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A Wish List for Better Walking and Biking in the Black Metropolis

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Ronnie Harris outside the locked gate that blocks pedestrian and bike access on 29th east of Michigan. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

As we stood astride bicycles in the shadow of Alison Saar’s Monument to the Great Northern Migration last week, Bronzeville-based transportation advocate Ronnie Matthew Harris, 47, told me that community organizing is in his blood.

“Both sides of my family immigrated from the Deep South as part of the Great Migration, and landed here in the great mecca of Bronzeville,” Harris said, gazing at the 15-foot-tall bronze sculpture. “And as long as there has been a historic Bronzeville, you could find an organizer by the name of Harris.” His paternal grandfather and father were labor leaders, he explained, and his mother’s job at a local church involved many aspects of community development. “So it’s the family business.”

Harris is also passionate about improving conditions in the neighborhood—sometimes referred to as the Black Metropolis—where he was born and raised. As the leader of Go Bronzeville, a group that promotes sustainable transportation options in the community, he’d offered to take me on a neighborhood tour highlighting pedestrian and bike access issues he wants to fix.

“Data shows that a community that walks, bikes, and uses public transportation is a community that is healthier, safer, and more economically viable,” he said. “Go Bronzeville wants to respond to some of the inequity in public policy and urban planning that sometimes contributes to disparities in health and wealth.”

Go Bronzeville started as an initiative of the Chicago Department of Transportation, along with similar programs in Pilsen, Garfield Park, Albany Park, and Edgewater. The programs educate residents on how sustainable transportation can help them save time and money and improve their health. After the program ended, Harris got CDOT’s blessing to continue running Go Bronzeville on a mostly volunteer basis. Nowadays the group hosts neighborhood bike rides, mans tables at community events, and, via a city contract, promotes the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 bike-share memberships to low-income Chicagoans.

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Take a Virtual Spin on the (Partly Finished) Elston Curb-Protected Bike Lanes

As I’ve written, it’s a shame that the valuable riverfront land at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Damen will likely be redeveloped as big box retail with tons of parking in the aftermath of a project to reroute Elston Avenue so it bypasses that intersection. The silver lining of the project is that this new, curving five-lane stretch of Elston, which opened to motorized traffic last week, will have curb-protected bike lanes.

Prior to construction, the six-way Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection saw about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranked among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’ve moved through traffic on Elston about a block east on land occupied by WhirlyBall, which relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and the Vienna Beef factory, which will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport.

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Elston, which formerly intersected with Fullerton and Damen, has been relocated one block east. Image: CDOT

The entire bypass project was supposed wrap up this spring, but according to CDOT spokeswoman Sue Hofer, it’s currently not slated for completion until this December. But starting last week northeast- and southeast-bound motorized vehicles began using one lane in each direction on the new section of Elston, which crosses Damen a block north of Fullerton/Damen intersection.

The old, two-block stretch of Elston just southeast of Fullerton/Damen remains open for local traffic under the new name Elston Court. Under the new traffic pattern, vehicles are allowed to turn right from eastbound Fullerton onto Elston Court, but vehicles from northbound Elston Court south of Fullerton are only permitted to turn right, eastbound, on Fullerton.

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Francisco Cruz, 58, Fatally Struck by Van Driver While Biking in West Garfield

The Chicago Police Department provided this image of a commercial cargo van that struck Francisco Cruz Wednesday night.

The Chicago Police Department provided this image of a commercial cargo van whose driver struck Francisco Cruz Wednesday night. Image: CPD

We will update this post throughout the day as more facts are made available. 

Francisco Cruz, 58, was struck and killed while biking in West Garfield Park Wednesday night by a cargo van driver who fled the scene. This newest tragedy happened the day after art student Lisa Kuivinen while riding a bike in West Town Tuesday morning. Cruz’s death is the fourth bike fatality this year; all four cases involved a commercial driver.

Cruz was bicycling south on the 200 block of North Pulaski Road at 10:19 p.m. last night when the driver of a northbound white commercial cargo van turned left onto Maypole Avenue and fatally struck him, police said. The driver did not stop to render aid but instead contined west on Maypole.

Cruz, of the 1300 block of South Christiana in North Lawndale, was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

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The intersection of Pulaski and Maypole from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Street View

The police are trying to apprehend the driver and provided an image of the van taken by a security or traffic camera. The phone number visible on back of the van in the image is associated with Advanced Realty Network, a brokerage at 2427 West Madison. A call to the number reached a voicemail for the company. While it’s not clear that the driver was employed by Advanced, presumably the police will visit the company for more information. Anyone who has information can contact the police at 312-745-4521.

