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Tweets Spur CDOT to Shut Down Illegal Construction in Dearborn Bike Lane

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The construction work blocked the Dearborn bike lane as well as a crosswalk. Photo Kevin Zolkewicz

Yesterday Twitter users notified the Chicago Department of Transportation about an unpermitted closure of the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane and a crosswalk. To their credit, CDOT acted swiftly to shut down the illegal blockage at Randolph Street, caused by contractors working for SBC Communications.

The bike lane is one of the city’s busiest and most important because it’s the only bikeway for southbound cyclists within the Loop. Blocking the two-way lane was particularly problematic for southbound cyclists, because they didn’t have the option of merging into northbound travel lanes to get around the work site.

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Looking south on Dearborn towards Randolph. Photo: Kevin Zolkiewicz

Cyclists who encountered the blockage yesterday morning tweeted about the problem using the #bikeCHI hashtag yesterday morning. Streetsblog reader Kevin Zolkiewicz also sent us photos of the situation, which I forwarded to CDOT. According to a CDOT staffer, the department learned about the issue via the tweets and sent an inspector to the site .

According to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey, an electrical contractor had obtained a permit but “did not state that they would be working in the bike lane or blocking the bike lane.” The inspector shut down the work immediately, by 1:30 p.m., and ordered the crew to clear all equipment. Claffey said that the contractor Archon Construction, working for SBC Communications, was cited and wouldn’t be allowed to resume work until they provide a traffic maintenance plan.

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Take a Virtual Spin on the (Partly Finished) Elston Curb-Protected Bike Lanes

As I’ve written, it’s a shame that the valuable riverfront land at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Damen will likely be redeveloped as big box retail with tons of parking in the aftermath of a project to reroute Elston Avenue so it bypasses that intersection. The silver lining of the project is that this new, curving five-lane stretch of Elston, which opened to motorized traffic last week, will have curb-protected bike lanes.

Prior to construction, the six-way Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection saw about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranked among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’ve moved through traffic on Elston about a block east on land occupied by WhirlyBall, which relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and the Vienna Beef factory, which will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport.

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Elston, which formerly intersected with Fullerton and Damen, has been relocated one block east. Image: CDOT

The entire bypass project was supposed wrap up this spring, but according to CDOT spokeswoman Sue Hofer, it’s currently not slated for completion until this December. But starting last week northeast- and southeast-bound motorized vehicles began using one lane in each direction on the new section of Elston, which crosses Damen a block north of Fullerton/Damen intersection.

The old, two-block stretch of Elston just southeast of Fullerton/Damen remains open for local traffic under the new name Elston Court. Under the new traffic pattern, vehicles are allowed to turn right from eastbound Fullerton onto Elston Court, but vehicles from northbound Elston Court south of Fullerton are only permitted to turn right, eastbound, on Fullerton.

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Reilly to CDOT: Please Fix Dearborn Protected Bike Lane’s Lousy Pavement

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The Dearborn bike lane at Adams. Photo: John Greenfield

Downtown alderman Brendan Reilly is known as the man who tried to get the Kinzie protected bike lanes removed, but he recently racked up some bike lane karma. Shaun Jacobsen, the urban planner behind the transportation blog Transitized, wrote to Reilly to about poor pavement conditions on the Dearborn two-way protected bike lane. The alderman promptly reached out to the appropriate city departments to try to solve these problems.

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Letter from Reilly to Scheinfeld. Click to enlarge.

Currently the worst stretches of the Dearborn lane are between Adams and Monroe, and between Randolph and Lake. On these blocks, channels were cut out of the street to accommodate utility work, right in the middle of the bike lane. After the work was done, the troughs were filled with concrete but were never repaved with asphalt, resulting in a rough, bumpy riding surface.

On August 2, Reilly wrote Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld about the problem. “I respectfully request your department dispatch a maintenance team to survey and repair the damaged bike lane on Dearborn Street,” he said. “My office has received reports that a number of utility projects in this area have damaged the pavement, causing potholes and uneven terrain.”

Reilly asked that CDOT inspectors determine whether the utility work was done by private contractors or city workers, and requested that CDOT ensure that the bike lane would be repaired as soon as possible. He also asked the commissioner to report back to him when the bike lane is fixed.

