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Posts from the "Infrastructure" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Bike and Ped Facilities on the South Side and in the Loop

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Bike traffic in the new Grand BBL during the evening rush. Photo: John Greenfield

As the construction season winds down, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been busy building a number of new bikeways and pedestrian facilities. We’ll get you up to speed on these with a few Eye on the Street posts in the near future.

CDOT recently striped buffered bike lanes on a .6-mile stretch of Pershing from King to Oakwood. Unlike many new BBLs that involved upgrading existing, non-buffered lanes, these were put in on a section of road that formerly had no bikeway at all.

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The wide BBLs on Oakwood replaced excess travel lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Best of all, the Pershing lanes involve a road diet to what was formerly a de facto four-lane street. The new lanes, with very wide buffers, occupy the excess road width, which calms traffic and shortens pedestrian crossing distances. Since the city striped buffered lanes on Oakwood from Pershing to the Lakefront Trail earlier this year as part of a repaving project, you can now get from King to the lakefront entirely on BBLs.

Speaking of King, while scouting out facilities last Sunday morning, I passed by the historic South Park Baptist Church, 3722 South King. You may recall that the city originally proposed installing protected bike lanes on King from 26th to 51st. However, largely due to feedback from local clergy, who were concerned that the lanes would impact church parking, CDOT installed buffered lanes here instead.

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The BBLs by South Park Baptist Church fill up with cars on Sundays. Photo: John Greenfield

In various parts of the city, it’s common for parishioners to park in travel lanes along boulevards on Sundays. While this longstanding practice is technically illegal, aldermen generally condone it. Such was the case when I passed by South Park — dozens of cars were parked in the BBLs. Fortunately, this situation only exists for a few hours a week, and traffic on King is usually light on Sundays.

A couple miles north, at 18th and Calumet, the city has eliminated an annoying barrier for cyclists. There’s an underpass and pedestrian bridge here that leads over railroad tracks to Soldier Field and the lakefront, but there was previously no curb cut to access the path to the underpass from the street.

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When Will the Trib Get to the Bottom of Chicago’s Traffic Violence Problem?

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Members of the Trib’s investigative reporting team at Tuesday’s discussion. Jim Webb is on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

Tuesday night, the Chicago Tribune hosted a discussion of its red light camera coverage with members of its investigative reporting team. During the Q & A session, I noted that 48 pedestrians were killed and 398 were seriously injured in Chicago in 2012, the most recent year that we have accurate data for. “It doesn’t seem like you guys have done much coverage about what can be done to address Chicago’s crash epidemic,” I said. “Are there any plans for a multi-part series to address this issue?”

“The issue isn’t really whether or not there’s a pedestrian fatality problem in Chicago,” responded Jim Webb, political editor for Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. “The issue is what the city [should do] about the pedestrian fatality problem.” Webb asserted that while Mayor Emanuel has touted the safety benefits of red light and speed cameras, the paper has found that the cams aren’t as beneficial as advertised.

Afterwards, Webb sent me a couple of links to Tribune stories questioning the effectiveness of traffic cameras in reducing crashes. A November 2011 piece reported that fewer than half of Chicago’s 251 pedestrian fatalities between 2005 and 2009 occurred within “safety zones” — the areas near schools and parks where the speed cams can legally be installed. A March 2012 article reported that Emanuel had handed reporters a study that overstated the effectiveness of existing red light cameras in reducing deaths at Chicago intersections.

In both cases, City Hall should have conveyed the safety effect of cameras better, but the Trib also neglected to give readers an accurate picture of the existing research. The fact that automated traffic enforcement saves lives is settled science, and yet the Trib still frames it as a matter of ”camera advocates” debating “critics.” Reading the Trib’s reporting on the subject, you would think the enforcement cameras are a purely speculative venture with no proven track record.

To the contrary, a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light camera programs in 14 large cities reduced the rate of fatal red light running crashes by 24 percent. And a 2010 review of 28 studies of automated speed enforcement programs found they were uniformly successful in decreasing speeding and fatality rates.

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Road Diet Curbs Lawrence Avenue’s Dangerous Mile

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Refuge islands allow pedestrians to cross the street one lane at a time. Bump-outs, in the background, shorten the distance across the street and reduce the chance that motorists will park in the crosswalk. Photo: John Greenfield

The one mile of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western avenues, through the Ravenswood neighborhood, went on a road diet this year. The diet slimmed Lawrence from four to two travel lanes, and used the extra space to create room for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extensive landscaping. The streetscape project right-sized this stretch of Lawrence, bringing it in line with the two-lane segments both west of Western and east of Ashland.

