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Posts from the "Infrastructure" Category

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The River of Traffic On Ridge/Hollywood Hurt Edgewater’s Livability

Ridge Avenue speed and traffic study

Walking across Ridge at Wayne can be dicey.

The Edgewater neighborhood along the north lakefront should be a pleasant place to walk. It’s the second-densest community area in the city, with 56,521 residents in an area just 1.5 miles across, and boasts lively commercial areas like Andersonville. Yet local residents say that their neighborhood is effectively cleaved into two by a roiling river of car traffic. The north end of Lake Shore Drive pumps tens of thousands of cars through the neighborhood, first onto Hollywood and then to Broadway or Ridge and onto Clark and Peterson.

To welcome this invading army of cars, over a dozen houses were leveled in the mid-1950s (animation below) to transform these local streets into four-lane traffic sewers — roads meant to move many cars, quickly. This turned Hollywood and Ridge into impassable barriers, according to local residents like Claire Micklin. She says it’s practically impossible to use marked crosswalks, because drivers simply refuse to stop. Even when traffic backups make it possible to get halfway across, fast-moving traffic thunders past in the other direction. Micklin says she dreads trying to cross, or even to walking alongside the streets — since parking is banned, the never-ending traffic runs right next to the sidewalk:

Drivers drive as if they are on an extension of Lake Shore Drive, grinding to a halt at the lights that break up the thoroughfare. The cars just keep on coming, and even two of the four lanes are clear, there are usually cars speeding by on the other two lanes. I have seen people push baby carriages into the crosswalk, hoping that the other two lanes of traffic will stop. Even with a baby carriage in the middle of the road, people do not stop, and the person usually has to do a quick reverse back to where they started to cross.

Micklin lives just north of the tangled intersection where Hollywood, Ridge, Broadway, and Bryn Mawr all meet within one block of one another. The most convenient retail to her is clustered around the Bryn Mawr “L” stop, just south of Hollywood, or in Andersonville, a few blocks southwest, and none of the nearest crosswalks to her have traffic signals. Even where there are signals, as at Ridge and Hollywood, the streets are obviously engineered for cars: The signal timing favors the Ridge-Hollywood through traffic, and requires pedestrians to press a “beg button” that’s inaccessible to children or people in wheelchairs. The intersection even features a highway-style, concrete Jersey barrier to keep skidding drivers from rolling right into someone’s home.

Kevin Zolkiewicz lives a block south of the speedway. Like Micklin, he has to cross Hollywood or Ridge to get to services like the restaurants or the library on Broadway. He calls the walk “miserable… [I] have to go out of my way to cross at a light,” Zolkiewicz said, adding that Ridge “acts as a barrier between Andersonville and the rest of Edgewater.”

The never-ending stream of cars at Ridge and Hollywood. 

Streetsblog contributor Justin Haugens and I observed traffic at two problematic intersections that Micklin identified — Ridge/Wayne just west of the Ridge-Hollywood intersection, and Hollywood/Magnolia just to the east. These intersections are between traffic signals, so motorists are used to speeding up rather than stopping at these locations.

The two intersections both feature all four marked crosswalks, but the legs across the wider streets have faded nearly to black, neither have pedestrian refuge medians, and neither has a “stop for pedestrians” sign. (CDOT says that they will not install these on four-lane roads, due to the low probability that drivers in all four lanes will actually obey the sign.)

Micklin said that, due to the angled junction in between these two intersections, “there’s no visibility to see oncoming cars, and [thus] know that you can cross safely. I’ve been stuck in the middle of the road before, and people still don’t stop.” We noticed half a dozen people during our study doing just that: Wiggling between stopped cars headed in one direction, then waiting in the middle of the road before running across the other lanes.

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“Walk To Transit” Targets 20 CTA Stations For Quick Safety Fixes

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Passengers arriving at the Clinton Station often can’t find the Greyhound, Union, or Divvy stations.

