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CDOT’s Sean Wiedel Provides an Update on Divvy Installation, Equity Efforts

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Divvy docking station parts are loaded onto flatbed trucks to prepare for installation. Photo: Divvy

“With all the challenges we’ve had with the equipment supplier, it’s gratifying to finally see the new Divvy stations on the ground,” said Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel regarding the city’s current bike-share expansion. “People are obviously clamoring for Divvy, so it’s exciting to be able to meet that demand.”

CDOT began installing new docking stations last week in Bronzeville and Hyde Park. They’re planning on expanding the system from its 2013 rollout of 300 docking stations and 3,000 bikes to 476 stations and 4,760 bikes by early June, in time for the annual Bike to Work Rally. The service area will nearly double, from 44.1 square miles, or 19 percent of the city’s geographic area, to 86.7 square miles, or 40 percent.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quick to point out, this means Chicago will have more stations and a larger service area than any other North American city, although New York and Montreal will still have far more bikes. The number of Chicago wards served will grow from 13 to 33 out of 50. The portion of the population that lives in bike-share coverage areas will expand from about 33 percent to 56 percent, so most Chicagoans will live close to a station.

Crews are currently installing five-to-ten stations a day and working six days a week, Wiedel said. About 60 stations have been installed so far. Almost all South Side installations should be complete today, and then work will begin on the West Side, and finally the North Side. Downtown installations are being done on weekends.

The system was supposed to expand last year. However, the January 2014 bankruptcy of the equipment supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike Share System Company, put a wrench in that plan. PBSC has new ownership now, and Wiedel says the expansion is going much smoother than the original roll-out. “The previous round was stressful due to supply chain issues, but this time the process has been low-key. All equipment has arrived on time.” PBSC will also provide upgrade software for Divvy within the next six-to-twelve months, Wiedel said.

He added that the October 2014 sale of the former Divvy concessionaire, Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, to NYC-based Motivate, also greased the wheels. “There has been much more corporate support for the Divvy employees like [general manager] Elliot Greenberger and [operations manager] Jon Mayer.”

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Great Bay Area Bike Infrastructure I’d Love to See in Chicago

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Berkeley bike coordinator Eric Anderson rides on a bike boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

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

When I first visited the Bay Area nearly two decades ago for the 1996 Cycle Messenger World Championships, San Francisco’s vibrant bike culture struck me as a vision of what I wanted cycling in Chicago to be like. I was particularly inspired by the massive amount of two-wheeled traffic on Market Street, the Michigan Avenue of San Francisco, during the evening rush.

The back cover of Chicago’s 2014 Bikeways Report, released in January, features a recent photo of a similarly dense throng of cyclists on Milwaukee Avenue. In a few respects our city has pedaled past SF in terms of bike-friendliness. For example, we now have far more bike-share vehicles and miles of protected bike lanes per capita.

It didn’t help San Francisco’s cause that a successful lawsuit spearheaded by a cranky dishwasher and blogger named Rob Anderson in 2005 put the brakes on bikeway construction for several years. His paradoxical argument was that the lanes were a potential threat to the environment. However the injunction was lifted in 2010 and, since then, the city has been working hard to rebuild its rep as a biking mecca.

On a recent trip to Northern California, I mixed business with pleasure by checking in with a couple of colleagues for an update on the Bay Area’s bike progress. My first stop was Berkeley, the East Bay college town where my old pal Eric Anderson now works as the bike and pedestrian coordinator. Known as “Big Horn,” for the giant antique bulb horn on his basket bike, he was a founding father of the Windy City’s Critical Mass. He also recommended me for my first urban-planning job, to be his replacement as the city of Chicago’s bike-parking czar back in 2001.

On this visit, Eric took me on a bike tour to check out some of the facilities he’d helped make a reality, many of which I’d love to see implemented in Chicago. We started with a spin on the West Side Pathway, a former Santa Fe Railroad rail line that has been converted into a multiuse path. “For the newer part of the trail, we did an analysis of each street crossing and determined, based on the number of people walking, biking and driving, which was the dominant route—the street or the path,” Eric says. “That’s basic traffic engineering.”

