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This Was an Awful Week for Bike Crashes in the Chicago Region

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The aftermath of today’s injury crash at Roosevelt and Wood in the Illinois Medical District. Photo: Drew DeMott

This has been a terrible week for bike fatalities and injuries in the metropolitan area, with at least two deaths and two serious injury crashes in the city and suburbs. Here’s a look at the four cases.

Wlodzimierz Woroniecki, 60, Struck and Killed While Biking in Franklin Park

Just before 2 p.m. Monday, Woroniecki was biking westbound on Franklin Avenue near Wolf Road in west suburban Franklin Park, the Sun-Times reported. A westbound male motorcyclist struck Woroniecki from behind and both men were thrown to the ground.

Woroniecki, of the 2800 block of North Melvina Avenue in Chicago, was transported to Loyola University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m. Monday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The 51-year-old motorcyclist, suffered minor injuries and was treated at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park.

It appears that no charges have been filed against the motorcyclist. Franklin Park police chief Michael Wirtz blamed the victim for the crash, telling the Sun-Times that the cyclist veered into traffic. Of course, Woroniecki is not alive to tell his side of the story.

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The 14-year-old girl was apparently coming off this sidewalk in front of Plainfield High School when she was struck. Image: Google Maps

14-Year-Old Girl Seriously Injured by SUV Driver While Biking in Plainfield

On Thursday afternoon, a Plainfield North High School student was struck while riding her bike from the school.

Shortly after 2 p.m., the girl was heading in the south crosswalk of the intersection of 119th Street and 248th Avenue, at the northwest corner of the school property, according to the Plainfield police. It appears that a 28-year-old woman driving a Honda CR-V with a two-year-old passenger was driving north on 248th when she struck the girl, police said.

“The bicyclist was conscious and breathing, but showed signs of significant injuries,” police said in a news release. The girl was airlifted to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood. Her condition was unknown as of 5 p.m. Thursday, but a spokesman for the school told the Herald-News the girl was “awake and responsive.”

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Diverter Test on Manor Avenue: “People Have to Change Their Habits”

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Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night a group of about 130 people gathered to voice their questions, comments, and concerns, about a car traffic diverter that the Chicago Department of Transportation is testing in Ravenswood Manor. On Monday, CDOT set up two barricades on Manor Avenue at Wilson Avenue that diverts car traffic on Manor approaching Wilson onto Wilson, and prevents vehicle turns from Wilson onto Manor.

CDOT expects the diverter to reduce car traffic volume on Manor, which will “complement” the neighborhood greenway they’re building on Manor from Montrose to Lawrence to connect two riverfront multi-use trails. The neighborhood greenway is a set of traffic calming elements, including raised crosswalks at the entrances and shortened crosswalks through the use of bumpouts, to make it more comfortable to walk and bike on the street.

Mike Amsden, assistant director of transportation planning at CDOT, said that the test will end November 18, and that he’s been at the intersection three days this week to monitor car and bike traffic and talk to residents. David Smith, a consultant at CDOT, has also been out there each day. Amsden said that this is the highest number of people he’s seen attend meetings about city transportation projects he’s worked on.

The people who came to the meeting voiced a wide range of ideas about the impact of the barricades, ranging from an unexplained suggestion that the situation is making the intersection a more dangerous place, to commendations of CDOT for actually trying to resolve certain issues and that the test should run its course.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The test involves counting car and bike traffic volumes and driver speeds at 15 locations starting two weeks after the test begins, to allow for an adjustment period. The count locations are within Ravenswood Manor and outside the neighborhood, defined by Sacramento on the west, Lawrence on the north, Montrose on the south, and the river on the east.

Amsden said the diverter was designed to address three goals:

  • Reduce car traffic on Manor Avenue
  • Simplify the intersection of Manor, Mozart, Wilson
  • Create a comfortable corridor for people walking and biking along Manor to access the CTA station and businesses, Ronan and Horner Parks, and the future river trail south of Montrose

In response to the question, “is there another option that might be trialled to figure out the best way” Amsden said that “we came up with several options, we felt this option did the best of addressing those goals.”

