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Posts from the Eyes on the Street Category

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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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The Bloomingdale, Chicago’s Awesome New Public Space, Makes Its Debut

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The Humboldt Boulevard bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In a 2009 Chicago Reader story, I noted that the best-case scenario for the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway would be a 2016 opening, in time for the Olympics, if then-mayor Richard M. Daley succeeded in winning the games. We all know what happened with the Olympic effort.

But here it is, only 2015, and thousands of Chicagoans of all ages and walks of life were already hanging out, strolling, jogging, biking, skating, and parading on the 2.7-mile path, last Saturday as part of the trail’s joyful opening celebration on a gorgeous spring day. The rails-to-trail conversion and the construction of several adjacent access parks never would have happened without tireless advocacy and activism from neighbors, particularly the grassroots nonprofit Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

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One of the many opening day processions. Photo: John Greenfield

We also need to give some credit for the speedy delivery of the trail to current mayor Rahm Emanuel. In July of 2009, the city announced its choice of the contractor to design the trail, but when Daley left office nearly two years later, the contract still hadn’t been awarded. “The project was really creeping along,” acknowledged Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton at the Saturday opening. She has been involved with discussions on converting the rail line since 1987.

After he was elected in 2011, Emanuel announced his intention to open the trail within four years, which seemed next-to-impossible at the time. However, soon after he took office, the design contract was awarded, and not long after that the city lined up $50 million in federal funding to build the $95 million project. The Trust for Public Land was recruited to manage the project and raise the additional money through private donations.

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Emanuel takes a spin on the trail. Photo: John Greenfield

The opening was originally scheduled for fall of 2014, but the opening was pushed back after a brutal winter delayed construction. However, it was surreal to see the nearly completed path and parks filled with revelers on Saturday. “Mayor Emanuel galvanized support for the trail,” Luann said.

The Bloomingdale is still a work in progress – the east end near Ashland Avenue is largely a construction site, and unfinished handrails on the California Avenue access ramp created a potential hazard. TPL still needs to raise $20 million more to fund additional landscaping, public art, and other amenities, and Governor Bruce Rauner has frozen some of the state funding for access parks by the eastern and western trailheads.

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Eyes on the Street: The Bloomingdale Trail Is Almost Ready for Its Close-Up

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Looking east from the top of the observatory, at the western trailhead. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicagoans are in for a treat this Saturday, when the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, finally opens to the public. For roughly two decades, residents have been pushing to turn the 2.7-mile railroad right-of-way into a multiuse path and linear park.

While the initiative slowly moved forward under the Richard M. Daley administration, Rahm Emanuel deserves credit for making the Bloomingdale a pet project and expediting it. A couple weeks after his second inauguration ceremony, Emanuel is more-or-less making good on his promise to open the trail within four years of taking office.

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White, Emanuel, CDOT’s Rebekah Scheinfeld, and the park district’s Michael Kelly. Photo: John Greenfield

On the cleverly selected date of Saturday, 6/06, there will be a wide range of festivities to celebrate the grand opening. At 8 a.m., there will be ribbon cuttings at each of the access ramps, followed by a procession on decorated bicycles, led by West Town Bikes. At 3:30 p.m., there will be a flag-waving parade, and at 8:30 p.m., a third procession will illuminate the trail.

Throughout the day, there will be live music and dance at two stages on Humboldt Boulevard, plus dozens of art, music, poetry, nature, and children’s events and activities at the various access parks. On Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be a community pancake breakfast at the western trailhead. See the full schedule here.

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out the New Chicago Riverwalk Sections

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The Cove. Photo: John Greenfield

Just as Richard M. Daley made his mark on Chicago with Millennium Park, Rahm Emanuel is creating a number of marquee public space projects, including the redevelopment of Northerly Island, Maggie Daley Park, and the Bloomingdale Trail. The latest is a new, two-block stretch of the Chicago Riverwalk, between State and Clark, which opened on Saturday. The riverwalk extension is slated to reach Lake Street and Wacker Driver next year, creating a car-free pedestrian and bike route all the way to Lake Michigan.

