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Wicker Park Bus Stop Hasn’t Been ADA Accessible for Months

The CTA has been using this as a bus stop for over two months

People with disabilities can’t step off the curb to board buses.

For the past two months, #56 Milwaukee bus drivers have had a tough time picking up passengers, especially those with disabilities, from a temporary bus stop in the heart of Wicker Park.

The bus stop was formerly located on the northwest leg of the bustling junction of Milwaukee, North, and Damen, in front of a Walgreens. In order to accommodate construction at the iconic Northwest Tower, the Chicago Transit Authority relocated the stop to the southeast leg in July.

The temporary stop is located at a corner dotted with newspaper boxes, trash bins, and signs, so instead passengers often wait within the 15-minute standing zone in front of the Bank of America branch. When cars are standing there, they block the bus from pulling all the way up to the curb. This forces those boarding the bus at this busy transit interchange to step off the curb. That isn’t an option for people in wheelchairs, and they also can’t access the nearby Damen Blue Line station because it doesn’t have an elevator.

I alerted the CTA about the situation a month ago, and reminded them earlier this week. Spokesman Brian Steele told me the agency had been working with the bank’s property managers on the issue ever since the stop was relocated.

Steele provided another update on Wednesday. “CTA and [the Chicago Department of Transportation] have spoken to the property managers for the Bank of America building, and will be removing this 15-minute standing zone, and installing bus stop signs (heavy coated signs, not just paper signs) to clearly identify the stop,” he wrote. However, he couldn’t provide an ETA for the change.

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CMAP Board Members Will Try to Boot Illiana Boondoggle From Regional Plan

illiana traffic projections

Driving in northeastern Illinois is dropping 0.49 percent annually in recent years and increased at an annual rate of just 0.42 percent in the decade prior, but IDOT projects that driving will increase 0.92 percent annually. Chart: U.S. PIRG

After appointees loyal to Governor Pat Quinn muscled the Illiana tollway onto the project list for Chicagoland’s regional plan, it looked like nothing could stop this risky highway boondoggle from getting funded and built. The Illiana may still happen, but not without a fight.

Last week, the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning discussed how to kick the Illiana Tollway out of the regional plan. The CMAP Board and the CMAP MPO Policy committee will hold a joint meeting on October 8 to approve the update to the GO TO 2040 plan that includes the Illiana. CMAP must list any big transportation on the plan before any agency can build it.

Board chair Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills, asked whether board members could make a motion to excise the Illiana from the plan update before it’s approved. CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn assured them they can do so.

Erica Dodt of the Sierra Club told Streetsblog that Bennett plans to ask for this motion next month. There are many good reasons CMAP should leave the Illiana perpetually on the drawing board.

According to a CMAP staff analysis released last year, the Illiana Tollway will need an enormous, $250 million startup subsidy from taxpayers. Agency staff also said the project is contrary to GO TO 2040′s focus of making infrastructure investments in already developed areas.

Yet the same flaws in CMAP governance that let the Illiana corrupt the regional plan in the first place could crop up again. CMAP’s MPO Policy committee voted to include the Illiana last year, in a 11-8 vote where Pace and Metra representatives cast decisive votes, going against the interests of their own riders. Right now there’s a lawsuit challenging this decision, alleging that the policy committee didn’t follow state law. According to the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the policy committee cannot vote on what the CMAP board has not approved.

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Exploring New Bikeways on Marquette Road

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Biking the new buffered lanes in the Marquette Park neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, I navigated a couple of Chicago’s newest bikeways on Marquette Road, named for Father Jacques Marquette, one of the first Europeans to map out the northern Mississippi River. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently striped buffered lanes on Marquette (generally 6700 South) between Stony Island (1600 East) and Cottage Grove (800 East), and between Damen (2000 West) and California (2800 West).

Marquette, a relatively low-traffic, two-lane street, has the potential to become a bike-friendly east-west route, running about nine miles from the city’s western boundary at Cicero (4800 West) all the way to the Lakefront Trail. The upgrades to these one-mile stretches are a step in the right direction.

