pleasantly surprised to see that paper “No Parking” signs are still affixed to poles on the east side of the block, and drivers seem to be respecting them. As a result, there’s sufficient road width for north- and southbound cyclists to share the road with motorists fairly safely.

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Southbound cyclists on Milwaukee have more breathing room now. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, Streetsbog reader Andrew Scalise sent us a photo of a tow truck enforcing the parking ban, which is a likely factor in the compliance by drivers. There are also some safety cones sitting in the gutter.

Next, I dropped by Noble, which now has buttery-smooth new asphalt. Noble has always been a good biking street, but the addition of the good pavement and buffered lanes should make it an even more popular route. The lanes have dead space striped on the right side to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.

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Looking north on Noble by Eckhardt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Noble connects Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, and Erie, a good east-west connection between Ukrainian Village and River West. The new lanes would be even more useful if CDOT striped a contraflow lane on the short, one-way northbound block of Noble between Augusta and Milwaukee.

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Cost Isn’t the Issue With Palmer Square Speed Tables, NIMBYs Are

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Midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month, a DNAinfo.com article drew attention to a new campaign to improve pedestrian safety at Palmer Square by installing raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. Unfortunately, factual errors in the piece left the impression that raised crosswalks would be an expensive solution that doesn’t have the Chicago Department of Transportation’s approval. It turns out that speed tables would be quite affordable, and CDOT first proposed adding them years ago. Other changes to the roadway could further discourage speeding and enhance the park – if only the park’s neighbors would allow them.

Ever since Palmer Square got new playground equipment and a soft-surface track in 2009, the green space has become increasingly popular with families and other Logan Square residents seeking recreation and relaxation. However, the current street layout encourages fast driving, which endangers people crossing to the park, as well as cyclists on Palmer Boulevard.

The eastbound portion of the boulevard runs south of the oval-shaped park, with two travel lanes plus a bike lane. Stop signs at the three-way intersections of Palmer and Albany Avenue, as well as Palmer and Whipple Street, help to calm motorized traffic.

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On the south side of the park, stop signs at Albany and Whipple help slow down cars. Photo: John Greenfield

However, on the north side of the green space, there are three westbound travel lanes, plus a bike lane. Albany and Whipple don’t continue north of the park, so there are no intersections or stop signs on the quarter-mile stretch between Sacramento and Kedzie boulevards, which makes it easy for drivers to pick up speed.

While there are marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square where Albany and Whipple would be, the three travel lanes create long crossing distances and the so-called “multiple threat” scenario. Even if one driver obeys the law by stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, there’s no guarantee that the motorist in the next lane will do so.

Two churches near the square encourage their parishioners to park in the central lane on the north side of the green space during services and special events. That’s technically illegal, but has been condoned by the local aldermen in the past. This practice further endangers pedestrians, because it makes it more difficult for westbound drivers to see people crossing the street.

As DNAinfo reported, residents have launched an online petition calling for installing raised crosswalks on the northern portion of the boulevard at Albany and Whipple. “A park designed for and frequented by very small children, residential homes and a church borders this portion of the street,” the petition reads. “A school also borders the park and school children often utilize the park for physical education and after school programs. The speeding traffic on the street creates a grave safety hazard.”

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Streeterville Residents Redefine Their Own Bit of Lake Shore Drive

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A plan view shows a green shoreline between Navy Pier and North Avenue, in place of the current concrete. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

John Krause isn’t the only north lakefront resident who realizes that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s “Redefine The Drive” reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive is a chance to reinvent how the city meets the shore and the street.

In a bid to add more green space in Streeterville, a high-rise downtown neighborhood with with just a few parks, residents commissioned local architecture firm VOA Associates to redesign the area’s lakefront. The proposal has been in the works since 2006, according to DNAinfo, and was revealed at a public meeting last month.

The proposal substantially widens the shoreline park, expands Oak Street and Ohio Street Beaches, and submerges Lake Shore Drive below parkland at both Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. VOA’s plan is backed by the Lakefront Improvement Committee, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, and Friends of the Parks.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation are currently studying North Lake Shore Drive and adjacent areas from Navy Pier north to Hollywood Avenue. The study has since issued a purpose & need statement, listing the goals of the project, and has now proceeded to solicit solutions from residents to fix those issues.