As of Thursday afternoon, several people had left abusive comments in the reviews section of Advanced’s Facebook page. Please keep in mind that this is inappropriate, since we don’t even know for sure yet that the driver works for the company.

Cruz’s death follows those of three other bike riders who were fatally struck by commercial vehicle drivers this summer. Courier Blaine Klingenberg was struck and killed by a tour bus driver on June 15 in the Gold Coast. Divvy rider Virginia Murray fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver on July 1 in Avondale, and Lisa Kuivinen was also struck and killed by a the driver of a flatbed truck on August 16. Active Transportation Alliance advocacy director Jim Merrell responded to the news on Twitter this morning, tagging Mayor Emanuel’s and the Chicago Department of Transportation’s accounts.

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Alderman Burnett Weighs In on Kuivinen Case, Cyclists Honor the Fallen Rider

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Lisa Kuivinen at a ballroom dancing event.

The case of Lisa Kuivinen, a 20-year-old art student who was fatally struck by an 18-wheel flatbed truck driver while cycling on Milwaukee Avenue yesterday morning, has moved many Chicagoans, from everyday bike riders to city officials.

Around 8:15 a.m. Kuivinen, a Rolling Meadows native who studied animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was biking southeast in a green-painted stretch the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane in West Town, police say. Driver Anotonio Navarro, 37, veered into the bike lane while making a right turn onto southbound Racine Avenue, striking and dragging the cyclist, according to police.

Kuivinen was taken to in critical condition to Northwestern Hospital, where the cyclist was pronounced dead, according to the police. Navarro, an Algonquin resident, was ticketed for driving in a bike lane and failure to take due care for a bicyclist in the roadway. He has a hearing in traffic court on September 15 at 9 a.m. at the Daley Center.

It appears that Navarro, whose truck is registered with Illinois Brick Co., was on his way to a transit-oriented development construction site at 830 North Milwaukee. The site can be accessed from an alley off of Racine. The southeast-bound bike lane is blocked by fencing for the TOD project, which forces cyclists to merge into the travel lane. However, this may not have been a factor in the collision because the fence is a few hundred feet southeast of the crash site.

There also seems to be an issue with trucks and equipment being parked in the bike lane near the work site. DNAinfo is reporting that, when a woman named Maria stopped this morning to photograph a truck in the bike lane and talk to the driver, she witnessed a male cyclist intentionally smash the windshield of the truck. The man seemed to be frustrated that, even in the wake Kuivinen’s death, truckers were still endangering cyclists at the site by blocking the bike lane. After Maria confronted the man, he fled the scene.

In theory, when construction blocks down sidewalks or bike lanes, the Chicago Department of Transportation requires that safe accommodations must be made for pedestrians and cyclists, although this is often not the case. DNA reports that nearby resident Jeff Miller emailed local alderman Walter Burnett (27th) on August 4 about the bike lane blockage writing, “It’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt… [There is] literally no space for bicycles to go around that project causing them to also swerve into traffic.”

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Memorial to Kuivinen at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

According to DNA, city records state that on May 18 Summit Design & Build LLC, the construction company for the TOD project submitted an application to CDOT for “curb lane & bike lane closures at 830 N. Milwaukee for 30 days.” The property is located just southeast of Milwaukee’s intersection with Elston Avenue, another street with protected bike lanes. Since Milwaukee runs northwest-southeast, and that stretch of Elston is north-south, the two roadways meet at a 45-degree angle.

Reached by phone this afternoon, Burnett told Streetsblog that a Chicago Department of Transportation official said the department was investigating the bike lane blockage and would have a report by the end of the day. We’ve asked CDOT to share the information once it is released.

“I did drive down there a little while ago,” Burnett said. “I don’t know if [Summitt is] exceeding [their permit] in inches or feet how much they can come out in the street — that’s something a little more technical that [CDOT is] going to look at.”

“Personally, if traffic was that tight, I don’t know what I would have done,” Burnett added. “[The Milwaukee/Elston] intersection is challenging by itself. It’s an angular intersection, it’s not perpendicular. It’s kind of dangerous, period.”

