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Posts from the Eyes on the Street Category

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The New Wilson ‘L’ Platform Will Be Massive – The Widest in the System

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A recent aerial view of the Wilson station. The old platform is on the left. The much wider new island platform is on the right. Photo: CTA

This morning the CTA celebrated the completion of more than 50 percent of the Wilson station reconstruction project, shortly after all customer boarding was moved to the recently completed west island platform. Now that both sides of the new platform are completed and the transit agency is working on demolishing the old one, you can get a sense of just how big the station will be when both island platforms are in place. The entire track and platform combo will be the widest in the system, dwarfing even the double-island-platform at the Belmont Red/Purple/Brown station.

This week the transit agency is beginning the third phase of the $203 million reconstruction project, which includes rebuilding the station house to make it wheelchair accessible and reconstructing all track structures next to the station. After Phase Three is completed in late 2017, the train stop will become a new transfer point between the Red and Purple lines.

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Looking north from the new platform this morning. Old platform is visible on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

At today’s press conference, 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman argued that the station project is already providing a shot in the arm to the local economy. He noted that about 50 percent of nearby residents don’t own cars, but they often leave the neighborhood to shop. However, Cappleman said the new station has encouraged 18 new businesses to open in the ward, noting that there will soon be four independently owned coffee shops on Wilson near the station.

CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. said the Wilson station rehab is the latest in several upcoming planned Red Line improvements, including the Red-Purple Modernization project and the south Red Line extension. He put in a word for the city’s proposal for a new Transit TIF (tax-increment financing) district along the north Red Line to help fund RPM improvements.

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Join Me for the Very First (Legal) Ride on the North Branch Trail Extension

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Toni Preckwinkle and other officials cut the ribbon on the trail this afternoon at Thaddeus S. “Ted” Lechowicz Woods, 5901 N. Central Ave. Photo: John Greenfield

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I’m happy to report that I got to take the maiden voyage on the northern half of theNorth Branch Trail extension this afternoon after officials cut the ribbon on the 1.8-mile stretch of off-street path. You can take a virtual spin on the trail with me by watching the video below. It’s probably not riveting viewing, and the recording stopped a little before I reached the end of the new stretch but it will give you an idea of what it’s like traveling on this high-quality facility.

The just-opened segment runs from Forest Glen to the southeast trailhead of the existing 18-mile North Branch Trail, which runs all the way north to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Work is underway to build an additional 1.2 miles of path that will continue the trail southeast to Gompers Park near the the LaBaugh Woods and Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove at Foster Avenue.

“The Forest Preserves offer more than 300 miles of trails in Cook County, which serve as a gateway to nature,” said county board president Toni Preckwinkle in a statement. “We are proud to mark the completion of phase one of this extension, which will serve additional Chicago residents as well as those in eight neighboring suburbs.”

The first phase of the extension includes a ten-foot-wide asphalt trail and two new bridges; one over the North Branch of the Chicago River at Central Street, and another over Metra’s Milwaukee District North line tracks. There’s also a new crosswalk for the trail at Central Street, with a button-activated stoplight, by the Matthew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center, 6100 North Central Avenue.

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Manor Avenue Diverter Test Begins, Pro-Greenway Petition Launches

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Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday the Chicago Department of Transportation launched a two-month test of traffic diverters at Wilson and Manor avenues as part of the planning process for the Manor Avenue Neighborhood Greenway in the 33rd Ward. Right now wooden barricades are being used to prohibit drivers from turning onto Manor from Wilson, or continuing directly on Manor between Montrose and Lawrence. If the trial is deemed successful, the barricades will be replaced with landscaped curb bump-outs.

The goal of the project is to eliminate cut-through traffic on Manor, creating safer conditions for walking and biking, plus a more pleasant environment for residents on the street. Other elements of the greenway project include raised crosswalks and concrete islands at Montrose and Lawrence Avenues to slow down motorists as they enter Manor, short stretches of green contraflow bike lane, and bike-and-chevron “sharrow” markings.

At community meetings for the project, some neighbors have said they didn’t like having their driving route options limited, and expressed concern that significant amounts of cut-through traffic would wind up on other nearby streets, reducing safety and quality of life along those roadways.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT

CDOT rendering (looking northwest on Manor at Wilson) shows landscaped curb extensions that would prevent motorists from turning from Wilson onto Manor or continuing straight on Manor past Wilson. Image: CDOT

Someone has been circulating an anonymous flyer against the project in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. The next meeting of the 33rd Ward Transportation Action Committee (Streetsblog’s Steven Vance is a member) will be this Thursday, September 22. The flyer states, “If enough people voice their opposition to the plan, the temporary barricades [that] will be installed on September 19 will be removed.”

