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Posts from the Design Category


Romanelli Is Right: Randolph Would Be a Better Bike Route Than Lake Street


Roger Romanelli at an anti-BRT meeting. Photo: Mike Brockway

As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Streetsblog Chicago readers know Roger Romanelli as the guy who has led the charge against fast, reliable bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue with his anti-BRT group the Ashland-Western Coallition. He also made headlines for asking Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy to force a historic church across the street from Romanelli’s home to stop its decades-long tradition of early-morning bell ringing. However, there’s some method to the madness of Romanelli’s latest NIMBY crusade.

As director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, which represents the interests of West Loop industrial businesses, Romanelli is currently opposing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s plan to install buffered bike lanes on Lake Street in the West Loop. Similar to how the North Branch Works industrial council futilely fought against installing buffered lanes on Elston Avenue north of North Avenue, he’s worried that more bikes on Lake would be an inconvenience to truck drivers.

In his campaign against the Ashland BRT project, which would involve converting mixed-traffic lanes to bus-only lanes, Romanelli cleverly proposed a watered-down alternative express bus proposal with some expensive bells and whistles. That way, he could disingenuously argue that he was advocating for better bus service, not just trying to kill the city’s plan.

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Currently, there’s an eastbound buffered lane on Washington, and there are protected lanes on Lake Street west of Damen. Image: Chicago Bike Map

Romanelli is shrewdly taking the same approach with the bikeway plan by arguing that Randolph Street, a street with less truck traffic than Lake, located a block south, would be a better location for the bike route. I’m confident that he would be glad to drop the idea of a bike lane on Randolph if CDOT shelved its plan for lanes on Lake between Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue. However, he happens to be correct: Randolph actually makes a lot more sense as a bike route.

Romanelli and the RFMA recently hosted a community meeting on the subject. He noted that Washington Street, a block south of Randoph, already has an eastbound buffered bike lane from Garfield Park to Halsted Street. CDOT is currently building an eastbound protected bike lane on Washington from Wacker Drive to Michigan Avenue as part of the Loop Link BRT project, and they’ll soon be adding a westbound PBL on Randolph from Michigan to Clinton Street as part of that project.

Therefore, it would be logical to continue the westbound route on Randolph in the West Loop. Meanwhile, since Lake becomes one-way eastbound east of Wacker, Washington works better as an eastbound route into the Loop.

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More Before-and-After GIF Goodness: Bike Lanes, a Ped Scramble, and BRT


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Inspired by a post from Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt, I recently tried my hand at using a new-ish feature of Google Streetview to illustrate how Chicago street transformations have improved traffic safety and made neighborhoods more livable. Google now lets you access archived Street View images, so it’s easy to see how our roadways have changed for the better.

Streetsblog Chicago readers said they enjoyed the last round of before-and-after GIF animations, so here’s a fresh batch, this time using some original photos, rather than just Street Views. Above is a view of the new curb-protected bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood, which involved repurposing one of the parking lanes. It’s become an instant hit with cyclists.

Below is the city’s first (and only) pedestrian scramble intersection at Jackson Boulevard and State Street in the Loop. In addition to east-west and north-south crossing phases, the scramble phase allows walkers to cross in all directions, including diagonally.


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

These bike lanes on Vincennes Avenue in the Longwood Manor community show how some paint and flexible poles can transform an overly wide speedway into a calmer, more bikeable street quickly and cheaply. It would be great if the buffers are replaced with concrete curbs in the future.


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

The Loop Link bus rapid transit project is under construction on Madison and Washington streets downtown. This corridor, connecting West Loop train stations with Michigan Avenue, will include dedicated lanes, limited stops, and queue jumps, plus near-level and (eventually) pre-paid boarding. The Washington corridor will include a protected bike lane; the old bike lane on Madison (shown) will be replaced with a PBL on Randolph Street, 2 blocks north.

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Before-and-After GIFs of Projects That Made Chicago Streets More Livable


Last year, Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt demonstrated how a new feature of Google Street View can be used to highlight street remix projects that have made cities more livable. Google now lets you look at archived Street View images, so it’s easy to compare what streets looked like before and after they were reconfigured.

I tried my hand at animating images of a few forward-thinking Chicago projects that have helped make streets safer and more pleasant places to travel and spend time. Above is the Lawrence Avenue road diet in Ravenswood, a four-to-three conversion which added wider sidewalks, curb bump-outs, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes.

Below is the Lincoln Hub placemaking project in Lakeview, which uses flexible posts and paint dots to shorten crossing distances, eliminate dangerous slip lanes, and create curb extensions that double as seating areas.


The Roosevelt Road raised bike lane project in the South Loop repurposed road lanes to make room for much wider sidewalks, plus the bikeway, parking racks, new trees, and benches. The bike lanes will get green paint and bike symbols soon.


