Skip to content

Posts from the "News" Category

8 Comments

Logan Square Transit-Oriented Development: Less Parking, More Walkability

The two proposed towers will be within 450 feet, as the crow flies, of the California Blue Line station. Image: AJ LaTrace/Curbed Chicago

The two proposed towers will be within 450 feet of the California Blue Line station. Image: AJ LaTrace/Curbed Chicago

A pioneering developer of car-free apartments is looking to continue building car-lite residences. Curbed Chicago reports that Rob Buono, who was behind constructing 1611 W Division in Wicker Park, is proposing two mid-rise residential towers in Logan Square along Milwaukee Avenue near the California Blue Line station. The two towers, one 14 stories and the other 10 stories, would have 231 units and 7,100 square feet of retail but only 72 car parking spaces.

The relatively low amount of car parking is possible because Buono can take advantage of the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, which cuts parking minimums in half for residential developments near train stations.

Chicago’s zoning code would normally require at least 239 car parking spaces for this development — eight for the retail space, and one for each household. That mandate would have harmed this thriving part of Logan Square by adding more automobile traffic, getting in the way of people, buses and bicycles.

Last year, when Adam Hebert was struggling against parking requirements so he could open a restaurant and bar, he told Streetsblog, “In the Logan Square community, everybody bikes everywhere. It doesn’t make sense to put in parking where people bike. I’d rather put in bike racks.”

The TOD ordinance allows Buono to completely get out of the mandate to build eight parking spaces for retail, but the requirement for 231 residential parking spaces can only be cut down to 116. To get down to the 72 surface parking spaces Buono is proposing, he will probably have to change the property’s zoning.

Read more…

8 Comments

If Colón Is Guilty of Drunk Driving, There’s No Excuse for His Behavior

Rey Colon

35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón

35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón has done some good things for the city, including projects to improve conditions for walking and biking in his Northwest Side district, and he’s a very likeable person. So it was distressing to read that he was arrested early Friday morning for allegedly driving while drunk.

Around 1 a.m. Friday, Colón was driving westbound on the Eisenhower Expressway in his SUV, the Tribune reported. Police officers pulled him over after they observed him drifting between lanes without signaling, as he prepared to exit the highway at Homan Avenue in East Garfield Park.

“[Colón] was cooperative with field sobriety tests and [was] transported to the 11th District for processing,” police spokeswoman Monique Bond told the Sun-Times. “He was given citations for DUI, no driver’s license, improper lane usage and failure to signal when changing lanes. When they pulled up the records, they found that the alderman’s driver’s license had expired less than six months ago.” If convicted on all of these charges, the alderman could face over $10,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.

Bond declined to say whether Colón took a breathalyzer test, as is common these kind of cases. The alderman also declined to say whether he took the test, where he was coming from, and how much he had to drink, the Sun-Times reported.

“It really doesn’t help me to talk about details of the case, because it’s not something that needs to be tried in public,” Colón told the Sun-Times. “I am cooperating, I have every confidence in the legal system that justice will be served in this matter, and I really want to just focus on just serving my constituents, and representing my ward and its neighborhoods, and not let this be a distraction.”

It’s particularly troubling that this was Colón’s second arrest for an alleged DUI. In 1995, he was convicted of driving drunk and sentenced to supervision, according to court records. Two years later, he was found guilty of driving an uninsured car, the Trib reported. These legal problems became a political issue during his first successful aldermanic election campaign in 2003, and again when he ran for reelection in 2007.

Despite his good works for his ward and the city, if Colón is guilty, he should certainly face the same punishment as anyone else. There are myriad safe alternatives to drunk driving in this city, including ride-sharing, taxis, and transit – the alderman was literally a stone’s throw from the Blue Line’s Kedzie-Homan station when he was pulled over.

If Colón was, in fact, driving drunk, there really is no excuse for his behavior, especially since he was cited for the same offense once before. The DUI issue is likely to surface again during his campaign for reelection later this year.

21 Comments

New Grocery’s City-Mandated Car Parking, Not Buses, Will Congest Broadway

broadway mariano's and xsport reduced

The proposed development, viewed from the north. Image: Antunovich Associates

Some East Lakeview neighbors are unhappy with a proposed retail complex along Broadway, just north of Wellington, that would house a large Mariano’s supermarket on its lower floors and an Xsport Fitness on its upper floors. The five-story building will have retail space with a large driveway and loading area on the ground floor, the supermarket mostly on the second floor, two levels of parking, and the fitness center on the top floor.

Many of the neighbors’ criticisms center on the building’s bulk, and the number of parking spaces — both of which largely result from the city’s zoning ordinance, which requires plentiful parking even in car-light neighborhoods like East Lakeview. Over half of the building’s area will be devoted to storing and moving cars and trucks, but the 279 car parking spaces proposed are just five percent more than zoning requires for a commercial development of this size.