The proposal from Krause, an independent architect, covers the entire north lakefront and proposes to add substantially more park space and improved mobility for transit, bicycling, and walking. VOA’s design, however, considers the stretch of lakeshore alongside the Streeterville neighborhood, and changes little about how the corridor serves bicycles, buses, or automobiles.

Streeterville residents, though, seem more excited to have the Drive redefined than IDOT. Howard Melton, an attorney and Streeterville resident, facilitated the May meeting where VOA presented their design to residents. As reported by Lizzie Schiffman in DNAinfo, he said the whole project could be completed in four or five years:

[Melton] said if approved, the three-phase plan would renovate Lake Shore Park in the next two to three years, complete the lakeshore buildout around 2016 or 2017, and complete the entire project in four or five years.

While it could be possible to do it in that time if the project were approved today and independent of the North Lake Shore Drive study, CDOT and IDOT have a rather different timetable. They expect to select a preferred alternative in 2016, then receive environmental and design approval four years from now, and start construction afterwards.

VOA’s plan proposes to soften the lake’s waves by constructing a barrier island — like those called for in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which resulted only in the near south side’s Northerly Island. VOA’s overall design, however, focuses more on building green space than on rebuilding the multi-modal transportation corridor that runs through the park. Both VOA and Krause propose to build several acres of new park space atop a buried Drive near Oak Street Beach.

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A sketch shows how Lake Shore Drive would be buried near Oak and Michigan. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

South of Oak Street, VOA’s proposal widens the angled, paved-over shoreline south of Oak into a swath of green space and a broad access point at Chicago Avenue, flowing over another tunnel and meeting the existing Lake Shore Park tucked behind the Museum of Contemporary Art.

One detail that VOA’s proposal doesn’t address is where and how the Lakefront Trail would be routed around Oak Street. This part of the path is unusable for several days in the winter, because waves crash and freeze on the pavement.

VOA’s pro bono work for Streeterville community groups is one example of what could result from Krause’s suggestion of a design competition that could bring big new ideas to the table. Krause also wants Redefine the Drive to engage design professionals, which could raise new possibilities during what will likely be a once-in-75-years chance to redesign of one of the city’s signature parks and transportation corridors.

VOA did not respond to our requests for more proposal details.

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Architect Urges Big-Picture, Design Thinking For North Lake Shore Drive

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Krause suggests dipping Lake Shore Drive below ground at interchanges, with the Inner Drive and a new light rail line staying at street level. Image: John Krause

Local architect John Krause sees the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s most scenic locations, as a chance to think big — not just about the road, but also about parks, transit, trails, the shoreline, and the future of the city alongside it. The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t used to thinking like that, though, and so Krause sees its “Redefine the Drive” project as a process “that looks and feels suboptimal.”

IDOT is currently in the study phase of a decade-long project that will recreate both the boulevard and access to Lincoln Park. It will be years until IDOT has a refined design, so as a first step IDOT must identify what, exactly, they want to do — what they call a Purpose and Needs Statement for the project. Krause is on one of the project task forces, and helped bring to light that IDOT’s original objectives focused on personal vehicle congestion and traffic issues, and was blind to the road’s effects upon parks, the Lakefront Trail, and citywide mobility.

Krause has crafted an alternative vision – one of two, the other by VOA Associates – to redesign the Drive [PDF]. He created it to start a broader conversation about not just how to rebuild a road, but instead to create a legacy project for Chicago that could reimagine both how people move along the lakefront, as well as the lakefront itself.

The way the system is set up, the design team can’t discuss the project with the public, engineering firms are afraid to get involved for fear of being conflicted out of the future project, and the amateur general public is invited to give our unqualified opinions [at public meetings].

“It’s a shame,” he says, “that there isn’t more public engagement of talented designers in this important process.” He adds that a competition, similar to one hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to solicit designs for Central Loop BRT stations, “might be a way to get Chicago’s professional designers involved.”

IDOT’s study approach started off by lamenting the delays and congestion drivers experienced, Krause says, and so was “propagating a [highway] status quo…that has been discredited for a long time. Great design often emerges through collaboration among people with complementary skills and viewpoints. In this case, maybe civil engineers, transit planners, urbanists, park designers,” and others could work together, rather than letting IDOT’s highway engineers run the show.

