Skip to content

Posts from the Policy & Planning Category


The Final Segment of the Chicago Riverwalk Set to Open This Weekend

Final sections of the new Chicago Riverwalk

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, speaks to Margaret Frisbie, director of Friends of the Chicago River (green jacket), on the ramp from Wacker Drive to the Riverbank section. Photo: Steven Vance

If all goes well, starting this weekend you’ll be able to walk most of the way from the Ogilvie Center to Michigan Avenue on a car-free, if somewhat circuitous, route. At a media preview of the final section of the Chicago Riverwalk expansion this afternoon, Mayor Emanuel said he’s confident that the new recreational space, which doubles as a corridor for walking and (cautious) biking, will be open to the public this Saturday.

Previously, the Chicago Riverwalk was a simple paved path that ran from the Lakefront Trail to State. The first segment of the riverwalk extension, a much more elaborate promenade from State to LaSalle, opened in summer 2015 and immediately proved a hit with locals and tourists alike. This latest segment will run from LaSalle to Lake, creating a 1.3-mile route from Lake Michigan to the West Loop.

Emanuel was joined on the tour by officials from the city’s transportation and fleet and facilities management departments, as well as downtown alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and staff from Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects, the lead design team. The transportation department is building the project, which involved extending the south bank of the Chicago River out by 25 feet.

The three new sections, or “rooms,” of the Riverwalk to open later this week include:

  • The Water Plaza: A water play area for children and their families at the river’s edge. (From LaSalle to Wells.)
  • The Jetty: A series of piers and floating wetland gardens with interactive learning about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants. (From Wells to Franklin.)
  • The Riverbank: A wheelchair-friendly ramp and new marine edge that creates access to Lake Street and features a public lawn at the confluence of the Main, North, and South branches of the river. The ramp provides an accessible route from lower to upper Wacker and Lake Street. (From Franklin to Lake.)

Read more…

1 Comment

Active Trans Launches a New Proposal for a Grand Riverfront Trail System


Erie Park in River North includes a couple blocks of riverfront path. Photo: John Greenfield

On Monday the Active Transportation Alliance released their action plan for a continuous Chicago River Trail, one that would provide a corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists along the north and south branches of the river, connecting with existing suburban trails. You can read an executive summary of their proposal here.

The advocacy group argues that while Chicago’s lakefront park and trail system is excellent, our riverfront still isn’t living up to its full potential. They say that the heavy use of local trails like the Lakefront Trail and the Bloomingdale shows there is latent demand for a robust riverfront trail system that would serve as both a recreation and healthy transportation facility.

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 2.03.02 PM

A map from the executive summary shows potential locations for new trail segments. Click to enlarge.

The new system would also be a shot in the arm for the local economy, providing sustainable economic development opportunities, including tourism and retail. Active Trans notes that nearly one million Chicagoans live within a mile of the river.

Civic leaders have been calling for a continuous Chicago River Trail ever since Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Recently, Our Great Rivers, a visioning document for all three of Chicago’s rivers, was released as part of a project led by the Metropolitan Planning Council, in partnership with the city, Friends of the Chicago River, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, with input from thousands of residents.

According to Active Trans, almost half of the 27 miles of Chicago riverfront has existing trail segments, and several more miles are planned over the next few years. 14.8 miles of riverfront have no trail, but seven miles of river would be relatively easy to build trail segments on in the foreseeable future, the group says.

Active Trans has been in talks with neighborhood organizations in various communities along the river corridor to get input on the needs for the trail in local communities, ways to improve river access, and upcoming projects that could affect the construction of future stretches of trail.

The advocacy group notes that several upcoming projects offer opportunities to build new trail segments, including sections built as part of privately funded developments. Potential sites include El Paseo Trail project in Little Village and Pilsen, the south extension of the North Branch Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk expansion, the Bridgeport rowing center, the former Finkl Steel site, the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes, and planned developments in the South Loop and on Goose Island.

Read more…


The Lockbox Amendment Would Hinder the State Government

Metra over traffic

A proposed constitutional amendment on election ballots right now may go too far in restricting state transportation funding because its language doesn’t address multimodal needs.

