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Sposato Drops Opposition to Jeff Park Bump-outs; More Safety Infra Planned

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A driver who failed to yield fatally struck Noah Katz and injured his mother. The planned bump-outs could help prevent similar crashes. Photo courtesy of the family

After a reckless driver fatally struck Noah Katz, 2, and injured his mother in a Jefferson Park crosswalk last month, 45th Ward alderman John Arena and the city front-burnered existing plans to install curb bump-outs at the intersection. But alderman Nicholas Sposato of the 38th Ward, located just south of Arena’s district spoke out against the project, arguing it would inconvenience motorists.

Fortunately, Sposato recently saw the light on the issue and dropped his resistance, and the proposal is moving forward. What’s more, several other pedestrian safety improvements are in the works for the area, including within Sposato’s own ward.

At about 4:10 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, Noah and his mother Rachel, 39, were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue. Van driver Alexander Vasquez, 48, was heading west on Giddings and turned south on Central, striking them. Noah was pronounced dead on the scene; Rachel was hospitalized with minor injuries. Vasquez was issued citations for failure to stop at a stop sign, failure to reduce speed, and failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, police said.

In mid-2015, 45th Ward residents had voted to use ward money for the sidewalk extensions at the intersection, which would shorten crossing distances and help calm traffic. To install bump-outs at the crash site, first rush hour parking restrictions need to be removed on this stretch of Central. The parking restrictions are currently in place northbound from 7-9 am and southbound from 4-6 p.m., with the theory being that clearing the parking lanes facilitates traffic heading to and from the Kennedy Expressway.

The restrictions on Central also exist in Sposato’s ward, which had previously expressed resistance to lifting the rush hour parking ban, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh told me last month. In late November Arena introduced an ordinance to City Council to remove the parking restrictions on Central within his ward.

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Good News: IDOT Reconsiders Trading Car Lanes for Bus Lanes on the Drive

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After reviewing recent data on travel demand, the department is considering the possibility of creating bus-only lanes on the drive without widening the road. Image: IDOT

On a cold afternoon earlier this month, almost a year after the Illinois Department of Transportation held a hearing to update the public on the “Redefine the Drive” project to rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, IDOT hosted another community meeting to discuss design alternatives. While it’s encouraging to see the state proposing a somewhat less car-centric version of the shoreline highway, their plans still leave a lot to be desired.

The hearing started out with a quick update work to create separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists on the Lakefront Trail. Work on building a bike-only “commuter trail” on the South Side between 31st and 51st is progressing faster than originally anticipated, and there will be hearings about doing a similar project on the North Side next year. In fact, the North Side path separation work could be completed years ahead the North LSD reconstruction.

Next the discussion turned to the highway reconstruction. Residents have submitted over 1,200 ideas for improving Lake Shore Drive by various means. IDOT has already rejected many of these suggestions due to cost, as well as concerns about reducing so-called “Level of Service,” i.e. a measure of unimpeded traffic flow for drivers.

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A project is currently underway to separate pedestrian and bike traffic on the Lakefront Trail between 31st and 51st. There will be hearings next year about doing similar work on the North Side. Photo: John Greenfield

Several ideas for tunnels and/or causeways (roads on an embankment above a body of water) were scrapped due to expense. These would have involved either digging an express tunnel under existing North Lake Shore or building a massive tunnel or causeway bypass extending deep into the lake.

The state also rejected proposals to build a light rail line as part of the reconstruction (along with any hope of heavy rail in the future) due to cost. While no map was provided, an IDOT official did mention they had considered a plan for an 11-mile line that would have run from the McCormick Place convention center all the way to Loyola University in Rogers Park. The $4 billion price tag for the proposal was considered to be a deal-breaker.

Another proposal that the state threw out was to create at-grade intersections at Montrose, Wilson, and Lawrence, eliminating the viaducts. A possible motivation for this idea is the backlash from some local residents against homeless encampments in some of these underpasses. While IDOT is open to a possible reduction in lanes on the drive in this stretch due to relatively low traffic, they have already eliminated the possibility of at-grade intersections because the stoplights would delay motorists on the highway.

The proposals that IDOT hasn’t yet rejected include some very bus-friendly ideas. These include several managed lane options, as well as dedicated bus lanes. At the December 2015 meeting IDOT project and environmental studies section chief John Baczek indicated that adding dedicated bus lanes would probably require widening the highway, because it was unlikely existing car lanes would be converted to bus-only lanes. But, surprisingly, at the recent hearing there were signs that the department may be willing to convert two of the existing lanes after all.

