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Good News: IDOT Reconsiders Trading Car Lanes for Bus Lanes on the Drive

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After reviewing recent data on travel demand, the department is considering the possibility of creating bus-only lanes on the drive without widening the road. Image: IDOT

On a cold afternoon earlier this month, almost a year after the Illinois Department of Transportation held a hearing to update the public on the “Redefine the Drive” project to rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, IDOT hosted another community meeting to discuss design alternatives. While it’s encouraging to see the state proposing a somewhat less car-centric version of the shoreline highway, their plans still leave a lot to be desired.

The hearing started out with a quick update work to create separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists on the Lakefront Trail. Work on building a bike-only “commuter trail” on the South Side between 31st and 51st is progressing faster than originally anticipated, and there will be hearings about doing a similar project on the North Side next year. In fact, the North Side path separation work could be completed years ahead the North LSD reconstruction.

Next the discussion turned to the highway reconstruction. Residents have submitted over 1,200 ideas for improving Lake Shore Drive by various means. IDOT has already rejected many of these suggestions due to cost, as well as concerns about reducing so-called “Level of Service,” i.e. a measure of unimpeded traffic flow for drivers.

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A project is currently underway to separate pedestrian and bike traffic on the Lakefront Trail between 31st and 51st. There will be hearings next year about doing similar work on the North Side. Photo: John Greenfield

Several ideas for tunnels and/or causeways (roads on an embankment above a body of water) were scrapped due to expense. These would have involved either digging an express tunnel under existing North Lake Shore or building a massive tunnel or causeway bypass extending deep into the lake.

The state also rejected proposals to build a light rail line as part of the reconstruction (along with any hope of heavy rail in the future) due to cost. While no map was provided, an IDOT official did mention they had considered a plan for an 11-mile line that would have run from the McCormick Place convention center all the way to Loyola University in Rogers Park. The $4 billion price tag for the proposal was considered to be a deal-breaker.

Another proposal that the state threw out was to create at-grade intersections at Montrose, Wilson, and Lawrence, eliminating the viaducts. A possible motivation for this idea is the backlash from some local residents against homeless encampments in some of these underpasses. While IDOT is open to a possible reduction in lanes on the drive in this stretch due to relatively low traffic, they have already eliminated the possibility of at-grade intersections because the stoplights would delay motorists on the highway.

The proposals that IDOT hasn’t yet rejected include some very bus-friendly ideas. These include several managed lane options, as well as dedicated bus lanes. At the December 2015 meeting IDOT project and environmental studies section chief John Baczek indicated that adding dedicated bus lanes would probably require widening the highway, because it was unlikely existing car lanes would be converted to bus-only lanes. But, surprisingly, at the recent hearing there were signs that the department may be willing to convert two of the existing lanes after all.

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An Active Transportation Alliance Benefit That Will Really Rock

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There’s plenty of bike parking at the Bottle. Image: Google Street View

Here’s a painless way to support the advocacy work of the Active Transportation Alliance (or painful if, unlike me, you don’t like forward-thinking rock bands).

In the wake of this year’s high-profile bike fatality cases, local musicians wanted to do something to help push for positive change. They’re donating their services to raise money for Active Trans’ efforts to promote better conditions for walking, biking, and transit with a benefit concert next week, and tickets will cost you a mere $5.

Active Trans Benefit Concert
Tuesday, December 13, 8:30 p.m.
The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.

The show is headlined by Mako Sica, a local trio featuring “wordless vocals and Eastern-influenced melodies,” which recently appeared on NPR’s World Music-focused show Radio M. Rounding out the bill is Mardou, a punk band from Cinicinatti, the Chicago/Memphis duo Courtesy, playing “dark, experimental ambient soundscapes” combined with video, and Taphophile, an avant-garde solo project.

“I feel passionate about supporting awareness and respect for cyclists in the city,” says Mako Sica guitarist Brent Fuscaldo. “I commute at least twice a day to work on bike and am a year-round rider, even in harsh winter conditions. And anyone who spends time on bike sees the challenges we all face in safety even within the first few blocks of a trip. Rather than just complain about it, we wanted to have our band help in some way.”

