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Automated Bike Rental is Coming to the Forest Preserves This Summer

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Bike and Roll will use equipment by the French company Smoove.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County recently announced that they will be offering bike rental at six locations this summer. The forest preserve district’s board approved a contract with Bike and Roll, Chicago’s largest bike rental company, which will be setting up automated rental stations, plus a staffed facility at the Dan Ryan woods. “We’re really excited to have another way to encourage people to visit the forest preserves and engage in physical activity when they get there,” said district spokeswoman Lambrini Lukeidis.

Next month, Bike and Roll (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) will open the Dan Ryan Woods concession, which will provide access to the Major Taylor Trail. Later this summer they will install bike-share-style docking stations at Tower Road, Blue Star Memorial, Bunker Hill, Caldwell Woods, and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The manned facility will offer various types of bikes and quadcycles, as well as baby seats, child trailers, and trail-a-bike attachments. For the automated stations, Bike and Roll will be using cycles and docks supplied by the French company Smoove. Each station will hold up to ten bikes, which can be rented via credit, debit, and prepaid cards, with rates beginning at $7 per hour or $28 per day. Customers can check bike availability online from mobile devices. Unlike bike-share vehicles, the forest preserve cycles must be returned to the original rental location.

“It’s a natural fit for the forest preserves to offer bike rental, because we have 300 miles of trails throughout the county,” Lukeidis. “People who know our trail system are really avid users, but a lot of people haven’t experienced them yet.” She added that the rental stations will make it easier for county residents to try cycling in the preserves if they don’t own a bike, live too far away to ride there, and/or don’t have the ability to transport their bike with a car.

Of course, CTA, Pace, and Metra accept bicycles, so that’s another option for accessing the forest preserve trails without driving. And Cook County municipalities should be developing safe, family-friendly bikeways that allow residents to pedal comfortably from their homes to their local nature area. However, the opportunity to rent a bike at a forest preserve and ride on car-free trails could serve as a gateway to cycling for many people who don’t currently ride at all. That could help build support for creating low-stress, on-street bike routes as well.

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Man Dies After CTA Bus-Pedestrian Crash in Canaryville

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The crash site. Image: Google Street View

A 62-year-old man has died after being fatally struck by a CTA bus driver in the Canaryville neighborhood.

On Monday evening at 9:06 p.m., the man “tripped and fell into the intersection” at 43rd and Halsted streets, according to Officer Stacey Cooper from Police News Affairs. He was then struck by the driver of a northbound CTA bus, Cooper said.

The victim was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Cooper said. The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the man as Erroll Ellison, from the 4200 block of South Princeton Avenue.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 13 (4 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

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Chicago Gets First Curb-Protected Lanes; Many Other Bike Projects on Deck

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The curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive in Douglas Park. Photo: CDOT

In a surprise move, the Chicago Department of Transportation recently began building the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive through Douglas Park. This morning, assistant director of transportation planning Mike Amsden provided an update on this game-changing facility, plus a slew of other bikeways projects slated for 2015.

Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes within his first term. Later the goal was revised to include buffered bike lanes — which don’t offer physical protection from cars — as wells as PBLs. The city currently has 71.5 miles of BBLs and 18.5 miles of protected lanes, for a grand total of 90 miles, according to Amsden.

Since Emanuel was inaugurated for his second term this morning, the 100-mile target has obviously been pushed back a bit, but it’s likely CDOT will exceed that goal by the end of this year. “When we get there, [Streetsblog] will be the first to know,” Amsden promised. “Our focus this year is really going to be on bridging the gaps in the bike network.”

The new curb-separated lanes run on both sides of Sacramento, a curving roadway within the Southwest Side green space, on a quarter-mile stretch between Douglas Boulevard and Ogden Avenue. The curbs are about six inches high and two feet wide, with breaks at drainage basins, and wherever park paths cross the street.

The Sacramento protected bike lanes were originally installed in 2012 on a section that included some truly awful pavement – a counterproductive practice that CDOT has since discontinued. The new curbs are being put in as part of a resurfacing project.

“Over the past four years, we’ve put in a lot of bike lanes in a short time, but it was always our goal to upgrade them over time,” said Amsden. “We’re piloting curb separation here. Experimenting with concrete is something we want to do moving forward whenever we can.”

While CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced plans for curb-separated bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in Old Town last summer, there was no public announcement about the Sacramento curbs, Amsden said. However, 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler signed off on the plan. In early 2013, Chandler asked CDOT to downgrade an existing PBLs on nearby Independence Boulevard to buffered bike lanes.

While Amsden said he has heard reports of drivers parking in the Sacramento PBLs south of Ogden, near baseball diamonds and soccer fields, he doesn’t anticipate problems with cars blocking the curb-protected lanes, which are about eight feet wide. “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, but one of the goals of the concrete separation is to encourage drivers not to park in them.”

IDOT had previously prohibited CDOT from installing PBLs on state roads within the city. However, the state transportation department lifted the ban after an allegedly drunk driver struck and killed cyclist Bobby Cann at Clybourn and Larabee Street in 2013, and is actually spearheading and funding the Clybourn curb-protected lane project. CDOT has been helping out with design input and public outreach, Amsden said.

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Here’s How New CTA Technology Helps Reduce Bus Bunching

Demonstrating CTA's new bus bunching-fighting technology

Mike Haynes demonstrates sending an instructional message to a CTA bus driver using the new Bus Transit Management System.

If you ride Chicago Transit Authority buses, you’ve probably had the infuriating experience of waiting an eternity at a stop, only to have two or more buses show up at the same time. This phenomenon, known as bus bunching, is the bane of most big-city transit systems in the U.S.

To address this issue, the CTA is rolling out a new two-way bus communication system, and it’s already helping to reduce bunching on a handful of routes that have received the technology. The Bus Transit Management System, created by Clever Devices, the company that makes the CTA’s Bus Tracker system, pairs an on-board device with new software at the transit agency’s control center.

The software gives supervisors a heads-up when two buses are closer or further apart than they should be, and provides more information to help determine the best way to close the gap. If the supervisor wants more info from the bus driver – why they’re behind schedule, for example – at the next stop, he or she can send a series of text messages that require “yes” or “no” responses from the driver. The text messages appear on a device installed at the top left corner of the bus’ windshield.

Without the system, supervisors would continue having to drive around in their SUVs to see what’s happening and then intervene by catching up to a bus driver and giving them instructions.

At a demonstration of the system on Monday at the agency’s headquarters, CTA president Forrest Claypool said the technology is already making a difference in Chicago. Nine of the busiest South Side bus routes, based out of the 77th and 103rd Street garages, have seen a 40 percent reduction in “big gaps” between January and March. The agency defines big gaps as larger-than-scheduled periods of time between buses.

The new system gives supervisors several options for improving bus timing from the control center, according to CTA spokeswoman, Tammy Chase. The supervisor can order a driver to:

  • Hold the bus back by waiting at a stop
  • Run the bus express for a few stops
  • Leapfrog a leading bus
  • Temporarily follow a new route

“In some cases, an extra bus can be put into service to fill a big gap,” Chase said. “The software allows us to identify small issues before they become big ones.”

However, there’s a limit to how effective this technology can be for fighting delays on typical CTA routes that lack dedicated bus lanes and have stops every eighth of a mile. “As traffic rises, even small, random events like a double-parked car can cause buses to lose time,” DePaul transportation researcher Joseph Schwieterman told the Tribune. “That makes fixing the problem more difficult and it will test the limits of the technology.”

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Sawyer Hopes State Street Road Diet Will Revitalize Struggling Business Strip

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A buffered bike lane and new diagonal parking spaces will reduce the road width, discouraging speeding.

State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, is currently a pretty grim roadway. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, it’s essentially a frontage road, which drivers treat as an extension of the expressway. The pavement is a moonscape, and the street is lined with a motley mix of retail.

However, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer is optimistic that a complete streets overhaul on State will jump start the business strip and bring positive activity to the corridor. “The alderman wants to slow down car traffic and make the area more friendly to pedestrians,” said Sawyer’s chief of staff Brian Sleet. “We’re trying to get the ball tolling to change the image of State Street from a barren ex-warehouse district to something that fits the residential nature of these communities.”

