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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Broadway’s Keeper

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I took took protected bike lane snow clearance into my own hands this afternoon. Photo: Justin Haugens

Steven Vance and I have been touched by the many shout-outs and well-wishes we’ve received on social media in the wake of last week’s shutdown of Streetsblog Chicago due to funding issues. We’ve heard a collective groan from everyone from our readers, to transportation blogging colleagues around the country, to other Chicago media outlets like Gapers Block, Chicagoist, and Chicago Magazine. We’ve even heard from local elected officials bemoaning the loss of the city’s daily source for sustainable transportation and livable streets news:

 

The good news is that we’ve made significant headway in the effort to raise funds so that Steven and I can return to producing original reporting. Readers have responded generously to my request for donations, with over 80 individual donations made within a few days.

If you value Streetsblog’s hard-hitting reporting and haven’t already done so, please consider making a contribution to the Streetsblog Chicago Resurrection Fund. I still need to raise a significant chunk of money from small-to-medium donations as part of my fundraising strategy, which also includes major donors, ad revenue, and foundation grants. Donations are not tax-deductible at this point, but all donors will receive an email stating that their money will be returned if daily publication of original articles has not resumed by April 8, three months from the start of the hiatus.

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The northbound PBL on the 4400 block of North Broadway before shoveling. Photo: John Greenfield

I took a break from my fundraising work this afternoon for a little direct intervention to improve Chicago street safety. Ever since Mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection following the brutal Blizzard of ’79, Chicago mayors have done an excellent job of keeping the streets clear of snow for drivers. However, they haven’t always done such a great job of making sure bike routes get plowed. Last winter, many of the city’s protected bike lanes were often unrideable because they were filled with snow or slush.

To their credit, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been trying harder this year to make sure the PBLs are maintained. They temporarily removed the flexible posts that delineated several protected lanes along snow routes, to make it easier for the department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the entire street.

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Streets and San did a good job of clearing the southbound PBL on the same block of Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

However, I recently heard that the PBLs on Broadway, between Montrose and Wilson,  have been impassible this month due to poor snow clearance, so that some cyclists have been taking Clark as an alternative. That means the Broadway lanes, which People for Bikes recently rated the nation’s tenth-best new PBLs, are actually deterring bicycling instead of encouraging it. That’s not right.

I went over to Broadway with a shovel in hand to investigate. While some portions of the lanes were well plowed and people were riding in them, other stretches were choked with slush, forcing cyclists to instead share the narrow travel lanes with cars. I didn’t have time to clear the entire bikeway, but I spent about 45 minutes digging out the northbound side of the 4400 block. I was rewarded by the sight of cyclists immediately taking advantage of the clear, protected passageway.

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The northbound PBL, after my guerrilla intervention. Photo: John Greenfield

I’d like to think that the blockage in the Broadway lanes was mostly due to property owners pushing their sidewalk snow into them, rather than neglect by the city. Either way, it would be great if CDOT and Streets and San could take additional steps to ensure that PBLs around the city enable, rather than thwart, cycling.

In the meantime, I invite concerned cyclists from around the city to grab a shovel and join me in the fight to keep Chicago’s protected lanes rideable. Feel free to tweet your guerilla PBL shoveling experience at #AdoptABikeLane.

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Faulty Signage Created Dangerous Situation for Peds by Lincoln Park Zoo

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Because “No Parking” signs by the zoo weren’t relocated after a curb ramp was moved, drivers parked in the crosswalk. Photo: Andrew Herman

Here’s a great example of the Streetsblog community making a difference by helping to get an infrastructure problem fixed.

On December 15, Andrew Herman from the group Bike Walk Lincoln Park contacted us about a crosswalk problem by the neighborhood’s zoo. Earlier in the year, as part of a project to repave Stockton Drive through Lincoln Park, the Chicago Department of Transportation relocated a curb cut for pedestrians on the west side of the street, across from The Farm-in-the-Zoo. CDOT built a new curb ramp several feet north, so that it would line up with the pedestrian ramp on the east side of the street, creating a shorter, safer crossing route, which they striped with a high-visibility, “continental” crosswalk.

