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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Pedestrian Islands Taking a Beating From Drivers

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Refuge island at Chicago and Hoyne, as it looked on Monday. Photo: John Greenfield

Pedestrian islands make walking across a street safer and easier. At signalized intersections, they allow individuals who might have trouble crossing the street in a single walk cycle, such as people with disabilities, seniors and parents with small children, to make a partial crossing and then safely wait for the next cycle. At unsignalized crosswalks, they allow everybody to cross half of the street when there’s no oncoming traffic to the left, and then wait safely until the coast is clear on the right. However, Chicago drivers sure dish out plenty of abuse to these concrete refuges.

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The Chicago/Hoyne island in 2011. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Department of Transportation installed this island at Chicago and Hoyne in Ukrainian Village in 2009. Drivers knocked out the diamond-shaped pedestrian sign on the island in the above photo on at least two occasions. More recently, CDOT replaced that sign with a “Stop for Pedestrians Within Crosswalk” placard, which is designed to bounce back up when struck. When I dropped by Monday, that has also been torn out of the brickwork, and several bricks were missing from the corner of the island.

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Eyes on the Street: Windy City Limousine Blocks Downtown Bike Lanes

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Windy City Limousine buses are frequently found blocking Chicago’s precious few downtown bike lanes. Photos: Brian Elmore

As if bicycling downtown, where there is little space to safely pedal, wasn’t hard enough, private limo bus company Windy City Limousine frequently blocks bike lanes on Franklin Street outside Walgreens and Orleans next to the Merchandise Mart.

Brian Elmore bicycle commutes from Madison Street and Wacker Drive to Ukrainian Village by taking the bike lanes on Franklin and Orleans, to Hubbard, Kingsbury, and Kinzie. He says that Windy City Limousine chauffeurs are parking their wide charter buses in bike lanes on both streets “constantly” during rush hour. Elmore sent in these photos and explained the issue.

It’s problematic because it’s a very congested area around rush hour, and motorists are traveling at a high rate of speed down Franklin & Orleans. More so than anything, it’s inconsiderate to the vast number of cyclists that commute to and from The Loop daily.

The law is on Elmore’s side, and the city’s website succinctly explains why: ”motorists parking in bike lanes endanger bicyclists by forcing them to merge unexpectedly with faster moving motor vehicle traffic.”

If you encounter this situation you can call police dispatchers at 911 (calling 311 will transfer you to 911) to report a bus blocking the bike lane, or go straight to the source. Windy City Limousine’s phone number is right on the back of the bus.

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An Ex-Pedestrian Scramble: Jackson/State Markings Are Nearly Gone

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Looking southwest from the northeast corner. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday I looked at crosswalks that were installed in November at the Logan Square traffic circle and are already vanishing. This afternoon I dropped by the city’s only pedestrian scramble intersection, downtown at State and Jackson, where X-shaped crosswalks were striped last May and are now almost completely gone.

While the Logan crosswalks were marked with thermoplastic on too-cold pavement, so that the molten plastic didn’t properly bond with the asphalt and was quickly scraped away by snowplows, the scramble was striped with regular paint, which fades quickly under the best of circumstances. The scramble, which also includes signs and recorded announcements alerting pedestrians that diagonal crossings are permitted, was unveiled by the city with great fanfare last spring.

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Looking northeast from the southwest corner on opening day. Photo: John Greenfield

Now that the diagonally crosswalks are virtually gone, it appears that very few people are taking advantage of the opportunity to cross diagonally during the pedestrian-only phase. However, the conventional crosswalks were marked with thermoplastic and are still quite visible, so people are still crossing both east-west and north-south at the same time during the scramble phase.

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Looking northwest from the southeast corner. Photo: John Greenfield

Hopefully the city will re-stripe the diagonal crosswalks as soon as it’s warm enough to do so, so that the junction will function as a true pedestrian scramble intersection once again.

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Eyes on the Street: Crosswalks Striped Last Fall in Logan Are Nearly Gone

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Looking southeast on Milwaukee at the northwest side of the circle. Photo John Greenfield.

The chaotic traffic circle around Logan Square’s eagle-topped Illinois Centennial Monument pillar is a major barrier for pedestrians, discouraging foot traffic from one side of the neighborhood to the other. As a result, the multilane roundabout lowers revenue for businesses along on Logan Boulevard, Milwaukee and Kedzie.

There have been several proposals to make the six-way intersection more pedestrian-friendly, but there doesn’t seem to be any movement from the city yet for a long-term solution. So I was glad to see a short-term improvement in late November, in the form of thick, bold white stripes forming high-visibility international crosswalks at all the designated crossings around the circle.

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Looking east on Logan at Kedzie. Photo: John Greenfield

However, it did seem rather late in the construction season to be striping thermoplastic, which only bonds well to asphalt at temperatures above 40 degrees. In the past when the Chicago Department of Transportation has rushed to complete bike lanes before winter sets in, the result has been crumbling markings, quickly scraped away by snowplows.

