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During Greenway Meeting, Osterman Proposes Seminars on Sharing the Road

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A new concrete island prevents drivers from turning south on this one-way-north section of Glenwood Avenue, but it will allow cyclists to enter a southbound contraflow bike lane. Photo: Alex Soble

Thirty people gathered at the the Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater on Saturday morning to discuss the treatments currently being added to a short stretch of Glenwood Avenue to create a pedestrian- and bike-friendly “neighborhood greenway.” These changes include a new contraflow bike lane and signage that will calm traffic and facilitate two-way bike traffic on this mostly one-way northbound stretch of Glenwood Between Carmen Avenue and Ridge Avenue.

Scanning the small crowd before the community meeting, I couldn’t help noting who had a bike helmet with them and who didn’t. Would the meeting have an us-versus-them feeling? Or was I preemptively denying each attendee’s individuality by mentally sorting them as cyclists or motorists before the meeting even started?

The meeting kicked off with a presentation by 48th Ward alderman, Harry Osterman. He began by describing Chicago as undergoing a “learning period,” as more people start riding bicycles in its streets. During the learning period, Osterman said, both people on bikes and people driving will need to learn how to coexist safely. He talked about wanting to bring together a working group, including people who bike and/or drive in the ward, to talk about sharing the streets.

The alderman explained that the one-way-northbound stretch of Glenwood between Foster Avenue and Ridge, about two-thirds of a mile, is already being used by southbound cyclists, including students biking home from Senn High School. He said that he understood how parking — especially parking removal — was a sensitive topic for the motorists in the room. Osterman went over the Glenwood route spot by spot, explaining how the changes would result in a net loss of exactly two parking spots.

The route of the Glenwood Ave. neighborhood greenway. A contraflow bike lane will allow two-way bike traffic on the otherwise one-way street.

The route of the Glenwood Avenue neighborhood greenway. Click to enlarge.

When he finished speaking, the group had questions. Only a few of the people who spoke talked about the specifics of the proposed infrastructure improvements. One woman asked if the bike lane will make her liable if she hit a cyclist. Osterman replied that the lane would not affect liability. A man suggested the lane be built on Wayne Avenue, a wider street, instead of Glenwood.

However, most of the comments weren’t about the specifics of the greenway. People wanted to talk about the general issues of speed, courtesy, and sharing the streets. In particular, as the comments began, expressed concerns from a driver’s perspective. An elderly gentleman talked about an experience he had before he retired from driving. He described a close call during which several cyclists sped through an intersection. As a person who bikes, I appreciated hearing his point of view. I hadn’t thought much about how older drivers might have a hard time reacting to cyclists on the road, although thinking about that made me equal parts sympathetic and nervous.

One woman said she wanted to be nice to bike riders by thanking them when they stop at intersections, but added that she almost never sees them stop. This set off chuckles among some of the attendees. Of course, as recent local video has shown, it’s also very common — and much more dangerous — for people to blow through intersections while driving.

After the meeting Justin Haugens, a Rogers Park resident (and occasional Streetsblog freelancer) who often bikes through Edgewater, told me he was frustrated by what he heard. Haugens felt people were making inaccurate statements about the behavior of bike riders. For example, someone claimed that people regularly travel as fast as 30 mph while riding down side streets like Glenwood. “A driver’s perception of a biker’s speed is inaccurate,” he said.

During the community meeting, Haugens had shared his point of view with obvious emotion in his voice. He described what it felt to ride a bicycle while sharing the street with thousands of pounds of fast-moving metal. The other attendees listened quietly and respectfully. I wondered if hearing this would change drivers’ attitudes or behavior.

“The remarks I made intended to humanize my experience while addressing their experience,” Haugens said. Watching the residents listen intently to his story made me think that the alderman’s idea of creating working groups of residents to talk through these issues might have value.

Too often, the conversation between people who drive and those who bike is about “finger-pointing,” Osterman said in a call “[There are] motorists in one corner, cyclists in the other corner, and pedestrians looking over their shoulder.” He said that the goals of the working group would be to “educate cyclists about what their responsibilities are, and also raise awareness of cyclist safety, pedestrian safety, and drive the message home that we all have to share the road together.” Read more…


CDOT Vets and Other Leaders Discuss the Future of Urban Transportation


Mendoza, Tolson, Klein, Kubly, and Treat at the Shared Use Summit. Photo: Shared-Use Mobilty Center

Last week hundreds of civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics from across the U.S. convened in our city for the National Shared Mobility Summit, organized by the Chicago-based nonprofit the Shared-Use Mobility Center. This think tank focuses on practices and policies regarding bike-share, ride-share, car-share, and other mobility tools in an effort to maximize the positive impact of these new technologies.