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The old curb ramp was located just south of the new one. Photo: Andrew Herman

However, after CDOT built the new curb ramp, they failed to relocate the “No Parking” signs by the old ramp. As a result, motorists were parking north of the old No Parking zone, right in the middle of the new crosswalk. Drivers only seemed to pay attention to the signs, but were apparently oblivious to the presence of the curb ramps and zebra striping.

On July 2, Herman contacted 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith’s office about the problem, including tweeting Smith. Her office told me they immediately submitted a service request asking CDOT to fix move the signs.

Herman said he followed up several times over the summer, and the ward office resubmitted the request on multiple occasions, but the work was never done. “It’s not my job to defend CDOT,” Smith told me, but she added that the department has had its hands full with repaving work in 2014, in the wake of the brutal “Chiberia” winter.

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Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Lanes on Halsted Between Fulton and Erie

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Looking south on Halsted near Ohio. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has taken advantage of recent warm spells to do some late-year bikeway construction. In addition to new bikeways on Lincoln, the department recently striped buffered bike lanes on Halsted, between Fulton and Erie in the West Loop and River West.

This half-mile stretch, done as part of a repaving project between Lake and Chicago Avenue, is a handy link between Greektown and Milwaukee Avenue. It will become even more useful if it the lanes are extended further north to Chicago Avenue, where Halsted has existing non-buffered lanes. CDOT would like to do this, but staffer Mike Amsden says there’s nothing planned at this point.

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Looking north at Fulton Market. Bollards would be a nice addition here. Photo: John Greenfield

There are a few nice things about this new stretch of BBLs. Although the section of Halsted between Fulton and Chicago was shown on the 2014 Chicago Bike Map as having non-buffered bike lanes, there actually haven’t been visible bikeways on this segment for years, so the new lanes are essentially terra nova.

Between Fulton and Kinzie, the bike lanes are curbside, with wide buffers to the left. Installing flexible posts in the buffers, to encourage drivers to stay out of the BBLs, would be a helpful addition.

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Looking south on the bridge over Kinzie. A southbound travel lane was converted to make room for the BBLs here. Photo: John Greenfield

A short road diet was done on the one block north of Fulton, with one of the southbound mixed-traffic lanes removed to make room for buffered lanes in both directions. This helps calm traffic on the bridge over Kinzie, a long stretch without intersections where drivers often speed.

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CDOT Tries Out a New Kind of Bikeway on Lincoln Avenue: “Barrows”

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CDOT will be adding sharrows next to the buffers on Lincoln north of Wells. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has a toolbox of different bikeway treatments: neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and shared lane markings, also known as “sharrows.” Now they’re experimenting with a new kind of treatment that consists of sharrows — bike symbols with chevrons — with a striped buffer painted on the right. I propose that that these buffered sharrows should be referred to as “barrows.”

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A photo of the old sharrows on Lincoln, plus a rendering of the “barrows.”

This CDOT pilot is being done in conjunction with an Illinois Department of Transportation project to repave Lincoln between Diversey and Wells, the portion of the street which is a state route. Lincoln, a key diagonal route downtown from the North Side is included in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 as Crosstown Bike Route. However the blogs Let’s Go Ride a Bike and Bike Walk Lincoln Park have both posted articles detailing the challenging conditions for biking on the street, including lousy pavement.

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Prior to repaving, Lincoln was plagued with potholes. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

LGRAB’s Dottie Brackett noted that, although bikes sometimes make up 40 percent of rush hour traffic on Lincoln, speeding drivers, carelessly opened car doors, huge six-way intersections, and stopped delivery trucks create a hostile environment for cyclists. She said she’d like too see buffered or protected bike lanes on the street. Unfortunately, most of the stretch between Diversey and Wells is too narrow to install these kind of bikeways without stripping large amounts of parking. In spring of 2013, BWLP’s Michelle Stenzel and her neighbors surveyed Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park and counted 24 potholes.