Local alderman Deb Mell, who currently supports testing the diverters, has said there’s no magic number of opponents needed to make her drop the pilot. However, if the vast majority of people who show up on Thursday are against the test, she might decide it’s politically necessary to call it off.

If you live in the neighborhood or hope to use the Manor greenway on a regular basis, you can show up to the TAC meeting to voice your support for continuing the traffic diverter pilot. The meeting takes place at the Horner Park field house, 2741 West Montrose, at 6:30 p.m. If you can’t make it, you can email comments to local alderman Deb Mell’s office at manorgreenway@gmail.com, and to CDOT at cdotbikes@cityofchicago.org. You can also call Mell’s office at 773-478-8040, or come to ward night on Mondays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Fortunately, residents are also organizing in support of continuing the test. Jett Robinson started a Change.org petition calling for the city to go forward with the plan for a two-month test of the diverters. Robinson wrote:

In an effort to calm traffic, the plan redirects both north and southbound car traffic onto adjacent streets. This is a perfectly reasonable measure that has been studied by CDOT, along with competing proposals, and has been deemed the most effective by them. We ask that the steering committee, Alderman Mell, and CDOT retain this configuration.

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Eyes on the Street: CTA Tests Prepaid Boarding on the Loop Link BRT System

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Customers swiped their card at a portable Ventra reader before entering the waiting area. Photo: John Greenfield

Besides being the day Chicago was ranked the top biking city by bicycling magazine, September 19, 2016, may also go down in history as the day the Loop Link bus rapid transit system started getting faster. While the corridor, which debuted last December, seems to have been resulting in modest timesaving gains for bus riders, it’s been missing a key element of robust BRT: prepaid boarding. Today the CTA launched a test of this feature at the Madison/Dearborn station, the busiest of the Loop Link stops, and it appears to be working well.

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The pilot only runs during the evening rush. Photo: John Greenfield

In June the CTA launched a six-month test of prepaid boarding for westbound #77 Belmont Avenue buses departing from the Belmont station of the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch during evening rush hours. Riders pay their fares at a portable Ventra card reader, staffed by a customer assistant, and waiting in a fenced-off bullpen until the westbound bus shows up.

The system at Madison/Dearborn was simpler to set up, since the raised station was already surrounded by railings, except for the side of the platform the bus pulls up to and the entrances to the ramps on the east and west sides of the facility. For the downtown prepaid boarding pilot, which will run for from 3:00-6:30 p.m. on weekdays, for a three-month period, CTA staffers are stationed at each side of the shelter with Ventra readers.

During the pilot hours, customers may only pay their fares with Ventra card or ticket, or personal credit or debit card, not cash. The CTA is encouraging customers at Madison/Dearborn who need to add transit value or unlimited ride passes to their Ventra account to do so at the Ventra machine inside the Walgreens directly behind the platform. Other options for adding value include ‘L’ stations and the Ventra app.

As you can see by comparing the two videos below (the first one was shot a few days after the December launch), prepaid boarding significantly shortens the bus “dwell” time at the station. With onboard fare payment, it took about 30 seconds for 11 passengers to get on the bus, but with today it took only about 15 seconds for ten customers to board – a roughly 50-percent timesavings.

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CDOT, 48th Ward Address the Learning Curve for the Argyle Shared Street

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Argyle is supposed to be a two-way street but, due to improper parking, it’s only functioning as a one-way eastbound roadway. Photo: John Greenfield

The Argyle Shared Street project, designed to calm traffic, provide more space for pedestrians and sidewalk cafes, creating a safer, more pleasant, and more profitable business strip, is a great idea. But so far the layout for the streetscape initiative, which raised the street up to sidewalk level and blurred the lines between pedestrian and vehicle space, has not proved to be intuitive for drivers.

The nearly completed $3.6 million streetscape is supposed to be a two-way street, with a subtle chicane effect caused by staggered planter and parking spot locations, intended to slow drivers down to safe speeds, but it’s not functioning that way yet. They’re often parking in the wrong locations relative to the designated “sidewalk” area and the center of the road.