In between the range of opinions were questions about what other options are if the diverter turns out to be a failure, dissatisfaction about the process, and a claim that setting up the diverter amounted to closing down public streets and was illegal. “Just to be clear,” Amsden said, “we didn’t close a street.” Read more…

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Judge in Bobby Cann Case Rules Search Warrant for DUI Blood Draw Was Valid

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A man rides by the memorial to Bobby Cann in a curb-protected bike lane on Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s been more than three years since an allegedly drunk, speeding driver took the life of Groupon employee Bobby Cann. The criminal case against driver Ryne San Hamel has been progressing slowly as the defense tries every possible strategy to have charges dropped and evidence ruled inadmissible, but there was a positive developments at yesterday’s court hearing.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street when San Hamel, 28, struck and killed him. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, as well as misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

In July 2015, Judge William Hooks dismissed the reckless homicide charge at the behest of the defense team, but last April the Cook County state’s attorney’s office announced that they won an appeal to have the charge reinstated. Recently the defense, led by celebrity lawyer Sam Adam Jr., has tried to have the blood work that was done to test San Hamel’s blood alcohol content level ruled inadmissible.

Yesterday Judge Hooks affirmed that the search warrant used to have San Hamel’s blood drawn was admissible, meaning the blood work can stay in the case for now, according to Catherine Bullard, who was dating Cann at the time of his death and attended the hearing. Hooks will determine whether the blood work itself is admissible after the next motion is processed.

“We thought that yesterday the lawyers for each side would present oral arguments about whether the search warrant for the blood tests was constitutional, and we anticipated that Judge Hooks would rule on the matter at a following hearing,” she said. “The judge surprised us all by ruling yesterday.”

Adam immediately filed a motion to suppress the blood work itself due to alleged chain of custody violations at Northwestern Hospital, which Bullard says is a predictable next step for the defense. The next court date will be October 21, when the prosecution will file its written reply to this motion. Hooks won’t be present. “We expect the next significant hearing, at which oral arguments will be given on the matter and it’ll be good to have people present, to be sometime in January,” Bullard said.

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How Can Chicago Make Sure Vision Zero Benefits Communities of Color?

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A mural in West Humboldt Park. Chicago has several times as many homicides per year as traffic deaths, which will complicate efforts to implement Vision Zero. Photo: John Greenfield

This article also ran in the Chicago Reader weekly newspaper.

In May 2012 the Chicago Department of Transportation released its “Chicago Forward” agenda, including the stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2022. That target was inspired by the international Vision Zero movement, which began in Sweden in 1997. It’s based on the notion that road fatalities and serious injuries aren’t simply unavoidable  “accidents,” but rather outcomes that can be prevented through engineering, education, and enforcement.

In recent years the Vision Zero movement has spread to many major U.S. cities, most notably New York, where mayor Bill de Blasio has made it a hallmark of his administration. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that the Chicago announced a formal Vision Zero initiative, starting with a three-year interdepartmental action plan slated for release this fall. The deadline for reaching zero traffic deaths and serious injuries has been pushed back to 2026.

“Every day someone is injured or worse as the result of a car crash on Chicago’s streets—and that is simply unacceptable,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “These crashes are preventable, and that is why we are stepping up our efforts.”

Local transportation advocates like the Active Transportation Alliance applauded the news. After all, the city of New York has reported that between 2014 and 2015 there was a reduction in all traffic fatalities by 22 percent, with a 27 percent drop in pedestrian deaths (although this summer pedestrian fatalities spiked in NYC).

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“Ghost bike” memorial to Hector Avalos, who was killed by a drunk driver near Douglas Park in 2013. Photo: Lorena Cupcake.

But it seems likely the devil will be in the details when it comes to ensuring Chicago’s safety program is a net positive for all residents, particularly those in low-to-moderate-income communities of color.

In these neighborhoods, increased traffic enforcement—especially ticketing for minor infractions a la the “broken windows theory” —may not necessarily be seen as a good thing. Significantly, several high-profile, police-involved deaths of African Americans across the country began with traffic enforcement stops.

Michael Brown was detained for walking in the street, Sandra Bland was arrested after failing to signal a lane change, and Philando Castile was pulled over partly due to a broken taillight. While behind the wheel, Castile had been stopped by police 46 times in 13 years, according to an NPR records analysis.