The panel “Connecting the DOTs – City Commissioners on Shared Mobility” featured three former heavy-hitters from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The discussion was moderated by former CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein, now with the consulting firm CityFi and other transportation-related entities (including the board of OpenPlans, Streetsblog’s parent organization).

Joining Klein for the talk were his former CDOT deputies Leah Treat and Scott Kubly, who currently lead the Portland and Seattle DOTs, respectively. Earlier this decade, the three of them launched the Divvy bike-share system, as well as initiatives like the construction of 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, the Bloomingdale Trail, and the Chicago Riverwalk. Rounding out the panel were Richard Mendoza, Atlanta’s transportation commissioner, and Clarena Tolson, deputy managing director for the city of Philadelphia.

“Connecting the DOTs” (get it?) focused on the new challenges and opportunities facing cities as we enter a brave new world of shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, and other emerging technologies. During the discussion, Klein and the city officials also talked about what they’ve learned as they’ve dealt with issues like aging infrastructure, changing regulatory demands, and current trends like ride-share that are disrupting traditional taxi and public transit models.

The officials started out by discussing some of the new shared-mobility and transit initiatives in their respective cities. Treat discussed Portland’s new BIKETOWN bike-share system, title-sponsored by Nike. Although the locally based sports-gear manufacturer is not known as a bike company, Treat said their sponsorship was probably the largest per-bike investment for bike-share at the time. One feature of the system that Chicago’s Divvy should consider emulating is the option of buying a single bike ride for $2.50, comparable to a transit ticket.

Treat also mentioned the new Portland Aerial Tram, a gondola service that carries commuters between the city’s South Waterfront district and the main Oregon Health & Science University campus, located on top of a hill. The university subsidizes 85 percent of the cost of the line, an investment that proportionate to the percentage of riders who are affiliated with the school.

Tolson discussed Philadelphia’s Indego bike-share service, which has been cited as an example of a system that was planned with equity in mind from Day One. The membership of American bike-share systems, including Divvy, have tended to skew white, male, affluent, and well educated, an issue CDOT began to address last year with the Divvy for Everyone equity program, which offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income Chicagoans.

Tolson said Indego was designed to be inclusive from the get-go, with early planning input from community groups and social justice advocates. Individuals who are eligible for public assistance can pay only $5 a month for use of the system instead of the usual $15 rate. Local media outlets have partnered with the city to promote the system to their audiences. As a result, Tolson said, Philadelphians have “embraced this as their own.” Over 900 residents have signed up for discounted memberships so far.

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The Final Segment of the Chicago Riverwalk Set to Open This Weekend

Final sections of the new Chicago Riverwalk

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, speaks to Margaret Frisbie, director of Friends of the Chicago River (green jacket), on the ramp from Wacker Drive to the Riverbank section. Photo: Steven Vance

If all goes well, starting this weekend you’ll be able to walk most of the way from the Ogilvie Center to Michigan Avenue on a car-free, if somewhat circuitous, route. At a media preview of the final section of the Chicago Riverwalk expansion this afternoon, Mayor Emanuel said he’s confident that the new recreational space, which doubles as a corridor for walking and (cautious) biking, will be open to the public this Saturday.

Previously, the Chicago Riverwalk was a simple paved path that ran from the Lakefront Trail to State. The first segment of the riverwalk extension, a much more elaborate promenade from State to LaSalle, opened in summer 2015 and immediately proved a hit with locals and tourists alike. This latest segment will run from LaSalle to Lake, creating a 1.3-mile route from Lake Michigan to the West Loop.

Emanuel was joined on the tour by officials from the city’s transportation and fleet and facilities management departments, as well as downtown alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and staff from Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects, the lead design team. The transportation department is building the project, which involved extending the south bank of the Chicago River out by 25 feet.

The three new sections, or “rooms,” of the Riverwalk to open later this week include:

  • The Water Plaza: A water play area for children and their families at the river’s edge. (From LaSalle to Wells.)
  • The Jetty: A series of piers and floating wetland gardens with interactive learning about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants. (From Wells to Franklin.)
  • The Riverbank: A wheelchair-friendly ramp and new marine edge that creates access to Lake Street and features a public lawn at the confluence of the Main, North, and South branches of the river. The ramp provides an accessible route from lower to upper Wacker and Lake Street. (From Franklin to Lake.)