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This bike path paralleling Marquette Road through Jackson Park is a low-stress way to get to the lakefront. Photo: John Greenfield

At Stony Island, Marquette connects to a nicely marked, two-way off-street bike path that runs half a mile through Jackson Park to an underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive that escorts cyclists to the Lakefront Trail. Making Marquette west of Stony Island more bikeable will create a nice, low-stress route to the beaches.

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Buffered lane at Marquette and Stony Island. Photo: John Greenfield

The stretch of Marquette from Stony Island to Cottage Grove, in the Woodlawn community, features curbside bike lanes with a buffer striped to the left and no car parking lane. The lanes were striped on the existing pavement, which is in decent shape, rather than freshly laid asphalt. It would be a nice touch to add flexible posts to the buffers to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

On the current Chicago Bike Map, Marquette is shown as having non-buffered bike lanes on the entire stretch between Stony Island and Central Park Avenue (3600 West). However, unlike on streets where CDOT has scraped out conventional bike lanes and replaced them with buffered lanes, there was no evidence of the old bike lanes on the Stony Island to Cottage Grove segment. This suggests that bike lanes were striped several years ago but weren’t refreshed, so they faded to black, or perhaps the street was repaved but the lanes weren’t restriped.

Immediately west of Cottage Grove, a previously striped conventional bike lane is still easy to see. But most of the roughly 3.5-mile stretch between Cottage Grove and Damen, which is supposed to have conventional lanes on its entire stretch, is hit-or-miss. There are plenty of segments where the lanes are barely visible, and others where they disappear completely. All told, I’d estimate that only about half of this stretch has usable bike lanes.

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Although there are bike lane signs on this stretch of Marquette, there really isn’t a bike lane here. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago bike lanes are usually built using federal grants that can only be used for building new infrastructure, not for maintaining the old. This federal money can be used for upgrading existing conventional lanes to buffered or protected lanes, but when Chicago bike lanes are re-striped as-is, the work is generally funded as part of a repaving project, or bankrolled by the local ward. CDOT currently has no dedicated funding for bike lane restriping, which is why so many of our older lanes are in such bad shape. City Hall really needs to allocate dedicated funding for bikeway maintenance.

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Lagging Left Turns Would Improve Crosswalk Safety at Complex Intersections

Useful location for lagging left turn signal

People have already started crossing Halsted on a green light, even though a late left-turning motorist is stuck in the intersection.

When left turn signals are installed, they typically turn green at the start of a street’s green phase. However, simply reversing that order and putting left turns at the end of the green phase could reduce conflicts between turning cars and people walking in the same direction. As left turn signals have been installed at more Chicago intersections, motorists often are caught completing their left turns just as through traffic – and pedestrians – get a green light. The resulting conflict isn’t safe for anyone.

It’s standard engineering practice to have a “leading left turn phase,” in which the green-arrow light for protected left turns goes first, before through traffic gets a green light. However, Chicago drivers often make left turns at the end of the green phase, after opposing traffic has cleared the intersection.

One example of an intersection where the leading left turn poses a problem for pedestrians is across Halsted Street at Grand and Milwaukee Avenues. During the weekday afternoon rush hour, and at peak times on weekends, motorists end up finishing their turns after through traffic has gotten a green — and end up driving into a crowd of pedestrians. This has happened ever since October, when the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a left-turn signal on Grand Avenue.

To eliminate this conflict, the turn signal here could be shifted to a “lagging left turn,” which puts left turns at the end of the phase, instead of at the beginning. Moving the left turn to the end of the Grand green light would allow pedestrians to cross once the light turns green, then allow any drivers waiting to make a left to finish their turns within a protected left-turn cycle.

Useful location for lagging left turn signal

The leading left turn signal cuts short the pedestrian crossing time across Grand, and split left-turning traffic. This photo shows four motorists turning, and thus blocking people from crossing the street during their green phase.

