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Couple Hopes Amenities Will Make Café a South Loop Cycling Hub

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The new cafe’s bike-centric logo.

Two members of Chicago’s XXX Racing team plan to open a new café at 18th and Indiana, with a number of features they hope will entice bike commuters to stop in for a cup, a bite, or a beer.

The eatery is named the Spoke & Bird, after its bike-friendly aspects and co-owner Alicia Bird. It will include ample bike parking, a repair stand in the patio, and possibly an on-street bike corral and/or a nearby Divvy station. The café is located a stone’s throw from the bike path and overpass near 18th and Calumet, which the owners point out is the only route to the lakefront between Roosevelt and 31st.

“We think our proximity to the Lakefront Trail, and all the activity in the South Loop, will make us a hub for people traveling on bikes between downtown, the South Loop, and beyond,” said Scott Golas, Bird’s business and romantic partner.

The café will be located in the former Café Society space. It’s housed within a three-story Chicago Park District fieldhouse, which recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation, including the addition of children’s science labs. Just east is the historic Glessner House, and to the south is a park that includes the Clarke House, Chicago’s oldest standing residence, built in 1836.

Golas, who founded the software firm Xmplify, and Bird, a designer and project manager who worked at Café Society since early 2013, bought the café in July and closed it for renovations last month. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising an additional $70,000 to overhaul the 4,200 square foot patio and renovate the kitchen.

Pending city inspections, the couple hopes to launch the Spoke & Bird on December 13. “When it reopens, it will be like night and day,” Golas promised.

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CMAP Seeks Its Own Dedicated Tax For Transit, Green Infrastructure

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CMAP executive director Randy Blankenhorn says the region needs a new funding source for projects that cross jurisdiction and program boundaries. Photo: CMAP

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning last week floated its own proposal to fix the region’s shortfall in transportation funding. It launched FUND 2040, a campaign calling upon the Illinois legislature to fund sustainable infrastructure through a quarter-cent sales tax across the Chicagoland region. CMAP says this increase would generate $300 million annually, which it would use to advance projects that fulfill the goals of its federally-required plan for the region, GO TO 2040.

GO TO 2040 aims to sustainably accommodate population growth across the seven county region by steering investment to already-developed areas, doubling transit ridership, carrying more people on existing highways with more buses and with managed High Occupancy/Toll lanes, and absorbing more rainfall on sites rather than sending it into the area’s overwhelmed sewers.

FUND 2040 would align capital investments with GO TO 2040, and to give the region greater autonomy in choosing which projects to fund. CMAP would award funds to projects in existing plans, based entirely on performance measures — a marked difference from how the Illinois Department of Transportation spends money on politically favored projects like the budget-busting, ill-conceived Illiana Tollway.

The new fund would also put CMAP on surer financial footing. CMAP, as a federally recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization, is funded through the state’s DOT, and cash-strapped IDOT has delayed reimbursing CMAP’s operations costs on multiple occasions.

CMAP’s executive director Randy Blankenhorn said that, while the Illinois General Assembly has yet to write FUND 2040′s enabling legislation, the bill “would outline specific goals” instead of listing projects, places, or formulas to be funded. The legislation, he said, would outline project selection criteria because “it’s a long-term fund, and needs and funds can change.”

Emphasizing general purposes, instead of individual projects, is how the new fund would complement existing funding schemes’ sharp divisions. Existing “state and federal funds are very specific,” Blankenhorn said. “One will build a multi-use trail, but not flood control.”

In keeping with the broad goals of GO TO 2040, Blankenhorn said that CMAP settled on a sales tax, and specifically not a gas tax, because its projects – transportation, parks, and water infrastructure – benefit everyone, both on and off streets. “We admit the sales tax is not the preferred option for many things,” he said, “but this is a broad-based tax, that all users of all of the infrastructure pay into.”

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What Will It Take for Chicago Win Gold From the Bike League?

