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CDOT Proposes Chicago’s First Curb-Separated Bike Lane On Clybourn

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A Streetmix graphic showing the protected bike lane that would run from Halsted to Division, or in a secondary proposal, a shorter segment from Halsted to Larrabee. Image: CDOT

The Chicago Department of Transportation presented a proposal last night to build curb-separated bike lanes on each side of Clybourn, from Halsted to Division Streets, and to reconfigure the oversized intersection where Clybourn meets Division, Sedgwick, and Orleans in front of Seward Park.

CDOT bikeways engineer and project manager Nate Roseberry explained that Clybourn is part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s ongoing protected bike lanes feasibility study, which will test many elements of the design. Its goals, he said, are to reduce crashes, increase options for how people get around, and evaluate new design features. Those features include two infrastructure features new to Chicago: a curb separating the bike lanes from the auto travel lanes, which at three feet wide will also provide an opportunity for rain gardens; and a bus stop island, where bicyclists will go up and behind the bus stop.

Roseberry said that the proposal “was by no means complete,” and that he wanted to listen to feedback from a group of keen and curious neighbors. Many people who bike through the area also gave their input.

27th Ward Alderman Burnett kicked off the meeting by saying the “state is allowing the city to propose” the first protected bike lane on a state route. In 2011, IDOT banned protected bike lanes on state routes, preventing CDOT from extending the Jackson protected bike lane where the street comes under state jurisdiction, east of Ogden Avenue.

Burnett said the proposal is intended to “stop the danger of bikes and cars from running into each other.” He recalled that the death of 26-year-old Bobby Cann, who was bicycling on Clybourn at Larrabee, “enhanced the conversation” about safety on the street. Read more…

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Davis Street Disagreement Tables Evanston Bike Plan Progress

Evanston bike plan by Melissa

A map of proposed bike routes in north Evanston, showing the “comfortable bike corridors” along Church and Davis, just west of downtown Evanston.

Last year, the City of Evanston started work on a 2014 Bicycle Plan Update [PDF], envisioning further improvements in its cycling infrastructure. The previous bicycle plan, adopted in 2003, resulted in 38 miles of bicycle facilities and a marked increase in bicycle ridership. The new plan will bring a new focus on “comfortable bike corridors” along Evanston’s major streets, like Howard, Emerson, Greenleaf, Lincoln, Harrison, and Central — and along the intersecting side streets of Hinman, Chicago, Maple, Orrington and Crawford. The city estimates the construction cost of these comfortable corridors at $4 million, and hopes that funding will come from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program or other state and federal grant programs.

Although the plan update is largely complete, residents concerned with topics like parking and aesthetics have temporarily tabled the plan before the City Council.

On Saturday, the Public Works Department, along with the contractor, TY Lin, hosted an open house for residents that focused on their Sheridan Road proposal [PDF]. The Public Works Department discussed their proposal, and received feedback from participants. A common theme throughout the feedback was that removing parking lanes might cause backlash from drivers.

Other suggestions included wider bike lanes that would permit safer passing, as well as better connectivity from the Green Bay Trail through downtown to Sheridan. Sharon Feigon, an Evanston resident for over thirty years, noted that while conditions have improved since 2003, more work needs to be done. She said that “riding through Wicker Park was safer than in Evanston,” and is thrilled that Evanston is pursuing the Complete Streets concept.

A police officer, and daily bike commuter, who lives in Evanston also attended. Her concern with the new plan was that, while it improves infrastructure and will likely increase ridership, what’s really necessary is more education for both cyclists and drivers. The officer also supported separating driving and biking lanes. When asked about traffic law enforcement, and if it will be increased, the officer replied that the police are limited by manpower — but when residents call in, police are dispatched quickly to react and enforce the law for all parties.

On Monday night, the Evanston City Council’s meeting featured discussion of the Bike Plan on the agenda. Nearly all of the over 20 public comments addressed the bike plan, continuing for 45 minutes. The comments were primarily in favor of the bike plan, though several repeated concerns about its effects on the historic district along Davis Street, near Asbury.