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Big Marsh Is a Hit With Local Cyclists, But It’s Still Challenging to Bike There

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A rider catching air on the medium terrain trail. Photo: Derrick James

Sunday’s grand opening for Big Marsh bike park and nature reserve was a long-anticipated celebration. If you’re not familiar with Big Marsh or its history, Streetsblog’s John Greenfield previously covered the plans and the challenges of accessing the site by bike.

I started my day by biking to the Pullman Porter Museum to meet up with a ride organized by Slow Roll Chicago and two other groups coming from further north. From there we rode east 103rd Street, a wide, high-speed road, finding safety in numbers. Having a group of over 50 people) allowed us to take the center lane while passing the highway ramps that create dangerous situations when riding alone or in a small group. After turning off 103rd, the wide shoulder on Stony Island Avenue offered a reasonable alternative when traffic needed to pass.

The grand opening started with a press conference and ribbon cutting, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, park district chief Michael Kelly, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and Deloris Lucas, a transportation advocate from the greater Altgeld Gardens area who serves on the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

Big Marsh Park Grand Opening

Emanuel speaks at the ribbon cutting. Photo: Jeff Zoline

After the presentation, the mayor stepped away from the crowd, helmet in hand. I asked him “Are you ready to ride?” With a big smile on his face, he said “I am so ready.” He jumped on a borrowed bike and took a spin on the dirt trail that circles the pump track and other terrain areas in the park.

The park’s features include areas designed for BMX riding, cyclocross, mountain biking and casual trail riding on a 44-acre site. Hundreds of people of all ages tested out the park’s terrain on a wide range of bikes, from BMX to cyclocross to mountain bikes and more.

The remainder of the park (234 acres) is a nature reserve, a significant bird watching area where a wide range of water birds, raptors, migrating species, native songbirds and other wildlife can be seen. I volunteered at a habitat restoration workday last spring, where we worked at removing invasive plant species. I was rewarded by seeing a red-tailed hawk on a nest, a bald eagle in flight, great blue herons and many other species of water birds.

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Chicago’s First “Shared Street” on Argyle Is Officially Open for Business

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The Chinese Mutual Aid Society’s dragon dancers perform at the opening of the shared street. Photo: John Greenfield

This afternoon in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman, and other local officials cut the ribbon on the Argyle “shared street,” a pedestrian-priority design inspired by similar streets in Asia and Europe. By calming traffic and blurring the lines between spaces for walking and vehicles, as well as providing more room for sidewalk cafes and special events, the streetscape should increase safety while giving a boost to businesses on Chicago’s Southeast Asian retail strip.

Emanuel, who spent part of his childhood living nearby on Winona Street, said the project has improved the aesthetics of the dining and shopping district, “inviting people from all around the city and the area to come and experience the cultural diversity” of the neighborhood. He indicated that Chicago may try similar people-friendly street designs in other neighborhoods in the future.

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The east half of the shared street as it appeared today. Photo: John Greenfield

The makeover of three-block stretch of Argyle, located between Broadway and Sheridan, raised the street up to sidewalk level, eliminated the curbs, delineated different uses of the right of way with various colors of pavers and street furniture, and made the strip fully wheelchair accessible. The roughly $4.5 million project was funded through a combination of tax-increment financing, ward, and Department of Water infrastructure funding.

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A new pedestrian island with a decorative pole featuring (with colors inspired by Vietnamese cuisine?) on Broadway at Argyle. Photo: John Greenfield

Green elements of the design include more efficient streetlights, permeable pavers, and infiltration planters to soak up rainwater. The latter were recently landscaped with small trees and flowers, so the concrete basins are finally full of vegetation instead of garbage.

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The Cubs World Series Victory Parade Transforms the Streets of Lakeview

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Clark Street south of Wrigley Field. Photo: John Greenfield

If you’ll indulge this bandwagon-jumper in a bit more Cubs-mania (don’t worry, we’ll have another serious post or two today), I thought SBC readers might enjoy a few shots of how the in-progress Cubs victory parade has filled the streets of the Lakeview neighborhood with humans instead of motor vehicles. It’s more evidence that some of the most memorable moments in cities can happen when right of way is used for something other than just moving and storing metal boxes.