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Active Trans Launches a New Proposal for a Grand Riverfront Trail System


Erie Park in River North includes a couple blocks of riverfront path. Photo: John Greenfield

On Monday the Active Transportation Alliance released their action plan for a continuous Chicago River Trail, one that would provide a corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists along the north and south branches of the river, connecting with existing suburban trails. You can read an executive summary of their proposal here.

The advocacy group argues that while Chicago’s lakefront park and trail system is excellent, our riverfront still isn’t living up to its full potential. They say that the heavy use of local trails like the Lakefront Trail and the Bloomingdale shows there is latent demand for a robust riverfront trail system that would serve as both a recreation and healthy transportation facility.

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A map from the executive summary shows potential locations for new trail segments. Click to enlarge.

The new system would also be a shot in the arm for the local economy, providing sustainable economic development opportunities, including tourism and retail. Active Trans notes that nearly one million Chicagoans live within a mile of the river.

Civic leaders have been calling for a continuous Chicago River Trail ever since Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Recently, Our Great Rivers, a visioning document for all three of Chicago’s rivers, was released as part of a project led by the Metropolitan Planning Council, in partnership with the city, Friends of the Chicago River, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, with input from thousands of residents.

According to Active Trans, almost half of the 27 miles of Chicago riverfront has existing trail segments, and several more miles are planned over the next few years. 14.8 miles of riverfront have no trail, but seven miles of river would be relatively easy to build trail segments on in the foreseeable future, the group says.

Active Trans has been in talks with neighborhood organizations in various communities along the river corridor to get input on the needs for the trail in local communities, ways to improve river access, and upcoming projects that could affect the construction of future stretches of trail.

The advocacy group notes that several upcoming projects offer opportunities to build new trail segments, including sections built as part of privately funded developments. Potential sites include El Paseo Trail project in Little Village and Pilsen, the south extension of the North Branch Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk expansion, the Bridgeport rowing center, the former Finkl Steel site, the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes, and planned developments in the South Loop and on Goose Island.

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Take a Virtual Ride on the New Randolph Protected Bike Lane


Looking east on Randolph, west of LaSalle. The vehicles next to the bike lane are parked cars. Photo: John Greenfield

An important new downtown bikeway recently became rideable. The Randolph protected bike lane runs from Michigan to Clinton, making an already-popular westbound route out of the Loop safer.

The project involved a road diet. One one the three travel lanes on Randolph was converted to make room for the bike lane and its striped buffer. Presumably the Chicago Department of Transportation calculated that the roadway had excess capacity for the number of cars it carries, so the change shouldn’t cause undue congestion, although it will discourage speeding. Another bonus is that pedestrians now have fewer lanes of car traffic to cross.

Having a protected lane on Randolph is especially important because a conventional bike lane on Madison, previously the only westbound bikeway out of downtown, was removed last year when the westbound Loop Link bus lane was constructed. Ever since the bus rapid transit corridor opened, many cyclists have been riding in the Madison bus lane, which isn’t particularly safe for the riders and doesn’t help bus speeds. Having a safer option on Randolph should move much of the bike traffic out of the Loop Link lane.


Looking east on Randolph, east of State. Photo: John Greenfield

The westbound Randolph protected lane now forms a couplet with the eastbound protected lane on Washington, which was built in conjunction with the Washington Loop Link lane last year. The Randolph PBL links up with existing two-way protected lanes on Dearborn and Clinton.

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The Lockbox Amendment Would Hinder the State Government

Metra over traffic

A proposed constitutional amendment on election ballots right now may go too far in restricting state transportation funding because its language doesn’t address multimodal needs.

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance and John Greenfield have different opinions about the lockbox amendment. Read John’s take here.

On every ballot in Illinois right now – early voting and mail-in voting has begun – there’s a question asking if the Illinois constitution should be amended to ensure that money that comes from gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, and similar transportation taxes and fees, goes only to pay for transportation infrastructure and projects. The purpose of the so-called “Safe Roads Amendment” is to prevent lawmakers from using the state’s various transportation funds to pay for other state needs.

Adopting the amendment will create a new problem of inflexibility while failing to resolve the state’s actual problems. There is insufficient funding in Illinois for all of the transportation projects communities and legislators want completed, and too often car-centric initiatives are prioritized while projects that would reduce car dependency are back-burnered. The amendment doesn’t address that problem.

The Safe Roads Amendment is being pushed by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, made up of highway construction industry and labor lobbying groups, as well as nonprofits like the Metropolitan Planning Council. The coalition has run ads suggesting that roads and bridges in Illinois are in danger of falling apart and causing injuries and fatalities because transportation funding has been diverted to non-transportation uses due to Springfield’s waste and mismanagement. That’s misleading.