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Metra Ridership Rising Unevenly; Development Could Maximize Its Potential

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Transit-oriented development has transformed downtown Arlington Heights. Photo: JB

Start with the good news: Ridership on Metra, Chicagoland’s main commuter rail service, has grown almost 14 percent over the last ten years. It remains near the all-time high it reached in 2008, just before the Great Recession. On any given weekday, Metra provides nearly 300,000 rides across its 11 lines, or roughly as many as the CTA’s Brown and Blue lines put together. Some lines have even continued to grow, surpassing their 2008 ridership, notably the North Central Service running northwest to Antioch, and the SouthWest Service through Ashburn and Orland Park to Manhattan. Of Metra’s more-established lines, the best performer since 2008 has been the Union Pacific Northwest line, which runs through towns like Arlington Heights (pictured above) and Des Plaines that have pursued Transit Oriented Development in their downtowns.

But in other ways, the picture isn’t so rosy. Overall, Metra ridership has stagnated for the last six years, even as CTA rail ridership has grown 16 percent over the same period. More alarming, ridership on several lines — including the Metra Electric and Rock Island, which have rapid-transit-like stop spacing every half-mile through large parts of the city that lack “L” access — was falling even before the recession.

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Ridership change on Metra lines from 2004-2014 and 2008-2014.

Unfortunately, Metra doesn’t provide up-to-date information on ridership by stop, which makes more thorough analysis impossible. (The freshest station-level data available is from 2006.) But the line data is enough to see some patterns. Unsurprisingly, many services lucky enough to go through high-growth neighborhoods and suburbs have the strongest ridership. Conversely, routes that pass mostly through parts of Chicagoland that have lost population are mostly struggling.

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Metra Electric trains run down the middle of 71st Street in South Shore, the densest community area on the South Side. Photo: David Wilson

That includes Metra Electric and Rock Island, which have the potential to serve as transit backbones through much of the South Side, but currently provide extremely spotty off-peak service. Both lines go through promising territory: Metra Electric’s main line runs from downtown through the South Side’s largest employment hub, Hyde Park, and one branch continues through dense neighborhoods along the south lakefront all the way to 93rd Street. Rock Island stops at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then makes stops every half-mile at attractive and walkable commercial districts in thriving Beverly and Morgan Park. Read more…

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Central Loop BRT Will Skimp On Key “Rapid” Features

Station platforms would have level boarding, a feature that helps to decrease dwell time. Image: CDOT

Station platforms would have level boarding, a feature that helps to speed bus boarding. Image: CDOT/CTA

The Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project will launch without key features that distinguish BRT from conventional bus service. The busways, which the Chicago Department of Transportation will begin building later this year, will include most of BRT’s concrete features, like high-level bus-boarding platforms and dedicated lanes. These features will undoubtedly speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes as they traverse the Loop.

However, key service improvements, which have been proven to speed up buses elsewhere, will only be “tested” in 2015, and their eventual adoption is far from certain. The initial absence of these features, namely off-board fare collection and signal priority, will knock Central Loop BRT down to a mere “basic” BRT system, using the methodology behind a new international standard meant to encourage effective, quality BRT.

At a May event, sources said that CDOT and CTA will “test” off-board fare collection at only one of the system’s eight on-street stations. At all other stations, riders will pay on the bus, one at a time, just like they now do on all CTA buses. CDOT would not comment on what the test will entail, how long the test will run, or how it will be evaluated. A test involving just one station, out of hundreds of bus stops along the routes, could confuse customers even more than a test at all eight BRT stations — and will offer only minimal travel time savings.

Collecting fares at the stations, before passengers board the bus, has been proven in several other cities to substantially reduce “dwell time,” or how long a bus waits at stops. In New York City, BRT features were added one at a time along the M34 route across Midtown Manhattan, which runs past the Empire State Building and Macy’s. When just prepaid boarding was added, total travel time for the entire route fell 10 percent. On Manhattan’s first BRT route, off-board fare collection alone reduced dwell times on New York City’s M15 Select Bus Service route by 36 percent.

