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“Walk To Transit” Targets 20 CTA Stations For Quick Safety Fixes

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Passengers arriving at the Clinton Station often can’t find the Greyhound, Union, or Divvy stations.

A new “Walk To Transit” initiative by the Chicago Department of Transportation will target 20 CTA stations for a slew of simple pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. People walking to several Blue Line stations on the west side and along Milwaukee Avenue, along with stations on the south and north sides, will see safety and usability improvements like re-striped zebra crosswalks, curb extensions, repaired or widened sidewalks, and new signage.

Suzanne Carlson, pedestrian program coordinator at the Chicago Department of Transportation, said at the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting to weeks ago (theme: connectivity) that construction on a first phase of ten stations should begin in the spring of 2015. CDOT has grant funding for another ten stations, yet to be identified. She said that the designs [PDF] were published in March “at 30 percent,” but only one minor design element has changed since then. 

Some stations will get new and improved wayfinding signage. New signs outside the Blue Line’s Clinton station, hidden underneath a Eisenhower Expressway overpass, will direct CTA riders to Metra, Amtrak, and Greyhound, and vice versa. Even among the majority of American adults who carry smartphones, figuring out where to go from the Clinton station can be a puzzle: The other stations aren’t immediately visible from any of the station’s four dark exits. Adding “breadcrumb” sign posts along the way would help. CTA and CDOT managing deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel have had conversations about adding Divvy wayfinding signs within stops like Clinton, where Divvy is similarly hiding around the corner from the station entrance, “but we haven’t reached a definitive agreement at this point.”

This is where Divvy signage should be displayed

Signs within the Clinton Blue Line station point CTA riders to Greyhound and Metra, but not Divvy — and once above ground, no further clues are available.

Above the Blue Line station at Grand-Milwaukee-Halsted, CDOT proposes reprogramming the signal with “leading pedestrian intervals,” which will give people walking across the street a green light before drivers can make a turn. New curb extensions (bulb-outs) at Ohio Street, between the station and Milwaukee’s bridge over the Ohio Street Connector, will slow down drivers and prevent them from driving down Milwaukee’s faded bike lane.

Around the Pulaski Blue Line station in West Garfield Park, which is within the median of the Eisenhower Expressway, recommended improvements include curb extensions to slow turning drivers at all corners of Harrison and Pulaski, a pedestrian refuge island within Pulaski at Van Buren, and signs that will direct bicyclists to and from the station from Keeler Avenue — a nearby “neighborhood route” under the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.

Outside the 63rd Street Red Line station in Englewood, new trees will enliven a dull corner at Princeton Avenue — and also replace a dangerous gas station driveway, which eliminates the conflict between cars turning across the sidewalk into the gas station, right by a bus stop. Such dangerous curb cuts are not forever, since they have to be renewed annually.
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Pedestrian Fatality Tracker: More Deaths This Year Than Last

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Pedestrian fatalities from January to July 2014 are up over the same period last year. Data: IDOT, CDOT via Chicago Police Department

More people were killed while walking in Chicago in the first seven months of this year, compared to the same time period last year. Chicago transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld pointed out to the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council last week that “this is the first increase since 2009.”

21 people on foot died in car crashes between January and July of this year, versus 18 who died in the same months in 2013. Scheinfeld said that major injuries to pedestrians have also increased, by eight percent over last year’s rate. She noted that the number of miles that people have driven in Chicago has also increased, and suggested that may be a factor in the increase this year.

The 21 deaths this year are still fewer than the 2008-2012 average, Scheinfeld said – and far below the unusually high number of deaths in 2012, when 47 pedestrians were killed in car crashes. Last year’s 29 pedestrian deaths were one-third fewer than the five-year average, and 40 percent below 2012′s death toll.

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Active Trans Gets Building to Take Down Illegal “No Bike Parking” Sign

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AMA building staff removing Copithorne’s bike from the pole. Photo: Active Trans.

