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Greenway Questioned for First Time After Mell Cancels Diverter Trial Early

Alderman Deb Mell

Alder. Deb Mell (33) and her assistant Jeff Sobczyk in September.

Alder. Deb Mell (33rd Ward) told a large crowd gathered in the basement of Horner Park field house that she had instructed the Chicago Department of Transportation to end the car traffic diverter trial early. CDOT started the trial on September 19 with support from Mell and the ward’s Transportation Action Committee, among other community groups, in September. The trial was supposed to continue for two months until November 18. The barricades are being removed on Friday.

The public meeting tonight was for the monthly Transportation Action Committee, which I’ve been a member of since the first meeting in February 2014.

Two barricades at the intersection of Manor Ave. and Wilson Ave. required motorists to turn off of Manor Ave. People cycling could continue through the intersection.

CDOT is using this trial to test the effects of a diverter on distributing vehicle traffic on other streets as a solution to reducing traffic volume on a street that more cyclists will be riding down as new riverfront trail sections open up in the next two years.


Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Mell apologized to those in attendance “if [the trial] put you out of your routine” and said, “I really wanted to give it a good shot.”

Mell said that when she called Mike Amsden to talk about ending it early he supported the decision because running this test was taxing their resources and that they had collected enough data to analyze. Read more…


Why the Belmont Blue Rehab Includes a Futuristic Canopy but No Elevators


Rendering of the redesigned Belmont Blue Line station, including its Jetsons-like canopy.

Early this month the city announced upgrades the Blue Line’s Belmont stop that will cost up to $15 million. The improvements to the station, which opened in 1970 and was originally designed by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, include several cosmetic changes, including a space-age-looking weather canopy. However, many residents are scratching their heads about why the rehab won’t include the addition of elevators to make the stations compliant with the Americans With Disabilities act.

The project, which is slated to begin next year, is part of the CTA’s Your New Blue initiative, which includes makeovers to several stations along the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch, as well as track improvements. Residents have previously complained about the fact that many of the station redesigns don’t include elevators, and the CTA has said they plan to make all stations ADA compliant sometime in the future.

The planned improvements include a community gateway for the street-level entrance to the Belmont subway station and improvements to a safer, more comfortable environment for pedestrians. Importantly, the CTA plans to permanently add prepaid bus boarding to the station, a timesaving feature the agency has been testing since this summer on westbound buses during evening rush hours.

Attendants with portable fare card readers have customers scan their cards and wait in a fenced in bullpen. When buses arrive the employees direct the riders to board through both the front and rear doors. The CTA didn’t provide additional details on how the permanent prepaid boarding system would work.

But spokesman Jeff Tolman said the Belmont test, as well as a similar pilot that recently launched at the Loop Link’s Madison/Dearborn station, seem to be going smoothly. “Anecdotally, customers have responded generally positively to both pilots and they have helped reduce boarding times,” he said.

The large, skeletal canopy, designed by the Chicago architecture firm Ross Barney Architects, will provide additional weather protection. It’s more evidence that the city has a “When in doubt go with something Santiago Calatrava-esque” design philosophy. See also the Loop Link and Union Station Transit Center bus shelters, as well as the upcoming Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station – all of them are vaguely reminiscent of dinosaur ribs.

“Projects like this bring notable architecture and design that celebrates and complements the character of our communities, enhance our neighborhoods and bring economic and cultural opportunities to residents and businesses,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement.

Read more…

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Activists Held Rally on CTA to Honor Red Line Murder Victim Jessica Hampton


The activists chanted phrases in honor of Hampton on the Lake Street Red Line platform. Photo: Sarah-Ji Photography

In response to the murder of Jessica Hampton, 25, onboard a Red Line train in June, last Saturday afternoon activists used the ‘L’ system as a venue to speak out against violence against African-American girls and women. The event, called “Beautiful Resistance,” was hosted by A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based national nonprofit led by Scheherazade Tillet, and drew dozens of people to draw attention to the issue.

