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Posts from the Infrastructure Category


Eyes on the Street: Roosevelt Bike Lane and Bus Shelters Nearly Complete

Roosevelt Streetscape features

Each side of Roosevelt now has a long bus stop canopy with a massive “CTA” sign. Photo: Justin Haugens

The Chicago Department of Transportation may soon be cutting the ribbon on the Roosevelt Road streetscape and raised bikeway project. The initiative involved widening the sidewalk along Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan Avenue to make room for the two-way bike lane, which replaced conventional bike lanes on the same block of Roosevelt.

The new lanes extend a block or so past Michigan on the north sidewalk of Roosevelt, ending near the trunkless legs of the “Agora” sculptures and the Grant Park skate park. The last major step of the project is to install green pavement markings and bike symbols on the bike lanes. CDOT recently posted on Facebook that work will be done by November.

As part of the Roosevelt streetscape, crews installed new metal benches in places where people might actually want to sit. That’s not a given, considering that many of the benches put in as part of a similar road diet project on Lawrence Avenue in Ravenswood wound up facing blank walls or parking lots.

The Roosevelt benches, as well as decorative pavers inscribed with an odd group of words that are meant to be thought-provoking, or evoke the cultural facilities of the nearby Museum Campus.

Near the CTA ‘L’ station at Roosevelt and State, which serves the Red, Orange, and Green Lines, the department has installed extra-long bus shelters that will have ad panels. The #12 Roosevelt, #18 16th-18th, and #146 Museum Campus buses stop at this location. Above the canopies are massive vertical structures with the CTA’s logo and station name.

Between State and Wabash Avenue, the bikeway will exist as a pair of one-way bike lanes (just like now), located in the street. Eastbound bicyclists will use a special “crossbike” – a crosswalk for bikes – to move to the bi-directional raised bike lane on the north side of Roosevelt east of Wabash.

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West Siders Discuss the “Divvy for Everyone” Equity Program

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Divvy employee Michael Clark (red cap) and friends took a cruise on one of the free bike-share days last month. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Before the Divvy bike-share system launched in June of 2013, city officials promised that attracting an ethnically and economically diverse ridership was a top priority. “Since we’re using public dollars, it’s important that the folks who are using the service reflect everybody in the community,” said Scott Kubly, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation at the time. “It’s a challenge, but we’re going to crack it.”

That hasn’t happened yet. Like most American bike-share systems, Divvy’s membership has skewed white, male, young, educated and relatively affluent.

The system currently has about 30,000 annual members. Of the hundreds who responded to a recent survey, sixty-five percent were male, and seventy-nine percent were non-Hispanic whites—a group that makes up only about thirty-two percent of the city’s population. The average age was thirty-four, the majority of respondents have middle-to-upper incomes, and ninety-three percent have a college degree or more.

One reason for this lopsided demographic is that, while yearly passes are a bargain at $75, the up-front cost is still a barrier to some low-income people. Moreover, the fact that a credit card has been required to use the bikes has excluded unbanked Chicagoans.

To help reverse that trend, the city launched the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity initiative on July 7. Funded by a $75,000 grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership, plus matching funds from Divvy sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the program offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income individuals. Residents can sign up in person, and no credit card is required—the funding serves as insurance for any lost or damaged bikes.

So far, D4E has been wildly popular. The city’s goal was to sign up 800 people in the first twelve months, but 869 had joined within the first two months. And that was before CDOT contracted the community organization Go Bronzeville and the bike group Slow Roll Chicago to do outreach about the program on the Near South Side  and across the city, respectively.

In September, CDOT tried another experiment to encourage more people to give Divvy a spin. On three different Saturdays, the usual $9.95 fee for a twenty-four-hour pass was waived, thanks to sponsorship from T-Mobile. I pedaled around the West Side on September 19 and staked out several docking stations to see how residents were using the system, and ask what they thought of D4E.

At the Chicago/Kedzie station in East Garfield Park, I came across Divvy employee Michael Clark, who was cruising around with three friends, two of whom were trying the system for the first time. The young men, who live in West Humboldt Park and Lawndale, had just come back from a visit to Michigan Avenue.

Clark found out about his job, which involves cycling between stations to maintain the bikes, via a staffing agency about six months ago. “It’s a wonderful place to work,” he said. “We’re out and about. It’s good exercise, and you get to meet new people, ‘cause you’re outside all day.”

When I asked if they knew about D4E, Clark explained to the other men that the $5 memberships are available to single people who make about $35,000 or less. His friend Jonathan Smith said he heard about the discount through the Year Up Chicago job-training program, and now uses bike-share to commute to work as a computer technician.