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CDOT recently added bike lanes on Lawrence between Ashland and Western as part of a road diet, filling in a gap in the bike network. More connectivity between bikeways will help our mode share. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, the League of American Bicyclists announced that 55 new and renewing municipalities have won recognition in the group’s Bicycle Friendly Communities program, and there are now participants in all 50 states. However, even after all the strides Chicago has made in the last few years, we’re still languishing at the same Silver-level ranking we’ve been at since 2005.

The Bicycle Friendly Communities ratings serve as a useful carrot to reward cities for stepping up their bike game. Communities of all sizes may apply or reapply once a year by submitting info about the progress they’ve made in the “5 Es”: Engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. The results of these efforts — in the form of ridership levels and safety performance — are also factored into the rankings. The league announces the results twice a year.

In the last few years Chicago has taken big steps to improve cycling, including establishing the nation’s second-largest bike-share system, building dozens of miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, and launching construction on the Bloomingdale Trail. Was that not enough to jump up a level in the Bike League’s eyes?

“Mayor Emanuel really set really ambitious goals for infrastructure,” noted Bill Nesper, who manages the Bicycle Friendly Communities program. However, Chicago’s newer initiatives — such as Divvy, the Bloomingdale and most of the city’s next-generation bike lanes — weren’t factored into the current LAB ratings because the city of Chicago hasn’t renewed its application since the spring of 2012. The city plans to reapply this February, according to Chicago Department of Transportation staffer Mike Amsden.

Even so, it’s no sure thing that Chicago will move up the ladder to Gold, Nesper said. Despite the new infrastructure, many locals and visitors still wouldn’t rate the Windy City as a particularly safe, comfortable, or convenient place to bike, certainly not compared to Gold-level San Francisco, Seattle, or Minneapolis, let alone Platinum-ranked Portland. Dangerous driving is common here, pavement quality is often lousy, and there are major gaps in the bikeway network. Our ridership levels and safety record reflect these shortcomings.

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Pawar, and an Army of Seniors, Lobby the CTA to Restore Lincoln Bus Service

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Pawar testifies at last night’s CTA budget hearing. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, local community leaders and dozens of senior citizens showed up for the CTA’s 2015 budget hearing, imploring the agency to restore the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.

The Lincoln bus previously ran between Skokie and the Blue Line’s Clinton station in the West Loop. As part of the CTA’s 2012 decrowding plan, which added service to 48 bus routes and most ‘L’ lines, the agency partially or completely cut service on roughly a dozen bus routes. The heart of the Lincoln route, from the Brown Line’s Western stop to the Fullerton station, was eliminated as part of these cuts.

The #11 still travels between Skokie and Western, and a new #37 Sedgwick bus now runs between Fullerton and Clinton. However, the total bus ridership on Lincoln has dropped from the previous average of 5,489 rides per weekday to 3,152 rides, RedEye reported. Overall, CTA bus ridership has dropped over the past few years.

When the bus cuts were announced, the CTA stated that affected #11 riders could instead take the Brown Line, which roughly parallels Lincoln between Western and Fullerton. In the past two years, the CTA has added 15 weekday Brown Line roundtrips per day, and increased service on eight of the ten bus lines that serve the area, RedEye reported. The CTA says the Lincoln route cut is saving the agency $1.4 million a year.

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Some sections of the affected stretch of Lincoln are a half-mile walk from the Brown Line. Image: Google Maps

However, some locations on this stretch of Lincoln are a half mile away from the nearest Brown Line station – a ten-minute walk for able-bodied people, and a significant distance for seniors and people with disabilities. The Brown Line was overhauled in the late Nineties, and all stops are currently ADA accessible. 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar has said bus cut has increased travel times for his constituents. Some are now choosing to drive instead of taking transit, or are avoiding destinations on Lincoln, he said.