“One of the pillars of Vision Zero is increasing opportunities for police to apply their biases to street users, aka increased enforcement of traffic laws,” LA-based transportation consultant and anthropologist Adonia Lugo said last year in a widely shared blog post titled “Unsolicited Advice for Vision Zero.” “White people may look to police as allies in making streets safer; people of color may not.”

Lugo also argued that that Vision Zero is an overly top-down approach, rather than one driven by the community, and yet another example of U.S. transportation advocates, who usually look to cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen for best practices, exhibiting “Eurocentric thinking.”

Transportation equity consultant Naomi Doerner echoed some of those concerns in a recent interview with Streetsblog USA. “If we’re going to be giving more investment to police enforcement, it has to be communities telling police how and where and what,” said the former head of the New Orleans advocacy group Bike Easy. “This particular Vision Zero analysis had not been done by the advocacy community. I think that a lot of that really does have to do with the fact that a lot of the organized bike and walk community are not comprised of people of color.”

And rolling out Vision Zero in Chicago will be complicated by the fact that our gun-violence epidemic is arguably a much more urgent issue than traffic deaths. New York had about 330 homicides and 230 traffic fatalities in 2015; Chicago, with less than a third of the population of New York, had 491 homicides last year but averaged only about 110 traffic fatalities per year between 2010 and 2014 (the latest year for which the Illinois Department of Transportation has released crash data).

There have already been more than 3,000 people shot in Chicago this year and over 500 homicides—more than New York and L.A. combined. As such, it’s likely that some residents may feel that channeling city resources into preventing traffic deaths rather than homicides is misguided.

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Join Me for the Very First (Legal) Ride on the North Branch Trail Extension

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Toni Preckwinkle and other officials cut the ribbon on the trail this afternoon at Thaddeus S. “Ted” Lechowicz Woods, 5901 N. Central Ave. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

I’m happy to report that I got to take the maiden voyage on the northern half of theNorth Branch Trail extension this afternoon after officials cut the ribbon on the 1.8-mile stretch of off-street path. You can take a virtual spin on the trail with me by watching the video below. It’s probably not riveting viewing, and the recording stopped a little before I reached the end of the new stretch but it will give you an idea of what it’s like traveling on this high-quality facility.

The just-opened segment runs from Forest Glen to the southeast trailhead of the existing 18-mile North Branch Trail, which runs all the way north to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Work is underway to build an additional 1.2 miles of path that will continue the trail southeast to Gompers Park near the the LaBaugh Woods and Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove at Foster Avenue.

“The Forest Preserves offer more than 300 miles of trails in Cook County, which serve as a gateway to nature,” said county board president Toni Preckwinkle in a statement. “We are proud to mark the completion of phase one of this extension, which will serve additional Chicago residents as well as those in eight neighboring suburbs.”

The first phase of the extension includes a ten-foot-wide asphalt trail and two new bridges; one over the North Branch of the Chicago River at Central Street, and another over Metra’s Milwaukee District North line tracks. There’s also a new crosswalk for the trail at Central Street, with a button-activated stoplight, by the Matthew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center, 6100 North Central Avenue.

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Finally Some Relief for Memphis Bus Riders

The shameful state of Memphis’s bus system is one of the more outrageous stories in American transit.

Buses in Memphis are in such bad shape, there have been a number of fires. But help is on the way. Photo via Memphis Bus Riders Union

Buses in Memphis are in such bad shape, they’ve been known to catch fire. But help is on the way. Photo via Memphis Bus Riders Union

When we checked in with the advocates at the Memphis Bus Riders Union in March, they told us the local transit agency, MATA, was running buses so poorly maintained that they were known to catch fire. In the midst of this crisis, local business leaders had marshaled enough cash to restore the city’s historic trolley system, which mostly serves tourists. Meanwhile, MATA was struggling just to maintain bare-bones operations, with a 17 percent service cut looming.

The current condition of buses is so poor, riders can’t even be assured a bus will arrive no matter how long they wait, said Bennett Foster of the Bus Riders Union.

“Some routes are not being served throughout the day due to a lack of buses,” Foster told Streetsblog. “When a bus breaks down they don’t have another bus to send out. There are people in the city every day who experience just no buses running.”

