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Spruced-Up California Station Reopens After Six-Week Closure

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CTA Chairman Terry Peterson, State Senator Iris Martinez, Emanuel, Borggren, Durbin, and Claypool. Photo: Lisa Phillips.

The freshly renovated California station on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch reopened today after being closed for six weeks, an interminable wait for locals who rely on the train stop. Originally opened in 1895, the station recently received both structural and cosmetic improvements. These include a larger building footprint, refurbished walls, stairs, and platforms, new lights and signs, and more bike racks.

California is one of 13 stations on the O’Hare Branch, from Grand to Cumberland, that are being rehabbed as part of the CTA’s $492 million “Your New Blue” initiative, which also includes repairs to aging signals, power systems, and tracks. Launched nine months ago, the project is the largest investment in the Blue Line since it was extended to the airport in 1984. The branch currently carries about 80,000 riders each weekday.

Speaking at the California stop’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning, CTA President Forrest Claypool boasted that the station rehab was completed on time and on budget. He added that the Blue Line work will “not only make the [riding] experience more comfortable, but also ultimately take ten minutes off the commute to O’Hare Airport from downtown and back.” Claypool noted that the faster travel times will be a boon for local commuters, as well as tourists coming into the city from O’Hare.

“All of this is part of an unprecedented $5 billion CTA modernization plan launched by Mayor Emanuel in 2011, and supported staunchly and consistently by Governor Quinn and Senator Durbin,” Claypool added. “It’s been a true partnership from the very beginning between the state and city… demonstrating that modern, effective mass transit is worth the investment — because of the jobs, and because of the [improvement to] quality of life in neighborhoods like Logan Square.”

Erica Borggren, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, speaking on behalf of Governor Pat Quinn, argued that investing in transit helps the city and state stay globally competitive. She promised that the current work is a harbinger of more such investments to come during a third term for Quinn, who hopes to be reelected on November 4.

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#1 North Lake Shore Drive Request: Separate Bike, Pedestrian Trails

Chicago's Lakefront Trail and Lake Shore Drive

The current configuration of the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton rings a narrow path with dangerously low bollards, right next to a popular trail entrance and major attractions like Theater on the Lake and volleyball courts. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

This week, the Redefine the Drive study team listed the most requested improvements (PDF) that Chicagoans want to see as part of the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. By far the most popular is also among the easiest and least expensive ways to improve safety: creating separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the overcrowded Lakefront Trail.

Creating two paths would allow families to enjoy the scenery at a meandering child’s pace. It would result in fewer close calls and fewer “blame game” articles. Runners, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wouldn’t have to be startled by “on your left” anymore.

Theater on the Lake project

A park improvement will add new park space at Fullerton. The current shoreline is shown in red. Image: CDOT

One small step towards having more lakefront trail options advanced on Monday, when Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld broke ground on a rebuilt shoreline revetment at Fullerton Avenue. By 2016, the $31.5 million project will create nearly six new acres of park space south of Theater on the Lake, along with two through paths.

A new shoreline path for wanderers will hug the shoreline, while a path for through travel will run further from shore. People entering the park from the end of Fullerton Avenue will have several paths to choose from, replacing the current “big mixing bowl” setup that routes trail travelers through crowds of people entering or leaving the park.

The Chicago Park District made similar changes two years ago at 31st Street Beach, by moving the Lakefront Trail underneath the main path that visitors use to walk into the beach and park area. Between there and the 43rd Street beach, the Park District also added new paths that better accommodate users moving at different speeds and reduce congestion along the main trail.

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More Noise About the Mulberry Speed Camera From the Anti-Cam Crowd

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An anti-cam rally near Mulberry Playlot Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The backlash against the Mulberry Playlot Park speed camera keeps getting more surreal. Now, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas is calling for demolishing the park to get rid of the cam.

On September 4, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the speed cam at Archer Avenue and Paulina Street, about 500 feet northwest of the park. Since then, the camera has been issuing warnings to drivers who speed in the posted 25 mph safety zone on Archer. After October 19, the cam will begin issuing tickets to motorists who go 35 mph or faster in the zone, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are usually fatal.

After resident Lupe Castillo posted a video that claimed that the playlot isn’t visible from Archer (actually, it is), and griped that the camera is a case of the city “stealing our money,” some drivers in the ward demanded that it be removed. Cardenas, who voted for Chicago’s speed camera ordinance, told DNAinfo.com earlier this month that the Mulberry cam is “nothing more than a money maker,” and said he wanted to get it relocated to nearby Ashland Avenue.

