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CDOT Previews Chicago’s Next Round of New Bikeways

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New protected bike lanes on Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The quarterly meetings of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council are a good place to get up to speed on Chicago’s latest bike developments. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with updates on bike lane construction, off-street trails, Divvy bike-share, and more. The sessions take place during business hours, but if your schedule allows you to attend, you can get on the mailing list by contacting Carlin Thomas, a consultant with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program, at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton kicked things off by introducing MBAC’s four new community representatives. All four are seasoned bike advocates, so they’ll likely be an asset to the meetings, bringing on-the-ground knowledge of their respective districts.

Anne Alt, who works at the bike law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor) and volunteers with Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, will represent the South and Southwest Sides. Kathy Schubert, the founder of the Chicago Cycling Club who successfully lobbied CDOT to start installing non-slip “Kathy plates” on bridge decks, will cover the North Side.

Miguel Morales, a former networker for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children and current West Town Bikes board member, will represent the West Side. And Bob Kastigar, a longtime activist who launched petition drives in support of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann and the proposal for a safety overhaul on Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park, will cover the Northwest Side.

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Kastigar, Morales, Schubert, and Alt. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld somberly noted that Chicago has seen seven bike fatalities this year, up from three by this time last year. The crashes generally took place on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. All but one involved a driver, and the victims ranged in age from 20-year-old Jacob Bass to 59-year-old Suai Xie.

CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden provided an update on the department’s efforts to put in 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes by 2015. So far, 67.75 miles have been installed, with 19.5 miles built this year, Amsden said. An additional 23.5 miles of federally funded lanes are slated for construction in spring 2015. These include Lawrence (Central to Central Park) and Milwaukee (Lawrence to Elston).

Currently, 14 miles of bikeways are going through the approval process and could be built this fall or next spring. These include Elston (Webster to the northernmost intersection of Elston and Milwaukee, near Peterson), Kedzie (Milwaukee to Addison), and Pershing (King to Oakwood). Another 7.5 miles are tied to street repaving projects, and are slated for construction this fall or in spring 2015. These include Armitage (Western to Damen) and Augusta (Central Park to Grand). Presumably, the lion’s share of all of these upcoming bikeways will be buffered bike lanes, rather than protected lanes.

Amsden reported that recently built buffered and protected lanes on Broadway in Uptown have been getting positive reviews from business owners, pedestrians, and cyclists. A brand-new stretch of PBLs and BBLs on Lake Street from Central Park to Austin means you can now ride five miles from Damen to the city limits on next-generation lanes, albeit it under the shadow and noise of ‘L’ tracks. Buffered lanes were recently striped on Marquette, from Cottage Grove to Stony Island, and from California to Damen.

“Next we’re going to start focusing on closing the gaps in our network,” Amsden said. “We’re really trying to create a cohesive system by looking at areas of concern, like difficult intersections.”

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Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

Virginia Hamman brings 4,000 petitions against proposed farmland-destroying tollway

Virginia Hamman, a property owner who would be affected by the Illiana Tollway, asked the policy committee to vote against the project last year.

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO TO 2040 Plan.

The CMAP Board will meet on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the proposed GO TO 2040 update [PDF]. The award-winning plan lists all major capital projects proposed for the region. All projects, both highway expansion and new transit lines, must be listed on the plan in order to receive federal funding. Governor Pat Quinn earlier persuaded Metra and Pace to vote in favor of adding the Illiana Tollway to GO TO 2040, thereby shrinking their own available funding. Both CMAP’s Board and MPO Policy Committee will vote on whether to adopt the plan update at a joint meeting in October.

The plan update is an opportunity for the Sierra Club, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to make their case that the Illiana Tollway should be struck from the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The Active Transportation Alliance also wants the plan to drop Illiana: executive director Ron Burke told me, “Yes, take it out. We opposed its inclusion in the first place.” He added that what Active Trans said a year ago – a vote for Illiana is a vote against transit – holds true today.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also submitted a comment to CMAP head Randy Blankenhorn, reiterating her earlier opposition to the project. She criticized the Illiana Tollway because it would require $250 million in taxpayer dollars at a minimum (but honestly up to $1 billion) to jumpstart the project, and that beyond that the state of Illinois would be responsible for any financial shortcomings. Preckwinkle stated, “it would be irresponsible of me to support a project like this that will compromise other, more fully vetted transportation improvements with greater benefits for Cook County, metro Chicago and Illinois.”

