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Lakeview News: Right Turns Are Back at Grace/Halsted, Curbside Cafes Debut

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El Nuevo Mexicano owner Maria Rodiguez cuts the ribbon on the restaurant’s Curbside Cafe. Photo: Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.

The controversial right-turn ban at Grace/Halsted/Broadway in Lakeview East may have created a new Chicago record for the number of community meetings held over a pair of traffic signs. Fortunately, it appears that a compromise has been reached which should satisfy the drivers who groused about the turn ban, as well as folks who are concerned about improving pedestrian safety.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation recently put up “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs by the slip lane that previously allowed drivers to make quick turns from northbound Halsted to southeast-bound Broadway. Slip lanes, also called channelized right turns or “porkchop islands,” are problematic because they allow motorists to whip around corners at high speeds into the path of people on foot, and they create longer pedestrian crossing distances.

CDOT decided to try banning the right turn as a test, in advance of a street repaving project on Broadway between Belmont and Irving Park, slated for late 2016 or early 2017. If the test was deemed a success, the slip lane would be replaced by a curb extension during the road project.

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Banning right turns onto Broadway kept pedestrians from being endangered by quick-turning drivers. Photo: John Greenfield

But some residents, merchants, and the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce weren’t happy about the turn ban, and the chamber launched an online petition asking CDOT to take down the signs. They argued that the new rule made it harder to drive in the neighborhood, and caused motorist to take circuitous routes on residential streets to access Broadway south of Grace.

However, northbound drivers on Halsted who needed to access the the 3700 block of North Broadway could do so by turning east on Waveland, a block south of Grace. Moreover, CDOT rush hour traffic counts done on a single day last October found that, even during the busiest hour, 8 to 9 a.m., only 14 northbound drivers made the hard right turn onto Broadway. Overall, only 4.5 percent of all northbound motorists used the slip lane during the a.m. rush, and a mere 3.9 percent used it during the p.m. rush.

Nevertheless, CDOT recently took down the turn-ban signs and replaced them with a “No U-Turn for Trucks” sign. When I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about the change, he referred me to local alderman James Cappleman’s latest newsletter.

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Transit TIF Districts Pass State House and Senate, Would Fund CTA Projects

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The CTA wants to modernize the Blue Line’s Congress branch, and onedesign some of the stations and possibly reopen some closed entrances at single-entry stations. Image: CTA

A new bill that would generate more funding for four large-scale Chicago transit infrastructure projects, without diverting tax revenues from schools, passed the Illinois House and Senate today. The original bill was introduced in January 2015, spearheaded by the Metropolitan Planning Council. It awaits Governor Bruce Rauner’s signature, who is expected to sign a budget today after a year of operating the state without a budget for a year – reducing funding for transit agencies, schools, and social services.

The funding would come from “transit TIF districts” that would have boundaries extended up to a half mile around Chicago’s Union Station (to fund the changes in its master plan), the CTA’s North Side Main Line, the CTA’s Red Line extension, and the CTA’s Blue Line Congress branch modernization and possible extension. The bill (pdf) enables the Chicago City Council to pass a similar law to create the actual districts, but sets limits on how far the districts can extend from the proposed projects’ area.

They would work much like existing TIF districts, where the property taxes assessed on any incremental increase in property values since a district’s inception is deposited in a separate fund. This is a form of value capture in that an increase in property values spurred by the transit infrastructure is used to help pay for it.

Other key differences are that the transit TIF districts would expire in 35 years instead of the originally-proposed 50, and that instead of a blanket maximum length of six miles, each district has a specific maximum length. Fifty years was proposed because that is the useful life of a transit facility.

The most important difference between common TIF districts and the transit TIF districts is that the new transit TIF district doesn’t divert any money from schools. The legislation says that any school district overlapping the transit TIF district will receive all the money due to it as if the transit TIF district didn’t exist.

After making the payment from the transit TIF district fund to the school district, 80 percent of the remaining portion would go to pay for the transit project, and 20 percent of the remaining portion would go to all other taxing districts – library, city colleges, etc. – in the proportions as if the transit TIF district didn’t exist.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement about the bill’s passage in the state House and Senate, saying, “Today marks the next chapter in the work we started shortly after I took office, to modernize the Red Line from 95th to Howard” and building the extension to 130th Street. “With this bill,” it said, “in just a few years we will have done what once seemed impossible.”

