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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category

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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.”

Dangerous construction site conditions

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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Eyes on the Street: New Bikeways on Central Park Avenue and Lake Street

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Riding in the Lake Street protected lane. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the Mayor Emanuel’s goal of building 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes in his first term, the Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along building new bikeways. Last week, I checked out buffered lanes on Central Park Avenue, between Jackson and Franklin boulevards, and protected lanes on Lake Street, from Central Park to Laramie Avenue.

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Buffered lane on Central Park by Garfield Park Conservatory. Photo: John Greenfield

Let’s start with the less controversial of the two bikeways, Central Park. As has happened in many other parts of town, CDOT has upgraded existing conventional lanes here by adding additional dead space on one side of each lane.

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On this section, near the Garfield Park field house, the buffer is on the left. Photo: John Greenfield

In areas where there’s no parking lane, or a parking lane that gets little use, the buffer has been striped on the left side of the bike lane, to help keep cyclists away from car traffic. In sections where there is a heavily used parking lane, the buffer is striped on the right side of the bike lane, to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone. Pavement quality is decent, and workers have patched some potholes with asphalt.

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Eyes on the Street: CDOT Will Fix Milwaukee/Division Sidewalk, Crosswalks

That sidewalk pavement is embarrassing

This sidewalk on Milwaukee at Ashland will be improved next year.

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s Walk To Transit project will bring “quick fixes” to ten Chicago Transit Authority rail stations next year, including several long-needed improvements to the sidewalks and crosswalks around the Division Blue Line station. Currently, people walking to and from the transit line, or to the numerous shops and residences around the Polish Triangle, face some dismal walking conditions. CDOT will make these improvements as part of Walk To Transit’s first phase:

  • CDOT will “improve [a] sidewalk in poor condition” along Milwaukee, at the northeast corner with Ashland. Over 250 people board or disembark the 56-Milwaukee bus each day onto that broken-up and uneven sidewalk, and many more walk past on their way to shops along this stretch.
  • The project will paint new, zebra-style crosswalks to replace the faded lines at Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street, making it easier for motorists to see where pedestrians are expected to cross.
  • A pedestrian island will be built on Division at Greenview Avenue’s east leg, one block east of Milwaukee, so people can cross the street one travel direction at a time. Division is seven lanes wide at that location, including two parking lanes, four travel lanes, and a painted median.
  • Missing curb ramps and a crosswalk will be constructed on the west leg of Greenview Avenue at Division Street.

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No Longer Marooned: U. of C. Unifies Campus With New Pedestrian Spaces

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The new pedestrian street on 58th, across from Robie House. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings]

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks.

Last year, changes included a new pedestrian space on the west side of campus, by the University of Chicago Hospitals, a new passageway through the administration building, and the completion of the Midway Crossings, bridge-like structures uniting the north and south sides of campus. In June of this year, the university finished converting a block of 58th Street, between University and Woodlawn avenues, into a lively promenade.

“The outdoor spaces on campus can be as important as the indoor spaces,” said university architect Steve Wiesenthal in a statement in spring 2013, before most of the construction started. “These projects will connect parts of campus that have felt distant from each other because of features of our buildings and landscape. They will contribute to our sense of community and the integrated nature of the University.”

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One of the Midway Crossings on Ellis Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

A few years ago, the university began building the Midway Crossings, a roughly $8 million streetscaping project, designed to provide better connections between the main campus and buildings south of the Midway Plaisance. Although the Midway, located between 59th and 60th streets, is only one block wide, psychologically the distance felt much longer, especially during the winter, and many people felt unsafe crossing the parkland at night.

To make the trek across the Midway feel shorter and safer, the school created the new walkways along Ellis, Woodlawn and Dorchester avenues. The design was inspired by the green space’s architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who originally conceived the Midway as a water route between Jackson and Washington parks, traversed by bridges. Workers completed the construction of the crossings in spring 2013.

The Midway Crossings treatments include wider sidewalks, which make it easier for people to travel in groups. Illuminated railings, retaining walls, and lighting masts, dozens of feet tall and affectionately known as the “light sabers” by the students, further increase the sense of security by increasing visibility in general and making it easier to see the faces of other pedestrians.

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Illegal Stickers and Signs at U. of C. Hospitals Discourage Biking

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Illegal sticker on a city-owned stop sign. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, I reported how the AMA building unlawfully installed a “No Bike Parking” sign on a city sign pole, then removed a bike that was legally locked to it. In response, Streetsblog reader and University of Chicago employee Elizabeth Edwards alerted me to a similar situation at the U. of C. Hospitals.

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Photo: John Greenfield

It appears that someone, perhaps acting on behalf of the hospitals, has undertaken an obsessive, rather passive-aggressive campaign to keep bikes off street furniture. Stickers reading “Not a Bike Rack” have been stuck on just about every fence, handrail, light post and sign pole next to hospital buildings on 59th, 58th, Maryland, and Drexel. In a few cases, a metal placard with the message has been affixed to a city-owned sign pole. On some fences, there are signs warning that locked bicycles will be removed.

The desire to prevent parked bikes from obstructing the path of patients and visitors, especially wheelchair users, is completely understandable. It’s very inconsiderate for cyclists to lock bikes to handrails and in other locations where they obviously cause an obstruction. Moreover, the hospitals would be within their rights to install signage telling people not to lock to fences and other fixtures on private property. If these warnings are ignored, they would have the right to remove the offending bikes.

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