Sleet said the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the speeding problem, improve the pedestrian environment, and add more car parking spaces as part of a project to repave the 1.3-mile stretch. According to CDOT, this section only sees 5,000 motor vehicle trips per day, and the excess road capacity encourages speeding. There were 504 reported crashes on this section between 2009 and 2013, with seven serious injuries and three fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street and 79 Street stations, located next to the strip in the median of the Dan Ryan, see 5,177 and 6,931 average daily boardings, respectively. However, there are few accommodations for pedestrians at these crossings.

CDOT proposed converting one of the three travel lanes on State to a buffered bike lane in order to narrow the roadway, calm traffic, and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking will be converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding seven or eight new spaces. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks and ADA ramps will be added at all intersections.

While CDOT’s Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program will pay for the construction, Sawyer chipped in $30,000 in ward money for a traffic study, Sleet said. “We figured, if they’re going do repave the street, why have them restripe it in a way that would remain ineffective?”

In the future, Sawyer is interested in adding curb extensions at 79th and 69th to further improve pedestrian access to the ‘L’ stops, according to Sleet. The alderman also wants to add a sound-dampening wall by the expressway. “By getting the noise down, that will help make State Street more friendly to pedestrians,” Sleet said. “We hope that will attract retailers and help make this a transit-oriented shopping area.”

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New Type of TIF District Would Increase Funding for Transit Projects

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Transit TIFs in Chicago would send a majority of revenue to specific transit improvement projects. Photo: CTA

A new bill that passed the Illinois Senate last week would create a new class of tax increment financing district that could only be created around Chicago transit stations and lines to capture the property value that being near transit generates. Most of the revenue generated by these TIFs would be earmarked to pay for construction of rapid transit lines, stations, and other transit-related facilities.

In case you’re not a follower of Ben Joravsky’s TIF-centric column in the Chicago Reader, a Chicago TIF district is a designated area in which the amount of property tax revenue that goes to taxing bodies like Cook County, the Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Park District is capped when the district is created. Any additional tax revenue from rising property values can only be spent in that area. Chicago TIF money is currently often used to provide a local match to win federal grants for transportation projects.

The new state law, which would only apply to Chicago, would allow City Council to create transit TIFs district that would include the area within a half-mile of the following projects:

The Chicago region spends less money on building and running transit than its U.S. peer cities, and gas tax revenue has been a declining source of funding for transit infrastructure. The Illinois gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents per gallon since 1990 so, due to inflation, the buying power of the revenue it generates has dropped in recent decades. This revenue source is also impacted as cars become more fuel-efficient and driving rates fluctuate.

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Pritzker Park Sale Is a Chance to Create New Transfer from ‘L’ to Subway

A skybridge could connect the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren station to the new development on the Pritzker Park site, creating an enclosed transfer to the Red and Blue Line stations on Jackson.

There are several pros and cons of the city’s controversial plan to sell the Pritzker Park site for development. One important and urgent aspect is that it would be an unparalleled – and potentially free – opportunity to create the first enclosed, wheelchair-accessible transfer between the CTA’s Loop elevated lines and the Red and Blue Line subways.

A skybridge could be built between the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren station, which serves the Brown, Pink, Orange, and Purple elevated lines, and the new building. A concourse and elevator within the building would take CTA riders to the Jackson Red Line stop’s below-ground ticketing mezzanine. From there, customers could stairs or an elevator down to the Red Line platform, or take the existing, ADA-accessible transfer tunnel to the Blue Line platform.

On Tuesday, the city’s Department of Planning and Development announced that it is seeking proposals to redevelop a one-acre, L-shaped parcel of land bounded by Plymouth Court, Van Buren Street, and State Street, which is currently occupied by the park and a city-owned parking garage. The city’s request for proposals is light on specifics and essentially asks developers to come up with a mix of uses “that will complement the ongoing revitalization of the Loop.”

However, now is the time for the planning department to specify that the developer must integrate the ‘L’ transfer into the new building. Once the building is constructed, it would be next to impossible to get the developer to retrofit it with the concourses and elevators.

The site is already zoned to allow over 700,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and residential uses. The city last appraised the property’s value at $14 million, and the property has the potential to be very lucrative for the future developer. Therefore, it’s very reasonable for the city to require that the new building include the transfer, and they should add that requirement to the RFP immediately.