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance and John Greenfield have different opinions about the lockbox amendment. Read John’s take here.

On every ballot in Illinois right now – early voting and mail-in voting has begun – there’s a question asking if the Illinois constitution should be amended to ensure that money that comes from gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, and similar transportation taxes and fees, goes only to pay for transportation infrastructure and projects. The purpose of the so-called “Safe Roads Amendment” is to prevent lawmakers from using the state’s various transportation funds to pay for other state needs.

Adopting the amendment will create a new problem of inflexibility while failing to resolve the state’s actual problems. There is insufficient funding in Illinois for all of the transportation projects communities and legislators want completed, and too often car-centric initiatives are prioritized while projects that would reduce car dependency are back-burnered. The amendment doesn’t address that problem.

The Safe Roads Amendment is being pushed by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, made up of highway construction industry and labor lobbying groups, as well as nonprofits like the Metropolitan Planning Council. The coalition has run ads suggesting that roads and bridges in Illinois are in danger of falling apart and causing injuries and fatalities because transportation funding has been diverted to non-transportation uses due to Springfield’s waste and mismanagement. That’s misleading.

The coalition is claiming that $6.8 billion was diverted from transportation projects, but that number is inaccurate. That money paid for various state needs, which often included, depending on how the diversions are tabulated, actual transportation-related payments. Also, the state’s structurally-deficient bridges are being monitored and repaired as needed using money that the Illinois Department of Transportation budgets each year.

The Civic Federation, a watchdog organization, reviewed which monies have been transferred out of the various transportation funds since 2002. They wrote, “which spending counts as a transportation diversion has been a thorny issue for many years.” For example, it’s debatable whether it’s counts as a transportation diversion when money from the funds goes to pay for pensions and health insurance for Illinois Department of Transportation employees.

Read more…


Lack of Concrete Protection for Rebuilt Kinzie Lanes Is a Missed Opportunity


Murmurs that Kinzie would be rebuilt with concrete protection turned out to be merely fables of the reconstruction. Note that, since bollards and “P” markings haven’t been installed yet, cars are parked in the bike lane. Photo: Jean Khut

With apologies to The Who, “Meet the new lanes / The same as the old lanes.”

Chicago cyclists have experienced a lot of highs and lows with the Kinzie protected bike lanes. Unfortunately, there’s a new setback. The city has announced the current reconstruction of the lanes won’t involve adding concrete protection, which represents a major missed opportunity to upgrade one of the city’s most popular bikeways. Here’s some history.

In 2011, not long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the lanes, the first protected bikeway in the city, and Kinzie soon became an indispensible bike route, attracting some 4,000 cyclists per day, according to CDOT. It’s the second-busiest biking street in Chicago after Milwaukee Avenue.

In 2013, CDOT agreed to a development plan that called for the developer to pay for installing PBLs on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie lanes to ease construction of a new high-rise at Wolf Point. However, by early 2015, the new lanes still hadn’t gone in and the transportation department seemed to be unwilling to remove the old ones. That April, Reilly introduced an ordinance to City Council that would have required CDOT to take out the Kinzie lanes, arguing that they conflicted with the Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In response to Reilly’s move, the Active Transportation Alliance launched a petition asking the 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.

In late 2015, after the pavement, bike lane markings, and flexible posts on Kinzie had deteriorated to the point where the PBLs barely function as such, CDOT crews patched some of the potholes, restriped the marking and reinstalled the bollards. In September the department revealed that they’d struck a deal with Reilly to save the bikeway. “We’ve agreed that the temporary removal of the bike lanes is not necessary at this point in the Wolf Point development, but should be evaluated with future phases of development as part of the traffic study process that is required of the developer,” said spokesman Mike Claffey at the time.


The Kinzie lanes were patched and restriped last year.

Active Trans applauded the news and called for further improvements, including completely repaving the street, better lighting under the viaducts, and replacing the virtually disposable plastic posts with concrete curbs, or some other type of permanent infrastructure.