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City Hopes to Use State Law Allowing Transit TIFs to Rebuild CTA Red Line

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Mayor Emanuel will introduce an ordinance that would create a kind of TIF district around the CTA Red Line on the North Side so the CTA can use property tax revenue to rebuild tracks and stations. Photo: David Wilson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office has started crafting an ordinance that would activate a state law allowing the city to create “transit TIF districts” – officially called Transit Facility Improvement Areas – around four transit projects, according to the Chicago Tribune. Boundaries could be drawn up to a half mile around Chicago’s Union Station (to fund the improvements recommended in its master plan), the CTA’s North Side Main Line, the CTA’s Red Line extension to 130th, and the CTA’s Blue Line Congress branch modernization and possible extension.

The cost for RPM Phase I is $2.1 billion and the CTA is set to receive $1.1 billion in federal grants. Phase I includes rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations and all tracks within a mile of the stations. CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase said, “specifically, about $956 million of federal Core Capacity funding and a $125 million CMAQ grant.” In order to get these funds, she said, the CTA needs to provide a local match of $881 million. The Red Line transit TIF district is projected to generate $622 million to pay back a low-interest “TIFIA” federal loan. The CTA would fund the remaining $219 million from its own bonds.

Transit TIFs would work much like existing tax-increment financing districts, in which the property taxes assessed on any incremental increase in property values since the TIF district’s inception are earmarked for improvements within the district. In the transit TIF districts, loans taken out to pay for public transportation infrastructure would be repaid via the future increase in property values and tax revenue brought about by the better transit service – a form of value capture.

The city’s existing TIF program is highly controversial because, unlike other city expenditures, the mayor gets to decide how the money is spent without needing approval from City Council. Critics also point out that the program diverts money from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies.

However, the transit TIF program would be designed so that the Chicago Public Schools would receive the same portion of property taxes it would if the Transit Facility Improvement Area didn’t exist. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the official regional planning organization, created the following charts to illustrate how that would work.

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Reilly to CDOT: Please Fix Dearborn Protected Bike Lane’s Lousy Pavement

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The Dearborn bike lane at Adams. Photo: John Greenfield

Downtown alderman Brendan Reilly is known as the man who tried to get the Kinzie protected bike lanes removed, but he recently racked up some bike lane karma. Shaun Jacobsen, the urban planner behind the transportation blog Transitized, wrote to Reilly to about poor pavement conditions on the Dearborn two-way protected bike lane. The alderman promptly reached out to the appropriate city departments to try to solve these problems.

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Letter from Reilly to Scheinfeld. Click to enlarge.

Currently the worst stretches of the Dearborn lane are between Adams and Monroe, and between Randolph and Lake. On these blocks, channels were cut out of the street to accommodate utility work, right in the middle of the bike lane. After the work was done, the troughs were filled with concrete but were never repaved with asphalt, resulting in a rough, bumpy riding surface.

On August 2, Reilly wrote Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld about the problem. “I respectfully request your department dispatch a maintenance team to survey and repair the damaged bike lane on Dearborn Street,” he said. “My office has received reports that a number of utility projects in this area have damaged the pavement, causing potholes and uneven terrain.”

Reilly asked that CDOT inspectors determine whether the utility work was done by private contractors or city workers, and requested that CDOT ensure that the bike lane would be repaired as soon as possible. He also asked the commissioner to report back to him when the bike lane is fixed.

Unfortunately the repairs aren’t going to be made immediately, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “Dearborn will be getting resurfaced this fall, once all the utility work is wrapped up,” said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey this morning. He added that the Kinzie protected lanes, which have also been affected by utility cuts, as well as Randolph, which is slated for a new westbound curb-protected bike lane this year, will also be repaved in the fall.

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Local Leaders Weigh in On 31st Street Beach Transportation Issues

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. The park district plans to more than double the size of the an existing parking lot, center. Image: Google Maps

Last month I reported on the Chicago Park District’s plans to expand a parking lot at the southwest corner of 31st and Lake Shore Drive, a short walk from 31st Street Beach and Harbor. The proposal would enlarge the lot, currently 60,000 square feet of asphalt, by 85,000 feet — that’s about 1.5 football fields worth of existing green space that would be replaced by blacktop.

The project would add more than 250 spaces near the beach, which already has over 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces within a five-minute walk. It would cost $1.6 million, paid for harbor bond funding.

I noted that Friends of the Parks has endorsed the project. Executive director Juanita Irizarry told me last month that if the group advocated against more parking at the South Side beach, they would have essentially been “tell[ing] people of color that they can only utilize the beach if they arrive by CTA or bicycle.”

