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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Construction Pushes Walkers Into Fullerton Ave.

Dangerous construction site conditions

One person walks in the construction site at Washtenaw and Fullerton, while another walks in the roadway.

Pedestrians walking along Fullerton Avenue in Logan Square have been forced off the sidewalks, and into the street, by Bigane Paving’s curb ramp construction. Bigane has failed to provide the required detour for pedestrians, so pedestrians have to walk in the street amidst busy traffic.

Worse yet, people who use wheelchairs aren’t able to use the now non-existent sidewalk at all. Local parent Gin Kilgore wrote us to say “a mother at Goethe School rolls with her child to school in a wheelchair, and said it’s very difficult for her to travel on Fullerton sidewalks now.”

Dangerous construction site conditions

A woman walks through the curb ramp construction site at California and Fullerton.

I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation on Thursday morning, after Kilgore informed me about the problem up and down Fullerton. The situation has persisted on both sides of Fullerton for more than a week. According to the city’s open data portal, Bigane is doing the sidewalk repairs before a larger contract to resurface Fullerton.

A CDOT official responded soon after my email yesterday, telling me that the contractor would have the sites changed by the end of Thursday. Yet this morning, the detours still weren’t in place. One resident had this to say in response to the conditions this morning:


CDOT’s rules and regulations specify that a contractor must develop a detour plan before disrupting a pedestrian or transit facility, and provide a protected walkway on the same side of the street when such disruptions happen. It also says, “Pedestrians should not be led into conflict with vehicles, equipment, and operations around the work site.”

Construction now blocks off the entire bus stop area

The construction area around the curb ramp on the southwest corner of Fullerton at California blocks people from boarding at the bus stop here.

Tell us where else you see contractors failing to provide detours around sidewalk construction.

Updated to add transit. 

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Wicker Park Bus Stop Hasn’t Been ADA Accessible for Months

The CTA has been using this as a bus stop for over two months

People with disabilities can’t step off the curb to board buses.

For the past three months, #56 Milwaukee bus drivers have had a tough time picking up passengers, especially those with disabilities, from a temporary bus stop in the heart of Wicker Park.

The bus stop was formerly located on the northwest leg of the bustling junction of Milwaukee, North, and Damen, in front of a Walgreens. In order to accommodate construction at the iconic Northwest Tower, the Chicago Transit Authority relocated the stop to the southeast leg in July.

The temporary stop is located at a corner dotted with newspaper boxes, trash bins, and signs, so instead passengers often wait within the 15-minute standing zone in front of the Bank of America branch. When cars are standing there, they block the bus from pulling all the way up to the curb. This forces those boarding the bus at this busy transit interchange to step off the curb. That isn’t an option for people in wheelchairs, and they also can’t access the nearby Damen Blue Line station because it doesn’t have an elevator.

I alerted the CTA about the situation a month ago, and reminded them earlier this week. Spokesman Brian Steele told me the agency had been working with the bank’s property managers on the issue ever since the stop was relocated.

Steele provided another update on Wednesday. “CTA and [the Chicago Department of Transportation] have spoken to the property managers for the Bank of America building, and will be removing this 15-minute standing zone, and installing bus stop signs (heavy coated signs, not just paper signs) to clearly identify the stop,” he wrote. However, he couldn’t provide an ETA for the change.

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Exploring New Bikeways on Marquette Road

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Biking the new buffered lanes in the Marquette Park neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, I navigated a couple of Chicago’s newest bikeways on Marquette Road, named for Father Jacques Marquette, one of the first Europeans to map out the northern Mississippi River. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently striped buffered lanes on Marquette (generally 6700 South) between Stony Island (1600 East) and Cottage Grove (800 East), and between Damen (2000 West) and California (2800 West).

Marquette, a relatively low-traffic, two-lane street, has the potential to become a bike-friendly east-west route, running about nine miles from the city’s western boundary at Cicero (4800 West) all the way to the Lakefront Trail. The upgrades to these one-mile stretches are a step in the right direction.

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This bike path paralleling Marquette Road through Jackson Park is a low-stress way to get to the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

At Stony Island, Marquette connects to a nicely marked, two-way off-street bike path that runs half a mile through Jackson Park to an underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive that escorts cyclists to the Lakefront Trail. Making Marquette west of Stony Island more bikeable will create a nice, low-stress route to the beaches.