Last April, Emanuel cut the ribbon on curb-protected bike lanes on 31st Street by the Illinois Institute of Technology and announced that the city would be shifting its focus to building permanent concrete bike lane infrastructure wherever possible. “CDOT will install curb-protected bike lanes, such as those on 31st Street, where it is practical to do so,” read a statement from the department. “Curb-protected bike lanes provide better separation between people riding bikes and people driving, reduce illegal parking and driving in the bike lane, and improve the aesthetics of the roadway.”

This past year Kinzie gradually became a moonscape again largely due to utility line work. At the same time, important biking streets like Dearborn and Randolph became badly degraded by construction projects. CDOT is currently rebuilding portions of the Dearborn protected bike lane, as well as constructing a new protected lane on Randolph.

Read more…


Slow Roll’s Jamal Julien Discusses the Ups and Downs of the 2016 Season


A Slow Roll Chicago ride last May. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

In Slow Roll Chicago‘s third year of operations, the bike equity group faced some challenges, as cofounder Oboi Reed, who previously had been the driving force behind the organization, was largely out of the picture due to health-related issues. But it speaks well of the group’s resilience that other members were able to keep operations going in 2016, hosting dozens of community rides and encouraging scores of residents to sign up for low-cost Divvy for Everyone (D4E) bike-share memberships.

“I think we did a pretty good job of sustaining our momentum, although we didn’t see the growth we would have like to have seen,” said Slow Roll cofounder Jamal Julien, a friend of Reed’s since childhood.

One project Slow Roll hoped to get off the ground this year that didn’t pan out was their idea of a bicycle lending library with bikes provided by Trek, a Slow Roll sponsor. The library would allow residents to check out bikes for two or three weeks at a time, just like a library book, and it would be targeted towards neighborhoods that don’t yet have Divvy stations.

Slow Roll, along with transportation advocacy group Go Bronzeville, is contracted by the city to do outreach about the D4E program on rides and at community events. This year Dan Black served as Slow Roll’s Divvy outreach manager. “The outreach is working, and we’ve got some ideas about how we can work more efficiently and effectively to get the word out,” said Julien. More than 1,400 people have signed up for D4E so far.

“While we truly appreciate our relationship with Divvy and what they’ve done, they’re still not in every neighborhood and we can help fill that void in the short term with the bike library,” Julien added. The library would be geared towards local people who aren’t ready to commit to buying a bike, but residents would also be able to use it to borrow cycles for visiting family and friends. “Hopefully after this year’s ride season ends we’ll be able to pick up that conversation with Trek.”

Weather was also a challenge this year. Although Slow Roll moved the start of their weekly ride season back from early April to early May this year, there were still a number of rides that took place in May and June on rainy days, and a few were rained out. However, turnout continued to grow in the second half of the season.

Read more…

No Comments

CTA and Pace Brainstorm Ways to Improve North Shore Transit Service


A Pace bus. Photo: Wikipedia

Two transit agencies working toward a common goal is unfortunately a rare phenomenon in our country. Thankfully this has not stopped the CTA and Pace from joining forces to brainstorm ways to improve public transportation in the Chicago region.

The two agencies, with assistance from Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, are currently working on the North Shore Transit Coordination Plan, a comprehensive study of the northern edge of the city and the near-north suburbs primarily focused on improving the bus service of both agencies. The goal of the study is to develop a list of recommendations and a plan for the agencies to execute in the near future. Last week CTA and Pace held an open house in Rogers Park to show area residents what they’ve been working on. The results of the study are both expected and surprising.

During the event, I first took a quick trip around the room looking at all the information boards they had up. The first board featured a very promising Project Purpose stating, “The purpose of this plan is to improve the coordination of CTA and PACE services by better understanding existing travel demands and transit markets while leveraging changes in communities and transit investments since the last major service revision in that area.” The board also included a project timeline and study area, including territory in Rogers Park, West Ridge, Lincolnwood, Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, and Kenilworth, showcasing the many towns, bus routes, and rail lines included in the study itself.

2016-10-04 13.00.19

Staff and residents at Tuesday’s open house at the Rogers Park library. Photo: Charles Papanek.