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Quinn, Rauner Should Get On Board With Region’s Performance Measures

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s lauded GO TO 2040 regional plan prioritizes transportation investments based on performance measures, rather than through arbitrary formulas or aggressive politicking. This ensures that the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that CMAP handles are spent on projects selected on need and merit, rather than just because someone important likes the idea – which, sadly, has typically been the case in metropolitan Chicago. Yet the two major parties’ candidates for Illinois governor showed only a passing familiarity with the concept when asked about it at a recent event.

Governor Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner demonstrated their misunderstanding of performance measures at the Metropolitan Planning Council’s  annual luncheon last Thursday. This unfamiliarity was particularly surprising, since both campaigns had met with MPC to review the questions beforehand.

GO TO 2040, authored by CMAP and adopted by over 200 Chicagoland municipalities, establishes performance measures that evaluate major projects’ potential to increase transit use, reduce driving, and eliminate harmful smoke and soot. Currently, however, most of the state’s transportation funding for roads and bridges bypasses this system and is allocated by a formula: 45 percent of funds go to Chicagoland, even though this area has 65 percent of the state’s population and 70 percent of economic activity.

Moderator Craig Dellimore of WBBM asked each candidate, “To get more ‘bang for the buck,’ do you support using performance measures to select Illinois’ transportation investments – for instance, prioritizing new road or transit projects that measurably improve access to jobs, reduce air pollution and spark adjacent economic development?”

Even putting aside the candidates’ usual attempts to steer every question towards their own talking points, both candidates’ answers showed an incomplete understanding of what performance measures are.

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Rauner says he supports performance measures. Photo: Tricia Scully/MPC

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Thanks to Loophole, Cheerios’ Downtown Pedicab Promotion Was Unsinkable

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Why not promote your cereal with a vehicle whose wheels resemble it? Image: Cheerios

This morning, I was puzzled when I read a DNAinfo.com report that Cheerios was planning to promote its new line of high-protein cereals with a seemingly illegal activity: pedicab rides in the Loop during rush hours.

In April, City Council passed an ordinance regulating pedicabbers – and banning them from downtown streets. Under the new law, operators are prohibited from working in the Loop during rush hours, as well as on Michigan and State, between Oak and Congress, at all times. Pedicabbers say the restrictions are making it more difficult for them to make a living, and that the regulations are discouraging the growth of this environmentally friendly form of transportation.

Cheerios planned to have a crew of pedicabbers from local company Chicago Rickshaw offering free rides for people arriving at Union Station between 6 and 10:30 this morning. The commuters would line up on Jackson to be picked up by the bicycle taxi drivers on a first-come, first served basis, and then squired to any downtown destination. The pedicab operators would also be delivering free cereal to anyone who tweeted their location to @cheerios using the #CheeriosProteinChi.

Pedicabs are a great fit for this kind of event. Hiring the operators to make deliveries is probably cheaper than using motor vehicles, and companies want eyecatching vehicles for their promotions. And by placing its logo on the back of a pedicab, a company gets to associate its product with health, eco-friendliness, and good times. Meanwhile, Chicagoans benefit by having fewer cars and trucks on the street, and the passengers enjoy an unforgettable ride to the office.

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North Branch Trail Extension Inches Forward, Including Edgebrook Sidepath

Example side path on Harms Road in Glenview

The North Branch Trail’s southern extension will have a short side path along Lehigh and Central Avenues, much like this segment of Harms Road in Glenview. Image: Google Street View

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is proceeding with plans to extend its popular North Branch Trail three miles further into the city limits, via a sidepath along Central Avenue. The extension has been planned since 1995, and has been shown as a dotted line on the Chicago bike map for several years. Some neighbors, though, worry about how the sidepath will impact cars traveling on or turning off Central Avenue.

Last week the Forest Preserve hosted a meeting at the Matthew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center about the extension, which would start from the trail’s current southern terminus at Devon and Lehigh avenues (one block short of downtown Edgebrook) and end at Gompers Park, near Foster and Kostner avenues, in the Mayfair neighborhood The 18-mile trail carries 250,000 users a year between the city and the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, where a northern extension to the Metra UP-North line opens September 13.