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Rosemont Transit Center Rehab, Bus Lanes on I-90 Could Spur New Ridership

People getting off buses at Rosemont and heading into the station

The Rosemont Transit Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace Suburban Bus is starting a $1.5 million dollar project to modernize and rebuild the Rosemont Transit Center to increase capacity, improve service and maximize efficiency of traffic flow between buses, cars and pedestrians. The project is being coordinated with the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways and the Chicago Transit Authority. The scope of the program details is as follows:

  • Expand the bus station islands to accommodate two buses in each bay for additional boarding capacity
  • Construct two new bus bays for additional boarding and one new bus bay for extra buses to sit on layovers
  • Upgrade sidewalks and bus boarding islands for improved ADA compliance
  • Improve pedestrian and bicycle access and safety around the transit center with additional sidewalks, crosswalks and bike racks
  • Improve the flow of traffic for taxi, shuttle, and Kiss-n-Ride zones to avoid conflict and congestion
  • Realign the bus lanes from the Tollway exit to reduce conflict with vehicular traffic around the parking lots upon entry into the Transit Center
  • Repair pavement and construct new parking lot gates

Pace will reimburse Cook County for the cost of the project because Cook County owns the land where the project will occur. The project is expected to start this summer and to be completed around October. However, according to northwest suburban news site Journal & Topics, Pace is still finalizing selection of a construction manager.

The Rosemont Transit Center was built in 1983 during the extension of the CTA Blue Line from Jefferson Park to O’Hare Airport. Today, the center is a busy multi-modal station hub located in the northwest suburban village of Rosemont serving over 6,000 riders a day. Rosemont is a small town with a large concentration of businesses, entertainment, restaurants and lodging adjacent to O’Hare Airport. In addition to the Blue Line, it’s served by 12 Pace bus routes. Additionally, the station is served by taxis as well as corporate and hotel shuttles. The station also has a 798-space Park & Ride lot for commuters and a drop off (Kiss-n-Ride) area.

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Manor Greenway Could Become City’s Best By Cutting Cut-Through Motorists

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed its proposal to connect riverfront paths, reduce cut through traffic, and make it safer to walk and bike along streets in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. CDOT developed the plan for a “neighborhood greenway” between Horner Park and Ronan Park along the north branch of the Chicago River over the past two years, at the request of 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell, and the Transportation Action Committee she started.

I’ve been a member of the TAC since its beginning, and I know the plan well. While I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I think that Patty Wetli’s article in DNAinfo thoroughly captured the concerns people have.

The project was initiated because there’s a gap between two riverfront trails in Horner and Ronan Parks, and Ravenswood Manor residents have been complaining about cut-through traffic, motorists who roll past stop signs, and speeding, for decades. The neighborhood greenway plan includes redesigning a handful of intersections, laying down a short multi-use paths to connect the parks to the streets, and pilot what would be a pioneering traffic diverter.

Homes abut the river in Ravenswood Manor, so there is no public space along the river on which to build a trail. The neighborhood greenway  would be an on-street connection.

On the project’s south end, CDOT would build a small path in the park so people in the park could reach the start of the on-street route at the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Manor Ave. To create a safer crossing here, CDOT would build a concrete island with two waiting areas, one for people using the route, and another for people walking on the sidewalk. This way, people can cross one direction of traffic at a time. The island blocks left turns from Manor Ave. onto Montrose Ave. and left turns from Montrose Ave. to Manor Ave. would use a dedicated lane. CDOT would build a raised crosswalk across Manor Ave. to slow incoming motorists.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT

CDOT showed this rendering, looking north on Manor at Wilson, of how the traffic diverter would work. Previous proposals, presented to the TAC, used concrete to physically prevent vehicles from going straight. Image: CDOT

On the north end, CDOT proposed building a new, short trail on an extended parkway along Lawrence between Manor Ave. and the Ronan Park entrance. A traffic island that’s nearly identically to the one at Montrose would offer a safe waiting area for people to cross in two-stages. There would be another raised crosswalk here at the entry of the neighborhood greenway.