Even though San Francisco hasn’t yet implemented any form of BRT, the city’s transit agency recently adopted “all-door boarding” — allowing passengers who’ve already paid (and have a valid transfer slip) or who will pay with a Clipper card (a contactless fare card, like a Ventra card or ticket) to enter buses through the rear door. As a result, dwell times fell by four seconds per stop, on average.

Another key technology that keeps BRT routes moving through heavily congested areas like the Loop is transit signal priority. Signal priority takes many forms, but the most far-reaching forms won’t be part of Central Loop BRT. Last year, CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that full transit signal priority, which re-programs the signaling system to better accommodate buses, won’t be included in Central Loop BRT. The J14 Jeffery Jump has signal priority as it travels through the South Shore neighborhood, but Scales said this technology is more appropriate for neighborhoods’ bus stop spacing than in the “dense grid of the Loop.” Sources also say that signal pre-emption, which allows buses to override normal signals, also won’t be used in Central Loop BRT.

Central Loop BRT will, however, include queue jumps — bus-only signals that turn green a few seconds before the other signals, and give buses a head start on other traffic where there’s no bus lane ahead. These work somewhat like leading pedestrian intervals, which have been added to many intersections around Chicago and give pedestrians a slight head start before turning drivers get a green light.

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Quinn Borrows $1.1 Billion to Keep IDOT’s Steamrollers Going

Governor Quinn Signs $1.1 Billion   Capital Construction Bill

Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill in front of workers at the Circle Interchange construction site today. Photo: IDOT

Governor Pat Quinn signed two bills today that allow the state to issue $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds to spend on highway resurfacing, widening, and bridge repair. The bills explicitly exclude transit from the new funds, and while they don’t seem to exclude bike lanes, trails, or sidewalks, all of the funds are already obligated to car-centric road projects [PDF].

Erica Borggren, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a press release, “This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs.”

What the economy and our transportation system also need is an efficient and sustainable way for users to pay the system’s ongoing costs — rather than a stopgap that socks future taxpayers, whether transit riders or pedestrians or drivers, with big loan payments. Keep in mind that today, Illinois has the country’s worst credit rating, and thus pays the highest interest rate of any state — 42 percent more interest than usual.

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported that “the plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to study where the money would go.” The answer, as with most anything related to IDOT spending, is “overwhelmingly Downstate.”

Just over four percent of the funds will be spent in Chicago, home to 22 percent of the state’s population. Most of that will go to reconstruct and replace the bridges and viaducts on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), between the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) and South Lake Shore Drive. $700,000 will be spent to resurface 0.6 miles of South Michigan Avenue in Washington Park.

Just under 37 percent of the funds will be spent in the six-county Chicagoland area, and the majority of that will go to exurbs and rural areas. This might prove convenient for Quinn during an election year, especially given the dwindling fund balance in his signature “Illinois Jobs Now!” program. The program has just $115 million left to spend, according to IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin.

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Altgeld Gardens Residents Campaigning for Sidewalk on 130th Street

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Deloris Lucas and Victor Maurice Flemings Sr. at Rosebud Farm Stand on 130th Street. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Altgeld Gardens is really secluded,” Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Bell recently told me. “It’s like its own city.” The area, which includes the housing project of the same name, plus the Concordia Place, Riverside Village and Golden Gate subdivisions, is located by a bend in the Calumet River on the Far South Side, surrounded by industrial land and isolated from other neighborhoods.

Bell has been assisting the local Safety Transportation Advisory Council, residents who want to improve conditions for walking, biking and transit use. “They have a lot of issues with the built environment, like missing sidewalks and crosswalks,” she said. “They’re really underserved.”

Deloris Lucas, a former Chicago Public Schools employee and longtime Golden Gate resident who’s spearheading the council, has been working hard to change that. In particular, she’s upset that 130th Street, the interstate-like roadway that walls in the community from the north, has no sidewalk. That forces people walking to Rosebud Farm Stand, the area’s only source for fresh produce and healthy groceries, from the west, to trudge along a narrow, muddy dirt trail by the side of the road. The store is located at 525 East 130th.

The path is a textbook example of a “desire line,” urban planning lingo for a trail blazed by pedestrians who want to walk somewhere, but haven’t been provided with a sidewalk that would allow them to do it in safety, comfort and dignity. To add insult to injury, drainage issues in the market’s parking lot create a permanent pond that pedestrians have to detour around.

