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Correcting Konkol: South and West Sides Received the Bulk of New Bike Lanes


Mark Konkol

Just because you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize doesn’t mean you always get your story straight.

DNAinfo’s Mark Konkol posted a column today arguing that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bike initiatives are a frivolous distraction from the city’s pressing crime, education, and budget issues. He also claims that Emanuel’s administration hasn’t been giving low-income communities their fair share of bike facilities. As is often the case when Konkol writes about cycling, the truth winds up as roadkill.

He argues that Chicago’s increasing bike-friendliness is only good news for the people who live or work in the city’s wealthier areas:

That’s where you’ll find most of Emanuel’s protected bike lanes and Divvy Bike stations. It’s another example of the growing economic divide that splits Chicago into two cities — one where the rich get pampered and the other where the poor suffer under Emanuel’s administration.

When the first 300 Divvy stations debuted in 2013, the service area was spread fairly evenly north and south of Madison Street, and a number of low-income communities got stations. However, it is true that the city installed a higher density of stations in the densest parts of town in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. These areas, including downtown and the North Lakefront, do tend to be relatively affluent.

But when the city added 175 more stations this year, they used uniform half-mile station spacing and expanded service to many more low-income areas. While the station density is still higher downtown and in North Lakefront neighborhoods, 23 percent of residents who live within the current service area are below the poverty level, the same as the city’s overall percentage, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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Divvy users in East Garfield Park. Photo: John Greenfield

As Konkol’s DNA colleague Tanveer Ali mentioned today, CDOT plans to add 75 more stations next year, largely in low-income West Side neighborhoods. They’re also considering installing more new stations on the South Side.

Konkol wonders aloud whether stations installed in South Side neighborhoods with a relatively low rate of biking may have been “put there to create the illusion of fairness or to meet an unwritten South Side quota.” But in the next paragraph he gripes that the Divvy service area hasn’t been expanded fast enough. That is to say, “The food is terrible — and such small portions.”

More importantly, while arguing that the Divvy system shortchanges low-income communities, Konkol ignores the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity initiative, which offers $5 annual memberships to qualifying Chicagoans, and waives the usual credit card requirement. Almost 1,000 people have signed up since the program launched in July. Before claiming that Divvy has little benefit for people in low-income neighborhoods, Konkol should talk to D4E members like LaTonya Brown, a United Center Park resident who told me she uses the system to commute to work at Navy Pier.

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Almost a Decade After the City Proposed It, West Loop Gets a Bike Station


Emanuel checks out Bike Park with developer Jeff Shapack. Photo: John Greenfield

Millennium Park’s bike station opened in 2004, with indoor parking for 300 bikes, plus showers and lockers. When the city of Chicago released the Bike 2015 Plan two years later, it recommended establishing another bike station, and mentioned the Ogilvie Transportation Center in the West Loop as a possible location. Not long after that, there was some discussion of including the facility in the OTC’s new Chicago French Market, but that idea never materialized.

Nine years after the 2015 Plan came out, we finally have a bike station of sorts in the West Loop. This morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the ribbon on Bike Park, a public indoor bike parking facility with showers and lockers, part of the new WeWork coworking space at 210 N. Green Street. The underground facility is located a block east of the Morgan Green Line station, and a ten-minute walk from the OTC.


Floor-mounted bike racks at the new facility — each holds two bikes. Photo: John Greenfield

The new bike parking room features floor- and wall-mounted racks with space for 75 cycles, and there’s room expand the space to provide racks for 50 more, according to a WeWork staffer. Just as car parking garages have symbols on each floor to help customers remember where they parking, each section of the room features an icon for a different Chicago sports team. An electric air pump and work stands with tools are available. There are dozens of lockers in the space, plus shower rooms with towel service.

At the opening celebration, WeWork Cofunder Miguel McCluskey said that when his company approached the city about opening in the Fulton Market district, Emanuel asked them to support his vision of making Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America. “We think Bike Park is going to make a difference in this neighborhood, which is already undergoing an incredible transformation,” McCluskey said.

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CDOT Didn’t Hit 100-Mile PBL Goal, But They Did Transform the Bike Network


Scheinfeld, 27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett, and Emanuel at this morning’s press conference. Photo: CDOT

First, let’s get one thing straight. Despite what was stated today in the Chicago Department of Transportation’s press release, and local news reports based on it, the city has not achieved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes in four years.

Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan set that ambitious goal for PBLs, which it defined as “separated from traveling cars and sit[ting] between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic.” However, after it became clear that it wasn’t going to be feasible to install that many miles of physically protected lanes within the mayor’s first term, CDOT adjusted its goal.

It certainly would have been reasonable for the department to announce that it would instead be putting in a mix of PBLs and buffered bike lanes. The latter are painted lanes with additional space striped on one or both sides to distance cyclists from moving traffic and/or opening car doors.

Instead, CDOT changed their terminology. By late 2012, they had begun referring to physically protected lanes as “barrier-protected” and buffered lanes as “buffer-protected,” and counting the latter towards the 100-mile goal. Since no other U.S. city refers to buffered lanes – merely paint on the road – as protected, that has caused plenty of confusion in the local and national media.

At a press event today by the Milwaukee Avenue bike lanes in River West, Emanuel announced that the city has surpassed the protected lane goal, with 103 miles installed to-date. “Investing in bike lanes is essential to growing Chicago’s economy and improving our quality of life,” he said. “We have made tremendous progress toward expanding our bicycle network for all Chicagoans, and we will continue to work towards making Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America.”

However, rather than 103 miles of protected lanes, CDOT has actually installed 19.5 miles, plus 83.5 miles of buffered lanes, since Emanuel took office. They’ve also put in 1.5 miles of neighborhood greenways (referred to as bike boulevards in other cities), and there are now 94 miles of conventional bike lanes, 46 miles of off-street trails, and 48.75 miles of sharrows (bike symbols with chevrons), for a grand total of 292 miles of bikeways.

While it’s a little disappointing that we’ve gotten less than a fifth of the protected lanes that were originally planned, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that 103 miles of BBLs and PBLs in a little over four years is still a major accomplishment. According to CDOT, Chicago has installed more physically protected lanes during the last four years than any other U.S. city did during the same time period.

Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld dismissed the terminology issue as “a red herring.” “The point is, we’ve been providing better protected facilities, whether it’s a buffered, striped area or a physical, vertical barrier, through [flexible plastic posts] or concrete separation,” she said. “These are all great improvements over the simple striped design.”

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


19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New TOD zones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Census Data Says Chicago’s Bike Mode Share Is at an All-Time High

Bike commute mode share using ACS 1-year estimates

The Census published one-year long survey estimates for 2014. Chicago’s bike commute mode share is up slightly from 2012, and up significantly from 2013. However, the Active Transportation Alliance doesn’t believe 2013 dip is accurate.

Last week, the United States Census Bureau released new American Community Survey one-year estimate data, including estimates on the percentage of workers who who commute by bicycle. Chicago’s bike mode share, as measured in 2014, seems to be on the rise compared to 2012 and 2013.

However, there are several major caveats about the data. Survey participants are only asked to identify what their more distant mode of getting to work was in the past week. For example, if you ride your bike a mile to an ‘L’ stop and then take the train two miles downtown, that’s only counted as a transit commute.

The Census conducts the surveys in the spring, when many Chicagoans may still be using their winter travel modes and have not taken bikes out of storage yet. And the estimates have a margin of error of 0.2 percentage points, so it’s possible that a year that’s reported to have had a decrease in biking could actually have seen the mode share stay the same, or it may have even increased slightly.

According to the new ACS data, about 1.7 percent of Chicagoans 16 and older rode a bike to work in 2014 – the highest figure the Census has ever reported for our city. That’s up from the 1.4-percent mode share reported in 2013, and a slight increase from the 1.6 percent figure in 2012.

However, the 0.2-percent margin of error means it’s possible the real mode share was as low as 1.5 percent, or as high as 1.9. Therefore we should take the reported 1.7 percent figure with a grain of salt.

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How a Bike Counter on Milwaukee Ave. Could Help Cure the Dooring Epidemic

Counting cyclists in Copenhagen

A bike counter in Copenhagen. Photo: Steven Vance

When I visited the Boston area last month, I saw a Copenhagen-style bike counter on a Cambridge boulevard. It occurred to me that installing one of these devices could help boost safety on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s heavily cycled “Hipster Highway.”

