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Posts from the "Eyes on the Street" Category


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.


Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways


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.


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.


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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Eyes on the Street: It’s On For Once-Missing Washington/Michigan Crosswalk

Crosswalk signal finally installed two months after markings

The crosswalk signal was working as of Monday evening.

To help make it easier to walk to the second busiest tourist attraction in Chicago, the Department of Transportation recently reopened a crosswalk across the north leg of the intersection of Michigan and Washington. The crosswalk provides an essential, direct link between the Cultural Center and Millennium Park’s many attractions, like next week’s Milton Suggs Big Band concert.

Crosswalk but no signal at Michigan/Washington

A man, ignoring the now-removed signs, waits for car traffic to clear before he crosses Michigan.

Earlier, Streetsblog reported that the crosswalk markings – which are quite narrow, at about five feet – were installed two months ago. However, the pedestrian signals were only activated this week. In the meantime, many pedestrians walked around the “sidewalk closed” signs and crossed there anyways because, well, people will go wherever it’s convenient. Since pedestrians may or may not have had the right of way during that interim period, there’s no telling who might have been at fault if a crash had happened. Next time, the city should consider installing the signals first — which, admittedly, is more complicated — and better coordinate their activation with the relatively simple task of painting the crosswalks.


Eyes on the Street: Crew Responds To Bike Lane Sewer Collapse

Fixing two Logan Square sewer collapses

Progress as of Monday early afternoon.

A Chicago Department of Water Management crew was on Logan Boulevard today fixing a sewer collapse in the bike lane. We alerted the Chicago Department of Transportation and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack last week about the hazard, just outside Xsport Fitness.

Streetsblog reader Patrick Lynch sent us some photos he took on Monday night. We forwarded them to CDOT staff on Tuesday morning, who acknowledged the issue a few hours later.


The sewer collapse one week ago. Photo: Patrick Lynch

It turns out, though, that Alderman Waguespack submitted the issue himself via SeeClickFix 11 days ago.

The way the city initially addressed the situation (since Waguespack’s initial reporting) was problematic. Instead of placing barricades ahead of the road hazard, a barricade was placed within it.

It was a situation like this that led to the paralyzing crash of Brian Baker, while he was bicycling on Wabansia Avenue in 2009. The city settled the case this year for $1.2 million. When bike lanes are affected by full-width road hazards, bicyclists require more advance warning than motorists do, because they need more time to merge out of the bike lane and into faster moving traffic.

Waguespack also reported a sewer collapse around the corner on Elston Avenue, in front of Panera. The crews today were adding more barricades to prevent people from riding or driving into this hole.


Eyes on the Street: Handy New Protected Bike Lanes on Harrison


A green lane shepherds cyclists across the offset Harrison/State intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is almost finished building the city’s latest protected bike lanes, on Harrison between Desplaines and Wabash, and they’re useful ones. The new PBLs serve as a handy connection between protected lanes on Desplaines, Canal, and Dearborn, as well as conventional and buffered lanes on Clinton, Franklin, and Wabash, and they’re mitigating a couple of problem spots on Harrison.


A worker heats green thermoplastic on Harrison. Photo: John Greenfield

It appears that the white lines for the lanes are finished, and a crew was out laying down green thermoplastic yesterday. In general, the lanes are curbside, but they will not be protected by parked cars. Presumably, CDOT will soon be installing flexible posts in the buffer on the left side of the lanes, to discourage motorists from driving in them.


Typical lane configuration, looking west near the main post office. Photo: John Greenfield

At Desplaines, in front of the Greyhound station, the westbound bike lane is a buffered lane to the left of the taxi stand, which seemed to be working well when I dropped by this afternoon. However, the eastbound lane, set against the curb by a self-storage facility, was filled with parked cars. That wasn’t surprising, since pay-and-display parking signs are still up. CDOT plans to remove two free parking spaces and relocate eight metered spots from in front of the storage facility, which should solve this problem. There are also some major potholes in the eastbound curb lane, so it would be great if this stretch was repaved.

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Milwaukee Bottleneck Addressed but Illegal Parkers Endanger Cyclists


Illegally parked cars force a cyclist to ride dangerously close to traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

On Thursday, Steven Vance and I got the news that the city was forcing a developer to fix a dangerous bottleneck on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s busiest bike street, in Wicker Park. However, when I dropped by around 4:30 p.m. yesterday to check out the new street configuration, I found that the situation was as dysfunctional as ever.

In late June, Convexity Properties, a developer that’s turning the neighborhood’s iconic Northwest Tower into a hotel, built a pedestrian walkway in the street to protect people on foot while façade work takes place. The walkway’s exterior concrete wall narrowed the southbound lane of much of the 1600 block of North Milwaukee. As a result, southbound cyclists who tried to ride to the right of motorized traffic ran the risk of being squeezed into the wall.


