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Posts from the Design Category

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Eyes on the Street: Seeing Spots at the Lincoln Hub

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Looking southeast from the north side of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s first painted curb extensions are starting to take shape. Workers recently spray-painted the outlines of green and blue polka dots at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection as part of the “Lincoln Hub” traffic calming and placemaking projects. The street remix is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont.

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St. Alphonsus Church is on the left side of this rendering.

Flexible plastic bollards that extend the intersection’s six corners, planters, round seating units, and café tables and chairs have been in place for a few weeks now. These treatments have already improved pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, eliminating several slip lanes, and discouraging speeding. Residents have also been enjoying the additional seating on nice days.

However, now that the outlines of the dots are in place, it’s more obvious that the asphalt outlined by the posts is intended as space for walking and sitting, and it’s easier for motorists to understand the new configuration. The painting project had been delayed by recent rainy weather, according to SSA program director Lee Crandell. Pending warmer, sunny weather, crews will fill in the dots, creating an Oriental carpet-inspired design that will unify the intersection. After the paint is dry, additional seating will be added, completing the project.

DNAinfo reported that, at a recent South Lakeview Neighbors meeting, there were complaints that the new layout requires drivers to queue up behind left-turning motorists, since there is no longer space to pass on the right. I’ve hung out at the intersection a few times during rush hours and haven’t seen any major issues. “One of the goals of this project is to slow down cars to improve safety for pedestrians,” Crandell told me. “We think there are some significant improvements here for pedestrians.”

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

Crandell has talked to the Chicago Department of Transportation about the possibility of tweaking the design, including relocating bollards and adjusting signal timing for Southport to allow more drivers to move through the intersection. “But I’ve emphasized to the community that we need to see how this works when it’s completed,” he said. “After we let it settle in for a few weeks, we can make decisions based on what impact it’s having.”

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Chicago Gets First Curb-Protected Lanes; Many Other Bike Projects on Deck

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The curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive in Douglas Park. Photo: CDOT

In a surprise move, the Chicago Department of Transportation recently began building the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive through Douglas Park. This morning, assistant director of transportation planning Mike Amsden provided an update on this game-changing facility, plus a slew of other bikeways projects slated for 2015.

Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes within his first term. Later the goal was revised to include buffered bike lanes — which don’t offer physical protection from cars — as wells as PBLs. The city currently has 71.5 miles of BBLs and 18.5 miles of protected lanes, for a grand total of 90 miles, according to Amsden.

Since Emanuel was inaugurated for his second term this morning, the 100-mile target has obviously been pushed back a bit, but it’s likely CDOT will exceed that goal by the end of this year. “When we get there, [Streetsblog] will be the first to know,” Amsden promised. “Our focus this year is really going to be on bridging the gaps in the bike network.”

The new curb-separated lanes run on both sides of Sacramento, a curving roadway within the Southwest Side green space, on a quarter-mile stretch between Douglas Boulevard and Ogden Avenue. The curbs are about six inches high and two feet wide, with breaks at drainage basins, and wherever park paths cross the street.

The Sacramento protected bike lanes were originally installed in 2012 on a section that included some truly awful pavement – a counterproductive practice that CDOT has since discontinued. The new curbs are being put in as part of a resurfacing project.

“Over the past four years, we’ve put in a lot of bike lanes in a short time, but it was always our goal to upgrade them over time,” said Amsden. “We’re piloting curb separation here. Experimenting with concrete is something we want to do moving forward whenever we can.”

While CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced plans for curb-separated bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in Old Town last summer, there was no public announcement about the Sacramento curbs, Amsden said. However, 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler signed off on the plan. In early 2013, Chandler asked CDOT to downgrade an existing PBLs on nearby Independence Boulevard to buffered bike lanes.

While Amsden said he has heard reports of drivers parking in the Sacramento PBLs south of Ogden, near baseball diamonds and soccer fields, he doesn’t anticipate problems with cars blocking the curb-protected lanes, which are about eight feet wide. “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, but one of the goals of the concrete separation is to encourage drivers not to park in them.”