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More Before-and-After GIF Goodness: Bike Lanes, a Ped Scramble, and BRT


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Inspired by a post from Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt, I recently tried my hand at using a new-ish feature of Google Streetview to illustrate how Chicago street transformations have improved traffic safety and made neighborhoods more livable. Google now lets you access archived Street View images, so it’s easy to see how our roadways have changed for the better.

Streetsblog Chicago readers said they enjoyed the last round of before-and-after GIF animations, so here’s a fresh batch, this time using some original photos, rather than just Street Views. Above is a view of the new curb-protected bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood, which involved repurposing one of the parking lanes. It’s become an instant hit with cyclists.

Below is the city’s first (and only) pedestrian scramble intersection at Jackson Boulevard and State Street in the Loop. In addition to east-west and north-south crossing phases, the scramble phase allows walkers to cross in all directions, including diagonally.


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

These bike lanes on Vincennes Avenue in the Longwood Manor community show how some paint and flexible poles can transform an overly wide speedway into a calmer, more bikeable street quickly and cheaply. It would be great if the buffers are replaced with concrete curbs in the future.


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

The Loop Link bus rapid transit project is under construction on Madison and Washington streets downtown. This corridor, connecting West Loop train stations with Michigan Avenue, will include dedicated lanes, limited stops, and queue jumps, plus near-level and (eventually) pre-paid boarding. The Washington corridor will include a protected bike lane; the old bike lane on Madison (shown) will be replaced with a PBL on Randolph Street, 2 blocks north.

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Before-and-After GIFs of Projects That Made Chicago Streets More Livable


Last year, Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt demonstrated how a new feature of Google Street View can be used to highlight street remix projects that have made cities more livable. Google now lets you look at archived Street View images, so it’s easy to compare what streets looked like before and after they were reconfigured.

I tried my hand at animating images of a few forward-thinking Chicago projects that have helped make streets safer and more pleasant places to travel and spend time. Above is the Lawrence Avenue road diet in Ravenswood, a four-to-three conversion which added wider sidewalks, curb bump-outs, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes.

Below is the Lincoln Hub placemaking project in Lakeview, which uses flexible posts and paint dots to shorten crossing distances, eliminate dangerous slip lanes, and create curb extensions that double as seating areas.


The Roosevelt Road raised bike lane project in the South Loop repurposed road lanes to make room for much wider sidewalks, plus the bikeway, parking racks, new trees, and benches. The bike lanes will get green paint and bike symbols soon.


This spring, the Chicago Department of Transportation built the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park. Eliminating the excess travel lanes has helped calm traffic.

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The “Hipster Highway” Bike Counter Will Soon Be a Thing

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The future location of the Milwaukee Avenue bike counter.

Instant gratification is great, when you can get it.

Yesterday, I proposed installing a Copenhagen-style bicycle counting device on Milwaukee Avenue, known as “The Hipster Highway” due to its high level of bike traffic. This would help build support for reallocating right-of-way on Milwaukee in Wicker Park to make it safer for cyclists. Today, we got confirmation that the bike counter idea has actually been in the works for a few months and will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

LG Development Group will be working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to install the device as part of a new transit-oriented development project at 1237-53 North Milwaukee. “We didn’t want to just say we’re cutting car parking,” said LG partner Barry Howard, a frequent bike commuter who has been car-free for the last decade. “We wanted to make a statement that this is a bike-friendly building.”

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Barry Howard, with the unicorn-like red Divvy bike.

Howard noted that the site, which currently houses a Bank of America branch, is close to the Blue Line’s Division stop, CTA bus lines, a taxi stand, four Zipcar locations, bike lanes, and a Divvy station. “Why do people put such a focus on building car parking, when there’s all these amenities that around us?” Howard said. “If people use them, they don’t need their own cars.”

The 60-rental-unit building will include only 15 car spaces – half the ratio the city’s 2013 TOD ordinance typically requires for residential developments near train stations. Yesterday, City Council passed a beefed-up ordinance that will eliminate the parking requirement in TOD zones altogether.

The LG building, which is currently under construction, will include at least 60 indoor, above-ground bicycle parking spaces, which will be accessible via a bike-only ramp. The developer may use some below-ground space to double the number of bike spots. There will also be an pump and a work stand with tools for basic repairs.

LG reached out to the Active Transportation Alliance about making the development even more bicycle-friendly, which led to the idea of the bike counter. “It will help demonstrate the high volume of bike traffic on that stretch of Milwaukee, and the need to reconfigure the street to more safely accommodate people on bikes, along with other travel modes,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke.