The neighborhood greenway’s on-street route would be the city’s third. The first was installed on Berteau Avenue in Lakeview in 2014, and the second, albeit without any infrastructure changes, was built on Wood Street in Wicker Park.

The best way to increase safety for people walking and biking on neighborhood greenways is to limit speed and reduce the number of cars. Manor Ave.’s speed limit is already 20 m.p.h. but residents had said it was common to see people driving faster. The neighborhood’s many families, a park and a ballet school, all mean that lots of children are crossing Manor Ave. Read more…

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West Garfield and Austin Got Divvy Bikes Last Week. Will Anyone Use Them?

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Rob, an Austin resident and substitute teacher, by the new Divvy station at Austin Park. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last November the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Imagine if the Chicago Transit Authority, a public transportation system that’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars, were mostly serving wealthy white folks. That would be messed up, right?

Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation admitted to a similarly lopsided situation with the publicly funded Divvy network, which was launched in 2013. Its survey of annual members revealed that, as is the case with most U.S. bike-share systems, membership skewed heavily white, affluent, well educated, young, and male.

That finding was no surprise. Arguably, Divvy got off on the wrong foot from a social justice standpoint in 2013, when the city concentrated most of the first 300 docking stations in dense, well-off areas downtown and on the near-north lakefront in an effort to make the system financially sustainable.

And while stations in these areas were generally installed with tight quarter-mile spacing, making it easy to walk to and from the docks from many destinations, the rest of the city typically got less-convenient half-mile spacing. Moreover, the $75 (now $99) annual membership fee and credit card requirements were financial barriers to low-income and unbanked Chicagoans.

To its credit, CDOT has recently taken steps to address Divvy’s equity problem. When the system added 175 more stations last summer, many of them went to low-to-moderate-income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities on the south and west sides.

And last July the department rolled out the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program, which offers onetime $5 annual memberships to Chicagoans making $35,310 or less a year and waives the credit card requirement. More than 1,300 residents have signed up so far, well over CDOT’s target of 750 for the year.

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Here’s How the Wood Street Greenway Could Better Prioritize Bicycling

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The Wood Street neighborhood greenway is supposed to be specially designed to make cycling safer and more convenient. The black line shows where a curb could go to solidify the turn as part of the route. Image: Google Street View

Over the past few years the city has built a handful of “neighborhood greenways,” projects that involve small changes to side streets that can have a big impact in making them more bikeable, while connecting residential areas to the wider network of bike lanes. If the Chicago Department of Transportation picks up the pace on building these bikeways, it could actually create the kind of “8 to 80” bike network that the department says is its goal, and the Active Transportation Alliance and other advocates have been pushing for.

Neighborhood greenways can involve a number of different strategies that discourage cut-through traffic and speeding on residential streets, while making cycling more efficient and comfortable. For example, Chicago’s first neighborhood greenway on Berteau between Lincoln and Clark, completed in 2013, involved removing four-way stop signs at an intersection and replaced them with a traffic circle. This forces drivers to slow down to maneuver around the circle, but it doesn’t hinder bicyclists.

The Berteau route also includes sections of contraflow bike lane that allow two-way cycling on one-way segments of the street; a reduced 20 mph speed limit; curb bump-outs that shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage fast turns by drivers; and a pedestrian island at Clark with a special cut-through that allows eastbound contraflow bike traffic to turn north onto Clark.

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The route of the Wood Street greenway between Division and Milwaukee. Image: Google Maps

However, the city’s second neighborhood greenway, completed in 2014 on Wood Street between Augusta and Milwaukee, doesn’t include any concrete infrastructure but only street markings. As such, the project was less effective making the street more bike-friendly. A bike infrastructure design from the Netherlands offers inspiration for additional changes that could be made to Wood that would emphasize the greenway’s role in the network and pilot a new kind of traffic calming in Chicago.

The Wood bike route makes three turns at Ellen, Wicker Park Avenue, and Wolcott – all within the span of two blocks. At the tricky “T” intersection of Wicker Park and Wolcott, bicyclists aren’t given any sort of priority.