IDOT had previously prohibited CDOT from installing PBLs on state roads within the city. However, the state transportation department lifted the ban after an allegedly drunk driver struck and killed cyclist Bobby Cann at Clybourn and Larabee Street in 2013, and is actually spearheading and funding the Clybourn curb-protected lane project. CDOT has been helping out with design input and public outreach, Amsden said.

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To Be Perfectly Frank, This Is A Dog of a Project

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Image: John Greenfield

Does the idea of slathering the centrally located riverside land at Fullerton/Damen/Elston with asphalt make you red-hot? Let 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack know this traffic artery-clogging plan for the sausage emporium site doesn’t cut the mustard.

 

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Sawyer Hopes State Street Road Diet Will Revitalize Struggling Business Strip

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A buffered bike lane and new diagonal parking spaces will reduce the road width, discouraging speeding.

State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, is currently a pretty grim roadway. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, it’s essentially a frontage road, which drivers treat as an extension of the expressway. The pavement is a moonscape, and the street is lined with a motley mix of retail.

However, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer is optimistic that a complete streets overhaul on State will jump start the business strip and bring positive activity to the corridor. “The alderman wants to slow down car traffic and make the area more friendly to pedestrians,” said Sawyer’s chief of staff Brian Sleet. “We’re trying to get the ball tolling to change the image of State Street from a barren ex-warehouse district to something that fits the residential nature of these communities.”

Sleet said the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the speeding problem, improve the pedestrian environment, and add more car parking spaces as part of a project to repave the 1.3-mile stretch. According to CDOT, this section only sees 5,000 motor vehicle trips per day, and the excess road capacity encourages speeding. There were 504 reported crashes on this section between 2009 and 2013, with seven serious injuries and three fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street and 79 Street stations, located next to the strip in the median of the Dan Ryan, see 5,177 and 6,931 average daily boardings, respectively. However, there are few accommodations for pedestrians at these crossings.

CDOT proposed converting one of the three travel lanes on State to a buffered bike lane in order to narrow the roadway, calm traffic, and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking will be converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding seven or eight new spaces. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks and ADA ramps will be added at all intersections.

While CDOT’s Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program will pay for the construction, Sawyer chipped in $30,000 in ward money for a traffic study, Sleet said. “We figured, if they’re going do repave the street, why have them restripe it in a way that would remain ineffective?”

In the future, Sawyer is interested in adding curb extensions at 79th and 69th to further improve pedestrian access to the ‘L’ stops, according to Sleet. The alderman also wants to add a sound-dampening wall by the expressway. “By getting the noise down, that will help make State Street more friendly to pedestrians,” Sleet said. “We hope that will attract retailers and help make this a transit-oriented shopping area.”

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Residents: Car-centric Plan for Vienna Beef Site Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

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The meeting took place in the cafeteria of the Vienna Beef hot dog factory. Photo: Brett Ratner

Last night at a hearing on Mid-America Real Estate Group’s preliminary proposal to redevelop the Vienna Beef hotdog factory site, local residents said they don’t relish the thought of valuable riverfront land being slathered with acres of asphalt. The community meeting, served up by 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, took place at the sausage emporium, 2501 North Damen, which will be razed as part of a Chicago Department of Transportation project to reroute Elston Avenue.

The developer wants to convert this eight-acre-plus parcel at the northeast corner of the current Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection to suburban-style big box retail and office space with 437 car parking spaces. CDOT is relocating Elston about a block east of the junction, a strategy they hope will take a bite out of the intersection’s red-hot congestion problems.

The new Elston link will likely feature buffered or protected bike lanes. Plans for the site also call for some new green space, which would provide storm water mitigation, although nowhere near enough to make up for the vast amount of non-permeable surfaces created by the multiple parking lots. As required by a local ordinance, the developer would build a short stretch of river walk just east of Damen, which could potentially include a kayak launch and a water taxi station.