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The Cove. Photo: John Greenfield

The project is funded by a roughly $100 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act loan. Chicago plans to pay back the loan in about 35 years, with most of the revenue coming from rental and retail concession fees, plus riverside advertising. Last week, Emanuel announced the roster of concessionaires, which includes the bike rental companies Bike and Roll Chicago (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), WanderBikes, and Wheel Fun Rentals, plus various boat tour and rental companies, restaurants, cafes and bars.

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Walking under the Dearborn bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

All of the new sections of the riverwalk, delineated by the bridges, will have designated themes, such as “The Water Plaza,” “The Jetty,” and “The Boardwalk.” The now-open section between State and Dearborn is called “The Marina” and will feature restaurants and places for boats to dock. “The Cove,” from Dearborn to Clark, will offer kayak rentals.

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Eyes on the Street: Just About All the Dots Are in at the Lincoln Hub

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Workers use stencils, rollers and brushes to paint dots on the northwest corner. Photo: John Greenfield

Here’s a quick update on the Lincoln Hub traffic calming and placemaking project at Wellington/Southport/Lincoln. By noon today, workers had finished painting the dots at the northern corner of the six-way intersection, and were well on the way to finishing the northwest corner. By the evening commute, it’s likely that all the dots will be filled in. After a few few more planters and seating units are added, hopefully by this weekend, the project will be complete. If there’s nice weather on Saturday, it will be fun to see how residents use the new public space.

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The northern corner. Photo: John Greenfield

View more photos from this morning here.

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Eyes on the Street: The Lincoln Hub Continues to Take Shape

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Twister anyone? As you can see, workers recently filled in most of the dots decorating the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection as part of the “Lincoln Hub” traffic calming  and placemaking project. This makes it even more obvious that the painted curb extensions are intended as space for pedestrians to walk and hang out. They also installed a few additional round seating units.

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Looking south on Lincoln. Photo: John Greenfield

The street redesign is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont. Due to an unusually rainy May, the hub is already a few days past its projected May 22 completion date. However, weather permitting, the remainder of the dots on the north and northwest sides of the six-way will be painted tomorrow, according to SSA manager Lee Crandell. The rest of the planters, seating units, and cafe tables should be in by the weekend, wrapping up the project.

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Kids walk home from a nearby school. Photo: John Greenfield

Some local residents have complained that the neckdowns cause delays because drivers can no longer pass left-turning vehicles on the right. Of course, part of the point of the project is to slow down cars to safe speeds. Moreover, passing on the right may actually be illegal at this location — I’ve put in an inquiry with the Chicago Department of Transportation to find out.

Meanwhile, people on foot seem to appreciate the shorter crossing distances and additional public space provided by the street remix. “It’s better than before,” said Dave Millet, who was walking his young daughter home from school with his wife Pam when I stopped by today. “It helps guide traffic a little more safely. I’d rather see space taken away from cars and given to people to do other things.”

See more photos of the intersection taken today.

Updated May 27, 2015

Per Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey, it is, in fact legal to pass a left-turning vehicle on the right on a two-lane street, if there is sufficient space to do so safely. Here’s the relevant portion of the Chicago City Code:

9-36-020  Overtaking vehicle on the right.

   (a)   The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:

      (1)   When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn and there is sufficient safe clearance distance between the turning vehicle and the right edge of the roadway;

      (2)   Upon any roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lanes of moving vehicles in each direction; or

      (3)   Upon any roadway on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the unobstructed pavement is of sufficient width for two or more lanes of moving vehicles.

   (b)   The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. In no event shall such movement be made by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

(Added Coun. J. 7-12-90, p. 18634)

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Eyes on the Street: Seeing Spots at the Lincoln Hub

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Looking southeast from the north side of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s first painted curb extensions are starting to take shape. Workers recently spray-painted the outlines of green and blue polka dots at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection as part of the “Lincoln Hub” traffic calming and placemaking projects. The street remix is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont.

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St. Alphonsus Church is on the left side of this rendering.

Flexible plastic bollards that extend the intersection’s six corners, planters, round seating units, and café tables and chairs have been in place for a few weeks now. These treatments have already improved pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, eliminating several slip lanes, and discouraging speeding. Residents have also been enjoying the additional seating on nice days.

