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Key Hearing Next Wednesday in the Hector Avalos Case

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Hector Avalos. Photo via Facebook

Next Wednesday will be a turning point in the criminal case against Robert Vais, the motorist charged with fatally striking cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk.

That day, there will be a hearing on a Motion to Quash Arrest filed by lawyers for Vais. They will argue that the police officers who responded to the crash did not have probable cause to arrest the defendant, according to Avalos family attorney Michael Keating (a Streetsblog sponsor). If Judge Nicholas Ford denies the motion, the case continues towards a trial. However, if Judge Ford grants the motion, the case will be thrown out of court.

Avalos, a 28-year-old former marine and aspiring chef, was biking on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park on the night of December 6, 2013. Vais, 54, allegedly struck him from behind.

Vais stayed at the scene, and police said he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot. “I was the driver of that van over there,” he told the police, according to court records. “I hit him. Is he OK?” Tests found Vais had a blood alcohol content of .118, well above the legal limit of .08. He is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges.

To a casual observer, it may seem hard to believe that the defense would argue the police didn’t have good reason to arrest Vais. After all, the officers said he looked and smelled like he was drinking, and the BAC test results indicate that he was intoxicated.

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Woman Fatally Struck by CTA Bus Driver in Brighton Park


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47th and Western from the bus driver’s perspective.

Last Saturday, Celia Sauseda, 54, was killed after a CTA bus driver struck her at 47th Street and Western Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood.

Sauseda, of the 4800 block of South Damen, was struck by a westbound #47 bus at about 6:20 a.m., according to Officer José Estrada from Police News Affairs. “It appears the pedestrian may have fainted alongside the bus,” Estrada said.

Sauseda was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:54 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. An autopsy was conducted last Sunday. “There was nothing to indicate a [preexisting] medical condition,” said Cook County spokesman Frank Shuftan.

The bus driver has not been cited. Major Accidents and the CTA are investigating the crash.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths

Pedestrian: 20 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 6 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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Local Residents Want More Housing at Logan Square Blue Line Station

Logan Square residents discuss the CTA station and adjacent parking lot

The first meeting of the Corridor Development Initiative meeting drew 170 people. Photo: Charles Papanek

Logan Square residents came out in droves last week for the first of three meetings about redeveloping the Logan Square Blue Line station and an adjacent city-owned parking lot. About 170 people participated, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council, and 220 attendees are expected for round two tomorrow night.

With overlapping street redesign and development projects already in the works for this area, now is an opportune moment to discuss the future of the station and its surroundings. CDOT will select a consultant in the fall to redesign the Logan Square traffic circle, and the agency intends to hold a public planning process next year to make the section of Milwaukee Avenue from Belmont to Logan Boulevard better for walking, biking, and transit. Additionally, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón has asked the Department of Planning and Development to look at what can be developed at the station plaza and parking lot, MPC reports [PDF].

Ideas from these public planning sessions, which MPC is hosting at the request of Colón, will be incorporated into a forthcoming request for proposals from DPD and the Chicago Transit Authority to develop the station and parking lot.

Last week, facilitators led groups of eight to ten residents in roundtable discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhood and the station area. “This meeting isn’t like other meetings, where you can choose between red or brown brick,” said MPC project director Marisa Novara. Instead of presenting a limited menu, residents will contribute ideas together.

At the group where I sat, people liked that Logan Square is a place where you don’t need to own a car because of its walkability and that it has a good range of housing types, but they wanted more affordable housing. Our group could have also talked endlessly about the intersections around the station and the traffic circle: One person said “it takes forever to cross legally,” with the signals.

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CDOT Previews Chicago’s Next Round of New Bikeways

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New protected bike lanes on Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The quarterly meetings of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council are a good place to get up to speed on Chicago’s latest bike developments. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with updates on bike lane construction, off-street trails, Divvy bike-share, and more. The sessions take place during business hours, but if your schedule allows you to attend, you can get on the mailing list by contacting Carlin Thomas, a consultant with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program, at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton kicked things off by introducing MBAC’s four new community representatives. All four are seasoned bike advocates, so they’ll likely be an asset to the meetings, bringing on-the-ground knowledge of their respective districts.

