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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike Lanes on the North Side

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New buffered lanes on the 2300 block of North Elston. Photo: CDOT

This is the time of year when the Chicago Department of Transportation hustles to get the last of the new bikeways installed before it’s too cold to stripe thermoplastic. Since the threshold is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this week’s cold snap could mean the end of the construction season. Hopefully, this year, CDOT won’t attempt to continue striping after it’s too cold, which has previously led to problems with quickly disappearing bike lane markings.

Yesterday, I took advantage of the nice weather to visit a few new facilities on the North Side. On my way out, I checked out the progress of the Lawrence streetscape in Ravenswood and Lincoln Square. It’s now largely finished from Clark to Western, save for a few details like bioswales and neighborhood identifier poles with “bike arcs” for locking cycles. Baby-blue metal chairs, an interesting alternative to benches, have been installed in a few spots.

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Street chairs on Lawrence Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

Next, I checked out a 1.25-mile stretch of new buffered bike lanes on Kedzie from Addison to Logan in Avondale and Logan Square. Previously, there were non-buffered lanes on the street from Logan to Barry, just south of the Kennedy Expressway. The new lanes, striped on reasonably smooth existing pavement, are buffered on both sides.

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New buffered lanes on Kedzie make it a little safer to ride under the Kennedy. Photo: CDOT

The BBLs help provide safer passage through viaducts under the expressway and nearby Metra tracks. Green paint has been added to the northbound bike lane by the Kennedy onramp, to remind drivers to look for cyclists before merging right. The buffered lanes also run right by Revolution Brewing’s production brewery, 3340 North Kedzie, which has a pleasant malt aroma. Aside from the Kinze protected lanes, located by the Blommer Chocolate factory, Kedzie may be the best-smelling bikeway in Chicago.

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Eyes on the Street: A Cycle Track Rises Along Roosevelt In South Loop

Raised bike path in front of Trader Joe's

A raised bike path is under construction on the north side of Roosevelt, between Michigan and Indiana avenues, outside Potbelly and Trader Joe’s.

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Concrete formwork outlines the future route of the new bike path.

Next month, bicyclists of all ages will have a safe new way to get to the Museum Campus, Lakefront Trail, and Soldier Field from the South Loop once construction crews complete the city’s first raised cycle track. A two-way bike path along Roosevelt Road, between Wabash and Indiana avenues, is being built on the same level as the sidewalk on the north side of the street. This separated path will keep bicyclists out of a busy five-lane road that’s often filled with cars and buses traveling to or from Lake Shore Drive and the museums.

Raising the bike path up to the sidewalk’s level also circumvented the Illinois Department of Transportation’s ban on protected bike lanes along state routes like Roosevelt — also known as Illinois Route 38. This treatment is common in Europe, but is still rare in the United States.

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A rendering of Roosevelt and Wabash shows how bicyclists going east, towards Grant Park, will cross Roosevelt before proceeding on the raised bike path along the north side (next to Trader Joe’s). Rendering courtesy CDOT.

Crews working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction on the path this summer, moving utility lines beneath Roosevelt between Wabash and Michigan avenues. In September, crews demolished the previous curb line and poured a new, wider sidewalk on the south side of Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan. Bump-outs replaced no-parking zones at the corners of Wabash and Roosevelt, and the Divvy station was moved to one at the southwest corner of Roosevelt and Wabash. Now, crews have moved to the north side of Roosevelt to construct tree planters, a new sidewalk, and the new raised bike path.

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Eyes on the Street: Loyola University’s New Kenmore Avenue Path

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A new crosswalk spans Sheridan Road, leading from the new Kenmore pedestrian mall to the center of Loyola’s campus. Photo: Melissa Manak

Loyola University Chicago recently expanded its Lake Shore campus south into the neighborhood, and took a different approach to connect the new buildings to its main campus across busy Sheridan Road. The university closed to car travel the entire 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue, between Rosemont Avenue and Sheridan Road, and replaced the avenue with a wide brick shared-use path — one of the first pedestrian-only streets on the far north side. The idea behind the new path was to allow a safer, car-free route between the southern portion of the school, which includes several dormitories and the new Institute of Environmental Sustainability building, and the main campus.