However, now that the outlines of the dots are in place, it’s more obvious that the asphalt outlined by the posts is intended as space for walking and sitting, and it’s easier for motorists to understand the new configuration. The painting project had been delayed by recent rainy weather, according to SSA program director Lee Crandell. Pending warmer, sunny weather, crews will fill in the dots, creating an Oriental carpet-inspired design that will unify the intersection. After the paint is dry, additional seating will be added, completing the project.

DNAinfo reported that, at a recent South Lakeview Neighbors meeting, there were complaints that the new layout requires drivers to queue up behind left-turning motorists, since there is no longer space to pass on the right. I’ve hung out at the intersection a few times during rush hours and haven’t seen any major issues. “One of the goals of this project is to slow down cars to improve safety for pedestrians,” Crandell told me. “We think there are some significant improvements here for pedestrians.”

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Crandell has talked to the Chicago Department of Transportation about the possibility of tweaking the design, including relocating bollards and adjusting signal timing for Southport to allow more drivers to move through the intersection. “But I’ve emphasized to the community that we need to see how this works when it’s completed,” he said. “After we let it settle in for a few weeks, we can make decisions based on what impact it’s having.”

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Eyes on the Street: Albany Park Divvy Replaces Cars Parked on Sidewalk

Cars on the sidewalk in Albany Park

Before the Divvy station went in, it was too easy for people to park their cars on the sidewalk. Photo: CDOT

A new Divvy station next to the CTA’s Francisco Brown Line stop in Ravenswood Manor, one of several installed yesterday in the Albany Park community area, replaces parkway car parking spots – which often resulted in cars blocking the sidewalk – with 11 public bike-share docks. Streetsblog Chicago reader Jim Peters gave us a heads-up about the swap.

After: A Divvy station will keep the sidewalk for pedestrians. Photo: CDOT

Now the sidewalk will remain clear for pedestrians. Photo: CDOT

Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel, who manages the Divvy Program, said motorists would often drive so far up on the pad that their vehicles would completely block the sidewalk. This forced pedestrians to walk in the roadway. Peters, who lives a block away, said he’s even watched parents pushing strollers in the street. “Seeing open sidewalk and bikes, instead of parked cars, is truly a beauteous sight,” he said.

Wiedel added that removing the car parking here also prevents a potentially hazardous situation. Previously, drivers backing out of the parkway obstructed through traffic, which meant it was possible for waiting motorists to get stuck on the ‘L’ tracks.

Thanks to this smart repurposing of the parkway, instead of warehousing private cars which inconvenienced and endangered residents, the space now houses a handy and affordable public transportation amenity. As of this morning, the Divvy system featured 406 stations, the largest number of stations in any U.S. city. By June, Chicago should have 476 stations, the most in North America.

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Eyes on the Street: Half-Finished “Lincoln Hub” Is Already Improving Safety

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The partially completed Lincoln Hub, as seen from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, construction started on the “Lincoln Hub,” a traffic calming and placemaking project at Lincoln/Wellington/Southport, and the intersection has already been transformed for the better. The makeover is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont, slated for completion around May 22.

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Lincoln Hub, inspired by Oriental rug designs. St. Alphonsus is on left side.

The Lincoln Hub will feature Chicago’s first painted curb extensions, with planters and flexible posts to keep cars out of the pedestrian space and shorten crossing distances. There will also be small seating plazas at the northwest and southeast corners of the six-way intersection. Patterns of blue and green dots will be painted on the sidewalks in a pattern reminiscent of an Oriental rug, which will help visually unify the intersection.

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Looking southeast on Lincoln. Photo: John Greenfield

The plastic posts have already been installed, and a number of round, concrete seating units have already been delivered, although most of them have not been unwrapped yet. These changes have already affected how people use the intersection. When I visited during the evening rush yesterday, car traffic was moving slowly, but steadily, and the neckdowns didn’t seem to be creating congestion issues.

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View from the northwest corner of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

The elimination of three slip lanes was slowing down turning drivers, creating a safer situation for pedestrians. People on foot, including many seniors and families with young children I observed, seemed to appreciate shorter crossing distances, although I didn’t see many people lingering on the car-free asphalt surfaces. This will change after the curb extensions are painted and the planters and seating are in place. It will be exciting to see how residents take advantage of their new, people-friendly space once it’s completed.

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One of the new seating elements at the northwest corner. Photo: John Greenfield

 View more photos of the Lincoln Hub here.