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Pace Pulse Express Bus Service Will Help Improve Traffic Circulation

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The Pulse stops will feature heated shelters with vertical markers.

If you’re a fan of faster bus service with handy amenities, here’s some news to get your pulse racing. Pace Suburban Bus Service is planning Pace Pulse, a new network of express bus routes along major roads throughout Chicagoland. The agency has proposed establishing the service, which they refer to as arterial bus rapid transit (ART), on several busy arterials, including Milwaukee Avenue, Dempster Street, Harlem Avenue, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, 95th Street, and Roosevelt Road.

Pulse, slated to launch on Milwaukee Avenue in 2017, will include roughly half-mile stop spacing, transit signal priority, buses with WiFi and USB charging ports, plus stations with real-time arrival information signs and – best of all – overhead heat during the winter. However, it’s worth noting that the service can’t be classified as true bus rapid transit, because it will lack features like prepaid boarding and car-free bus lanes, which are necessary for bringing buses up to train-like speeds on congested streets.

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The #270 local bus route

The flagship Pulse route on Milwaukee Avenue will run between the Jefferson Park Transit Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side and the Golf Mill Shopping Center in northwest-suburban Niles. Pace currently operates the #270 Milwaukee Avenue bus daily between Jefferson Park and Golf Mill. During select hours, the route is extended to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview and the Allstate Insurance corporate headquarters in Northbrook.

The #270 is one of Pace’s key north-suburban routes, with strong ridership. According to the Regional Transportation Authority which oversees Pace, the CTA, and Metra, the line’s ridership as of June 2015 is 2,995 boardings on weekdays, 1,966 on Saturdays and 1,418 on Sundays.

The Jefferson Park Transit Center is a major transportation hub on the Northwest Side of Chicago. It is served by the CTA Blue Line, Metra’s Union Pacific / Northwest Line, nine CTA bus routes and three Pace Suburban bus lines. Golf Mill is a large shopping mall located at the intersection of Milwaukee and Golf Road. It attracts shoppers from all over the surrounding area to its department stores, specialty stores, and movie theater. Many people from Chicago’s Northwest Side ride the #270 to shop and work at the mall.

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The Milwaukee Pulse route.

Planning for the Milwaukee Pulse route started in 2014 and is currently in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin next year, with service debuting in 2017, according to the project schedule.

The total cost of the shelters and signage is estimated at $9.1 million, while the cost of new buses, which will be used exclusively on this route, is estimated at $4.5 million. The funding is largely provided by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, with a 20-percent local and regional match.

The Milwaukee ART buses will only make stops at eight locations between the mall and the transit center, including (from south to north) Central Avenue, Austin/Ardmore Avenues,Haft Street/Highland Avenue (near Devon Avenue), Touhy Avenue, Howard Street/Harlem Avenue, Oakton Street/Oak Mill Mall, Main Street, and Dempster Street. The transit signal priority feature shortens red light phases and extends greens to help prevent buses from getting stuck at intersections.

Each Pulse stop will feature a heated bus shelter with a bus tracker display with real-time arrival info, plus a vertical marker that will make it easy to spot the express stops from a distance, and bike parking racks. In addition to Wi-Fi and charging ports, the buses will feature audio/visual stop announcements.

The Milwaukee Pulse route will operate from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, with buses running every ten minutes during rush hours, 15 minutes during most non-peak periods, and every 30 minutes from 10 p.m. to midnight. On weekends, it will run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to midnight on Sundays, with buses every 15 minutes until 10 p.m. and every 30 minutes between 10 p.m. and midnight. The frequency of the local #270 Milwaukee buses will be reduced to every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 60 minutes on weekends. Service north of Golf Mill will remain the same.

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The public meeting at the Copernicus Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace held a public meeting on the project last night at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, with about 30 people in attendance. Most of the residents I talked with were in favor of the new express bus service, and said it would speed up their commutes. Garland and Heather Armstrong of Elmwood Park said Pulse will be a significant upgrade from the current #270 bus service, which they said is a lifeline for people with disabilities.