Southbound bicyclists have to make a left turn from Wolcott to Wicker Park Ave. Signs here tell southbound cyclists that the greenway continues to the left, but they’re placed too close to the intersection. By the time a cyclist is close enough to read the sign and realize they need to turn left, it’s a little too late to conveniently merge left, and it’s also necessary to yield to oncoming traffic on Wolcott before turning. I’d argue that this doesn’t embody the safe and comfortable riding experience you’re supposed to enjoy on an neighborhood greenway.

In contrast, when you’re biking on a Dutch “fietsstraat” (bicycle street) in a town like Nijmegen (nigh-may-hen), cycling is prioritized even when the bike route turns from one street to another at a “T” intersection. This is indicated with signs and the red pavement – kind of like a red carpet – which is used throughout the Netherlands to denote bike-priority and bike-only routes. As the bikeway turns from one street to another at an intersection, the red pavement does, too.

“Shark’s teeth,” white triangular street markings that point in the opposite direction of traffic, indicate that those cyclists and motorists outside the red pavement must yield to those riding and driving on the red route.

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Prepaid Boarding Debuts on Belmont, But Why Doesn’t Loop Link Have It Yet?

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Earlier this month, when the CTA announced its plan to test a faster bus-boarding method on the #77 Belmont Avenue route, my first reaction was “huh?”

The six-month pilot, which started last Monday and is in effect from 3 to 7 PM on weekdays, has customers who catch the westbound Belmont bus from the Blue Line’s Belmont-Kimball station paying their fares in advance. When the bus arrives, they walk right on via both the front and rear doors without having to pay onboard—just like getting on an el car.

Prepaid, all-door boarding is a key time-saving feature of fast bus systems around the country (including New York City’s Select Bus Service lines and Seattle’s RapidRide routes) because it shortens “dwell time” at the stops. So the decision to try it in Chicago was a no-brainer.

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Customers tap their fare card at the portable reader before entering the Belmont waiting area. Photo: John Greenfield

The head-scratcher for me was that the CTA has been planning to implement off-board fare collection along the Loop Link bus-rapid-transit corridor for years. But nearly six months after that route launched last December, prepaid boarding still hasn’t materialized.

In contrast, there was no advance notice about the Belmont experiment until this month.

Why did the CTA decide to test prepaid boarding on the #77 before making this long-awaited upgrade to Loop Link?

The downtown BRT corridor already features red bus-only lanes, limited stops, raised boarding platforms, and special signals that give buses a head start at traffic lights—all of which help shorten travel times. But in 2014, before construction on the corridor began, the city revealed that it planned to implement prepaid boarding only at one of the eight Loop Link stations, located at Madison and Dearborn.

And in fall 2015, the city announced that prepaid boarding wouldn’t even be in place at that station in time for the system’s December debut. Instead, the CTA planned to pilot it at Madison-Dearborn sometime this summer.

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Why a Viral Tweet Blaming Divvy for School Funding Problems Is Misguided

Chicago residents have every right to be angry about the sorry state of the Chicago Public School funding. But don’t scapegoat the Divvy bike-share system, a bargain for local taxpayers that could have a positive effect on our city’s wealth inequality problem.

The above tweet, implying that Divvy is a frivolous project paid for by money that should have been spent on schools, has been retweeted over 1,200 times this month. I understand the sentiment that the city invests too much money on downtown tourist attractions while neglecting the neighborhoods, but bike-share doesn’t belong on this list.

First of all, Divvy is a smart investment for the city. After the system, which launched in 2013, expands this summer, it will include almost 6,000 bikes and 584 docking stations and serve 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards, so it’s evolving into a citywide public transportation network.

The total cost for all of the city’s bike-share infrastructure, plus some of the wages for siting the stations, is $35,838,780, with 80 percent of the bill covered by federal and state transportation grants. (The suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park lined up their own funding for ten and 13 stations, respectively).

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

$36 million sounds like a lot of money but – like most bike enhancements — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to car infrastructure costs. For example, the current work to expand Chicago’s Jayne Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange is costing $475 million. That’s more than 13 times the price tag of the city’s entire bike-share network, for a project that many transportation experts say won’t achieve its goal of reducing congestion.

Moreover, the federal and state grants that paid most of the cost of Divvy can only be used for transportation infrastructure. Chicago doesn’t have the option of spending that cash on schools.