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How a Bike Counter on Milwaukee Ave. Could Help Cure the Dooring Epidemic

Counting cyclists in Copenhagen

A bike counter in Copenhagen. Photo: Steven Vance

When I visited the Boston area last month, I saw a Copenhagen-style bike counter on a Cambridge boulevard. It occurred to me that installing one of these devices could help boost safety on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s heavily cycled “Hipster Highway.”

The Chicago Department of Transportation has been steadily making improvements to this popular route between the Loop and bike-friendly Northwest Side neighborhoods – the city’s busiest cycling street. They’ve put in a mix of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street (the avenue’s southern terminus) and Division Street.

However, the 0.8-mile section of Milwaukee between Division and North in Wicker Park is the one that’s crying out for bike improvements. It has tons of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars – prime cycling destinations.

However, this right-of-way on this segment is currently too narrow for proper bike lanes, so it only has “sharrows” – bike symbols with chevrons. The combination of high bike traffic, frequent parking turnover, and tight quarters has led to an epidemic of dooring crashes in recent years, including at least one nearly fatal incident.

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What Will It Take to Build a More Equitable Chicago Bike Network?


A recent tour of Englewood hosted by the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network, LISC Chicago and Slow Roll Chicago, a group that is pushing for bike equity for the South and West Sides. Photo: LISC

Earlier this month, the League of American bicyclists released a report with a method for using Census info and geographic information system data to measure how well bicycle networks serve communities that have the greatest need for better infrastructure. Using Chicago as the case study, the author concluded that the city’s “planned network” of new bikeways wouldn’t provide a fair share of access to African-American and Latino communities.

The thing was, the “planned network” map that the report analyzed wasn’t actually the planned network from the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – it was actually based on old “recommended routes” from the city’s bike map. After two Streetsblog Chicago posts about the problem, the League finally overhauled the report with the correct map data and reached the opposite conclusion: The 2020 Plan will significantly boost bikeway equity for communities of color.

In the midst of lobbying the LAB to fix the report, I emailed local sustainable transportation leaders to get their thoughts on the topic. Active Transportation Alliance cofounder Randy Neufeld, now with the SRAM Cycling Fund, had a response that put the bike equity issue in perspective.

“A GIS exercise that relates lines on a map or a plan to demographic information is not a useful equity analysis,” he argued. “Those lines are not all the same thing. They represent very different conditions in different places. Plus, just because there’s a Crosstown Bike Route within a certain distance of your house doesn’t mean you live in a bikeable neighborhood…what’s fair and equitable as far as neighborhood bikeways is very different.”

Neufeld added that equity analysis is worth doing, but it’s going to take more than studying a map to determine how to make Chicago’s bike network more equitable. “Aldermanic leadership is key,” he said. “We have a few wards with bike-ped-transit committees. Maybe we need some more.” He suggested that a simple criteria could be devised for a ward cycling audit, which could help gauge the relative levels of bikeability in different parts of the city. That would better inform decisions about where new bike lanes and paths should be prioritized, he said.

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The Illiana’s Latest Death Blow: Feds Dropping Their Appeal of Court Ruling

Photo of the then-recently opened I-355, 127th St overpass

The Illiana’s high tolls would have driven motorists to use other routes instead. Photo: Tim Messer

A new legal development may represent the final nail in the coffin for the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway project. Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration dropped its appeal of the court ruling that invalidated the Illiana’s key supporting document.

Back in June, U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso invalidated the tollway’s Environmental Impact Statement, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” The EIS was jointly prepared by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation.

Alonso noted then that the FHWA shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [Illinois Department of Transportation] consultants,” rather than sound policy. The Illiana was a terrible idea that was heavily promoted by former Illinois governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs.

Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for a $500 million down payment for the tollway. They also would have been responsible for future payments to the private operator in the event that revenue from tolls came up short. One of IDOT’s studies showed that the Illiana’s tolls would be several times higher than those on other Illinois tollways, which would cause many drivers to opt for non-tolled roads in the same corridor instead.

The highway would have destroyed protected natural areas and heritage farmland. It also would have induced sprawl to new areas outside of the current Chicago metro region.

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Massachusetts’ Bikeway Design Guide Will Be Nation’s Most Advanced Yet

Images from MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Bikeway design in this country keeps rocketing forward. The design guide that Massachusetts is planning to unveil in November shows it.

The new guide, ordered up by MassDOT and prepared by Toole Design Group, will offer the most detailed engineering-level guidance yet published in the United States for how to build safe, comfortable protected bike lanes and intersections.

