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Posts from the Eyes on the Street Category

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Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection

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Concrete curbs will protect a section of the southbound bike lane on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

Chicago’s busiest cycling street is receiving some safety improvements, including a segment of bike lanes with concrete protection. Milwaukee Avenue, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway” due to its high bike traffic, is currently getting upgrades between Elston Avenue and Division Street in River West and Noble Square.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a combination of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street and Elston. The current project includes a similar mix of bikeway styles, plus a short stretch of curb-protected bike lane, as well as a parking-protected lane with concrete “parking caps.”

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Milwaukee from Division and Augusta has been upgraded to a double-buffered bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Contractors working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction last week and had completed a significant portion of the new bikeways by last Monday evening. From Division to Augusta Boulevard, existing conventional bike lanes have been upgraded to lanes with a striped buffer on each side. This help keep moving cars further away from bikes, and encourage cyclists to ride a few feet away from parked automobiles, so that they don’t get “doored.”

Previously, the bike lanes disappeared about 150 feet south of Division, but the buffered lanes go all the way to the intersection’s south crosswalk — a nice improvement. The new northbound section is located next to the curb, and drivers are currently parking in it, but adding “No Parking” signs should help solve that problem.

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Eyes on the Street: The New Normal on Clybourn Avenue

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Bicycle rush hour on a new curb-protected lane on Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

The Lakefront Trail. Milwaukee Avenue. The 606. And Clybourn Avenue?

The first three Chicago routes are known for having massive amounts of bicycle traffic during rush hours, and anytime the weather is nice. With the advent of its new curb-protected bike lanes, it looks like Clybourn is joining this elite club.

The Illinois Department of Transportation began building this new bikeway in May, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation. It includes Clybourn from Hasted Street to Division Street, and Division from Clybourn to Orleans Street. Read more details about the project here.

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Photo: John Greenfield

The fact that the state is building it is particularly notable because IDOT previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads within the city of Chicago. After cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street, the state announced they would pilot the curb-protected lanes at this location.

The curbs are already largely completed on Division and the northwest-bound side of Clybourn. The southeast-bound bike lane is partially finished. IDOT plans to wrap up the entire bikeway this month, according to a press release.

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out the “Mistake by the Lake” Parking Garage

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Photo: John Greenfield

I have a confession to make. When I wrote Monday’s post about the brand new parking garage that billionaire developer Jennifer Pritzker opened at Sheridan Road and Sherwin Avenue in Roger Park, I hadn’t actually checked it out in person.

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The house that the garage replaced. Photo: Kelly Loris

However, a visit yesterday during the evening rush confirmed most of the criticisms about the structure. The monolithic, 250-spot facility looks out of place alongside historic buildings on Sheridan. It replaces a colorful, 90-year-old house that formerly housed a meditation center, which had an attractive yard with several tall trees. Since the garage has zero retail and presents a blank face to pedestrians, it’s a much less interesting property to walk past.

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This streetscape isn’t awful, but it would be more interesting with retail. Photo: John Greenfield

The parking structure is a five-minute walk from the Red Line’s Jarvis stop, and a two-minute stroll to the beach, so it occupies valuable land that would have been much better utilized by housing. And the garage entrance and exit on Sherwin further degrades the pedestrian environment by forcing people on foot to watch out for cars crossing the sidewalk.

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Cars entering and leaving the garage will be a hazard for pedestrians. Photo: John Greenfield

It was hard to gauge how much impact the facility will have on traffic congestion in the neighborhood, since — probably due to its newness — the garage was mostly empty when I stopped by. But it’s safe to predict that the structure will encourage more tenants of the nearby, Pritzker-owned Farcroft by the Lake rental tower and visitors to Frank Llloyd Wright’s Emil Bach house to bring cars into the neighborhood. Other residents can rent monthly spaces for $125, which further promotes car ownership.

That said, seeing the facility with my own eyes also confirmed that it’s probably one the most attractive structures ever built that has no function whatsoever except to stack automobiles. The garage also gets points for its louvered green glass panels, which provide plenty of airflow, eliminating the need to use power for a ventilation system. And it’s certainly a good thing that the structure has spaces for car-sharing vehicles, plus an electric vehicle charging station.

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The Case of the Missing Andersonville “People Spots”

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Brian Bonanno, in ballcap, and crew members reinstalled the Farragut parklet in mid-July, a couple months late. Photo: John Greenfield

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

As the Tribune’s Blair Kamin recently pointed out, it’s embarrassing that San Francisco will soon have more than eighty “parklets”—parking-lane space repurposed as picturesque seating areas—while our much-larger city only has a handful of them. Dubbed “People Spots” by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which runs the program, eight of these have been put in on business districts in Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Lakeview and Andersonville.