The Active Transportation Alliance has a long history of advocating for the rights of bicyclists, and occasionally they do so via direct action.

A case in point was a recent incident in which an Active Trans helped reconnect a bicyclist with her ride after it was unfairly confiscated by security outside the American Medical Association headquarters. The advocacy group also got the building manager to take down an illegal “No bike parking” sign.

Last week, Susie Copithorne pedaled to work and locked to a city “No [Car] Parking” sign pole on the north side of the building, located at 330 North Wabash. She didn’t notice that the AMA had bolted its own metal sign to the pole, warning that bikes would be removed.

The thing is, it’s completely legal to lock a bike to a sign pole on the public right-of-way. I should know. Back in the early 2000s, when I was managing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike parking program, I helped get the following language incorporated into the city’s municipal code:

9-52-070 Parking: No person shall park a bicycle upon a street other than upon the roadway against the curb or upon the sidewalk against a rack, parking meter or sign pole to support the bicycle or against a building or at the curb in such manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrian traffic.

Later that day, Active Trans employee Tony Giron happened upon building staff attempting to cut Copithorne’s U-lock, according to education specialist Jason Jenkins. The workers were unable to cut the lock, but they unbolted the sign pole and took the bike, despite the objections of Giron and coworkers who joined him from their nearby office.

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City Hopes to Beef Up Transit Service in Streeterville, River North

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Boarding a bus on the Magnificent Mile. Photo: CDOT

The city is slowly moving forward with building the Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project, which will speed bus service between Union Station and Michigan Avenue . Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Transportation is looking at other ways to improve transit connections between the West Loop train stations and the neighborhoods just north of the Loop with the River North-Streeterville Transit Study.

This spring, CDOT started the process of gathering data about travel markets and preferences in the RNS area, physical and traffic constraints, and other costs, benefits, and impacts of different transit alternatives. The goal is to determine a Locally Preferred Alternative for capital improvements by 2015.

These infrastructure upgrades could be relatively low-tech solutions like restriping travel lane configurations or changing traffic signal times, but the study could also lead to a major investment in grade-separated transit, such as BRT or light rail. The research will be used as supporting documentation when CDOT applies for federal funding for the selected project.

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The open house on Loyola’s downtown campus. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, CDOT held an open house at Loyola University’s downtown campus to discuss transit issues and collect feedback from people who live and work in these dense, affluent neighborhoods; another public event is planned for March. “We’ve been engaged in a process of getting public input, and trying to understand the nature of transportation problems in the area,” said Jeff Sriver, the department’s director of transportation planning services.

CDOT has already done significant work to gather info on the travel habits and desires of RNS residents, employees, and visitors, according to Sriver. Surveys for locals are available online, and the department has been distributing the questionnaire on buses and in hotels, and through employers, community organizations, condo associations and other entities. “We’re trying to get feedback on how people use the transit system and the infrastructure that’s in the neighborhood today, and what are the missing pieces,” Sriver said.

A technical advisory committee, which includes representatives of the CTA, Metra, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and the Metropolitan Planning Council, has met twice to discuss the study. A civic advisory committee, made up of members of RNS neighborhood organizations and institutions, has also held two meetings.

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Oil-Laden Freight Trains Delaying Amtrak, Commuter Trains Across U.S.

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Tank cars roll through Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on BNSF tracks.

Oil production is booming across North America, as new technologies make it possible to extract liquid crude oil from sources like the Bakken shale oil field in North Dakota and Montana, or Alberta’s tar sands. The ever-increasing volume of crude oil mined in remote Great Plains locations often finds its way to refineries via ”rolling pipelines” – freight trains that tow a million barrels of oil around the United States every day. Production of Bakken crude has tripled over the past three years, and 79 percent of it is shipped out by rail.

The number of rail cars carrying crude oil across the United States has been steadily increasing.

The number of rail cars carrying crude oil across the United States has been steadily increasing. Data from EIA, AAR, news reports.