Extending the trail into the city won’t be a walk in the park, though. While most of the existing trail runs along the river, the extension must skirt both busy Devon Avenue and the existing Edgebrook Golf Course. To do so, it will run alongside existing roads instead: crossing Devon at Caldwell, then following Central past the three-block Old Edgebrook neighborhood, then crossing Central at a new stoplight placed at an existing intersection that serves the golf course and the Volunteer Resource Center.

Some residents feel that the new traffic signal will “snarl traffic,” DNAInfo reported. This is unlikely, since the new traffic signal would be on-demand, and only change when a motorist exits the parking lot or when a bicyclist or pedestrian pushes a button.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation examined several alternatives proposed by neighbors and found them wanting. In particular, re-timing the lights at the complicated intersection of Lehigh, Caldwell, Central, and Devon would cost $1 million, and building a traffic signal at Prescott or Louise would make existing traffic backups even worse.

Old Edgebrook residents also worry about how the Central Avenue sidepath would affect vehicle turns into or out of their neighborhood. Brian Sobolak attended the meeting, and recounted that some residents thought that the sidepath’s crossings of Prescott and Louise would be unsafe, and might block residents driving in and out. Similarly, Nadig Newspapers reported that some residents believe “it would be difficult to see bicyclists” crossing these two streets, the only routes into Old Edgebrook. Yet Central already has a sidewalk at this location, so drivers at these two intersections already must watch for crossing pedestrians.

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Local Architects Envision “Meeting Place” At Empty Logan Square Plaza

Nushu's orange chairs at the Logan Square Blue Line station

Sitting and staying, exactly as Nushu architects intended.

This past Sunday, the usually forlorn bus transfer plaza above the Logan Square Blue Line station suddenly looked very different. Architects Krista Petkovsek and Kara Boyd had scrounged nearby alleys, rounded up a couple dozen used chairs, painted them orange, and scattered them around the plaza to spark a conversation about how to enliven the empty space, which is surrounded by an ever-increasing number of shops and restaurants.

Petkovsek and Boyd placed the chairs in two axes spanning the plaza last weekend, spurred by the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks placemaking contest. The duo, co-founders of Nushu Studio, found out about the contest from Katherine Darnstadt. Her firm, Latent Design, won last year’s MPC placemaking contest for Union Station with its Blah Blah Blob! entry.

The two picked the Logan Square Blue Line station plaza as a prime example of the contest’s call to “choose a space in the city that needed a little attention,” Petkovsek said, and “to make some suggestions about what could happen in this space in the future.” A splash of color and a place to sit, she explained, could be a “starting point to grab people’s attention.”

Not coincidentally, MPC will host three meetings in September about the plaza, part of a long-term Corridor Development Initiative that MPC is managing in Logan Square. The meetings, according to Petkovsek, are where people can tell the city “what they’d like to see happen here.” The chairs are a good way to draw some attention to the plaza and advertise the upcoming meetings, “because not everybody sees social media,” she said.

In preparing for the event, Petkovsek discovered that 7,000 people pass the plaza each day: 5,625 enter the Blue Line subway there every day, 300 get on or off the 56-Milwaukee bus on the northbound side, scores of people use the Divvy station there, hundreds board and alight the 76-Diversey bus, and plenty of people just walk through.

Petkovsek and Boyd wanted to create a focal point for all that motion and activity precisely “because it’s such a transit hub.” Petkovsek cited the Akita dog statue at Tokyo’s Shibuya rail station: ”There’s a whole story behind it, and everyone uses it as their meeting place. It’s really cool.” Read more…

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Plantings, Art, Down-A-Clown Enliven Unloved Ravenswood Lot

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Brainstorming ideas for the under-used lot. Photo: Bohuslav Jelen

Last weekend, community groups across the city staged placemaking events in under-used lots, plazas and corners, all part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks contest. The Grow Space Picnic, held in a gravel parking lot at Ravenswood and Wilson, was a great example of how fun, games, and art can energize ho-hum spaces – and help build community.