However, not everyone was a complete fan of the Pulse plan. Jacob Aronov, from the grassroots transit advocacy group Citizens Taking Action, said he’s worried about the longer headways for the local buses, and wants to make sure the local route isn’t eventually eliminated.

A majority of riders will likely opt to take the faster Pulse service, since the stops will be no more than a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk for most people) from any of the local stops. However, some seniors and people with mobility issues may prefer to continue using their closest local stop. Hopefully, riders’ concerns will be factored into the final plan.

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The Suburbanophile: Renn Praises Chicago Big-Boxes, Pans Ashland BRT

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Aaron Renn

Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor at City Journal, writes the popular blog The Urbanophile, and sometimes his articles are right on the money. For example Streetblog NYC reporter Stephen Miller tells me Renn was justified in complaining about the high cost of New York infrastructure projects in a Daily News op-ed earlier this year.

However, the Chicago-centric piece that Renn published today in the urban planning site NewGeography.com, cofounded by pro-sprawl guru Joel Kotkin, is a real doozy. He argues that our city’s Ashland Bus Rapid Transit project is example of wrongheaded one-size-fits-all thinking by car-hating urbanists that’s about “actively making things worse for drivers.”

Renn, a former Chicagoan, actually makes some good points about the benefits of transit-oriented development and protected bike lanes in the article. I even agree with his assertion that, for many residents, the fact that Chicago offers numerous sustainable transportation options, as well as the ability to own, drive and park a car relatively cheaply and conveniently, represents “the best of both worlds.” He argues that, along with more affordable housing prices, the fact that it’s easy to live with or without with a car in Chicago is one of its main advantages over peer cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

However, the article goes south when the author, who currently lives in Manhattan, argues that big-box stores with vast parking moats are one of Chicago’s finest features. He tells a harrowing tale of trying to whip up a batch of artisanal mayonnaise, only to discover that his local grocery store in the Upper West Side didn’t stock the right kind of olive oil.

“I can assure you in my old place in Chicago, one quick trip to Jewel or any of the other plentiful supermarkets would have taken care of that,” he writes. “Stores like that, or like Sam’s Wine and Spirits and host of others, only exist because they are able to draw from a trade area served by the car, and because people can buy large quantities best transported by car.”

A more serious problem with Renn’s piece is his assertion that the Ashland BRT project would be a case of transit advocates intentionally “degrading the urban environment” for drivers, which would make Chicago a less livable city. The plan calls for converting two of the four travel lanes on Ashland Avenue to dedicated, center-running bus lanes, which would require the elimination of most left turns off of the street.

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Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection

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Concrete curbs will protect a section of the southbound bike lane on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Chicago’s busiest cycling street is receiving some safety improvements, including a segment of bike lanes with concrete protection. Milwaukee Avenue, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway” due to its high bike traffic, is currently getting upgrades between Elston Avenue and Division Street in River West and Noble Square.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a combination of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street and Elston. The current project includes a similar mix of bikeway styles, plus a short stretch of curb-protected bike lane, as well as a parking-protected lane with concrete “parking caps.”

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Milwaukee from Division and Augusta has been upgraded to a double-buffered bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Contractors working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction last week and had completed a significant portion of the new bikeways by last Monday evening. From Division to Augusta Boulevard, existing conventional bike lanes have been upgraded to lanes with a striped buffer on each side. This help keep moving cars further away from bikes, and encourage cyclists to ride a few feet away from parked automobiles, so that they don’t get “doored.”

Previously, the bike lanes disappeared about 150 feet south of Division, but the buffered lanes go all the way to the intersection’s south crosswalk — a nice improvement. The new northbound section is located next to the curb, and drivers are currently parking in it, but adding “No Parking” signs should help solve that problem.

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Will the Return of the Ashland Express Bus Lay the Groundwork for Full BRT?

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A sign for the old X49 Western Express. Photo: John Dunlevy

This morning Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval Carter announced the return of the #X9 Ashland Express and #X49 Western Express buses. These limited-stop, morning through evening routes formerly paralleled the #9 Ashland and #49 Western local bus lines. While the stops for the local routes are generally spaced a mere one-eighth of a mile apart, the express buses only stopped every half-mile or so, for a roughly 75-percent reduction in stops.