According to prosecutors, Hampton was riding a southbound Red Line train on the afternoon of June 23 when she got in an argument with Arthur Jones, 29, a man she had previously dated. As the train approached the 47th Street station, Jones stabbed Hampton, the mother of a six-year-old girl, multiple times and then slit her throat. After Jones exited the train at 47th, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.


Jessica Hampton

The activists sought to draw attention to Hampton’s case, as well as those of other domestic violence victims and survivors. “As part of the #sayhername campaign, we plan to lift up the names of Jessica and other black girls and women who have experienced violence in their homes, schools, and communities,” read the rally invite. “Jessica’s last words were ‘help me’ — help us be upstanders, not bystanders when community violence ensues, and march with love as we fight to make our world safer and more beautiful for us all.”

Kofi Ademola, 37, a lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Chicago, which partnered with A Long Walk Home for the event, offered to provide a report on what took place. BLM Chicago raised money to help pay for Hampton’s funeral expenses and introduced her family to A Long Walk Home, and Ademola previous participated in an African drum ceremony at the 47th Street station to honor the victim.

“Beautiful Resistance” began at the Firehouse Community Arts Center, 2211 South Hamlin in Lawndale, with a dialogue around domestic violence issues. “Social workers and others spoke about how they feel police, judges, and the criminal justice system are ineffective when it comes to preventing violence against women,” Ademola said.

From there they marched to the Pink Line, chanting phrases like “Say her name: Jessica Hampton.” Aboard the train the activists did a “teach-in,” distributing hand-outs on domestic violence and discussing the issue with passengers.

Read more…


Central Area Committee Pushing New Downtown Rail Transit (Again)

The Connector Transitway would first be built between Union Station and Streeterville (Columbus/Illinois, the white dot to the right of "Red Line-Michigan Av").

The Connector Transitway would first be built between Union Station and Streeterville (Columbus/Illinois, the white dot to the right of “Red Line-Michigan Av”).

The Chicago Central Area Committee, a coalition of business executives, has proposed to build a network of automated rail lines downtown and in nearby neighborhoods to expand transit capacity for growing areas and better connect underserved communities. Their proposal includes a plan to provide rapid transit service on the Metra Electric corridor, something many South Siders have advocated for, which the committee says would help spur development.

The CCAC formed in the 1970s, and in the late ’80s and early ’90s it supported Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to build light rail as a downtown circulator shuttling workers between the two West Loop train stations and high-density job centers elsewhere in the central business district. The current proposal has the backing of some of those who worked on this plan, including former UIC Urban Transportation Center director Steve Schlickman, and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

The Chicago-based MacArthur foundation is offering a single $100 million grant for an idea “that will make measurable progress toward solving a significant problem” on “any critical issue.” The committee is trying to win the grant in order to kickstart their plan for a revised circulator that also heads south to better connect neighborhoods around Jackson Park and the Obama Library, which is slated to be built in the park.

The CCAC worked with the Urban Transportation Center to produce a detailed report explaining how a modern and automated train – with rolling stock that’s incompatible with CTA’s ‘L’ system – would finally connect the major downtown transit nodes with each other.

The first phase of the new system, which they call the “minimum operable segment,” would link Union Station, the Ogilvie Transportation Center, the Merchandise Mart, and Streeterville using Clinton Street and the abandoned Carroll Avenue route, which is north of the Chicago River. This section, the report said, would cost $750 million, or $375 million per mile and is the most “complex part” of the complete proposal.