The next board was an overview of current bus service with stop-level ridership and a zoomed in version of the main RTA map showing the area in context with the surrounding landscape along with several performance indicating charts. Unsurprisingly, terminals like Old Orchard Mall, the Davis Street CTA and Metra stations, and the CTA’s Howard stop dominated the stop-level ridership, with between 2,000 and 5,000-plus boardings.

The third board was on demographics and travel patterns. It featured surprising info about the number of people moving into the study area instead of out of it. By an almost two-to-one ratio, more users entered the zone than left it for places like downtown Chicago. This is extremely important to highlight as it emphasizes the need for more investment in outlying urban and nearby suburban bus service.

The next two boards reiterated the CTA/PACE ridership survey and a study-specific drilldown on occasional riders. Several facts stood out. For example, 50 percent of riders are between 18 and 40 years old, rith a disproportionate number of riders aged 18-24. However, in the “occasional rider” breakdown, there are a disproportionate number of adults aged 65 and over.  Evanston was also singled out as the primary destination that people are going to and from with even downtown Chicago taking a back seat. The final interesting fact was that frequency was considered the most important factor in increasing ridership while additional destinations beat out both on-time performance and extending service hours.

Read more…


Just in Time for Halloween: The Illiana is Becoming a “Zombie Highway”

Screencap of the Walking Dead TV show

IDOT’s own studies showed that few people would drive on the Illiana Tollway because steep toll rates would be required to cover construction costs. Image: Walking Dead/AMC

A new filing in the court case against the Illiana Tollway – a proposed 47-mile highway through farmland and nature preserves that would cause exurban sprawl and lead to Illinois jobs being lost to Indiana — indicates that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner may actually be in favor of the project. In recent years it looked like Rauner was making moves to kill the project, but now it appears the Illiana is becoming a so-called “zombie highway” project that just won’t die.

Here’s a rundown of how Rauner previously indicated that he was killing the project. In January 2015, the newly elected governor suspended spending on non-essential capital projects, including the Illiana. In the first week of June 2015, he said the Illinois Department of Transportation would remove the Illiana Tollway from its capital plan.

Two weeks later a federal judge halted the planning of the new tollway by ruling that the required Environmental Impact Statement was invalid because the study used the circular logic that the tollway would be needed because of new housing that would be developed along the corridor… due to the construction of the highway. In September 2015, the U.S. DOT dropped their appeal of the ruling, effectively pulling support for the project.

Now here’s how the state is either keeping the Illiana on life support or else trying to keep the zombie under wraps. In July 2015, Rauner authorized spending $5.5 million to “wind down” the project, and to pay for some litigation fees.

In April this year, the Indiana DOT said that they would pay for rewriting the Environmental Impact Study. However, IDOT spokesman Guy Trigdell said “the approach in Illinois has not changed” and “we are not pursuing the project.”

Read more…


Is $2 Billion Red Line Extension Best Way to Provide Transit in Far South Side?

Architect's rendering of a proposed CTA Red Line station at 103rd Street and Eggleston Avenue. The Union Pacific railroad tracks are left of the station.

Architect’s rendering of a proposed CTA Red Line station at 103rd Street and Eggleston Avenue. The Union Pacific railroad tracks are left of the station.

The Chicago Transit Authority released a major study today, the next step in the developing project to extend the Red Line southward from the 95th Street terminal to 130th Street in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood. The Environmental Impact Study is required by the federal government before the CTA can ask for funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The CTA has been studying the Red Line extension for decades. Former mayor Richard J. Daley promised it to residents of Roseland and Pullman when the Red Line’s Dan Ryan branch opened in 1969. In 2009 the CTA finished a required “Alternatives Analysis” wherein they studied different routes and modes to provide transit service in the area that the extension would serve.

The CTA determined it would be in their and residents’ best interest to extend the Red Line, using the same kinds of tracks and vehicles as the existing rail service, from 95th Street, west to Eggleston Avenue (400 West), and then south along an existing Union Pacific-owned freight railroad right of way.

Four new stations would be built at 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Ave at 116th Street, and on 130th Street, at approximately 950 East.