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Stop Victim Blaming Pedestrians and Cyclists Fatally Struck by Drivers

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Janice and Mark Wendling

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

On June 21, middle-school math teacher Janice Wendling and her husband, Mark, a power plant engineer, were training for an upcoming charity bike ride near the southwest suburb of Morris.

As they pedaled down the shoulder of Old Stage Road, a two-lane highway, around 7 PM, a 16-year-old boy—who happened to be a former student of Janice’s—struck the couple from behind with an SUV. Mark was killed instantly; Janice was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly afterward. Police concluded that the crash was unintentional, and the teen was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash.

Some commenters on an ABC report of the tragedy were quick to blame the Wendlings for their own deaths. One person implied that the couple should have been more visible and shouldn’t have been on the road. “Wear bright colors and a helmet,” the person wrote. “I no longer cycle on the two lane roads. . . It is not worth dying by riding out in rural areas.”

“That is a bad stretch of road, and the cyclists often ride three or four abreast, and block the whole lane,” wrote a commenter named Anton Bender. “They have no business on those two-lane country roads, and should ride on the bike paths. They are just a nuisance on the road!”

And yet, the Morris Herald-News reported that, earlier that month, the boy had been clocked by police doing 87 in a 55 mph zone on I-80 in Joliet. And earlier on the day of the crash, he’d been ticketed for driving 24 to 36 miles over the speed limit in nearby LaSalle County.

And according to the crash report, a witness at the scene told police that the teen threw an object into the woods. The police retrieved a baggie that was found to contain 15 grams of marijuana. The boy told the police that the last time he had smoked marijuana was two days earlier. He was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation and provided urine and blood samples. Ken White, deputy chief of the Grundy County sheriff’s office, said Tuesday that the results of the tests have been forwarded to the Illinois state’s attorney’s office, but declined to provide the results of the tests. “We’re waiting for them to decide what they’re going to do,” he said.

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Neighborhood Group Wants Fewer Units in Queer-Friendly Affordable TOD

Pennycuff affordable housing building in Logan Square

The proposed building’s new rendering is on the left.

Logan Square’s Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association is arguing that the neighborhood’s “current infrastructure” can’t handle approximately 120 more people moving into a planned LGTB-friendly and transit-friendly affordable housing development at 2013 N. Milwaukee Ave. A group of affordable housing developers has proposed an 88-unit building that would replace the current Congress Pizza and its parking lot.

However, Logan Square infrastructure is actually well-suited to accommodate those new residents. The neighborhood could potentially take in ten times that many people without a problem.

The building and its plaza will be named for John Pennycuff and Robert Castillo, two men who were partners in life and activism, advocating for LGBT rights as well as affordable housing in Logan Square. Pennycuff passed away in 2012.

The planned building is correctly called a transit-oriented development because it would be located just over one block away from the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch and have a mere 18 off-street parking spaces. In the past, the city’s zoning rules generally required residential buildings to include one car parking space per unit, with a lower minimum parking ratio for affordable housing buildings. However, the city’s recently passed TOD ordinance waives the car parking requirement for developments near rapid transit.

If we assume that each of the 28 planned studio apartments will have a single person living in them, the 48 one-bedroom units will be a mix of single and double occupancy, and the 12 two-bedroom units will have a mix of double and triple occupancy, that means that about 120 people will live at the Pennycuff Apartments. But that proposal doesn’t fly with the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association’s (boundary map), whose Zoning and Planning Committee recently submitted their opinion on the proposal to 1st Ward alder Joe Moreno.

They wrote, “Current infrastructure cannot sustain the increase in density and ZAPC would like to know how is this is being addressed by the City… The density is of major concern for the surrounding residents of the proposed project and is not received favorably.” The letter doesn’t explain why and how they feel that current infrastructure couldn’t accommodate the new residents.

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Trucker Fatally Strikes Man, 59, on Eight-Lane Stretch of Congress Parkway

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The 100 block of West Congress Parkway. Image: Google Street View

A truck driver ran over and killed a 59-year-old man last week in the Loop, according to the police.

On Wednesday, November 30, at about 10:26 a.m., the driver of a large semi truck was stopped at a red light, facing westbound, according to Officer Bari Lemmon from Police News Affairs. When the light turned green, the trucker pulled forward and struck the pedestrian, Lemmon said.

Police initially stated the driver fled the scene. However, Lemmon said today that the 50-year-old male driver didn’t realize at first he had run over the victim, but did remain at the scene once he was made aware of the crash.

The victim was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical inspector’s office. His name has not been released, pending notification of kin, according to the medical examiner’s office.

The driver was cited for failure to exercise due care for a pedestrian in the roadway. He is due in traffic court on January 30 at 9 a.m.