The resulting sharp increase in rail traffic doesn’t just threaten communities along the line that are unprepared for their explosive cargo — a threat that the US Department of Transportation recently issued new rules to address. Growing freight volumes are also delaying millions of passengers aboard Amtrak or commuter trains, most of which share tracks with ever more freight trains. Nationwide, the number of delayed Amtrak trains has increased by almost 75 percent. As Tanya Snyder reported yesterday, that results from a court ruling that left Amtrak powerless against freight train interference. Around Chicago, hub of the continent’s railroad network, delays have multiplied on the region’s busiest commuter rail line – a Metra line operated by BNSF, which is also North Dakota’s biggest freight hauler.

The American Association of Railroads reported an 8.5 percent increase year-to-date in the number of American freight trains carrying oil across the country, and a 9.1 percent increase reported from Canadian trains. Since 2011, the number of cars of crude oil shipped nationwide has doubled.

Oil is having a particularly heavy impact on rail operations along certain companies’ lines, and none more so than BNSF. Its transcontinental trunk line spans North Dakota, and its branches serve 21 of North Dakota’s 25 oil-producing counties. As a result, BNSF hauled more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil in 2013, “up from practically none” just four years ago, NPR reported.

The boom has strained what used to be isolated stretches of railroad. Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder train spans the country’s northern tier, from Chicago to Seattle and Portland via North Dakota and Montana, using BNSF’s Great Northern route almost all of the way. “The Builder” now has the dubious double distinction of being both the most popular of Amtrak’s transcontinental routes and its most delayed route nationwide, arriving on time about once a week. Delays have become so routine that Amtrak recently padded its schedule by three hours. BNSF’s quarterly report [PDF] shows growing volumes across all business lines, but notes that increased industrial shipments in the second quarter of 2014 are “primarily due to increased shipments of petroleum products [and] frac sand.”

Derrick James, Amtrak director of government affairs for the Midwest, told Streetsblog that national on-time performance has seen “a dramatic decline,” dropping “from 80 percent in February 2013 to 55 percent through April 2014.” James said that as reliability has dropped, ridership on both long-distance and short-distance lines has also dropped by 4.9 percent.

Amtrak “conductors produce delay reports,” James points out, “and these delay reports pinpoint a dramatic increase in rail traffic — especially trains connected with hydraulic fracturing, sand trains and oil trains.” On the Empire Builder in particular, Amtrak conductors cite “train interference” as the principal cause of delays.

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Ready For Snow Yet? CDOT Wasn’t, But Is Planning Ahead

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People wait for the bus under the Montrose Brown Line station tracks. Photo: Erin Nekervis

It may only be August, but snow’s already on the minds of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council. At this week’s meeting, the Chicago Department of Transportation owned up to their shortcomings in providing clear pedestrian routes through the city during last winter’s polar vortex conditions.

Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of project development at CDOT, said August was the right time to talk about it so that the council could get ahead of the issues. Also, she said, because of “what happened last winter, we don’t want to wait too long” to talk about it.

Hamilton convened an interagency snow removal task force, which met for the first time last month. The meeting brought together representatives from CDOT’s project development, in-house construction, and infrastructure management divisions, the Department of Streets & Sanitation, and the Department of Planning & Development, which oversees Special Service Areas.

Hamilton explained the task force “talked about the gaps, vacant lots, and unoccupied municipal facilities” and said CDOT needs to set an example. Hamilton relayed the results of this discussion to the advisory council members, and explained the city’s broader strategy to remove snow from the public way. Laborers, like garbage truck drivers for example, can be reassigned to remove snow from in front of public facilities.

