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Fullerton Project Will Provide Acres of New Parkland, Partial Trail Separation

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Looking south at the “bayou” created by the construction of the metal retaining wall. Photo: John Greenfield

Last October, a study was released as part of the North Lake Shore Drive redesign process that found Chicagoans ranked the creation of separate paths for walking and biking on the Lakefront Trail as their top priority for improving the shoreline. That same month, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District kicked off the Fullerton Revetment project, a step in the right direction towards that goal.

The initiative is building 5.8 acres of new parkland along the lake, which will allow for the partial separation of pedestrian and bike routes at a spot that’s currently a bottleneck. The main goal of the $31.5 million endeavor, funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city, and the park district, is to replace the crumbling seawall as part of the larger Chicago Shoreline Protection Project, which launched in 2000. Since then, 19 of the 23 segments of that 9.5-mile, $500 million project have been completed, according to city officials.

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A plan view of the project.

The Fullerton initiative includes widening the strip of parkland along the Lakefront Trail by as much as several hundred feet via infill, creating a brand-new hump of land that’s sure to be a hit with sunbathers. The work will also pave the way for the renovation of the Theater on the Lake, a former tuberculosis sanatorium that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to turn into a year-round destination for arts and culture.

Infill and revetment construction is slated for completion by November 30, and landscaping should be done by summer of 2016. Yesterday, CDOT engineer Carlene Walsh, the Fullerton project manager, and Steven Miskowicz from the R.M. Chin and Associates, which is overseeing construction, led a tour of the worksite. The general contractor is Walsh Construction – no relation to Ms. Walsh.

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Installing the corrugated metal pilings for the metal enclosure. Photo: John Greenfield

Right now, the area that will be the new land resembles a tropical lagoon. Workers are driving corrugated steel pilings as much as 45 feet into the lakebed to create a wavy wall of metal that will hold the infill in place, similar to what was recently done to create new land for the Chicago Riverwalk extension. A causeway of rock and gravel has been built to provide access for the heavy equipment used to install the metal enclosure.

The resulting “bayou,” currently occupied by water that’s a milky turquoise due to sediment, will be filled in with 80,000 cubic yards of rocks and sand. The rocks include special “armor stone” that will be shipped in from Wisconsin, but the sand will be dredged from the lake floor southeast of North Avenue Beach’s hook-shaped pier, starting in about a month. Read more…

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Rauner’s Latest Weird Illiana Move: Pushing for Tax Breaks to Contractors

What is Bruce Rauner up to with contradictory movements on the wasteful Illiana Tollway?

Rauner has taken contradictory actions on the Illiana. Just what is he up to?

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has taken action to kill the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway, which his predecessor Pat Quinn championed. Lately, however, Rauner has made some odd steps that suggest he may be interested in keeping the project on life support.

In June, the governor ordered the Illinois Department of Transportation to remove the tollway from its multiyear plan, and said he would stop spending state funds on the project. But, earlier this month Rauner signed a bill authorizing $5.5 million in spending to “wind down” the project.

Recently, Rauner submitted a proposal to the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that would give any Illiana contractors – should there be any – an exemption on paying sales taxes for materials they buy to build the tollway.

The Illiana is the epitome of a highway boondoggle. It would cost more to construct than it would ever collect in tolls, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for $500 million in borrowing. It would also destroy valuable farmland and induce suburban sprawl. Quinn tried to steamroll the project forward in order to garner support from South Side and Southland politicians and residents for his failed reelection effort.

The governor’s spokesman Lance Trover insted that the tax break “is in no way an effort to revive a project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has pulled from its multiyear plan,” according to Crain’s. Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, couldn’t explain why Rauner recently submitted the bill, but he said the new legislation is required by the 2010 law that authorized building the Illiana.

If Rauner is serious about not building the Illiana then the sensible thing to do would be to rescind any legislation authorizing its construction. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules should also reject the tax break proposal.