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11 people were injured in pedestrian crashes at Lawrence and Damen avenues, near McPherson elementary school and the Levy senior center. Source: IDOT, via ChicagoCrashes.org

“Road diets” are a widely accepted method to make streets safer, and (as on Lawrence) are often combined with other safety-enhancing streetscape improvements like bump-outs and median pedestrian refuges. Just the road diet, though, can be enough to reduce speeding by drivers and cut the number of crashes and injuries, while also opening up space for uses like bike lanes, street trees, and sidewalk cafés.

The road diet on Lawrence will improve the safety of a notoriously dangerous street. Traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation tells us that from 2005 to 2012, 72 people were injured in pedestrian-car crashes within the nine blocks (just over one mile) of Lawrence between Clark and Western avenues.

That means that there have been many more pedestrian-car crashes along this stretch of Lawrence than on comparable streets: This stretch of Lawrence has 11 times more injuries from crashes than the average mile of street in Chicago.

Lawrence even has many more injuries than comparable busy arterial streets. 60 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes occurred on this previously four-lane stretch of Lawrence than on the one-mile stretch to its west through Albany Park. There were even 54 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes on the dangerous mile of Lawrence than on a comparable one-mile stretch of Halsted, between Grand and Van Buren through Greektown. That part of Halsted carries a similar number of cars on its two lanes, but probably sees more pedestrians due to its thriving shops and nightlife.

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CDOT Announces Proposed Divvy Locations for 33rd Ward

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Proposed 33rd Ward Divvy locations.

At the 33rd Ward transportation committee meeting last Thursday, deputy transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel presented the locations for nine proposed Divvy stations in the Northwest Side district. Alderman Deb Mell has approved all of the spots.

The locations include the three westernmost Brown Line stations and two sites near Horner Park, plus locations near Montrose/Kedzie, Irving Park/Kedzie, Elston/Addison/Kedzie, and Elston/Belmont/California. These would be installed in March, at the earliest. Installation of one of the proposed Horner Park stations, at the northeast corner of Irving Park/California, may conflict with riverbank restoration work at the park, so CDOT and the ward are looking for an alternative location.

Wiedel showed a map of the locations, as well as renderings of how each station would be oriented. In a few cases, the stations will replace metered parking spots. These metered spaces will be moved elsewhere in the ward, in keeping with the city’s parking contract.

One constituent suggested relocating the proposed Divvy station that would serve the Brown Line’s Kimball stop. The bike-share station would be installed in the street on the south side of Lawrence, just east of Christiana.

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CDOT plans to install a Divvy station to the left of this bus stop at Lawrence/Christiana. Image: Google Streetview

Currently, the north-south crosswalk for this T-shaped intersection runs right into an eastbound bus stop for the #81 Lawrence bus, so buses often block the crosswalk. To address this problem, the resident suggested moving the bus stop east of Christiana, to where the Divvy station is proposed. The bike-share station could then be placed where the bus stop is now.

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95 Problems: A Walk Down the South Side’s Most Notorious “Stroad”

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Memorials to the people who died in the Oak Lawn crash. Photo: John Greenfield

[A version of this article also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

“I avoid 95th Street as much as possible for my safety and sanity,” said Beverly resident and Streetsblog contributor Anne Alt, in the wake of a horrific multi-car crash on the massive road earlier this month. This senseless disaster in west suburban Oak Lawn injured almost a dozen people and killed three, including two nuns.

On Sunday, October 5, at around 4:30 p.m., witnesses noticed retired contractor Edward Carthans, eighty-one, slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup near 95th and Western, police said. Carthans refused help and instead sped west on 95th, colliding with three cars at Keeler. He kept driving, blew a red light at Cicero, and then veered into the eastbound lanes, causing an eleven-car pile-up. After his truck became airborne, he was killed, along with Sister Jean Stickney, 86, and Sister Kab Kyoung Kim, 48, who were driving home from a shopping trip.

“It’s a miracle that we don’t have serious crashes on 95th more often than we do,” Alt commented on Streetsblog. She noted that much of 95th is a “stroad,” a street/road hybrid with straight geometry and multiple, wide lanes that encourage highway speeds within populated areas. “The mix of congestion and speeding — depending on location and time of day — can be quite scary, even when the situation isn’t as extreme as what happened on Sunday.”

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95th Street near the Oak Lawn Metra stop. Photo: John Greenfield

Before this tragedy occurred, I was already planning to walk the entire length of 95th in Chicago. So far, I’ve hiked more than a dozen streets, as part of my ongoing quest to see as much of the city on foot as possible. After 19th Ward Alderman Matthew O’Shea recently blamed Beverly’s lackluster retail scene on a supposed dearth of parking along 95th, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance suggested I stroll the 7.5-mile street. It’s one of the least pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares in town, but I’m never one to say no to a sustainable transportation challenge.