It was marvelous to hear CDOT acknowledge weaknesses in removing snow from these gaps, which have been a problem for people walking and using transit long before this year’s “polar vortex.” Hamilton described these gaps:

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Foxx Announces $35 Million Grant for Red and Purple Modernization

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Foxx with, left to right, Alderman Tom Tunney, Congressman Danny Davis, Claypool, Emanuel, Alderman Joe Moore. Photo: John Greenfield

U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx stopped by the CTA’s Granville station this afternoon to announce Chicago as the first city to be awarded a $35 million federal “Core Capacity” grant to modernize the Red and Purple lines. He also put a word in for President Obama’s proposal for a long-term transportation funding bill, the “Grow America” act.

The Core Capacity program was launched in 2012 to provide money for repairing infrastructure and expanding capacity on existing, aging transit systems. The U.S. DOT and the city of Chicago are touting the $35 million grant as a “down payment” on the $1.7 billion Red and Purple Modernization, one of the largest capital projects in CTA history. Upon completion of federal requirements, the transit authority expects to win an additional $600-700 million in additional federal funds for RPM.

The initial grant will cover preliminary design, engineering, and environmental planning for the first phase of the rail project. This stage will include rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stops to make them wheelchair accessible, as well as replacing track and signaling systems, and widening platforms. Phase I also includes a controversial Belmont flyover, which would allow for increased capacity and eliminate a service bottleneck, but would also require demolishing some 16 buildings.

CTA President Forest Claypool kicked off the press event in the small ‘L’ station by underscoring the importance of the Red Line, which he called the backbone of the CTA rail system. He noted that the line serves 40 percent of all CTA riders — more than 250,000 people per day. Ridership on the Red and Purple lines grew by 40 percent between 2008 and 2013, and Claypool said ridership is expected to grow at a similar pace over the next five years.

“If we do nothing, trains will become more crowded, service will become much slower, reliability will be diminished, and we will literally leave people behind,” Claypool added. He applauded Mayor Emanuel’s efforts to address the challenge with projects like last year’s South Red Line rehab, the reconstruction of the 95th Street and Wilson stations – both slated to break ground this year at a total price tag of nearly $450 million – and now the RPM project.

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Requiem for a Librarian: Gigi Galich and the Church Street Protected Lanes

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Gigi Galich. Photo: Evanston Public Library

[This piece also runs in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in Wednesday evenings.]

From what I’ve read, it sounds like Gigi Galich, a children’s librarian who died after an Evanston bike crash, was a wonderful lady.

Shortly before 9am on the morning of June 30, Galich was bicycling to work eastbound on Church Street, a roadway where the city of Evanston installed protected bike lanes two years ago. As she arrived at the main branch of the Evanston Public Library, at the northeast corner of Church and Orrington Avenue, she began switching lanes midblock, according to a witness. It’s possible she was crossing the street to park at a bank of bike racks by the library’s main entrance.

As Galich, a fifty-five-year-old Evanston resident, was shifting lanes, a twenty-seven-year-old Chicago man, riding eastbound on a motorcycle, struck her from behind. Although the librarian was wearing a bike helmet, she suffered a severe head injury, according to Commander Jay Parrott from the Evanston Police Department. She died two days later.

Shortly after Galich’s death, the library issued a statement noting that she had originally begun working for the library as a high-school student almost forty years ago. “Gigi was energetic, dedicated and passionate,” said the statement. “Her work will live on through the many, many children who learned to love reading under her care and who will remember her presence and assistance as they came to the library for books, stories, crafts and fun.”

A week later, the Evanston Review ran a tribute to Galich with remembrances from family, friends and colleagues. Fellow librarian Brian Wilson recalled working with her on an early literacy program for babies. “She radiated a joy for these children who would match her captivating smiles with smiles of their own,” he said. “She understood them, loved them and was looking out for them, possessing the belief that all children could become lifelong readers.”

The motorcyclist in the fatal crash was not injured and has not been issued any citations, according to Parrott. When I first read about the case, I suspected that the motorcyclist had been speeding. The default speed limit in Evanston is twenty-five miles-per-hour, a speed at which studies show people struck by motor vehicles usually survive.