The beauty of parklets is that they take asphalt that’s usually reserved for warehousing private automobiles and transform it into attractive, planter-enclosed public space where neighbors and shoppers can congregate. The People Spot nicknamed “The Wave” at Addison and Southport in Lakeview is practically public art—its undulating, freeform seating units are both comfy and reminiscent of whale skeletons.

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“The Wave” parklet at Addison and Southport. Photo: John Greenfield

A study by Metropolitan Planning Council found that, since People Spots encourage people to linger on Chicago’s retail strips, they’re a shot in the arm for local businesses. Eighty percent of merchants surveyed felt nearby parklets helped attract customers to their establishments. Seventy-three percent of parklet users said that, if they weren’t eating, chatting, texting or relaxing in the spaces, they’d probably be at home. Thirty-four percent of them said they made spontaneous food or beverage purchases as a result of the inviting hangout space.

Despite this success, by midsummer of this year, the two Andersonville parklets still hadn’t been reinstalled after being mothballed for the winter. One of them, consisting of boxy, blue wooden seating units, has stood at Clark and Farragut, by an Akira clothing boutique and the Gus Giordano Dance School, during the warm months of every year since 2012. The other, a more rustic enclosure made of recycled lumber, first opened in 2013 at Clark and Olive, by Piatto Pronto Italian deli and the Coffee Studio café.

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Fullerton Project Will Provide Acres of New Parkland, Partial Trail Separation

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Looking south at the “bayou” created by the construction of the metal retaining wall. Photo: John Greenfield

Last October, a study was released as part of the North Lake Shore Drive redesign process that found Chicagoans ranked the creation of separate paths for walking and biking on the Lakefront Trail as their top priority for improving the shoreline. That same month, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District kicked off the Fullerton Revetment project, a step in the right direction towards that goal.

The initiative is building 5.8 acres of new parkland along the lake, which will allow for the partial separation of pedestrian and bike routes at a spot that’s currently a bottleneck. The main goal of the $31.5 million endeavor, funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city, and the park district, is to replace the crumbling seawall as part of the larger Chicago Shoreline Protection Project, which launched in 2000. Since then, 19 of the 23 segments of that 9.5-mile, $500 million project have been completed, according to city officials.

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A plan view of the project.

The Fullerton initiative includes widening the strip of parkland along the Lakefront Trail by as much as several hundred feet via infill, creating a brand-new hump of land that’s sure to be a hit with sunbathers. The work will also pave the way for the renovation of the Theater on the Lake, a former tuberculosis sanatorium that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to turn into a year-round destination for arts and culture.

Infill and revetment construction is slated for completion by November 30, and landscaping should be done by summer of 2016. Yesterday, CDOT engineer Carlene Walsh, the Fullerton project manager, and Steven Miskowicz from the R.M. Chin and Associates, which is overseeing construction, led a tour of the worksite. The general contractor is Walsh Construction – no relation to Ms. Walsh.

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Installing the corrugated metal pilings for the metal enclosure. Photo: John Greenfield

Right now, the area that will be the new land resembles a tropical lagoon. Workers are driving corrugated steel pilings as much as 45 feet into the lakebed to create a wavy wall of metal that will hold the infill in place, similar to what was recently done to create new land for the Chicago Riverwalk extension. A causeway of rock and gravel has been built to provide access for the heavy equipment used to install the metal enclosure.

The resulting “bayou,” currently occupied by water that’s a milky turquoise due to sediment, will be filled in with 80,000 cubic yards of rocks and sand. The rocks include special “armor stone” that will be shipped in from Wisconsin, but the sand will be dredged from the lake floor southeast of North Avenue Beach’s hook-shaped pier, starting in about a month. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2013. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

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What’s Rush Hour Traffic Really Like at the Lincoln Hub?

There have been have been plenty of complaints in the media that the Lincoln Hub placemaking project is causing a traffic nightmare at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. The intiative was spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce in order to create safer conditions for all road users and encourage people to linger and spend money at the six-way intersection.

The project uses flexible posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes. The curb extensions double as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provide additional protection from cars.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently criticized the street redesign, arguing that replacing the slip lanes with pedestrian space has created a headache for drivers:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs, the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Local resident Luis Monje launched an online petition to “redesign/rethink/rescind” the Lincoln Hub, which has garnered over 580 signatures. He delivered a printout of the signatures to local alderman Scott Waguespack on July 15. “We have noticed a MARKED increase in the amount of traffic congestion on our block as cars/trucks/service vehicles struggle with the sharp turns that have been made much tighter due to this ‘improvement,’” Monje wrote in the petition.

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Eyes on the Street: Monumental Bike Parking on Lawrence Avenue

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Photo: John Greenfield

I spent about five years in the early 2000s coordinating bicycle rack installations for the Chicago Department of Transportation. One of the main takeaways from that very enjoyable job was that, when it comes to bike parking, form really does follow function. Although designers are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel by building a better bike rack, it’s hard to beat the no-frills “inverted U” style CDOT has been putting in since the early Nineties.

