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O’Shea Can You See? Formerly Anti-Bike Alderman Now Wants Divvy


19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea.

DNAinfo’s Ted Cox provided a nice write-up of an entertaining discussion of bike issues that took place at yesterday’s City Council budget hearings. You should definitely check out the original article, but here’s some additional background and analysis.

It’s great that aldermen on the Far South Side are clamoring for Divvy stations in their wards. Currently, the bike-share system’s coverage area only extends to 76th Street. Both 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale, whose district includes parts of Roseland and Pullman, and 19th Ward alderman Matthew O’Shea, whose territory includes Beverly and Mount Greenwood, asked when their constituents will be getting stations. O’Shea, who said his constituents are “anxious for Divvy.”

That represents a major about-face O’Shea. At a Chicago Department of Transportation budget hearing back in 2012, he told CDOT, “If you never put a bike lane in my ward, that’s too soon.” However, Southwest Side residents have recently lobbyied to get Divvy, and the Beverly Area Planning Association launched a petition for stations in the neighborhood, which has garnered almost 400 signatures. It’s nice to see that O’Shea has changed his tune and is now responding to his constituents’ desire to make the ward more bike-friendly.

At yesterday’s hearing, downtown alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) questioned CDOT’s practice of hiring the Active Transportation Alliance to do outreach to residents and businesses in advance of the construction of new bikeways. He complained that Active Trans “targeted” him after he proposed an ordinance to force CDOT to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes removed, at least temporarily, during the construction of a tower at Wolf Point.

In response to Reilly’s move, the Active Transportation launched a petition asking other alderman to oppose the ordinance, which garnered more than 1,400 signatures. They also got almost 50 businesses to sign a letter to Reilly asking for the Kinzie lanes to be left in place but improved. Eventually CDOT and Reilly reached an agreement, and the bike lane was refurbished last summer.

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Eyes on the Street: Delivery Drivers Are Blocking New Clybourn Bike Lane

Delivery trucks and vans, including one from Gordon Food Service, are parked in the buffered bike lane on Clybourn Ave., and are nearly blocking the curb-protected bike lane.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The new curb-protected bike lane on Clybourn Avenue and Division Street in Old Town aren’t even finished yet, but they’re already getting great use. Bike-specific traffic signals should be added later this fall, completing the project. However, there’s already a fly in the ointment – delivery drivers are blocking the lanes on a regular basis.

The bike lanes are located on Clybourn from Hasted Street to Division, and Division from Clybourn to Orleans Street. The problem is taking place by New City, a new mixed-use development on the southeast corner of Clybourn and Halsted, which includes 199 apartments and a shopping center. A movie theater and Mariano’s grocery store will be opening in the future.

There are loading zones on Clybourn near Halsted for truck and van drivers making deliveries to New City. However, the delivery drivers are also parking further south in the bike lane. On this stretch, the bikeway exists as a short, curbside buffered lane, and there are “No Parking” signs posted.


The Clybourn lanes have become popular with cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog reader Justin Haugens rides this stretch of Clybourn several days a week on his commute between Rogers Park and the South Loop. He reports that there are vehicles in the bike lane “one-third to one-half of the time.”

What’s particularly frustrating about this situation is that New City was built with seven underground loading spaces to accommodate all the deliveries for the 370,000 square foot mall, with the goal of keep trucks off the streets. “Burying the docks was also a popular move with the neighbors,” Mike Drew, principal at the firm Structured Development, told Chicago Magazine last November.

Not only are the delivery drivers parking in the buffered lanes, but their trucks and vans are often parked very close to the start of the curb-protected section. That forces bicyclists to hit their brakes and make a tricky maneuver around a vehicle to enter the curb-protected portion.

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Driver Fatally Strikes Man on Expressway, Flees With Body on Windshield

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The westbound lanes of the Eisenhower Expressway, near the Western Avenue off-ramp. Image: Google Street View

An allegedly drunk driver struck and killed a man who was crossing a Chicago expressway on foot, and then drove off with the victim’s body lying on the windshield, according to prosecutors. Adrian Harris, 33, of the 5400 block of West Van Buren Street, is charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI causing death.

Shortly before 3:50 a.m. last Saturday, Jess Rodriguez, 41, had been driving west on the Eisenhower Expressway when he got in an altercation with his girlfriend, DNAinfo reported. The woman exited the vehicle near the Western Avenue off-ramp and began walking on the left shoulder of the highway. Rodriguez parked on the right shoulder and then tried to cross to the other side on foot, prosecutors said.