43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith — who told me she often rides a bike herself – said she lobbied hard to get IDOT to repave the street in order to create safer conditions for cyclists and drivers alike. Work began in October, including repairs to sidewalks, curbs, and gutters, as well as concrete bus stop pads. Smith also told me that she urged CDOT to get involved in planning meetings for the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital Site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, to ensure that the project includes pedestrian and bike improvements. As a result, bike lanes will be striped through the six-way intersection.

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Eyes on the Street: Goodbye to “Lake Kluczynksi”?

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Formerly home to a large divot, the stretch of the Dearborn cycle track just south of Adams is now glassy-smooth. Photo: John Greenfield

The Dearborn protected bike lanes are one of the gems of Chicago’s bikeway network, but ever since the two-way route opened, poor drainage has been a major fly in the ointment.

Two years ago, the bike lanes were installed curbside, on existing asphalt that had some rough spots. From the get-go, rain and slush accumulated in low spots. Large puddles at Randolph (by Petterino’s Restaurant) and Adams (by the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building) were practically permanent geographic features, which remained full of water for days after a storm. “Lake Kluczynski” was usually filled with cigarette butts left by office workers on smoking breaks.

These bodies of water, which often occupied most of the width of the bike lanes, might be a thing of the past. The Chicago Department of Water Management improved drainage at Randolph last year, which helped shrink “Lake Petterino’s.” This September, the Chicago Department of Transportation repaved problem sections along Dearborn, which may eliminate Lake Kluczynski as well.

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“Lake Kluczynski” was a major annoyance for cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT resurfaced about 500 linear feet of Dearborn in the Loop, largely to address poor pavement conditions, rather than drainage, according to spokesman Pete Scales. All affected bike lane markings have been restriped with thermoplastic.

When roughly 200 linear feet of new asphalt was put in south of Adams, by the federal building, the contractor added a slight downward grade towards the curb. That will help water flow out of the bike lanes, towards the sewer catch basin, Scales said. This month, CDOT will do a little more grinding on that stretch to further improve drainage.

The eradication of that not-so-great lake will be cause for celebration by cyclists. And, who knows, maybe it will encourage the IRS employees to toss their butts in a real trashcan.

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Eyes on the Street: The Case of the Missing Bike Lane Bollards

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The Broadway protected lanes before and after bollard removal. Photos: John Greenfield

Uptown’s Broadway protected bike lanes, installed earlier this year, are a great example of the power of a road diet with PBLs. By converting a former four-lane speedway to two travel lanes, a turn lane, and protected lanes, the city transformed a hectic, dangerous stretch of Broadway into one that’s calmer and safer for pedestrians and drivers, as well as cyclists.

Recently, however, all of the plastic posts that separated the curbside bike lanes from the parking lane mysteriously vanished. This isn’t the first time that posts, also known as bollards, have disappeared from Chicago PBLs. They’re commonly taken out by careless drivers and construction projects.

Last winter, one of the snowiest on record, was particularly rough on the city’s protected bike lanes. Snowplows knocked out plenty of PBL posts on Dearborn and Kinzie. By springtime, every single bollard on Milwaukee, the city’s busiest bike lane street, had been obliterated.

But we haven’t even had significant snowfall yet, so what happened to the Broadway Bollards? A few theories sprang to mind. Broadway is one of the few retail streets in Chicago with protected lanes. Perhaps business owners complained about losing access for curbside deliveries, so the posts were removed to make it easier for truckers to temporarily park in the lanes?

On the other hand, crews recently filmed scenes for the movie “Batman Vs. Superman” in Uptown. They temporarily turned the Lawrence Red Line stop into a fictional “Gotham Transit Authority” station. Maybe the producers felt that bike lane bollards would look out of place in the Caped Crusader’s hometown.

While the bollard removals are puzzling, some feel that plastic posts are superfluous on parking-protected bike lanes. For example, the posts generally aren’t installed along parking-protected lanes in New York City.

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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

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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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