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Buffered lane at Marquette and Stony Island. Photo: John Greenfield

The stretch of Marquette from Stony Island to Cottage Grove, in the Woodlawn community, features curbside bike lanes with a buffer striped to the left and no car parking lane. The lanes were striped on the existing pavement, which is in decent shape, rather than freshly laid asphalt. It would be a nice touch to add flexible posts to the buffers to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

On the current Chicago Bike Map, Marquette is shown as having non-buffered bike lanes on the entire stretch between Stony Island and Central Park Avenue (3600 West). However, unlike on streets where CDOT has scraped out conventional bike lanes and replaced them with buffered lanes, there was no evidence of the old bike lanes on the Stony Island to Cottage Grove segment. This suggests that bike lanes were striped several years ago but weren’t refreshed, so they faded to black, or perhaps the street was repaved but the lanes weren’t restriped.

Immediately west of Cottage Grove, a previously striped conventional bike lane is still easy to see. But most of the roughly 3.5-mile stretch between Cottage Grove and Damen, which is supposed to have conventional lanes on its entire stretch, is hit-or-miss. There are plenty of segments where the lanes are barely visible, and others where they disappear completely. All told, I’d estimate that only about half of this stretch has usable bike lanes.

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Although there are bike lane signs on this stretch of Marquette, there really isn’t a bike lane here. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago bike lanes are usually built using federal grants that can only be used for building new infrastructure, not for maintaining the old. This federal money can be used for upgrading existing conventional lanes to buffered or protected lanes, but when Chicago bike lanes are re-striped as-is, the work is generally funded as part of a repaving project, or bankrolled by the local ward. CDOT currently has no dedicated funding for bike lane restriping, which is why so many of our older lanes are in such bad shape. City Hall really needs to allocate dedicated funding for bikeway maintenance.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bikeways on Central Park Avenue and Lake Street

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Riding in the Lake Street protected lane. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the Mayor Emanuel’s goal of building 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes in his first term, the Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along building new bikeways. Last week, I checked out buffered lanes on Central Park Avenue, between Jackson and Franklin boulevards, and protected lanes on Lake Street, from Central Park to Laramie Avenue.

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Buffered lane on Central Park by Garfield Park Conservatory. Photo: John Greenfield

Let’s start with the less controversial of the two bikeways, Central Park. As has happened in many other parts of town, CDOT has upgraded existing conventional lanes here by adding additional dead space on one side of each lane.

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On this section, near the Garfield Park field house, the buffer is on the left. Photo: John Greenfield

In areas where there’s no parking lane, or a parking lane that gets little use, the buffer has been striped on the left side of the bike lane, to help keep cyclists away from car traffic. In sections where there is a heavily used parking lane, the buffer is striped on the right side of the bike lane, to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone. Pavement quality is decent, and workers have patched some potholes with asphalt.

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Eyes on the Street: CDOT Will Fix Milwaukee/Division Sidewalk, Crosswalks

That sidewalk pavement is embarrassing

This sidewalk on Milwaukee at Ashland will be improved next year.

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s Walk To Transit project will bring “quick fixes” to ten Chicago Transit Authority rail stations next year, including several long-needed improvements to the sidewalks and crosswalks around the Division Blue Line station. Currently, people walking to and from the transit line, or to the numerous shops and residences around the Polish Triangle, face some dismal walking conditions. CDOT will make these improvements as part of Walk To Transit’s first phase:

  • CDOT will “improve [a] sidewalk in poor condition” along Milwaukee, at the northeast corner with Ashland. Over 250 people board or disembark the 56-Milwaukee bus each day onto that broken-up and uneven sidewalk, and many more walk past on their way to shops along this stretch.
  • The project will paint new, zebra-style crosswalks to replace the faded lines at Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street, making it easier for motorists to see where pedestrians are expected to cross.
  • A pedestrian island will be built on Division at Greenview Avenue’s east leg, one block east of Milwaukee, so people can cross the street one travel direction at a time. Division is seven lanes wide at that location, including two parking lanes, four travel lanes, and a painted median.
  • Missing curb ramps and a crosswalk will be constructed on the west leg of Greenview Avenue at Division Street.

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No Longer Marooned: U. of C. Unifies Campus With New Pedestrian Spaces

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The new pedestrian street on 58th, across from Robie House. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings]

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks.