As Streetsblog reported earlier, some residents in the area were frustrated with the plan for two reasons, both closely associated with auto access. One issue was that several parking spaces would be eliminated in an area with a high demand for free parking, and another issue was that barring cars from Kenmore eliminated a short cut for far north-siders to take when Sheridan Road is congested.

Construction on this project started in 2013 when streets in the immediate area were closed entirely, and continued for over a year. In the meantime, cyclists and pedestrians alike had to take alternative routes using alleys or by biking the wrong way on parallel Winthrop Avenue. (The only other parallel street is the four-lane Sheridan Road speedway, where the city’s ban on sidewalk cycling is strictly enforced.) The university bought Kenmore from the city for over $300,000, and spent over $3.5 million dollars to renovate the property. This pathway now includes a permeable brick surface, green space, and flower gardens to fill what a space that once was rows of parked cars.

I frequently travel through the area and was curious to see what others in the community thought of this project. After two different days of visiting the site, it seems that other residents and students agree that it’s enhanced the area and created a safer way for them to reach the university.

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95 Problems: A Walk Down the South Side’s Most Notorious “Stroad”

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Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn crash. Photo: John Greenfield

[A version of this article also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

“I avoid 95th Street as much as possible for my safety and sanity,” said Beverly resident and Streetsblog contributor Anne Alt, in the wake of a horrific multi-car crash on the massive road earlier this month. This senseless disaster in west suburban Oak Lawn injured almost a dozen people and killed three, including two nuns.

On Sunday, October 5, at around 4:30 p.m., witnesses noticed retired contractor Edward Carthans, eighty-one, slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup near 95th and Western, police said. Carthans refused help and instead sped west on 95th, colliding with three cars at Keeler. He kept driving, blew a red light at Cicero, and then veered into the eastbound lanes, causing an eleven-car pile-up. After his truck became airborne, he was killed, along with Sister Jean Stickney, 86, and Sister Kab Kyoung Kim, 48, who were driving home from a shopping trip.

“It’s a miracle that we don’t have serious crashes on 95th more often than we do,” Alt commented on Streetsblog. She noted that much of 95th is a “stroad,” a street/road hybrid with straight geometry and multiple, wide lanes that encourage highway speeds within populated areas. “The mix of congestion and speeding — depending on location and time of day — can be quite scary, even when the situation isn’t as extreme as what happened on Sunday.”

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95th Street near the Oak Lawn Metra stop. Photo: John Greenfield

Before this tragedy occurred, I was already planning to walk the entire length of 95th in Chicago. So far, I’ve hiked more than a dozen streets, as part of my ongoing quest to see as much of the city on foot as possible. After 19th Ward Alderman Matthew O’Shea recently blamed Beverly’s lackluster retail scene on a supposed dearth of parking along 95th, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance suggested I stroll the 7.5-mile street. It’s one of the least pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares in town, but I’m never one to say no to a sustainable transportation challenge.

When I get off Metra’s Southwest Service line in Oak Lawn on a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon, I gaze at the bleak, seven-lane expanse of 95th and wonder if I’d bitten off more than I can chew. As I trudge east through several blocks of big-box retail, I encounter almost no pedestrians. There are a handful of people on bikes, but they’re all riding on the sidewalk.

I get an eerie feeling as I approach 95th and Cicero, the gigantic intersection where Carthan’s trail of destruction ended. Next to an empty storefront, there are two white, wooden crosses for Stickney and Kim, plus a red, wooden heart for Carthans. Stuffed animals and flowers are scattered at the bases of the memorials, and nearby someone has lit a votive candle for Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations. A wide groove, between the sidewalk and the curb, is still filled with shattered auto glass.