The coalition is claiming that $6.8 billion was diverted from transportation projects, but that number is inaccurate. That money paid for various state needs, which often included, depending on how the diversions are tabulated, actual transportation-related payments. Also, the state’s structurally-deficient bridges are being monitored and repaired as needed using money that the Illinois Department of Transportation budgets each year.

The Civic Federation, a watchdog organization, reviewed which monies have been transferred out of the various transportation funds since 2002. They wrote, “which spending counts as a transportation diversion has been a thorny issue for many years.” For example, it’s debatable whether it’s counts as a transportation diversion when money from the funds goes to pay for pensions and health insurance for Illinois Department of Transportation employees.

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Lack of Concrete Protection for Rebuilt Kinzie Lanes Is a Missed Opportunity


Murmurs that Kinzie would be rebuilt with concrete protection turned out to be merely fables of the reconstruction. Note that, since bollards and “P” markings haven’t been installed yet, cars are parked in the bike lane. Photo: Jean Khut

With apologies to The Who, “Meet the new lanes / The same as the old lanes.”

Chicago cyclists have experienced a lot of highs and lows with the Kinzie protected bike lanes. Unfortunately, there’s a new setback. The city has announced the current reconstruction of the lanes won’t involve adding concrete protection, which represents a major missed opportunity to upgrade one of the city’s most popular bikeways. Here’s some history.

In 2011, not long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the lanes, the first protected bikeway in the city, and Kinzie soon became an indispensible bike route, attracting some 4,000 cyclists per day, according to CDOT. It’s the second-busiest biking street in Chicago after Milwaukee Avenue.

In 2013, CDOT agreed to a development plan that called for the developer to pay for installing PBLs on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie lanes to ease construction of a new high-rise at Wolf Point. However, by early 2015, the new lanes still hadn’t gone in and the transportation department seemed to be unwilling to remove the old ones. That April, Reilly introduced an ordinance to City Council that would have required CDOT to take out the Kinzie lanes, arguing that they conflicted with the Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In response to Reilly’s move, the Active Transportation Alliance launched a petition asking the other alderman to oppose the ordinance, which garnered more than 1,400 signatures. They also got almost 50 businesses to sign a letter to Reilly asking for the Kinzie lanes to be left in place but improved.

In late 2015, after the pavement, bike lane markings, and flexible posts on Kinzie had deteriorated to the point where the PBLs barely function as such, CDOT crews patched some of the potholes, restriped the marking and reinstalled the bollards. In September the department revealed that they’d struck a deal with Reilly to save the bikeway. “We’ve agreed that the temporary removal of the bike lanes is not necessary at this point in the Wolf Point development, but should be evaluated with future phases of development as part of the traffic study process that is required of the developer,” said spokesman Mike Claffey at the time.


The Kinzie lanes were patched and restriped last year.

Active Trans applauded the news and called for further improvements, including completely repaving the street, better lighting under the viaducts, and replacing the virtually disposable plastic posts with concrete curbs, or some other type of permanent infrastructure.

Last April, Emanuel cut the ribbon on curb-protected bike lanes on 31st Street by the Illinois Institute of Technology and announced that the city would be shifting its focus to building permanent concrete bike lane infrastructure wherever possible. “CDOT will install curb-protected bike lanes, such as those on 31st Street, where it is practical to do so,” read a statement from the department. “Curb-protected bike lanes provide better separation between people riding bikes and people driving, reduce illegal parking and driving in the bike lane, and improve the aesthetics of the roadway.”

This past year Kinzie gradually became a moonscape again largely due to utility line work. At the same time, important biking streets like Dearborn and Randolph became badly degraded by construction projects. CDOT is currently rebuilding portions of the Dearborn protected bike lane, as well as constructing a new protected lane on Randolph.

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Edmonton’s Quick-Build Protected Bike Lane Grid: “A New Model” for Change

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities connect high-comfort biking networks.

The most interesting thing about this week’s best bike infrastructure news isn’t what’s being built. It’s how it’s being built.

Two years ago, the sprawling Canadian prairie metropolis of Calgary decided to buck tradition and test an entire “minimum grid” of protected bike lanes through its downtown, all at once. Calgary’s proposal survived a nailbiting 8-7 council vote thanks to a first-rate campaign by local advocates and the swing vote of a suburban conservative who said he’d simply been persuaded that for just $7 million, a quick-build biking network was worth a try.