A recent example of how IDOT has not looked outside its professional silo occurred at a recent task force meeting. As Krause describes it, “lots of people are pushing for a dedicated transit lane, but no one from the CTA is allowed to offer any guidance or encouragement. To be fair, I know that CTA and CDOT are struggling with IDOT behind closed doors, but whatever is said there has no impact on either the general public or the city’s design professionals.”

Krause says Redefine the Drive needs to redefine the entire lakefront as well. It “needs some real headline attractions… new features that would show up on a tourist brochure of things to do in Chicago.” Or, more importantly, he says, “things that would get the mayor and Friends of the Parks to stand up to IDOT” and get them to do something other than “business as usual” highway-paving.

As an example of what broader thinking could bring to the Redefine the Drive process, Krause has illustrated his own conceptual idea of what the North Lake Shore Drive study area could become. His proposal divides the area, which reaches from Grand Avenue at Navy Pier on the south up to Hollywood Avenue on the north, into four sections.

One principal component of Krause’s scheme is a light rail transit route down the center of the Drive, which would help meet the mobility needs of nearly 70,000 people each weekday. Stops would be spaced every 1/4 to 1/2 mile, including stops at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Edgewater Sports Campus. Throughout his scheme, Krause suggests dipping the Drive below each interchange, removing the elevated bridges that block views towards the lake. The rail line would continue at grade, so that trains will align with bus stops and sidewalks at ground level.

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Garrido Grandstands Against Milwaukee Road Diet at Public Meeting

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John Garrido and Dave Wians, holding stack of petitions. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, announced aldermanic candidate John Garrido hijacked a crowded community meeting about the city’s proposal for a safety overhaul of Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. He interrupted the event to present Chicago Department of Transportation engineers with what he said were 4,000 signatures in opposition to any reconfiguration of the street that would involve fewer travel lanes.

Most of this stretch of Milwaukee is a five-lane speedway, and the project area saw 910 crashes between 2008 and 2012, causing at least 17 serious injuries and three deaths, according to CDOT. In January of this year, two men were killed in a rollover crash on the 6000 block of the street, just south of Elston.

This section consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles, making it the least busy stretch of Milwaukee in the city. But while Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is generally a two-lane street, north of the Kennedy it has two travel lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, and the excess capacity encourages speeding. Recent CDOT traffic studies found that 75 percent of motorists broke the 30 mph speed limit, and 14 percent exceeded 40 mph, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are almost always fatal.

This stretch of Milwaukee is slated to be resurfaced next year, and CDOT plans to use the opportunity to reconfigure the street to improve safety for pedestrians, bike riders, transit users and drivers. The project would use $1.5 million in funding, eighty percent of which would come from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

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Current conditions on Milwaukee north of the Kennedy. Photo: John Greenfield

At the open house at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, CDOT presented various scenarios for the street makeover [PDF of presentation]. Currently, Milwaukee between Lawrence and the Kennedy, including the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center, is a two-lane street with rush-hour parking controls. CDOT has proposed eliminating the RHPCs on this stretch to make room for buffered bike lanes.

The department presented three possible configurations for the stretch of Milwaukee between the Kennedy and Elston, which has five lanes. Option A would retain all travel lanes and add a buffer on one side of the existing conventional lanes. Option B would convert one travel lane in each direction to wide bike lanes with buffers on both sides. Option C would convert travel lanes to parking-protected bike lanes, which would provide the greatest benefit in safety for all road users, since the bike lanes would also shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage speeding by motorists.

All three scenarios would also add high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian islands, and better traffic signal coordination. Studies have shown that street configurations with a total of two travel lanes plus a turn lane in each direction can easily handle up to 20,000 vehicles per day, so CDOT predicts that options B and C would have little negative impact on traffic flow and would actually improve northbound traffic flow during the morning rush.

Option C would require removing roughly 20 percent of on-street parking spaces to maintain sight lines. However, parking counts show that, in general, spaces on this stretch of Milwaukee are currently used as little as 50 percent of the time, and not more than 90 percent of the time, so there would be a relatively minor impact on the availability of parking.