A new “Walk To Transit” initiative by the Chicago Department of Transportation will target 20 CTA stations for a slew of simple pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. People walking to several Blue Line stations on the west side and along Milwaukee Avenue, along with stations on the south and north sides, will see safety and usability improvements like re-striped zebra crosswalks, curb extensions, repaired or widened sidewalks, and new signage.

Suzanne Carlson, pedestrian program coordinator at the Chicago Department of Transportation, said at the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting to weeks ago (theme: connectivity) that construction on a first phase of ten stations should begin in the spring of 2015. CDOT has grant funding for another ten stations, yet to be identified. She said that the designs [PDF] were published in March “at 30 percent,” but only one minor design element has changed since then. 

Some stations will get new and improved wayfinding signage. New signs outside the Blue Line’s Clinton station, hidden underneath a Eisenhower Expressway overpass, will direct CTA riders to Metra, Amtrak, and Greyhound, and vice versa. Even among the majority of American adults who carry smartphones, figuring out where to go from the Clinton station can be a puzzle: The other stations aren’t immediately visible from any of the station’s four dark exits. Adding “breadcrumb” sign posts along the way would help. CTA and CDOT managing deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel have had conversations about adding Divvy wayfinding signs within stops like Clinton, where Divvy is similarly hiding around the corner from the station entrance, “but we haven’t reached a definitive agreement at this point.”

This is where Divvy signage should be displayed

Signs within the Clinton Blue Line station point CTA riders to Greyhound and Metra, but not Divvy — and once above ground, no further clues are available.

Above the Blue Line station at Grand-Milwaukee-Halsted, CDOT proposes reprogramming the signal with “leading pedestrian intervals,” which will give people walking across the street a green light before drivers can make a turn. New curb extensions (bulb-outs) at Ohio Street, between the station and Milwaukee’s bridge over the Ohio Street Connector, will slow down drivers and prevent them from driving down Milwaukee’s faded bike lane.

Around the Pulaski Blue Line station in West Garfield Park, which is within the median of the Eisenhower Expressway, recommended improvements include curb extensions to slow turning drivers at all corners of Harrison and Pulaski, a pedestrian refuge island within Pulaski at Van Buren, and signs that will direct bicyclists to and from the station from Keeler Avenue — a nearby “neighborhood route” under the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.

Outside the 63rd Street Red Line station in Englewood, new trees will enliven a dull corner at Princeton Avenue — and also replace a dangerous gas station driveway, which eliminates the conflict between cars turning across the sidewalk into the gas station, right by a bus stop. Such dangerous curb cuts are not forever, since they have to be renewed annually.
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No Longer Marooned: U. of C. Unifies Campus With New Pedestrian Spaces

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The new pedestrian street on 58th, across from Robie House. Photo: John Greenfield

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

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks.

Last year, changes included a new pedestrian space on the west side of campus, by the University of Chicago Hospitals, a new passageway through the administration building, and the completion of the Midway Crossings, bridge-like structures uniting the north and south sides of campus. In June of this year, the university finished converting a block of 58th Street, between University and Woodlawn avenues, into a lively promenade.

“The outdoor spaces on campus can be as important as the indoor spaces,” said university architect Steve Wiesenthal in a statement in spring 2013, before most of the construction started. “These projects will connect parts of campus that have felt distant from each other because of features of our buildings and landscape. They will contribute to our sense of community and the integrated nature of the University.”

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One of the Midway Crossings on Ellis Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

A few years ago, the university began building the Midway Crossings, a roughly $8 million streetscaping project, designed to provide better connections between the main campus and buildings south of the Midway Plaisance. Although the Midway, located between 59th and 60th streets, is only one block wide, psychologically the distance felt much longer, especially during the winter, and many people felt unsafe crossing the parkland at night.

To make the trek across the Midway feel shorter and safer, the school created the new walkways along Ellis, Woodlawn and Dorchester avenues. The design was inspired by the green space’s architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who originally conceived the Midway as a water route between Jackson and Washington parks, traversed by bridges. Workers completed the construction of the crossings in spring 2013.