A traffic analysis [PDF], performed by local firm KLOA, predicts that many people would drive to the development (which seems natural if they know that they can easily park there), and that slightly longer delays at intersections would result. KLOA does note in its analysis that trips to the development will be lower than average, because people will combine trips – going to work out, and then going grocery shopping afterwards – and because many local residents will arrive on bike, foot, or by transit. Today, this stretch of Broadway sees fairly light car traffic: Even at rush hour yesterday, it was easy to cross the street mid-block.

Project architect Joe Antunovich says that the solution for increased traffic is not to reduce parking — but rather to stripe more space for cars on the street (squeezing out room that bikes currently use to maneuver), and to add a new stoplight just 210 feet away from an existing one at Wellington. Antunovich further said that the 36-Broadway bus route causes traffic congestion when people are trying to board. He placed more blame on the bus, which carries dozens of passengers, than the single-occupancy vehicles driving down Broadway — many of whom block traffic on Broadway by making left turns from the center lane.

Alderman Tom Tunney is going along with the proposal. Although he says that the city, as a whole, is moving away from auto-centric development, he says that bike lanes elsewhere are counter-balanced by adding car traffic in this part of Lakeview, a place where half of households don’t own a car.

Read more…

4 Comments

Davis Street Disagreement Tables Evanston Bike Plan Progress

Evanston bike plan by Melissa

A map of proposed bike routes in north Evanston, showing the “comfortable bike corridors” along Church and Davis, just west of downtown Evanston.

Last year, the City of Evanston started work on a 2014 Bicycle Plan Update [PDF], envisioning further improvements in its cycling infrastructure. The previous bicycle plan, adopted in 2003, resulted in 38 miles of bicycle facilities and a marked increase in bicycle ridership. The new plan will bring a new focus on “comfortable bike corridors” along Evanston’s major streets, like Howard, Emerson, Greenleaf, Lincoln, Harrison, and Central — and along the intersecting side streets of Hinman, Chicago, Maple, Orrington and Crawford. The city estimates the construction cost of these comfortable corridors at $4 million, and hopes that funding will come from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program or other state and federal grant programs.

Although the plan update is largely complete, residents concerned with topics like parking and aesthetics have temporarily tabled the plan before the City Council.

On Saturday, the Public Works Department, along with the contractor, TY Lin, hosted an open house for residents that focused on their Sheridan Road proposal [PDF]. The Public Works Department discussed their proposal, and received feedback from participants. A common theme throughout the feedback was that removing parking lanes might cause backlash from drivers.

Other suggestions included wider bike lanes that would permit safer passing, as well as better connectivity from the Green Bay Trail through downtown to Sheridan. Sharon Feigon, an Evanston resident for over thirty years, noted that while conditions have improved since 2003, more work needs to be done. She said that “riding through Wicker Park was safer than in Evanston,” and is thrilled that Evanston is pursuing the Complete Streets concept.

A police officer, and daily bike commuter, who lives in Evanston also attended. Her concern with the new plan was that, while it improves infrastructure and will likely increase ridership, what’s really necessary is more education for both cyclists and drivers. The officer also supported separating driving and biking lanes. When asked about traffic law enforcement, and if it will be increased, the officer replied that the police are limited by manpower — but when residents call in, police are dispatched quickly to react and enforce the law for all parties.

On Monday night, the Evanston City Council’s meeting featured discussion of the Bike Plan on the agenda. Nearly all of the over 20 public comments addressed the bike plan, continuing for 45 minutes. The comments were primarily in favor of the bike plan, though several repeated concerns about its effects on the historic district along Davis Street, near Asbury.

Read more…

72 Comments

Metra Ridership Rising Unevenly; Development Could Maximize Its Potential

DSC_3094

Transit-oriented development has transformed downtown Arlington Heights. Photo: JB

Start with the good news: Ridership on Metra, Chicagoland’s main commuter rail service, has grown almost 14 percent over the last ten years. It remains near the all-time high it reached in 2008, just before the Great Recession. On any given weekday, Metra provides nearly 300,000 rides across its 11 lines, or roughly as many as the CTA’s Brown and Blue lines put together. Some lines have even continued to grow, surpassing their 2008 ridership, notably the North Central Service running northwest to Antioch, and the SouthWest Service through Ashburn and Orland Park to Manhattan. Of Metra’s more-established lines, the best performer since 2008 has been the Union Pacific Northwest line, which runs through towns like Arlington Heights (pictured above) and Des Plaines that have pursued Transit Oriented Development in their downtowns.