Lagging left turns are highlighted by the Chicago Pedestrian Plan as a “tool for safer streets.” The plan even mentions that, by reducing conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles, the lagging left turn can even improve car traffic “operations,” and can be done inexpensively since it’s merely reprogramming existing infrastructure. However, CDOT will only install lagging lefts where they “will not negatively affect the operations of the intersection” – engineer-speak for slowing down drivers.

The Pedestrian Plan specifically recommends lagging left turns at intersections with any of the following characteristics:

  • A left turn phase with high-pedestrian volumes. At Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted? Yes
  • Three or more crashes in three years between left turn vehicles and pedestrians. This is most likely the case
  • People crossing during the left turn phase. Maybe
  • The intersection gives pedestrians a head start with a leading pedestrian interval. Not at this intersection

CDOT points to a successful lagging left at Huron Street and Fairbanks Court in Streeterville, near Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Previously, drivers were “unable to turn left” because people were walking across during the entire green phase. After installing a lagging left turn, “pedestrians crossed safely with their signal and the issues with vehicles queueing disappeared.”

Based on those qualifications, the Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted intersection seems like a sure bet for a lagging left turn. Where else in Chicago would a lagging left turn improve pedestrian and vehicle safety?

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Local Residents Want More Housing at Logan Square Blue Line Station

Logan Square residents discuss the CTA station and adjacent parking lot

The first meeting of the Corridor Development Initiative meeting drew 170 people. Photo: Charles Papanek

Logan Square residents came out in droves last week for the first of three meetings about redeveloping the Logan Square Blue Line station and an adjacent city-owned parking lot. About 170 people participated, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council, and 220 attendees are expected for round two tomorrow night.

With overlapping street redesign and development projects already in the works for this area, now is an opportune moment to discuss the future of the station and its surroundings. CDOT will select a consultant in the fall to redesign the Logan Square traffic circle, and the agency intends to hold a public planning process next year to make the section of Milwaukee Avenue from Belmont to Logan Boulevard better for walking, biking, and transit. Additionally, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón has asked the Department of Planning and Development to look at what can be developed at the station plaza and parking lot, MPC reports [PDF].

Ideas from these public planning sessions, which MPC is hosting at the request of Colón, will be incorporated into a forthcoming request for proposals from DPD and the Chicago Transit Authority to develop the station and parking lot.

Last week, facilitators led groups of eight to ten residents in roundtable discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhood and the station area. “This meeting isn’t like other meetings, where you can choose between red or brown brick,” said MPC project director Marisa Novara. Instead of presenting a limited menu, residents will contribute ideas together.

At the group where I sat, people liked that Logan Square is a place where you don’t need to own a car because of its walkability and that it has a good range of housing types, but they wanted more affordable housing. Our group could have also talked endlessly about the intersections around the station and the traffic circle: One person said “it takes forever to cross legally,” with the signals.

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Logan Square Developer Would Rather Choose How Much Parking to Build

2211 N Milwaukee TOD

PMG’s proposed mixed-use building will provide half the normally required car parking because it’s near a CTA station. Image: PMG via Curbed

A site that’s currently a staging area for Your New Blue ‘L’ station renovation may soon be home to a transit-oriented mixed-use building. Property Markets Group has proposed a new apartment building for Logan Square that will provide half the normally required car parking, bringing needed housing with less congestion.

Parking minimums for this and most residential proposals in Chicago require one parking space per unit, plaguing neighborhoods with more traffic and developers with unsold space. However, a TOD ordinance enacted a year ago allows residential developers like Noah Gottlieb of PMG to build up to 50 percent fewer car parking spaces if the building is located near a train station.

Without a Pedestrian Street designation, developers would have to find an empty parcel within 600 feet of a train station. The PMG residence’s main entrance, though, is just over 700 feet away from the California Blue Line station, and Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno implemented a Pedestrian Street here last year. It covers multiple empty parcels and increases the distance to 1,200 feet a development can be from a train station and still be eligible for the benefits.

PMG has proposed a six-story mid-rise building at 2211 N Milwaukee Avenue, adjacent to the Chase Bank-anchored strip mall and across from the Madison Public House restaurant, which opened in the spring. The building would have 120 units with 60 car parking spaces (and seven more for the ground-floor retail). Seventy percent of the units would be studios, junior one-bedrooms, and one-bedroom apartments.