The Chicago Department of Transportation has been steadily making improvements to this popular route between the Loop and bike-friendly Northwest Side neighborhoods – the city’s busiest cycling street. They’ve put in a mix of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street (the avenue’s southern terminus) and Division Street.

However, the 0.8-mile section of Milwaukee between Division and North in Wicker Park is the one that’s crying out for bike improvements. It has tons of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars – prime cycling destinations.

However, this right-of-way on this segment is currently too narrow for proper bike lanes, so it only has “sharrows” – bike symbols with chevrons. The combination of high bike traffic, frequent parking turnover, and tight quarters has led to an epidemic of dooring crashes in recent years, including at least one nearly fatal incident.

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What Will It Take to Build a More Equitable Chicago Bike Network?


A recent tour of Englewood hosted by the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network, LISC Chicago and Slow Roll Chicago, a group that is pushing for bike equity for the South and West Sides. Photo: LISC

Earlier this month, the League of American bicyclists released a report with a method for using Census info and geographic information system data to measure how well bicycle networks serve communities that have the greatest need for better infrastructure. Using Chicago as the case study, the author concluded that the city’s “planned network” of new bikeways wouldn’t provide a fair share of access to African-American and Latino communities.

The thing was, the “planned network” map that the report analyzed wasn’t actually the planned network from the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – it was actually based on old “recommended routes” from the city’s bike map. After two Streetsblog Chicago posts about the problem, the League finally overhauled the report with the correct map data and reached the opposite conclusion: The 2020 Plan will significantly boost bikeway equity for communities of color.

In the midst of lobbying the LAB to fix the report, I emailed local sustainable transportation leaders to get their thoughts on the topic. Active Transportation Alliance cofounder Randy Neufeld, now with the SRAM Cycling Fund, had a response that put the bike equity issue in perspective.

“A GIS exercise that relates lines on a map or a plan to demographic information is not a useful equity analysis,” he argued. “Those lines are not all the same thing. They represent very different conditions in different places. Plus, just because there’s a Crosstown Bike Route within a certain distance of your house doesn’t mean you live in a bikeable neighborhood…what’s fair and equitable as far as neighborhood bikeways is very different.”

Neufeld added that equity analysis is worth doing, but it’s going to take more than studying a map to determine how to make Chicago’s bike network more equitable. “Aldermanic leadership is key,” he said. “We have a few wards with bike-ped-transit committees. Maybe we need some more.” He suggested that a simple criteria could be devised for a ward cycling audit, which could help gauge the relative levels of bikeability in different parts of the city. That would better inform decisions about where new bike lanes and paths should be prioritized, he said.

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The Expanded TOD Ordinance Will Likely Pass Tomorrow, With a Few Tweaks

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Brown Line commuters pass by a TOD construction site next to the Paulina station. Photo: John Greenfield

Tomorrow’s the big day. On Monday, City Council’s Zoning Committee unanimously passed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed reforms to Chicago’s existing transit-oriented development ordinance. On Thursday, the full council will almost certainly approve the new legislation, paving the way for a new wave of dense, parking-lite development near train stations. However, the committee made three notable changes to the new ordinance.

The TOD reform ordinance will more than double the reach of the original TOD ordinance, passed in 2013. Currently, new residential buildings within 600 feet of a Metra or ‘L’ stop (1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets) are required to provide at least a 1:2 ratio of parking spots to units, instead of the usual 1:1 ratio.

Under the reform ordinance, land zoned for business (B), commercial (C), downtown (D) or industrial (M) uses within 1,320 feet of a station will be freed from the minimum parking requirements altogether, including. On Pedestrian Streets, the zone would be expanded to 2,640 feet.

The legislation will also increase the density allowance for certain parcels within these new TOD districts if the developer provides on-site affordable housing. Buildings in which ten percent of the units are affordable will get the maximum density bonus.

These changes will increase the housing supply near rapid transit and encourage walkable retail. This will make it easier for residents to access jobs and will reduce car dependency. Families will save on transportation costs, and the additional population density will help local merchants. Because developers won’t be forced to include more off-street parking than the market demands – at least $20,000 per space – expanded TOD may also help reduce housing costs.

However, some of the dense, low-parking development that has occurred under the current ordinance has been controversial. Many of the new buildings have faced oppositions from neighbors who fear that more residents in a community necessarily means more cars, and have pushed for higher parking ratios.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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