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Bike2Campus Week Encourages Students to Explore Chicago on Two Wheels

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Stan Treger biked to class on the DePaul campus last month. Photo: John Greenfield

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

I kind of hate the phrase “bike season.” Thousands of Chicagoans get around on two wheels all year ‘round. Even in January, there’s still something of a bike rush hour on the Lakefront Trail and Milwaukee Avenue. And all you really need to keep cycling through the Chicago winter is a bike with fenders and lights, and more-or-less the same clothing you’d wear to stay warm while waiting for the bus.

That said, it’s been fun to observe how, following another cold, gray, snowy winter, how the recent sunshine and relatively balmy temperatures have inspired countless people to drag their dusty steeds out of basements. Like rivers swelling from the vernal thaw, the city’s bike lanes have filled up with riders once again.

As part of this spring awakening, a dozen different higher learning institutions will be challenging their students, faculty, and staff to try bicycling to school. The second annual Bike2Campus Week takes next week from Monday to Friday, highlighting cycling as a green, cheap, healthy and fun way to get around.

Participating institutions include City Colleges of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Dominican University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Roosevelt University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Triton College, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago.

The concept is similar to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge, in which different companies and organizations compete with each other to record the most cycling trips and win prizes and bragging rights. There are a number of ways Bike2Campus participants can get credit toward earning schwag. They can log their bike trips for the week at Bike2Campus.com, pass the League of Illinois Bicyclists’ online safety quiz, share photos from their commute on social media via the hashtag #chibike2campus, or participate in cycling events on their campus.

“We had ten schools participating last year, and the Art Institute of Chicago was the top dog,” says John Wawrzaszek, sustainability manager at Columbia (and a Newcity contributor), who’s helping to organize the program as part of the Chicagoland Bike 2 Campus Coalition. Divvy provided the trophy, made from a front basket from a decommissioned bike-share vehicle affixed to a wooden pedestal. “We’re trying to do a Stanley Cup thing this year, where the winner will move the trophy around the city,” Wawrzaszek says.

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Loop Alliance Credits Activate Alley Parties With Spurring $400K in Sales

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“FLOW/Im Fluss,” a light and water installation by Luftwerk at last September’s Activate event. Photo: Jennifer Catherine

Once again, the Chicago Loop Alliance is rolling out a full slate of placemaking initiatives in an effort to boost downtown retail and promote the arts. The centerpiece of the campaign is Activate, a series of pop-up art parties held in alleys, which the downtown chamber of commerce says led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional sales at local businesses. This year’s happenings will take place on May 15, June 12, July 30, August 27, September 18, and October 16 from 5-10 p.m., with specific locations announced the month before on the Activate website.

“We’re really pleased with how happy people are when they come to the Activate events,” said CLA director Michael Edwards. “They’re experiencing an urban environment in a different way, and they find a joy in that. And, of course, we love the fact that they’re spending money at local businesses.”

The alliance held six Activate parties last year at various loop alleys, centered around themes like fashion, surrealism, art installations featuring water and light, the street life of Manila, and other themes. In addition to visual art, the events featured DJs, live music, dance, performance art, and attendees who RSVPed in advance received a free drink. The budget for the series was about $105,000, mostly bankrolled via special service area funds, along with corporate donations and additional drink sales.

About 14,000 people attended the 2014 series. A CLA survey found that half of those who showed up were ages 25 to 34, with another 18 percent in the 35 to 44 bracket, and most of them live in Uptown, Lakeview, Logan Square, Wicker Park, Pilsen and, of course, downtown. Survey respondents said they spent an average of $35 each during their visits, mostly on post-event food and drinks, so the CLA calculates that the series pumped about $400,000 into the downtown economy.

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Our TOD Bike Tour Showcased Chicago’s Parking-Lite Building Projects

Discussing the 1611 West Division building with developer Jamie McNally. View more photos. Photo: John Greenfield

A score of Streetsblog Chicago readers joined John Greenfield and me last Saturday to pedal to 12 sites where developers are taking advantage of proximity to train stations by building dense housing with fewer parking spaces than usual. The buildings, in different phases of approval and construction, are all near Chicago Transit Authority ‘L’ stops.