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Talking Shared Space With Ben Hamilton-Baillie

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Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the only city in America with a city law that defines “shared streets,” passed to provide wider walkways along Winthrop Street near Harvard Square. Photo: Leslee/Flickr

“Recovering architect” and street design expert Ben Hamilton-Baillie launched a broadside against the rules of traffic engineering during a plenary speech to the Congress for the New Urbanism’s recent annual meeting in Buffalo. Baillie urges widespread adoption of “shared space” — a design concept popularized by Hans Monderman over the past generation in the Netherlands that has only just begun to make headway in the United States.

Hamilton-Baillie argues that current street design practices unsuccessfully try to blend the concepts of highways and public space, through wide lanes, broad curves, and signs too numerous to count (much less read). The solution, he says, is to create a different set of expectations: “Don’t treat drivers as idiots, because then you’ll get idiots.” Instead of relying on an endless set of instructions, he suggests that humans instinctively understand how to move through public space.

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Shared spaces like Marshall Street in Boston were once the rule, rather than the exception, even in American cities. Photo: Payton Chung

That instinctive understanding worked on city streets for thousands of years, and was upended by cars less than a century ago. Hamilton-Baillie points to the experience of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Bnei-Brak, Israel, whose religious traditions extend to their understanding of how streets work. As researcher Tova Rosenbloom observed, “Drivers who get to Bnei-Brak complain that they need seven eyes. People walk on the roads as if they were footpaths.”

Once drivers have been jarred into understanding that the post-1920s order of the roads no longer applies, streets can function as they have for millennia. Hamilton-Baillie insists that the cultural context matters less than one might expect: “Human social behavior is the same” across cultures, he says. “Shared space builds on that wonderful civility and those social gestures with which humans are blessed.” Nor does he think there’s a substantial trans-Atlantic divide: “European Union shared space research could find no difference in applicability across cultures. People are the same all over the world… American drivers are not necessarily less aware or alert.”

Hamilton-Baillie cites ice rinks as a present-day example of spontaneous, “remarkable adaptation.” A typical American ice rink features crowds of poorly-behaved teenagers, many quite unsure of their footing, all wielding blades on their feet — and yet people rarely crash with serious consequences. The slow speeds are one factor, but Hamilton-Baillie argues that equally important is that the ice rink is a deliberately defined space. Numerous subtle cues instruct people to be careful even before arriving, from the wobbly walk to the rink to the gate you have to surmount before getting on the ice.

Besides ice rinks, most everyday environments exert powerful influences on our behavior. Hamilton-Baillie points out that “there’s no law against farting in church, but you just don’t do it.” Our homes have a similar effect, he says. Once you enter “the front door, your behavior changes. You become very aware of the host’s circumstances, the way they decorate their room. Your living room immediately tells me whether I can smoke or not,” for instance.

One key to all of these spaces is that the entry threshold tells people they are crossing into a different realm. Streets that use a shared space approach need strong gateways at their edges, and distinctive surfaces within, which all instruct drivers that a different set of rules and expectations apply. Hamilton-Baillie urges “clear transition points,” with vertical elements that visually narrow the space. On the surface, changes to pavement color and texture can demarcate or blur boundaries where necessary to encourage or discourage people from crossing lines.

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Woonerf in the West Suburbs Offers a Sneak Peek at Uptown Streetscapes

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Gateway to River Street in Batavia. Photo: John Greenfield

On a recent bicycle trip, I came across a Dutch-style woonerf or “living street,” in the western suburb of Batavia, where Streetsblog Chicago reporter Steven Vance attended high school. The street layout blurs the line between pedestrian and vehicle space, encouraging drivers to proceed with caution, creating a more pleasant environment for walking, biking, shopping, and relaxing at sidewalk cafes. It’s a good preview of the proposed layout for “shared streets” in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

Batavia, population 23,618, is a quaint town along the Fox River, nicknamed the Windmill City because, in the late 1800s, it was the world’s largest producer of windmills. Today, it’s best known as the home of Fermilab, which once had the most powerful particle accelerator in the country. The town is also well served by bike paths: the Fox River Trail and the Batavia spur of the Illinois Prairie Path bring plenty of cyclists, who spend money at two bike stores near the Fox, plus numerous restaurants, taverns, and a trailside ice cream parlor.