Therefore, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the rather grandiose bike parking structure that was recently installed as part of the successful Lawrence Avenue road diet and streetscaping project. That “four-to-three conversion” transformed the segment of Lawrence between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue from a desolate speedway into a people-friendly street with wider sidewalks, space for cafe seating, and bike lanes.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Even before that stretch became more bikeable, there was a huge demand for bike parking at the Ravenswood Metra station at Lawrence and Ravenswood Avenue, which has recently grown with the addition of a new supermarket and housing complex. There are “wave” racks with space for dozens of cycles under the Metra tracks, but that still isn’t enough capacity — bikes often overflow onto railings.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Therefore, it was a no-brainer that the streetscape project should include additional bike parking, but the design that was chosen is a bit of a head-scratcher. The streetscape included four colorful, roughly 30-foot-high “neighborhood identifier poles.” One of these, at the southeast corner of Lawrence/Ravenswood, was retrofitted with six curved bike parking fixtures made by Bike Arc, a company based in Palo Alto, California.

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Eyes on the Street: A Wild Night for Chicago’s Public Spaces

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Blackhawks fans fill the Clark/Sheffield/Newport intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Whether you’re a rabid Blackhawks fan or couldn’t care less about professional sports, Monday night was an unforgettable evening on the streets of Chicago — and on its newest bike and pedestrian paths.

The torrential rains wreaked havoc with the transportation network, flooding streets and viaducts all over the city, and forcing the closures of a section of the Eisenhower Expressway and some Kennedy Expressway offramps, DNAinfo reported. The CTA also temporarily shut down service on the Blue Line between Harlem and Forest Park in the western suburbs.

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The soggy 606. Photo by Instagram user blipsman.

The severe weather also took its toll on the city’s newest places for walking and biking, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, and the new Chicago Riverwalk sections, both of which opened within the last month. The elevated greenway was swamped with rain last night, and neighbors told DNA they feared runoff from the trail was doing damage to their homes. However, the path was largely dry by this morning.

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Flooded walkway around the State Street bridge house. Photo: John Greenfield

It looks likes it’s going to be a longer cleanup process for the riverwalk. Just yesterday afternoon, when I checked out the newest section, dubbed The River Theater, it was a sparkling new jewel in Chicago’s collection of world-class public spaces. Sadly, when I dropped by on my way home in the early evening, the walkways around the bridge houses were completely flooded, and The River Theater, The Cove, and The Marina were caked with foul-smelling muck.

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Workers start cleaning up the mess at The River Theater. Photo: John Greenfield

Workers were already out assessing the damage last night. “The Riverwalk is designed to withstand high water,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told me earlier today. “That said, we are out there and beginning the cleanup this morning.”

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The River Theater’s Ramps Let People on Wheels Make a Grand Entrance

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It’s fairly easy to bike down to the water via the new ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

With the Friday opening of the Chicago Riverwalk’s third new section, dubbed The River Theater, wheelchair users, families with strollers, and bicyclists have a new way to get down to the riverfront from Upper Wacker. This segment, located between Clark and LaSalle, consists almost entirely of stair-stepped, amphitheater-style seating. However, the steps are split up by gently graded, ADA-compliant ramps that zigzag back and forth across the stately new public space.

As you can see from this video, the ramps work fairly well for bicycling, although they’re narrow enough that cyclists need to be especially mindful about yielding to people in wheelchairs and pedestrians. But, overall, the ramps are an elegant solution for providing access.

The concrete steps, while Spartan, are a comfortable place to perch with a pleasant view of the waterway, and the space is sure to be popular with people eating lunch and relaxing on nice days. I visited this afternoon, shortly after a downpour, so the steps were sparsely populated.

Unlike the two next sections of the riverwalk that debuted earlier this month, The Marina and The Cove, most of the River Theater’s shoreline does not allow easy access to the water, since it’s located a few feet above the surface and fenced off. However, there is a staircase at the east end of the space leading down to the water for boat access.

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A river taxi and a tour boat pass by The River Theater

The River Theater will be an ideal venue for live performances, which are being booked by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. On Sunday, May 21, as part of the Make Music Festival, the Chicago Academy of Piping and Drumming will perform there at 1 p.m. and the Chicago Philharmonic Brass will perform at 3 p.m. There will also be live music that day at The Cove, The Marina, and the riverside Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with performers ranging from a Mariachi band to a cabaret group to a steel drum ensemble.

Jai Cruz, relaxing on the steps with a friend from out of town, gave The River Theater a thumbs-up. “It’s pretty fantastic,” he said. “I like the architectural views that it has to offer, and that they’re going to be offering bands on the weekends for the tourists and for those of us who live in the city.” He added that the ramps are a nice touch. “It makes it pretty convenient for people on bikes to go up and down.”

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