But in other ways, the picture isn’t so rosy. Overall, Metra ridership has stagnated for the last six years, even as CTA rail ridership has grown 16 percent over the same period. More alarming, ridership on several lines — including the Metra Electric and Rock Island, which have rapid-transit-like stop spacing every half-mile through large parts of the city that lack “L” access — was falling even before the recession.

Hz Metra maps

Ridership change on Metra lines from 2004-2014 and 2008-2014.

Unfortunately, Metra doesn’t provide up-to-date information on ridership by stop, which makes more thorough analysis impossible. (The freshest station-level data available is from 2006.) But the line data is enough to see some patterns. Unsurprisingly, many services lucky enough to go through high-growth neighborhoods and suburbs have the strongest ridership. Conversely, routes that pass mostly through parts of Chicagoland that have lost population are mostly struggling.

20030531 50 Metra Electric 71st St.

Metra Electric trains run down the middle of 71st Street in South Shore, the densest community area on the South Side. Photo: David Wilson

That includes Metra Electric and Rock Island, which have the potential to serve as transit backbones through much of the South Side, but currently provide extremely spotty off-peak service. Both lines go through promising territory: Metra Electric’s main line runs from downtown through the South Side’s largest employment hub, Hyde Park, and one branch continues through dense neighborhoods along the south lakefront all the way to 93rd Street. Rock Island stops at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then makes stops every half-mile at attractive and walkable commercial districts in thriving Beverly and Morgan Park. Read more…

15 Comments

Quinn Borrows $1.1 Billion to Keep IDOT’s Steamrollers Going

Governor Quinn Signs $1.1 Billion   Capital Construction Bill

Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill in front of workers at the Circle Interchange construction site today. Photo: IDOT

Governor Pat Quinn signed two bills today that allow the state to issue $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds to spend on highway resurfacing, widening, and bridge repair. The bills explicitly exclude transit from the new funds, and while they don’t seem to exclude bike lanes, trails, or sidewalks, all of the funds are already obligated to car-centric road projects [PDF].

Erica Borggren, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a press release, “This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs.”

What the economy and our transportation system also need is an efficient and sustainable way for users to pay the system’s ongoing costs — rather than a stopgap that socks future taxpayers, whether transit riders or pedestrians or drivers, with big loan payments. Keep in mind that today, Illinois has the country’s worst credit rating, and thus pays the highest interest rate of any state — 42 percent more interest than usual.

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported that “the plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to study where the money would go.” The answer, as with most anything related to IDOT spending, is “overwhelmingly Downstate.”

Just over four percent of the funds will be spent in Chicago, home to 22 percent of the state’s population. Most of that will go to reconstruct and replace the bridges and viaducts on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), between the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) and South Lake Shore Drive. $700,000 will be spent to resurface 0.6 miles of South Michigan Avenue in Washington Park.

Just under 37 percent of the funds will be spent in the six-county Chicagoland area, and the majority of that will go to exurbs and rural areas. This might prove convenient for Quinn during an election year, especially given the dwindling fund balance in his signature “Illinois Jobs Now!” program. The program has just $115 million left to spend, according to IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin.

Read more…

43 Comments

3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

Divvy Bike Share Station

Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

Read more…

21 Comments

Cost Isn’t the Issue With Palmer Square Speed Tables, NIMBYs Are

IMG_0891

Midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month, a DNAinfo.com article drew attention to a new campaign to improve pedestrian safety at Palmer Square by installing raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. Unfortunately, factual errors in the piece left the impression that raised crosswalks would be an expensive solution that doesn’t have the Chicago Department of Transportation’s approval. It turns out that speed tables would be quite affordable, and CDOT first proposed adding them years ago. Other changes to the roadway could further discourage speeding and enhance the park – if only the park’s neighbors would allow them.

Ever since Palmer Square got new playground equipment and a soft-surface track in 2009, the green space has become increasingly popular with families and other Logan Square residents seeking recreation and relaxation. However, the current street layout encourages fast driving, which endangers people crossing to the park, as well as cyclists on Palmer Boulevard.

The eastbound portion of the boulevard runs south of the oval-shaped park, with two travel lanes plus a bike lane. Stop signs at the three-way intersections of Palmer and Albany Avenue, as well as Palmer and Whipple Street, help to calm motorized traffic.

IMG_0908

On the south side of the park, stop signs at Albany and Whipple help slow down cars. Photo: John Greenfield

However, on the north side of the green space, there are three westbound travel lanes, plus a bike lane. Albany and Whipple don’t continue north of the park, so there are no intersections or stop signs on the quarter-mile stretch between Sacramento and Kedzie boulevards, which makes it easy for drivers to pick up speed.

While there are marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square where Albany and Whipple would be, the three travel lanes create long crossing distances and the so-called “multiple threat” scenario. Even if one driver obeys the law by stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, there’s no guarantee that the motorist in the next lane will do so.