In general, the Chicago zoning code requires new construction to include one parking space per residential unit. However, in September of 2013, the city council passed a transit-oriented development ordinance, which cuts that requirement in half for buildings within two blocks of a rapid transit station. And in certain circumstances, the new law also allows developers to build more square feet of floor space at these locations.

High-density, low-parking developments near the CTA attract residents who are interested in getting around by transit, walking, biking, cabs, and car-sharing. They’re less likely to bring their own cars into a neighborhood, which means a lower impact on traffic congestion. And when developers aren’t forced to provide parking spaces that residents might not use, it reduces construction and housing costs.

The tour group, including architects, real estate brokers, policy analysts, planning students and lay people, met up at Daley Plaza. We cycled northwest to the Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee intersection, at the south end of the burgeoning “TOD building corridor” along the CTA Blue Line’s O’Hare branch. Over the past two weeks, workers demolished a building at 500 North Milwaukee, next to the Grand station. Two new mixed-use buildings are planned for the site.

Rolling north on Milwaukee, we visited TOD project sites at every Blue Line between Grand and California. Just east of the Chicago Avenue station, the recently sold Gonella bread factory, 1001 West Chicago Avenue, will be replaced with 360 residential units and 300 parking spaces. A little north of the train stop, we met up with Brad McBride, an architect at bKL Architecture, who told us about his company’s plans for a 47-unit building with 24 parking spots that has been approved for 830 North Milwaukee.

We stopped at Polish Triangle plaza at Division/Ashland/Milwaukee in Wicker Park and checked out two projects. Jamie McNally of Henry Street Partners told us about 1611 West Division, an 11-story tower with 99 units but zero residential parking, built in 2012, which is now almost completely occupied. Work has also started on a mixed-use building with 58 units and zero parking spaces, located behind the Bank of America at 1237 North Milwaukee.

Up the road in Logan Square, we stopped at a vacant lot at 2211 North Milwaukee, around the corner from the California stop. A new building slated for the site is dubbed “L,” after the train system, as well as the neighborhood. Developer Ben Brichta from Property Markets Group met us here to discuss the project, which will have 120 units and 60 car spaces. There will also be 216 bike parking spaces, bike repair and washing stations, and a separate entrance for bike riders.

One tour goer asked Brichta why there is often community opposition to dense, parking-lite, transit-friendly projects like this one. Brichta replied there has been misunderstanding about the purpose of the TOD. Some neighbors are worried that providing fewer parking spaces means new residents will compete with them for on-street parking.

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Join Us for a Bike Tour of Transit-Oriented Development Sites on April 11

This proposed building at 830 N Milwaukee Avenue will be part of our TOD Tour. Rendering by bKL Architecture

Want to hear developers talk about why they’ve chosen to build “parking-lite” residential projects near ‘L’ stops? We’re leading a bike ride around the city to visit sites where firms are taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance. Here’s the skinny:

Streetsblog Chicago’s TOD Bike Tour
Saturday, April 11
1-4 p.m.
Leaving from Daley Plaza, 50 West Washington
$20 admission charge (cash or credit card) benefits SBC

RSVP on Facebook

While developers are usually required to provide a 1:1 ratio of parking spaces to units, whether or not residents will actually use all those spots, the TOD law reduces that requirement by half for sites within two blocks of rapid transit stations. So, instead of building housing that encourages people to bring more cars into a neighborhood, the companies that are taking advantage of the ordinance are promoting transit use and other sustainable ways to get around.

The TOD law also allows for more more square footage to be built on a given footprint near train stops – if they meet certain requirements – which means that developers can build more units. Along with the reduced parking mandate, higher density encourages more affordable housing costs, and allows more residents to save time and money by living close to transit.

