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Posts from the Eyes on the Street Category

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More Video Showing Drivers Are No More Likely to Stop at Signs Than Cyclists

Time and time again in local editorials, op-eds, and comment sections, there’s the complaint that bicyclists don’t come to a complete stop at stop signs. This is despite the fact that it’s safe for someone on a relatively slow, lightweight device with near-360-degree visibility to treat a stop sign like a yield sign.

It’s extremely common for bike riders to decelerate when approaching a stop sign and check to make sure there’s no vehicular or pedestrian cross traffic before proceeding through the intersection, rather than putting a foot down. In fact, this harmless, momentum-saving practice is completely legal in the Potato State, so it’s known around the country as the “Idaho stop.”

Meanwhile, it’s dangerous by comparison to do the same thing when piloting a fast, multi-ton vehicle with blind spots. And yet, as video shot this summer by a Ravenswood Manor resident at Wilson and Francisco and posted on DNAinfo shows, it’s very common for drivers to roll through stop signs.

Now we’ve got additional footage shot by Streetsblog Chicago reader J. Patrick Lynch that suggests this kind of driver behavior is the rule, rather than the exception, at four-way stop signs. He shot the video Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Adams and Aberdeen in the West Loop.

By my count, a full 39 of the 61 drivers of the vehicles visible in the video — that’s 64 percent — failed to come to a complete stop. Most of these non-complying folks slowed down before entering the intersection, but a few scofflaws didn’t seem to hit the brakes at all. When you’re in control of a machine that can easily kill someone, that’s a fairly reckless thing to do.

“I felt this was another good highlight of absurdity of motorists who complain about cyclists who don’t come to complete stops,” Lynch said.

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City Is Wrapping Up Loop Link Improvements on Canal, Prepaid Boarding Pilot

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The new mid-block crosswalk and pedestrian island on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield

About a year after the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor debuted downtown, the city is continuing to improve the route. Back in August the Union Station Transit Center opened, making it easier to transfer between buses, Metra, and Amtrak, and helping to organize West Loop traffic. Recently the Chicago Department of Transportation added new stretches of red bus-only lanes on Jackson and Canal streets, and completed other changes to Canal to sort out the different travel modes.

Previously there was a northbound conventional bike lane on Canal, which was difficult to use due to the chaotic mix of CTA buses, private buses, taxis, and private cars. As part of Loop Link, the Canal bike lane was removed and a two-way protected bike lane was built a block west on Clinton Street.

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Canal Street, as it appeared prior to the recent street remix. Image: Google Street View

CTA buses on Canal previously picked up and dropped off passengers at the train station via a southbound lane on the otherwise northbound street, separated from other traffic via a concrete Jersey barrier. That bus loading area has been moved to the transit center, located on a former parking lot directly south of the station, with a stairway, elevator, and tunnel under Jackson Boulevard providing a car-free pedestrian route to the Metra and Amtrak platforms.

The old bus lane in front of the station on Canal has been replaced with a cabstand. There are two mixed-traffic through lanes to the right of that.

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The current configuration on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield

A median has been striped in the middle of the road, and then there’s the red bus lane, which also has a wheelchair symbol on it to indicate that people with disabilities may use it to access the station. To the right of that is a curbside lane that may used by private vehicle drivers from drop-offs, pick-ups, and right turns.

A mid-block crosswalk with a pedestrian island has also been added in front of the station. Previously the Jersey wall prevented people from crossing the street in this location.

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Ped Improvements Made by School on Busy Chicago Avenue, More Are Needed

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The Chicago Academy for the Arts. Photo: Anna Weaver

Over the summer administrators and parents from the Chicago Academy for the Arts, a private school located at 1010 West Chicago Avenue contacted us about their campaign to improve pedestrian safety near the school. In particular they were concerned about the Chicago/Milwaukee/Ogden intersection, one of the most crash-prone in the city, located a block west of the school.

For example, Anna Weaver, whose 14-year-old son attends the school, was worried that it was unsafe for him to cross Chicago south on Ogden after classes to access an CTA bus stop just east of the six-way intersection, in order to ride home to the Near North Side. She said the administrators and parents of nearby had contacted the city’s 311 line, local alderman Walter Burnett, and the Chicago Department of Transportation several times asking for crosswalks at the six-way to be restriped plus other safety improvements, but had seemed to make no traction.

In September I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about their request. I also inquired about plans to simplify the confusing signal patterns for northwest-bound traffic at the south leg of Milwaukee/Ogden – something Streetsblog’s Steven Vance has been advocating for for years, which CDOT had previously said was in the works.

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What’s the Significance of the Color Scheme for the Argyle Shared Street?