The lot, located next to an engraving workshop, under Metra’s UP-North Line, is normally an eyesore, according to Gene Wagendorf from the Ravenswood Community Council, which hosted the picnic along with the Midwest Pesticide Action Center. A large brick wall next to the space is a frequent target of graffiti, so many residents dislike walking past it, Wagendorf said.

However, the block gets plenty of foot traffic from the nearby Ravenswood Metra station and nearby homes and businesses, so Wagendorf says the lot is an ideal space to revitalize with a community asset, according to Wagendorf. The picnic, which ran from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., was designed to test that notion by activating the “blighted” spot with greenery, art, music, kids’ activities and refreshments.

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The transformed parking lot. Photo: Gene Wagendorf

The nearby American Indian Center, which has a program to build gardens with native plantings, and Artreach, the nonprofit sister organization of Lill Street Learning Center, also helped put on the event. Patch Landscaping contributed temporary landscaping, covering the lot’s driveway with sod-covered hills topped by small Japanese trees.

“We thought that if we were going to have a theme of green space, we needed to have more than just a gravel parking lot,” Wagendorf said. “I spent half the day sitting over there. When it was shady, I could have slept there.”

He estimates that 80 to 100 neighbors, many of them kids, showed up to play carnival games like Crazy Cats and Down-A-Clown, color worksheets featuring garden scenes and insects, and enjoy free ice cream and lemonade. They decorated a chain-link fence next to the wall with a textile-and-yarn installation, and chalked ideas for the space onto a blackboard.

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16 Placemaking Events Going on All Around the City This Weekend

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Does this scene look like a good time to you? There are tons of events like it going on this weekend. Photo: MPC

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Look no further. Below you’ll find a handy chart of all the fantastic community-building events going on from today through Sunday as part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks placemaking competition. The contest inspired residents to energize under-used public spaces like vacant lots, plazas and corners with activities and installations.

More than a dozen organizations and individuals rose to the challenge, and there are 16 exciting events going on in communities ranging from Blue Island to Austin to Rogers Park. Happenings include a clothing swap, a sidewalk chalk drawing session, a pavilion for creating self-portraits, and even a watermelon seed spitting competition. Sustainable transportation fans won’t want to miss the Bronzeville Spoketacular, featuring bike repairs and sales from the new Bronzeville Bike Box mini-shop, a bike tour of locations where you can forage wild fruits and herbs and, best of all, a free ice cream social.

The public can vote online to choose their favorite placemaking event from the weekend. The three most successful placemakers will win $1,000 prizes, to be used for more ambitious projects in the future.

Event / Activities Address Date Start End
Playlot maintenance, massage pavilion 6800 S Green St Friday 9 a.m. 12 p.m.
Grow Spaces Picnic 4542 N Ravenswood Ave Friday 11 a.m. 6 p.m.
Basketball, table games, facepainting 4800 W Adams St Friday 3 p.m. 6 p.m.
La Sandia, Loteria! 7070 N Clark St Friday 3 p.m. 6 p.m.
Taste of Division 1200 N Long Ave Friday 3 p.m. 7 p.m.
I Grow Chicago 6402 S Honore St Friday 4 p.m. 6:30 p.m.
Pop-up juice bar, live music, info on local food options 1947 W 63rd St Rescheduled for Sept. 5 TBD TBD
Movie in the Park 4600 N Lawndale Ave Friday 6 p.m. 10 p.m.
Activation Day at the Berm 11900 Vincennes Ave, Blue Island Saturday 9 a.m. 12 p.m.
Austin Peace Lot 624 N Lorel Ave Saturday 10 a.m.
Building a children’s sandbox 8600 S Colfax Ave Saturday 10 a.m.
Building a temporary sculpture and picnic tables 6953 S Dorchester Ave Saturday 10 a.m. 5 p.m.
Groupon activates an abandoned space 800 N Larrabee St Saturday 11 a.m.
Games, t-shirt decorating, clothing swap 1800 S Sangamon St Saturday 12 p.m. 5 p.m.
Chalk the Walk 1100 N Sedgwick St Saturday 3:30 p.m. 6:30 p.m.
Selfie Sunday 2635 N Milwaukee Ave Sunday 10 a.m. 4 p.m.
Bronzeville Spoketacular 320 E 51st St Sunday 2 p.m. 6 p.m.
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City Hopes to Beef Up Transit Service in Streeterville, River North

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Boarding a bus on the Magnificent Mile. Photo: CDOT

The city is slowly moving forward with building the Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project, which will speed bus service between Union Station and Michigan Avenue . Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Transportation is looking at other ways to improve transit connections between the West Loop train stations and the neighborhoods just north of the Loop with the River North-Streeterville Transit Study.