Unfortunately the repairs aren’t going to be made immediately, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “Dearborn will be getting resurfaced this fall, once all the utility work is wrapped up,” said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey this morning. He added that the Kinzie protected lanes, which have also been affected by utility cuts, as well as Randolph, which is slated for a new westbound curb-protected bike lane this year, will also be repaved in the fall.

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Local Leaders Weigh in On 31st Street Beach Transportation Issues

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. The park district plans to more than double the size of the an existing parking lot, center. Image: Google Maps

Last month I reported on the Chicago Park District’s plans to expand a parking lot at the southwest corner of 31st and Lake Shore Drive, a short walk from 31st Street Beach and Harbor. The proposal would enlarge the lot, currently 60,000 square feet of asphalt, by 85,000 feet — that’s about 1.5 football fields worth of existing green space that would be replaced by blacktop.

The project would add more than 250 spaces near the beach, which already has over 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces within a five-minute walk. It would cost $1.6 million, paid for harbor bond funding.

I noted that Friends of the Parks has endorsed the project. Executive director Juanita Irizarry told me last month that if the group advocated against more parking at the South Side beach, they would have essentially been “tell[ing] people of color that they can only utilize the beach if they arrive by CTA or bicycle.”

On the other hand the Active Transportation Alliance is against the parking expansion. Executive director Ron Burke argued that transit, walking, and bike access should be improved instead. “Let’s give people MORE open space, play areas, trails and other attractions and LESS pavement for cars,” he said via email.

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The design of the expanded parking lot. Image: Chicago Park District

After my article ran, Delmarie Cobb, a lifelong Bronzeville resident and owner of the Publicity Works PR firm fired off an angry email to 4th ward alderman Sophia King’s office about the parking plan and cc-ed me. “Now, the city wants to take more green space so the harbor users will have more parking options,” she wrote. “There’s plenty of parking at the old Michael Reese parking lots.”

In addition to the 650 aforementioned nearby beach and harbor parking spaces, there are 250 public parking spots at the former hospital site, a ten-minute walk from the beach at 31st and Cottage Grove. The city purchased the property under Mayor Richard M. Daley as part of its failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

“Until the city decides what to do with that land, it should be used to accommodate beach goers,” Reese wrote. “We’re already paying for that land, so why should we pay an additional $1.6 million for 250 parking spaces?… On Fullerton, the city [built] six additional acres for green space. At 31st St., the city found 85,000 square feet of green space to turn into a parking lot.”

4th Ward staffer Prentice Butler declined to comment on the lot expansion project, except to confirm that Alderman King is in favor of the plan.

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This sign installed by the entrance to the garage last winter indicated that the garage was for boaters only. Photo via Delmarie Cobb.

When I reached Cobb this afternoon, she told me that she has since realized that, while the parking lot expansion will eliminate green space west of the drive, it won’t affect parkland closer to the beach that is used for barbecues, land she says is in short supply. While that’s less objectionable to her, she still finds it problematic that money was found for more asphalt while a community center originally planned as part of the harbor project, completed in 2012, was never funded.

While the park district and the 4th Ward haven’t had much to say about why exactly it’s believed that another 250 spaces are needed, Cobb offered an explanation. She provided a photo taken last winter of a permanent sign installed by the garage entrance claiming that all public parking spots in the 317-space facility was full, and spaces were only available to people with harbor passes. “Obviously the garage wasn’t full in the middle of the winter, but they were treating it like a private garage for boaters,” Cobb said.

Cobb says that when King took office last spring, she asked the park district to remove that sign and put up a new one stating that the garage spaces are available to the general public. Cobb recently went out with an intern and interviewed boaters to learn more about the parking situation. She says the boaters, many of whom live outside of the city, told them the lot expansion is planned because harbor pass holders were sometimes having trouble finding space in the now-public garage.

“The boaters said they don’t feel they should have to schlep all their stuff from the Michael Reese site to the harbor,” Cobb said. “That’s fine for the residents, but not for the boaters.”

“It just goes to show, the city can always find money to do what they want to do, such as projects to entice tourists,” Cobb said. “But they can never find money for the things we need like the community center, things that improve quality of life for neighborhood residents.”

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Artist Takes a Crack at Improving Crosswalk Safety With Piñata Bump-Outs

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Krueger-Barber used pinatas on construction bollards to create temporary curb bump-outs at Milwaukee/Drake. Photo: Corner gallery

You might not think that someone from Provo, Utah (population 116,288), would have much to tell Chicagoans about pedestrian safety issues, but artist Susan Krueger-Barber is bringing a fresh approach to tactical urbanism to our city to highlight the dangers to people on foot.