This spring, the Chicago Department of Transportation built the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park. Eliminating the excess travel lanes has helped calm traffic.

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The “Hipster Highway” Bike Counter Will Soon Be a Thing

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The future location of the Milwaukee Avenue bike counter.

Instant gratification is great, when you can get it.

Yesterday, I proposed installing a Copenhagen-style bicycle counting device on Milwaukee Avenue, known as “The Hipster Highway” due to its high level of bike traffic. This would help build support for reallocating right-of-way on Milwaukee in Wicker Park to make it safer for cyclists. Today, we got confirmation that the bike counter idea has actually been in the works for a few months and will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

LG Development Group will be working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to install the device as part of a new transit-oriented development project at 1237-53 North Milwaukee. “We didn’t want to just say we’re cutting car parking,” said LG partner Barry Howard, a frequent bike commuter who has been car-free for the last decade. “We wanted to make a statement that this is a bike-friendly building.”

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Barry Howard, with the unicorn-like red Divvy bike.

Howard noted that the site, which currently houses a Bank of America branch, is close to the Blue Line’s Division stop, CTA bus lines, a taxi stand, four Zipcar locations, bike lanes, and a Divvy station. “Why do people put such a focus on building car parking, when there’s all these amenities that around us?” Howard said. “If people use them, they don’t need their own cars.”

The 60-rental-unit building will include only 15 car spaces – half the ratio the city’s 2013 TOD ordinance typically requires for residential developments near train stations. Yesterday, City Council passed a beefed-up ordinance that will eliminate the parking requirement in TOD zones altogether.

The LG building, which is currently under construction, will include at least 60 indoor, above-ground bicycle parking spaces, which will be accessible via a bike-only ramp. The developer may use some below-ground space to double the number of bike spots. There will also be an pump and a work stand with tools for basic repairs.

LG reached out to the Active Transportation Alliance about making the development even more bicycle-friendly, which led to the idea of the bike counter. “It will help demonstrate the high volume of bike traffic on that stretch of Milwaukee, and the need to reconfigure the street to more safely accommodate people on bikes, along with other travel modes,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke.

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Cool Boston-Area Infrastructure That’d Be Great to See in Chicago


Pete Stidman by the Cambridge bike counter. Why can’t we get one of these on Milwaukee? Photo: John Greenfield

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

When Pete Stidman, the former director of the Boston Cyclists Union, visited Chicago for a bike conference a couple of summers ago, I let him crash on my futon. When I visited Beantown last month, Stidman, who’s now working as the active transportation specialist at a planning firm, returned the favor by taking me on a bicycle tour of the area’s burgeoning bike network.

Boston, a city of 655,884 residents (4,628,910 metro) has come a long way since 1999, when Bicycling Magazine ranked it as the nation’s worst city for biking. When I meet up with Stidman at the lovely Brewer Fountain in Boston Common, the city’s biggest downtown green space, he explains that much of the blame for that title can be traced to the city’s then-large population of “vehicular cyclists.”

Vehicular cyclists are cult followers of John Forester, author of the book “Effective Cycling” and son of “The African Queen” writer C.S. Forester. John preaches that cyclists are safest when they operate like drivers, pedaling in the center of the lane. Of course, most people aren’t willing or able to bike twenty miles per hour to keep up with cars, but Boston’s Foresterites have actively lobbied against installing bike lanes, arguing that they’re unnecessary and, paradoxically, dangerous.

Stidman says that, in 2004, the Livable Streets Alliance formed and, in 2010, the cyclists union launched, and these groups have advocated for street designs that work for all users, of all ages and abilities. “We now have a bike czar, and it’s clear that Mayor Marty Walsh is listening to his constituents who want to see more bike lanes.” There’s currently a proposal for the Connect Historic Boston Bike Trail, a network of curb-protected lanes that would encircle the downtown peninsula.


Downtown Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

I check out a cycle from the city’s Hubway bike-share system, which uses the same equipment as Divvy, and we’re off. We roll through Downtown Crossing, a brick-lined pedestrian mall, but Stidman points out that few people are hanging out here because there’s almost no place to sit. “During Boston’s darker days [of white flight], benches were taken out, and a lot of people were pushing for getting rid of places to hang out—they thought they attracted the wrong element.”

Thankfully, that trend has reversed. Boston City Hall now recently put in Astroturf, seating and yard games as an invitation to linger. And when we get to our next stop, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, there are dozens of people relaxing in red Adirondack chairs on the lush lawn. This network of parkland, named for JFK’s mom, winds for about a half mile around the east side of the peninsula, occupying land where the double-decker Central Highway once stood. The massive Big Dig project, completed in 2008, moved the expressway underground.