More downtown rail transit is necessary, the report said, because over 100 million square feet of development is projected to be built over the next 20 years, and existing rail transit can support only a third of that. Downtown is also gaining many new residents, and existing downtown bus service is atrociously slow (although the Loop Link express bus corridor represents a modest improvement that will get better if prepaid boarding is implemented at all stations.) Read more…


During Greenway Meeting, Osterman Proposes Seminars on Sharing the Road

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A new concrete island prevents drivers from turning south on this one-way-north section of Glenwood Avenue, but it will allow cyclists to enter a southbound contraflow bike lane. Photo: Alex Soble

Thirty people gathered at the the Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater on Saturday morning to discuss the treatments currently being added to a short stretch of Glenwood Avenue to create a pedestrian- and bike-friendly “neighborhood greenway.” These changes include a new contraflow bike lane and signage that will calm traffic and facilitate two-way bike traffic on this mostly one-way northbound stretch of Glenwood Between Carmen Avenue and Ridge Avenue.

Scanning the small crowd before the community meeting, I couldn’t help noting who had a bike helmet with them and who didn’t. Would the meeting have an us-versus-them feeling? Or was I preemptively denying each attendee’s individuality by mentally sorting them as cyclists or motorists before the meeting even started?

The meeting kicked off with a presentation by 48th Ward alderman, Harry Osterman. He began by describing Chicago as undergoing a “learning period,” as more people start riding bicycles in its streets. During the learning period, Osterman said, both people on bikes and people driving will need to learn how to coexist safely. He talked about wanting to bring together a working group, including people who bike and/or drive in the ward, to talk about sharing the streets.

The alderman explained that the one-way-northbound stretch of Glenwood between Foster Avenue and Ridge, about two-thirds of a mile, is already being used by southbound cyclists, including students biking home from Senn High School. He said that he understood how parking — especially parking removal — was a sensitive topic for the motorists in the room. Osterman went over the Glenwood route spot by spot, explaining how the changes would result in a net loss of exactly two parking spots.

The route of the Glenwood Ave. neighborhood greenway. A contraflow bike lane will allow two-way bike traffic on the otherwise one-way street.

The route of the Glenwood Avenue neighborhood greenway. Click to enlarge.

When he finished speaking, the group had questions. Only a few of the people who spoke talked about the specifics of the proposed infrastructure improvements. One woman asked if the bike lane will make her liable if she hit a cyclist. Osterman replied that the lane would not affect liability. A man suggested the lane be built on Wayne Avenue, a wider street, instead of Glenwood.

However, most of the comments weren’t about the specifics of the greenway. People wanted to talk about the general issues of speed, courtesy, and sharing the streets. In particular, as the comments began, expressed concerns from a driver’s perspective. An elderly gentleman talked about an experience he had before he retired from driving. He described a close call during which several cyclists sped through an intersection. As a person who bikes, I appreciated hearing his point of view. I hadn’t thought much about how older drivers might have a hard time reacting to cyclists on the road, although thinking about that made me equal parts sympathetic and nervous.

One woman said she wanted to be nice to bike riders by thanking them when they stop at intersections, but added that she almost never sees them stop. This set off chuckles among some of the attendees. Of course, as recent local video has shown, it’s also very common — and much more dangerous — for people to blow through intersections while driving.

After the meeting Justin Haugens, a Rogers Park resident (and occasional Streetsblog freelancer) who often bikes through Edgewater, told me he was frustrated by what he heard. Haugens felt people were making inaccurate statements about the behavior of bike riders. For example, someone claimed that people regularly travel as fast as 30 mph while riding down side streets like Glenwood. “A driver’s perception of a biker’s speed is inaccurate,” he said.

During the community meeting, Haugens had shared his point of view with obvious emotion in his voice. He described what it felt to ride a bicycle while sharing the street with thousands of pounds of fast-moving metal. The other attendees listened quietly and respectfully. I wondered if hearing this would change drivers’ attitudes or behavior.

“The remarks I made intended to humanize my experience while addressing their experience,” Haugens said. Watching the residents listen intently to his story made me think that the alderman’s idea of creating working groups of residents to talk through these issues might have value.