Anne Alt, who works at the bike law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor) and volunteers with Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, will represent the South and Southwest Sides. Kathy Schubert, the founder of the Chicago Cycling Club who successfully lobbied CDOT to start installing non-slip “Kathy plates” on bridge decks, will cover the North Side.

Miguel Morales, a former networker for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children and current West Town Bikes board member, will represent the West Side. And Bob Kastigar, a longtime activist who launched petition drives in support of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann and the proposal for a safety overhaul on Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park, will cover the Northwest Side.

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Kastigar, Morales, Schubert, and Alt. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld somberly noted that Chicago has seen seven bike fatalities this year, up from three by this time last year. The crashes generally took place on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. All but one involved a driver, and the victims ranged in age from 20-year-old Jacob Bass to 59-year-old Suai Xie.

CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden provided an update on the department’s efforts to put in 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes by 2015. So far, 67.75 miles have been installed, with 19.5 miles built this year, Amsden said. An additional 23.5 miles of federally funded lanes are slated for construction in spring 2015. These include Lawrence (Central to Central Park) and Milwaukee (Lawrence to Elston).

Currently, 14 miles of bikeways are going through the approval process and could be built this fall or next spring. These include Elston (Webster to the northernmost intersection of Elston and Milwaukee, near Peterson), Kedzie (Milwaukee to Addison), and Pershing (King to Oakwood). Another 7.5 miles are tied to street repaving projects, and are slated for construction this fall or in spring 2015. These include Armitage (Western to Damen) and Augusta (Central Park to Grand). Presumably, the lion’s share of all of these upcoming bikeways will be buffered bike lanes, rather than protected lanes.

Amsden reported that recently built buffered and protected lanes on Broadway in Uptown have been getting positive reviews from business owners, pedestrians, and cyclists. A brand-new stretch of PBLs and BBLs on Lake Street from Central Park to Austin means you can now ride five miles from Damen to the city limits on next-generation lanes, albeit it under the shadow and noise of ‘L’ tracks. Buffered lanes were recently striped on Marquette, from Cottage Grove to Stony Island, and from California to Damen.

“Next we’re going to start focusing on closing the gaps in our network,” Amsden said. “We’re really trying to create a cohesive system by looking at areas of concern, like difficult intersections.”

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An Update on the Bobby Cann Case

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Memorial to Bobby Cann at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

The family of fallen cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann flew in from the East Coast to attend a hearing last week in the criminal case against motorist Ryne San Hamel, who allegedly struck Cann while drunk and speeding. At the hearing, the assistant state’s attorney said she plans to have an expert examine San Hamel’s car to rule out any possibility that brake failure was a factor in the crash, according to Cann family attorney Kate Conway.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking from work when motorist San Hamel, 28, struck him at the intersection of Clybourn and Larabee in Old Town. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

The status hearing took place last Thursday at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California. Over 30 people were there to support Cann, including his family, friends, coworkers and bike advocates, according to Conway. “After a year, his family felt it was a good time to reconnect with his supporters,” she said, adding that there were so many attendees that some of them had to be seated in the jury box. San Hamel’s immediate family also attended.

At the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Maria Augustus told Judge William Hooks she plans to have a brake specialist look at the car’s brakes, fluids, and tires to eliminate brake failure as a defense for San Hamel. Hooks scheduled the next status hearing for October 30 at 10 a.m, in room 301 of the courthouse.

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Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

Virginia Hamman brings 4,000 petitions against proposed farmland-destroying tollway

Virginia Hamman, a property owner who would be affected by the Illiana Tollway, asked the policy committee to vote against the project last year.

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO TO 2040 Plan.

The CMAP Board will meet on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the proposed GO TO 2040 update [PDF]. The award-winning plan lists all major capital projects proposed for the region. All projects, both highway expansion and new transit lines, must be listed on the plan in order to receive federal funding. Governor Pat Quinn earlier persuaded Metra and Pace to vote in favor of adding the Illiana Tollway to GO TO 2040, thereby shrinking their own available funding. Both CMAP’s Board and MPO Policy Committee will vote on whether to adopt the plan update at a joint meeting in October.