Waguespack said extending the river walk all the way to Fullerton would be contingent on the acquisition of the smaller land parcel to the east of the Vienna Beef property. He said that space would work well for an “REI-type” outdoor recreation gear store. There already is an REI store at 1466 North Halsted, two miles southeast. “We want a plan that will benefit the whole community,” the alderman said. “We want to find ways to capture that space and use it in ways that haven’t been done before.”

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The Divvy Density Dilemma: Are Stations in Low-Income Areas Too Far Apart?

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This station by Kennedy-King College in Englewood is a 3/4-mile walk from neighboring stations. Photo: John Greenfield

Planning a useful, equitable, and financially sustainable bike-sharing system in a big, diverse city like Chicago is no easy task. You have a finite budget, and therefore a limited number of cycles and docking stations to work with. You want to provide access to the system for as many people as possible, and you’re certain to get complaints from residents and politicians whose neighborhoods don’t get bikes. However, if you spread the available stations across too large a service area, there will be poor station density and the system won’t be convenient to use.

I respect the the fact that the Chicago Department of Transportation has had to make some tough decisions in implementing the Divvy bike-share system. However, a new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials suggests that the city may have made a mistake by placing Divvy stations too far apart from each other in many neighborhoods, especially low-income communities. The report, titled “Walkable Station Spacing Is Key to Successful, Equitable Bike Share,” argues that cities don’t do residents any favors by creating sprawling service areas that cover large numbers of neighborhoods, but don’t provide a useful network.

Low station density discourages use and undermines equity

The NACTO paper notes that, while bike-share can be an inexpensive, time-saving form of transportation, low-income people are underrepresented among American bike-share customers. In the U.S., poor neighborhoods tend to have a relatively low density of people and destinations, and when bike-share planners respond to this by putting a lower density of stations in these communities, it exacerbates the usage issue.

The study argues that, just as people usually aren’t willing to walk more than ten minutes to a rapid transit stop, if bike-share stations are located more than a five minute walk from a person’s starting point or destination, that person will generally choose a different mode. That jibes with my personal experience. I’m fortunate to live a quarter mile away from a Divvy station, but I find the five-minute walk to and from the station a little annoying, and if it was another block away I’d probably use it less often.

NACTO’s analysis of several different North American systems supports the five-minute rule theory. They found that the number of rides per day to or from a given station increases according to its proximity to other stations. For example, bikes in New York’s Citi Bike system, with 23 stations per square mile, got more than three times as much use as those in as the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride network, with only four stations per square mile.

Therefore, NACTO recommends that stations be placed no more than a five-minute walk from each other, which they define as 1,000 feet, for a density of 28 stations per square mile. I’d argue that average walking speed is a 20-minute mile, so placing stations every quarter-mile (two standard Chicago blocks), for a density of 25 per square mile, should be sufficient.

Low-income people tend to have less spare time and disposable income than wealthier folks, so they are even more likely to be deterred from paying to use bike-share if the station locations aren’t convenient. The study argues that, while efforts to increase bike-share use by low-income people have focused on offering discounted memberships and providing access to unbanked individuals, the density issue has largely been overlooked.

NACTO recommends having a consistently high station density across the service area, including poor neighborhoods with relatively low population densities. Rather than reducing the number of stations in these communities, the number of docking points at the stations should be adjusted according to demand.

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Transportation Wins in 45th Ward PB Vote; Milwaukee Remix Moving Forward

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CDOT will be implementing the least robust of the three Milwaukee road diet proposals, shown in this rendering.

There were a number of gains for walking and biking in last week’s participatory budgeting election in the 45th Ward, a Far Northwest Side district represented by Alderman John Arena. Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with a safety overhaul of a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue within the ward. This project was watered down due to pressure from residents, but it will still be an improvement to the high-crash corridor.

The participatory budgeting process was first pioneered in the U.S. six years ago by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, whose district includes Rogers Park. In the Chicago-style PB process, residents propose infrastructure projects to be funded by $1 million of the ward’s annual discretionary funds, known as menu money, and then vote on the projects. In addition to elections last week in Moore and Arena’s districts, a PB vote also took place in Alderman Ricardo Muñoz’s 22nd Ward, on the Southwest Side.