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An Update on the Lawrence Streetscape and the Ravenswood Metra Stop

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A curb bump-out and a pedestrian island makes it much easier to cross Lawrence than before, while a new bike lane encourages cycling. Photo: John Greenfield

The long-awaited Lawrence streetscape and road diet is is almost complete, and the project has already transformed a corridor that had been unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists into a much more livable street. Meanwhile, construction is also wrapping up on a new, supersized Metra station house on Lawrence.

First announced in 2010 and launched in July of 2013, the streetscape has changed the stretch of Lawrence between Western and Clark from a four-lane speedway into a much calmer street, with two mixed-traffic lanes plus a turn lane. This was formerly a “reverse bottleneck,” since it was the only section of Lawrence in the city with four lanes. The road diet has made room for wider sidewalks, which will provide space for café seating, plus non-buffered bike lanes, where there were formerly only shared-lane markings.

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The same intersection as the above photo, Lawrence and Seeley, before the road diet. Image: Google Maps

The section from Ravenswood – where the new Metra stop is located – to Western is largely completed. Many pedestrian islands have been built. In a few locations, there are also curb bump-outs that reduce crossing distances for people traversing Lawrence. Crosswalks made of eye-catching red asphalt, stamped in a brick pattern, have been put in at all intersections.

Workers have installed old-fashioned acorn-style streetlamps, as well as standard inverted-U bike racks, according to to Brad Gregorka, an assistant to 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. Benches and trash cans will soon be added. Two Divvy bike-share stations have been returned or relocated to spots by the Metra stop and at Lawrence/Leavitt.

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Yet Another Sidewalk Closure Forces Pedestrians Into the Street

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Pedestrians waiting for the walk signal at the northwest corner of Roosevelt/Canal on Friday. They were in danger of being struck by turning motorists. Photo: John Greenfield

Recently, Steven Vance wrote about how curb ramp construction along Fullerton in Logan Square was forcing pedestrians off of the sidewalk and into the street. Last week, Streetsblog reader Brian Sobolak alerted us to a similar issue, at the busy intersection of Roosevelt and Canal in the South Loop, near several shopping centers.

The sidewalk at the northwest corner of this intersection had been excavated and barricaded, and signs were posted announcing that the sidewalk was closed. However, there were no pedestrian accommodations. “There are lots of signs for where cars can go, but nothing for pedestrians,” Sobolak wrote. “They are forced to wait in the street.”

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The intersection, earlier in the week. Photo: Brian Sobolak

I sent a heads-up about the problem to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales, who put me in touch with his counterpart at the Department of Water Management, Gary Litherland. Last Thursday, Litherland told me that DWM recently put in a water main at the location, and that contractor Benchmark Construction was redoing the sidewalk and wheelchair ramps prior to street repaving. “However, this does look like a bit of a mess as far as pedestrians are concerned,” he said.

Litherland said he’d alerted the project’s resident engineer about the issue and asked if something could be done to better accommodate people on foot . “It’s a congested area,” he told me. “But we will be doing everything we can to make this a safer intersection for pedestrians, and drivers as well.” He said he hoped that the engineer would address the problem the next day.

It rained heavily Thursday night, and when I dropped by the site in person late Friday afternoon, I saw that Benchmark had covered the wooden boards on the perimeter of the corner with tarps. Otherwise, nothing had changed. People on foot still had to do a wide detour around the construction to access the northwest corner. Those crossing from that corner to the northeast and southwest sides of the intersection waited for the walk signal in the street, where they were endangered by turning motorists.

I called Litherland with an update. “We will do what we can to make it safer for everyone,” he told me. He said he hoped that the construction would be finished over the weekend, which would eliminate the problem.