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The park is actually easy to spot from Archer and Robinson. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT spokesman Pete Scales noted that Mulberry Park’s safety zone, the one-eighth-mile buffer within which speed cams can legally be installed, was in the top ten percent of Chicago safety zones for crashes. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 214 crashes near the park, including six causing serious injury or death. Speeding was a factor 68 of these collisions, and 47 of the crashes involved children.

Cardenas recently launched an online survey asking constituents whether the camera should remain in place, whether it should be relocated to the Archer/Ashland intersection – where the bulk of the crashes have taken place — or whether it should be removed altogether. Apparently, the alderman thought it would be a good idea to let a small sampling of 12th Ward residents — largely drivers who’ve complained about getting speeding tickets — dictate where the speed cam should go. Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of the respondents said the camera should be removed, with 23 percent saying it should be relocated to Ashland.

Emboldened, Cardenas came up with an even wackier idea for getting the Mulberry camera removed. In a letter to constituents, he said he wants to “rezone” the park, take down the playground equipment, and eventually demolish the green space. In theory, that would require CDOT to remove the cam. “I think that makes a lot more sense to me than having a playlot nobody uses and nobody can find,” he said.

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Neighbors Meet Artist Whose Work Will Grace Damen ‘L’ Stop

Damen Blue Line Station

The Damen station house. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

On Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority hosted a public meeting to introduce Wicker Park residents to artist Gaston Noques, whose team will create a new work for the Damen Blue Line station, adjacent to the busy Wicker Park intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen. The ‘L’ stop will receive substantial improvements as part of the Your New Blue project, which will also rehab the neighboring California and Western stations on the O’Hare Line. Noques’ artwork will remain at the Damen stop for at least five years.

The Damen station will be closed from October 20th to December 22nd, with CTA trains running express between Division and Western. While the station is closed, construction crews will repair and repaint the Damen station house, as well as install new platforms with improved lighting, new signage, and new bike racks. The CTA will temporarily increase service on the #56 Milwaukee bus line to serve Wicker Park and Bucktown customers while the station is closed.

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Nogues’ “Air Garden” installation at LAX Airport. Photo: Joshua White

The Damen stop is registered as a local and national historic landmark. Built at the turn of the century, it currently handles about 12 million riders a year. The remodel aims to preserve the station’s historic integrity while making the station safer, more comfortable, and more pleasant to use. “[The station is] really cinematic,” Wicker Park resident Ashley Galloway commented during the meeting. ”Every time I’m at La Colombe [a neighboring coffee house], I feel like I’m in a movie. It’s the heart of this neighborhood.”

The CTA selected a proposal by Nogues’ Los Angeles-based art studio Ball-Nogues from 100 submissions received during a public call for artists. ”Our environment is very important,” Nogues told the attendees at the meeting, held at the Silver Room jewelry boutique. He showed photos of his design and fabrication studio, which is full of heavy machinery and large artworks in various states of assembly. “When you’re doing something, when you’re fabricating something, you have that connection to that artwork being made… Unlike a lot of people, we make what we design.”

Nogues compared his studio’s design and fabrication techniques to those of automobile magnate Henry Ford. “To create the Model T, he had to invent the production line,” the artisit said. “He had to invent the production line to create what we have outside right now — [car] traffic.”

Ball-Nogues’ version of the production line uses custom-built assembly machinery, as well as proprietary computer software that allows them to visualize many different potential versions of a project much faster than traditional modeling, Nogues said. Their creative process is rooted in playing with materials in innovative ways: inflating metal, burning items with a lens, or creating massive papier mâché works with concrete.

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Six Corners Businesses Welcome More Bikes, Fewer Drive-Throughs

City Newsstand and their sidewalk café will be getting an on-street bike parking corral if $10,000 is raised.

City Newsstand is slated to gain an on-street bike parking corral — if local businesses can raise $10,000.

Six Corners businesses are hosting a bike ride this evening to raise money for three bike parking corrals, which will provide 36 bike parking spaces in place of three car parking spaces. The Six Corners Bike Committee formed this summer to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians around the business district surrounding the three-way intersection of Cicero Avenue, Irving Park Road, and Milwaukee Avenue. Wisconsin bike rack manufacturer Saris has said that, if the group can raise $10,000 before November 1, they’ll donate a fourth corral, increasing the number of bike parking spaces to 48.