The old #X9 and #X49 routes had good ridership because they offered modest savings in travel times compared to the locals. For example, the CTA estimates that the Ashland express bus traveled an average of 10.3 mph during rush hour, including stops, compared to the 8.7 mph local buses. However, the Ashland and Western express bus routes were eliminated due to funding shortfalls back in 2010, along with nearly every other Chicago express route, save for the Lake Shore Drive lines.

The city plans to make the new #x9 and #x49, as well as the locals, run somewhat faster than before by adding a bus rapid transit-style feature on Western and Ashland. Transit-signal priority will be implemented on these streets, so that stoplights will turn green earlier or change to red later to keep all buses from being delayed. Fewer stops plus TSP means express bus riders will save up to 22 minutes on trips along each route, compared to the current local service, according to the CTA.

The #9 Ashland is currently the CTA’s highest-ridership bus line, while the #49 Western has the third-highest ridership, after the #79 bus on 79th Street. The agency predicts that the new express service will lead to a four-percent increase in ridership on the Ashland route, according to its application for a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, which will help bankroll the TSP features.

Of course, an express bus ride that’s, say, seven minutes shorter than traveling the same stretch on a local bus doesn’t save you any time if you wait ten minutes longer to catch the express. Hopefully, the #X9 and #X49 will have short headways to maximize the time savings for customers. Otherwise, it might make more sense for riders to simply board the first bus that shows up, rather than wait longer for an express.

Meanwhile, the CTA also plans to speed up the local bus service on these streets by eliminating some of the least-used stops, a strategy that the agency says could save #9 and #49 riders up to 12 minutes per trip. The CTA will undertake a community input process this fall to solicit feedback about the stop consolidation plan.

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Confounded by Spike in U.S. Traffic Deaths and Injuries? Look Around

Why are so many people killed in traffic? Hmm, what could it be... Photo: Transportation for America/Flickr

Why are so many people killed in traffic? Hmm, what could it be… Photo: Transportation for America/Flickr

Traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased by 14 percent through June of this year compared to the first six months of 2014, and serious injuries jumped by 30 percent, according to the National Safety Council [PDF]. At the current rate, the group says, nationwide road deaths would top 40,000 for the first time since 2007.

The NSC announced Monday that, by its estimates, nearly 19,000 people died in traffic through June, and more than 2.2 million were seriously injured.

Fatalities rose in 34 states. Several states saw increases of 20 percent or more — fatalities were up 59 percent in Oregon, and between 26 and 29 percent in Georgia, Florida, and Minnesota. Not every state had six months of data, so in all likelihood the numbers are higher than what the NSC was able to report.

Deborah Hersman, president of NSC, told the AP the increases can’t be accounted for by vehicle miles traveled.

The nation’s driving steadily increased for 15 consecutive months through May, the Transportation Department said in July. Americans drove 1.26 trillion miles in the first five months of 2015, passing the previous record, 1.23 trillion, set in May 2007.

However, the cumulative increase in vehicle mileage this year through May is 3.4 percent, far less than the 14 percent increase in deaths, Hersman noted. Also, the estimated annual mileage death rate so far this year is 1.3 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from the preliminary 2014 rate of 1.2 deaths.

The AP cited higher speed limits and driver distraction as potential factors, and said the NSC reported earlier this year that 25 percent of all crashes in the U.S. involve cellphone use.

“For many years people have said, ‘If distraction is such a big issue, why don’t we see an increase in fatal crash numbers?’” said Hersman. “Well, we’re seeing increasing fatal crashes numbers, but I think it’s complicated to tease out what that is due to.”

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No Bike or Walking Goals in Rahm’s New Transition Plan, But TOD Is a Priority

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Construction has started on a new TOD project at the former site of the “Punkin’ Donuts” at Belmont and Clark. Photo: John Greenfield

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan set several bold goals for sustainable transportation, many of which have already been achieved. Emanuel’s first transition team included a number of heavy-hitters from the local transportation advocacy scene, including representatives of the Active Transportation Alliance, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the SRAM Cycling Fund. Their influence was evident in the document’s big plans for transit, walking, and biking.