CDOT’s “Rules and Regulations for Construction in the Public Way” dictate that, when a construction project blocks access to a sidewalk or transit stop, the contractor must provide a safe route for pedestrians, on the same side of the street. “Pedestrians should not be led into conflict with vehicles, equipment, and operations around the work site,” the document states.

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Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Bike Lanes on South Damen

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Mr. Carter pedals the new buffered lanes on South Damen. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation continues to build new bike lanes, and upgrade old ones, in order to get the maximum number of miles in before it’s too cold to lay thermoplastic. Yesterday, I cruised over to South Damen Avenue, where the department recently striped buffered bike lanes on the three-mile stretch between 63rd and 87th streets.

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The new BBLs connect with the Major Taylor trailhead at Damen and 87th. Photo: John Greenfield

Stretches of South Damen have had non-buffered lanes for years, although there were a couple of gaps in the bikeway, in sections where the local alderman had formerly opposed adding bike lanes. One nice thing about this recent project is that it fills in the gap between 71st and 79th streets. The BBLs also connect with recently striped buffered lanes on Marquette Avenue (6700 South), as well as the Major Taylor Trail, which has a trailhead at 87th and Damen.

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Non-buffered bike lane on Damen north of 63rd. Photo: John Greenfield

North of 63rd, the bikeway is still an un-buffered lane – hopefully CDOT will upgrade this in the future. South of 63rd, the old lanes have been ground out, and the BBLs have been striped on the existing pavement, which is in decent shape.

On the northern stretch of the new bikeway, the buffer is located on the left side of the bike lane, which helps keep cyclists away from moving vehicles. South of 83rd, the buffer is on the right, which helps prevent doorings. However, when I rode the BBLs in the early afternoon, there were few cars in the parking lanes.

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Eyes on the Street: Construction Pushes Walkers Into Fullerton Ave.

Dangerous construction site conditions

One person walks in the construction site at Washtenaw and Fullerton, while another walks in the roadway.

Pedestrians walking along Fullerton Avenue in Logan Square have been forced off the sidewalks, and into the street, by Bigane Paving’s curb ramp construction. Bigane has failed to provide the required detour for pedestrians, so pedestrians have to walk in the street amidst busy traffic.

Worse yet, people who use wheelchairs aren’t able to use the now non-existent sidewalk at all. Local parent Gin Kilgore wrote us to say “a mother at Goethe School rolls with her child to school in a wheelchair, and said it’s very difficult for her to travel on Fullerton sidewalks now.”

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A woman walks through the curb ramp construction site at California and Fullerton.

I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation on Thursday morning, after Kilgore informed me about the problem up and down Fullerton. The situation has persisted on both sides of Fullerton for more than a week. According to the city’s open data portal, Bigane is doing the sidewalk repairs before a larger contract to resurface Fullerton.

A CDOT official responded soon after my email yesterday, telling me that the contractor would have the sites changed by the end of Thursday. Yet this morning, the detours still weren’t in place. One resident had this to say in response to the conditions this morning:


CDOT’s rules and regulations specify that a contractor must develop a detour plan before disrupting a pedestrian or transit facility, and provide a protected walkway on the same side of the street when such disruptions happen. It also says, “Pedestrians should not be led into conflict with vehicles, equipment, and operations around the work site.”

Construction now blocks off the entire bus stop area

The construction area around the curb ramp on the southwest corner of Fullerton at California blocks people from boarding at the bus stop here.

Tell us where else you see contractors failing to provide detours around sidewalk construction.

Updated to add transit. 

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Wicker Park Bus Stop Hasn’t Been ADA Accessible for Months

The CTA has been using this as a bus stop for over two months

People with disabilities can’t step off the curb to board buses.

For the past three months, #56 Milwaukee bus drivers have had a tough time picking up passengers, especially those with disabilities, from a temporary bus stop in the heart of Wicker Park.

The bus stop was formerly located on the northwest leg of the bustling junction of Milwaukee, North, and Damen, in front of a Walgreens. In order to accommodate construction at the iconic Northwest Tower, the Chicago Transit Authority relocated the stop to the southeast leg in July.

