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Posts from the Eyes on the Street Category

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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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Take a Virtual Spin on the (Partly Finished) Elston Curb-Protected Bike Lanes

As I’ve written, it’s a shame that the valuable riverfront land at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Damen will likely be redeveloped as big box retail with tons of parking in the aftermath of a project to reroute Elston Avenue so it bypasses that intersection. The silver lining of the project is that this new, curving five-lane stretch of Elston, which opened to motorized traffic last week, will have curb-protected bike lanes.

Prior to construction, the six-way Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection saw about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranked among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’ve moved through traffic on Elston about a block east on land occupied by WhirlyBall, which relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and the Vienna Beef factory, which will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport.

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Elston, which formerly intersected with Fullerton and Damen, has been relocated one block east. Image: CDOT

The entire bypass project was supposed wrap up this spring, but according to CDOT spokeswoman Sue Hofer, it’s currently not slated for completion until this December. But starting last week northeast- and southeast-bound motorized vehicles began using one lane in each direction on the new section of Elston, which crosses Damen a block north of Fullerton/Damen intersection.

The old, two-block stretch of Elston just southeast of Fullerton/Damen remains open for local traffic under the new name Elston Court. Under the new traffic pattern, vehicles are allowed to turn right from eastbound Fullerton onto Elston Court, but vehicles from northbound Elston Court south of Fullerton are only permitted to turn right, eastbound, on Fullerton.

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Eyes on the Street: A Helpful Sign Along a Handy Bike Shortcut

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A thoughtful warning sign along the Kingsbury shortcut. Photo: John Greenfield

Ever since they began demolishing the Finkl Steel Mill, I lost one of my favorite bike shortcuts between Near Northwest neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Bucktown and North Lakefront neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview.

Before the area was fenced off, it used to be possible to pedal between bike-friendly Cortland Avenue and the Southport Avenue bike lanes via short, privatized stretch of Southport that ran through the steel mill campus. The block had turnstiles to keep private cars out, but bike use was tolerated, so it was a nice car-free route for those in the know.

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It’s quicker to use Kingsbury (diagonal street with white dot) instead of Clybourn to travel between Southport and Cortland. Click to enlarge. Image: Google Maps

Currently, if you’re biking south on Southport and want to get to Bucktown, Google Maps’ bike directions will route you southeast on Cortland Avenue to the intersection of Cortland and Racine Avenue. But you can save a bit of distance, and avoid two stoplights, by continuing south on Southport past Clybourn to Kingsbury Street, turning southeast, and then heading west on Cortland. Accordingly, I saw several bike riders on Kingsbury when I rode it during rush hour yesterday.

The only fly in the ointment is that Kingsbury has railroad tracks that pose a hazard to southeast-bound cyclists. It’s important to bike across the tracks at as perpendicular an angle as possible, so as not to get your wheel stuck.

Fortunately, some thoughtful person put up a makeshift sign on a construction bollard to warn cyclists to proceed with caution. Whoever it was deserves a tip of the hat or helmet for trying to prevent crashes on this useful shortcut.

I’m not sure if these tracks carry rail traffic anymore. If not, it would be great if the Chicago Department of Transportation could make this stretch of Kingsbury safer for cyclists by ripping out the tracks and repaving it.

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Evanston Protected Lanes Face Backlash While Making Dodge Ave. Safer

A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston

A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston in very light afternoon rush hour traffic. Photo: Steven Vance

Evanston installed new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue from Howard Street to Lake Street last month, and already some residents are complaining that the lanes have made it unsafe to park their cars. But these fears are unfounded because Chicago has had protected lanes with a nearly identical design for five years.

The new Dodge protected bike lanes replace conventional bike lanes that were located on the left side of the parking lanes, in the door zone. The new bike lanes are curbside with the parking to the left, separated from bike traffic by a striped buffer and flexible posts. It’s the same strategy that was used on Kinzie Avenue, Chicago’s first protected bike lane street, in 2011 and has been employed successfully on many more Chicago roadways since then.

I recently rode the Dodge Avenue PBLs and found them to be just as good as any that the Chicago Department of Transportation has installed. They’re also a little better than the first PBLs Evanston installed downtown on Church Street because the Dodge bike lanes are somewhat wider.

Map of the new protected bike lane on Dodge Avenue, from Howard Street (the border with Chicago) to Lake Street. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

Location of the new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue, from Howard St. (the border with Chicago) to Lake St. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

But some Evanston residents are up in arms about the new street configuration. “The new design makes it more hazardous for people boarding buses or getting into cars, because driver-side doors now open into very heavy, fast moving traffic,” a resident complained at a City Council meeting on Monday night, according to a report in Evanston Now. Actually, bus passengers aren’t affected by the protected lanes at all because the design still allows buses to pull up to the curb to pick up and drop off customers.