According to a November 21 blog post from Logan Square Circle Group, one of the organizations pushing for safety improvements, the crew was in fact racing against time when they striped the lines:

Thanks to a concerted neighborhood effort, Marking Specialists, a city of Chicago contractor, was sent out Wednesday and Thursday by CDOT to repaint the the lanes and crosswalks at the circle. Rann Garcia and his crew did a great job. Realizing they had a small window, they went out of their way to solicit neighborhood feedback, which they followed, to prioritize where to paint before the bad weather set in.

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Looking east from the north side of the circle. Photo: John Greenfield

Unsurprisingly, many of the crosswalks are already badly deteriorated. When I asked CDOT spokesman Pete Scales if there are plans to re-stripe them, he wrote, “If they are under warranty will get them redone. If not, we can redo them.”

I asked Joe Robinson from Bike Walk Logan Square, which has also been advocating for fixing the circle, for his take on the situation. “Navigating the Logan Square circle by foot is treacherous,” he said. “Well-marked crosswalks are sorely needed. The paint that went down last fall has deteriorated rapidly. We hope CDOT is able to get new paint in place soon, we also hope it’s done in the right weather conditions, so that the paint sticks like it’s made to do.”

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Eyes on the Street: What Kind of Person Rides Divvy in the Winter?

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Adam Loedint at the Daley Center. Photo: John Greenfield

This winter, Chicago’s fifth snowiest on record, with over 20 subzero days, has been a test for whether bike-share can be viable year-round in U.S. cities with harsh northern climates. The multitude of baby-blue bikes I observed whizzing by the Daley Center during this evening’s rush hour (and, no, Critical Mass hadn’t started yet) suggests Divvy is still going strong. I buttonholed bike-share user Adam Loedint, an engineer, to ask how the system has been working out for him during this unforgiving season.

John Greenfield: Are you commuting home from work?

Adam Loedint: Yeah, I work at Monroe and Wabash and live around Ohio and Franklin, so it’s about an eight-minute ride.

JG: Do you ride Divvy regularly during the winter?

AL: Every day.

JG: How’s it been working out?

AL: I’ve been very happy. I think it’s the best thing to happen to Chicago since I’ve been here.

JG: Any issues with mechanical difficulties?

AL: When it got real cold, I noticed some tires were flat. So that just turned into one thing I would look for before rolling it, but there’s always more bikes in the winter too, so it’s not a problem.

JG: Was there ever a time when you went riding on a Divvy and you found it was just painfully cold?

AL: You know, the only time I got a bike and brought it back was not ‘cause of cold. It was just raining so hard. That was actually before the winter. In the winter, one day I forgot my gloves, so I took the ‘L’ that day, but otherwise, no, no problems.

JG: Anything else you want to tell me about your Divvy winter experience?

AL: I tell you, all the old guys at my office don’t get it at all. They can’t understand the 30-minute trips aspect, how that could be useful, and they worry about getting stuck somewhere. I don’t know how to explain it to them. There seems to be an age gap there.

JG: I’m sure they’ll wrap their heads around it some day.

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Eyes on the Street: The Union Station Sneckdown — Let’s Make It Permanent

The southeast corner of Canal and Adams has greater than average pedestrian traffic but an abnormally narrow sidewalk, despite a recent road repaving.

The southeast corner of Canal and Adams has a lot of pedestrian traffic but an abnormally narrow sidewalk. As the sneckdown shows, there’s plenty of room for more sidewalk space. Photos: Shaun Jacobsen

A snowy neckdown — or “sneckdown” — is that place in the roadway where the snow sticks around because no one drives over it. Sneckdowns show where there’s too much asphalt that could easily be claimed for pedestrian space and traffic calming.

As Angie Schmitt reported for Streetsblog USA, officials in Philadelphia were inspired by a sneckdown to make permanent sidewalk expansions at one intersection. Chicago could do the same in hundreds of locations. Here’s one…

Shaun Jacobsen, a Streetsblog contributor, commutes via Union Station and photographed this sneckdown at Canal Street and Adams Street, where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic but an abnormally narrow sidewalk. But when the corner was repaved in 2013, the sidewalk wasn’t modified.

Canal Street, which is actually a viaduct, is going to be rebuilt in the coming years, so the Chicago Department of Transportation can take the opportunity to rebuild the street to work better for walking.

In a 2007 downtown pedestrian survey, CDOT counted over 40,000 people walking across the Adams Street bridge between 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. In a 2006 automobile survey, CDOT counted about 12,000 cars crossing the bridge in 24 hours. While most pedestrians probably entered Union Station before reaching this sidewalk, I think it’s still safe to say that at least as many people are walking as are driving at this intersection. And yet, pedestrians get the short end of the stick.

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Eyes on the Street: CDOT Adds Curb to Prevent Sidewalk Driving

New curb at BP gas station to help prevent driving on the sidewalk

The new curb separates the sidewalk and driving area. It’s a good sign that it’s already been scuffed by a car tire.

