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Posts from the "Policy & Planning" Category

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Quinn Borrows $1.1 Billion to Keep IDOT’s Steamrollers Going

Governor Quinn Signs $1.1 Billion   Capital Construction Bill

Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill in front of workers at the Circle Interchange construction site today. Photo: IDOT

Governor Pat Quinn signed two bills today that allow the state to issue $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds to spend on highway resurfacing, widening, and bridge repair. The bills explicitly exclude transit from the new funds, and while they don’t seem to exclude bike lanes, trails, or sidewalks, all of the funds are already obligated to car-centric road projects [PDF].

Erica Borggren, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a press release, “This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs.”

What the economy and our transportation system also need is an efficient and sustainable way for users to pay the system’s ongoing costs — rather than a stopgap that socks future taxpayers, whether transit riders or pedestrians or drivers, with big loan payments. Keep in mind that today, Illinois has the country’s worst credit rating, and thus pays the highest interest rate of any state — 42 percent more interest than usual.

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported that “the plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to study where the money would go.” The answer, as with most anything related to IDOT spending, is “overwhelmingly Downstate.”

Just over four percent of the funds will be spent in Chicago, home to 22 percent of the state’s population. Most of that will go to reconstruct and replace the bridges and viaducts on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), between the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) and South Lake Shore Drive. $700,000 will be spent to resurface 0.6 miles of South Michigan Avenue in Washington Park.

Just under 37 percent of the funds will be spent in the six-county Chicagoland area, and the majority of that will go to exurbs and rural areas. This might prove convenient for Quinn during an election year, especially given the dwindling fund balance in his signature “Illinois Jobs Now!” program. The program has just $115 million left to spend, according to IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin.

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Speed Cameras Issue 1.25 Million Warnings, Cut Speeding 43%

Speed camera near Gompers Park

The first speed camera, at Gompers Park, was turned on nearly a year ago.

The City of Chicago’s automated speed enforcement system continues to succeed in reducing dangerous speeding around parks and schools. The Chicago Department of Transportation issued a press release earlier this month, stating that the number of speeding cars observed by its 51 speed cameras has fallen an average of 43 percent ever since the first week of the cameras’ operation. At some locations, the number of speeders dropped as much as 99 percent.

These stats continue the pattern established early on — just three weeks after a handful of speed cameras started issuing tickets, the number of cars seen speeding had already dropped 65 percent.

The 11-month-old speed camera program started almost a year ago with one installation at Gompers Park, and since then the program has issued “more than 1.25 million warnings to motorists.” Written warnings are issued within a camera’s first 30 days of operation, as well as on the first instance that a motorist is caught speeding, in any zone. Tickets are only issued when drivers exceed the speed limit by 10 mph or more.

The release also said motorists received 230,000 citations. That five warnings are issued for every citation might indicate that many motorists receive warnings, and don’t speed through safety zones again.

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Eyes on the Street: It’s On For Once-Missing Washington/Michigan Crosswalk

Crosswalk signal finally installed two months after markings

The crosswalk signal was working as of Monday evening.

To help make it easier to walk to the second busiest tourist attraction in Chicago, the Department of Transportation recently reopened a crosswalk across the north leg of the intersection of Michigan and Washington. The crosswalk provides an essential, direct link between the Cultural Center and Millennium Park’s many attractions, like next week’s Milton Suggs Big Band concert.

Crosswalk but no signal at Michigan/Washington

A man, ignoring the now-removed signs, waits for car traffic to clear before he crosses Michigan.

Earlier, Streetsblog reported that the crosswalk markings – which are quite narrow, at about five feet – were installed two months ago. However, the pedestrian signals were only activated this week. In the meantime, many pedestrians walked around the “sidewalk closed” signs and crossed there anyways because, well, people will go wherever it’s convenient. Since pedestrians may or may not have had the right of way during that interim period, there’s no telling who might have been at fault if a crash had happened. Next time, the city should consider installing the signals first — which, admittedly, is more complicated — and better coordinate their activation with the relatively simple task of painting the crosswalks.