This section of Congress has eight travel lanes, and a few blocks west of the crash site it turns into an expressway. Despite a 2012 reconstruction project, which removed a travel lane further east and added pedestrian refuge areas in the median, Congress is still a dangerous, intimidating street to cross, which discourages north-south foot traffic to and from the Loop.

Along with the death of Phillip Levato Jr., 23, struck and killed by a hit-and-run SUV driver in the early morning of November 20 at Chicago and LaSalle, this was the second downtown pedestrian fatality case in an 11-day period.

Fatality Tracker: 2016 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 21 (nine were hit-and-run crashes)*
Bicyclist: 6 (one was a hit-and-run crash)

*Streetsblog Chicago’s fatality tracker is based on news reports. On November 2, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that there had been 29 pedestrian fatalities in the city as of September 30, according to preliminary police data. CDOT has not released data on the number of hit-and-run pedestrian crashes.

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Discussing TIFs, Trump and Boneheaded Road Users on “Chicago Newsroom”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining veteran newsman Ken Davis on his CAN TV program “Chicago Newsroom” to discuss recent local and national transportation stories. We had a spirited conversation that threatened to become a heated debate when the question of whether lawbreaking cycling is a bigger problem than reckless driving came up. But overall it was a fun dialogue with an insightful interviewer. If you’re short on time, here are some of the highlights.

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North LaSalle Street Is a Deathtrap for Pedestrians. How Can We Fix It?

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LaSalle and Chicago, where Phillip Levato Jr. was fatally struck. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

Days after a man was fatally struck by a hit-and-run SUV driver in River North, there were still chunks of road salt on the west side of LaSalle Street just north of Chicago Avenue. According to a security guard at a nearby building, city workers hosed the victim’s blood off the street after the crash and spread the salt to keep the pavement from icing over in the freezing weather.

According to police, 23-year-old Phillip “Philly” Lovato Jr. was in a crosswalk at the intersection at about 4 AM on Sunday, November 20, when he was run over by the southbound driver of a white 2016 Jeep Compass with the Indiana license plate number BU3440. The driver continued south without stopping to render aid.

Levato, of the 1300 block of West 32nd Place in Bridgeport, was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 4:35 AM, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Then, on Wednesday, November 23, 26-year-old Kyle Hawkins of the 2600 block of South 13th Avenue in Broadview turned himself in to Chicago police, the department says. Hawkins was charged with a felony for failing to report an accident resulting in a death.

Levato was at least the fourth pedestrian fatally struck within the last four years on this six-block stretch of LaSalle between Chicago, at 800 North, and Schiller, at 1400 North, making it one of the deadliest sections of roadway in the city. It appears that the layout of LaSalle, a broad, five-lane road that essentially functions as an extension of Lake Shore Drive, was a contributing factor in these tragedies.

On Sunday, March 24, 2012, around 2:30 AM, 32-year-old Northwestern University law student Jesse Bradley was crossing LaSalle westbound on Division when he was struck and killed by Bianca Garcia, 21 at the time, who was speeding south, according to police. Garcia, who was found to have twice the legal blood alcohol limit and a cocktail of hard drugs in her system, fled the scene but was soon arrested. She was eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison.

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TIF Passed, Making It Likely RPM Will Be Funded Before Trump Takes Over

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A Red Line train this morning. The CTA says the RPM project will allow them to run 15 more trains an hour during peak periods. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago straphangers can breath a sigh of relief. This morning aldermen voted 46-0 to pass the tax-increment financing district that will help fund the $2.3 billion Red and Purple Modernization project, which will provide critical capacity and speed improvements.

Today is the deadline for the CTA to apply for the $1.1 billion federal Core Capacity grant that will cover the first phase of construction, but Chicago needed to line up a local match in order to win the grant. The TIF will be used to pay back a $622 million federal loan that, along with $468 the transit agency plans to borrow, will be used for the matching funds. Since the feds are expected to approve the Core Capacity grant by January 15, the Council’s decision means that RPM will be probably funded be funded before the Republicans, whose platform called for eliminating federal transit funding, take over.

RPM would rebuild the Red and Purple Line tracks from Lawrence to Howard, upgrade signals, reconstruct four station and create a flyover just north of the Belmont stop to eliminate conflicts between Red, Purple, and, Brown Line trains. The CTA says the latter feature will allow them to run 15 more trains an hour between Belmont and Fullerton during rush periods, which will be crucial for addressing overcrowding on the at-capacity Red Line as the North Side’s population grows.