At intersections where the trail has more traffic, drivers get a yield sign. At other crossings, path users get a stop sign, but there’s also a button to push that activates flashing lights to let motorists know you’re about to cross the street. A system like this at street crossings along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail could surely help prevent crashes.

One of the best things about biking in Berkeley is the preponderance of bike boulevards. These are traffic-calmed residential streets that give priority to cyclists. In Chicago, they’re known as neighborhood greenways, and watered-down versions have been installed on Berteau Avenue in Ravenswood and Wood Street in Wicker Park, featuring curb bumpouts, traffic circles, contraflow bike lanes and/or green paint.

The big difference between these and the Berkeley facilities is the use of traffic diverters: curbs that force drivers to turn off of the street at various points, but have cutouts that allow cyclists to proceed. This eliminates the temptation for motorists to use side streets as an alternative to arterials. When I mention to Eric that one of my hosts complained that the diverters are confusing for drivers, he replies, “I’d rather hear drivers complain about diverters than read about bike crashes in the newspaper.”

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Active Trans Launches Campaign to Beef Up Illinois’ Safe Routes Programs

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Children walk to school in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

In the wake of new analysis that shows nearly five children are struck by drivers within a block of an Illinois school every day, the Active Transportation Alliance is spearheading a campaign to overhaul the state’s Safe Routes to School program. “We’re really hoping to highlight the program, and also emphasize the need to improve it and put more funding behind it,” said campaign manager Erin McMillan.

Between 2006 and 2012, almost 19,000 children were struck while walking or biking in Illinois. The Active Trans study found that 54 percent of these crashes took place within a block of a school, with a child being hit every five hours on average.

McMillan added that the rate of walking and biking to school has dropped sharply over the last few decades. In 1969, half of school children walked or biked to school, but only 13 percent reported doing so in 2009. Meanwhile, the national childhood obesity rate has tripled over the last three decades, and about one in three Illinois children is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is particularly prevalent among African-American and Latino children.

In recent years, Safe Routes to School has emerged as a national movement to improve the safety and health of children by promoting walking and biking via educational programming and infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes. Since 2005, Illinois’ SRTS program has awarded nearly $49.5 million to 518 projects. However, unlike some other states that provide significant state funding for Safe Routes, Illinois only distributes federal transportation dollars.

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Minneapolis Sets Out to Build 30 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes By 2020

Minneapolis is planning to construct 30 miles of protected bike lanes over the next 5 years. Image: City of Minneapolis

Minneapolis is planning to construct 48 miles of protected bike lanes over the next 10 years. Click to enlarge. Map: City of Minneapolis

Minneapolis is one of the best cities for biking in the U.S., and it wants to get better. Last week the city released a plan to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes over the next five years and a total of 48 over 10 years.

Minneapolis has an expansive, widely used trail system, and its 4.5 percent bike commute mode-share is second among major American cities, after Portland, Oregon. Still, it currently has fewer than two miles of on-street protected bike lanes.

“Biking is part of our identity. It’s part of what makes Minneapolis a great place to live and protected bike lanes are the next step forward,” said Ethan Fawley, director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “It’s investments in quality of life, it’s investment in health and access that helps attract people here.”

The 30-mile plan is expected to cost about $6 million, with funding coming from city, county, and federal budgets. Minneapolis will also save money by folding bike lane construction into regularly scheduled road resurfacing projects, according to the Star Tribune. The paper notes the entire plan will cost less than building a single mile of roadway.

The city has tentatively identified 19 corridors that will get protected bike lanes. About half are in downtown or the University of Minnesota area. The other half are in outlying neighborhoods that aren’t currently well-served by bike infrastructure, said Fawley.

Fawley says the plan will undergo a public comment period but he doesn’t expect there to be much resistance or major changes. The city had hoped to install 8 miles of protected bike lanes this year, but it doesn’t look like it will quite reach that goal, due to some construction delays.

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Yes, Cops Park in the Bike Lane for Emergency Pizza Runs

Ever suspect that the officer who parked a squad car in the bike lane, forcing you to swerve into traffic, isn’t really on pressing police business? Stick around and you might get proof.