Six Corners Association program manager Kelli Wefenstette said that more than 20 businesses have opened or will open this year around the corners. “As shopping increases,” she said in an email, “we want to increase safety for those of all ages and abilities traveling to our pedestrian shopping destination.” Six Corners may be taking a cue from its Milwaukee Avenue neighbors in Logan Square and Wicker Park, where bike parking corrals have proven popular.

The corrals would be installed at City Newsstand (4018 N. Cicero Avenue), the mixed-use Klee Plaza building (4015 N. Milwaukee Avenue), and the Slingshots teen center (4839 W. Irving Park Road). The fourth bike corral’s location hasn’t been determined.

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There’s Still Time for Evanston Residents to Voice Support for Safer Biking

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The two-way segment of the Church Street protected bike lanes. Photo: Steven Vance

The Evanston City Council passed an update to the suburb’s bike plan, including plans for a network of protected lanes, on July 28. However, some of these bikeway projects have hit a roadblock, in the form of opposition from two aldermen and a handful of residents.

On Tuesday, the Active Transportation Alliance launched an online petition, where Evanston residents can send a message to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and the city council asking them to follow through with building these much-needed bike lanes. Active Trans has extended the deadline for signatures through this weekend. On Monday, they’ll present the petition to the Evanston leadership before a City Council meeting to decide the fate of several bikeways.

“We want to let Evanston officials know that there are many residents who support their efforts to improve biking and want to see the plan move forward in a timely manner,” said Active Trans’ suburban outreach manager Nancy Wagner. The hearing takes place on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Avenue. It’s open to the public, and residents will have the opportunity to comment.

At Monday’s meeting, council members will discuss bikeway proposals for a number of streets. There’s currently a non-protected bike lane on westbound Davis Street between Hinman and Ridge avenues. The plan calls for extending the Davis bikeway as a protected lane from Ridge to Florence Avenue, and then through Mason Park to meet up with a two-way section of the existing Church Street protected bike lanes.

Protected and non-protected lanes are planned for Sheridan Road, between Chicago Avenue and Isabella Street. Non-protected bike lanes are slated for Dodge Avenue, from Howard to Church streets. A three-block stretch of protected lanes is proposed for Chicago between Sheridan Road and Davis.

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Logan Square Residents Refine Vision For Development Atop ‘L’ Station

Residents use blocks to visualize desirable development near the Logan Square Blue Line station.

Residents use wood blocks to visualize desirable development near the Logan Square Blue Line station. Photo: MPC

The second of three Corridor Development Initiative meetings last week collected more detailed feedback about what Logan Square residents hope to see replace a municipal parking lot and under-used bus transfer plaza atop the neighborhood’s ‘L’ station.

The meeting began with a brief audience survey whose results mirrored the findings from the previous meeting. During a short question-and-answer session, one attendee mentioned a recently confirmed proposal to develop the nearby Megamall property, which could include the grocery store that had arisen as a priority in the earlier meeting.

The bulk of the meeting focused on an exercise where small groups of participants stacked blocks of wood together, Lego-like, to visualize how different uses could fit into buildings and open space on the site. The resulting configurations evolved as individuals voiced different opinions, but all of the groups came to broadly similar conclusions: Housing should take the lion’s share of the space, especially on the tucked-away northern end, some retail should face the station, and a park should separate the two. Respondents either ignored parking, shoved it off to the side, or tucked it under the housing.

There was significant support for higher densities than the three stories typical of the surrounding neighborhood, with many groups presenting five-story buildings that could maximize the number of affordable housing units.  One group even suggested a hotel, given the lot’s location between the Loop and O’Hare Airport and its great skyline views.

Some attendees questioned the need to have a large bus depot, since many of the bus routes that once served what had been a major transfer terminal have been cut in the years since. Reducing the size of the turnaround would free up more space for buildings or park space, while removing the turnaround entirely could simplify the awkward route that the #76 Diversey takes and thus improve bus reliability.

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Car-Free Cappleman Touts Wilson Station Rehab as a Catalyst for TOD

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Rendering of the new station, including the restored Gerber building.

At a community meeting Wednesday on the upcoming reconstruction of the Red Line’s Wilson stop, 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman argued that one of the best things about the new station is that it will encourage walkable, transit-friendly development.

“One of the things I’ve pushed for as alderman is transit-oriented development, [which is a] good, sound urban planning practice,” he told residents during the hearing at Truman College. “We want to create more density closest to the ‘L’ stop.”