The street configuration last week, before the centerlines were striped. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance brought the problem to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s attention. Last Thursday, a CDOT source told Steven that Convexity was not complying with the terms of its construction permit, which requires that both lanes of traffic be safely maintained.

CDOT would force the developer to pay for restriping the road’s center line to provide more room for southbound bike riders, Steven was told. Relocating the northbound lane east would require temporarily removing metered parking on the east side of the block, and Convexity would be responsible for compensating the city’s parking concessionaire for lost revenue.

Readers told us the work was carried out later that day. When I dropped by yesterday, the new yellow centerlines looked sharp. However, all of the paper “No Parking” signs, affixed to poles on the east side of the street, had been torn out of their wood frames and plastic lamination, presumably by disgruntled merchants or motorist. That side was still lined with parked cars.


Hulk no like “No Parking” sign! Photo: John Greenfield

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Woonerf in the West Suburbs Offers a Sneak Peek at Uptown Streetscapes


Gateway to River Street in Batavia. Photo: John Greenfield

On a recent bicycle trip, I came across a Dutch-style woonerf or “living street,” in the western suburb of Batavia, where Streetsblog Chicago reporter Steven Vance attended high school. The street layout blurs the line between pedestrian and vehicle space, encouraging drivers to proceed with caution, creating a more pleasant environment for walking, biking, shopping, and relaxing at sidewalk cafes. It’s a good preview of the proposed layout for “shared streets” in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

Batavia, population 23,618, is a quaint town along the Fox River, nicknamed the Windmill City because, in the late 1800s, it was the world’s largest producer of windmills. Today, it’s best known as the home of Fermilab, which once had the most powerful particle accelerator in the country. The town is also well served by bike paths: the Fox River Trail and the Batavia spur of the Illinois Prairie Path bring plenty of cyclists, who spend money at two bike stores near the Fox, plus numerous restaurants, taverns, and a trailside ice cream parlor.


A sign reminds users that this is a shared space. Photo: John Greenfield

Since Batavia has already seen the positive economic impact of good facilities for biking and walking, it’s not surprising its leaders decided to give the woonerf a spin. It’s located on a a one-block stretch of River Street, on the east bank of the Fox, between Wilson Street — the main downtown river crossing — and a pedestrian bridge.

Construction of the River Street woonerf, largely funded by tax increment financing, took place between May 2012 and June 2013. The block now features a large, wood-and-steel gateway arch, and is paved with red-and-cream bricks that are set at the same height across both the pedestrian zone and the roadway. Instead of curbs, the walking and driving spaces are delineated with stripes of cream brick parallel to the street, as well as street furniture like concrete flower planters, trash and recycling cans, lit bollards, and bike racks.


There were few cars parked on the street when I visited, but there is a garage. Photo: John Greenfield

Benches and drinking fountains help create a welcoming environment for people visiting on foot or by bike. “Self-Made Man,” a sculpture of a figure chiseling himself out of a block of stone, by local artist Bobby Carlyle, adds interest to the block. The Congress for the New Urbanism has taken notice of the redesign. Shortly after the woonerf opened, the it won the Best Street Award from CNU’s Illinois chapter.

There was originally a proposal to add chicanes to the street, which would have further calmed traffic, but this element was removed from the design after the local fire department opposed it. As it is, this downtown block, which includes a few restaurants and taverns with outdoor seating, seemed quite tranquil. It’s possible things are a bit too low-key on the street: when I visited at lunchtime on a Monday, there were only a few people eating at the restaurants, but perhaps it was an unusually sleepy afternoon.

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Eyes on the Street: Construction on the Bloomingdale Trail


At this location, the trailbed has been lowered several feet. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, Steven and I got a sneak peek at construction on the Bloomingdale Trail on a walking tour led by Jamie Simone from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the elevated trail and linear park project for the city and the park district.

Last Friday, there was some bad news and some good news about the Bloomingdale, AKA The 606. The Chicago Department of Transportation announced that the opening of the basic trail, previously slated for this fall, has been postponed until June 2015. Construction delays, caused by the unusually long winter, are to blame.

The $95 million project is currently about 45 percent complete, but cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to postpone the relocation of utilities and structural work, CDOT said. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings. The upside of this delay is that more of the landscaping will be done by the trail opens than was originally planned.


Walking up the embankment at Whipple. Photo: John Greenfield

In a positive development, TPL also announced that it will be buying the Magid (not a typo) Glove factory at 1800 North Ridgeway for about $3 million, and converting it into the trail’s sixth ground-level access park. The new park will be located at the western trailhead, and will provide about four acres of new green space in Logan Square, the second-most park-poor community area in Chicago.