A Buffalo cyclist captured this short clip showing an officer returning to his bike lane-blocking vehicle with what appears to be some pizza, hot and fresh out of the oven.

The footage seems to have struck a nerve, with half a million views since it was posted less than two weeks ago. The video also got the attention of local news outlet WBIV, which reports that Buffalo police are “investigating it internally”:

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What’s Going on With Alderman Reilly and the Kinzie Protected Bike Lanes

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This part of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, from the River east to Dearborn, is supposed to be removed during Wolf Point construction. Photo: masMiguel.

Alderman Brendan Reilly submitted an order to city council on Wednesday that would compel Chicago Department of Transportation Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lane between Dearborn and the Chicago River because he says it conflicts with Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In 2013, under former commissioner Gabe Klein, CDOT agreed to a development plan [PDF], which was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and codified into law. The plan called for Hines, the Wolf Point developer, to pay for installing temporary protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie Street bike lanes to facilitate the construction project.

In the long term, it makes sense for there to be bike lanes on both Grand Avenue – already identified as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – and Kinzie Street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition asking other aldermen to oppose Reilly’s order. “Ald. Reilly has proposed installing new bike lanes on Grand Avenue as an alternative,” the petition stated. “But the reality is, people will continue to bike on Kinzie because it is less stressful than Grand Avenue with fewer cars and no buses, not to mention it provides the most logical and direct connection to the central business district.”

CDOT appears to have changed its position about the development plan. Spokesman Mike Claffey underscored the importance of the Kinzie bike lanes in a statement to Streetsblog:

“CDOT has safety concerns about removing the protected bike lanes on Kinzie, which is the second most popular street for bicycling in Chicago. The protected bike lane is in place to reduce conflicts and the risk of accidents between bicyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians. We have been in discussions with the Alderman about these concerns and will continue to work with him on this issue.”

Specifically, the development plan, identified as Planned Development 98, calls for:

  • Temporary removal of the protected bike lanes on Kinzie from Dearborn to Milwaukee
  • Eastbound and westbound PBLs on Grand from Milwaukee to Wells
  • Westbound PBL on Grand from Dearborn to Wells
  • Eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn
  • “An improved bicycle accommodation on Wells Street for cyclists traveling, between Grand Avenue and Illinois Street”

The Kinzie bike lanes are indeed important, but it’s unclear why Scheinfeld is now pushing back against the plan. Reilly told City Council that Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. We asked for a copy of this report but Claffey said he didn’t have one. The development plan also says that all of the developer’s designs for these temporary bicycle accommodations are subject to Scheinfeld’s departmental review.

CDOT could propose retaining the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes throughout the construction project, which started over a year ago. If that’s not feasible, and the bike lanes must come out, the agency should bring back their support for the original plan that temporarily relocates the bike lanes to Grand. However, it’s important the the Kinzie lanes be reinstalled, because Kinzie is the direct and route between the popular protected bike lanes on Milwaukee and bike lanes on Desplaines, Canal, Wells, and Dearborn.

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More Steps Emanuel Should Take to Reform Chicago’s Traffic Cam Program

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Photo: John Greenfield

Even if you voted for Chuy García, if you know how effective automated enforcement has been for preventing serious crashes in other cities, you may be relieved he didn’t get a chance to shut down all of Chicago’s traffic cameras. However, García and the other challengers did residents a service by drawing attention to ways that the Emanuel administration has mismanaged the program, which forced the mayor to take steps to reform it.

In early March, a few days after García said he would abolish the cams, Emanuel announced he would remove 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections that saw one or fewer right-angle crashes in 2013. He also promised to install pedestrian countdown signals at the 42 out of the city’s 174 red-light camera intersections that don’t currently have them, by June 1.

Emanuel proposed giving drivers a “Mulligan” on their first red light violation by allowing them to take an online safety course instead of paying the $100 fine. And he promised that community meetings will be held before red light cameras are installed, moved, or removed. Here are some more steps the mayor should take to make automated enforcement more effective, transparent, and fair.