Two churches near the square encourage their parishioners to park in the central lane on the north side of the green space during services and special events. That’s technically illegal, but has been condoned by the local aldermen in the past. This practice further endangers pedestrians, because it makes it more difficult for westbound drivers to see people crossing the street.

As DNAinfo reported, residents have launched an online petition calling for installing raised crosswalks on the northern portion of the boulevard at Albany and Whipple. “A park designed for and frequented by very small children, residential homes and a church borders this portion of the street,” the petition reads. “A school also borders the park and school children often utilize the park for physical education and after school programs. The speeding traffic on the street creates a grave safety hazard.”

Read more…

6 Comments

Driver Who Killed Jesse Bradley Got 16-Year Prison Sentence

13151635084_36c955eab0_o

Jesse Bradley

Unfortunately, due to some crossed wires, I didn’t hear about the outcome in the case of Jesse Bradley, a Northwestern law student killed by an intoxicated driver, until recently. However, Streetsblog readers will want to know that Bianca Garcia, the motorist who killed Bradley while drunk and high and then fled the scene, has received an appropriately long jail sentence. “It’s a very good ending,” said victim advocate Sharon Johnson from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

“My son was so smart and so loving, just a good, good kid,” Bradley’s mother Colleen told me earlier this year. She described the 32-year-old as a shy, quiet person with a dry sense of humor. Having completed a couple years of challenging studies at Northwestern, he’d taken off two terms and was working at a Gold Coast Starbucks, where he’d learned to become much more outgoing by chatting with customers. He was set to finish school that summer and planned to work in business law.

Around 2:30 a.m. on March 24, 2012, Bradley was walking home to his apartment at 1140 North LaSalle after finishing a late shift and getting a snack with coworkers. Garcia, 21 at the time, had been out drinking with friends at several bars that night. As Bradley walked west across the south leg of the LaSalle/Division intersection, Garcia was speeding south on LaSalle, swerving violently. She struck Bradley, killing him instantly, then fled eastbound on Elm, going the wrong way down the one-way street for two blocks.

Fortunately, two police officers were sitting in a squad car on Elm at the time. They pulled Garcia over as she fled south on Dearborn and found her drivers license had expired. A test showed her blood alcohol content was 0.168 percent, more than twice the legal limit, and she had a cocktail of hard drugs in her system. She was charged with felony aggravated DUI and several other counts.

According to a Sun-Times report, Garcia had been pulled over by police at least six times in the previous five years. The first time was in 2008 when she was seventeen and was driving home from a New Year’s Eve party in Riverside after drinking a pint of rum. She was required to pay more than $1,000 in fines and undergo a year of supervision, but kept her license.

In early 2013, Garcia was offered a sentence of 12 years in prison, with the requirement that she serve at least 8.5 years of the sentence, Johnson said. After the defendant rejected that offer, the case continued for several more months. Last December, Garcia entered a blind plea of guilty to the charges in the Bradley case. On May 21, Judge Stanley Sacks sentenced her to 16 years of prison, with a minimum of 12 years of “real time.”

Read more…

42 Comments

Milwaukee Bottleneck Addressed but Illegal Parkers Endanger Cyclists

IMG_1473

Illegally parked cars force a cyclist to ride dangerously close to traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

On Thursday, Steven Vance and I got the news that the city was forcing a developer to fix a dangerous bottleneck on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s busiest bike street, in Wicker Park. However, when I dropped by around 4:30 p.m. yesterday to check out the new street configuration, I found that the situation was as dysfunctional as ever.

In late June, Convexity Properties, a developer that’s turning the neighborhood’s iconic Northwest Tower into a hotel, built a pedestrian walkway in the street to protect people on foot while façade work takes place. The walkway’s exterior concrete wall narrowed the southbound lane of much of the 1600 block of North Milwaukee. As a result, southbound cyclists who tried to ride to the right of motorized traffic ran the risk of being squeezed into the wall.

IMG_1366

The street configuration last week, before the centerlines were striped. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance brought the problem to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s attention. Last Thursday, a CDOT source told Steven that Convexity was not complying with the terms of its construction permit, which requires that both lanes of traffic be safely maintained.

CDOT would force the developer to pay for restriping the road’s center line to provide more room for southbound bike riders, Steven was told. Relocating the northbound lane east would require temporarily removing metered parking on the east side of the block, and Convexity would be responsible for compensating the city’s parking concessionaire for lost revenue.

Readers told us the work was carried out later that day. When I dropped by yesterday, the new yellow centerlines looked sharp. However, all of the paper “No Parking” signs, affixed to poles on the east side of the street, had been torn out of their wood frames and plastic lamination, presumably by disgruntled merchants or motorist. That side was still lined with parked cars.

IMG_1501

Hulk no like “No Parking” sign! Photo: John Greenfield

Read more…