On the other hand the Active Transportation Alliance is against the parking expansion. Executive director Ron Burke argued that transit, walking, and bike access should be improved instead. “Let’s give people MORE open space, play areas, trails and other attractions and LESS pavement for cars,” he said via email.

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The design of the expanded parking lot. Image: Chicago Park District

After my article ran, Delmarie Cobb, a lifelong Bronzeville resident and owner of the Publicity Works PR firm fired off an angry email to 4th ward alderman Sophia King’s office about the parking plan and cc-ed me. “Now, the city wants to take more green space so the harbor users will have more parking options,” she wrote. “There’s plenty of parking at the old Michael Reese parking lots.”

In addition to the 650 aforementioned nearby beach and harbor parking spaces, there are 250 public parking spots at the former hospital site, a ten-minute walk from the beach at 31st and Cottage Grove. The city purchased the property under Mayor Richard M. Daley as part of its failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

“Until the city decides what to do with that land, it should be used to accommodate beach goers,” Reese wrote. “We’re already paying for that land, so why should we pay an additional $1.6 million for 250 parking spaces?… On Fullerton, the city [built] six additional acres for green space. At 31st St., the city found 85,000 square feet of green space to turn into a parking lot.”

4th Ward staffer Prentice Butler declined to comment on the lot expansion project, except to confirm that Alderman King is in favor of the plan.

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This sign installed by the entrance to the garage last winter indicated that the garage was for boaters only. Photo via Delmarie Cobb.

When I reached Cobb this afternoon, she told me that she has since realized that, while the parking lot expansion will eliminate green space west of the drive, it won’t affect parkland closer to the beach that is used for barbecues, land she says is in short supply. While that’s less objectionable to her, she still finds it problematic that money was found for more asphalt while a community center originally planned as part of the harbor project, completed in 2012, was never funded.

While the park district and the 4th Ward haven’t had much to say about why exactly it’s believed that another 250 spaces are needed, Cobb offered an explanation. She provided a photo taken last winter of a permanent sign installed by the garage entrance claiming that all public parking spots in the 317-space facility was full, and spaces were only available to people with harbor passes. “Obviously the garage wasn’t full in the middle of the winter, but they were treating it like a private garage for boaters,” Cobb said.

Cobb says that when King took office last spring, she asked the park district to remove that sign and put up a new one stating that the garage spaces are available to the general public. Cobb recently went out with an intern and interviewed boaters to learn more about the parking situation. She says the boaters, many of whom live outside of the city, told them the lot expansion is planned because harbor pass holders were sometimes having trouble finding space in the now-public garage.

“The boaters said they don’t feel they should have to schlep all their stuff from the Michael Reese site to the harbor,” Cobb said. “That’s fine for the residents, but not for the boaters.”

“It just goes to show, the city can always find money to do what they want to do, such as projects to entice tourists,” Cobb said. “But they can never find money for the things we need like the community center, things that improve quality of life for neighborhood residents.”

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Millennial Trains Project Stopped in Chicago to Discuss Affordable TOD Issues

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Logan Square’s Twin Towers TOD development under construction earlier this year. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this week the Millennial Trains project stopped in Chicago on its five-city national tour on Amtrak, bringing a group of 26 young people to meet with locals within each city. They discussed how issues of housing affordability and inequality, and transit affect their lives, and talked about ideas for improving conditions in Chicago.

This leg of the westbound tour is also making stops in Pittsburg, Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles. Next week another group of Young people will travel eastbound from L.A., stopping in San Francisco, Denver, Milwaukee, and Detroit. The national affordable housing and renters advocacy campaign Make Room is a sponsor.

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Rachel Reilly Carroll. Photo: Millennial Trains Project

I caught up on the phone with Rachel Reilly Carroll, an employee of Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based nonprofit that helps develop affordable housing, who is one of the tour participants, shortly after she arrived in Chicago.

Among other projects, Enterprise’s Chicago office has been involved with efforts to encourage affordable transit-oriented development across the region. According to their website, this year they provided grants to ten community developers working on TOD projects in Chicagoland.

They also launched the Enterprise eTOD Collaborative in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in an effort to support these projects and organizations. They’ve also been promoting TOD in the south suburbs through the Southland Community Loan Fund, and through technical assistance to developers and municipalities. They hope to work on several south suburban TOD projects in 2016.

The goal of these efforts is create affordable housing with good access to jobs, schools, healthcare, and recreation, while reducing car dependency.