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Addison Street west of the ballpark. Photo: John Greenfield

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Halsted Street south of Addison. Photo: John Greenfield

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After Cubs Victory, the Streets Were Filled With Happy People Instead of Cars

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People filled the streets at Newport/Sheffield/Clark in Lakeview. Photo: John Greenfield

Whether you are a diehard Cubs fan, bandwagon jumper (guilty as charged), or couldn’t care less about baseball, if you love cities you have to appreciate the transformation Chicago underwent after last night’s historic World Series victory. Most people take for granted that roadways are for moving and storing motor vehicles. But on occasions when the streets are filled with people rather than cars, it can set the stage for fun human interaction that isn’t otherwise possible.

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The scene last night at the normally car-choked North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park. Photo: John Greenfield

It must be noted that the authorities might not have tolerated similar behavior on the South and West Sides. But last night’s postgame celebrations on North Side thoroughfares were scenes of unbridled joy, the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before in 27 years of living in this city.

A lot of that had to do with the revelry spilling out into pedestrianized streets. And it appears that the celebration was overwhelmingly good-natured – I didn’t witness or read about any acts of violence or vandalism, despite the fact that many tens of thousands of people participated. As you can see from this video, transit riders got in on the fun as well.

Following last night’s Streetsblog reader meetup at Lagunitas Brewery in North Lawndale, I stopped in Wicker Park to watch the end of the game. My Divvy ride home to Uptown via Wrigleyville was memorable, to say the least – my palms are still sore from all the on-bike high fives.

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CTA to Spend Millions on Building Parking Garages for Red Line Extension

The CTA doesn't want you to see the 7-story parking garage it would build, so it published this rendering showing the view from hundreds of feet away.

The CTA doesn’t want you to see the 7-story parking garage it would build, so it published this rendering showing the view from hundreds of feet away. (This is the “after” view. It takes a second to realize the difference between this and the EIS’s “before” view.)

The Chicago Transit Authority published its Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Red Line extension from 95th St. to 130th St. in the Riverdale community area last month, and it includes a couple of good and bad surprises. An EIS is a study that federal law requires before the United States Department of Transportation fund any highway or transit infrastructure.

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A map of Metra Electric district lines and the proposed Red Line extension. Map: The Chicago Dispatch

Scattered within it, the CTA describes how it intends to operate service on the extension, on which it’s proposed four new stops, at 130th, in Roseland, Pullman, West Pullman, and Riverdale.

The EIS outlines the CTA’s intention to build thousands of expensive new car parking spaces next to each of the stations, an atrocious use of public funds. The CTA’s parking study for this project was conducted in 2009 and concluded that the Red Line extension could attract drivers affects by heavy expressway congestion getting to work or pay high costs to park downtown.

The CTA intends to build 3,700 car parking spaces across all four stations, with 3,300 of them at two stations.

Transit agency-built parking facilities have negative affects: they waste transit agency  – public – money and aren’t a significant draw of riders.

The CTA would spend tens of millions on a 7-story car parking garage with 2,300 spaces at the 130th St. terminal station. The EIS doesn’t project the cost of these garages, but if the median cost per space in Chicago is $22,425, according to a review of actual construction costs, this structure would cost over $51 million.

At the Michigan Ave. and 116th St. station, the CTA would build a 3- or 5-story garage for 1,000 cars, at a cost of over $22 million. Some existing buildings would be acquired or condemned and then demolished in order to build the garages.

Other parking studies show higher per-space costs.

Building publicly-owned and indebted car parking garages are not good public investments. Deloris Lucas, a Riverdale resident who’s asked the city to build a simple sidewalk so people can walk to a grocery store, said she also wants “a full-line grocery store, a pharmacy, currency exchange, a library, a dry cleaner and a community center.”

One of CTA’s parking structures could pay for all of those venues to open, and fund many public services in the area for years.

The CTA is hosting a public hearing tonight at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, at 211 E. 115th St., from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Comments can also be made online at: RedExtension@transitchicago.com. Public comments are accepted through Nov. 30, 2016. You can also your comments to Chicago Transit Authority, Strategic Planning & Policy, 10th Floor, Attn: Red Line Extension Project, 567 W. Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60661-1465.

I’ll discuss one of the positive surprises in a separate post.

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Greenway Questioned for First Time After Mell Cancels Diverter Trial Early

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Alder. Deb Mell (33) and her assistant Jeff Sobczyk in September.