Altgeld Gardens was built in 1945 to provide housing for African-American vets returning from World War II, and named after John Peter Altgeld, the Illinois governor who pardoned three of the Haymarket Affair defendants. “These communities were established decades ago,” Lucas told me when I met her at a local youth center last week. “It’s 2014, and you would think that the neighborhood would have been made safer by now. To me, it’s appalling that people still have to walk through the dirt to get to the store.”

To start organizing for sidewalks and other improvements, Lucas and her neighbors formed the STAC in August 2013, with the motto “Safety Is Our First Priority.” Last November, they partnered with Active Trans and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to do a walkability assessment in the neighborhood. The residents surveyed the area, taking inventory of unsafe walking conditions and brainstorming ways to improve transportation access.

In addition to adding a sidewalk on the south side of 130th between Indiana and Ellis avenues, the STAC members want to install “Stop for Pedestrians” signs at key intersections. They also hope to get more high-visibility crosswalks striped, especially near schools, plus speed humps, pedestrian-refuge islands and wheelchair ramps. And, in an area where many people rely on the bus in order to travel outside their neighborhood, more bus shelters are needed—right now there are only two.

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Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways

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Drivers continue to respect the parking ban on Milwaukee, so there’s sufficient space for northbound cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along, creating new buffered and protected bike lanes this summer. Recently, new stretches of buffered lanes were striped striped in Noble Square, on Noble between Erie and Augusta, and downtown, on Upper Randolph between Michigan and the bike station.

Before I went to check out a couple of new stretches of buffered lanes this morning, I stopped by the construction bottleneck on Milwaukee north of North. I was pleasantly surprised to see that paper “No Parking” signs are still affixed to poles on the east side of the block, and drivers seem to be respecting them. As a result, there’s sufficient road width for north- and southbound cyclists to share the road with motorists fairly safely.

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Southbound cyclists on Milwaukee have more breathing room now. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, Streetsbog reader Andrew Scalise sent us a photo of a tow truck enforcing the parking ban, which is a likely factor in the compliance by drivers. There are also some safety cones sitting in the gutter.

Next, I dropped by Noble, which now has buttery-smooth new asphalt. Noble has always been a good biking street, but the addition of the good pavement and buffered lanes should make it an even more popular route. The lanes have dead space striped on the right side to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.

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Looking north on Noble by Eckhardt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Noble connects Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, and Erie, a good east-west connection between Ukrainian Village and River West. The new lanes would be even more useful if CDOT striped a contraflow lane on the short, one-way northbound block of Noble between Augusta and Milwaukee.

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

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Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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Cost Isn’t the Issue With Palmer Square Speed Tables, NIMBYs Are

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Midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month, a DNAinfo.com article drew attention to a new campaign to improve pedestrian safety at Palmer Square by installing raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. Unfortunately, factual errors in the piece left the impression that raised crosswalks would be an expensive solution that doesn’t have the Chicago Department of Transportation’s approval. It turns out that speed tables would be quite affordable, and CDOT first proposed adding them years ago. Other changes to the roadway could further discourage speeding and enhance the park – if only the park’s neighbors would allow them.

Ever since Palmer Square got new playground equipment and a soft-surface track in 2009, the green space has become increasingly popular with families and other Logan Square residents seeking recreation and relaxation. However, the current street layout encourages fast driving, which endangers people crossing to the park, as well as cyclists on Palmer Boulevard.

The eastbound portion of the boulevard runs south of the oval-shaped park, with two travel lanes plus a bike lane. Stop signs at the three-way intersections of Palmer and Albany Avenue, as well as Palmer and Whipple Street, help to calm motorized traffic.

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On the south side of the park, stop signs at Albany and Whipple help slow down cars. Photo: John Greenfield

However, on the north side of the green space, there are three westbound travel lanes, plus a bike lane. Albany and Whipple don’t continue north of the park, so there are no intersections or stop signs on the quarter-mile stretch between Sacramento and Kedzie boulevards, which makes it easy for drivers to pick up speed.