The CTA said the project would cost about $2.3 billion. The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the extension could be up and running in ten years, with construction starting in 2022. That’s an optimistic timeline, and it presumes that funding can be secured from many sources, primarily the federal government. Required matching local funds could be provided by an existing TIF district and, in theory, the state of Illinois, although it’s been a long time since state lawmakers have been able to pass a budget.

Read more…


Active Trans Wins $150K Grant to Help Accelerate Slow Chicago Bus Service


Prepaid boarding is currently being tested at Madison/Dearborn — riders swipe their fare card at a portable reader before the bus arrives. Photo: John Greenfield

There was some good news for Chicago straphangers last week. TransitCenter, a New York-based foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility, awarded 16 grants, totaling more than $17 million, to civic organizations, universities, and municipalities, and the Active Transportation Alliance was one of the winners. The Active Trans proposal, called Speeding Up Chicago’s Buses, involves working with the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation to eliminate some of the roadblocks to faster transit and higher ridership.

Like many large U.S. cities, Chicago has seen an increase in rail ridership but a decrease in bus use in recent years. In 2015, ‘L’ ridership hit record levels, with 241.7 million rides. But, while buses still accounted for the majority of the rides last year, bus use dropped for the third year in a row, falling by 0.6 percent from 2014 levels to 274.3 rides.

“Declining bus use is not acceptable,” said Kyle Whitehead, director of government relations for Active Trans. When bus ridership falls, he noted, it can lead to reductions in the hours and frequency of service, which in turn can reduce ridership, creating a vicious cycle.

“That has an equity impact,” Whitehead said. “Many parts of town without easy rail access are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. If bus service declines, it disproportionately affects people in these neighborhoods.”

Whitehead said Active Trans will use the grant to expand on the transit advocacy they’ve done over the last few years, including outreach on the city’s Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit proposal. That project is currently on hold due to backlash from residents and merchants against plans to create bus-only lanes and limit left turns from the avenue. But if the downtown Loop Link BRT corridor, which opened last December, is ultimately judged a success, it could lead to renewed interest in the Ashland proposal.

Read more…


Days After Drivers Kill and Maim Cyclists, Trib Op-Ed Calls for Bike Crackdown


Ron Grossman

After Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23, was fatally struck on her bicycle by a right-turning truck driver in Roscoe Village on September 26, the Tribune ran an editorial noting that this tragedy should remind motorists to watch out for bikes on the road. This reflects the paper’s evolving coverage of traffic safety issues, which has generally improved during the last year.

However, the Tribune continues to run irresponsible “bikelash” opinion pieces from time to time. For example, in early September the paper ran an op-ed by DePaul communications teacher John McCarron in which he suggested that drivers shouldn’t be required to check for cyclists before making right turns.

The timing of the latest of the Trib’s latest anti-bike screed is especially poor. Four days after Kondrasheva’s death, and a week after Danielle Palagi, 26, was struck on her bike by another trucker near the Illinois Medical Campus, leading to the amputation of her foot, the paper ran an op-ed by Ron Grossman that portrayed bicyclists as a safety menace.

It’s not the first time Grossman has written an ill-informed bikelash article for the Tribune. Two years ago he proposed periodically giving pedestrians a holiday from the perceived bike threat by closing Chicago streets to cyclists. What would a day without bikes actually be like? It would be even louder, more congested, and more dangerous than a typical day.

In last Friday’s article Grossman called for a police crackdown on lawbreaking cyclists. “I live around the corner from Wells Street, with its heavily traveled bike lanes,” he writes. “Yet I’ve never seen a cop pull over a bicyclist who pedaled right through a nearby stop sign, and there are plenty. I’ve yet to see a biker ticketed for running a red light, a common sight anywhere in Chicago.”

Of course, Chicago drivers also do their fair share of running stop signs and blowing stoplights. The difference is, when you do these things while piloting a 3,000-pound vehicle, rather than a thirty-pound one, it’s easy to kill other people. That’s one reason why local police officers usually don’t view ticketing relatively harmless behavior by cyclists as a worthwhile use of their time.

Read more…