The temporary stop is located at a corner dotted with newspaper boxes, trash bins, and signs, so instead passengers often wait within the 15-minute standing zone in front of the Bank of America branch. When cars are standing there, they block the bus from pulling all the way up to the curb. This forces those boarding the bus at this busy transit interchange to step off the curb. That isn’t an option for people in wheelchairs, and they also can’t access the nearby Damen Blue Line station because it doesn’t have an elevator.

I alerted the CTA about the situation a month ago, and reminded them earlier this week. Spokesman Brian Steele told me the agency had been working with the bank’s property managers on the issue ever since the stop was relocated.

Steele provided another update on Wednesday. “CTA and [the Chicago Department of Transportation] have spoken to the property managers for the Bank of America building, and will be removing this 15-minute standing zone, and installing bus stop signs (heavy coated signs, not just paper signs) to clearly identify the stop,” he wrote. However, he couldn’t provide an ETA for the change.

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Exploring New Bikeways on Marquette Road

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Biking the new buffered lanes in the Marquette Park neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, I navigated a couple of Chicago’s newest bikeways on Marquette Road, named for Father Jacques Marquette, one of the first Europeans to map out the northern Mississippi River. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently striped buffered lanes on Marquette (generally 6700 South) between Stony Island (1600 East) and Cottage Grove (800 East), and between Damen (2000 West) and California (2800 West).

Marquette, a relatively low-traffic, two-lane street, has the potential to become a bike-friendly east-west route, running about nine miles from the city’s western boundary at Cicero (4800 West) all the way to the Lakefront Trail. The upgrades to these one-mile stretches are a step in the right direction.

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This bike path paralleling Marquette Road through Jackson Park is a low-stress way to get to the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

At Stony Island, Marquette connects to a nicely marked, two-way off-street bike path that runs half a mile through Jackson Park to an underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive that escorts cyclists to the Lakefront Trail. Making Marquette west of Stony Island more bikeable will create a nice, low-stress route to the beaches.

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Buffered lane at Marquette and Stony Island. Photo: John Greenfield

The stretch of Marquette from Stony Island to Cottage Grove, in the Woodlawn community, features curbside bike lanes with a buffer striped to the left and no car parking lane. The lanes were striped on the existing pavement, which is in decent shape, rather than freshly laid asphalt. It would be a nice touch to add flexible posts to the buffers to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

On the current Chicago Bike Map, Marquette is shown as having non-buffered bike lanes on the entire stretch between Stony Island and Central Park Avenue (3600 West). However, unlike on streets where CDOT has scraped out conventional bike lanes and replaced them with buffered lanes, there was no evidence of the old bike lanes on the Stony Island to Cottage Grove segment. This suggests that bike lanes were striped several years ago but weren’t refreshed, so they faded to black, or perhaps the street was repaved but the lanes weren’t restriped.

Immediately west of Cottage Grove, a previously striped conventional bike lane is still easy to see. But most of the roughly 3.5-mile stretch between Cottage Grove and Damen, which is supposed to have conventional lanes on its entire stretch, is hit-or-miss. There are plenty of segments where the lanes are barely visible, and others where they disappear completely. All told, I’d estimate that only about half of this stretch has usable bike lanes.

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Although there are bike lane signs on this stretch of Marquette, there really isn’t a bike lane here. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago bike lanes are usually built using federal grants that can only be used for building new infrastructure, not for maintaining the old. This federal money can be used for upgrading existing conventional lanes to buffered or protected lanes, but when Chicago bike lanes are re-striped as-is, the work is generally funded as part of a repaving project, or bankrolled by the local ward. CDOT currently has no dedicated funding for bike lane restriping, which is why so many of our older lanes are in such bad shape. City Hall really needs to allocate dedicated funding for bikeway maintenance.

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