When I get off Metra’s Southwest Service line in Oak Lawn on a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon, I gaze at the bleak, seven-lane expanse of 95th and wonder if I’d bitten off more than I can chew. As I trudge east through several blocks of big-box retail, I encounter almost no pedestrians. There are a handful of people on bikes, but they’re all riding on the sidewalk.

I get an eerie feeling as I approach 95th and Cicero, the gigantic intersection where Carthan’s trail of destruction ended. Next to an empty storefront, there are two white, wooden crosses for Stickney and Kim, plus a red, wooden heart for Carthans. Stuffed animals and flowers are scattered at the bases of the memorials, and nearby someone has lit a votive candle for Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations. A wide groove, between the sidewalk and the curb, is still filled with shattered auto glass.

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Spruced-Up California Station Reopens After Six-Week Closure

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CTA Chairman Terry Peterson, State Senator Iris Martinez, Emanuel, Borggren, Durbin, and Claypool. Photo: Lisa Phillips.

The freshly renovated California station on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch reopened today after being closed for six weeks, an interminable wait for locals who rely on the train stop. Originally opened in 1895, the station recently received both structural and cosmetic improvements. These include a larger building footprint, refurbished walls, stairs, and platforms, new lights and signs, and more bike racks.

California is one of 13 stations on the O’Hare Branch, from Grand to Cumberland, that are being rehabbed as part of the CTA’s $492 million “Your New Blue” initiative, which also includes repairs to aging signals, power systems, and tracks. Launched nine months ago, the project is the largest investment in the Blue Line since it was extended to the airport in 1984. The branch currently carries about 80,000 riders each weekday.

Speaking at the California stop’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning, CTA President Forrest Claypool boasted that the station rehab was completed on time and on budget. He added that the Blue Line work will “not only make the [riding] experience more comfortable, but also ultimately take ten minutes off the commute to O’Hare Airport from downtown and back.” Claypool noted that the faster travel times will be a boon for local commuters, as well as tourists coming into the city from O’Hare.

“All of this is part of an unprecedented $5 billion CTA modernization plan launched by Mayor Emanuel in 2011, and supported staunchly and consistently by Governor Quinn and Senator Durbin,” Claypool added. “It’s been a true partnership from the very beginning between the state and city… demonstrating that modern, effective mass transit is worth the investment — because of the jobs, and because of the [improvement to] quality of life in neighborhoods like Logan Square.”

Erica Borggren, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, speaking on behalf of Governor Pat Quinn, argued that investing in transit helps the city and state stay globally competitive. She promised that the current work is a harbinger of more such investments to come during a third term for Quinn, who hopes to be reelected on November 4.

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A New Bike Network Takes Shape, and Atlantans Turn Out in Droves

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

The capital of the New South is working on its latest “highway” network. This one is going to be a lot quieter.

The massive Beltline trail and an impressive grid of protected lanes that will connect the trail system to key urban destinations are poised to remake transportation in the city that anchors the country’s ninth-largest metro area. Striving for Mayor Kasim Reed’s goal of making Atlanta one of the country’s top ten cities for biking, Atlantans have shown their enthusiasm with their feet: An estimated 95,000 to 106,000 people attended the open-streets event Atlanta Streets Alive on September 28 — shattering the previous record by at least 12,000 people.

For comparison’s sake, Portland’s Sunday Parkways festivals also set an attendance record in 2014 — by drawing 109,000 attendees to all five events combined.

As the video above shows, Atlanta’s embrace of open streets is part of a bigger shift in a city that’s shaking off its old “Sprawlville, USA” image with a combination of new housing and bike and transit infrastructure.

“It’s really shifting the way people think about living in the City of Atlanta,” says Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “The focus is on the core of the city.”

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Making It Easier to Get to the Museum Campus Without a Car

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Residents asked for protected bike lanes near the Museum Campus at the meeting.

It’s already a bit of a hassle to get to and around Chicago’s Museum Campus, which includes the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field. In light of plans to build the Lucas Museum, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s goal to increase tourism from 49 million visitors last year to 55 million in 2020, the problem could get worse.

This summer, the mayor created the Museum Campus Transportation Task Force to review how people currently get to the campus and travel between the attractions, as well as to propose transportation improvements. The Metropolitan Planning Council is heading up the task force, which also includes city agencies, the leadership of the four main campus amenities, and nearby neighborhood groups.

MPC president MarySue Barrett said Emanuel gave the task force 90 days to finish the study. The report will serve as the transportation component of the Chicago Park District’s long-term Framework Plan. Plans for the Lucas Museum were announced after the task force convened. “Access has been troublesome for a while before that,” Barrett noted.