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Cost Isn’t the Issue With Palmer Square Speed Tables, NIMBYs Are

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Midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month, a DNAinfo.com article drew attention to a new campaign to improve pedestrian safety at Palmer Square by installing raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. Unfortunately, factual errors in the piece left the impression that raised crosswalks would be an expensive solution that doesn’t have the Chicago Department of Transportation’s approval. It turns out that speed tables would be quite affordable, and CDOT first proposed adding them years ago. Other changes to the roadway could further discourage speeding and enhance the park – if only the park’s neighbors would allow them.

Ever since Palmer Square got new playground equipment and a soft-surface track in 2009, the green space has become increasingly popular with families and other Logan Square residents seeking recreation and relaxation. However, the current street layout encourages fast driving, which endangers people crossing to the park, as well as cyclists on Palmer Boulevard.

The eastbound portion of the boulevard runs south of the oval-shaped park, with two travel lanes plus a bike lane. Stop signs at the three-way intersections of Palmer and Albany Avenue, as well as Palmer and Whipple Street, help to calm motorized traffic.

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On the south side of the park, stop signs at Albany and Whipple help slow down cars. Photo: John Greenfield

However, on the north side of the green space, there are three westbound travel lanes, plus a bike lane. Albany and Whipple don’t continue north of the park, so there are no intersections or stop signs on the quarter-mile stretch between Sacramento and Kedzie boulevards, which makes it easy for drivers to pick up speed.

While there are marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square where Albany and Whipple would be, the three travel lanes create long crossing distances and the so-called “multiple threat” scenario. Even if one driver obeys the law by stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, there’s no guarantee that the motorist in the next lane will do so.

Two churches near the square encourage their parishioners to park in the central lane on the north side of the green space during services and special events. That’s technically illegal, but has been condoned by the local aldermen in the past. This practice further endangers pedestrians, because it makes it more difficult for westbound drivers to see people crossing the street.

As DNAinfo reported, residents have launched an online petition calling for installing raised crosswalks on the northern portion of the boulevard at Albany and Whipple. “A park designed for and frequented by very small children, residential homes and a church borders this portion of the street,” the petition reads. “A school also borders the park and school children often utilize the park for physical education and after school programs. The speeding traffic on the street creates a grave safety hazard.”

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Streeterville Residents Redefine Their Own Bit of Lake Shore Drive

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A plan view shows a green shoreline between Navy Pier and North Avenue, in place of the current concrete. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

John Krause isn’t the only north lakefront resident who realizes that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s “Redefine The Drive” reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive is a chance to reinvent how the city meets the shore and the street.

In a bid to add more green space in Streeterville, a high-rise downtown neighborhood with with just a few parks, residents commissioned local architecture firm VOA Associates to redesign the area’s lakefront. The proposal has been in the works since 2006, according to DNAinfo, and was revealed at a public meeting last month.

The proposal substantially widens the shoreline park, expands Oak Street and Ohio Street Beaches, and submerges Lake Shore Drive below parkland at both Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. VOA’s plan is backed by the Lakefront Improvement Committee, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, and Friends of the Parks.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation are currently studying North Lake Shore Drive and adjacent areas from Navy Pier north to Hollywood Avenue. The study has since issued a purpose & need statement, listing the goals of the project, and has now proceeded to solicit solutions from residents to fix those issues.

The proposal from Krause, an independent architect, covers the entire north lakefront and proposes to add substantially more park space and improved mobility for transit, bicycling, and walking. VOA’s design, however, considers the stretch of lakeshore alongside the Streeterville neighborhood, and changes little about how the corridor serves bicycles, buses, or automobiles.

Streeterville residents, though, seem more excited to have the Drive redefined than IDOT. Howard Melton, an attorney and Streeterville resident, facilitated the May meeting where VOA presented their design to residents. As reported by Lizzie Schiffman in DNAinfo, he said the whole project could be completed in four or five years:

[Melton] said if approved, the three-phase plan would renovate Lake Shore Park in the next two to three years, complete the lakeshore buildout around 2016 or 2017, and complete the entire project in four or five years.

While it could be possible to do it in that time if the project were approved today and independent of the North Lake Shore Drive study, CDOT and IDOT have a rather different timetable. They expect to select a preferred alternative in 2016, then receive environmental and design approval four years from now, and start construction afterwards.