OK, you might ask, but how about the 20-percent match the city had to provide – couldn’t that roughly $7.2 million have been spent on the CPS? Yes and no. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the local match was largely funded by ward “menu” money (which can also only be used for infrastructure), Divvy’s $12 million sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and payments from real estate developers who purchased docking stations to go in front of their buildings.

However, it is true that some of the $7.2 million came from Chicago’s tax-increment financing program, which has been widely criticized because it diverts property tax revenue from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies. But if we’re going to have a TIF program at all, spending a few million to fund Divvy stations is in line with the original intent of the program: earmarking tax revenue from a designated district for investments that benefit residents of that district.

As for the expenses associated with running and maintaining the system, CDOT says operations costs are currently being covered by user fees and revenue from the ad panels on the stations.

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Divvy Releases Odd-Looking New Service Area Map, Announces New Initiatives

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The new Divvy coverage areas are shown in Red. Click to Enlarge.

These are exciting times for Divvy bike-share users as the city begins its second major expansion during the system’s three-year history. At the same time, Divvy is rolling out a bunch of new features and services, which they say will make the network function better than ever.

The expansion will add 85 more stations on the South, Southwest, West, Northwest, and Far North sides of the city, as well as 10 stations in Evanston and 13 in Oak Park. After the installations are completed, the system will include 584 stations and almost 6,000 bikes, maintaining its title as one of the largest in North America in terms of stations and cycles. The new coverage area is spread across 100 square miles, so Divvy will continue to be (as the city is fond of pointing out) the largest system on the continent in terms of service area.

The city released the new coverage area map last week, and a few interesting aspects spring to mind. As with last year’s expansion, the new areas generally get half-mile station spacing, as opposed to the quarter-mile spacing that was implemented downtown, and in dense, affluent North Lakefront neighborhoods, during the original 2013 rollout. The system is more convenient to use in areas with a higher station density, since it’s more likely there will be a station within a short walk of your trip’s origin and destination.

On the other hand, the new expansion helps make the system more equitable because most of the new Chicago neighborhoods served are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. The new communities include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, Englewood, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park and Austin.

The Divvy service area has previously expanded outward from the Loop in a fairly logical manner, with a roughly equal amount of coverage north and south of Madison Street, although the service area didn’t expand nearly as far west. However, the new expansion map is a little odd, with panhandles of service stretching west to Oak Park and north to Evanston.

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This station in Englewood was installed during the 2015 expansion. Photo: John Greenfield

Since the two suburbs were willing to apply for state funding to pay for their stations, as well as chipping in the required 20 percent local match, it makes sense for the Chicago-owned system to expand in their directions. Although the city of Chicago doesn’t have to spend any money for those 23 suburban stations, their presence makes the system more useful for Chicagoans. For example, it will make it easier for West Side residents to access jobs in Oak Park.

But it would be understandable if residents of neighborhoods closer to downtown, but just outside of the panhandles, such as Lawndale, West Humboldt Park, and West Rogers Park, are upset because they got passed over this round in favor of the ‘burbs. The Chicago Department of Transportation would be wise to spread the word that no Chicago funding is being spent on the Oak Park and Evanston Stations.

There’s an odd little node of four new stations being installed on the Northwest Side in the 45th and 39th Wards this round. That’s likely because the local residents and aldermen have been strongly advocating to get stations.

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Eyes on the Street: London “Cycle Superhighway” Teems With Bike Traffic

In case you’re looking for a good visual to show how bike lanes can be extremely efficient transportation infrastructure, check out this short video from the UK-based advocacy group Sustrans. It shows rush hour on the Blackfriars Bridge “cycle superhighway” in London on a Tuesday morning.

London has been building out a network of “cycle superhighways” since 2008, but only in the last couple of years has the city started to emphasize physical protection from motor vehicle traffic in its bikeway designs. Here’s a look at what the Blackfriars Bridge bike lane looked like before a recent upgrade.

Bicycling in London has risen dramatically in recent years, with bikes now accounting for about a fifth as many trips per day as the Tube, according to Transport for London. In addition to better bikeways, policies like congestion pricing and slow speed zones have made the city’s streets safer and more appealing for people to get around by bike.

Hat tip: NACTO, Jacob Mason