Cappleman noted that 45 percent of ward residents don’t own cars. “I am one of those people,” he said. “We also found that that 50 percent of the disposable income that you spend is spent outside the ward. So if we are going to make this a livable, walkable community, we need to make sure you can do your shopping here. “

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Rendering of the new main entrance on the south side of Wilson.

He added that the ward has been working with the mayor’s office and various city departments on strategies to fill empty storefronts near the station. “From my discussions with many developers, they are banging on the doors wanting to do something, so you’re going to see some exciting things, and it’s because of this Wilson ‘L’ stop,” Cappleman said. “The trick is making sure that, while we do that, we keep [the ward] as diverse as possible.”

At the meeting, officials updated residents on construction plans for the $203 million project, a massive overhaul of a station that RedEye readers have thrice voted Chicago’s grungiest. Originally built in 1923, the station has badly deteriorated over the last century, and it is not ADA accessible.

The new station will function as an additional transfer point between the Red and Purple lines, which means Uptown residents will be able to catch the Evanston Express for a faster ride downtown or to Evanston during rush hours. To accommodate Purple Line service, there will be two different “island” platforms, with canopies to shelter riders from the elements.

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CMAP Board Members Will Try to Boot Illiana Boondoggle From Regional Plan

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Driving in northeastern Illinois is dropping 0.49 percent annually in recent years and increased at an annual rate of just 0.42 percent in the decade prior, but IDOT projects that driving will increase 0.92 percent annually. Chart: U.S. PIRG

After appointees loyal to Governor Pat Quinn muscled the Illiana tollway onto the project list for Chicagoland’s regional plan, it looked like nothing could stop this risky highway boondoggle from getting funded and built. The Illiana may still happen, but not without a fight.

Last week, the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning discussed how to kick the Illiana Tollway out of the regional plan. The CMAP Board and the CMAP MPO Policy committee will hold a joint meeting on October 8 to approve the update to the GO TO 2040 plan that includes the Illiana. CMAP must list any big transportation on the plan before any agency can build it.

Board chair Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills, asked whether board members could make a motion to excise the Illiana from the plan update before it’s approved. CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn assured them they can do so.

Erica Dodt of the Sierra Club told Streetsblog that Bennett plans to ask for this motion next month. There are many good reasons CMAP should leave the Illiana perpetually on the drawing board.

According to a CMAP staff analysis released last year, the Illiana Tollway will need an enormous, $250 million startup subsidy from taxpayers. Agency staff also said the project is contrary to GO TO 2040′s focus of making infrastructure investments in already developed areas.

Yet the same flaws in CMAP governance that let the Illiana corrupt the regional plan in the first place could crop up again. CMAP’s MPO Policy committee voted to include the Illiana last year, in a 11-8 vote where Pace and Metra representatives cast decisive votes, going against the interests of their own riders. Right now there’s a lawsuit challenging this decision, alleging that the policy committee didn’t follow state law. According to the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the policy committee cannot vote on what the CMAP board has not approved.

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Lincoln Avenue Goes Car-Free and Comes to Life

Kids dance to the music of "Little Miss Ann" Torrlba at a Sunday Play Spot event.

The 3300 block of North Lincoln Avenue during a Sunday Play Spot event. Photos: John Greenfield

Last week, I wrote about the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce’s Sunday Play Spot program, which is pedestrianizing a block of Lincoln Avenue between School and Roscoe streets every Sunday afternoon this month to make room for car-free recreation. Last Sunday, I stopped to check it out myself and found the event to be just as lively as the the chamber staffers said it was.

The vibe was similar to some of the more successful Open Streets ciclovía events on State Street and Milwaukee Avenue, with active games, crafts, a seating area, an art installation, children riding bikes and scooters, and live performances. However, the fact that all these happenings were packed into a single block made the Play Spot that much more vibrant. To give you a sense of how different Lincoln feels when it’s empty of cars and full of people, we’ve created the above GIF of children dancing to the music of “Little Miss Ann” Torralba.

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The 3300 block of North Lincoln Avenue on a typical day. Image: Google Street View

The success of the Play Spot program suggests that this segment of Lincoln might benefit from some form of partial pedestrianization. Not every retail strip works well as a 24/7 car-free street, but pedestrianizing this block on all summer evenings and/or weekends could be a hit.

There are two more Play Spot events this month. If you’re looking for something fun to do with your kids, be sure to stop by the block between noon and 4 p.m. on one of the next two Sundays. Here’s the schedule of events.