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By the Belmont flyover will eliminate conflicts between Brown, Red, and Purple trains. Image: CTA

Before the vote, 14th ward alderman Ed Burke, a Southwest Side politician who’s chair of the finance committee, argued that the TIF was necessary because crowding on the Red Line “has frustrated and inconvenienced thousands of members of the riding public,” adding that the line is “an invaluable economic engine that benefits the entire city.” He also noted that only five of the 14 stations between Belmont and Howard are wheelchair accessible, a problem that rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stops will help address.

Burke added the RPM project is expected to create 5,700 new construction jobs, and promised there will be a strong workforce diversity outreach program to ensure that a fair number of positions go to people of color and women. “The future of Chicago public transit may well rest on the decision made in the Council today,” he said.

48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman, whose district includes Edgewater, where two of the station reconstructions will occur, noted that slow zones on the North Red Line affect transit downtown and on the South Side as well. He added that, unlike traditional tax-increment financing districts, the transit TIF won’t divert money from the schools.

Osterman noted that creating more capacity on the Red Line will help get cars off of roads like Lake Shore Drive. “But if we don’t act now, the federal money is not going to be there,” he warned.

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5 More “Your New Blue” Station Rehabs Completed, Only 1 Elevator Added

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The renovated Irving Park Blue Line station. Photo: CTA

Yesterday the city announced the completed renovation of five Northwest Side Blue Line stations as part of the $492 million Your New Blue modernization of the line’s O’Hare branch, including the rehabbing of 14 stops. The five recently completed stations are the Addison, Irving Park, Montrose, Harlem, and Cumberland stops.

This latest $43 million station rehab represents the second phase of Your New Blue. Only the Addison stop received an elevator during this round of work. While the Harlem and Cumberland stops already had elevators, the Irving Park and Montrose stations remain inaccessible to wheelchair users and other Chicagoans who can’t take the stairs.

“Today is an important milestone in our efforts to modernize transit infrastructure in Chicago, and we will continue making these much needed investments across the City to ensure we are providing the safest, most reliable service for commuters,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement. “There are now new tracks, signals and power between the Loop and the northwest side – all of which will make the ride smooth, safe and speedy.”

Previous Your New Blue work included including track improvement work from Damen to Logan Square, completed in 2014, plus rehabs of the California, Western and Damen stations. The California and Damen stops remain non-wheelchair accessible.

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As CTA Pushes to Pass TIF for RPM, $75M Earmarked for South Red Extension

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Rendering of the 103rd Street station for the Red Line extension, if the eastern route is selected. Image: CTA

As we’ve covered the CTA’s efforts to get a transit TIF (tax-increment financing) district passed to help fund the Red and Purple Modernization project, some readers have commented that the $2.1 billion initiative would be a case of the city lavishing money on North Side transit while neglecting the South Side. Surely other Chicagoans feel the same way. But yesterday the CTA announced a new $75 million investment towards the $2.3 billion Red Line Extension on the South Side transit, which may help blunt those criticisms.

The transit agency spent $425 million on the successful South Red Line reconstruction project in 2013, is currently working on the $280 million 95th Street station renovation, and has recently completed or started several other projects in historically underserved neighborhoods. But South Siders have had a legitimate grievance that the long-awaited Red Line Extension project, which would continue the line from 95th to 130th Street, has crept along at a snail’s pace for many years.

There was finally some significant movement on RLE in October. At that time the CTA released the draft environmental impact statement for the project in order to seek feedback from the public on the two potential routes being considered for the extension, either east or west of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The agency held a public hearing on November 1 and will continue receive feedback on the project until this Wednesday, November 30. Feedback received during this review period will be included in CTA’s analysis of the final proposed route.

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The proposed routes for the Red Line extension. Image: CTA

November 30 also happens to be the deadline for the CTA to submit an application for $1 billion in federal Core Capacity funding for the RPM project, which would pay for its first phase, in order to line up the money before the anti-transit Trump administration takes over. The transit TIF for the RPM project would be used to pay back a federal loan to cover the required local matching funds for the Core Capacity grant.

Since the CTA is rushing to get aldermen to approve the new North Side TIF this week, perhaps it’s not coincidental that yesterday Mayor Emanuel and the CTA announced a new milestone in the Red Line Extension project. It’s possible that they hoped this news would help counter criticisms that they’re overly focused on improving North Side transit.

Here’s the news on RLE. The CTA board has approved an amendment to its FY2016-FY2020 Capital Improvement Plan to include $75 million for preliminary engineering and analysis necessary to make the final determination on the route and to complete the final environmental impact statement. The engineering work is also required for CTA to apply for another $1 billion-plus in federal funds to help pay for the $2.3 billion project.

The transit agency expects that procurement for further environmental planning and engineering work will happen in 2017. The $75 million amendment will be funded by CTA bonds.

City Council will vote on the RPM TIF at a special meeting that takes place this Wednesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

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