The tour will depart from Daley Plaza at 1:15 p.m. sharp and visit these sites (map). Some we’ll stop at and others we’ll pass by:

  1. 500 N Milwaukee Ave – In demolition phase
  2. 830 N Milwaukee Ave – In approval phase (stop)
  3. 1001 W Chicago – In approval phase
  4. 1611 W Division St – Completed (stop)
  5. 1237 N Milwaukee Ave – In demolition phase
  6. 2211 N Milwaukee Ave – In approval phase (stop)
  7. 2293 N Milwaukee Ave – In community engagement phase
  8. 2338 N California Ave – Approved
  9. 3400 N Lincoln Ave – In approval phase
  10. 1819 W Montrose Ave – In approval phase (stop)

At each stop, representatives from the development or architecture firm will give a short presentation about the project. The last site is next to the Montrose Brown Line station, where you can catch a ride back to the Loop with your bike, or else join us for more conversation about development and transportation over pints at the nearby Fountainhead Tavern, 1970 West Montrose Ave.

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Pawar, and an Army of Seniors, Lobby the CTA to Restore Lincoln Bus Service

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Pawar testifies at last night’s CTA budget hearing. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, local community leaders and dozens of senior citizens showed up for the CTA’s 2015 budget hearing, imploring the agency to restore the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.

The Lincoln bus previously ran between Skokie and the Blue Line’s Clinton station in the West Loop. As part of the CTA’s 2012 decrowding plan, which added service to 48 bus routes and most ‘L’ lines, the agency partially or completely cut service on roughly a dozen bus routes. The heart of the Lincoln route, from the Brown Line’s Western stop to the Fullerton station, was eliminated as part of these cuts.

The #11 still travels between Skokie and Western, and a new #37 Sedgwick bus now runs between Fullerton and Clinton. However, the total bus ridership on Lincoln has dropped from the previous average of 5,489 rides per weekday to 3,152 rides, RedEye reported. Overall, CTA bus ridership has dropped over the past few years.

When the bus cuts were announced, the CTA stated that affected #11 riders could instead take the Brown Line, which roughly parallels Lincoln between Western and Fullerton. In the past two years, the CTA has added 15 weekday Brown Line roundtrips per day, and increased service on eight of the ten bus lines that serve the area, RedEye reported. The CTA says the Lincoln route cut is saving the agency $1.4 million a year.

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Some sections of the affected stretch of Lincoln are a half-mile walk from the Brown Line. Image: Google Maps

However, some locations on this stretch of Lincoln are a half mile away from the nearest Brown Line station – a ten-minute walk for able-bodied people, and a significant distance for seniors and people with disabilities. The Brown Line was overhauled in the late Nineties, and all stops are currently ADA accessible. 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar has said bus cut has increased travel times for his constituents. Some are now choosing to drive instead of taking transit, or are avoiding destinations on Lincoln, he said.

The CTA has said it doesn’t plan to bring the Lincoln service back, arguing that the affected area is still one of the most transit rich parts of the city. Pawar has offered to use Tax Increment Financing money to help restore the service, but TIF funds can only be used for infrastructure, not operating expenses. Frustrated with the agency’s refusal to reverse their decision, the alderman has said he’s pulling his support for the Ashland bus rapid transit project.

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Transpo Leaders Brainstorm at the Shared-Use Mobility Center Launch

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A breakout session at the Shared-Used Mobility Center workshop. Photo: John Greenfield

Transportation leaders from across the nation convened last week in Chicago to celebrate the launch of the Shared-Use Mobility Center, a nonprofit that will work to maximize the potential of car-sharing, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing services to benefit the public. The new organization will promote collaboration between the different services, and encourage cooperation between the growing industry and city governments, transit agencies, and community groups.

The shared-mobility industry has the potential to have a major positive impact on air quality, congestion, and public health, and to increase access to jobs, education, and healthcare, said Sharon Feigon, SUMC’s executive director. She formerly led I-GO CarSharing, the service that was run by Chicago’s nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology.

After I-GO was sold to Enterprise CarShare, the CNT board decided to use part of the proceeds to launch SUMC. “The board spent about a year trying to figure out what’s the new thing that can carry out the mission of I-GO, of making it possible to live well without owning a car,” Feigon said. Founding partners also include TransitCenter and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

As part of the kickoff, SUMC hosted a workshop at Roosevelt University to discuss current obstacles, and opportunities, for expanding the reach of shared-use mobility services. Panelists included representatives from the transportation startups Lyft, RideScout, car2go; Karen Weigert, Chicago’s chief sustainability officer; Tim Papandreou from San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency; and Michael Bolton, deputy director of Pace. Also participating were reps from Zipcar, Uber, Divvy, B-cycle, Enterprise, the CTA, Metra, Amtrak, and the state of Illinois.

