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Posts from the Eyes on the Street Category

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Eyes on the Street: Loop Link Lane Scofflaws Continue to Be a Problem

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A cab driver blocks a bus in the Loop Link lane.

It’s been four months since the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor launched downtown, but it seems like there are still some bugs to be worked out of the system.

The two main issues I’m aware of are bus speeds and private vehicles using the red lanes, which are marked “CTA Bus Only.” The city projected that the system, which also includes raised boarding platforms, and white “queue jump” traffic signals to give buses a head-start at lights, would double cross-Loop speeds from the previous, glacial rush-hour average of 3 mph to 6 mph.

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A private car blocks one of the red lanes.

However, not long after the launch, bus speeds still averaged about 3 mph, largely due to a rule requiring the operators to approach the stations at that speed in order to avoid crashing into the platforms or creaming passengers with their rear-view mirrors. The speeds seemed to improve a bit in subsequent weeks, although CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman told me today that the 3 mph platform restriction is still in place.

“Performance and ridership are trending in the right direction but we still don’t have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions,” Tolman added.

The fact that private bus lines, motorists and taxis drivers sometimes drive or stop in the lanes can’t be helping Loop Link speeds either. This is particularly common with the charter bus lines that ferry office workers to and from Metra stations. When I talked to staff from The Free Enterprise System and Aries Charter Transportation last month, they were fairly unapologetic, arguing that their drivers don’t have much choice but to use the lanes for pick-ups and drop-offs.

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Eyes on the Street: Restaurants Make Room for Customers Instead of Cars

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The former parking lot and dumpster zone at Gino’s East in Lakeview is now a seating area. Photos: Google Street View, John Greenfield

It’s encouraging to see that more and more business owners have come to understand that accommodating people, rather than automobiles, is good for the bottom line.

This summer we should see the city’s first “Curbside Cafes,” outdoor seating areas where it’s restaurants and bars may serve food and drinks, located in the parking lane on streets where the sidewalk is too narrow for sidewalk cafes. Although the new ordinance that legalized this practice is overly restrictive — Curbside Cafes are only allowed on designated Pedestrian Streets where the sidewalk is narrower than eight feet — two of the cafes are planned for East Lakeview.

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What was once parking for 13 cars at the Golden Angel is now seating for dozens of customers at Lou Malnatti’s. Photos: Google Street View

When Lou Malnatti’s Pizzeria purchased the Golden Angel diner, 4344 North Lincoln in North Center, they originally proposed reducing the number of parking lot spaces from 13 to seven to make room for outdoor seating and additional greenery. In the end, they decided to go for the gusto and eliminate all of the off-street parking, as well as both of the curb cuts, which improves the pedestrian environment. The result: Lots more space for customers to enjoy their Jon Stewart-endorsed deep-dish.

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Eyes on the Street: Tactical Urbanism Blooms on Broadway

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Looking east from Halsted at Broadway. Who can we thank for these cute planters that prevent illegal right turns? Photo: Justin Haugens

Last month when the city put up signs banning right turns from northbound Halsted onto southbound Broadway at Grace, eliminating a slip lane, the intersection became little safer. Thanks to what appears to be a guerrilla intervention by an unknown party, the site also became a little prettier.

Streetsblog reader Justin Haugens recently spotted some attractive planter boxes places next to the crosswalk. I have witnessed drivers disobeying the “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs the Chicago Department of Transportation installed, so the planters serve to discourage such lawbreaking, as well as beautify the corner.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey did not immediately know who was responsible for placing the flowering plants.

The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition asking CDOT to reverse the turn ban, arguing that it disrupts traffic in the area. When I called chamber director Maureen Martino to ask about the planters, she laughed out loud and said she had know idea where they came from. She said she would look check in with CDOT about the matter.

Martino said the chamber is still fighting to reinstate right turns from Halsted onto Broadway. “The whole area was a hot mess during last week’s Cubs games,” she said. “Normally that right turn serves as a relief valve for traffic when Halsted gets jammed up.” Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that this location three blocks northeast of the stadium is ever not a hot mess during ballgames.