The plan update is an opportunity for the Sierra Club, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to make their case that the Illiana Tollway should be struck from the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The Active Transportation Alliance also wants the plan to drop Illiana: executive director Ron Burke told me, “Yes, take it out. We opposed its inclusion in the first place.” He added that what Active Trans said a year ago – a vote for Illiana is a vote against transit – holds true today.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also submitted a comment to CMAP head Randy Blankenhorn, reiterating her earlier opposition to the project. She criticized the Illiana Tollway because it would require $250 million in taxpayer dollars at a minimum (but honestly up to $1 billion) to jumpstart the project, and that beyond that the state of Illinois would be responsible for any financial shortcomings. Preckwinkle stated, “it would be irresponsible of me to support a project like this that will compromise other, more fully vetted transportation improvements with greater benefits for Cook County, metro Chicago and Illinois.”

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CBS 2 Presents the Windshield Perspective on Loop BRT

Construction work to build the $32 million Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project has been postponed until next year, but workers are already out replacing utility lines on downtown streets to prepare for the project. CBS 2 anchor Rob Johnson responded with a faux exposé that trots out tired clichés about the city’s purported war on cars.

“We noticed crews digging up Loop street after street with no seeming plan,” he intones. “Then we started digging and found a city plan to radically alter the heart of the Loop.” Quite the scoop, except that the BRT project, announced back in February of 2013, has been in the news for a year and a half.

The system will run between Union Station and Michigan, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station. The city has said time-saving features will cut 7.5 minutes off a roundtrip across the Loop. As part of the project, workers will build a protected bike lane between the bus lane and the curb on Washington.

“If you commute to downtown Chicago for work, your life is about to change,” Johnson warns before setting off to interview people in automobiles. “City planners have decided to move buses and bikes ahead of cars.”

“I hate it,” says one motorist. “It’s crazy. Guess I’ll be on that bus.” CBS apparently couldn’t be troubled to interview an actual bus rider who would appreciate the faster ride.

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Cyclist Killed in Collision With Driver Is Bridgeport’s 2nd Bike Fatality in 2014


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The crash site from the cyclist’s point of view.

A 20-year-old bicycle rider who died after a collision with a Jeep driver was the second person killed in a bike crash in the Bridgeport neighborhood this year.

On May 29, Suai Xie, 59, was cycling on the 2900 block of South Poplar when she was fatally struck by van driver Gabriel Herrera, 65. After Herrera fled the scene, police were able to track him down via his plate number. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a death, as well as failure to render aid and give information.

Last night around 11 p.m., Jacob Bass was riding a bike westbound on the 700 block of West 33rd Street, according to Officer Bari Lemmon from News Affairs. At the intersection of 33rd and Emerald Avenue, Bass was involved in a crash with the driver of a southbound Jeep Wrangler.

Police records state that the cyclist ran a red light at the intersection and “hit the vehicle,” according to Lemmon. Bass was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Police ticketed the motorist for driving without a valid license, Lemmon said.

David Ziemba, 20, who lives near the intersection, told DNAinfo.com that he heard the crash, and then looked out the window to see Bass sprawled on the pavement with his backpack and shoes scattered a few feet away from his body. A friend of the victim stood over him and called for help. “He was crying and yelling ‘Wake up wake up’ and ‘He’s my best friend,’” Ziemba said.

This intersection is unusual in that it’s a junction of two side streets with a stoplight, rather than stop signs. There is also a stoplight a block east at Union Avenue, a northbound side street. Ziemba said that 33rd and Emerald is a dangerous place for both cyclists and drivers, adding that a friend of his was struck by a motorist there about a week ago, but escaped with minor injuries.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths

Pedestrian: 19 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 5 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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Does Chicago Deserve to Be Ranked the Nation’s Second Best Bike City?