Harris was driving west on the expressway when he came upon vehicles that had slowed to let Rodriguez pass, according to prosecutors. Harris veered around a van and then struck Rodriguez.

Rodriguez went over the hood of the car and landed on the rear windshield, prosecutors said. The impact from the crash killed him. Harris initially pulled over on the shoulder of the expressway but soon fled with the victim’s body lying on the trunk.

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Romanelli Is Right: Randolph Would Be a Better Bike Route Than Lake Street


Roger Romanelli at an anti-BRT meeting. Photo: Mike Brockway

As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Streetsblog Chicago readers know Roger Romanelli as the guy who has led the charge against fast, reliable bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue with his anti-BRT group the Ashland-Western Coallition. He also made headlines for asking Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy to force a historic church across the street from Romanelli’s home to stop its decades-long tradition of early-morning bell ringing. However, there’s some method to the madness of Romanelli’s latest NIMBY crusade.

As director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, which represents the interests of West Loop industrial businesses, Romanelli is currently opposing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s plan to install buffered bike lanes on Lake Street in the West Loop. Similar to how the North Branch Works industrial council futilely fought against installing buffered lanes on Elston Avenue north of North Avenue, he’s worried that more bikes on Lake would be an inconvenience to truck drivers.

In his campaign against the Ashland BRT project, which would involve converting mixed-traffic lanes to bus-only lanes, Romanelli cleverly proposed a watered-down alternative express bus proposal with some expensive bells and whistles. That way, he could disingenuously argue that he was advocating for better bus service, not just trying to kill the city’s plan.

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Currently, there’s an eastbound buffered lane on Washington, and there are protected lanes on Lake Street west of Damen. Image: Chicago Bike Map

Romanelli is shrewdly taking the same approach with the bikeway plan by arguing that Randolph Street, a street with less truck traffic than Lake, located a block south, would be a better location for the bike route. I’m confident that he would be glad to drop the idea of a bike lane on Randolph if CDOT shelved its plan for lanes on Lake between Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue. However, he happens to be correct: Randolph actually makes a lot more sense as a bike route.

Romanelli and the RFMA recently hosted a community meeting on the subject. He noted that Washington Street, a block south of Randoph, already has an eastbound buffered bike lane from Garfield Park to Halsted Street. CDOT is currently building an eastbound protected bike lane on Washington from Wacker Drive to Michigan Avenue as part of the Loop Link BRT project, and they’ll soon be adding a westbound PBL on Randolph from Michigan to Clinton Street as part of that project.

Therefore, it would be logical to continue the westbound route on Randolph in the West Loop. Meanwhile, since Lake becomes one-way eastbound east of Wacker, Washington works better as an eastbound route into the Loop.

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Bicyclist Died From Injuries Sustained in Crash at Dangerous Intersection

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The intersection of 79th, Stony Island, and South Chicago, from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Street View.

John Jones, 48, died last Thursday, about a week after he was struck on his bicycle at the dangerous intersection of 79th Street, Stony Island Avenue, and South Chicago Avenue.

On Tuesday, September 15, at about 7:20 p.m., Jones was bicycling southeast on the 7900 block of South Chicago when he came to the six-way intersection, according to Police News Affairs. The junction is complicated by the presence of overhead entrance and exit ramps for the Chicago Skyway, and it has a high pedestrian crash rate.

Alexa Lenior, 17, was driving south on Stony Island when she struck Jones, News Affairs said. Lenior told later police that she had a green light.

Jones was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he died from his injuries last Thursday at 2:43 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner. Lenior sustained minor injuries to her right arm and was transported to Jackson Park Hospital for treatment, News Affairs said.

Lenior was cited for failure to reduce speed to prevent a crash, according to News Affairs. Poor sight lines due to the presence of the ramp support pillars may have also been a factor in the driver not stopping in time. Lenior is due in Traffic Court on October 27.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 26 (10 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 4 (two were hit-and-run crashes)

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New TOD Ordinance Will Bring Parking-Lite Development to More of Chicago

New TOD zones

Grand Boulevard is one of many community areas that would see a significant increase in the area that can developed without parking minimums, and where developers could build denser buildings near CTA train stations. Image taken from the TOD map created by KIG Analytics.

Last Thursday, the Chicago City Council passed a transit-oriented development reform ordinance that dramatically more than doubles the distance around train stations where dense development can be built, and virtually eliminates the car parking minimums within these districts. The new legislation amends the city’s original TOD ordinance, which passed in 2013 and has been highly successful in spurring new building projects.