As promised in the 2011 transition plan, the CTA overhauled the South Red Line within Emanuel’s first term. The agency launched the Jeffery Jump express bus service, began the Loop Link downtown bus rapid transit project, and started the planning process for BRT on Ashland Avenue. The Chicago Department of Transportation published the city’s first pedestrian plan and introduced a number of pedestrian safety initiatives. And, as outlined in the transition plan, CDOT launched the Divvy bike-share system, built the Bloomingdale Trail, and came close to achieving the goal of installing 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes within four years.

In contrast, when Emanuel appointed his second-term transition team last April, it didn’t include any transportation experts, except for then-CTA president Forrest Claypool. The mayor asked the team to focus on ideas for strengthening City Hall’s public engagement process, driving economic growth in the neighborhoods, and expanding early-childhood education. As a result, the committee’s report on priority policy recommendations, released this morning, has relatively little transportation content.

The main transportation-related initiative in the new document is a call for expanding transit-oriented development as a way to foster economic growth in the neighborhoods. The 2011 transition plan called for supporting “development near transit stations, including zoning changes to enable transit-oriented development.”

In 2013, those changes became a reality, when City Council passed Chicago’s first TOD ordinance. In general, it halved the parking requirements for residential developments within 600 feet of rapid transit stations, 1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets, as well as providing density bonuses for some developments.

Last month, Emanuel introduced a reform ordinance that would eliminate the parking requirement altogether within the TOD districts, which would be expanded to within a quarter-mile of stations, and a half-mile on P-Streets. The new report lists Emanuel’s first-term public transportation accomplishments and argues that promoting more TOD is a way to capitalize on these:

To maximize the economic value created by this investment, the City should promote greater density and development near transit locations. Transit-Oriented Development reduces costly car congestion by promoting walkable streets and commuting by public transit. It also promotes healthy commercial corridors that offer the amenities needed to keep families in Chicago.

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Streetsblog USA
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North Carolina: Tell State Lawmakers Not to Outlaw Road Diets — Today

Raleigh's highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

Raleigh’s highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

The language of a bill being hashed out right now in Raleigh could determine whether North Carolina cities have the freedom to redesign streets to improve safety and promote a healthier range of transportation options.

A provision of House Bill 44 — specifically Section 7 — would prohibit reducing the width of state-managed roads to add bike lanes if they:

  • A. Carry more than 20,000 vehicles a day, or
  • B. If projections show the road diet would reduce the Level of Service — an engineering measure of vehicle congestion — below a certain level (D) within 20 years.

According to local advocates the language is the result of a single lawmaker who is unhappy about a road diet in his jurisdiction. That lawmaker was responsible for adding the language banning road diets on state controlled roads into the wide-ranging bill, which includes items such as the regulation of signs, beekeepers, and beaches.

HB 44 passed in both the House and the Senate, but the language of each bill was different enough that additional work is needed before it can proceed. State senators and representatives met in conference committee yesterday where advocates were hopeful a compromise would be hashed out that would eliminate or alter the road diet provision. According to Lisa Riegel of BikeWalk NC, the final decision may come today. That group is urging supporters to contact their elected representatives and urge them to remove Section 7.

“It is not too late,” said Riegel. “The conferees are close, but the bill is not done. We need to urge all that would like to see this provision removed to contact the Senate and House conferees today.”

Don Kostelec, an Asheville-based planner, says some of the road diets the state’s cities are most proud of — like Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street and Asheville’s College Street — would have been prohibited as the bill is currently written. The Hillsborough Street project [pictured above] is used as an example of a great complete streets project by both the North Carolina DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

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Eyes on the Street: The New Normal on Clybourn Avenue

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Bicycle rush hour on a new curb-protected lane on Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

The Lakefront Trail. Milwaukee Avenue. The 606. And Clybourn Avenue?

The first three Chicago routes are known for having massive amounts of bicycle traffic during rush hours, and anytime the weather is nice. With the advent of its new curb-protected bike lanes, it looks like Clybourn is joining this elite club.