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Police SUVs That Aren’t Serving or Protecting: Part II

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Apparently the officers who parked this car were responding to a Chicago chicken emergency. Photo: J. Patrick Lynch

We owe a debt of gratitude to the police officers who work hard to make our streets safer for all Chicagoans, which includes enforcing traffic laws. And, as I’ve written before, an officer has every right to park his or her squad car in a crosswalk, bus stop, or bike lane if it’s necessary to quickly access a trouble spot in the line of duty.

However, when officers choose to block access for pedestrians, bus riders, and bicyclists with their vehicles simply because it makes their personal errands a little more convenient, that’s a minor abuse of their authority that undermines respect for the law.

Reader J. Patrick Lynch told us about a couple recent examples of this from Lakeview’s Broadway business strip. In the first case, pictured above, Lynch says two officers left their vehicle in the northbound bus stop at Wellington/Broadway while they ate a Korean-inspired fried chicken dinner across the street at Crisp on a Thursday evening. Can’t fault them for their taste in food.

“I asked one of them if that was their vehicle and if he really thinks he should be blocking access to the bus stop,” Lynch reports. “His response, no joke, was, ‘When you’re girlfriend calls us up because you are beating her, I need to have my vehicle close by.’” Not funny.

On a busy Saturday afternoon, Lynch drove by a patrol car that was parked in a crosswalk at Surf and Broadway, even though there was space to park behind the vehicle. After Lynch parked and was walking back to his apartment five minutes later, he saw an officer walking back to the unattended squad car.

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Raised Crosswalks Have Dramatically Reduced Speeding by Palmer Square

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The easternmost raised crosswalk on Palmer Boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday evening Steven Vance and I conducted speed counts that quantify what we already suspected to be true. The new raised crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square park are calming traffic and making it safer for residents to access the green space. While, prior to installation, about 75 percent of motorists on the street were observed exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, yesterday less than 38 percent of them were.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation converted the two marked, mid-block crosswalks on the north side of the park to raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack funded the $115,000 project, which also included additional curb-and-gutter work, with ward menu money.

The change came about after years of advocacy by neighbors who said the quarter-mile stretch of Palmer Boulevard north of the green space was plagued by speeding. The street has three westbound travel lanes, with light traffic volumes and no stoplights or stop signs, which encourages high speeds.

In July 2014, Steven and Streetsblog contributor Justin Haugens used a speed gun to measure motor vehicle speeds on the north side of the park during the evening rush. During three 15-minute observations between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., they clocked 168 drivers — 75 percent of all observed motorists — exceeding the posted 25 mph speed limit. About a third of all observed drivers were going faster than 30 mph, the default citywide speed limit. Five drivers exceeded 40 mph.

Soon after the safety infrastructure went in, I observed that drivers were hitting their brakes as they approached the crosswalks. Last night Steven and I conducted two 15-minute counts between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m. on the westbound roadway. We did one count about a quarter of a block west of the easternmost speed table, and the other at about the same distance west of the westernmost one.

Out of the 93 motorists we clocked, only 35 – less than 38 percent – were exceeding the 25 mph posted speed limit. Only five drivers were going faster than 30 mph – that’s less than 6 percent. And no one was driving faster than 36 mph.

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Eyes on the Street: The New Wilson ‘L’ Station Platform

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The new platform, looking south. Photo: John Greenfield

With Monday’s opening of a new, modernized southbound platform, the $203 million Wilson station reconstruction project is now one-third finished. The overhaul, which began in late 2014, is slated for completion by late 2017.

There are currently four entrances to the station. The old main, attended entrance on Broadway, as well as the old auxiliary entrance (with cylindrical “roto-gates” and farecard-only access) on the south side of Wilson are still open, but they’re now most useful for northbound passengers, who catch their trains on the old wooden platform.