For the tour, we showed up at the field office of TransSystems, the company that is overseeing the trail construction. Joining us was a tour group from Version Festival, an art, planning, and placemaking fest spearheaded by Bridgeport cultural impresario Ed Marszewski. We donned hardhats and safety vests and strolled a couple blocks to a trailhead at Julia de Burgos Park, at Bloomingdale and Whipple.

Looking west from the top at Julie de Burgos park

Looking west from the trailhead by Julia de Burgos Park. Photo: Steven Vance

At access points, crews are lowering the trailbed so that it will slope down towards street level, making it accessible to people in wheelchairs, and everyone else, via gently sloping ramps. Trailheads will be provided every quarter-mile or so, and most locations won’t have stairs, Simone said. The linear park will generally be 16 to 18 feet above the ground and thirty feet wide, with the trail itself consisting of a ten-foot-wide concrete path, with two-foot-wide soft rubber shoulders for jogging.

The different heights of the trail will create an undulating effect, which will calm bike traffic and provide an interesting walking and cycling experience, according to Simone. “Chicago is a completely flat city,” she told out-of-towners on the tour. “So we just love any kind of hills. The trail will basically be the biggest hill in Chicago.”

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out New Bikeways Across the City


Protected bike lanes on Broadway in Uptown. Photo: John Greenfield

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

For a bike-infrastructure geek like myself, this is the most exciting time of the year, when the city is in the thick of rolling out the season’s new lanes. Most of the twenty miles of new bikeways planned for 2014 aren’t as groundbreaking as in previous years, when protected lanes debuted on Kinzie, Dearborn and Milwaukee. However, there are some interesting projects going in this year, and it’s always a treat to ride a bikeway for the first time, a thrill akin to unwrapping a present.

I recently set out to pedal a gaggle of new lanes, a journey that will took me many miles from Edgewater on the North Side to Auburn Gresham on the South Side to Little Village on the West Side. I start my trip at Bryn Mawr and Sheridan, where I’m pleased to see that the Chicago Department of Transportation has solved an annoying problem.


The new contraflow lane on Bryn Mawr. Photo: John Greenfield

Previously, the street ran one-way westbound under Lake Shore Drive, with a two-lane on-ramp for drivers heading southbound on the drive. That meant that to access the Lakefront Trail, people on bikes had to cross two lanes of right-turning car traffic, and then take the sidewalk or bike through a yellow-striped no man’s land under the drive.

CDOT eliminated one of the two on-ramp lanes to make room for an eastbound contraflow bike lane that escorts cyclists to the lake in relative safety. Along the way, they can enjoy views of a colorful mosaic in the viaduct, featuring scenes from the neighborhood plus images of giant birds, bugs, and fish.


The Bryn Mawr lanes pass by colorful murals. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s also a new westbound buffered lane here that I take into the Bryn Mawr Historic District, which contains some of my favorite local Art Deco buildings. Heading south on Broadway, past the Southeast Asian business district on Argyle, I see a procession with dozens of orange-clad Buddhist monks. Onlookers put donations in their alms bowls.

CDOT has striped buffered lanes on Broadway from Foster to Wilson, and is currently building protected lanes from Wilson to Montrose, at a total cost of $200,000. This project reconfigures the street from four mixed-traffic lanes to two, which will discourage speeding by drivers. The protected lanes are largely completed, and most cars parked along the PBLs are where they should be, to the left of the curbside bike lanes.

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Eyes on the Street: Cut Off Green St. To Cut Milwaukee Ave. Bike Conflicts

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

A driver, waiting to make a left turn from Green Street, blocks the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane. Meanwhile, two bicyclists dodge the car on either side.

Chicago has long blocked cut-through car traffic on lightly traveled residential streets with hundreds of cul-de-sacs sprinkled throughout the city. The same traffic diversion tactics could also improve safety for bicyclists at dangerous intersections by simplifying movements and removing potential conflict points.

One example is Green Street, where it intersects Milwaukee Avenue’s buffered bike lane. A traffic diverter at this intersection would increase the safety and convenience of bicycling down both Milwaukee and Green, which could be an alternative to Halsted Street towards the West Loop and to the UIC campus.

The intersection of Green and Milwaukee sees many dangerous vehicle turning maneuvers. Southbound drivers on Milwaukee either make fast, wide right turns across the southbound bike lane, while drivers from Green either block the bike lane when waiting to turn left, or zoom left right in front of southbound cyclists. Six bicyclists were injured in automobile crashes here between 2005 and 2012.

This last block of Green serves as nothing more than a free parking lot right now, since it runs between a vacant parcel on one side and an abandoned building on the other. Preventing car access at this one opening to Green would eliminate the dangerous turns entirely — but still allow filtered permeability, safely allowing bicyclists and pedestrians passage onto or across Green.

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