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A sign reminds users that this is a shared space. Photo: John Greenfield

Since Batavia has already seen the positive economic impact of good facilities for biking and walking, it’s not surprising its leaders decided to give the woonerf a spin. It’s located on a a one-block stretch of River Street, on the east bank of the Fox, between Wilson Street — the main downtown river crossing — and a pedestrian bridge.

Construction of the River Street woonerf, largely funded by tax increment financing, took place between May 2012 and June 2013. The block now features a large, wood-and-steel gateway arch, and is paved with red-and-cream bricks that are set at the same height across both the pedestrian zone and the roadway. Instead of curbs, the walking and driving spaces are delineated with stripes of cream brick parallel to the street, as well as street furniture like concrete flower planters, trash and recycling cans, lit bollards, and bike racks.

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There were few cars parked on the street when I visited, but there is a garage. Photo: John Greenfield

Benches and drinking fountains help create a welcoming environment for people visiting on foot or by bike. “Self-Made Man,” a sculpture of a figure chiseling himself out of a block of stone, by local artist Bobby Carlyle, adds interest to the block. The Congress for the New Urbanism has taken notice of the redesign. Shortly after the woonerf opened, the it won the Best Street Award from CNU’s Illinois chapter.

There was originally a proposal to add chicanes to the street, which would have further calmed traffic, but this element was removed from the design after the local fire department opposed it. As it is, this downtown block, which includes a few restaurants and taverns with outdoor seating, seemed quite tranquil. It’s possible things are a bit too low-key on the street: when I visited at lunchtime on a Monday, there were only a few people eating at the restaurants, but perhaps it was an unusually sleepy afternoon.

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Get a Leg Up: Steven and Friends Install the Nation’s First Bicycle Footrest

A video of Ryan Lakes using the footrest.
 

Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance doesn’t just report on transportation news — sometimes he makes it.

Case in point is the city’s newest cycling amenity, a bike footrest and handrail that Steven and his friend Ryan Lakes recently installed at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Ogden, across the street from the Matchbox bar. The footrest is a very simple piece of street furniture, a place to place your right foot and a bar to grab onto while waiting for a red light. The guys are calling their creation a “Curbee.”

This type of footrest is common in Copenhagen, but if I hadn’t been told otherwise, I might have assumed this Chicago version was the result of a guerrilla streetscaping intervention. However, the Curbee has the blessing of the local authorities.

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A bike footrest in Copenhagen. Text says, “Hi, cyclist! Rest your foot here… and thank you for cycling in the city.” Photo Mikael Colville Andersen, Copenhagenize.com

However, this being regulation-happy Chicago, it’s not surprising that the project had a long rollout. Back in March 2013, Steven brainstormed the idea with Ryan, an architect, designer, and West Town Bikes board member. Ryan designed the footrest, and they quickly fashioned a prototype out of scrap wood.

After they pitched the final design to FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), the bicycle law firm agreed to fund  the project. Steven and Ryan hired Adam Clark, owner of Pedal to the People mobile bike repair service, to fabricate the Curbee out of steel.

Getting a public use permit for a piece of street furniture, such as a bench or bike parking rack, requires the approval of the Chicago Department of Transportation and the local alderman. So, that July, Steven and Ryan invited then-CDOT chief Gabe Klein to test out the footrest next to the Dearborn protected lanes, at Monroe, as well as at its current Milwaukee location.

Klein liked the idea, but 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly opposed the Dearborn location, arguing that the Loop is too cluttered with street furniture as it is. However, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, who’d used Curbees on a fact-finding trip to Copenhagen sponsored by the advocacy group Bike Belong, was open to the idea.

In September, Burnett tried out the footrest at the Milwaukee location, using a Divvy bike that Steven checked out for him. The alderman was sold on the idea that the Curbee would encourage cyclists to wait for the green at Milwaukee/Ogden, where it’s tempting to disregard the stoplight, because there are several different signal phases.

With Burnett’s blessing, Steven submitted the permit application at the city’s Small Business Center in April, just before he left on a month-long trip to Europe. West Town Bikes, who is providing the insurance, sponsored the permit. Steven says he was pleasantly surprised that the application process only took 45 minutes, when he’d blocked out two hours for the task.

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Eyes on the Street: Construction on the Bloomingdale Trail

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At this location, the trailbed has been lowered several feet. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, Steven and I got a sneak peek at construction on the Bloomingdale Trail on a walking tour led by Jamie Simone from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the elevated trail and linear park project for the city and the park district.