As an MFA student at the Art Institute of Chicago, this month Krueger-Barber is doing residency at Avondale’s Corner gallery, 2912 North Milwaukee, focusing on crosswalk dynamics in cities with a project called “Stripes Aren’t Enough.” She’s studying driver behaviors that endanger pedestrians at the adjacent Milwaukee/Drake intersection, and testing out fun strategies for safety interventions, while dressed in the costume of her comedic alter ego Art Grrrl. At the end of her residency, she’ll present a formal proposal for changes to the intersection to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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Kreuger-Barber pushes responsible shoveling during an intervention in Provo, Utah. Photo: Susan Krueger-Barber.

Lynn Basa, the owner of Corner gallery, said the residency is a perfect fit. “We’re this friendly neighborhood gallery, but you look out the window and see all this, mean egregious behavior,” referring to drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians in the zebra-striped crosswalk at the southeast leg of the T-shaped Milwaukee/Drake junction. “It’s surprising that people in cars would do that to their fellow citizens in crosswalks.”

According to the Chicago Crash Browser, created by Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, there were four pedestrian crashes and one bike crash near the intersection between 2009 and 2014. In 2013 Ronald Lee Hubert, 51, was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver at Milwaukee and Ridgeway, a few blocks northwest of the gallery. Basa is excited to see if Krueger-Barber’s outside-the-box ideas can help improve safety on the corridor.

The artist first became interested in using art to raise awareness of the dangers posed to vulnerable road users after one of one of her Provo neighbors was fatally struck by a driver. Rosa Merino, 42, was crossing a street in the crosswalk with the right of way at 6:30 a.m. when she was run over by a pick-up truck driver who disregarded a red light. Authorities initially blamed the victim for causing the crash because she was wearing dark clothing.

Since then, Krueger-Barber has done several pedestrian- and bike-safety interventions and stunts in Provo. These range from serving as a crossing guard with a gigantic orange flag to creating a PSA against speeding featuring herself in a Sasquatch costume being struck by a driver, in a frighteningly realistic manner. One project, temporarily installing sharrows and traffic diverters on a roadway, proved so successful that city officials plan to create a permanent bike boulevard on the street.

So far in Chicago, Krueger-Barber has created a memorial wall within corner gallery with tributes to the 22 pedestrians and cyclists who have lost their lives to traffic violence in Chicago this year (by CDOT’s count), with info on the incidents and the victims partly based on Streetsblog Chicago’s Fatality Tracker posts. But she’s also created a “Wall of Solutions” to improve safety, including literally wallpapering the gallery with pages from the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

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Transit Advocate: TOD Could Revitalize Area Around the 95th Red Line Stop

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Cynthia Hudson of the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue of the Red Line Extension Coalition at last week’s town hall meeting.

Last week at a town hall meeting hosted by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, West Chesterfield resident and transit advocate Michael LaFargue discussed efforts to improve transportation access and encourage investment on the Far South Side.

LaFargue, a board member with the Red Line Extension Coalition, and Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Hudson were invited to share their experiences with NLCCC members who wish to improve transit service on the West Side. “We’ll steal some good ideas and then share them back and forth,” explained council member Valerie Leonard.

LaFargue, who also chairs a transportation committee for South Side representative Elgie Sims (34th), began his presentation by providing background on West Chesterfield, an enclave that many longtime Chicagoans may be unfamiliar with. The half-square-mile community sits directly east of the station in the area bounded by 87th Street, the Dan Ryan, 95th Street, and King Drive. It lies within the official Chatham and Roseland community areas.

“It’s a historically Black area,” LaFargue said. “We started moving into this area after World War I, before there were streets and sewers and lights. We love it — we call it a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. But we’ve been challenged by crime and the economy. The recession of 2007 affected the community heavily.”

La Fargue noted that the 95th Street station, opened in 1969, is one of the area’s greatest assets. “It’s Chicago’s busiest transportation terminal, with 50,000 people coming through daily, 14 CTA buses serving the station, six Pace buses, and a Greyhound terminal.”

The 95th stop is currently undergoing a $280 million overhaul, which started in fall 2014 and is slated for completion in 2018. “We’re hoping that this station will wind up being the north end of the Red Line extension,” LaFague said. “The Red Line extension has been talked about since the 1960s. But even before that, circa 1900, we had the Burnham Plan that said there should be light rail to all sides of the city.”