The 49th Ward had its biggest PB turnout ever last week, with over 1,800 voters. They chose to spend 62 percent of the PB budget on meat-and-potatoes infrastructure such as street and alley repaving, and curb repair. They also voted to fund a few sustainable transportation initiatives, including an improved pedestrian crossing at Clark and Chase, six new bus stop benches, and five murals to brighten up dismal CTA and Metra viaducts.

The results of last week’s 22nd Ward PB vote haven’t been released yet, but over 700 people took part, up from the low 600s last year, according to Muñoz’s assistant Amanda Cortes. Walking-related projects on the ballot included speed humps, viaduct lighting, and yellow-diamond pedestrian crossing signs.

While roughly 650 people voted in the 45th Ward’s first PB election in 2013, and around 500 participated last year, only about 450 residents took part this year. They voted to spend 54.7 percent of the $1 million set aside for PB on street repaving.

Of the resident-proposed projects that will be funded, the top vote getter was one that had been on the ballot the previous two years: striping conventional bike lanes on Milwaukee from Addison to Lawrence, at a cost of $60,000. Coming in second was a project to improve pedestrian safety along Pulaski and Avondale by the Kennedy Expressway with better lighting, plus new crosswalks, guardrails, pedestrian crossing signs, and security cameras, at a price tag of $45,000.

Voters also chose to spend $30,000 on three “People Spot” mini parks near Irving Park/Cicero/Milwaukee, Lawrence/Milwaukee, and Lawrence/Austin. Specific locations and designs have not been chosen yet, but Arena said several businesses are interested in having the on-street seating areas installed nearby.

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Artist Hopes Water-Inspired Mural at 69th St. Stop Will Refresh Commuters

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“Sanctuary” installation at the 69th Street station. Photo: Doug Fogelson

Local artist Doug Fogelson wants his new, water-inspired installation at the Red Line’s 69th station to have a ripple effect, improving the daily commute for thousands of Chicagoans. “My goal was to to create something timeless, elemental, and slightly abstract, that would enhance the experiences of people moving through the station or working there, over a long time span,” he said.

The work, entitled “Sanctuary,” consists of a permanent photo collage featuring images of ripples and waves, printed on six glass window panels on the west side of the station. It’s the third and latest art installation as part of the $425 million CTA’s Red Line South reconstruction project, which replaced 10.2 miles of track last year and rehabbed all eight ‘L’ stops between 87th Street and Cermak. The 95th Streets station is currently undergoing a massive, $240 million overhaul.

The eight train stops were upgraded with new lights, paint, electrical substation work, and other improvements. As part of the makeovers, each station is also getting new public art. All except the Cermak-Chinatown stop had existing artwork that will remain in place. The price tag for the eight new pieces, including artist fees, fabrication, shipping and other expenses, but excluding installation, is $590,400, bankrolled by transit enhancement funds from the Federal Transportation Administration.

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69th Street ‘L’ stop, looking south. Image: Google Maps

The CTA held a call for artists in June 2013, but re-advertised the bid that November, “acting in our best interest,” according to spokeswoman Catherin Hosinski. Altogether, the CTA received more than 300 submissions, which were evaluated by a committee on the basis of artistic merit, qualifications, and professional recognition of the artists, Hosinski said.

A piece by Andrew Hall was installed in mid-February at the 47th Street station, followed by a work by McArthur Binion at the 79th Street stop in late March. Fogelson’s installation went in last week. The remaining five pieces should be installed this year.

Prior to this commission, Fogelson (an old acquaintance of mine) had an “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” relationship to the CTA. About ten years ago, he was short-listed to create art for a Blue Line station in Lawndale, and eight years ago he was a finalist to provide an installation for another ‘L’ stop. “The third time was the charm,” he said. He declined to say how much he was paid for the work, but noted that the artist’s fee can only make up ten percent of the total cost of a CTA art piece.

