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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

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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.

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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

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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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