VOA’s plan proposes to soften the lake’s waves by constructing a barrier island — like those called for in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which resulted only in the near south side’s Northerly Island. VOA’s overall design, however, focuses more on building green space than on rebuilding the multi-modal transportation corridor that runs through the park. Both VOA and Krause propose to build several acres of new park space atop a buried Drive near Oak Street Beach.

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A sketch shows how Lake Shore Drive would be buried near Oak and Michigan. Image: VOA Associates via DNA Info

South of Oak Street, VOA’s proposal widens the angled, paved-over shoreline south of Oak into a swath of green space and a broad access point at Chicago Avenue, flowing over another tunnel and meeting the existing Lake Shore Park tucked behind the Museum of Contemporary Art.

One detail that VOA’s proposal doesn’t address is where and how the Lakefront Trail would be routed around Oak Street. This part of the path is unusable for several days in the winter, because waves crash and freeze on the pavement.

VOA’s pro bono work for Streeterville community groups is one example of what could result from Krause’s suggestion of a design competition that could bring big new ideas to the table. Krause also wants Redefine the Drive to engage design professionals, which could raise new possibilities during what will likely be a once-in-75-years chance to redesign of one of the city’s signature parks and transportation corridors.

VOA did not respond to our requests for more proposal details.

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CMAP Tells IDOT: “To Each Municipality, According to Their Needs”

Urbanity fails again.

Uneven pavement abounds in Chicagoland. Photo: Josh Koonce

The Illinois Department of Transportation, whose secretary resigned last week after accusations about patronage hiring, distributed $545 million in gas tax revenue to fix streets in almost 3,000 jurisdictions last year. While this sounds like a lot of money, poor road and bridge conditions across the state can attest to the fact that these funds might not be going to the places that need them most. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the region’s federally designated metropolitan planning organization, has recently written about different methods that IDOT could use to more fairly distribute these revenues across the state’s cities and counties.

CMAP’s regional comprehensive plan, GO TO 2040, implemented for the first time a system of performance measures to make sure that transportation funding generally goes to where it’s needed, instead of just where it’s wanted. In that spirit, CMAP suggests a few alternatives to the state’s existing distribution mechanism, which state law currently divvies up based mostly on population as well as the number of licensed vehicles and street mileage. The current system steers 71 percent of statewide gas tax revenue to the seven-county CMAP region.

This “formula funding” mechanism, CMAP says, ignores the transportation system’s changing needs. Plus, since the percentages are set in law, that means that fund distributions “cannot respond to changing needs over time.” For example, 16.74 percent of the $545 million in annual gas tax revenue goes to the one Illinois county with over one million residents — Cook County. Meanwhile, DuPage County has grown to 932,000 residents, and could reach one million residents before 2040. When that happens, DuPage would become eligible for that 16.74 percent slice, and Cook could see its own revenue cut in half overnight, even though its streets would remain heavily used by suburbanites driving into the region’s core for work or play. 

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Architect Urges Big-Picture, Design Thinking For North Lake Shore Drive

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Krause suggests dipping Lake Shore Drive below ground at interchanges, with the Inner Drive and a new light rail line staying at street level. Image: John Krause

Local architect John Krause sees the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s most scenic locations, as a chance to think big — not just about the road, but also about parks, transit, trails, the shoreline, and the future of the city alongside it. The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t used to thinking like that, though, and so Krause sees its “Redefine the Drive” project as a process “that looks and feels suboptimal.”

IDOT is currently in the study phase of a decade-long project that will recreate both the boulevard and access to Lincoln Park. It will be years until IDOT has a refined design, so as a first step IDOT must identify what, exactly, they want to do — what they call a Purpose and Needs Statement for the project. Krause is on one of the project task forces, and helped bring to light that IDOT’s original objectives focused on personal vehicle congestion and traffic issues, and was blind to the road’s effects upon parks, the Lakefront Trail, and citywide mobility.

Krause has crafted an alternative vision – one of two, the other by VOA Associates – to redesign the Drive [PDF]. He created it to start a broader conversation about not just how to rebuild a road, but instead to create a legacy project for Chicago that could reimagine both how people move along the lakefront, as well as the lakefront itself.