Since the TOD ordinance requires that a bike parking space replace every normally required car parking space, PMG will be doing that, and then some. Gottlieb said they’re proposing 216 bike parking spaces because PMG does all of its parking calculations “on the projected amount of people, not units.”

Gottlieb also wants to do away with parking minimums, adding that the developer should decide how much parking to build. He explained that the motivation to build less parking at this development is because it’s “in line with the marketplace.” He continued:

There’re a lot of antiquated zoning rules in regard to parking. Especially in Logan Square, very few people drive to work in the young renter demographic, they’re using public transportation, and biking and walking. We anticipate very little demand for our parking spots. 

Parking minimums are one of those antiquated rules. They were originally intended to ensure that everyone who wants to drive finds a place to park at their destination, regardless of that place’s transit accessibility, but instead they ended up encouraging more people to drive. Developers don’t need a zoning mandate to ensure their tenants or customers have a way to access their homes and shops: They’ll do that all on their own. Parking minimums also drive up the costs of construction, which are passed on to tenants when parking is bundled with rent. Read more…

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CDOT Previews Chicago’s Next Round of New Bikeways

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New protected bike lanes on Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The quarterly meetings of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council are a good place to get up to speed on Chicago’s latest bike developments. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with updates on bike lane construction, off-street trails, Divvy bike-share, and more. The sessions take place during business hours, but if your schedule allows you to attend, you can get on the mailing list by contacting Carlin Thomas, a consultant with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program, at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton kicked things off by introducing MBAC’s four new community representatives. All four are seasoned bike advocates, so they’ll likely be an asset to the meetings, bringing on-the-ground knowledge of their respective districts.

Anne Alt, who works at the bike law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor) and volunteers with Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, will represent the South and Southwest Sides. Kathy Schubert, the founder of the Chicago Cycling Club who successfully lobbied CDOT to start installing non-slip “Kathy plates” on bridge decks, will cover the North Side.

Miguel Morales, a former networker for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children and current West Town Bikes board member, will represent the West Side. And Bob Kastigar, a longtime activist who launched petition drives in support of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann and the proposal for a safety overhaul on Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park, will cover the Northwest Side.

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Kastigar, Morales, Schubert, and Alt. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld somberly noted that Chicago has seen seven bike fatalities this year, up from three by this time last year. The crashes generally took place on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. All but one involved a driver, and the victims ranged in age from 20-year-old Jacob Bass to 59-year-old Suai Xie.

CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden provided an update on the department’s efforts to put in 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes by 2015. So far, 67.75 miles have been installed, with 19.5 miles built this year, Amsden said. An additional 23.5 miles of federally funded lanes are slated for construction in spring 2015. These include Lawrence (Central to Central Park) and Milwaukee (Lawrence to Elston).

Currently, 14 miles of bikeways are going through the approval process and could be built this fall or next spring. These include Elston (Webster to the northernmost intersection of Elston and Milwaukee, near Peterson), Kedzie (Milwaukee to Addison), and Pershing (King to Oakwood). Another 7.5 miles are tied to street repaving projects, and are slated for construction this fall or in spring 2015. These include Armitage (Western to Damen) and Augusta (Central Park to Grand). Presumably, the lion’s share of all of these upcoming bikeways will be buffered bike lanes, rather than protected lanes.

Amsden reported that recently built buffered and protected lanes on Broadway in Uptown have been getting positive reviews from business owners, pedestrians, and cyclists. A brand-new stretch of PBLs and BBLs on Lake Street from Central Park to Austin means you can now ride five miles from Damen to the city limits on next-generation lanes, albeit it under the shadow and noise of ‘L’ tracks. Buffered lanes were recently striped on Marquette, from Cottage Grove to Stony Island, and from California to Damen.

“Next we’re going to start focusing on closing the gaps in our network,” Amsden said. “We’re really trying to create a cohesive system by looking at areas of concern, like difficult intersections.”