Too often, the conversation between people who drive and those who bike is about “finger-pointing,” Osterman said in a call “[There are] motorists in one corner, cyclists in the other corner, and pedestrians looking over their shoulder.” He said that the goals of the working group would be to “educate cyclists about what their responsibilities are, and also raise awareness of cyclist safety, pedestrian safety, and drive the message home that we all have to share the road together.” Read more…


Chicago’s Chainlink Social Networking Site Launches New Branch in Memphis


Memphians cycle along tracks for the city’s vintage trolley system. Photo: Ronit Bezalel

You know your city has a vibrant bicycle culture when its starts exporting good ideas to other places. Founded in 2008 in Chicago, The Chainlink social networking site (a Streetsblog sponsor) has become an indispensible resource for local cyclists, with info on commuting, recreational rides, and racing, a busy discussion forum and events calendar, and over 12,000 members.

Last year former Chicago Department of Transportation pedestrian program manager Suzanne Carlson moved to Memphis to run transportation and mobility programs for the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, which recently became a nonprofit called Innovate Memphis. Based on her knowledge of and participation with The Chainlink from living in Chicago, Carlson had the idea of launching a new branch of the website in Memphis as way to encourage more biking, as well as transit use, in the Bluff City.

About a year and a half ago, she reached out to Chainlink owner Yasmeen Schuller about the concept. “It sounded like a great opportunity because they have tons of enthusiasm for getting more people on bikes, they’re building lots of infrastructure, and it’s already a very bikeable place,” Schuller said.


Yasmeen Schuller

In recent years civic leaders in Memphis have embraced the promotion of cycling and construction of bike facilities. They see it as a strategy to help improve health outcomes for residents and make the city a more attractive destination for companies and workers. Memphis has begun building dozens of miles of bike lanes, including the city’s first buffered and protected lanes.

A year ago Schuller and photographer Ronit Belazel traveled to home of Stax, Sun, and Graceland to document existing conditions for biking. “We rode everywhere we could and found that it’s even easier to get around by bike than Chicago because traffic is a little mellower,” she said. “We visited bicycle shops and the owners were very excited to talk to us about the local bike scene.”

Schuller soon set to work on building the new website. While the Chicago site is strictly bike-centric, Innovate Memphis requested that their Chainlink also include info and articles about the Memphis Area Transit Association’s bus network and trolley line, as well as a separate forum and calendar for public transportation-related topics and events. “With Streetsblog in Chicago, we don’t really need to cover transit and other forms of active transportation,” she said. “But Memphis decided transit needed more exposure.”

The Chainlink Memphis went live a few weeks ago, and today Schuller formally unveiled the site, inviting Memphians to sign up as members. Now she’s unleashing a publicity juggernaut to get the word out to Tennessee cyclists about this new opportunity to connect and share info.

Read more…


The Final Segment of the Chicago Riverwalk Set to Open This Weekend

Final sections of the new Chicago Riverwalk

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, speaks to Margaret Frisbie, director of Friends of the Chicago River (green jacket), on the ramp from Wacker Drive to the Riverbank section. Photo: Steven Vance

If all goes well, starting this weekend you’ll be able to walk most of the way from the Ogilvie Center to Michigan Avenue on a car-free, if somewhat circuitous, route. At a media preview of the final section of the Chicago Riverwalk expansion this afternoon, Mayor Emanuel said he’s confident that the new recreational space, which doubles as a corridor for walking and (cautious) biking, will be open to the public this Saturday.

Previously, the Chicago Riverwalk was a simple paved path that ran from the Lakefront Trail to State. The first segment of the riverwalk extension, a much more elaborate promenade from State to LaSalle, opened in summer 2015 and immediately proved a hit with locals and tourists alike. This latest segment will run from LaSalle to Lake, creating a 1.3-mile route from Lake Michigan to the West Loop.