Two new, temporary entrances have opened on the north side of Wilson (farecard only) and the south side of the street (attended, with a Ventra machine). These are the most convenient option for southbound passengers, catching trains from the new concrete platform, located west of the old one.

For hardcore transit geeks only, here’s a virtual tour of the station, starting from the entrance on the north side of Wilson.

You can transfer between the two platforms via a temporary pedestrian bridge, which feels like walking through a couple of repurposed shipping containers placed end-to-end.

Enclosed staircases have been added to take you from the new entrances to the new platform. However, the elevator, which will eventually make the station wheelchair accessible, is not open yet, although the elevator shaft has been constructed.

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The pedestrian bridge between the old and new platforms. Photo: John Greenfield

The new platform looks sleek and modern, with a translucent, Chicago-flag-blue rain canopy that looks like it would be fairly effective in a downpour. Temporary wind shelters have been erected, but I didn’t notice any seating on the platform.

The rehab will eventually turn the station into a new full-service transfer point between the Red and Purple Lines. With the opening of the new platform, southbound Red and Purple Line Express trains share a track, as they have since early 2015. Loop-bound Purple Express trains will continue to stop at Wilson and Sheridan during the morning rush only, but will no longer stop at Addison during the a.m. rush.

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Eyes on the Street: Concrete Pad for Bus Riders Installed in East Garfield

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It doesn’t look like much, but this new concrete parkway pad at the northeast corner of Fulton and Sacramento  (looking east) turned a muddy bus stop area into a proper place to wait. Photo: Steven Vance

People catching the Chicago Transit Authority’s 94-South California bus in East Garfield Park no longer have to wait for their ride in the dirt.

While most CTA bus stops at least offer customers concrete to stand on, if not a bench or a shelter, not every rider has an appropriately designed waiting area. Until recently, three #94 bus stops on the 2900 block of West Fulton had substandard stops.

While the #94 line generally runs north-south, it runs east-west on Fulton between California and Sacramento. At the bus stop near the southeast corner of Fulton/Sacramento, there used to be no concrete, except for a “courtesy walk” running perpendicular from the sidewalk. I noticed that a local man who uses a wheelchair had to wait for southbound bus on this narrow strip of pavement.

This CTA customer formerly had to wait for the southbound #94 bus in the narrow “courtesy walk” at the southeast corner of Fulton and Sacramento. The walk has been replaced with a wider concrete area.

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The man formerly had to alight the northbound bus in this muddy parkway at the northeast corner. Thanks to CDOT, there’s now a concrete pad here as well — see the top photo.

Worse, there was no concrete at all at the bus stop at the northeast corner, only an ugly, broken advertising bench. That meant the man had to roll his wheelchair off the bus into the sometimes-muddy parkway when returning home on the northbound bus.

This week, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed concrete “parkway pads” at both of these stops, plus a third southbound bus stop at the southwest corner of Fulton and Francisco. This provides a much better boarding and alighting situation for the man, and all other people who use these stops.

There don’t seem to be a lot of people using these bus stops, so it might not have been cost effective to install these pads from the standpoint of spending money in a manner that serves the most riders. However, all CTA customers should at least be provided with a dignified place to wait for the bus.

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The Union Station Transit Center and Wilson Station Rehab Are Rolling Along

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The new temporary entrance to the Wilson stop on the north side of the street is almost finished. Photo: John Greenfield

Steven Vance and I took advantage of today’s sunshine to check out the progress of two major transit projects that are slated to wrap up this spring.

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CDOT rendering of the Union Station Transit Center, looking west.

The $43 million Union Station Transit Center will be a key enhancement to the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor. Located on Jackson between Canal and Clinton, the new facility will replace a surface parking lot. The Chicago Department of Transportation is spearheading this project.

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Looking southeast at the construction site. Photo: Steven Vance

The transit center will include sheltered staging areas for CTA buses, plus an elevator leading to an underground Amtrak pedway. That will allow customers to make fairly seamless transfers between buses and trains.

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Life in the Fast Lane: Shuttles Are Still Illegally Using the Loop Link Route

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An Aries Charter Transportation bus and an Aon / Prudential Center Shuttle in the Loop Link lane on Madison at Wacker.