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The Argyle Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

In a recent post about the grand opening of the Argyle Shared Street, a pedestrian-priority makeover of Chicago’s Southeast Asian shopping and dining district, I wondered out loud whether the red, green, and orange hues in the new streetscape were inspired by the vivid colors of the Vietnamese cuisine for which the strip is famous. Later I ran the question by Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey, who put me in touch with Ernest Wong, an architect with Site Design Group, which designed the shared street.

“While I appreciate the reference to food and the vibrancy of Vietnamese cuisine, the streetscape elements took on a more cultural reference,” Wong explained via email. “We were following the graphic colors from the original [Argyle ‘L’ station] signage posts that were selected through a community process.

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A pedestrian island, high-visibility crosswalk, and neighborhood identification pillar was added on Argyle at Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

Wong said that, in general, however, colors have significant meanings in Vietnamese culture:

For instance, orange represents energy, green represents calmness/springtime and new beginnings, red is a celebratory color, which represents good luck and scares away evil spirits, and yellow (and red) are traditional colors for prosperity.  Golden yellow has its own meaning with references to royalty, but has taken on a new meaning of freedom and patriotism for a lot of the Vietnamese expatriates. 

So there you have it. While the streetscape palate may bring to mind gỏi cuốn spring rolls and bánh mì sandwiches for hungry visitors, it has a much deeper significance for the folks who turned Argyle into a bustling retail district. Hopefully the slower vehicle speeds and increased pedestrian space created by the people-friendly redesign will make the strip even more successful.

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Chicago’s First “Shared Street” on Argyle Is Officially Open for Business

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The Chinese Mutual Aid Society’s dragon dancers perform at the opening of the shared street. Photo: John Greenfield

This afternoon in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman, and other local officials cut the ribbon on the Argyle “shared street,” a pedestrian-priority design inspired by similar streets in Asia and Europe. By calming traffic and blurring the lines between spaces for walking and vehicles, as well as providing more room for sidewalk cafes and special events, the streetscape should increase safety while giving a boost to businesses on Chicago’s Southeast Asian retail strip.

Emanuel, who spent part of his childhood living nearby on Winona Street, said the project has improved the aesthetics of the dining and shopping district, “inviting people from all around the city and the area to come and experience the cultural diversity” of the neighborhood. He indicated that Chicago may try similar people-friendly street designs in other neighborhoods in the future.

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The east half of the shared street as it appeared today. Photo: John Greenfield

The makeover of three-block stretch of Argyle, located between Broadway and Sheridan, raised the street up to sidewalk level, eliminated the curbs, delineated different uses of the right of way with various colors of pavers and street furniture, and made the strip fully wheelchair accessible. The roughly $4.5 million project was funded through a combination of tax-increment financing, ward, and Department of Water infrastructure funding.

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A new pedestrian island with a decorative pole featuring (with colors inspired by Vietnamese cuisine?) on Broadway at Argyle. Photo: John Greenfield

Green elements of the design include more efficient streetlights, permeable pavers, and infiltration planters to soak up rainwater. The latter were recently landscaped with small trees and flowers, so the concrete basins are finally full of vegetation instead of garbage.

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The Cubs World Series Victory Parade Transforms the Streets of Lakeview

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Clark Street south of Wrigley Field. Photo: John Greenfield

If you’ll indulge this bandwagon-jumper in a bit more Cubs-mania (don’t worry, we’ll have another serious post or two today), I thought SBC readers might enjoy a few shots of how the in-progress Cubs victory parade has filled the streets of the Lakeview neighborhood with humans instead of motor vehicles. It’s more evidence that some of the most memorable moments in cities can happen when right of way is used for something other than just moving and storing metal boxes.

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Addison Street west of the ballpark. Photo: John Greenfield

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Halsted Street south of Addison. Photo: John Greenfield

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After Cubs Victory, the Streets Were Filled With Happy People Instead of Cars

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People filled the streets at Newport/Sheffield/Clark in Lakeview. Photo: John Greenfield

Whether you are a diehard Cubs fan, bandwagon jumper (guilty as charged), or couldn’t care less about baseball, if you love cities you have to appreciate the transformation Chicago underwent after last night’s historic World Series victory. Most people take for granted that roadways are for moving and storing motor vehicles. But on occasions when the streets are filled with people rather than cars, it can set the stage for fun human interaction that isn’t otherwise possible.

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The scene last night at the normally car-choked North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park. Photo: John Greenfield

It must be noted that the authorities might not have tolerated similar behavior on the South and West Sides. But last night’s postgame celebrations on North Side thoroughfares were scenes of unbridled joy, the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before in 27 years of living in this city.

A lot of that had to do with the revelry spilling out into pedestrianized streets. And it appears that the celebration was overwhelmingly good-natured – I didn’t witness or read about any acts of violence or vandalism, despite the fact that many tens of thousands of people participated. As you can see from this video, transit riders got in on the fun as well.