But the advocacy of the Bus Riders Union is getting results. Mayor Jim Strickland has allocated an additional $7.5 million from the city budget toward the transit system this year. About $5 million of that will be reserved for replacing buses — an absolute necessity.

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Eyes on the Street: CTA Tests Prepaid Boarding on the Loop Link BRT System

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Customers swiped their card at a portable Ventra reader before entering the waiting area. Photo: John Greenfield

Besides being the day Chicago was ranked the top biking city by bicycling magazine, September 19, 2016, may also go down in history as the day the Loop Link bus rapid transit system started getting faster. While the corridor, which debuted last December, seems to have been resulting in modest timesaving gains for bus riders, it’s been missing a key element of robust BRT: prepaid boarding. Today the CTA launched a test of this feature at the Madison/Dearborn station, the busiest of the Loop Link stops, and it appears to be working well.

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The pilot only runs during the evening rush. Photo: John Greenfield

In June the CTA launched a six-month test of prepaid boarding for westbound #77 Belmont Avenue buses departing from the Belmont station of the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch during evening rush hours. Riders pay their fares at a portable Ventra card reader, staffed by a customer assistant, and waiting in a fenced-off bullpen until the westbound bus shows up.

The system at Madison/Dearborn was simpler to set up, since the raised station was already surrounded by railings, except for the side of the platform the bus pulls up to and the entrances to the ramps on the east and west sides of the facility. For the downtown prepaid boarding pilot, which will run for from 3:00-6:30 p.m. on weekdays, for a three-month period, CTA staffers are stationed at each side of the shelter with Ventra readers.

During the pilot hours, customers may only pay their fares with Ventra card or ticket, or personal credit or debit card, not cash. The CTA is encouraging customers at Madison/Dearborn who need to add transit value or unlimited ride passes to their Ventra account to do so at the Ventra machine inside the Walgreens directly behind the platform. Other options for adding value include ‘L’ stations and the Ventra app.

As you can see by comparing the two videos below (the first one was shot a few days after the December launch), prepaid boarding significantly shortens the bus “dwell” time at the station. With onboard fare payment, it took about 30 seconds for 11 passengers to get on the bus, but with today it took only about 15 seconds for ten customers to board – a roughly 50-percent timesavings.

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Bicycling Gives Chicago the Award for Best Biking City – Do We Deserve It?

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The Bloomingdale Trail this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

This morning’s announcement that Bicycling magazine has ranked Chicago as the best cycling city in the U.S. in its biennial ratings, up from second place to New York in 2014, was surely a head-scratcher for many people who ride bikes in our city on a regular basis.

As of 2015, our bike mode share was a mere 1.7 percent of all trips to work, less than a quarter of Portland’s 7.2 percent mode share. While Chicago has built plenty of buffered and protected bike lanes, we don’t have a cohesive, intuitive network of low-stress bikeways, in contrast with Minneapolis, where it’s possible to bike from many neighborhoods to the central business district via off-street paths. Our conventional bike lanes are often clogged with illegally parked vehicles, torn up for utility work, or dangerously obstructed by construction projects. And then there’s the fact that four people were fatally struck by allegedly reckless drivers while biking in Chicago over a roughly two-month period this summer.

Still, I think one can make a case that, with all of the strides our city has made over the last five years to improve cycling, we do deserve an award as the large U.S. city that is doing the most things correctly to get more people on bikes and make cycling safer. Let’s look at some of the arguments for this point of view. Here’s the magazine’s top ten ranking for 2016:

  1. Chicago
  2. San Francisco
  3. Portland, OR
  4. New York
  5. Seattle
  6. Minneapolis
  7. Austin
  8. Cambridge, MA
  9. Washington, D.C.
  10. Boulder, CO

The Bicycling write-up of Chicago’s cycling strengths notes that the city built 100 miles of next-generation bike lanes within Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first term in office. Thankfully, they didn’t say that 100 miles of protected lanes were built, as the city has often claimed, but rather, “Emanuel made good on a promise to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes.” Even that’s not technically accurate, since Emanuel originally pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected lanes, and only wound up putting in 19.5 miles of PBLs, plus 83.5 miles of buffered lanes. Still, that was a major achievement.