Back in April we showed that people were driving, parking, and blocking the sidewalk next to the BP gas station on the newly redesigned Congress Parkway streetscape. After publishing, we found out that the post had drawn the attention of Chicago Department of Transportation staff.

CDOT took quick action last summer to help dissuade future incursions into pedestrian space by adding a curb between the gas station property and sidewalk. Now the design is telling people where driving space ends, and where walking space begins.

New lights on Congress Parkway

This wasn’t the only instance of people driving and parking on the sidewalk.

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Eyes on the Street: Unwalkable Kinzie Sidewalk Finally Replaced

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Steps on both sides of the corner were replaced with nearly flat ramps. Photos: Steven Vance

The steps, broken pavement, and roller coaster ramps at the southwest corner of Kinzie Street and Clark Street were all repaired recently. The construction was originally supposed to wrap up by spring 2013, but didn’t finish until December. The six-month long construction was unusually complex, according to 42nd Ward Alderman Reilly’s newsletter.

Because of the height of the hidden vault under the sidewalk, instead of a smooth transition from the sidewalk to the street, pedestrians had to navigate a complex set of old and deteriorated steps. The steps that were demolished to install an ADA ramp were most likely the original steps that were created when the building at 350 N. Clark St. was built in 1912. This project was further complicated because a ComEd electrical supply line was located underneath the sidewalk.

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The staircase and ADA-compliant ramp replace the previous crumbling, roller coaster sidewalk. Photo: Steven Vance

Given this situation, it was easier to raise the roadway to meet the sidewalk. The hundreds of people who, over many years, called and sent letters to the alderman’s office – not to mention the thousands who use it each day – will be happy with the smooth transition from crosswalk to sidewalk, and the elimination of the steep, up-down ramp next to the parking garage driveway.

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Gone are the roller coaster inclines on the Kinzie Street sidewalk. Image: Google Street View

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Eyes on the Street: Gravel Sidewalk at Plaza Site Forces People Into Street

Woodard Plaza construction and no pedestrian accommodation

The now un-plowable sidewalk leads some people to walk in the street, close to big trucks.

This week’s snow storm — which is still coming down — has made a lot of sidewalks tough to navigate, but here’s one case that’s worse than most.

It’s just one block in Logan Square, but this short stretch of Woodard Street is worth talking about as an example how Chicago needs to pay better attention to the little things that make for a good walking environment. The Chicago Department of Transportation and its contractors, starting in November, have closed a short section of Woodard Street to rebuild and rejoin an existing plaza and add seating and landscaping that collects and filters rainwater. The Woodard Plaza project is part of CDOT’s Make Way For People initiative that improves publicly-owned space to increase the places’ economic vitality and beauty.

The project is great, but there’s some irony in the inadequate pedestrian accommodations the city and its contractors have set up during construction. The sidewalk’s concrete was removed, leaving behind a gravel surface. It hasn’t been clear on my visits if the sidewalk is officially closed: There are no signs, and an alternative route wasn’t advised or constructed. People are trudging on the gravel or walking in the street.

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Eyes on the Street: What Kind of Person Rides Divvy in the Winter?

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Isaac Wilson at State and Van Buren. Photo: John Greenfield

Prior to the Divvy bike-share launch, some folks argued that the program would be a waste of money because no one would use it during Chicago’s long winter. However, even during this week’s cold, snowy weather, the fairly common sight of bundled-up riders on the baby-blue bikes proved the system is still getting plenty of use.

I’ll be doing a series of interviews with people taking advantage of this new transportation network, which doesn’t require waiting in the cold for a bus, or digging out a car-parking spot, to see how things are working out. I buttonholed Isaac Wilson, a linguistics student at the Moody Bible Institute, at the State and Van Buren station.

John Greenfield: Are you a Divvy member?

Isaac Wilson: I am. I got the annual pass about a month-and-a-half ago.

JG: What kind of trip are you doing?

IW: Right now I’m just heading back home to my place near Oak and LaSalle. I went and had brunch with my faculty advisor and some other staff on the South Side – it was our Christmas party. Then I came up and stopped here at the Harold Washington Library, and then I’m going to ride up to my home on Division Street. I’ll probably dock at the station at Wells and Oak, near the bible institute.

JG: How often do you use Divvy?

IW: Probably every other day, at least, whenever I’m going from my room over to the ‘L’ to go somewhere, I usually hop on Divvy, or if I’m going somewhere nearby that’s only a couple of ‘L’ stops away or only a couple of bus stops away, it’s usually quicker for me to just hop on the bike.

JG: How has the system been working for you during the winter?

IW: It’s been great. I had one time after a snowstorm when the pedals were frozen solid, so they were a little bit slippery. But Chicago keeps the streets really clear, so I’ve been able to ride just fine. It’s cold, so I gotta make sure I have gloves and a beanie with me, but otherwise it’s been pretty good.