The CTA has said it doesn’t plan to bring the Lincoln service back, arguing that the affected area is still one of the most transit rich parts of the city. Pawar has offered to use Tax Increment Financing money to help restore the service, but TIF funds can only be used for infrastructure, not operating expenses. Frustrated with the agency’s refusal to reverse their decision, the alderman has said he’s pulling his support for the Ashland bus rapid transit project.

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Active Trans Plans 2015 Pedestrian Infra Campaign, Winter Bike Challenge

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Active Trans will be pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure next year. Photo: Suzanne Nathan.

Last Thursday at the Active Transportation Alliance’s annual member meeting, director Ron Burke announced plans for next year, including campaigns for better downtown bike parking and more funding for pedestrian infrastructure and Safe Routes to School programs. The advocacy group will also continue lobbying for bike access on South Shore Line trains, and launch a new winter bike commuting challenge.

At the meeting, attended by about 75 Active Trans members, Burke began by touting the group’s 2014 achievements. The new Kids on Wheels on-bike education program brought a trailer full of loaner bikes to suburban schools, and Active Trans recently secured funding for a second trailer. The group met with Metra to negotiate the loosening of restrictions on bringing bikes on board, including the elimination of most event-related blackout days and a new policy allowing cycles on early-morning inbound trains.

The Safe Crossings campaign announced the 20 most dangerous intersections in the city and the suburbs as a way to draw attention to pedestrian safety issues. “It’s really all about educating municipalities, and the Illinois Department of Transportation, frankly, about the importance of making our streets safe places for walking and biking,” Burke said.

This year, Active Trans worked with the Center for Neighborhood Technology to launch the Transit Future campaign, advocating for a new Cook County-based revenue stream to expand public transportation. “In Metropolitan Chicago, only one out of four people can get to work by transit in under 90 minutes,” Burke noted. “Our transit system is really from a different era. It really doesn’t work for where people live and work today. It hasn’t expanded — in fact it’s shrunk, a lot.”

Active Trans’ Family-Friendly Bikeways campaign is working to build more miles of advanced bike facilities — such as protected lanes, bike boulevards, and off-street trails – in the suburbs. The group has been pushing for light rail or bus rapid transit to be incorporated into plans for the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction, and is also lobbying for better separation of pedestrians and cyclists on the Lakefront Trail.

Active Trans has also helped stage Play Streets events, block parties that open neighborhood streets to pedestrians for healthy recreation. Staffer Jason Jenkins has created clever instructional videos on bike commuting. And the group organized to nip in the bud an alderman’s proposal to license and register cyclists, and has responded to anti-cycling messages in the media, such as bike-baiting columns from Tribune columnist John Kass, Burke said.

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Cook County Forest Preserves Seeking Vendors to Offer Bike Rental Services

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Cycling in a Cook County forest preserve. Rentals for trail riding would encourage more people to ride, which could help build support for on-street bike improvements. Photo: FPDCC

Automated bike-share and bike rental is sweeping the nation, from New York City to Seattle to Chicago to… the Cook County forest preserves?

Divvy-style automated stations are one possible outcome of a recent request for proposals issued by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. They’re looking for one or more concessionaires to operate rental services in local natural areas. “We envision opportunities where people would not have to bring their own bikes, but would have places across the county where they could rent a bike and get right on the trail,” said Daniel Betts, director of permits, concessions, and volunteer resources.

Of course, 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 would help build support for creating low-stress, on-street bike routes as well.

The Forest Preserve, which maintains over 300 miles of paved and crushed limestone trails, turns 100 on November 30. The bike rental idea ties in with its Next Century Conservation Plan, a blueprint for what the upcoming 100 years should look like, Betts said. “This strategy fits in with our goal of getting more people to visit the preserves,” he said. The idea also came up during the recent public input process for the FPDCC’s recreational master plan. “People asked why we don’t already offer rentals.”