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Eyes on the Street: Half-Finished “Lincoln Hub” Is Already Improving Safety

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The partially completed Lincoln Hub, as seen from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, construction started on the “Lincoln Hub,” a traffic calming and placemaking project at Lincoln/Wellington/Southport, and the intersection has already been transformed for the better. The makeover is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont, slated for completion around May 22.

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Lincoln Hub, inspired by Oriental rug designs. St. Alphonsus is on left side.

The Lincoln Hub will feature Chicago’s first painted curb extensions, with planters and flexible posts to keep cars out of the pedestrian space and shorten crossing distances. There will also be small seating plazas at the northwest and southeast corners of the six-way intersection. Patterns of blue and green dots will be painted on the sidewalks in a pattern reminiscent of an Oriental rug, which will help visually unify the intersection.

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Looking southeast on Lincoln. Photo: John Greenfield

The plastic posts have already been installed, and a number of round, concrete seating units have already been delivered, although most of them have not been unwrapped yet. These changes have already affected how people use the intersection. When I visited during the evening rush yesterday, car traffic was moving slowly, but steadily, and the neckdowns didn’t seem to be creating congestion issues.

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View from the northwest corner of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

The elimination of three slip lanes was slowing down turning drivers, creating a safer situation for pedestrians. People on foot, including many seniors and families with young children I observed, seemed to appreciate shorter crossing distances, although I didn’t see many people lingering on the car-free asphalt surfaces. This will change after the curb extensions are painted and the planters and seating are in place. It will be exciting to see how residents take advantage of their new, people-friendly space once it’s completed.

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One of the new seating elements at the northwest corner. Photo: John Greenfield

 View more photos of the Lincoln Hub here. 

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SSA Hopes Lincoln Project Will Provide Magic Carpet Ride to Higher Sales

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Lincoln Hub, inspired by Oriental rug designs. St. Alphonsus is on left side of rendering.

In a little over a month from now, a relatively sleepy stretch of Lincoln in Lakeview will be transformed. Construction on the Lincoln Avenue Placemaking Project is slated to begin next Monday, April 20, with work finishing up around May 22.

The initiative will activate the four-block business strip between Diversey and Belmont with clusters of custom seating and planters, plus patterns of blue and green dots painted on the sidewalk, inspired by Oriental carpet designs. Best of all, the project will create a new “Lincoln Hub” at Lincoln/Wellington/Southport, which will combine traffic calming with seats and public art to create a new gathering place for the neighborhood.

“We want people to slow down and linger, and notice all the great things on Lincoln,” said Lee Crandell, program director for Special Service Area #27, which is working with the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce on the endeavor. “We want the street to be a vibrant community place, rather than just somewhere to pass through.”

He noted that there are several new businesses on this stretch, including Wrightwood Furniture, the Brown Elephant thrift store, Gyros on the Spit restaurant, and Beermiscuous bar. “There’s a lot of great energy on this part of Lincoln nowadays, but the foot traffic hasn’t cemented yet. That’s something we want to support by making the street a more welcoming place.” The elimination of this stretch of the #11 Lincoln bus route back in 2012, is one factor in why this stretch of the street – sections of which are more than a ten-minute walk from the Brown Line – is relatively quiet.

Last year, the SSA released a new placemaking plan for the business district, based on input from two public meeting and an online survey, with 250 residents and business owners participating. The idea was to come up with relatively inexpensive, short-term improvements that could be made over the next three years, before the city does a full streetscape, which will include new curbs and trees. The price tag for the placemaking project, which was designed by the urban design and landscape architecture firm Site Design, is $175K.

Participants said they wanted more sidewalk cafes, public seating, and other places for people to hang out on the street. They requested more greenery to beautify the street and provide shade. And they wanted walking on the sidewalks and crossing streets to be safer, more convenient, and more pleasant. Merchants were especially interested in calming car traffic so that motorists would be more likely to notice their storefronts, Crandell said.

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