CTA riders would reap several other benefits benefits from the new transfer:

  • A station with direct access among all ‘L’ lines, except the Green and Yellow lines
  • The first enclosed transfer between the Red and Pink Lines
  • An enclosed transfer from the Orange and Green lines to the Red Line within the Loop. Right now, the only place to make an indoor transfer is the Roosevelt station, located more than half a mile south.
  • An accessible, enclosed transfer from the Brown Line to the southbound Red Line for customers who board the Brown Line south of Fullerton. The current downtown transfer between these lines is the State/Lake stop, which isn’t accessible.
Riders transfer between elevated and the Red or Blue Lines at Jackson by exiting the fare zone and walking outside. A new building at Pritzker Park could build the vertical circulation and a tunnel to connect to the Red Line station, to which riders would also gain enclosed access to the Blue Line station.

Riders currently transfer between Loop Elevated and the Red and Blue Lines’ Jackson stations by exiting the system and traveling around the corner via sidewalks. The new library transfer would allow riders to directly access the Red Line station, and travel to the Blue Line via an existing, accessible transfer tunnel, without going outdoors.

The city’s announcement is upfront about the fact that Pritzker Park – one of the Loop’s few green spaces – would be eliminated. However, the RFP stipulates that the developer must provide up to 12,000 square feet of multi-purpose recreational space that is accessible to the public.

The park was created in 1992, during the construction of the library, on a site formerly occupied by a single-room occupancy hotel. The green space currently has few amenities, except for a low seating wall. As a result, the park seems to get relatively little use from downtown workers and visitors, although the Chicago Loop Alliance has recently tried to activate the space with temporary seating and special events. If the city moves forward with its plan to eliminate this rare downtown open space, it’s important that Chicagoans get a better public facility out of the deal than what currently exists.

Friends of the Parks has already come out against the city’s plan, stating in a press release this week, “The elimination of Pritzker Park would leave this community unserved by proximate public open space.”

“The site was originally cleared in anticipation of its redevelopment as part of a Washington Library plan, and the interim use as public open space has only been marginally successful,” DPD deputy commissioner Peter Strazzabosco told DNAinfo last month. “We believe it should be developed for more people-intensive uses that align with the evolving role of State Street for new retail, commercial, and institutional uses.”

Here’s one more thorny aspect of the city’s plan. The RFP calls for the development to house a new Chicago Park District headquarters, with up to 80 car parking spaces. The site is well served by every other local transportation mode, including the ‘L’, Metra, buses, taxis, city fleet vehicles, car-share, and bike-share. This begs the question of why the park district – an agency whose mission is to preserve the environment – feels it’s appropriate to warehouse dozens of private cars in the heart of the Loop.

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Active Trans: Improve, Don’t Remove Cams, Launch a Vision Zero Strategy

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Photo: John Greenfield

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke said the advocacy group approves of reforms to Chicago red light camera program that passed in City Council on Tuesday, but the city needs to keep its eyes on the prize of eliminating serious injuries and deaths from crashes. He called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to formulate a comprehensive Vision Zero strategy for achieving this goal.

During the last election, Emanuel and many City Council members came under fire from opponents who pledged to abolish the automated enforcement program. In early March, Emanuel announced he would remove 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections that saw one or fewer right-angle crashes in 2013.

The mayor also promised to have pedestrian countdown signals installed at all of the city’s 174 red-light camera intersections by June 1. He pledged that community meetings would be held before red light cameras are installed, moved, or removed. At the time, several aldermen also proposed extending yellow signals from 3.0 seconds to 3.2 seconds, and requiring a council vote before installing new red light cameras.

The ordinance that passed codifies the requirement for the community meetings and pedestrian timers (all but nine of the red light cam intersections now have have these), and lowers the down payment that motorists with a large ticket debt must pay to avoid getting booted. The law also authorizes the Chicago Department of Transportation to appoint an outside academic team to do a full review of the effectiveness of the city’s red light camera program. The yellow light extension and City Council vote requirement did not make it into the final ordinance.