“But the [Red Line] route ends at 95th,” LaFargue added. “That’s not the end of our city. There’s a whole group of people in the Altgeld Gardens area that are traveling an extra 35 or 45 minutes to work, and that’s not fair.”

LaFargue discussed how the current CTA proposal for the Red Line extension would parallel Union Pacific Railroad Tracks, with stops at 103rd, 111th, 115th (near Michigan Avenue), and 130th in Altgeld Gardens. It would require significant land acquisition, and the transit agency projects it would cost more than $2 billion.

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Obama Library’s Jackson Park Location Will Be Easy to Visit Without Driving

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The Obama library site, located between 60st, 63rd, Stony Island, and Cornell, will be easy to access by Metra, bus, and bike. Image: Google Maps.

Today a spokesman for the Obama Foundation officially confirmed that the Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side, and he lauded the project as the nation’s first urban presidential library. “For the first time, a presidential center will be in the heart of an urban community,” foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt, said in a statement.

It was previously announced that Washington Park, to the west of Hyde Park, where the president previously worked as a University of Chicago law professor, and Jackson Park, to the southeast, were under consideration. As opposed to a more glamorous downtown location, siting the museum in either park would have had the benefit spurring investment in struggling nearby communities, in keeping with Obama’s former role as a community organizer. Each park is also well served by transit.

While there are two Green Line stops just west of Washington Park, the Jackson Park location has an edge when it comes to sustainable transportation access. The library will be located on a narrow, 20-acre parcel between 60th and 63rd streets, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, land currently occupied by a running track, football field, and baseball diamonds.

Just west are the Metra Electric District line’s 59th Street and 63rd Street stations. Four CTA bus lines run past the parcel on Stony Island: the #2 Hyde Park Express, the #6 Jackson Park Express, the #15 Jeffery Local, and the #28 Stony Island. The location is also accessible from the lakefront via an underpass and multiuse trails through the park, so it will be possible to bicycle there from downtown without having to share the road with cars.

The Green Line offers more frequent and consistent service to Washington Park than Metra’s train service to Jackson Park. However, it’s likely that decision makers assumed out-of-town visitors would be less comfortable taking the ‘L’ through the heart of the South Side than riding commuter rail towards the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Some local leaders hope that the addition of the library will spark the creation of a new South Side museum campus.

The Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric has been lobbying for the line to be converted to more frequent rapid transit-style service as well as fare integration with CTA and Pace, in order to increase job access for South Siders. Mayor Emanuel has shown interest in the proposal and the Obama library makes it even more likely that upgrade will happen. Moreover, it’s almost certain that the minimalist Metra stations near the library site will be overhauled in order to better accommodate crowds of visitors.

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Evanston Protected Lanes Face Backlash While Making Dodge Ave. Safer

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A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston in very light afternoon rush hour traffic. Photo: Steven Vance

Evanston installed new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue from Howard Street to Lake Street last month, and already some residents are complaining that the lanes have made it unsafe to park their cars. But these fears are unfounded because Chicago has had protected lanes with a nearly identical design for five years.

The new Dodge protected bike lanes replace conventional bike lanes that were located on the left side of the parking lanes, in the door zone. The new bike lanes are curbside with the parking to the left, separated from bike traffic by a striped buffer and flexible posts. It’s the same strategy that was used on Kinzie Avenue, Chicago’s first protected bike lane street, in 2011 and has been employed successfully on many more Chicago roadways since then.

I recently rode the Dodge Avenue PBLs and found them to be just as good as any that the Chicago Department of Transportation has installed. They’re also a little better than the first PBLs Evanston installed downtown on Church Street because the Dodge bike lanes are somewhat wider.

Map of the new protected bike lane on Dodge Avenue, from Howard Street (the border with Chicago) to Lake Street. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

Location of the new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue, from Howard St. (the border with Chicago) to Lake St. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

But some Evanston residents are up in arms about the new street configuration. “The new design makes it more hazardous for people boarding buses or getting into cars, because driver-side doors now open into very heavy, fast moving traffic,” a resident complained at a City Council meeting on Monday night, according to a report in Evanston Now. Actually, bus passengers aren’t affected by the protected lanes at all because the design still allows buses to pull up to the curb to pick up and drop off customers.