One of the more noteworthy takeaways from the panel came from Pace’s Bolton, who discussed the possibility of enabling Ventra customers to use the card for services like Lyft and Uber. This could allow users to take advantage of the money-saving federal transit benefit when using ride-share.

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When Will the Trib Get to the Bottom of Chicago’s Traffic Violence Problem?

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Members of the Trib’s investigative reporting team at Tuesday’s discussion. Jim Webb is on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

Tuesday night, the Chicago Tribune hosted a discussion of its red light camera coverage with members of its investigative reporting team. During the Q & A session, I noted that 48 pedestrians were killed and 398 were seriously injured in Chicago in 2012, the most recent year that we have accurate data for. “It doesn’t seem like you guys have done much coverage about what can be done to address Chicago’s crash epidemic,” I said. “Are there any plans for a multi-part series to address this issue?”

“The issue isn’t really whether or not there’s a pedestrian fatality problem in Chicago,” responded Jim Webb, political editor for Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. “The issue is what the city [should do] about the pedestrian fatality problem.” Webb asserted that while Mayor Emanuel has touted the safety benefits of red light and speed cameras, the paper has found that the cams aren’t as beneficial as advertised.

Afterwards, Webb sent me a couple of links to Tribune stories questioning the effectiveness of traffic cameras in reducing crashes. A November 2011 piece reported that fewer than half of Chicago’s 251 pedestrian fatalities between 2005 and 2009 occurred within “safety zones” — the areas near schools and parks where the speed cams can legally be installed. A March 2012 article reported that Emanuel had handed reporters a study that overstated the effectiveness of existing red light cameras in reducing deaths at Chicago intersections.

In both cases, City Hall should have conveyed the safety effect of cameras better, but the Trib also neglected to give readers an accurate picture of the existing research. The fact that automated traffic enforcement saves lives is settled science, and yet the Trib still frames it as a matter of “camera advocates” debating “critics.” Reading the Trib’s reporting on the subject, you would think the enforcement cameras are a purely speculative venture with no proven track record.

To the contrary, a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light camera programs in 14 large cities reduced the rate of fatal red light running crashes by 24 percent. And a 2010 review of 28 studies of automated speed enforcement programs found they were uniformly successful in decreasing speeding and fatality rates.

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Latest “Activate” Placemaking Event Celebrated Filipino Culture

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Cha-cha dancing to the Manila Sound in Sullivan Alley. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Loop Alliance’s ambitious program of 2014 placemaking projects is drawing to a close. Last Thursday, the group hosted a vibrant arts event in a Loop alley, inspired by the sights and sounds of a Manila marketplace. This was scheduled to be the last of the monthly “Activate” series, which transforms downtown passageways into buzzing art parties. However, due to the popularity of the program, the CLA is throwing one more Halloween-themed shindig, on Thursday, October 30, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. in the Auditorium Theater’s alley, 412 South Michigan.

Recently, the alliance has been using placemaking — the activation of underused public spaces through programming and installations — as a strategy to boost downtown commerce. This year, they budgeted $135,000 for placemaking initiatives, bankrolled by special service area money and corporate sponsorships.

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Temporary seating at Pritzker Park, State and Van Buren. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition to Activate, other projects included the addition of café seating and performances at Pritzker Park, as well as the return of The Gateway, a “People Plaza” in the median of State near Wacker. The #CitySeats pop-up seating program also brought temporary lunchtime seating to different, unannounced spots in the Loop’s northeast quadrant – downtown workers were encouraged to request locations via Twitter.

The Activate events, which have brought libations, art installations, DJs, fashion and live performers to various alleys, may have been the most successful of these placemaking initiatives. Thursday’s celebration of Filipino culture was definitely a hit, with more than 1,300 people packing Sullivan Alley, located between State and Wabash, north of Monroe.

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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.