When I rode the Dodge bike lanes during the evening rush, motorized traffic was light, and vehicles were traveling at moderate speeds. That was probably partly because the street reconfiguration involved narrowing the existing travel lanes to make room for the PBLs, a type of “road diet,” which discourages speeding. While the new layout may put parked cars a bit closer to moving traffic, the traffic is likely going somewhat slower than before. Another benefit is that the bike lanes shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.

Some meeting attendees also argued that the new bike lanes make it challenging for emergency vehicles to travel on Dodge Avenue, according to Evanston Now. However, reporter Bill Smith added that he observed a fire department ambulance making its way down Dodge from Church Street to a nursing home near Howard at the end of Tuesday’s a.m. rush, and the ambulance seemed to have no trouble navigating the street.

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Eyes on the Street: The Randolph Protected Bike Lane Starts to Take Shape

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Looking south at the Dutch-inspired intersection at Randolph and Canal. Photo: CDOT

The Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor on Washington Street includes a concrete-protected bike lane between the island bus stations and the curb. But the construction of the raised, curbside bus platforms and dedicated bus lanes on Madison Street involved the removal an existing bike lane.

The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to replace the Madison bike lane with a new protected lane on Randolph Street. But long after the Madison lane – the Loop’s only westbound bikeway – was removed, the Randolph lane still isn’t open. As a result, westbound cyclists are riding in the red bus-only lane on Madison. While that’s not an ideal situation, it doesn’t seem to be significantly slowing down CTA buses.

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A panoramic photo (hence the curving effect) of the Randolph/Canal treatment shot from the south by M.P. Hurley.

The good news is that the protected infrastructure on Randolph is finally starting to materialize, although the bike lane probably won’t be open for a few months. CDOT recently completed a Dutch-inspired intersection treatment at the northeast corner of Randolph and Canal Street, with concrete refuge islands to help protect cyclists and pedestrians from motorized traffic.

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Eyes on the Street: RYB Fest — A Memorial Ride for Blaine Klingenberg

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The ride on Michigan Avenue in the Loop. A display of flowers spelling “RYB” was carried on a cargo bike similar to the one Klingenberg rode. Photo: John Greenfield

About 200 people on bikes filled the streets of Chicago today to honor fallen bike courier Blaine “Beezy” Klingenberg during RYB Fest. The bike ride and barbecue was described by organizers as “a day of remembrance and celebration, and to remind all that bicyclists should also be viewed as equals when riding on the road.”

Klingenberg, 29, was fatally struck by a double-decker tour bus driver on Wednesday, June 15, during the evening rush at Michigan Avenue and Oak Street, while on his way to meet up with friends at Oak Street Beach. A native of Bakersfield, California, he moved to Chicago to join buddies who already lived here and pursue his dream of becoming a big-city bike courier, according to his girlfriend Maja Perez, 28, who followed him soon afterwards.

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Blaine Klingenberg. Photo: Facebook

Klingenberg worked for Advanced Messenger Service, delivering envelopes and packages via a large yellow, Danish-style cargo bike. Employers and colleagues have described him as a hardworking, likable, and safety-minded courier. Read more about his case here.

RYB Fest, named after the hashtag #RideYourBike or #RideYoBike, was organized by family members, friends, and the Chicago Bike Messenger Association. According to the organizers, the purpose was “to raise awareness of insecurities in bike infrastructure, the presence and vulnerability of cyclists on the streets, and celebrate the life that Beezy brought to all of us.”

The ride met at Humboldt Park’s formal garden, headed downtown to stop at some of Klingenberg’s favorite standby spots, and proceeded up Michigan to the crash site. Afterwards, the group headed northwest to riverside Richard Clark Park for the barbecue and trail riding at The Garden, a dirt jump course within the park.

Far too many people have been injured and killed on bikes in northeast Illinois in recent weeks. In addition to being a fitting tribute to a man widely described as a terrific person, RYB Fest was a reminder that we have much more work to do before Chicago streets are safe for all road users.

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An Epidemic of Bike Crashes; Bad Trail Design May Have Caused One of Them

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One of several Lakefront Trail intersections in Uptown that are hazardous “mixing bowl” junctions with east-west streets and Lake Shore Drive access ramps. Moreover, confusing signage tells drivers to “Stop” while path users are ordered to “Yield.” A 61-year-old cyclist was critically injured at the Wilson intersection last Tuesday. Photo: Hui Hwa Nam.