The Midway Crossings treatments include wider sidewalks, which make it easier for people to travel in groups. Illuminated railings, retaining walls, and lighting masts, dozens of feet tall and affectionately known as the “light sabers” by the students, further increase the sense of security by increasing visibility in general and making it easier to see the faces of other pedestrians.

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Speed Camera Cut Dangerous Speeding Next to Senn Park By 73%

Senn Park & High School speed camera

Cameras have tamed what had been an epidemic of 40+ mph speeding next to the “Young Lincoln” park, along Ridge at Clark and Thorndale in Edgewater.

Fast times on Ridge Avenue, in front of Senn High School, are now over: The speed camera that CDOT installed in front of Senn Park has sharply cut the number of speeders cruising at a dangerous 40+ mph. Right after the camera was first installed, roughly seven out of 1,000 drivers received an official mailed warning for driving more than 10 mph above the speed limit. After the camera had been on for 44 days, it finally began issuing citations but sent tickets to fewer than two out of every 1,000 drivers.

While researching street conditions on Ridge Avenue for an upcoming article Streetsblog crunched the numbers from the first days of Senn Park’s speed camera, to see whether it was working. The change was startling: During the 30-day initial warning period, 6,725 vehicles received warnings for driving more than 10 mph over the speed limit – but in the first 30 days of live citations, only 1,811 vehicles were ticketed. That’s a 73 percent drop in the number of dangerously speeding drivers. That rate remained the same well into the camera’s second month of issuing citations.

Ridge Avenue is subject to the citywide speed limit of 30 mph, and the speed camera only monitors traffic during park hours, which are from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Although Illinois law allows citations for drivers going 6 or more mph over the speed limit, CDOT currently only issues warnings or citations when its cameras see a car exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph or more. Since Ridge at this location is within a school zone, with a speed limit of 20 mph when children are present between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., the camera could also enforce that lower limit.

Streetsblog followed up with our own speed survey of our own, training our radar gun just south of the camera at Wayne Avenue – and found that although the camera may have tamed truly dangerously high speeds, drivers are still going too fast on this block. Wayne is right where drivers see “SAFETY ZONE” painted across each lane, but before where the speed camera monitors northwest-bound cars.

During one weekday rush hour, 35 out of 195 drivers in the curbside lane over 15 minutes – 18 percent – were exceeding the 30 mph speed limit. None of these drivers were going fast enough to trigger the camera, and thus a ticket, but all of them were still putting pedestrians at risk. Had any of them happened to crash into a pedestrian at those speeds, the pedestrian would probably have died: a majority of people hit by cars at 30 mph live, while 80 percent of those hit at 40 mph die.

Correction: The number of drivers observed speeding was misreported. 18 percent of drivers were clocked speeding, not 68 percent. I regret the error.

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One-Day Protected Bike Lane Demos Have Swept America this Summer

A temporary demo during StreetsAlive! in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 15. Photo: Dakota Medical Foundation

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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.

This is what a tipping point looks like.

Around the country in the summer of 2014, community groups across the United States have been using open-streets events and other festivals to give thousands of Americans their first taste of a protected bike lane.

From small-town Kansas to the middle of Atlanta, communities (many of them inspired by last summer’s successful $600 demo project in Minneapolis) have been using handmade barriers and relatively tiny amounts of money to put together temporary bikeways that spread the knowledge of the concept among the public and officials.

“Every traffic engineer who touches a street in Oakland, they were all out on their bikes checking it out,” said Dave Campbell of East Bay Bike Coalition, who led the creation of maybe the year’s most beautiful demo on Telegraph Avenue there. (Click to enlarge — it’s worth it.)

“We wanted this to look awesome,” Campbell said in an interview. “People would see this and go, ‘That’s f—— awesome. I want that on my street.’