“As long as the city views these changes as a way to improve, rather than remove the cameras, that’s fine,” Burke said. “We’re all for community input on the camera locations.” He noted that local residents who walk, bike, and drive through neighborhood intersections on a regular basis have a good sense of which ones can best benefit from automated enforcement, although he wouldn’t support giving residents veto power over proposed cams locations.

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Welcome Back Carter: New Transit Chief Has CTA, USDOT Experience

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Carter at yesterday’s press event at the 74th Street bus garage. Photo: John Greenfield

Several of the last few Chicago Transit Authority presidents have had little or no background running a public transportation agency. However, Mayor Emanuel’s new pick to run the agency, Dorval R. Carter, Jr. has over 30 years of experience in transit at the city and federal levels.

In 2009, he spent a few months as an acting CTA president, and recently, he has served as an assistant to progressive U.S. Department of Transportation heads Ray LaHood and Anthony Foxx. He’ll start the job on May 18, and will be the first African-American CTA president in the agency’s 68-year history.

Carter, who has a law degree from Howard University, started working at the CTA in 1984 as a staff attorney. Next, he worked as a lawyer for the Federal Transportation Administrations’ Midwestern regional office. After that, he worked in Washington, D.C. as the FTA’s Assistant Chief Council for Legislation and Regulation.

Carter returned to the CTA in 2000, eventually becoming Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, managing the $1 billion operating budget and five-year capital improvement program. After then-CTA president Ron Huberman stepped down in January 2009 to lead the Chicago Public Schools, Carter served as acting president for four months.

When President Obama appointed LaHood to lead the USDOT that year, LaHood brought Carter back to Washington. Most recently, Carter served as Acting Chief of Staff to current USDOT secretary Foxx, who endorsed him for the new CTA job. “He possesses the experience and passion for transit that will make him highly effective,” Foxx said in a statement. “Mayor Emanuel has made an excellent choice.”

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Transportation Wins in 45th Ward PB Vote; Milwaukee Remix Moving Forward

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CDOT will be implementing the least robust of the three Milwaukee road diet proposals, shown in this rendering.

There were a number of gains for walking and biking in last week’s participatory budgeting election in the 45th Ward, a Far Northwest Side district represented by Alderman John Arena. Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with a safety overhaul of a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue within the ward. This project was watered down due to pressure from residents, but it will still be an improvement to the high-crash corridor.

The participatory budgeting process was first pioneered in the U.S. six years ago by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, whose district includes Rogers Park. In the Chicago-style PB process, residents propose infrastructure projects to be funded by $1 million of the ward’s annual discretionary funds, known as menu money, and then vote on the projects. In addition to elections last week in Moore and Arena’s districts, a PB vote also took place in Alderman Ricardo Muñoz’s 22nd Ward, on the Southwest Side.

The 49th Ward had its biggest PB turnout ever last week, with over 1,800 voters. They chose to spend 62 percent of the PB budget on meat-and-potatoes infrastructure such as street and alley repaving, and curb repair. They also voted to fund a few sustainable transportation initiatives, including an improved pedestrian crossing at Clark and Chase, six new bus stop benches, and five murals to brighten up dismal CTA and Metra viaducts.

The results of last week’s 22nd Ward PB vote haven’t been released yet, but over 700 people took part, up from the low 600s last year, according to Muñoz’s assistant Amanda Cortes. Walking-related projects on the ballot included speed humps, viaduct lighting, and yellow-diamond pedestrian crossing signs.

While roughly 650 people voted in the 45th Ward’s first PB election in 2013, and around 500 participated last year, only about 450 residents took part this year. They voted to spend 54.7 percent of the $1 million set aside for PB on street repaving.

Of the resident-proposed projects that will be funded, the top vote getter was one that had been on the ballot the previous two years: striping conventional bike lanes on Milwaukee from Addison to Lawrence, at a cost of $60,000. Coming in second was a project to improve pedestrian safety along Pulaski and Avondale by the Kennedy Expressway with better lighting, plus new crosswalks, guardrails, pedestrian crossing signs, and security cameras, at a price tag of $45,000.

Voters also chose to spend $30,000 on three “People Spot” mini parks near Irving Park/Cicero/Milwaukee, Lawrence/Milwaukee, and Lawrence/Austin. Specific locations and designs have not been chosen yet, but Arena said several businesses are interested in having the on-street seating areas installed nearby.

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