Adirondack chairs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, formerly a bi-level expressway. Photo: John Greenfield

While the Big Dig was originally supposed to cost $2.8 billion, the estimated final cost will be $22 billion. Stidman has mixed feelings about the expense, but he says it’s a hugely positive thing that there’s no longer a highway cutting through the middle of Boston, and that it has a ton of beautiful new public space that’s well programmed with seating, art and other amenities.

I’m particularly amazed by Janet Echelman’s aerial sculpture “As If It Were Already Here,” a complex network of rainbow-colored ropes that soars 600 feet above the street. Just think what we could do with all the extra land if Chicago launched a similar—but much cheaper—project to cap the Kennedy Expressway in the West Loop.


Janet Echelman’s “As If It Were Already Here” above the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Next we roll by the gray complex immortalized by local band The Modern Lovers’ song about rocking “at the Government Center / To make the secretaries feel better / When they put the stamps on the letters.” Stidman tells me that Mayor Walsh unsuccessfully proposed a bill to get the group’s song “Roadrunner,” about cruising Massachusetts highways late at night, declared the official state rock song.

We cross the Longfellow Bridge into Cambridge, the home of Harvard and MIT, where Stidman points out a Copenhagen-style bike counter erected in the middle of a boulevard—858 cyclists have passed by today. It would be great to get one of these devices installed in Chicago’s Wicker Park, next to the Milwaukee Avenue “Hipster Highway.” That would be helpful for justifying the removal of car parking from one side of the street to make room for protected bike lanes.

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After Fixing Flawed Study, LAB Finds Chicago Bike Plan Will Boost Equity

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Residents check out info about the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan at a South Side input meeting. Photo: Steven Vance

Earlier this month, the League of American Bicyclists released a report with a method for exploring how well bike networks provide access to underserved communities. Using Chicago as a case study, the report found that our city’s “planned network” would provide African-American and Latino neighborhoods with less than their fair share of access to bike lanes and paths.

However, the map that the report analyzed was not actually a map of Chicago’s planned bike network. After Streetsblog Chicago ran two posts drawing attention to the problem, the League has finally overhauled the report using the correct data. As a result, the study now finds Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 would significantly improve access for communities of color.

The report, “Equity of Access to Bicycle Infrastructure,” was written by Rachel Prelog, a Colorado-based urban planning grad student. Using data from the city of Chicago’s geographic information system portal, Prelog analyzed what she thought was the network of proposed streets for new bikeways.

Although the 2020 Plan was created after an extensive public input process, with the goal of creating a network that serves all Chicagoans equitably, Prelog’s original report suggested that the effort was a failure. She wrote that African Americans would “account for a large proportion of the residents who would not benefit from the expanded system.”

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Eyes on the Streets: New Bike Lanes and Pedestrian Facilities on Vincennes

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Before and after: New bike lanes and pedestrian island make it safer to cross Vincennes at 80th, just N. of Westcott Elementary. Top image: Google Street View. Photo: John Greenfield

Vincennes Avenue, which runs southwest from the 69th Street Red Line to the city limits, is one of the bike-priority Spoke Routes identified in the City’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. Vincennes already had conventional bike lanes running from the train stop to 76th, and protected and buffered lanes from 84th to 103rd.

Earlier this summer, the Chicago Department of Transportation filled in a gap on the bike route by installing new buffered lanes between 76th to 84th in Gresham and Chatham as part of a repaving project. The project also included zebra-stripe crosswalks and a couple of  pedestrian islands.


The section near 76th has five car lanes and curbside buffered lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

The section of Vincennes near 76th is still not ideal for biking, since it’s still a wide road with four travel lanes plus turn lanes. However, the curbside buffered lanes in this stretch certainly help make cycling more tolerable.

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Typical configuration on the southern portion of the new bike lanes segment. Photo: John Greenfield

Further south, the project has a big positive impact, since it converted what was a de facto four-lane road into two travel lanes, a turn lane, the buffered lanes, and a parking lane. In addition to creating a fairly nice street for biking, this calms traffic and reduces crossing distances for people on foot. CDOT built the pedestrian islands at 80th Street, by Westcott Elementary, and at 82nd Street, by Simeon Career Acadamy, which make it safer for students to walk to school.

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Despite Reduced Features, Loop Link Should Still Prove the Benefits of BRT


A Loop Link shelter under construction on Washington Street. The location of a new protected bike lane is visible to the right. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week’s update on the Loop Link bus rapid transit project by the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch raised some valid questions about the ultimate value of the project. Hilkevitch noted that some of the planned features of the downtown express bus corridor have been reduced, modified, or delayed. However, it looks like Loop Link will still be a major win for the central business district, which could pave the way for a more robust BRT route on Ashland Avenue.