The regional leaders at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning should also take action to ensure that the boondoggle doesn’t get back. Although Quinn bullied the CMAP board into putting the project on the organization’s high-priority projects list, the agency should demote it from the list.

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Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2012. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

Read more…

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More Deets on the Divvy Funding Situation

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While Divvy has previously used CMAQ money to cover operations shortfalls, they probably won’t need to in the future. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article last Friday, the Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch implied that the new price hike for Divvy day passes is a desperate measure the city is taking because the bike-share system is bleeding cash, when that’s not the case at all. “The daily fee to rent a Divvy bike will jump by more than 40 percent next week because of a deficit and escalating costs to run the expanding bicycle-sharing system,” he wrote. “Divvy has yet to steer clear of red ink.”

Hilkevitch noted that that the system, which launched in June of 2013, posted a $171,000 operating loss for the remainder of that year, and a $500,000 operating loss in 2014. However, he chose not to include info that Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld sent him in a statement:

The overall system revenue, including the Blue Cross Blue Shield sponsorship [$12.5 million over five years] and advertising on kiosks, brings in income to Divvy and the city’s bike programs. Overall Divvy is not losing money.  CDOT is investing the revenue from Divvy in bike infrastructure improvements such as bike lanes, bicycle safety education and other programs that benefit the entire city of Chicago, not just Divvy users.

Divvy gets guaranteed advertising revenue from the docking station placards via its outside ad vendor Outfront, formerly Van Wagner, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey told me yesterday. The minimum amount of revenue for the city was $31,250 per month back when the system had 300 stations. Now that Divvy has expanded to 476 stations, the guarantee has risen to about $45,000 per month.

Around the time the bike-share program launched, Hilkevitch and the Tribune published a series of articles disparaging it. However, a few months later, the reporter ran a column that basically admitted he was wrong to suggest no one would use the wildly popular system. Last Monday, I responded to Hilkevitch’s latest Debbie Downer Divvy article with a Streetsblog post.

On Wednesday, the first day of the price hike, the Trib ran another piece by Meredith Rodriguez featuring quotes from bike-share users. Most of them had no problem with the price of 24-hour passes rising from $7 to $9.95. Once again, the article contained Hilkevitch’s misleading statement that the program “has yet to steer clear of red ink.” When I called him out on Twitter for repeating the same claim twice, he had an interesting response. Read more…

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What’s Rush Hour Traffic Really Like at the Lincoln Hub?

There have been have been plenty of complaints in the media that the Lincoln Hub placemaking project is causing a traffic nightmare at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. The intiative was spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce in order to create safer conditions for all road users and encourage people to linger and spend money at the six-way intersection.

The project uses flexible posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes. The curb extensions double as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provide additional protection from cars.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently criticized the street redesign, arguing that replacing the slip lanes with pedestrian space has created a headache for drivers:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs, the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Local resident Luis Monje launched an online petition to “redesign/rethink/rescind” the Lincoln Hub, which has garnered over 580 signatures. He delivered a printout of the signatures to local alderman Scott Waguespack on July 15. “We have noticed a MARKED increase in the amount of traffic congestion on our block as cars/trucks/service vehicles struggle with the sharp turns that have been made much tighter due to this ‘improvement,’” Monje wrote in the petition.

Read more…

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Despite the Day Pass Hike, Divvy Is Already Making Money, Not Losing It

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The Divvy day pass hike will largely affect visitors, not locals. Photo: John Greenfield

In Friday’s Chicago Tribune article about the impending price hike for Divvy day passes, transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch implied that the extra revenue is needed because the bike-share system has been a money loser. In doing so, he ignored a statement he received from the Chicago Department of Transportation noting that, when you factor in sponsorship and ad money, Divvy is actually generating revenue for the city.