The way the system is set up, the design team can’t discuss the project with the public, engineering firms are afraid to get involved for fear of being conflicted out of the future project, and the amateur general public is invited to give our unqualified opinions [at public meetings].

“It’s a shame,” he says, “that there isn’t more public engagement of talented designers in this important process.” He adds that a competition, similar to one hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to solicit designs for Central Loop BRT stations, “might be a way to get Chicago’s professional designers involved.”

IDOT’s study approach started off by lamenting the delays and congestion drivers experienced, Krause says, and so was “propagating a [highway] status quo…that has been discredited for a long time. Great design often emerges through collaboration among people with complementary skills and viewpoints. In this case, maybe civil engineers, transit planners, urbanists, park designers,” and others could work together, rather than letting IDOT’s highway engineers run the show.

A recent example of how IDOT has not looked outside its professional silo occurred at a recent task force meeting. As Krause describes it, “lots of people are pushing for a dedicated transit lane, but no one from the CTA is allowed to offer any guidance or encouragement. To be fair, I know that CTA and CDOT are struggling with IDOT behind closed doors, but whatever is said there has no impact on either the general public or the city’s design professionals.”

Krause says Redefine the Drive needs to redefine the entire lakefront as well. It “needs some real headline attractions… new features that would show up on a tourist brochure of things to do in Chicago.” Or, more importantly, he says, “things that would get the mayor and Friends of the Parks to stand up to IDOT” and get them to do something other than “business as usual” highway-paving.

As an example of what broader thinking could bring to the Redefine the Drive process, Krause has illustrated his own conceptual idea of what the North Lake Shore Drive study area could become. His proposal divides the area, which reaches from Grand Avenue at Navy Pier on the south up to Hollywood Avenue on the north, into four sections.

One principal component of Krause’s scheme is a light rail transit route down the center of the Drive, which would help meet the mobility needs of nearly 70,000 people each weekday. Stops would be spaced every 1/4 to 1/2 mile, including stops at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Edgewater Sports Campus. Throughout his scheme, Krause suggests dipping the Drive below each interchange, removing the elevated bridges that block views towards the lake. The rail line would continue at grade, so that trains will align with bus stops and sidewalks at ground level.

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Garrido Grandstands Against Milwaukee Road Diet at Public Meeting

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John Garrido and Dave Wians, holding stack of petitions. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, announced aldermanic candidate John Garrido hijacked a crowded community meeting about the city’s proposal for a safety overhaul of Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. He interrupted the event to present Chicago Department of Transportation engineers with what he said were 4,000 signatures in opposition to any reconfiguration of the street that would involve fewer travel lanes.

Most of this stretch of Milwaukee is a five-lane speedway, and the project area saw 910 crashes between 2008 and 2012, causing at least 17 serious injuries and three deaths, according to CDOT. In January of this year, two men were killed in a rollover crash on the 6000 block of the street, just south of Elston.

This section consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles, making it the least busy stretch of Milwaukee in the city. But while Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is generally a two-lane street, north of the Kennedy it has two travel lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, and the excess capacity encourages speeding. Recent CDOT traffic studies found that 75 percent of motorists broke the 30 mph speed limit, and 14 percent exceeded 40 mph, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are almost always fatal.

This stretch of Milwaukee is slated to be resurfaced next year, and CDOT plans to use the opportunity to reconfigure the street to improve safety for pedestrians, bike riders, transit users and drivers. The project would use $1.5 million in funding, eighty percent of which would come from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

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Current conditions on Milwaukee north of the Kennedy. Photo: John Greenfield

At the open house at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, CDOT presented various scenarios for the street makeover [PDF of presentation]. Currently, Milwaukee between Lawrence and the Kennedy, including the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center, is a two-lane street with rush-hour parking controls. CDOT has proposed eliminating the RHPCs on this stretch to make room for buffered bike lanes.

The department presented three possible configurations for the stretch of Milwaukee between the Kennedy and Elston, which has five lanes. Option A would retain all travel lanes and add a buffer on one side of the existing conventional lanes. Option B would convert one travel lane in each direction to wide bike lanes with buffers on both sides. Option C would convert travel lanes to parking-protected bike lanes, which would provide the greatest benefit in safety for all road users, since the bike lanes would also shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage speeding by motorists.