While there are marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square where Albany and Whipple would be, the three travel lanes create long crossing distances and the so-called “multiple threat” scenario. Even if one driver obeys the law by stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, there’s no guarantee that the motorist in the next lane will do so.

Two churches near the square encourage their parishioners to park in the central lane on the north side of the green space during services and special events. That’s technically illegal, but has been condoned by the local aldermen in the past. This practice further endangers pedestrians, because it makes it more difficult for westbound drivers to see people crossing the street.

As DNAinfo reported, residents have launched an online petition calling for installing raised crosswalks on the northern portion of the boulevard at Albany and Whipple. “A park designed for and frequented by very small children, residential homes and a church borders this portion of the street,” the petition reads. “A school also borders the park and school children often utilize the park for physical education and after school programs. The speeding traffic on the street creates a grave safety hazard.”

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Streeterville Residents Redefine Their Own Bit of Lake Shore Drive

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A plan view shows a green shoreline between Navy Pier and North Avenue, in place of the current concrete. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

John Krause isn’t the only north lakefront resident who realizes that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s “Redefine The Drive” reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive is a chance to reinvent how the city meets the shore and the street.

In a bid to add more green space in Streeterville, a high-rise downtown neighborhood with with just a few parks, residents commissioned local architecture firm VOA Associates to redesign the area’s lakefront. The proposal has been in the works since 2006, according to DNAinfo, and was revealed at a public meeting last month.

The proposal substantially widens the shoreline park, expands Oak Street and Ohio Street Beaches, and submerges Lake Shore Drive below parkland at both Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. VOA’s plan is backed by the Lakefront Improvement Committee, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, and Friends of the Parks.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation are currently studying North Lake Shore Drive and adjacent areas from Navy Pier north to Hollywood Avenue. The study has since issued a purpose & need statement, listing the goals of the project, and has now proceeded to solicit solutions from residents to fix those issues.

The proposal from Krause, an independent architect, covers the entire north lakefront and proposes to add substantially more park space and improved mobility for transit, bicycling, and walking. VOA’s design, however, considers the stretch of lakeshore alongside the Streeterville neighborhood, and changes little about how the corridor serves bicycles, buses, or automobiles.

Streeterville residents, though, seem more excited to have the Drive redefined than IDOT. Howard Melton, an attorney and Streeterville resident, facilitated the May meeting where VOA presented their design to residents. As reported by Lizzie Schiffman in DNAinfo, he said the whole project could be completed in four or five years:

[Melton] said if approved, the three-phase plan would renovate Lake Shore Park in the next two to three years, complete the lakeshore buildout around 2016 or 2017, and complete the entire project in four or five years.

While it could be possible to do it in that time if the project were approved today and independent of the North Lake Shore Drive study, CDOT and IDOT have a rather different timetable. They expect to select a preferred alternative in 2016, then receive environmental and design approval four years from now, and start construction afterwards.

VOA’s plan proposes to soften the lake’s waves by constructing a barrier island — like those called for in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which resulted only in the near south side’s Northerly Island. VOA’s overall design, however, focuses more on building green space than on rebuilding the multi-modal transportation corridor that runs through the park. Both VOA and Krause propose to build several acres of new park space atop a buried Drive near Oak Street Beach.

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A sketch shows how Lake Shore Drive would be buried near Oak and Michigan. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

South of Oak Street, VOA’s proposal widens the angled, paved-over shoreline south of Oak into a swath of green space and a broad access point at Chicago Avenue, flowing over another tunnel and meeting the existing Lake Shore Park tucked behind the Museum of Contemporary Art.

One detail that VOA’s proposal doesn’t address is where and how the Lakefront Trail would be routed around Oak Street. This part of the path is unusable for several days in the winter, because waves crash and freeze on the pavement.

VOA’s pro bono work for Streeterville community groups is one example of what could result from Krause’s suggestion of a design competition that could bring big new ideas to the table. Krause also wants Redefine the Drive to engage design professionals, which could raise new possibilities during what will likely be a once-in-75-years chance to redesign of one of the city’s signature parks and transportation corridors.

VOA did not respond to our requests for more proposal details.