Monitor cameras more carefully to make sure they are working properly. While the Chicago Tribune has delivered consistently biased coverage of the program, the paper deserves credit for exposing irregularities in enforcement, such as unexplained spikes in ticketing. For example, one North Side camera issued only a dozen tickets for rolling right turns over six months, and then put out 560 tickets for rolling rights within 12 days. The city needs to be vigilant about ticket spikes in the future and immediately address problems that emerge.

Remove cameras from other low-crash locations. It was definitely a step in the right direction to remove cameras from those first 25 low-crash intersections. When cams are installed at locations that don’t have a significant crash problem, it suggests that these sites were chosen with revenue — rather than safety — in mind. According to a Tribune study, there are 61 other intersections that had three or fewer injury crashes before cameras were installed. The mayor should shut down those cams as well.

Don’t include ticket revenue as a projected funding source in the city budget. If the red light and speed cams are doing their jobs to reduce violations, the number of tickets issued should drop within a few months of installation, which has been the case in Chicago. As a result, revenue from the cams has been lower than projected. Fines should be treated as a way to deter lawbreaking, not as an end in themselves, so the city should not count on them to balance the budget.

Be transparent about changes to the program. It’s a common misconception that the Emanuel shortened yellow light times in order to increase ticket revenue. That wasn’t the case, but the city did quietly change its policy to allow tickets to be issued after yellow phases that were a fraction of a second shorter than 3.0 seconds, to allow for minute electrical fluctuations. That move was legal under state law, and the motorists who ran reds after minutely shorter yellows deserved tickets. However, it was politically foolish to make the change without announcing it in advance, because it was only a matter of time before people noticed, which fueled mistrust for the program.

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SSA Hopes Lincoln Project Will Provide Magic Carpet Ride to Higher Sales

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Lincoln Hub, inspired by Oriental rug designs. St. Alphonsus is on left side of rendering.

In a little over a month from now, a relatively sleepy stretch of Lincoln in Lakeview will be transformed. Construction on the Lincoln Avenue Placemaking Project is slated to begin next Monday, April 20, with work finishing up around May 22.

The initiative will activate the four-block business strip between Diversey and Belmont with clusters of custom seating and planters, plus patterns of blue and green dots painted on the sidewalk, inspired by Oriental carpet designs. Best of all, the project will create a new “Lincoln Hub” at Lincoln/Wellington/Southport, which will combine traffic calming with seats and public art to create a new gathering place for the neighborhood.

“We want people to slow down and linger, and notice all the great things on Lincoln,” said Lee Crandell, program director for Special Service Area #27, which is working with the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce on the endeavor. “We want the street to be a vibrant community place, rather than just somewhere to pass through.”

He noted that there are several new businesses on this stretch, including Wrightwood Furniture, the Brown Elephant thrift store, Gyros on the Spit restaurant, and Beermiscuous bar. “There’s a lot of great energy on this part of Lincoln nowadays, but the foot traffic hasn’t cemented yet. That’s something we want to support by making the street a more welcoming place.” The elimination of this stretch of the #11 Lincoln bus route back in 2012, is one factor in why this stretch of the street – sections of which are more than a ten-minute walk from the Brown Line – is relatively quiet.

Last year, the SSA released a new placemaking plan for the business district, based on input from two public meeting and an online survey, with 250 residents and business owners participating. The idea was to come up with relatively inexpensive, short-term improvements that could be made over the next three years, before the city does a full streetscape, which will include new curbs and trees. The price tag for the placemaking project, which was designed by the urban design and landscape architecture firm Site Design, is $175K.

Participants said they wanted more sidewalk cafes, public seating, and other places for people to hang out on the street. They requested more greenery to beautify the street and provide shade. And they wanted walking on the sidewalks and crossing streets to be safer, more convenient, and more pleasant. Merchants were especially interested in calming car traffic so that motorists would be more likely to notice their storefronts, Crandell said.

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Other Issues Aside, It Was a Good Election for Transportation

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Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Whether you were rooting for Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García, I think most Streetsblog readers will agree that there were some positive outcomes for sustainable transportation in yesterday’s municipal runoff election. Regardless of how you feel about Emanuel in terms of the economy, education, crime, transparency, ethics, and other issues, it’s safe to say he was the more progressive candidate when it comes to walking, biking, transit, and traffic safety.