Last year, changes included a new pedestrian space on the west side of campus, by the University of Chicago Hospitals, a new passageway through the administration building, and the completion of the Midway Crossings, bridge-like structures uniting the north and south sides of campus. In June of this year, the university finished converting a block of 58th Street, between University and Woodlawn avenues, into a lively promenade.

“The outdoor spaces on campus can be as important as the indoor spaces,” said university architect Steve Wiesenthal in a statement in spring 2013, before most of the construction started. “These projects will connect parts of campus that have felt distant from each other because of features of our buildings and landscape. They will contribute to our sense of community and the integrated nature of the University.”

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One of the Midway Crossings on Ellis Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

A few years ago, the university began building the Midway Crossings, a roughly $8 million streetscaping project, designed to provide better connections between the main campus and buildings south of the Midway Plaisance. Although the Midway, located between 59th and 60th streets, is only one block wide, psychologically the distance felt much longer, especially during the winter, and many people felt unsafe crossing the parkland at night.

To make the trek across the Midway feel shorter and safer, the school created the new walkways along Ellis, Woodlawn and Dorchester avenues. The design was inspired by the green space’s architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who originally conceived the Midway as a water route between Jackson and Washington parks, traversed by bridges. Workers completed the construction of the crossings in spring 2013.

The Midway Crossings treatments include wider sidewalks, which make it easier for people to travel in groups. Illuminated railings, retaining walls, and lighting masts, dozens of feet tall and affectionately known as the “light sabers” by the students, further increase the sense of security by increasing visibility in general and making it easier to see the faces of other pedestrians.

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Illegal Stickers and Signs at U. of C. Hospitals Discourage Biking

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Illegal sticker on a city-owned stop sign. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, I reported how the AMA building unlawfully installed a “No Bike Parking” sign on a city sign pole, then removed a bike that was legally locked to it. In response, Streetsblog reader and University of Chicago employee Elizabeth Edwards alerted me to a similar situation at the U. of C. Hospitals.

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Photo: John Greenfield

It appears that someone, perhaps acting on behalf of the hospitals, has undertaken an obsessive, rather passive-aggressive campaign to keep bikes off street furniture. Stickers reading “Not a Bike Rack” have been stuck on just about every fence, handrail, light post and sign pole next to hospital buildings on 59th, 58th, Maryland, and Drexel. In a few cases, a metal placard with the message has been affixed to a city-owned sign pole. On some fences, there are signs warning that locked bicycles will be removed.

The desire to prevent parked bikes from obstructing the path of patients and visitors, especially wheelchair users, is completely understandable. It’s very inconsiderate for cyclists to lock bikes to handrails and in other locations where they obviously cause an obstruction. Moreover, the hospitals would be within their rights to install signage telling people not to lock to fences and other fixtures on private property. If these warnings are ignored, they would have the right to remove the offending bikes.

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Eyes on the Street: More New Buffered Lanes on the South Side

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Oakwood Boulevard, just west of Lake Shore Drive. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation continues to pump out more bikeways, as part of its effort to build 100 miles of protected and buffered lanes by 2015. Today I took a spin around the South Side to check out new buffered lanes on 75th Street and on Oakwood Boulevard.

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Looking west on Oakwood, west of LSD. Photo: John Greenfield

In conjunction with a street repaving project, CDOT recently upgraded a quarter-mile stretch of conventional lanes on Oakwood, from its junction with Pershing Road to the lakefront trail, in Oakland. The buffered lane serves to shepherd cyclists to one of my favorite spots, a bulge in the coastline that was constructed a few years ago, which provides a breathtaking skyline view.

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The view from the Oakwood hump. Photo: John Greenfield

The new buffers narrow the travel lanes, which helps to calm traffic. Since the lanes are curbside, flexible post to discourage drivers from driving and parking in them would be a good addition.

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Road diet at northwest corner of Oakwood and LSD. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition, a section of the road has been striped with dead space just west of the southbound Lake Shore Drive offramp. This creates a tighter turning radius for vehicles coming off the drive, encouraging drivers to hit the brakes as they turn right onto Oakwood. Installing posts here as well would help keep motorists out of the striped area.

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Eyes on the Street: Twitter User Calls Attention to Drivers Blocking Bike Lane

Twitter user @CJettR has started a campaign to focus the attention of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department on clearing illegally parked and standing vehicles from bike lanes. Using the hashtag #enforce940060, Clement Robinson is calling attention to ordinance 9-40-060, which bans motorists from parking or standing in bike lanes.