It’s been an awful two weeks for bike collisions in northeast Illinois. On Tuesday of last week, a 29-year-old woman was struck and injured on her bicycle at Jackson and Homan, by a police officer who witnesses say ran a red light without using lights or sirens. That Wednesday bike courier Blaine Klingenberg was fatally struck by a tour bus driver at Oak and Michigan, the first Chicago bike fatality of 2016

Last Monday a pedicab operator reportedly had his vehicle struck by a hit-and-run minivan driver at South Water and Michigan, but escaped without injury. Last Tuesday schoolteacher Janice Wendling and her husband Mark were fatally struck while cycling in Morris, Illinois, by one of Janice’s former students.

Also last Tuesday, an SUV driver critically injured a 61-year-old man on a bike at Wilson and the Lakefront Trail. And we’re told that on Thursday a CTA driver struck a bicyclist on Milwaukee just north of the Bloomingdale Trail, causing minor injuries.

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Fallen cyclist Janice Wendling.

There was one piece of good news about local bike crashes on Thursday. We learned that Scott Jacobson, who suffered a broken pelvis and horrific road rash after he was struck by a driver and dragged hundreds of feet on May 2 in Bridgeport, was finally sent home from the hospital.

A route has been proposed for Friday’s Chicago Critical Mass ride that would visit the Klingenberg crash site, as well as the white “ghost bike” memorials for several other fallen cyclists. The map includes a stop at Jacobson’s home in McKinley Park to wish him a fast and full recovery – I’ve been told his family is looking forward to welcoming the riders.

Last Tuesday’s crash in Uptown, which took place at a spot where Wilson and access ramps for Lake Shore Drive converge with the shoreline path, highlights an intersection design and signage problem with the trail. At around 7:20 p.m., the bike rider was heading north on the path and was struck by the eastbound driver as he crossed Wilson, according to police.

The victim was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition, police said. DNAinfo reported that one of the man’s wheels was left in the grass near the crash location.

The SUV driver, Liliana Flores, 32, a Park Forest resident, received three traffic citations and was scheduled for a hearing in traffic court on Monday, August 8, according to police.

As I’ve pointed out before, the unorthodox configuration and signage of this Lakefront Trail intersection, and similar junctions at Montrose, Lawrence, and Foster, create a confusing and hazardous situation. Not only do the east-west street, the LSD ramps, and the trail converge in one location, creating a chaotic “mixing bowl” effect, the signs at the intersections are seemingly paradoxical.

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Eyes on the Street: Dearborn Detour Suggests Salmoning on Lake Street

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The Dearborn bike lane yesterday. Note to contractors: This isn’t an appropriate bike lane detour sign. Photo: Mike Bingaman

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The City of Chicago has made notable progress on expanding its network of protected bike lanes into more community areas and communities of color than it had before Rahm Emanuel became mayor, but it seems nothing is better about the way bicyclists and pedestrians are accommodated around construction projects. The city has even beefed up detour rules contractors must follow multiple times to benefit human-powered transportation.

The two-way bike lane on one-way Dearborn Street is one of the city’s most important bike lanes, because it carries hundreds of people on bikes each day, through the heart of the Loop, where few blocks have a bike lane relative to the number of people who bike downtown.

It’s regrettable, then, when bicyclists, who have few options in the central business district, receive the suggestion to bike against vehicle traffic on Lake Street to reach Clark Street in order to get around a construction project. That was the situation Wednesday and today for people cycling southbound on Dearborn. People bicycling north, in the same direction as Dearborn vehicle traffic, at least had the option to merge with vehicle traffic.

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The construction takes up the parking lane, a travel lane, and the bike lane. Photo: Mike Bingaman

The construction project, according to four permits on the city’s open data portal, is to cut open a trench and install Comcast fiber cables, and a new Peoples Gas main.

Yesterday, a hand-painted sign on Dearborn, just south of Lake Street, said “Bike lane closed – use Clark St.” But any reasonable person would see why this is foolish. To follow these directions, a bicyclist would have to head the wrong way against eastbound traffic on Lake Street to reach Clark, or else use the sidewalk.

I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation, which reviews detour plans before permitting construction sites. CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey couldn’t confirm today if the contractor was following an approved detour plan. Streets with protected bike lanes, like Dearborn, also have a special step in the permitting process “to ensure proper reinstallation of all bicycle facility elements.” Read more…

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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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