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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category

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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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Eyes on the Street: Parked Bikes, Meet Stationary Bikes

20 bikes, or two cars? Photo by author.

If you’re looking for bike parking along trendy commercial streets in Chicago, it seems to be a lot easier to find around fitness centers than almost anywhere else. Surely this is no mistake: Either the gyms, or their neighbors, must be requesting many bike racks, and their patrons might be taking an active way to get to their indoor physical activities.

At the same time, many health clubs also seem to have a ton of “free” car parking. Some recently proposed (and approved) developments in Chicago neighborhoods – many of which have large fitness centers within their retail spaces – have a large amount of parking, which is sometimes touted by the developer as necessary for success. For example, Addison Park on Clark, a development with just 148 residential units but 493 parking spaces, may include an XSport Fitness center within its 170,000 square feet of commercial space.

Down the street, XSport is allegedly in talks with another developer to build a fitness facility alongside a Mariano’s grocery store – and 280 parking spaces. Both developers are working on a faulty assumption that fitness centers require hundreds of parking spaces.

Health and fitness clubs have their own section of the Chicago Municipal Code, 4-6-020, which states that no license for a health club may be issued unless there is off-street parking, either on-site or contracted, within 500 feet (about one block) of the premises, and that can accommodate ten percent of the capacity of the health club.

Chicago’s north and northwest sides have an abundance of gyms, many of them located near transit, Divvy stations, or near bike racks. At the same time, many of these gyms offer subsidized parking to members, either in the form of parking validation at nearby garages, or else in their own parking garages.

One of several bike corrals in Andersonville, in front of the Cheetah gym. Image: Jeremy Bressman, via Edgeville Buzz.

Despite the overabundance of parking that’s resulted from almost 60 years of arbitrarily high zoning requirements, at least a few neighborhoods have made it easy to bike to the gym. Eco Andersonville, a program of the non-profit Andersonville Development Corporation, has sponsored several 10-bike corrals throughout the neighborhood. One of these corrals sits outside Cheetah Gym on Clark Street in Andersonville, and it (as well as the several traditional U-shaped bike racks) are often full in the evening.

Bike corrals aren’t the only way to make biking to the gym easier: the Lakeview Athletic Club has several blue- and orange-colored bike racks outside the Lakeview Athletic Center, which combined can hold 20 bikes. Even before the evening rush, these racks were largely full.

Finally, one more great example of a fitness center that has a ton of bike parking is the recently opened Mariano’s/LA Fitness complex in Ravenswood. It looks like there is room for more than 60 bikes in a space tucked under Mariano’s, but still visible from the street. While some of the racks are probably used by Metra commuters, that sort of sharing is all the more appropriate for uses with complementary hours.

So while there is still a lot to be done in terms of lightening up the city’s zoning requirement that fitness centers (and nearly every other land use) provide tons of parking, it’s great to see that many gyms also provide a large amount of bike parking, too. Being welcomed to the gym by dozens of your neighbors’ bikes might reinforce the message that being fit involves how you get to the gym, just as much as what you do inside.

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Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways

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Drivers continue to respect the parking ban on Milwaukee, so there’s sufficient space for northbound cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along, creating new buffered and protected bike lanes this summer. Recently, new stretches of buffered lanes were striped striped in Noble Square, on Noble between Erie and Augusta, and downtown, on Upper Randolph between Michigan and the bike station.

Before I went to check out a couple of new stretches of buffered lanes this morning, I stopped by the construction bottleneck on Milwaukee north of North. I was pleasantly surprised to see that paper “No Parking” signs are still affixed to poles on the east side of the block, and drivers seem to be respecting them. As a result, there’s sufficient road width for north- and southbound cyclists to share the road with motorists fairly safely.

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Southbound cyclists on Milwaukee have more breathing room now. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, Streetsbog reader Andrew Scalise sent us a photo of a tow truck enforcing the parking ban, which is a likely factor in the compliance by drivers. There are also some safety cones sitting in the gutter.

Next, I dropped by Noble, which now has buttery-smooth new asphalt. Noble has always been a good biking street, but the addition of the good pavement and buffered lanes should make it an even more popular route. The lanes have dead space striped on the right side to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.

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Looking north on Noble by Eckhardt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Noble connects Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, and Erie, a good east-west connection between Ukrainian Village and River West. The new lanes would be even more useful if CDOT striped a contraflow lane on the short, one-way northbound block of Noble between Augusta and Milwaukee.

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