This spring, CDOT started the process of gathering data about travel markets and preferences in the RNS area, physical and traffic constraints, and other costs, benefits, and impacts of different transit alternatives. The goal is to determine a Locally Preferred Alternative for capital improvements by 2015.

These infrastructure upgrades could be relatively low-tech solutions like restriping travel lane configurations or changing traffic signal times, but the study could also lead to a major investment in grade-separated transit, such as BRT or light rail. The research will be used as supporting documentation when CDOT applies for federal funding for the selected project.

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The open house on Loyola’s downtown campus. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, CDOT held an open house at Loyola University’s downtown campus to discuss transit issues and collect feedback from people who live and work in these dense, affluent neighborhoods; another public event is planned for March. “We’ve been engaged in a process of getting public input, and trying to understand the nature of transportation problems in the area,” said Jeff Sriver, the department’s director of transportation planning services.

CDOT has already done significant work to gather info on the travel habits and desires of RNS residents, employees, and visitors, according to Sriver. Surveys for locals are available online, and the department has been distributing the questionnaire on buses and in hotels, and through employers, community organizations, condo associations and other entities. “We’re trying to get feedback on how people use the transit system and the infrastructure that’s in the neighborhood today, and what are the missing pieces,” Sriver said.

A technical advisory committee, which includes representatives of the CTA, Metra, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and the Metropolitan Planning Council, has met twice to discuss the study. A civic advisory committee, made up of members of RNS neighborhood organizations and institutions, has also held two meetings.

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Bronzeville Bikes Promotes New Shop With “Spoketacular” Bike Party

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Opening day at the Bronzeville Bike Box. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

Bronzeville Bikes hopes to shift neighborhood enthusiasm for cycling to a higher gear, and drum up business for the recently opened Bronzeville Bike Box cycle shop, with the neighborhood’s first-ever “Spoketacular” celebration.

The group, which promotes biking with repair sessions, rides, and more, is holding the event on Sunday, August 17, from 2 – 6 p.m. at 51st and Calumet. Located just east of a Green Line stop, this intersection is home to the nonprofit bike store, as well as the Bronzeville Community Garden, which hosts youth cycling programs, so it’s Ground Zero for the area’s burgeoning bike culture.

The Spoketacular, also sponsored by the South East Chicago Commission, features a number of activities designed to get more people on bikes in the neighborhood also known as “The Black Metropolis.” “Bicycling is a tremendous asset, but it’s underused on the South and West sides,” said Bronzeville Bikes cofounder Bernard Loyd. “We’re promoting cycling for fun, transportation, and health, and this is a community that can use all three of those things very much.”

Loyd plans to get a section of Calumet closed off to motorized traffic during the bike block party, so that kids can enjoy car-free cycling. Since it will involve repurposing underused public space to enliven the community, the Spoketacular will be a candidate in the Metropolitan Planning Council’s “Old Place New Tricks” placemaking contest.

During the event, Bike Box mechanics will be offering affordable bike repairs to help residents get their old rides running again, as well as selling low-cost refurbished cycles, and they’ll be accepting donations of used bikes. The city’s Bicycling Ambassadors program will be there, providing tips for safe and fun cycling. Best of all, there will be a free ice cream social for Spoketacular participants. “They can eat the ice cream and then ride it off on a bike,” Loyd said.

On the first, third, and fourth Sundays of the month, Bronzeville Bikes hosts free bike tours, showcasing the neighborhood’s art, gardens, architecture and history. The Spoketacular also coincides with a 3 p.m. ride exploring urban foraging. Tour guide Latrice Williams, is spearheading sustainability efforts for Bronzeville Cookin’, a food-themed complex Loyd is developing at the intersection, which will feature restaurants, a rooftop garden, and a produce store. She’ll be showing riders where to find berries, greens, herbs and fruits, all growing wild on the South Side.

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