When I rode the Dodge bike lanes during the evening rush, motorized traffic was light, and vehicles were traveling at moderate speeds. That was probably partly because the street reconfiguration involved narrowing the existing travel lanes to make room for the PBLs, a type of “road diet,” which discourages speeding. While the new layout may put parked cars a bit closer to moving traffic, the traffic is likely going somewhat slower than before. Another benefit is that the bike lanes shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.

Some meeting attendees also argued that the new bike lanes make it challenging for emergency vehicles to travel on Dodge Avenue, according to Evanston Now. However, reporter Bill Smith added that he observed a fire department ambulance making its way down Dodge from Church Street to a nursing home near Howard at the end of Tuesday’s a.m. rush, and the ambulance seemed to have no trouble navigating the street.

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Toolkit Will Help Cities Bring Shared Mobility to Low-Income Neighborhoods

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A screenshot from SUMC’s new mapping tool showing the locations of car-share (blue dots) and Divvy locations downtown, and on the West and Near South sides. The map also shows high (purple) and medium (orange) opportunity areas for shared mobility.

The Chicago-based Shared-Use Mobility Center hopes their new interactive toolkit, released last week, will help cities expand the use of car-sharing, bike-sharing, and other forms of shared mobility, especially in low-income communities with limited transportation options. The toolkit includes a Shared Mobility Benefits Calculator, a Shared Mobility Policy Database, and an Interactive shared Mobility Mapping and Opportunity Analysis Tool.

SUMC executive director Sharon Feigon says the toolkit was developed in partnership with 27 North American cities through the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network. “They wanted to better understand and manage shared-mobility as new technologies emerge,” she said. “We’re hopeful that our toolkit will shed some light on how these technologies are working and shine some light on best practices.” To supplement the toolkit, they’ve also produced a report with an overview of each tool, plus policy recommendations, trends by city, size, and type, and shared mobility growth scenarios for each of the cities.

“Our interest is to really encourage the use of transit along with shared mobility to decrease the use of private cars,” Feigon added. “Our vision sees public transportation as the backbone and shared mobility as something that can enhance the transit system.” For example, services like bike-sharing and one-way car-sharing can facilitate “last mile” trips to and from rapid transit in locations where its difficult to access a station by walking or a fixed-route bus.

One-way car-sharing services like Car2Go, which allow customers to pick up a small car, drive it a short distance and leave it at any number of designated parking spots around town, have been popular in cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. But Feigon said the mode hasn’t come to Chicago yet because of the complications caused by our city’s much-reviled parking contract. Mayor Emanuel’s office is currently looking into whether it could be implemented here, she said.

The benefits calculator allows cities to see the potential benefits of adding shared mobility nodes such as car-share and bike-share vehicles. For example, the calculator projects that – based on June 1, 2016 figures — Chicago could eliminate ten percent of private vehicle trips by adding 37,373 transit commuters, 8457 car-share vehicles, 6,908 bike-share cycles, and 18,313 ride-sharers or car-poolers. The result would be 11,167,065,800 fewer vehicle miles traveled, 418,800 fewer metric tons of emissions from personal vehicles, and $411,444,500 saved in personal vehicle transportation costs.

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Eyes on the Street: The Randolph Protected Bike Lane Starts to Take Shape

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Looking south at the Dutch-inspired intersection at Randolph and Canal. Photo: CDOT

The Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor on Washington Street includes a concrete-protected bike lane between the island bus stations and the curb. But the construction of the raised, curbside bus platforms and dedicated bus lanes on Madison Street involved the removal an existing bike lane.

The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to replace the Madison bike lane with a new protected lane on Randolph Street. But long after the Madison lane – the Loop’s only westbound bikeway – was removed, the Randolph lane still isn’t open. As a result, westbound cyclists are riding in the red bus-only lane on Madison. While that’s not an ideal situation, it doesn’t seem to be significantly slowing down CTA buses.

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A panoramic photo (hence the curving effect) of the Randolph/Canal treatment shot from the south by M.P. Hurley.

The good news is that the protected infrastructure on Randolph is finally starting to materialize, although the bike lane probably won’t be open for a few months. CDOT recently completed a Dutch-inspired intersection treatment at the northeast corner of Randolph and Canal Street, with concrete refuge islands to help protect cyclists and pedestrians from motorized traffic.

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