Here are some of the results from around the country:
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Hundreds Protest After Omaha Mayor Scraps City’s Only Bike/Ped Planner

About 300 people braved rainy conditions to demand better bike and pedestrian accommodations this weekend in Omaha. Photo: Mode Shift Omaha

About 300 people braved rainy conditions this weekend to demand better bike and pedestrian accommodations in Omaha. Photo: Mode Shift Omaha

Despite rainy weather, about 300 people gathered this Saturday in Omaha to protest the city’s plans to eliminate its “bike czar” position.

Carlos Morales, the city’s bike/ped planner, had been recruited from Los Angeles for the job, which paid $80,000 per year. But the new budget proposed by Mayor Jean Stothert eliminates the position, which had been funded for four years primarily through grants.

Protesters demanded three things, said Stephen Osberg, vice chair of the advocacy group Mode Shift Omaha: 1) They want the position maintained; 2) they want a complete streets policy; and 3) they want a citizen’s advisory board for bike and pedestrian projects.

“There’s been a lot of progress made in bicycle and pedestrian planning in the last few years,” said Osberg, including the addition of bike lanes and work on a major trail project. “But we don’t see the sort of systemic change that would indicate the city has fully integrated multi-modal planning into its agenda.”

Stothert responded to the protest by issuing a statement saying the city would establishing an “Active Living Advisory Committee” run by volunteers. But she maintained that the “bike czar” would be eliminated.

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Successful Pilot Means New “Bus on Shoulders” Routes For Pace

Governor Quinn Expands Green Transportation Program on Illinois’ Highways

Governor Quinn speaks to the cameras. Photo: Pace, via IDOT

For the past three years, Pace has run two express bus routes down the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) from Bolingbrook and Plainfield to downtown Chicago and the Illinois Medical District, and used the expressway’s shoulders to bypass traffic jams. Creating these dedicated transit lanes has resulted in better reliability — on-time performance jumped from 68 to 93 percent — and faster service, which when combined with comfortable (and wi-fi equipped) buses, has led ridership to jump 226 percent.

Governor Pat Quinn hosted a press conference yesterday at UIC to sign a new law that makes the pilot project permanent, and expands the program. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) and State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), gives the Illinois Department of Transportation full authority to allow buses on any “specially designated” shoulder in the state.

Before the pilot, IDOT spent $9.5 million to rebuild the shoulders on the Stevenson so that the heavy coaches could ride on them, and plans to spend another $363,000 so that the buses get three more miles of smooth sailing. A press release from Quinn’s office said that this fall, IDOT will outline improvements that would be needed to run buses on shoulders along the Edens Expressway (I-94) between Foster Avenue and Lake-Cook Road, through Northbrook, Glenview, and Skokie.

The Illinois Tollway will be including beefed-up shoulders as part of its reconstruction and widening of I-90 from the Kennedy in Chicago to Barrington Road in Hoffman Estates. The tollway and Pace will also construct park-and-ride lots at the Randall Road and Route 25 interchanges in Elgin, and at Barrington Road [PDF]. The press release said that the Tollway is also building the Elgin-O’Hare Western Access Road to accommodate bus on shoulder operations. 

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Ready For Snow Yet? CDOT Wasn’t, But Is Planning Ahead

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People wait for the bus under the Montrose Brown Line station tracks. Photo: Erin Nekervis

It may only be August, but snow’s already on the minds of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council. At this week’s meeting, the Chicago Department of Transportation owned up to their shortcomings in providing clear pedestrian routes through the city during last winter’s polar vortex conditions.

Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of project development at CDOT, said August was the right time to talk about it so that the council could get ahead of the issues. Also, she said, because of “what happened last winter, we don’t want to wait too long” to talk about it.

Hamilton convened an interagency snow removal task force, which met for the first time last month. The meeting brought together representatives from CDOT’s project development, in-house construction, and infrastructure management divisions, the Department of Streets & Sanitation, and the Department of Planning & Development, which oversees Special Service Areas.