However, when I spoke to Parrott two weeks ago, he said the police had determined that “there was no excessive speed on the part of the motorcyclist.” That finding was based on witness statements and a crash scene investigation by a traffic reconstructionist looking for skid marks.

“There was nothing to indicate any wrongdoing on the part of the motorcyclist,” Parrott said. “Apparently, the bicyclist had made a tragic mistake.” He added that, while Galich was an experienced bike rider, it’s possible that the motorcycle was in her blind spot, or that she was distracted, when she began changing lanes.

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State Shouldn’t Pay for Employee Parking at an Office 2 Minutes From the ‘L’

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The office building, right, and the garage across the street. Image: Google Streetview

Yesterday DNAinfo reported that a block club is pushing to expand permit parking in Uptown and Andersonville, in response to complaints that workers at a nearby office building are taking up too many parking spaces on side streets. The Illinois Department of Human Services recently took over three floors of a ten-story building at 5050 North Broadway, owned by Imperial Realty, to house about 400 workers. The building is otherwise largely empty.

Representatives for the DHS workers, local alderman Ameya Pawar, and Imperial all argued that the perceived parking woes should be addressed by providing free spaces for employees in a six-story garage across the street from the office, also owned by the real estate company. The lone voice of reason in the article came from a state official, who pointed out that public transportation is a viable alternative for getting to the building, located only a two-minute walk from the Red Line’s Argyle stop.

The Winona Foster Carmen Winnemac Block Club has been seeking support for converting about 1,100 curbside spaces on nearby side streets to permit parking. The process requires support from 65 percent of residents within the Block Club’s boundaries. Block club president Randy Heite said the move is necessary because there’s a dearth of parking for residents during the day, partly due to DHS workers using on-street spots.

Fran Tobin, an organizer from the Alliance for Community Services, which includes a union representing state employees, claimed that the parking shortage is to blame for workers arriving late to the DHS offices. “They are driving around and around, looking for parking,” he said.

Since there are roughly 400 employees and about 200 clients visiting each day, he argued that several hundred spaces are needed. Tobin said state officials should “take responsibility for the damage they’ve made,” by addressing the perceived parking nightmare. He said that renting spaces for employees at the garage, which has room for more than 600 cars, “would certainly be the most logical thing to do.”

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Speeding Driver Kills Elderly Man, Injures 5 in Edgewater Pileup


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The crash site, from the driver’s perspective.

A senior is dead and five others are injured, after a reckless driver crashed into several parked cars in the Edgewater Beach neighborhood, officials said.

At around 11:12 a.m. Wednesday, a 58-year-old man was driving a Ford Focus sedan northbound on Sheridan at a high rate of speed, swerving around other vehicles, according to Officer VeeJay Zala from Police News Affairs.

The driver passed several cars stopped at a red light at the three way intersection of Sheridan Berwyn, according to Zala. He then attempted to pass a stopped CTA bus on the right and collided with several cars parked on the 5300 block of North Sheridan, Zala said. Photographs published on DNAinfo.com show that the crash occurred in front of Tedino’s Pizzeria, 5335 North Sheridan.

When the crash occurred, Frank Kiley, 71, and his fiancée were loading groceries from the nearby Care for Real food pantry into his car, NBC reported. During the pileup, Kiley was pinned between two vehicles, and one of the parked cars struck the bus, according to NBC.

Kiley, of the 3900 block of North Clark was pronounced dead on the scene at 11:51 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The driver was taken to Illinois Masonic hospital in stable condition, according to Zala. Three other people – a 69-year-old woman, a 65-year-old woman, and a 64-year-old man – were transported to Weiss Hospital, where they were treated and released, and a 48-year-old man was taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital, where he was treated and released, Zala said.

Charges are pending against the driver, Police said.

Update: The driver has been identified as Vladimir Tsemekhman, of the 800 block of West Belle Plaine, the Tribune reports. Tsemekhman has been charged with reckless homicide; a bond hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths

Pedestrian: 17 (5 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)