The RFP identifies seven primary sites for rental services: Busse Woods Trail, I & M Canal Centennial Bike Trail, Dan Ryan Woods, Bunker Hill Forest Preserve, Poplar Creek Trail, and Schiller Woods. The forest preserve district will work with successful bidders to identify 16 other pilot locations across the county, Betts said.

This is actually the second time an RFP for bike rentals has been issued. The first RFP, released in June, focused on automated rental stations, but there was only one response. That company, which Betts declined to name, went out of business during the negotiation process.

As a result, the Forest Preserve district decided to widen the parameters of the RFP to allow for staffed rental operations as well as automated ones. The service could be run by one large contractor, or several smaller businesses. “That way, it doesn’t exclude John’s Neighborhood Bike Shop, if they decide they’re interested in expanding their business to include rentals on our property,” Betts said.

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33rd Ward P-Streets Pass; Noon-O-Kabab Moving to Car-centric New Digs

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Noon-O-Kabab’s current pedestrian and transit-friendly  location. Image: Google Streetview

Albany Park just took a step towards a more walkable future. Last week, City Council passed an ordinance to officially zone stretches of Montrose, Lawrence, and Kedzie in the neighborhood as Pedestrian Streets, or P-Streets.

“This lets developers know what kind of vision we have regarding movement around the ward,” said 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. On June 25, she introduced the ordinance to create P-Streets on Montrose from California to Kimball, Lawrence from Sacramento to Central Park, and Kedzie from Montrose to Lawrence. “We want to prioritize pedestrians, bikes, transit, and then cars, in order to improve safety and reduce congestion.”

Mell said the ward’s transportation advisory committee came up with the idea for the P-Streets after Walgreens proposed building a suburban-style drugstore across the street from the Kimball Brown Line stop. The designation will prevent this kind of car-centric development in the future.

The ordinance forbids the creation of new driveways, and requires that new building façades be adjacent to the sidewalk. Buildings’ main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and most of the façade between four and ten feet above the sidewalk must be windows. Any off-street parking must be located behind the building and accessed from an alley or side street.

Meanwhile, developers who build on P-Streets near transit stops can get an “administrative adjustment” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. In effect, the designation ensures that future developments will be pedestrian-friendly, and blocks the creation of drive-throughs, strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes and other businesses that cater to drivers.

The ordinance passed City Council with no opposition. “I’ve heard from a lot of people in the ward who are really happy about this,” Mell said. That’s in sharp contrast to the nearby 45th Ward, where the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association unanimously voted to oppose a P-Street ordinance introduced by Alderman John Arena. That ordinance also passed the council earlier this month.

Interestingly, Mell originally planned to schedule a zoning committee hearing on her ordinance in early September, but she pushed the hearing back a few weeks to accommodate a local eatery’s plans to move into a car-centric new location. Noon-O-Kabab, a popular Persian restaurant at 4661 North Kedzie, is planning to relocate across the street to the former location of a Kentucky Fried Chicken with a drive-through.

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Actually, Logan Square’s Neither Traffic-Choked Nor Overcrowded

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Rendering of a proposed development near the California ‘L’ stop. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Late last month, over 100 people crowded into a public presentation to hear about a proposed development of 254 housing units, plus 72 car parking spaces and retail, on what’s now a vacant lot around the corner from the California Blue Line ‘L’ station in Logan Square. The number of parking spaces proposed is 182 fewer than the city’s zoning would typically require, but recent changes to city laws make it possible for exceptions to be granted on sites near transit, and an adopted plan for this area encourages taller buildings with less parking.

Many attendees echoed the auto-centric concerns commonly heard at such meetings. Some said that the car parking proposed will prove completely insufficient, or that 300 or more new residents would result in unfathomable congestion. A flyer distributed door to door in the neighborhood sternly warned that in “High Rise City,” “They will make it impossible to drive on California or Milwaukee.”

Here’s the rub, though: Traffic volumes on major streets near the development have dropped substantially, and so has the local population. If there are fewer people and fewer cars, how could it be that some perceive traffic congestion to be worse than ever?