The city evidently agrees that drivers should pay attention to this ordinance: They recently mailed a flyer about it to all 1.5 million motorists whose cars have city stickers. According to the city’s flyer, blocking a bike lane forces bicyclists to merge into faster moving traffic, “endangering them and other motorists.” The fine for offending motorists is $150 — or $500, if a blocked bike lane sends a bicyclist into a collision.

A 26-year-old analytics professional, Robinson biked recreationally when he first moved here — but it “soon became my main form of transportation,” he said. He bikes between Old Town and the Loop for work every day, and to run errands. He started the hashtag five days ago, disappointed at how he saw the city’s growing bikeway infrastructure “slipping away…due to lax enforcement.”

I was very excited about the city’s plan to install 100 miles of protected bike lanes — but when cars are allowed to park and drive in them, we are put in danger. If a car is in the bike lane on Dearborn, a biker going southbound must either ride into oncoming traffic, or onto the sidewalk to get around it.

He contacted the Chicago Department of Transportation, who asked him for a list of problematic locations. Robinson sent them one, “but it didn’t seem to accomplish anything, and the problem is pervasive across the city.” One of the worst spots, he says, is along Old Town’s historic shopping street. “Wells between Oak (where there is a ghost bike) and North Ave is pretty terrible,” Robinson said, adding, “It is full of cabs, delivery trucks, and people in nearby buildings unloading their cars.” He kept listing them:

The Dearborn bike lane is also particularly bad. Kinzie can be tough too, especially with more than half the original barriers missing. Really though, I’ve seen it all over the city.

Spending “just five minutes” double-parked in a bike lane might not seem like a long time, but it can matter to plenty of other people. Along a popular cycling route like Milwaukee Avenue, a car blocking the bike lane for just five minutes in the afternoon could put 42 people in danger.

Robinson said he hasn’t gotten a response from Emanuel, the police department, or CDOT, despite inundating their Twitter feeds with evidence of dangerous motorist behavior. “I hope to see more people tweeting these photos at the mayor and CPD, so we can get the momentum going.”

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Eyes on the Street: Recent Bike Upgrades in the Loop and on the South Side

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Wide buffered bike lane on California over the Ike. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago Department of Transportation crews are continuing their work this summer, building new bikeways and upgrading existing ones. Yesterday, I took a spin around the Loop and the South Side to check out the latest improvements on Randolph, Harrison, California, 33rd, and King.

I started out on Upper Randolph, where CDOT recently upgraded the existing conventional lane between Michigan and the Millennium Park bike station to a buffered lane, and added a short stretch of buffered lane to shepherd riders onto Lower Randolph. When I checked this out earlier this month, tour buses were still using the stretch of the bike lane near Michigan, where the lane is curbside, as a standing zone.

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Flexible posts have been added to upper Randolph. Photo: John Greenfield

However, flexible plastic posts have since been added, which seem to be doing a good job of keeping buses out of the lane. Drivers don’t seem to be having any problems navigating the slightly complex road layout. Further up the hill, the bike lane shifts to the left of a parking lane, so the buses only partially block the bikeway.

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Further up the hill, the Randolph lane shifts to the left. Photo: John Greenfield

Next, I checked in on the new protected lanes on Harrison from Wabash to Desplaines. Since the last time I looked at it, CDOT has added flexible posts. With generally good pavement quality, plenty of green paint, and now posts, Harrison now joins Dearborn, Milwaukee and Elston as being one of Chicago’s nicest PBLs.

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New entrance canopy at the Harrison Red Line stop. Photo: John Greenfield

As I cruised the Harrison lanes, I checked out two new main entrance canopies for the Harrison Red Line station, part of a $10 million station overhaul. These classy glass structures feature large video screens that display ads and train arrival times.

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Vehicle parked in the Harrison PBL near State. Photo: John Greenfield

The main fly in the ointment with the Harrison PBLs is that drivers are parking in them, since the lanes are generally curbside with no parking lane to their left. Although new “No Parking” signs have been added since my last visit, I saw a number of vehicles in the lanes, including a U.S. Postal Service truck near the main post office. Perhaps adding posts to the entrances of the lanes at intersections would solve this problem.

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