“It’ll be a good resource for all 50 states,” said Bill Schultheiss, a Toole staffer who worked on the project. “I think it’ll put some pressure on other states to step up.”

There are lots of details to get excited about in the new design guide, which is scheduled for release at MassDOT’s Moving Together conference on November 4. But maybe the most important is a set of detailed recommendations for protected intersections, the fast-spreading design, based on Dutch streets, that can improve intersection safety for protected and unprotected bike lanes alike.

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Cool Boston-Area Infrastructure That’d Be Great to See in Chicago


Pete Stidman by the Cambridge bike counter. Why can’t we get one of these on Milwaukee? Photo: John Greenfield

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

When Pete Stidman, the former director of the Boston Cyclists Union, visited Chicago for a bike conference a couple of summers ago, I let him crash on my futon. When I visited Beantown last month, Stidman, who’s now working as the active transportation specialist at a planning firm, returned the favor by taking me on a bicycle tour of the area’s burgeoning bike network.

Boston, a city of 655,884 residents (4,628,910 metro) has come a long way since 1999, when Bicycling Magazine ranked it as the nation’s worst city for biking. When I meet up with Stidman at the lovely Brewer Fountain in Boston Common, the city’s biggest downtown green space, he explains that much of the blame for that title can be traced to the city’s then-large population of “vehicular cyclists.”

Vehicular cyclists are cult followers of John Forester, author of the book “Effective Cycling” and son of “The African Queen” writer C.S. Forester. John preaches that cyclists are safest when they operate like drivers, pedaling in the center of the lane. Of course, most people aren’t willing or able to bike twenty miles per hour to keep up with cars, but Boston’s Foresterites have actively lobbied against installing bike lanes, arguing that they’re unnecessary and, paradoxically, dangerous.

Stidman says that, in 2004, the Livable Streets Alliance formed and, in 2010, the cyclists union launched, and these groups have advocated for street designs that work for all users, of all ages and abilities. “We now have a bike czar, and it’s clear that Mayor Marty Walsh is listening to his constituents who want to see more bike lanes.” There’s currently a proposal for the Connect Historic Boston Bike Trail, a network of curb-protected lanes that would encircle the downtown peninsula.


Downtown Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

I check out a cycle from the city’s Hubway bike-share system, which uses the same equipment as Divvy, and we’re off. We roll through Downtown Crossing, a brick-lined pedestrian mall, but Stidman points out that few people are hanging out here because there’s almost no place to sit. “During Boston’s darker days [of white flight], benches were taken out, and a lot of people were pushing for getting rid of places to hang out—they thought they attracted the wrong element.”

Thankfully, that trend has reversed. Boston City Hall now recently put in Astroturf, seating and yard games as an invitation to linger. And when we get to our next stop, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, there are dozens of people relaxing in red Adirondack chairs on the lush lawn. This network of parkland, named for JFK’s mom, winds for about a half mile around the east side of the peninsula, occupying land where the double-decker Central Highway once stood. The massive Big Dig project, completed in 2008, moved the expressway underground.


Adirondack chairs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, formerly a bi-level expressway. Photo: John Greenfield

While the Big Dig was originally supposed to cost $2.8 billion, the estimated final cost will be $22 billion. Stidman has mixed feelings about the expense, but he says it’s a hugely positive thing that there’s no longer a highway cutting through the middle of Boston, and that it has a ton of beautiful new public space that’s well programmed with seating, art and other amenities.

I’m particularly amazed by Janet Echelman’s aerial sculpture “As If It Were Already Here,” a complex network of rainbow-colored ropes that soars 600 feet above the street. Just think what we could do with all the extra land if Chicago launched a similar—but much cheaper—project to cap the Kennedy Expressway in the West Loop.


Janet Echelman’s “As If It Were Already Here” above the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Next we roll by the gray complex immortalized by local band The Modern Lovers’ song about rocking “at the Government Center / To make the secretaries feel better / When they put the stamps on the letters.” Stidman tells me that Mayor Walsh unsuccessfully proposed a bill to get the group’s song “Roadrunner,” about cruising Massachusetts highways late at night, declared the official state rock song.

We cross the Longfellow Bridge into Cambridge, the home of Harvard and MIT, where Stidman points out a Copenhagen-style bike counter erected in the middle of a boulevard—858 cyclists have passed by today. It would be great to get one of these devices installed in Chicago’s Wicker Park, next to the Milwaukee Avenue “Hipster Highway.” That would be helpful for justifying the removal of car parking from one side of the street to make room for protected bike lanes.

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