That means the chicane effect isn’t happening and the street feels too narrow in some locations for safe two-way traffic. As a result, motorists are treating Argyle as a one-way eastbound street, and they’re only parking their cars facing east.

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This CDOT handout explains the proper way to park on Argyle.

Their confusion is completely understandable because the streetscape design is, frankly, confusing. It turns out that the parking areas are designated by the lighter, sandstone-colored street pavers. The dark grey, grooved pavers are supposed to act as the curb line and denote the separation between the pedestrian area and the parking area.

But I’ve done multiple “Eyes on the Streetposts about the streetscape, and I only learned the color-coding system because the Chicago Department of Transportation recently released a how-to guide for the streetscape. The parking protocol is not obvious at all.

In fact, it’s counter-intuitive because the street also features cream-colored gutters. On a typical street you park just to the left of the gutter. (Of course, on protected bike lane streets it’s often a different story, since the parking lane may be located to the left of bike lane, but in those cases CDOT usually marks a big “P” in the parking lane.)

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Milwaukee Bike Lane Reopened at Grand, But It Could Be Closed Again Soon

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Looking northwest on Milwaukee from Grand this afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog reader Dries Kimpe tipped us off yesterday about yet another case of construction creating hazardous conditions for cyclists on Milwaukee Avenue. While plastic Jersey walls had previously been used to close the sidewalk on the west side of Milwaukee north of Grand to facilitate work on a transit-oriented development called Kenect, yesterday the barriers had been moved to block off the bike lane as well. This forced bicyclists to squeeze between the wall and moving cars and increased the chance of riders being struck by right-turning motorists.

I’m happy to report that, as of today this was no longer the case. The wall had been moved west a few feet again to reopen the bike lane. But it looks like we could see more closures of the lane in the near future.

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Looking northwest on Milwaukee at Grand yesterday. Photo: Dries Kimpe.

When I contacted CDOT today about the closure, they informed me that the construction wall had been moved back. They didn’t provide information about whether it was legal for the contractor had a permit to block the bike lane and if so, the duration of the permit, or the reason for the obstruction.

Local alderman Walter Burnett has voiced support for making sure that construction on Milwaukee doesn’t endanger any road users, including people on bikes. When I called his office today, a staff member told me that the bike lane had been blocked off yesterday because the construction company, Tishman Construction, needed room for a crane to lift drywall up to windows. He said the alderman had received some complaints about the bike lane closure.

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Prior to the construction, Milwaukee had a narrow, crumbling sidewalk at this location. Image: Google Street View

When I checked out the construction site late this afternoon, the bike lane was still open. The closure of the right-turn lane to the right of the green bike lane means there’s still an increased chance of conflicts between drivers and cyclists, but it’s a much safer situation than yesterday. Another positive development is that the sidewalk on Milwaukee has been rebuilt, and it appears to be much wider than before.

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Take a Virtual Spin on the Argyle Shared Street, Now Fully Open to Traffic

The Argyle Shared Street, a project to create a safer and more pleasant environment on Chicago’s Southeast Asian shopping and dining strip by blurring the lines between pedestrian and vehicle space, reopened to two-way traffic last week.

The $3 million project involved raising the level of the street, eliminating curbs, and adding decorative pavers with a design that encourages shopper to freely travel across the street. Sidewalks have been widened to accommodate more foot traffic and sidewalk cafes, and the roadway has also become fully wheelchair accessible.

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A new ordinance makes it legal to cross the street outside of a crosswalk on the Argyle Shared Street. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s still a bit of paving left to be completed, as well as some finishing touches such as adding landscaping to the infiltration planters and adding decorative covers to the steel-and-concrete bollards that help keep cars off the sidewalks. But last Thursday 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman held a short parade and ribbon on the street as part of the final Argyle Night Market event.

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Unsafe Construction Zones and Trashed Bike Lanes Are Endangering Cyclists

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Cyclist detour around a transit-oriented development construction site on Milwaukee north of Division. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

This has been a summer of discontent for Chicago cyclists.

Most seriously, there were four bike fatalities in the city in the space of about two months, all involving commercial vehicles. Courier Blaine Klingenberg was struck and killed by a tour bus driver on June 15 in the Gold Coast and Divvy rider Virginia Murray was fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver on July 1 in Avondale.

Art student Lisa Kuivinen was also struck and killed by the driver of a flatbed truck in West Town on the morning of August 16. The next evening West Garfield Park resident Francisco “Frank” Cruz was fatally struck in the neighborhood by a cargo van driver who fled the scene and was still at large as of late last week.