All three scenarios would also add high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian islands, and better traffic signal coordination. Studies have shown that street configurations with a total of two travel lanes plus a turn lane in each direction can easily handle up to 20,000 vehicles per day, so CDOT predicts that options B and C would have little negative impact on traffic flow and would actually improve northbound traffic flow during the morning rush.

Option C would require removing roughly 20 percent of on-street parking spaces to maintain sight lines. However, parking counts show that, in general, spaces on this stretch of Milwaukee are currently used as little as 50 percent of the time, and not more than 90 percent of the time, so there would be a relatively minor impact on the availability of parking.

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Milwaukee Bottleneck Is Being Fixed, After Streetsblog Alerted CDOT

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A tight squeeze: the current configuration doesn’t allow cyclists and drivers to safely share the road. Photo: John Greenfield

Construction to transform Wicker Park’s Northwest Tower into a boutique hotel has created a dangerous bottleneck for cyclists next to the construction site. Partly thanks to advocacy by a Streetsblog reader and reporter Steven Vance, the developer is fixing the problem.

On Wednesday, June 25, Kevin Monahan wrote Streetsblog to tell us that Convexity Properties was building an enclosed pedestrian walkway next to the 12-story tower at 1600 North Milwaukee Avenue. The walkway is meant to protect people on foot while workers rehab the façade of the building, nicknamed the Coyote Tower and slated to reopen as a hotel in June 2015.

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The walkway protects pedestrians and provides room on the sidewalk for construction equipment. Photo: John Greenfield

The six-foot-wide walkway is a good accommodation for pedestrians. However, its concrete exterior wall, which runs for about 200 feet north of North Avenue, has narrowed the southbound lane of Milwaukee, Chicago’s busiest biking street. Currently, northbound bike riders can share the lane with cars, but southbound cyclists who try to do so run the risk of being squeezed into the wall by vehicles.

Still, many southbound riders are attempting to stay to the right of car traffic. More confident cyclists are dealing with the problem by riding in the center of the southbound lane. When there’s a line of southbound cars stopped at the traffic light, some riders are passing the vehicles on the left — a risky move, since it involves biking in the oncoming traffic lane. Monahan told us he planned to avoid this frustrating scenario altogether by detouring around the block via Wabansia and Wood streets.

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Ex-CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly Named Head of Seattle DOT

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Kubly with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, right. Photo: City of Seattle

Chicago’s loss is Seattle’s gain. This afternoon, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray named former Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Scott Kubly the new director of the Seattle DOT. The appointment will require City Council confirmation.

Kubly served as a lieutenant to forward-thinking ex-CDOT chief Gabe Klein, and also worked under Klein when Klein was head of the Washington, D.C., transportation department. When Klein stepped down as CDOT commissioner last November, he told me that Kubly had been crucial to his success in Chicago. “Without Scott, there’s no way that automated enforcement would have happened, no way that the riverwalk would have been funded, and Divvy would not have been as smooth a rollout,” he said.

Although some people, such as 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, argued that Kubly would make a great CDOT commissioner himself, Kubly announced his resignation a mere three days after Klein left. “I view my career in milestones, and we just hit a ton of them,” he told me. “I’m really happy with what we got done. I’ve been thinking about this since May or June, and this really seems like the right time to step away.” He left the job on December 27. Since then, he has worked as acting president of Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Chicago’s Divvy program and several other bike-share systems.

Kubly is replacing Seattle transportation chief Peter Hahn, who resigned last fall after the newly elected Murray told him that he wouldn’t be retained in the new administration. In polls taken before the election, Seattleites said traffic congestion was one of their biggest concerns. Murray’s campaign platform included a promise to create an integrated, multi-modal transportation system.

In a statement, Murray praised Kubly as a “transportation renaissance man” with a proven track record in Chicago and D.C. “He’s worked on bike issues, car share programs, traffic management and pedestrian safety strategies, rapid transit and street cars,” Murray said. “He’s done long-range budgeting, strategic planning, cost reduction, major capital project development, and performance measurement and accountability. Scott is the transportation leader this city needs to take us to the next level in creating more livable, walkable communities.”

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