Starting this Wednesday, the price of a 24-hour pass will increase from $7 to $9.95. CDOT and Motivate, the Divvy concessionaire, expect this will generate an additional $800,000 per year. The cost of an annual membership will remain at $75, a steal when you consider that a year of monthly CTA passes costs $1,200.

The day pass price hike will largely affect visitors to Chicago, since about two-thirds of the passes are purchased by out-of-towners, according to CDOT. 86 percent of the system’s roughly 27,400 annual members live within the city limits. The $9.95 price for a 24-hour pass also puts Divvy on par with New York City’s Citi Bike, which is also run by Motivate, while an annual membership in NYC costs almost twice as much, at $149.

Hilkevitch spun the news to suggest the higher day pass rate is a fiscal austerity measure for a bike-share system that is hemorrhaging cash. “The daily fee to rent a Divvy bike will jump by more than 40 percent next week because of a deficit and escalating costs to run the expanding bicycle-sharing system,” he wrote. “Divvy has yet to steer clear of red ink.”

The reporter notes that the program’s stated goals include financial self-sufficiency, as well as generating surplus revenue that would help fund other bike infrastructure. He points out that the system, which launched in June of 2013, posted a $171,000 operating loss for the remainder of that year, and a $500,000 operating loss in 2014.

Hilkevitch’s piece is largely based on a statement provided by CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. She said the department is raising the day pass price “in order to maintain and build on Divvy’s success and maintain the high level of service that our users are accustomed to.”

Scheinfeld acknowledged that the original projections for how much revenue would come in from usage fees, and how much it would cost to run the system, were not 100-percent accurate. “Divvy was launched at a time when big cities were just beginning to launch bike share programs and many of the financial predictions we made were based on other industries, without having a direct precedent to look to in the bike share world.”

Read more…

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CNT, Active Trans to County: If You’re Going to Raise Sales Tax, Fund Transit

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Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw/Photo: CNT

Streetsblog Chicago is on vacation from July 13-17 and will resume publication of Today’s Headlines and daily articles on Monday, July 20. We’ll keep in touch this week via social media and occasional posts. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from this week’s Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column, which appears in print in Newcity Magazine.  

Back in 2010, when Toni Preckwinkle was running against incumbent Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, she successfully used Stroger’s one-cent sales tax hike as a campaign issue, going as far as to make an ad with a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. “I used to teach my history students about Ben Franklin,” said Preckwinkle, a former high school teacher, in the spot. “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

After she was elected, Preckwinkle rolled back the sales tax to the current 9.25-percent rate. As president, she’s generally been credited with improving the efficiency of the county government and cutting costs, avoiding the allegations of patronage and incompetence that hounded Stroger.

However, to address pension obligations, Preckwinkle is now calling for a return to the higher county sales tax. In response, a Crain’s magazine cartoonist recently portrayed her as a mad scientist crying, “It’s alive!” as the 10.25-percent tax rises from the operating table like Frankenstein’s monster.

There’s a saying in politics, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Accordingly, The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance are using this moment when the Cook County commissioners may vote for a tax hike to promote their Transit Future funding campaign. They’re asking the commissioners to simultaneously create a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation infrastructure in the county. CNT vice president of policy Jacky Grimshaw explained the reasoning behind this new push.

John Greenfield: Why is Preckwinkle talking about raising the sales tax? That seems like political Kryptonite, considering that Stroger lost the election to her over that issue.

Jacky Grimshaw: Well, she has spent about four-and-a-half years cleaning up county government, creating opportunities to be more efficient, eliminating positions that were not crucial to the operations of government and bringing the budget within the means of the county. At this point in time, it’s become crucial that there’s action taken to fund the pensions. As she said, it’s costing about $30 million a month the longer there is a delay in putting in new provisions for pension reform.

Greenfield: So Active Trans and CNT support this tax hike?

Grimshaw: Yes. The reason why we support the tax is because, when we talked to the president about backing Transit Future, she said she was supportive but had to take care of pensions before she could deal with any kind of transit expansion. So her taking action to deal with the pensions is the first step toward us getting the support we want for public transportation.