Kuivinen’s case drew attention to a problem that may not have been a factor in any of these fatalities, but has the potential to cause additional cycling deaths. That is, construction zones that block sidewalks and bike lanes, terrible pavement conditions caused by utility line work, and illegally parked vehicles blocking bikeways.

On the morning of the crash Kuivinen, 20, had been biking southeast in a green-painted stretch of the Milwaukee Avenue bike lanes in West Town, police said. Near 874 N. Milwaukee, truck driver Antonio Navarro, 37, veered into the bike lane while making a right turn onto southbound Racine Avenue, striking and dragging Kuivinen.

It appears that Navarro was on his way to a transit-oriented developmentconstruction site at 830 N. Milwaukee. The site can be accessed from an alley off of Racine.

Early news reports noted that southeast-bound bike lane is blocked by a fenced-off construction zone for the TOD project, which forces cyclists to merge into the travel lane. However, it appears this wasn’t a factor in the collision, because the blockage is a few hundred feet past the crash site.

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A Wish List for Better Walking and Biking in the Black Metropolis

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Ronnie Harris outside the locked gate that blocks pedestrian and bike access on 29th east of Michigan. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

As we stood astride bicycles in the shadow of Alison Saar’s Monument to the Great Northern Migration last week, Bronzeville-based transportation advocate Ronnie Matthew Harris, 47, told me that community organizing is in his blood.

“Both sides of my family immigrated from the Deep South as part of the Great Migration, and landed here in the great mecca of Bronzeville,” Harris said, gazing at the 15-foot-tall bronze sculpture. “And as long as there has been a historic Bronzeville, you could find an organizer by the name of Harris.” His paternal grandfather and father were labor leaders, he explained, and his mother’s job at a local church involved many aspects of community development. “So it’s the family business.”

Harris is also passionate about improving conditions in the neighborhood—sometimes referred to as the Black Metropolis—where he was born and raised. As the leader of Go Bronzeville, a group that promotes sustainable transportation options in the community, he’d offered to take me on a neighborhood tour highlighting pedestrian and bike access issues he wants to fix.

“Data shows that a community that walks, bikes, and uses public transportation is a community that is healthier, safer, and more economically viable,” he said. “Go Bronzeville wants to respond to some of the inequity in public policy and urban planning that sometimes contributes to disparities in health and wealth.”

Go Bronzeville started as an initiative of the Chicago Department of Transportation, along with similar programs in Pilsen, Garfield Park, Albany Park, and Edgewater. The programs educate residents on how sustainable transportation can help them save time and money and improve their health. After the program ended, Harris got CDOT’s blessing to continue running Go Bronzeville on a mostly volunteer basis. Nowadays the group hosts neighborhood bike rides, mans tables at community events, and, via a city contract, promotes the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 bike-share memberships to low-income Chicagoans.

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Tweets Spur CDOT to Shut Down Illegal Construction in Dearborn Bike Lane

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The construction work blocked the Dearborn bike lane as well as a crosswalk. Photo Kevin Zolkewicz

Yesterday Twitter users notified the Chicago Department of Transportation about an unpermitted closure of the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane and a crosswalk. To their credit, CDOT acted swiftly to shut down the illegal blockage at Randolph Street, caused by contractors working for SBC Communications.

The bike lane is one of the city’s busiest and most important because it’s the only bikeway for southbound cyclists within the Loop. Blocking the two-way lane was particularly problematic for southbound cyclists, because they didn’t have the option of merging into northbound travel lanes to get around the work site.

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Looking south on Dearborn towards Randolph. Photo: Kevin Zolkiewicz

Cyclists who encountered the blockage yesterday morning tweeted about the problem using the #bikeCHI hashtag yesterday morning. Streetsblog reader Kevin Zolkiewicz also sent us photos of the situation, which I forwarded to CDOT. According to a CDOT staffer, the department learned about the issue via the tweets and sent an inspector to the site .

According to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey, an electrical contractor had obtained a permit but “did not state that they would be working in the bike lane or blocking the bike lane.” The inspector shut down the work immediately, by 1:30 p.m., and ordered the crew to clear all equipment. Claffey said that the contractor Archon Construction, working for SBC Communications, was cited and wouldn’t be allowed to resume work until they provide a traffic maintenance plan.

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