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Archer Avenue Motorists Upset They Can’t Drive as Fast as They Want

mulberry park speed camera

Speeding was a factor in 32 percent of crashes within 1/8 mile of Mulberry Playlot Park. Map: CDOT

Some motorists are complaining about a new speed camera along the busy 3200 block of Archer Avenue in McKinley Park. The accusations of a “speed trap” focus on the camera’s location, which is not immediately adjacent to the small park that, under Chicago’s “safety zones” rules, justifies the camera’s placement. But the camera is located in a part of Chicago where speeding is endemic and crashes are frequent.

CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that the Mulberry Playlot Park safety zone was ranked in the top 10 percent of safety zone locations “in terms of priority for needed safety improvements,” placing it 135th out of 1,500 citywide. Within the 1/8 mile buffer around the park, 32 percent of crashes from 2009 to 2012 involved a speeding driver, and 22 percent — 47 crashes — involved children.

DNAinfo recently interviewed a few people who feel they should be able to drive as fast as they want on Archer Avenue and reported that 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas wants to relocate or remove the speed enforcement camera. They are missing the point of automated speed enforcement.

Cardenas, who has also opposed street changes that would improve travel times for Ashland bus riders, told DNAinfo, “There’s no reason why the camera should be there. It’s a stretch to call [Mulberry] a park.”

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Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

Virginia Hamman brings 4,000 petitions against proposed farmland-destroying tollway

Virginia Hamman, a property owner who would be affected by the Illiana Tollway, asked the policy committee to vote against the project last year.

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO TO 2040 Plan.

The CMAP Board will meet on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the proposed GO TO 2040 update [PDF]. The award-winning plan lists all major capital projects proposed for the region. All projects, both highway expansion and new transit lines, must be listed on the plan in order to receive federal funding. Governor Pat Quinn earlier persuaded Metra and Pace to vote in favor of adding the Illiana Tollway to GO TO 2040, thereby shrinking their own available funding. Both CMAP’s Board and MPO Policy Committee will vote on whether to adopt the plan update at a joint meeting in October.

The plan update is an opportunity for the Sierra Club, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to make their case that the Illiana Tollway should be struck from the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The Active Transportation Alliance also wants the plan to drop Illiana: executive director Ron Burke told me, “Yes, take it out. We opposed its inclusion in the first place.” He added that what Active Trans said a year ago – a vote for Illiana is a vote against transit – holds true today.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also submitted a comment to CMAP head Randy Blankenhorn, reiterating her earlier opposition to the project. She criticized the Illiana Tollway because it would require $250 million in taxpayer dollars at a minimum (but honestly up to $1 billion) to jumpstart the project, and that beyond that the state of Illinois would be responsible for any financial shortcomings. Preckwinkle stated, “it would be irresponsible of me to support a project like this that will compromise other, more fully vetted transportation improvements with greater benefits for Cook County, metro Chicago and Illinois.”

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CBS 2 Presents the Windshield Perspective on Loop BRT

Construction work to build the $32 million Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project has been postponed until next year, but workers are already out replacing utility lines on downtown streets to prepare for the project. CBS 2 anchor Rob Johnson responded with a faux exposé that trots out tired clichés about the city’s purported war on cars.

“We noticed crews digging up Loop street after street with no seeming plan,” he intones. “Then we started digging and found a city plan to radically alter the heart of the Loop.” Quite the scoop, except that the BRT project, announced back in February of 2013, has been in the news for a year and a half.

The system will run between Union Station and Michigan, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station. The city has said time-saving features will cut 7.5 minutes off a roundtrip across the Loop. As part of the project, workers will build a protected bike lane between the bus lane and the curb on Washington.

“If you commute to downtown Chicago for work, your life is about to change,” Johnson warns before setting off to interview people in automobiles. “City planners have decided to move buses and bikes ahead of cars.”

“I hate it,” says one motorist. “It’s crazy. Guess I’ll be on that bus.” CBS apparently couldn’t be troubled to interview an actual bus rider who would appreciate the faster ride.

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