For all his faults, the mayor has racked up an impressive list of transportation achievements during his first term, which got little airtime in the election coverage. These include the successful south Red Line reconstruction, many new and rehabbed ‘L’ stations, and the start of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project. We’ve seen an increased focus on reducing pedestrian fatalities, including plenty of new safety infrastructure. Big projects for bicycling have included dozens of miles of buffered and protected lanes, Divvy bike-share, and the Bloomingdale Trail.

García’s transportation platform, which voiced support for the Transit Future campaign for a dedicated funding at the county level, as well as for winning a fair share of state transportation dollars for the Chicago region, suggested that he understands the need for a high-quality transit system. When I interviewed him for Newcity magazine, the commissioner also said he was interested in creating a line item in the city budget for pedestrian infrastructure, and he praised Emanuel’s bike initiatives.

However, there were indications that the rate of transportation progress would have slowed down under a García administration. He told me he’s in favor of road diets and protected bike lanes, both of which became common over the last four years. However, he said that a more extensive community input is needed for road diets, and he would only install PBLs “where there’s good support for building [them.]”

Worse, the commissioner’s positions on automated traffic enforcement and the city’s plan for BRT on Ashland Avenue were downright reactionary, and seemed calculated to attract votes from disgruntled drivers. García and the other mayoral challengers deserve credit for drawing attention to ways that the Emanuel administration mismanaged the traffic cam program, including questionable locations, malfunctioning cameras and more. As a result, the mayor recently pledged to remove red light cams from low-crash intersections and make other changes to help rebuild Chicagoan’s confidence in the program.

However, García threw out the baby with the bathwater by promising abolish, rather than reform, automated enforcement if elected, even though numerous studies have shown that well placed cams have been very successful in reducing serious crashes and fatalities in other cities. Although he argued that the program unfairly targeted low-income and working-class Chicagoans, there’s actually a higher density of cams in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods. Moreover, Chicago’s worst intersections for pedestrian crashes involving children are located in low-income neighborhoods and, from my experience scanning news stories for Today’s Headlines, it appears that the majority of serious traffic crashes take place on the South and West Sides.

Likewise, García’s opposition to the Ashland BRT plan, which would nearly double bus speeds via dedicated lanes and other time-saving features, appeared to be a case of pandering to motorists. “This project cannot be approved in its current form, and frankly may never be appropriate for approval,” he told the Sun-Times.

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A Look at Two Big Chicagoland Trail Projects: The Bloomingdale and Cal-Sag

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Beth White on the Bloomingdale Trail’s bridge over Humboldt Boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

The Trust for Public Land’s Beth White is a petite woman with a light southern accent, despite the fact that she’s lived much of her life in here in Chicago. She hands me an oversized white hardhat and an orange safety vest, and we walk a couple of blocks from a construction office through the December gloom to the worksite for the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606. This 2.7-mile elevated trail and linear park is slated to open in June. When it does, it’s certain to become one of the Windy City’s signature public spaces.

The Bloomingdale, which is being built on the old rail embankment of the same name, will stretch across four economically and culturally diverse neighborhoods on Chicago’s Northwest Side, providing a gorgeous space for strolling, running, biking, and relaxing. Meanwhile, in the city’s near south suburbs, the Cal-Sag Trail — a 26-mile multiuse path that will run almost entirely along the banks of the Cal-Sag Channel and the Calumet River — is partly completed and should be finished by 2018. Both greenways are great examples of how grassroots advocacy, efforts by municipalities and national nonprofits, and federal funding can combine to create projects with big economic, environmental, and health benefits.

White leads me up the embankment at a trailheads in Julia de Burgos Park, named after the late Puerto Rican nationalist and feminist poet who is a hero to many residents of Humboldt Park, the largely Latino community to the south. The railroad right-of-way runs about 16 feet above street level, and it averages only about 30 feet wide, but it will soon be home to colorful plantings and art installations. There’s already a 14-foot-wide ribbon of concrete that will become the multiuse path. “The story of the 606 is a unique combination of passion and perseverance,” White says. “Those things don’t often go together.”

Read the rest of the story at Rails to Trails Magazine.