Between 2006 and 2010 (the most recent year available), the Illinois Department of Transportation reports that the number of drivers on Milwaukee Avenue and California Avenue declined by 17.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively. Traffic volumes on both streets fell by thousands of cars per day: approximately 2,600 fewer cars on Milwaukee and 4,600 fewer cars on California.

Population loss in the area has also been dramatic, since household sizes are rapidly declining. The population in the area around this proposed development declined by over 3,000 people, or 16 percent, from 2000 to 2010. The number of housing units increased by 316, but that was more than offset by an average household size that dropped from 2.7 to 2.2. It’s unlikely that the population trends have changed much since 2010: Census estimates project that the development’s Census tract added fewer than 100 people from 2008 to 2012.

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Cyclist Dies a Few Weeks After Being Struck by 89-Year-Old Driver


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The crash site at Lincoln, Addison and Ravenswood.

A bicyclist who was struck from behind by an elderly driver in September has died from his injuries.On September 27, around 7:35 p.m., Joseph Korner was bicycling north near 3559 North Lincoln in Lakeview, according to Officer José Estrada from Police News Affairs. Korner, 78, was struck from behind by Reverend Evaristo Loaiza, 89 at the time, Estrada said. Loaiza was driving a Mazda sedan.

Korner, of the 2100 block of West Belle Plaine, about a mile north on Lincoln from the crash site, was transported to Illinois Masonic Medical Center, according to Estrada. Although Korner’s condition was initially stabilized, he was pronounced dead last Thursday at 9:26 p.m., the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. An autopsy conducted Friday found he died from complications from his injuries.

Laoiza, now 90, was cited for failing to reduce speed to prevent a crash, according to Estrada. He last appeared in court on October 17.

This case serves as a reminder of the need for better screening of elderly drivers, to ensure that they can still safely operate a two-ton vehicle. Studies show that, after age 70, drivers are twice as likely to be involved in fatal crashes, per mile driven, as they were when middle-aged. After age 85, they are nine times more dangerous to themselves and others.

Korner’s death is the eighth Chicago bike fatality so far in 2014. This is a sharp increase from last year, when there were only four bike fatalities.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 23 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 8 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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CTA Bus Ridership Bouncing Back; Faster Service Would Spur Greater Gains

The CTA forecasts a slight rise in bus ridership next year, after years of sharp declines. Image: Chicago Tribune

In its proposed budget for 2015, the Chicago Transit Authority didn’t take much of a leap of faith when forecasting continued growth in the record crowds boarding its trains. However, CTA also optimistically forecasts that a multi-year slide in bus ridership, which accounts for 57.6 percent of the system’s total ridership, will end — and that instead bus ridership will “stabilize” with a 0.4 percent rebound.

CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase said that bus ridership has “fluctuated in the past five years,” and that some of the key factors that depressed ridership, like fare hikes and unemployment, are starting to wear off. In the long run, she said, “bus ridership is flat,” and “these trends mirror what’s been seen nationally among major U.S. transit agencies.”

Chase said that bus ridership grew from 2006 to 2008, then fell in 2009 and 2010 because of service cuts, a poor economy, and fare hikes — fares went up 25 cents, and discounts for Chicago Card users were eliminated.

Ridership rebounded in 2011 and 2012 as gas prices and employment both rose, Chase said. But even as the city’s economy continued its rebound in 2013 and 2014, bus ridership slid as CTA significantly raised pass prices. She said this would prove to have only a short-term impact, and that passes “were deeply discounted, compared with peer transit agencies.”

Other factors that Chase cited as potentially contributing to the recent slump in ridership include population shifting toward rail stations, service changes associated with the Red Line South reconstruction in summer 2013, a shortened school year in 2013, and last winter’s polar vortex. Essentially, she said, bus ridership should stabilize given “an absence of what brought prior decreases.”

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