Read the rest of the interview on the Newcity website.

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Survey Says: Lots of Lakeview Residents Like the Lincoln Hub

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The Lincoln Hub, yesterday around 7 p.m. Photo: John Greenfield

As mentioned last Friday, Streetsblog Chicago will be on vacation from July 13-17 and will resume publication of Today’s Headlines and daily articles on Monday, July 20. There may be some occasional posts next week. Have a great weekend!

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently wrote a column slamming the “functional faults” of the Lincoln Hub placemaking initiative in Lakeview, which he claimed have led to a cacophony of horn blasting from aggravated motorists. I responded with a post acknowledging Kamin’s valid criticisms that the seating plazas lack shade, and they don’t offer enough obvious physical protection from cars for some people to feel comfortable using them.

However, I also pointed out that a supposedly well informed urbanist like Kamin shouldn’t be lamenting the removal of dangerous slip lanes to make more space for pedestrians, simply because it forces drivers to slow down a bit. He wasn’t pleased:

An entertaining Twitter exchange ensued. Eventually Luis Monje, a local resident who launched an online petition against “Polka Dot Park,” got involved:

Of course, not all of the signees on Monje’s petition (there were 535 as of this afternoon) live in the neighborhood – some the addresses listed aren’t even in Illinois. But Monje has a point: While his petition does suggest that a significant number of residents dislike the hub, there hasn’t been much in the media about neighbors who like the new street layout.

To get a sense of what kind support there is for the Lincoln Hub, I staked out the intersection last night between 7 and 8 p.m. and buttonholed passers-by. Granted, it wasn’t the thick of rush hour, but I saw no evidence of traffic problems and didn’t hear any of the “frustrated motorists honk[ing] their horns” Kamin wrote about.

All of the 16 people I spoke with were on foot, unless otherwise noted. I tried not to ask leading questions that would suggest I wanted a positive response, but simply asked for their opinion of the new street configuration.

The vast majority of the respondents told me they believe the curb extensions, including the removal of slip lanes, make the area safer and more pleasant for walking, and said the current layout doesn’t cause undue inconvenience for drivers. True, a couple of people did assert that the intersection is now a nightmare for motorists.

But, overall, this informal survey suggests that more neighbors may be in support of the Lincoln Hub than you might think from mainstream news reports, Kamin’s column, or Monje’s petition. Here are the responses, in chronological order, edited a bit for clarity.

Read more…

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Rauner Authorizes More Illiana Spending to “Wind Down” Project

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Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the Illiana “gravy train” needs to end. Photo: ELPC

Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill last week that authorizes spending $5.5 million more on the Illiana Tollway, a month after he announced he was suspending the project.

The Illiana would have been a new highway a couple miles south of the existing Chicago metropolitan region that would have encouraged suburban sprawl. Tolls would have been high enough that the road would have likely seen little use, but taxpayers would have been on the hook for covering revenue shortfalls as part of a public-private partnership. Ex-governor Pat Quinn, who was fighting for his political life at the time, pushed hard for the Illiana, hoping that support from Southland legislators and voters would help him win reelection.

Crain’s Chicago columinst Greg Hinz reported that the $5.5 million is for to pay consultants to “wind down” contracts and for covering litigation fees. A Rauner aide told Hinz that the fact that Rauner has authorized the expenditure doesn’t necessarily mean the Illinois Department of Transportation will spend the money.

While this development doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a backroom conspiracy to keep the Illiana on life-support, some of the text in the measure is a bit fishy. The bill says that the money is going to IDOT to “enable the Illiana Expressway to be developed, financed, constructed, managed, or operated in an entrepreneurial and business-like manner.”

Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has sued IDOT twice over the Illiana, told Hinz that Rauner is not keeping his June 2 promise to “[suspend] all existing project contracts and procurements” related to the project. “It’s time to bring the wasteful Illiana tollway gravy train for consultants to an end,” Learner said. “These public funds should instead be used to meet our state’s high-priority needs.”

The most recent stake in the heart of the tollway was when a district court ruling invalidated the project’s federally required Environmental Impact Statement. The judge noted that IDOT’s justification for the highway was based on circular logic. The department argued that more road capacity is needed because new residents will be moving to the area. However, IDOT’s projection was based on the assumption that the tollway would be built, which would have encouraged development sprawl. However, IDOT could potentially rewrite the EIS to pass muster.

Read more…

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More Ideas for Improving Rail Service at O’Hare Right Now

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Long lines and crowding around CTA fare vending machines doesn’t impart a pleasant welcome to Chicago visitors arriving at O’Hare airport.

Last week’s Streetblog Chicago post about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s O’Hare express train proposal struck a chord with readers, with dozens of retweets and almost 100 comments. Lots of people agreed that the existing CTA Blue Line run between the Loop and “the world’s busiest airport” is already a relatively fast, high-quality service. Many readers also concurred that an airport express would be costly to build and expensive to ride, which makes the project a bad use of taxpayer money that could be better spent improving neighborhood transit.

Few U.S. cities have a better rapid transit connection from its main airport to downtown in terms of capacity, speed, and frequency. Much of Americans’ rail access to airports is in the form of light rail with 15-minute or longer headways, and service often shuts down before the last flights of the night. In contrast, the O’Hare Branch’s headways are as short as every two to eight minutes during rush hours, and trains run 24/7. In the previous post, I listed several inexpensive, short-term strategies for improving Blue Line service for all kinds of users.

After riding the ‘L’ to and from O’Hare last week for a trip to Los Angeles – which, surprisingly, has a very useful transit system – I’ve got more ideas the CTA should immediately consider to improve rider experience and make the system more user-friendly for visitors.

Provide a staffed booth selling CTA passes

Long lines often form at the Ventra vending machines at the Blue Line’s O’Hare station. This may be partly because the machines’ user interface is confusing, or because people are aren’t sure which type of fare card or transit pass they need. Last Thursday, when I returned home from my trip, seeing the crowd at the machines brought to mind how much simpler it used to be to buy CTA passes at retail stores like Walgreens. You simply asked the cashier for the type of pass you want, handed over the cash, and the cashier gave you an already-activated pass. With Ventra it’s still simple, but there is an extra step of activating the card. 

A staffed booth advertising “1-Day Unlimited Ride Transit Passes, $10″ could help reduce confusion and shorten the lines at the vending machines during peak hours. The employee would provide visitors with an unregistered Ventra card, preloaded with the 1-day pass, along with a brochure with info on the benefits of registering the card and instructions on reloading the in case the visitor decides to use transit on additional days. 

This would be in addition to any necessary software design changes that would improve the customer experience. Another tip to decrowd the vending area would be to scatter the machines into pods, like at London Heathrow.

Make it easier to board the train

After you’ve bought a ticket it’s time to enter the turnstiles and board. Here you may encounter an odd problem: some of the turnstiles are two-way, so that customers exiting the system may block you from entering. Red, “do not enter” symbols appear on these, with a similar sign above, to discourage exiting here. Sometimes the CTA sets up moveable barrier belts to direct exiting passengers to the exit-only turnstiles. The CTA could use these belts more often and experiment with floor designs that subconsciously guide exiting passengers to the right-side, exit-only turnstiles.

The CTA is planning to install Train Tracker displays at all stations in the system but, strangely, O’Hare doesn’t yet have them. In addition to letting customers know how long they’ll have to wait for the next train to depart, the displays also provide an estimate of how much time is left to board, or walk down the platform to a less-crowded car. With that advance warning, visitors won’t panic when they hear “[Ding dong] Doors are closing.” Read more…