Private bus lines in the Loop Link bus rapid transit lanes is definitely a thing.

Last week I posted footage of the red lanes, clearly marked “CTA Bus Only,” being used by Aon / Prudential Center shuttle buses, as well as shuttles operated by The Free Enterprise System. A Streetsblog Chicago reader who wished to remain anonymous provided the videos.

This week that person, plus another reader named Matt Kaynee, provided still more photos and videos of private buses using the Madison Loop Link lane during the evening rush. In addition to the aforementioned companies, shuttles run by Aries Charter Transportation were also captured using the red lanes. In some cases, the shuttles stopped to drop off passengers on Madison, which forced CTA buses to merge into the mixed-traffic lanes to get around them.

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A Free Enterprise System bus in the Loop Link lane on the Madison bridge.

Yesterday I shared the images with staff members responsible for the shuttle buses. “Thanks for bringing that to my attention,” said Aon Center manager Matt Amato. “Right now I have someone calling our third-party bus service provider to let them know they have no business driving in the CTA bus lanes.” Amato didn’t mention which bus company operates the shuttle.

A staff member from The Free Enterprise System, who asked not to be named, was unapologetic about the company’s drivers using the red lanes. “When the city sold Loop Link to the public, they said that there would be bus, bike, and car lanes, but they made no provisions for private buses,” he said. He claimed that it’s legal for the shuttles to pull into the red lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.

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Cool Mexico City Bike and Public Space Initiatives I’d Love to See in Chicago

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A family waits for a light during the Sunday Ciclovía on Paseo de la Reforma. Photo: John Greenfield

Despite Mexico City’s reputation as one of the most congested and polluted cities on earth, this metropolis of 21 million people has one of the best public transportation systems in the Western Hemisphere and many beautiful parks, plazas, and other public spaces. And in recent years, the Distrito Federal, or D.F., as Mexico City is called in Spanish, has taken steps to encourage bicycling and open up more street space to pedestrians as part of an effort to create a healthier, more livable city.

Last month I wrote about the D.F.’s fast, reliable Metrobús bus rapid transit system, which offers lessons for Chicago as we consider building a BRT line on Ashland Avenue. Now let’s take a look at some of the bicycling and public space initiatives I saw when I visited a few weeks ago. While Mexico City is still far from a paradise for biking, it already has some good-quality bicycle infrastructure and, more importantly, a booming bike culture.

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The D.F.’s EcoBici bike-share system has 444 stations and 6,000 cycles, making it the second-largest system in North America. Photo: John Greenfield

My guide to the D.F.’s bicycle scene was Pablo Pichardo from Bicitekas, one of the leading local advocacy groups. Pablo also works as a bike courier and dispatcher, and owns a rental and tour company called Poráy, a word he says is slang for “wherever.” Pablo generously provided us with bikes and took us on a ride from La Condessa, a neighborhood with leafy boulevards, a bit like Chicago’s Logan Square, to the Zócalo, the city’s central plaza, which is one of the largest public squares in the world.

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Pablo Pichardo. Photo: John Greenfield

Along the way, Pablo told me a bit about Bicitekas, which celebrated its 18th anniversary last September. The organization has several different functions. They lobby the city government for better conditions for cycling. They run community center Casa Bicitekas, which holds maintenance and repair classes. And Pablo and other Bicitekas members lead the Paseo Noctorno (“Night Ride”), a group ride that gathers at the victory column called El Ángel de La Independencia every Wednesday at 9 p.m., drawing more than 200 riders each week.

“It started with a few friends saying, ‘Let’s take a ride through the city at night,’” Pablo said. “It’s not a fast ride, but more of a friendly ride. The leaders will choose a destination, like Xochimilco [a district on the southeast side of town, famous for its ancient canals], which is 25 kilometers away. But we don’t tell people where we’re going, so that when we get there, people who are new to biking are surprised they were able to ride so far without a problem.”

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