Following last night’s Streetsblog reader meetup at Lagunitas Brewery in North Lawndale, I stopped in Wicker Park to watch the end of the game. My Divvy ride home to Uptown via Wrigleyville was memorable, to say the least – my palms are still sore from all the on-bike high fives.

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Take a Virtual Bike Ride on the Riverwalk From Lake Street to the Lake

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“The Jetty,” seen from Upper Wacker Drive, features fishing piers and floating gardens. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Riverwalk extension might not have gotten built if it didn’t function as a car-free transportation corridor as well as a space for recreation. The project was funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act program, which provided a $98 million loan. The project also received $10 million in state funding.

So while the riverwalk isn’t the most direct or efficient way to get from Point A to Point on foot or by bike, it is a potentially useful, not to mention scenic, car-free route that now runs 1.3 miles from Lake Street and Wacker Drive to Lake Michigan. Due to the many zigzags is the path as it winds around the bridge houses, as well as heavy pedestrian traffic in nice weather, cycling the whole route will require caution and patience, as you can see from the video embedded in this post. But I expect it will become a fairly popular way to walk from the West Loop commuter rail stations to offices along Wacker and North Michigan Avenue.

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The Merchandise Mart, seen from the riverwalk’s new “public lawn” at Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

On Saturday, October 22, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, an Illinoisan who was instrumental in lining up the TIFIA loan, and other officials officially opened the last section of the riverwalk between Lake and LaSalle Street. To celebrate the new amenity, the city hosted a day of free live music, face painting, balloon artists and Halloween processions.

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Take a Virtual Ride on the New Randolph Protected Bike Lane

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Looking east on Randolph, west of LaSalle. The vehicles next to the bike lane are parked cars. Photo: John Greenfield

An important new downtown bikeway recently became rideable. The Randolph protected bike lane runs from Michigan to Clinton, making an already-popular westbound route out of the Loop safer.

The project involved a road diet. One one the three travel lanes on Randolph was converted to make room for the bike lane and its striped buffer. Presumably the Chicago Department of Transportation calculated that the roadway had excess capacity for the number of cars it carries, so the change shouldn’t cause undue congestion, although it will discourage speeding. Another bonus is that pedestrians now have fewer lanes of car traffic to cross.

Having a protected lane on Randolph is especially important because a conventional bike lane on Madison, previously the only westbound bikeway out of downtown, was removed last year when the westbound Loop Link bus lane was constructed. Ever since the bus rapid transit corridor opened, many cyclists have been riding in the Madison bus lane, which isn’t particularly safe for the riders and doesn’t help bus speeds. Having a safer option on Randolph should move much of the bike traffic out of the Loop Link lane.

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Looking east on Randolph, east of State. Photo: John Greenfield

The westbound Randolph protected lane now forms a couplet with the eastbound protected lane on Washington, which was built in conjunction with the Washington Loop Link lane last year. The Randolph PBL links up with existing two-way protected lanes on Dearborn and Clinton.

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Active Trans Wins $150K Grant to Help Accelerate Slow Chicago Bus Service

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Prepaid boarding is currently being tested at Madison/Dearborn — riders swipe their fare card at a portable reader before the bus arrives. Photo: John Greenfield

There was some good news for Chicago straphangers last week. TransitCenter, a New York-based foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility, awarded 16 grants, totaling more than $17 million, to civic organizations, universities, and municipalities, and the Active Transportation Alliance was one of the winners. The Active Trans proposal, called Speeding Up Chicago’s Buses, involves working with the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation to eliminate some of the roadblocks to faster transit and higher ridership.

Like many large U.S. cities, Chicago has seen an increase in rail ridership but a decrease in bus use in recent years. In 2015, ‘L’ ridership hit record levels, with 241.7 million rides. But, while buses still accounted for the majority of the rides last year, bus use dropped for the third year in a row, falling by 0.6 percent from 2014 levels to 274.3 rides.

“Declining bus use is not acceptable,” said Kyle Whitehead, director of government relations for Active Trans. When bus ridership falls, he noted, it can lead to reductions in the hours and frequency of service, which in turn can reduce ridership, creating a vicious cycle.

“That has an equity impact,” Whitehead said. “Many parts of town without easy rail access are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. If bus service declines, it disproportionately affects people in these neighborhoods.”

Whitehead said Active Trans will use the grant to expand on the transit advocacy they’ve done over the last few years, including outreach on the city’s Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit proposal. That project is currently on hold due to backlash from residents and merchants against plans to create bus-only lanes and limit left turns from the avenue. But if the downtown Loop Link BRT corridor, which opened last December, is ultimately judged a success, it could lead to renewed interest in the Ashland proposal.

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