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Biking in the Dearborn protected lanes. Photo: Steven Vance

When I heard that Bicycling Magazine gave Chicago second place in its “America’s Best Bike Cities” ratings, just behind New York and two slots above Portland, I was puzzled. However, I’m starting to warm up to the idea that our city and NYC deserve credit for taking bold action to improve cycling.

Few people would argue that Chicago, where dangerous driving and torn-up pavement are commonplace, is currently a more pleasant place to cycle than Portland, which fell to fourth place from its top ranking in 2012. Plus, our bike commute mode share — the percentage of trips to work made by bicycle — is only 1.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. That’s less than a quarter of the Rose City’s 6.1 percent.

New York’s 2012 mode share was even less than ours, at only one percent. Minneapolis, with a mode share of 3.8 percent, took third place this year — down a notch from second in Bicycling’s 2012 rankings. Washington, D.C., whose mode share was 3.6 percent, dropped from fourth place to fifth. Chicago was in fifth place last time.

These kinds of magazine ratings largely exist to boost newsstand sales, and Bicycling’s current rankings shake-up has already succeeded in garnering plenty of ink from other publications. One could argue that the Best Bike Cities ratings are arbitrary, and a little silly, but they do have a purpose. They create competition between the leading cities, and encourage less bike-friendly towns to improve. For example, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has made cracking Bicycling’s top-ten rankings a signature goal.

Rahm Emanuel has taken notice of the new ratings. “Chicago is a national leader in building new and improved cycling facilities, and we are setting a new standard for other cities to follow,” he said in a statement today. “This new ranking by Bicycling Magazine demonstrates that Chicago is on the right path to becoming the best cycling city in America.”

Frankly, I was a little disappointed by this relatively humble response from the mayor who bragged two years ago that he planned to take all of Seattle’s bikers and tech jobs. Since the Emerald City came in at eighth place this year, Emanuel missed a chance to razz his former deputy transportation chief Scott Kubly, who recently defected to become Seattle’s commissioner.

While Bicycling’s rankings are subjective, they do have some quantitative backbone. New York and Chicago got credit for having steadily rising rates of bike commuting. Between 2000 and 2012, Chicago’s mode share rose more than 150 percent, from 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, while Portland and Minneapolis’ mode shares have leveled off in recent years. The 2013 Census estimates, due later this month, are likely to show further improvement in Chicago and NYC.

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Ridership Profile Shifts Slightly After Divvy’s First Full Summer

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Trips on Divvy bike-share peaked during July of this year.

The monthly count of bike-share trips in Chicago peaked this July at 410,392 trips, according to a new data release from Divvy. Trips then declined by five percent from July to August, which is traditionally a slow month due to vacations. While there’s now a full year of trip data on Divvy, the staged rollout last fall (through October) kept ridership relatively low during the first few months.

Nearly two-thirds of Divvy trips in the first half of 2014 were made by subscribers, up from 53 percent in the second half of 2013. This could be an indication that local residents, now familiar with the system, have switched from occasional day passes to annual passes, or it could be tied to the shift in seasons.

The number of annual-subscriber trips taken by women remains low — below the level of women who commute by bike in Chicago (as counted by the Census) and the number of women who use bike-share in other cities. In 2013, women subscribers made just 21 percent of trips, which increased to 23 percent of trips in 2014 through June.

Women who subscribe continue to take longer trips than men who subscribe. This year, up to June, female subscribers on average cycled 14 minutes and 23 seconds, while male subscribers cycled 11 minutes and 33 seconds.

Trip duration for both genders increased slightly from 2013 to 2014, which could be due to the growing reach of the station network (making longer trips possible) and the growing subscriber base.

The top ten stations where riders – both subscribers and 24-hour pass holders – began their trips pretty much stayed the same, with several changing ranking, and only two dropping off from 2013 to 2014. Of these top ten stations, the number of trips starting at Navy Pier increased by 32 percent and trips from Theater on the Lake, at Fullerton Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, increased by 69 percent. The other stations increased by less than six percent, while the Museum Campus and Millennium Park stations saw declines in trips begun of 25 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

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