Emanuel was joined on the tour by officials from the city’s transportation and fleet and facilities management departments, as well as downtown alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and staff from Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects, the lead design team. The transportation department is building the project, which involved extending the south bank of the Chicago River out by 25 feet.

The three new sections, or “rooms,” of the Riverwalk to open later this week include:

  • The Water Plaza: A water play area for children and their families at the river’s edge. (From LaSalle to Wells.)
  • The Jetty: A series of piers and floating wetland gardens with interactive learning about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants. (From Wells to Franklin.)
  • The Riverbank: A wheelchair-friendly ramp and new marine edge that creates access to Lake Street and features a public lawn at the confluence of the Main, North, and South branches of the river. The ramp provides an accessible route from lower to upper Wacker and Lake Street. (From Franklin to Lake.)

Read more…


The Lockbox Amendment Would Hinder the State Government

Metra over traffic

A proposed constitutional amendment on election ballots right now may go too far in restricting state transportation funding because its language doesn’t address multimodal needs.

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance and John Greenfield have different opinions about the lockbox amendment. Read John’s take here.

On every ballot in Illinois right now – early voting and mail-in voting has begun – there’s a question asking if the Illinois constitution should be amended to ensure that money that comes from gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, and similar transportation taxes and fees, goes only to pay for transportation infrastructure and projects. The purpose of the so-called “Safe Roads Amendment” is to prevent lawmakers from using the state’s various transportation funds to pay for other state needs.

Adopting the amendment will create a new problem of inflexibility while failing to resolve the state’s actual problems. There is insufficient funding in Illinois for all of the transportation projects communities and legislators want completed, and too often car-centric initiatives are prioritized while projects that would reduce car dependency are back-burnered. The amendment doesn’t address that problem.

The Safe Roads Amendment is being pushed by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, made up of highway construction industry and labor lobbying groups, as well as nonprofits like the Metropolitan Planning Council. The coalition has run ads suggesting that roads and bridges in Illinois are in danger of falling apart and causing injuries and fatalities because transportation funding has been diverted to non-transportation uses due to Springfield’s waste and mismanagement. That’s misleading.

The coalition is claiming that $6.8 billion was diverted from transportation projects, but that number is inaccurate. That money paid for various state needs, which often included, depending on how the diversions are tabulated, actual transportation-related payments. Also, the state’s structurally-deficient bridges are being monitored and repaired as needed using money that the Illinois Department of Transportation budgets each year.

The Civic Federation, a watchdog organization, reviewed which monies have been transferred out of the various transportation funds since 2002. They wrote, “which spending counts as a transportation diversion has been a thorny issue for many years.” For example, it’s debatable whether it’s counts as a transportation diversion when money from the funds goes to pay for pensions and health insurance for Illinois Department of Transportation employees.

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Lack of Concrete Protection for Rebuilt Kinzie Lanes Is a Missed Opportunity


Murmurs that Kinzie would be rebuilt with concrete protection turned out to be merely fables of the reconstruction. Note that, since bollards and “P” markings haven’t been installed yet, cars are parked in the bike lane. Photo: Jean Khut

With apologies to The Who, “Meet the new lanes / The same as the old lanes.”

Chicago cyclists have experienced a lot of highs and lows with the Kinzie protected bike lanes. Unfortunately, there’s a new setback. The city has announced the current reconstruction of the lanes won’t involve adding concrete protection, which represents a major missed opportunity to upgrade one of the city’s most popular bikeways. Here’s some history.

In 2011, not long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the lanes, the first protected bikeway in the city, and Kinzie soon became an indispensible bike route, attracting some 4,000 cyclists per day, according to CDOT. It’s the second-busiest biking street in Chicago after Milwaukee Avenue.