In general, new or rehabbed residential buildings in Chicago are required to provide a 1:1 ratio of parking spaces to residential units. Under the 2013 ordinance, residences within 600 feet of a Metra or ‘L’ stop (1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets) were only required to provide a 1:2 parking ratio.

Under the new ordinance, land zoned for business and residential (B), commercial (C), downtown (D) or industrial (M) uses within 1,320 feet (quarter mile) of a station is freed from the parking minimums altogether. On a Pedestrian Street, a special zoning designation that preserves a street’s walkable character, the TOD district is expanded to 2,640 feet (half mile) from the station.

Residential developments that will include less than a 1:2 parking ratio, or no parking at all, must go through the city’s administrative adjustment process. The local alderman can also write a letter or testify before the Zoning Board of Appeals on the subject, and it’s uncommon for the board to go against aldermen’s wishes.

The Metropolitan Planning Council estimated that the new TOD ordinance increases by tenfold the land area where the usual parking minimum doesn’t apply. Off-street parking spaces cost – in structured parking – at least $20,000 each, so excess spots increase building costs, which drives up home sale prices and rents. In addition, building too many parking spots by transit stations increases the rate of car ownership and driving in what are often the most walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly parts of the city.

The new legislation also increases the density allowance for certain parcels within the expanded TOD districts if the developer provides on-site affordable housing. Affordable housing units are already required in several scenarios where developers gets a zoning change or subsidy, but they have the option of paying an “in lieu” fee to the city’s affordable housing fund. Under the TOD reform ordinance, buildings that provide the required affordable units on-site get the maximum density bonus.

One flaw of the new ordinance is that, since the density bonus only applies to parcels with floor area ratios of 3, aka “-3 zoning,” plenty of land near transit won’t be eligible for this bonus. For example, while the Near West Side has plenty of -3 zoning near transit, Albany Park, which has two Brown Line stations, has very little of this kind of zoning.

MPC had recommended that the reform ordinance be expanded to benefit zones of all dashes – the dash generally expresses the density of units allowed. That  would have shortened the timeline for many projects where it would have eliminated the step of getting zoning changed to -3.

Developers wanting to build higher-density projects will still have to go through the typical zoning change and planned development process, because the area of parcels already zoned -3 is quite limited. The area where density bonuses can be given expanded only because of the new, longer distances from train stations. MPC estimated that this area only doubled.

The community areas that would see the biggest increase in -3 areas, MPC calculated, are the Near West Side (accounting for 20 percent of the newly eligible area), Uptown, Edgewater, Grand Boulevard, Rogers Park, Lakeview, Woodlawn and the Near South Side.

Finally, in a boon to creating more walkable streets, the ordinance requires that the Zoning Administrator only grant density bonuses and eliminate the parking minimum if the project complies with Pedestrian Street design regulations, regardless if it’s on a P-Street, and includes “enhancements to the pedestrian environment.” The ordinance lists possible enhancements as “wider sidewalks, decorative pavement, trees, raised planters, outdoor seating, special lighting, bus shelters or other types of weather protection for pedestrians, [and] transit information kiosks.”

KIG, a commercial real estate firm, published a map (via Curbed Chicago) that provides a general idea of where the TOD ordinance applies. The map represents a broad overview of the zones where there’s no parking minimums, and where density bonuses can apply. However, it shouldn’t be used to determine the eligibility of any single parcel because it doesn’t show zoning districts or train station entrances.

Developers should look at MPC’s Grow Chicago map for a parcel-level view of eligible areas.


The “Hipster Highway” Bike Counter Will Soon Be a Thing

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The future location of the Milwaukee Avenue bike counter.

Instant gratification is great, when you can get it.

Yesterday, I proposed installing a Copenhagen-style bicycle counting device on Milwaukee Avenue, known as “The Hipster Highway” due to its high level of bike traffic. This would help build support for reallocating right-of-way on Milwaukee in Wicker Park to make it safer for cyclists. Today, we got confirmation that the bike counter idea has actually been in the works for a few months and will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

LG Development Group will be working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to install the device as part of a new transit-oriented development project at 1237-53 North Milwaukee. “We didn’t want to just say we’re cutting car parking,” said LG partner Barry Howard, a frequent bike commuter who has been car-free for the last decade. “We wanted to make a statement that this is a bike-friendly building.”

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Barry Howard, with the unicorn-like red Divvy bike.