It worked. Bike counts doubled almost immediately; at last count they’re up 132 percent across downtown and biking is up citywide by every available measure, a win in Calgary’s war on congestion.

On Monday, Edmonton proved how contagious a good idea can be.

Edmonton’s council voted unanimously to do essentially the same thing, creating a connected system of comfortable bike routes in its downtown.

An overhead view of the post-protected bike lane planned for 102nd Avenue. Image: City of Edmonton.

“A new model of public consultation”

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CTA and Pace Brainstorm Ways to Improve North Shore Transit Service


A Pace bus. Photo: Wikipedia

Two transit agencies working toward a common goal is unfortunately a rare phenomenon in our country. Thankfully this has not stopped the CTA and Pace from joining forces to brainstorm ways to improve public transportation in the Chicago region.

The two agencies, with assistance from Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, are currently working on the North Shore Transit Coordination Plan, a comprehensive study of the northern edge of the city and the near-north suburbs primarily focused on improving the bus service of both agencies. The goal of the study is to develop a list of recommendations and a plan for the agencies to execute in the near future. Last week CTA and Pace held an open house in Rogers Park to show area residents what they’ve been working on. The results of the study are both expected and surprising.

During the event, I first took a quick trip around the room looking at all the information boards they had up. The first board featured a very promising Project Purpose stating, “The purpose of this plan is to improve the coordination of CTA and PACE services by better understanding existing travel demands and transit markets while leveraging changes in communities and transit investments since the last major service revision in that area.” The board also included a project timeline and study area, including territory in Rogers Park, West Ridge, Lincolnwood, Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, and Kenilworth, showcasing the many towns, bus routes, and rail lines included in the study itself.

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Staff and residents at Tuesday’s open house at the Rogers Park library. Photo: Charles Papanek.

The next board was an overview of current bus service with stop-level ridership and a zoomed in version of the main RTA map showing the area in context with the surrounding landscape along with several performance indicating charts. Unsurprisingly, terminals like Old Orchard Mall, the Davis Street CTA and Metra stations, and the CTA’s Howard stop dominated the stop-level ridership, with between 2,000 and 5,000-plus boardings.

The third board was on demographics and travel patterns. It featured surprising info about the number of people moving into the study area instead of out of it. By an almost two-to-one ratio, more users entered the zone than left it for places like downtown Chicago. This is extremely important to highlight as it emphasizes the need for more investment in outlying urban and nearby suburban bus service.

The next two boards reiterated the CTA/PACE ridership survey and a study-specific drilldown on occasional riders. Several facts stood out. For example, 50 percent of riders are between 18 and 40 years old, rith a disproportionate number of riders aged 18-24. However, in the “occasional rider” breakdown, there are a disproportionate number of adults aged 65 and over.  Evanston was also singled out as the primary destination that people are going to and from with even downtown Chicago taking a back seat. The final interesting fact was that frequency was considered the most important factor in increasing ridership while additional destinations beat out both on-time performance and extending service hours.

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Just in Time for Halloween: The Illiana is Becoming a “Zombie Highway”

Screencap of the Walking Dead TV show

IDOT’s own studies showed that few people would drive on the Illiana Tollway because steep toll rates would be required to cover construction costs. Image: Walking Dead/AMC

A new filing in the court case against the Illiana Tollway – a proposed 47-mile highway through farmland and nature preserves that would cause exurban sprawl and lead to Illinois jobs being lost to Indiana — indicates that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner may actually be in favor of the project. In recent years it looked like Rauner was making moves to kill the project, but now it appears the Illiana is becoming a so-called “zombie highway” project that just won’t die.

Here’s a rundown of how Rauner previously indicated that he was killing the project. In January 2015, the newly elected governor suspended spending on non-essential capital projects, including the Illiana. In the first week of June 2015, he said the Illinois Department of Transportation would remove the Illiana Tollway from its capital plan.

Two weeks later a federal judge halted the planning of the new tollway by ruling that the required Environmental Impact Statement was invalid because the study used the circular logic that the tollway would be needed because of new housing that would be developed along the corridor… due to the construction of the highway. In September 2015, the U.S. DOT dropped their appeal of the ruling, effectively pulling support for the project.

Now here’s how the state is either keeping the Illiana on life support or else trying to keep the zombie under wraps. In July 2015, Rauner authorized spending $5.5 million to “wind down” the project, and to pay for some litigation fees.

In April this year, the Indiana DOT said that they would pay for rewriting the Environmental Impact Study. However, IDOT spokesman Guy Trigdell said “the approach in Illinois has not changed” and “we are not pursuing the project.”

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