Last Friday, there was some bad news and some good news about the Bloomingdale, AKA The 606. The Chicago Department of Transportation announced that the opening of the basic trail, previously slated for this fall, has been postponed until June 2015. Construction delays, caused by the unusually long winter, are to blame.

The $95 million project is currently about 45 percent complete, but cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to postpone the relocation of utilities and structural work, CDOT said. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings. The upside of this delay is that more of the landscaping will be done by the trail opens than was originally planned.

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Walking up the embankment at Whipple. Photo: John Greenfield

In a positive development, TPL also announced that it will be buying the Magid (not a typo) Glove factory at 1800 North Ridgeway for about $3 million, and converting it into the trail’s sixth ground-level access park. The new park will be located at the western trailhead, and will provide about four acres of new green space in Logan Square, the second-most park-poor community area in Chicago.

For the tour, we showed up at the field office of TransSystems, the company that is overseeing the trail construction. Joining us was a tour group from Version Festival, an art, planning, and placemaking fest spearheaded by Bridgeport cultural impresario Ed Marszewski. We donned hardhats and safety vests and strolled a couple blocks to a trailhead at Julia de Burgos Park, at Bloomingdale and Whipple.

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Looking west from the trailhead by Julia de Burgos Park. Photo: Steven Vance

At access points, crews are lowering the trailbed so that it will slope down towards street level, making it accessible to people in wheelchairs, and everyone else, via gently sloping ramps. Trailheads will be provided every quarter-mile or so, and most locations won’t have stairs, Simone said. The linear park will generally be 16 to 18 feet above the ground and thirty feet wide, with the trail itself consisting of a ten-foot-wide concrete path, with two-foot-wide soft rubber shoulders for jogging.

The different heights of the trail will create an undulating effect, which will calm bike traffic and provide an interesting walking and cycling experience, according to Simone. “Chicago is a completely flat city,” she told out-of-towners on the tour. “So we just love any kind of hills. The trail will basically be the biggest hill in Chicago.”

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out New Bikeways Across the City

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Protected bike lanes on Broadway in Uptown. Photo: John Greenfield

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

For a bike-infrastructure geek like myself, this is the most exciting time of the year, when the city is in the thick of rolling out the season’s new lanes. Most of the twenty miles of new bikeways planned for 2014 aren’t as groundbreaking as in previous years, when protected lanes debuted on Kinzie, Dearborn and Milwaukee. However, there are some interesting projects going in this year, and it’s always a treat to ride a bikeway for the first time, a thrill akin to unwrapping a present.

I recently set out to pedal a gaggle of new lanes, a journey that will took me many miles from Edgewater on the North Side to Auburn Gresham on the South Side to Little Village on the West Side. I start my trip at Bryn Mawr and Sheridan, where I’m pleased to see that the Chicago Department of Transportation has solved an annoying problem.

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The new contraflow lane on Bryn Mawr. Photo: John Greenfield

Previously, the street ran one-way westbound under Lake Shore Drive, with a two-lane on-ramp for drivers heading southbound on the drive. That meant that to access the Lakefront Trail, people on bikes had to cross two lanes of right-turning car traffic, and then take the sidewalk or bike through a yellow-striped no man’s land under the drive.

CDOT eliminated one of the two on-ramp lanes to make room for an eastbound contraflow bike lane that escorts cyclists to the lake in relative safety. Along the way, they can enjoy views of a colorful mosaic in the viaduct, featuring scenes from the neighborhood plus images of giant birds, bugs, and fish.

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The Bryn Mawr lanes pass by colorful murals. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s also a new westbound buffered lane here that I take into the Bryn Mawr Historic District, which contains some of my favorite local Art Deco buildings. Heading south on Broadway, past the Southeast Asian business district on Argyle, I see a procession with dozens of orange-clad Buddhist monks. Onlookers put donations in their alms bowls.

CDOT has striped buffered lanes on Broadway from Foster to Wilson, and is currently building protected lanes from Wilson to Montrose, at a total cost of $200,000. This project reconfigures the street from four mixed-traffic lanes to two, which will discourage speeding by drivers. The protected lanes are largely completed, and most cars parked along the PBLs are where they should be, to the left of the curbside bike lanes.

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