Alder. Deb Mell (33rd Ward) told a large crowd gathered in the basement of Horner Park field house that she had instructed the Chicago Department of Transportation to end the car traffic diverter trial early. CDOT started the trial on September 19 with support from Mell and the ward’s Transportation Action Committee, among other community groups, in September. The trial was supposed to continue for two months until November 18. The barricades are being removed on Friday.

The public meeting tonight was for the monthly Transportation Action Committee, which I’ve been a member of since the first meeting in February 2014.

Two barricades at the intersection of Manor Ave. and Wilson Ave. required motorists to turn off of Manor Ave. People cycling could continue through the intersection.

CDOT is using this trial to test the effects of a diverter on distributing vehicle traffic on other streets as a solution to reducing traffic volume on a street that more cyclists will be riding down as new riverfront trail sections open up in the next two years.

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Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Mell apologized to those in attendance “if [the trial] put you out of your routine” and said, “I really wanted to give it a good shot.”

Mell said that when she called Mike Amsden to talk about ending it early he supported the decision because running this test was taxing their resources and that they had collected enough data to analyze. Read more…

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Activists Held Rally on CTA to Honor Red Line Murder Victim Jessica Hampton

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The activists chanted phrases in honor of Hampton on the Lake Street Red Line platform. Photo: Sarah-Ji Photography

In response to the murder of Jessica Hampton, 25, onboard a Red Line train in June, last Saturday afternoon activists used the ‘L’ system as a venue to speak out against violence against African-American girls and women. The event, called “Beautiful Resistance,” was hosted by A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based national nonprofit led by Scheherazade Tillet, and drew dozens of people to draw attention to the issue.

According to prosecutors, Hampton was riding a southbound Red Line train on the afternoon of June 23 when she got in an argument with Arthur Jones, 29, a man she had previously dated. As the train approached the 47th Street station, Jones stabbed Hampton, the mother of a six-year-old girl, multiple times and then slit her throat. After Jones exited the train at 47th, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

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Jessica Hampton

The activists sought to draw attention to Hampton’s case, as well as those of other domestic violence victims and survivors. “As part of the #sayhername campaign, we plan to lift up the names of Jessica and other black girls and women who have experienced violence in their homes, schools, and communities,” read the rally invite. “Jessica’s last words were ‘help me’ — help us be upstanders, not bystanders when community violence ensues, and march with love as we fight to make our world safer and more beautiful for us all.”

Kofi Ademola, 37, a lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Chicago, which partnered with A Long Walk Home for the event, offered to provide a report on what took place. BLM Chicago raised money to help pay for Hampton’s funeral expenses and introduced her family to A Long Walk Home, and Ademola previous participated in an African drum ceremony at the 47th Street station to honor the victim.

“Beautiful Resistance” began at the Firehouse Community Arts Center, 2211 South Hamlin in Lawndale, with a dialogue around domestic violence issues. “Social workers and others spoke about how they feel police, judges, and the criminal justice system are ineffective when it comes to preventing violence against women,” Ademola said.

From there they marched to the Pink Line, chanting phrases like “Say her name: Jessica Hampton.” Aboard the train the activists did a “teach-in,” distributing hand-outs on domestic violence and discussing the issue with passengers.

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Join Us for a Reader Meetup Next Week With Go Pilsen at Lagunitas Brewery

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Lagunitas Brewery. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

We’re continuing to hold our reader meetups in various parts of town and co-hosting them with local groups that promote sustainable transportation. Next Wednesday, November 2, from 6-8 p.m. we’ll be convening with members of Go Pilsen at Lagunitas Brewery, 2607 West 17th St.

Lagunitas can be accessed via the California Pink Line station or the #49 Western bus stop at Western and 16th. There’s a Divvy station by the California stop.

I plan on biking there after that afternoon’s Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting, which takes place from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. at City Hall in room 1103 and is open to the public. Drop me a line at jgreenfield@streetsblog.org if you’re interested cycling from the Loop to the brewery around 5 p.m.

The taproom has a huge beer selection and a full kitchen menu, so it’s likely a good time will be had by all. I’m looking forward to meeting more Streetsblog readers and Go Pilsen folks and learning more around transportation issues in the area.

RSVP for next month’s event on Facebook if you like.