“Equitable TOD is about ensuring that transit access remains available to folks who have lived near transit, and reducing car dependency for others who may currently have long transit or car commutes, so that they can benefit from the time and cost savings,” Carroll said.

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Transit-Oriented Housing Proposals Finally Make it to the South Side

A rendering of the proposed Woodlawn Station development next to the Cottage Grove Green Line station.

A rendering of the proposed Woodlawn Station development next to the Cottage Grove Green Line station. Image: Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)

Earlier this year, transit-oriented development made the jump from being proposed and built only next to Chicago Transit Authority stations to also being proposed next to a Metra station. Now, the trend that has brought hundreds of new market-rate and affordable designated housing units to vacant lots near Chicago ‘L’ stations has jumped to the South Side. A two and a half-year-old ordinance is the cause for these new housing development patterns in the city.

Back in May, Curbed Chicago reported on a proposal from Preservation of Affordable Housing build 70 apartments in Woodlawn next to the CTA’s Cottage Grove Green Line station. The building will have a mix of market-rate, moderate-income, and low-income units, as well as 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

It’s part of the affordable housing developer’s program, “Woodlawn Choice Initiative.” The new building, called Woodlawn Station, would join a program that’s renovating their other buildings, and a new squash facility at 6100 S. Cottage Grove Ave. that has after-school tutoring programs for students who live or attend school in the neighborhood.

While a city ordinance that preceded the TOD ordinance already reduced the minimum number of required car parking spaces at affordable housing developments, it doesn’t apply to retail and commercial spaces. Additionally, the TOD ordinance goes even further than that one by eliminating the minimum requirement for residential and commercial uses because the building is so accessible by rail transit – the affordable housing parking minimum still requires some car parking. There are also two bus routes here.

Earlier this week Curbed Chicago reported on proposal for a vacant lot across the CTA’s 35th/Archer station on the Orange Line, with information shared by the McKinleyPark.org website. Dan Mark, a developer, and owner of Mark Properties, presented at a community meeting last week his proposal to build 39 efficiency apartments – targeted to college students – with only three car parking spaces.

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A map of the area around the 35th/Archer CTA station. The apartment building is proposed for the green parcel at the bottom.

According to McKinleyPark.org, there was the usual gripe about competition for parking. Alder George Cardenas (12th Ward) countered that and “noted the trade-offs of higher density: Although it can cause congestion, it can also bring more disposable income to an area, making it more attractive to the consumer-focused chains and other businesses that McKinley Park currently lacks.”

The zoning district must change before it can be built which will trigger a requirement to designate 10 percent of the units as affordable, for residents who earn less than 60 percent of the area median income.

The Orange Line corridor is especially ripe for mixed-use and denser development. Its construction in the early 1990s followed freight rail lines instead of existing residential areas. There are plenty more developable lots along the rapid transit line, some of which are highlighted on Metropolitan Planning Council’s TOD calculator and map.

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North Lawndale Residents: Restoring Ogden Bus Would Improve Job Access

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Bus and train routes in and near North Lawndale. Residents say extending the #157 route along Ogden from California to Pulaski would fill in a service gap. Map: CTA

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

In the second half of the 20th century, the North Lawndale community area on Chicago’s west side was devastated by redlining and other racist lending practices that led to civil unrest among the neighborhood’s by then booming black population. Fifty years ago this summer, Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family to an apartment in the neighborhood to highlight the need for fair housing and other improvements in black areas of northern cities.

North Lawndale never recovered economically from the disinvestment and social upheavals of the last 50 years. The area’s population plummeted from a high of 124,937 in 1960 to 35,623 in 2014. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income is currently $25,797, far below the city average of $47,408.

In April the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and others launched the neighborhood’s first comprehensive plan since 1958, covering infrastructure, housing, economic development, transit, and more. Last week, the council hosted a panel discussion that featured a pair of speakers, Cynthia Hudson from the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue from the Red Line Extension Coalition, to discuss possible transit improvements in North Lawndale and share best practices from transit advocacy elsewhere in the city. Read a separate post about LaFargue’s advocacy efforts here.

The area—bounded roughly by Taylor Street, Kenton Avenue, Metra’s BNSF Line, and Campbell Avenue—has four CTA Pink Line stations. The Blue and Green Lines aren’t far away. But community leaders say further improving public transportation access is key in creating more opportunities for residents. Specifically, NLCCC members argue that restoring bus service on Ogden Avenue and other corridors would be a shot in the arm for the struggling neighborhood.

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