The Illinois Department of Transportation began building this new bikeway in May, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation. It includes Clybourn from Hasted Street to Division Street, and Division from Clybourn to Orleans Street. Read more details about the project here.

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Photo: John Greenfield

The fact that the state is building it is particularly notable because IDOT previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads within the city of Chicago. After cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street, the state announced they would pilot the curb-protected lanes at this location.

The curbs are already largely completed on Division and the northwest-bound side of Clybourn. The southeast-bound bike lane is partially finished. IDOT plans to wrap up the entire bikeway this month, according to a press release.

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Burke: Don’t Bend Over Backwards to Facilitate Driving at the Lincoln Hub

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Aerial photo of the Lincoln Hub by traffic reporter Sarah Jindra. Compare this with the original plan for the hub below and you’ll see that the plazas at the lower-right side of the photo have been modified to make driving easier.

The Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which created curb extensions and seating plazas at Lakeview’s Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection with posts, planters, and colorful paint dots, has been highly controversial. Pedestrians have said they like how the initiative makes walking safer and more pleasant, and every time I’ve visited, traffic was flowing smoothly. However, the chief of staff for local alderman Scott Waguespack told me the ward has received many complaints from drivers who claim the street redesign is causing traffic jams.

The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, which spearheaded the project, has already worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation to narrow some of the plazas to make it easier for motorists to pass left-turning vehicles. Yesterday, after chamber director Lee Crandell gave a presentation on the Lincoln Hub at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting, I asked him if any more changes are planned. In response, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke made a good argument for why we shouldn’t go overboard with modifying the hub to appease drivers. Here’s a transcript of the discussion.

John Greenfield: I talked to Alderman Waguespack’s chief of staff recently and he said they’ve been getting overwhelmingly negative feedback about the project from residents. It seems like there might be some pressure to further modify the Lincoln Hub to accommodate drivers. Is anything in the works with that?

Lee Crandell: I don’t have anything in the works to share right now. We’ll continue working with CDOT and Alderman Waguespack’s office to review the project and determine if we do have any changes we need to make. We’ve made some tweaks already. If we need to make any additional tweaks, that’s something that we’re very much open to. We want to ensure that it’s a successful project that works for everybody. [Crandell went on to discuss the fact that this is a temporary street redesign, but the chamber hopes it will eventually become a permanent streetscape.]

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The Case of the Missing Andersonville “People Spots”

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Brian Bonanno, in ballcap, and crew members reinstalled the Farragut parklet in mid-July, a couple months late. Photo: John Greenfield

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

As the Tribune’s Blair Kamin recently pointed out, it’s embarrassing that San Francisco will soon have more than eighty “parklets”—parking-lane space repurposed as picturesque seating areas—while our much-larger city only has a handful of them. Dubbed “People Spots” by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which runs the program, eight of these have been put in on business districts in Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Lakeview and Andersonville.

The beauty of parklets is that they take asphalt that’s usually reserved for warehousing private automobiles and transform it into attractive, planter-enclosed public space where neighbors and shoppers can congregate. The People Spot nicknamed “The Wave” at Addison and Southport in Lakeview is practically public art—its undulating, freeform seating units are both comfy and reminiscent of whale skeletons.

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“The Wave” parklet at Addison and Southport. Photo: John Greenfield

A study by Metropolitan Planning Council found that, since People Spots encourage people to linger on Chicago’s retail strips, they’re a shot in the arm for local businesses. Eighty percent of merchants surveyed felt nearby parklets helped attract customers to their establishments. Seventy-three percent of parklet users said that, if they weren’t eating, chatting, texting or relaxing in the spaces, they’d probably be at home. Thirty-four percent of them said they made spontaneous food or beverage purchases as a result of the inviting hangout space.

Despite this success, by midsummer of this year, the two Andersonville parklets still hadn’t been reinstalled after being mothballed for the winter. One of them, consisting of boxy, blue wooden seating units, has stood at Clark and Farragut, by an Akira clothing boutique and the Gus Giordano Dance School, during the warm months of every year since 2012. The other, a more rustic enclosure made of recycled lumber, first opened in 2013 at Clark and Olive, by Piatto Pronto Italian deli and the Coffee Studio café.

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