“This is the first time there’s been planning for the museum campus since the relocation of Lake Shore Drive,” Barrett said. The northbound lanes of the highway, which formerly ran between the Field and the Shedd, were moved west of the football stadium in the late 1990s, which allowed for the creation of the campus. The budget for that project didn’t “have enough give at the time,” Barrett said, for the kind of transportation planning and improvements the task force is now considering.

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MarySue Barrett (right) co-chairs the task force with Chicago Chief Operating Officer Joe Deal (left).

Barrett said that the first step in the task force’s research process is to collect public input and information from the dozen involved organizations. “There are five million visitors annually to the Shedd, Adler, and Field Museums,” she said, adding that they’re trying to get input from three types of visitors: Chicagoans, suburbanites, and visitors from outside the region. “We’re looking at the museums’ attendance surveys to see how people arrive,” she said.

To brainstorm ideas for improving access to the museum campus, MPC is hosting three public meetings, the first of which was held yesterday evening at their downtown offices. See below for details on the two remaining events. The public is also encouraged to submit ideas and concerns about campus transportation issues online.

Roughly 70 people attended last night’s session. Issues ranged from security measures during special events that block park access days after the event, to police hassling pedicabbers when they offer Bears fans rides to transit stations or bars. Attendees were invited to sketch out their ideas on maps. Some South Loop residents highlighted streets where they’d like to see protected bike lanes.

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Active Trans Launches a New Crusade Against Dangerous Intersections

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McCormick and Touhy in Skokie was ranked the worst intersection for pedestrians in suburban Cook County. Image: Google Maps

The Active Transportation Alliance was instrumental in creating the Transit Future campaign, with the goal of creating a dedicated funding source for regional transit. Now they’re also pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure, while raising awareness of Chicagoland’s many hazardous intersections, with their new Safe Crossings initiative.

“It’s really important that we recognize the challenges that pedestrians face across the region,” Active Trans’ director of campaigns, Kyle Whitehead, told me. “People tend to assume that these dangerous and difficult intersections are going to stay that way. We want people to realize that there are proven solutions to address these issues. If we can raise awareness and muster resources, there’s the potential to solve these problems throughout the region.”

This morning, Active Trans released a list of ten of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Chicago, and ten of the most hazardous junctions in suburban Cook County. Topping the urban list is the notoriously chaotic North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park, with 43 reported pedestrian and bike crashes between 2006 and 2012. In the ‘burbs, the worst-ranked junction is Skokie’s McCormick and Touhy intersection, where two six-lane roads cross next to the North Shore Channel Trail bike-and-pedestrian path.

The crash data, provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, was only one of the factors Active Trans used to compile the lists. They also incorporated feedback from their planning and outreach staff, plus public input. The group received more than 800 responses to an online survey that was posted on their blog, shared via social media, and emailed to members. Here are the full lists:

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Englewood Flyover Now Smoothing Out South Side Metra Rides

The Englewood Flyover train bridge unofficially opened three weeks ago, carrying test trains along the Metra Rock Island District tracts. The mile-long flyover, near 63rd Street and Wentworth Avenue, is one of the largest projects within CREATE, a larger program to untangle railroad flows around Chicago. The $141 million project could eliminate 7,500 hours of Metra delays each year that stem from this busy intersection, which sees 78 Metra, 60 freight, and 14 Amtrak trains every day.

Anne Alt is a regular rider of the Rock Island line between Beverly and the Loop. (Anne works for FK Law Illinois, a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor.) Alt described the delays on her commute as erratic: “I can go weeks or months without seeing any delays there, and then go two or three days in a row where my train waits anywhere from a few minutes, to 10 or 15,” an appreciable amount on a half-hour ride. Metra’s July delay report [PDF] listed multiple delays at the Englewood interlocking, varying from five to 15 minutes long.

Metra will be the only user of the Englewood Flyover, sending its Rock Island trains soaring over three previously intersecting tracks. Metra will soon add a third track to the flyover for SouthWest Service trains, after another CREATE project is constructed. That flyover [PDF], at 75th Street and Normal Avenue, will allow SWS trains to head to downtown Chicago on the RID tracks. The switch would also send SWS trains into LaSalle Street Station rather than Union Station, freeing up room at Union Station for other Metra lines and for Amtrak service to Michigan and Missouri.

Alt said that her first impression of the new flyover was that it “feels real solid.” She added, “I’m really hoping that the flyover will help reduce weekend delays, which often make it difficult to be on time for things unless I leave ridiculously early (like a couple of hours early) or take the [CTA] Red Line.”

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