Let’s look at some of the timesaving elements the Loop Link system won’t – and will – have. For starters, as originally planned, the route will have seven fewer stops than currently exist. Having stops roughly every other block, instead of every block, will definitely speed things up. The system will also feature dedicated bus lanes with red pavement. That should provide a significant traffic advantage for the six bus lines that will use the corridor, provided that there’s decent enforcement to keep other vehicles out of the lanes.

Transit signal priority, which shortens red lights or extend greens to keep buses from getting stopped at intersections, isn’t planned for Loop Link. TSP already exists on part of the route for the Jeffery Jump, a South Side express bus that has a few BRT-style features. Because the downtown blocks are short and stoplights are closely spaced, providing TSP for one corridor might negatively affect intersecting or parallel streets, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told Streetsblog.

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Rendering of the Loop Link corridor on Washington.

However, there will be “queue jumps” for the BRT buses, which will give them a short head start before other vehicles get a green light, similar to leading pedestrian interval walk signals, Claffey said. “This will allow [the buses] to leave a station in advance of general traffic and avoid conflict with right-turning traffic on the next block.”

CDOT is building eight Loop Link stations along Washington and Madison streets. The corridor, which also includes Canal and Clinton Streets, will link Union Station and the Ogilvie Center with Michigan Avenue. However, Hilkevitch reports, the planned station at Madison and Wabash Avenue won’t open until the spring, due to the construction of the new Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station, currently underway. That’s a little disappointing, but it won’t impact the ultimate performance of the BRT system.

Perhaps a more serious issue is that the Loop Link will lack prepaid boarding when it debuts. We’ve known for more than a year that the station at Madison and Dearborn Street would be the only stop with prepaid boarding to begin with, although the plan is to eventually expand the prepay system to all eight stations. However, Hilkevitch reports that even that pilot will be delayed until sometime next year.

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Orange Dots and Balloons Jazz Up the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall


Photo: John Greenfield

First built in 1975, the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall is a leafy, car-free walkway that runs for two blocks between Beacon Street and Magnolia Avenue in Uptown’s Sheridan Park section. With its benches, plantings, and mosaic-covered pillars, it should be a popular place for all kinds of positive activity, along the lines of Lincoln Square’s Kempf Plaza.

However, the Uptown space functions largely as a place to pass through while traveling to other places, according to neighbor Ginny Sykes, a restaurant owner and artist who’s a member of the Sunnyside Mall Committee. “What I observe is a lot of people walking through here on their way to and from the Red Line,” said Sykes, who has lived near the mall for almost 28 years. “They walk their dogs, they bring their kids out to throw balls and maybe play a little bit. They sit on the benches and have conversations. Children walk use it to walk to school.”


Photo: John Greenfield

While she feels the space already works fairly well, Sykes would like to see more programming at the mall, such as the art fair and the movie night that recently took place. “The more positive energy that goes into the space and the more people that get involved, the better it will be,” she said.

In order to come up with a long-term vision for the plaza, the Sunnyside Mall Committee is inviting community members to show up for a community input meeting in the plaza on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. It will be a chance to brainstorm ideas for a master plan that can be implemented over time.

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Dense Thinking: CNT Staffers Discuss the TOD Reform Ordinance


This TOD development at 2211 N. Milwaukee will have 120 units but only 60 parking spaces. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Believe it or not, back in the early nineties, ex-mayor Richard M. Daley was planning to tear out an entire branch of the El system. “The Lake Street branch of what’s now the Green Line had terrible slow zones and you could almost walk to Oak Park faster,” recalls Jacky Grimshaw, the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s vice president for policy. “The mayor and the CTA president wanted to take it down.”

Grimshaw says this moment of crisis was the birth of Chicago’s transit-oriented development movement, a push to create dense, parking-light housing and retail near rapid-transit stations in order to reduce car dependency. CNT and the West Side community organization Bethel New Life teamed up to present the CTA with a plan for TOD near the Lake/Pulaski stop, but it fell on deaf ears.

However, after Grimshaw penned a “woodsman spare this tree” op-ed for the Tribune, Daley apparently took notice. Soon afterwards, she says, the CTA managed to find $364 million in funding from leftover projects to pay for rehabbing the Lake Street branch, according to Grimshaw.

Chicago’s TOD movement has picked up steam over the past couple years. In 2013, City Council passed its first TOD ordinance, sponsored by First Ward alderman Proco Joe Moreno. The city’s zoning code generally mandates a one-to-one ratio of parking spots to housing units in new or rehabbed buildings. However, the 2013 law cuts that requirement in half for parcels within 600 feet of a rapid-transit stop, 1,200 feet on a designated Pedestrian Street, and allows higher density within these districts.

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