In 2013, CDOT agreed to a development plan that called for the developer to pay for installing PBLs on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie lanes to ease construction of a new high-rise at Wolf Point. However, by early 2015, the new lanes still hadn’t gone in and the transportation department seemed to be unwilling to remove the old ones. That April, Reilly introduced an ordinance to City Council that would have required CDOT to take out the Kinzie lanes, arguing that they conflicted with the Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In response to Reilly’s move, the Active Transportation Alliance launched a petition asking the other alderman to oppose the ordinance, which garnered more than 1,400 signatures. They also got almost 50 businesses to sign a letter to Reilly asking for the Kinzie lanes to be left in place but improved.

In late 2015, after the pavement, bike lane markings, and flexible posts on Kinzie had deteriorated to the point where the PBLs barely function as such, CDOT crews patched some of the potholes, restriped the marking and reinstalled the bollards. In September the department revealed that they’d struck a deal with Reilly to save the bikeway. “We’ve agreed that the temporary removal of the bike lanes is not necessary at this point in the Wolf Point development, but should be evaluated with future phases of development as part of the traffic study process that is required of the developer,” said spokesman Mike Claffey at the time.


The Kinzie lanes were patched and restriped last year.

Active Trans applauded the news and called for further improvements, including completely repaving the street, better lighting under the viaducts, and replacing the virtually disposable plastic posts with concrete curbs, or some other type of permanent infrastructure.

Last April, Emanuel cut the ribbon on curb-protected bike lanes on 31st Street by the Illinois Institute of Technology and announced that the city would be shifting its focus to building permanent concrete bike lane infrastructure wherever possible. “CDOT will install curb-protected bike lanes, such as those on 31st Street, where it is practical to do so,” read a statement from the department. “Curb-protected bike lanes provide better separation between people riding bikes and people driving, reduce illegal parking and driving in the bike lane, and improve the aesthetics of the roadway.”

This past year Kinzie gradually became a moonscape again largely due to utility line work. At the same time, important biking streets like Dearborn and Randolph became badly degraded by construction projects. CDOT is currently rebuilding portions of the Dearborn protected bike lane, as well as constructing a new protected lane on Randolph.

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Details on the Bike Crash That Took the Life of Fire Lieutenant Danny Carbol


Lt. Danny Carbol

There were at least four media-reported bike fatalities and three serious injury crashes in the Chicago area during the 12-day stretch from September 19-30. During that same period, on September 20, Chicago Fire Department lieutenant Danny Carbol, 56, sustained serious brain damage in a bike-SUV crash in suburban Evergreen Park.

Carbol died from his injuries last Monday night. “Despite the best efforts to save him, the brain damage was irreversible,” Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford told NBC Chicago.

Carbol’s coworker and friend Lt. Joe Hughes told DNAinfo that Carbol was a health-conscious person who often biked to work from his home in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood to the firehouse at 8026 South Kedzie. Hughes, who also lived in Mount Greenwood, sometimes rode with him. Carbol had finished up a night shift at the station and was biking home on a Tuesday morning when the crash occurred.

According to the crash report from the Evergreen Park police department, at 8:22 a.m. Carbol was biking south in the southbound lane at the intersection of 93rd Street and Central Park Avenue in Evergreen Park. The firefighter lived on the 10500 block of south Central Park, so on his route between the firehouse and his home, he passed through the suburb, which is generally bordered by Ashburn north of 87th Street and Mt. Greenwood south of 103rd Street.

At the time of the crash, Tatiana Camarena, 37, of the 4800 block of North Albany Avenue in Albany Park, was driving east on 93rd in a 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, according to the report. A responding officer said that when he arrived at the scene, the SUV was stopped in the intersection and Carbol lay on the ground to the north of the vehicle, unresponsive and bleeding from his nose and ears. There was a large dent in the front left fender of the SUV but the bike was undamaged. Carbol was transported to nearby Advocate Christ Medical Center, where he died almost three weeks later.

The 93rd/Central Park intersection has stop signs in all directions. A female witness reported to the responding officer that she was driving eastbound behind Camarena and saw the SUV driver stop at her stop sign and then proceed through the intersection.

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