Hamilton explained the task force “talked about the gaps, vacant lots, and unoccupied municipal facilities” and said CDOT needs to set an example. Hamilton relayed the results of this discussion to the advisory council members, and explained the city’s broader strategy to remove snow from the public way. Laborers, like garbage truck drivers for example, can be reassigned to remove snow from in front of public facilities.

It was marvelous to hear CDOT acknowledge weaknesses in removing snow from these gaps, which have been a problem for people walking and using transit long before this year’s “polar vortex.” Hamilton described these gaps:

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Foxx Announces $35 Million Grant for Red and Purple Modernization

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Foxx with, left to right, Alderman Tom Tunney, Congressman Danny Davis, Claypool, Emanuel, Alderman Joe Moore. Photo: John Greenfield

U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx stopped by the CTA’s Granville station this afternoon to announce Chicago as the first city to be awarded a $35 million federal “Core Capacity” grant to modernize the Red and Purple lines. He also put a word in for President Obama’s proposal for a long-term transportation funding bill, the “Grow America” act.

The Core Capacity program was launched in 2012 to provide money for repairing infrastructure and expanding capacity on existing, aging transit systems. The U.S. DOT and the city of Chicago are touting the $35 million grant as a “down payment” on the $1.7 billion Red and Purple Modernization, one of the largest capital projects in CTA history. Upon completion of federal requirements, the transit authority expects to win an additional $600-700 million in additional federal funds for RPM.

The initial grant will cover preliminary design, engineering, and environmental planning for the first phase of the rail project. This stage will include rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stops to make them wheelchair accessible, as well as replacing track and signaling systems, and widening platforms. Phase I also includes a controversial Belmont flyover, which would allow for increased capacity and eliminate a service bottleneck, but would also require demolishing some 16 buildings.

CTA President Forest Claypool kicked off the press event in the small ‘L’ station by underscoring the importance of the Red Line, which he called the backbone of the CTA rail system. He noted that the line serves 40 percent of all CTA riders — more than 250,000 people per day. Ridership on the Red and Purple lines grew by 40 percent between 2008 and 2013, and Claypool said ridership is expected to grow at a similar pace over the next five years.

“If we do nothing, trains will become more crowded, service will become much slower, reliability will be diminished, and we will literally leave people behind,” Claypool added. He applauded Mayor Emanuel’s efforts to address the challenge with projects like last year’s South Red Line rehab, the reconstruction of the 95th Street and Wilson stations – both slated to break ground this year at a total price tag of nearly $450 million – and now the RPM project.

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Eyes on the Street: More New Buffered Lanes on the South Side

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Oakwood Boulevard, just west of Lake Shore Drive. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation continues to pump out more bikeways, as part of its effort to build 100 miles of protected and buffered lanes by 2015. Today I took a spin around the South Side to check out new buffered lanes on 75th Street and on Oakwood Boulevard.

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Looking west on Oakwood, west of LSD. Photo: John Greenfield

In conjunction with a street repaving project, CDOT recently upgraded a quarter-mile stretch of conventional lanes on Oakwood, from its junction with Pershing Road to the lakefront trail, in Oakland. The buffered lane serves to shepherd cyclists to one of my favorite spots, a bulge in the coastline that was constructed a few years ago, which provides a breathtaking skyline view.

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The view from the Oakwood hump. Photo: John Greenfield

The new buffers narrow the travel lanes, which helps to calm traffic. Since the lanes are curbside, flexible post to discourage drivers from driving and parking in them would be a good addition.

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Road diet at northwest corner of Oakwood and LSD. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition, a section of the road has been striped with dead space just west of the southbound Lake Shore Drive offramp. This creates a tighter turning radius for vehicles coming off the drive, encouraging drivers to hit the brakes as they turn right onto Oakwood. Installing posts here as well would help keep motorists out of the striped area.

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