Howard noted that the site, which currently houses a Bank of America branch, is close to the Blue Line’s Division stop, CTA bus lines, a taxi stand, four Zipcar locations, bike lanes, and a Divvy station. “Why do people put such a focus on building car parking, when there’s all these amenities that around us?” Howard said. “If people use them, they don’t need their own cars.”

The 60-rental-unit building will include only 15 car spaces – half the ratio the city’s 2013 TOD ordinance typically requires for residential developments near train stations. Yesterday, City Council passed a beefed-up ordinance that will eliminate the parking requirement in TOD zones altogether.

The LG building, which is currently under construction, will include at least 60 indoor, above-ground bicycle parking spaces, which will be accessible via a bike-only ramp. The developer may use some below-ground space to double the number of bike spots. There will also be an pump and a work stand with tools for basic repairs.

LG reached out to the Active Transportation Alliance about making the development even more bicycle-friendly, which led to the idea of the bike counter. “It will help demonstrate the high volume of bike traffic on that stretch of Milwaukee, and the need to reconfigure the street to more safely accommodate people on bikes, along with other travel modes,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke.

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The Illiana’s Latest Death Blow: Feds Dropping Their Appeal of Court Ruling

Photo of the then-recently opened I-355, 127th St overpass

The Illiana’s high tolls would have driven motorists to use other routes instead. Photo: Tim Messer

A new legal development may represent the final nail in the coffin for the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway project. Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration dropped its appeal of the court ruling that invalidated the Illiana’s key supporting document.

Back in June, U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso invalidated the tollway’s Environmental Impact Statement, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” The EIS was jointly prepared by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation.

Alonso noted then that the FHWA shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [Illinois Department of Transportation] consultants,” rather than sound policy. The Illiana was a terrible idea that was heavily promoted by former Illinois governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs.

Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for a $500 million down payment for the tollway. They also would have been responsible for future payments to the private operator in the event that revenue from tolls came up short. One of IDOT’s studies showed that the Illiana’s tolls would be several times higher than those on other Illinois tollways, which would cause many drivers to opt for non-tolled roads in the same corridor instead.

The highway would have destroyed protected natural areas and heritage farmland. It also would have induced sprawl to new areas outside of the current Chicago metro region.

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Escalator of Life: O’Hare Stop Is Finally Back to Normal After Horrific Crash


The crash aftermath. Photo courtesy of the CTA.

Lazy air travelers rejoice! It took almost year and a half, but both escalators at the CTA’s O’Hare stop are finally operational after a catastrophic 2014 Blue Line crash. Although an ‘L’ train smashed into the escalator at high speed, miraculously, no one was killed. A single “up” escalator and the elevator have been operational in the interim.

The crash occurred in the early morning of March 24 of last year, when the operator, Brittany Haywood, failed to brake while approaching the end of the line. The train jumped the tracks and careened up the escalator, injuring over 30 passengers and causing about $9 million in property damage. Luckily, the escalator was empty at the time – otherwise there surely would have been fatalities.

Soon after the incident, Haywood admitted to falling asleep at the controls, and said she also nodded off the previous month while driving a train at the Blue Line’s Belmont stop. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that, as a fill-in employee, Haywood’s hours were irregular, but CTA officials said she had an 18 hour break before the O’Hare crash occurred.

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Driver Who Killed Avalos Pleaded Guilty, Will Be Sentenced in November


Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

Robert Vais, the driver who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos, pleaded guilty yesterday to aggravated DUI resulting in a death. According to Illinois law, the charge carries a jail sentence of three-to-fourteen years, at least 85 percent of which must be served in prison, plus fines of up to $25,000. Probation is generally not an option, except in extraordinary circumstances.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

At a court hearing last month, there was a “402 conference,” a private meeting between Vais’ defense team, the prosecutor from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, and Judge Nicholas Ford. During the conference the judge let the two sides know what his recommended sentence would be if the driver pleaded guilty.

Afterwards, the defense let the courtroom know that, given the results of the meeting, Vais intended to change his plea to guilty at the next hearing. This suggests that Ford did not indicate that he would give the defendant the maximum sentence of 14 years.

Yesterday’s court hearing was packed with supporters of the cyclist and the driver, according to Avalos family attorney Michael Keating of Keating Law Offices (a Streetsblog sponsor). At the hearing, assistant state’s attorney Shawn Concannon noted that blood drawn from Vais soon after the crash showed his blood alcohol level was 0.152 percent, nearly twice the legal level of 0.08, Keating said.

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