The magazine also cites the Divvy bike-share system and the Divvy for Everyone equity program, the use of concrete curb protection for bike lanes (many new curb-protected lanes are currently planned), the upcoming 35th Street bike-ped bridge, and the in-progress construction of Big Marsh bike park as reasons for the ranking. The article doesn’t even mention the Bloomingdale Trail (aka The 606) elevated greenway, which many residents consider to be the shiniest new jewel in Chicago’s cycling crown.

Bicycling editor-in-chief Bill Strickland presented the award to Mayor Emanuel this morning during a ceremony in Humboldt Park’s Julia de Burgos Park, a Bloomingdale trailhead. During the presentation, Strickland called bicycle riders an “indicator species,” a sign that things are going right for a city in terms of the economy, traffic safety, congestion, and pollution. He also noted that bike lanes can help residents of underserved communities access jobs, and bikeways have an integrating effect, connecting people in diverse neighborhoods. “So for 2016, the city that most embodies this is Chicago,” he said.

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Strickland, right, presents the award to Emanuel. Active Trans’ Ron Burke is in green shirt. Photo: John Greenfield

Emanuel, who has often been accused of indifference towards the needs of underserved neighborhoods, especially in the wake of the LaQuan McDonald police shooting scandal, riffed on the theme of bike lanes as opportunity corridors. He noted that the city has contracted the bike equity group Slow Roll Chicago to promote the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 first-year memberships to low-income residents.

“If we’re going to be the city we want to be… having Divvy in every part of the city, where everybody has a chance to participate, allows people to go through communities and feel like they’re a part, rather than apart, from Chicago,” Emanuel said.

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Sorry Tribune, the Transportation Lock Box Isn’t a Scam, It’s a Necessity

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We’re never going to get our infrastructure in a good state of repair if the Illinois Legislature keeps raiding transportation funding for other purposes. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

When it comes to opinion pieces about transportation issues, the Chicago Tribune has been publishing some doozies this month. First, in the wake of four bike fatalities allegedly caused by reckless drivers, an editorial in the paper advised cyclists to ride more carefully. Next they ran an op-ed from noted anti-bike crank John McCarron bemoaning the fact that drivers are supposed to look for cyclists before turning to ensure they don’t kill anyone.

Those articles were wrongheaded, but last week the Tribune ran an editorial that could have a very concrete negative effect. They’re urging Illinoisans to vote against the proposed Safe Roads Constitutional Amendment, which will be on the November 8 ballot. The proposal would create a “lock box” for state transportation funding, making it illegal for politicians to raid Illinois transportation dollars to cover budget shortfalls.

The editorial has right-wing Trib columnist and McCarron’s fellow bike troll John Kass’ fingerprints all over it – it even refers to his audience as “little voters,” just as Kass tauntingly refers to Chicagoans who bicycle as “little bicycle people.” The piece makes the argument that the amendment, a fairly innocuous piece of legislation that would protect funding for transit, pedestrian, and bike projects as well as roads, is the product of an unholy alliance between politicians, the road lobby, and organized labor.

The article argues that the bill is a devilish scheme by lawmakers to ensure that highway projects remain a road to riches for the construction companies and union workers that build them. In return, the crooked politicians can count on campaign donations continuing to roll in. Channeling Blagojevic, the Trib writes:

They want you to enshrine in the Illinois Constitution a perpetual payday for their loyal donors in road-building and organized labor. You could say they’ve all got this thing — this proposed amendment — and for them it’s … golden!

The paper goes on to say that transportation funding has only been diverted to other purposes because elected officials or their constituents decided it was necessary. “Or, at least as likely, because they have no self-control [about] overspending.”

“The Tribune has been making its point that the legislation hasn’t been doing it’s job,” responded Metropolitan Planning Council senior fellow Jim Reilly. “That’s precisely why we need the constitutional amendment. The state hasn’t had an adequate transportation fund in the first place, particularly for transit.

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Some Skepticism, Lots of Support for Funding Red Line Work With Transit TIF

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The proposed transit TIF district would run a half mile in either direction from the Red Line between Division and Devon. Image: CTA

At a public meeting Tuesday night, Department of Planning and Development and Chicago Transit Authority officials outlined plans for a new transit TIF district along the North Side Mainline ‘L’, which carries the Red and Purple lines. The proposed TIF (tax-increment finance district) would generate funds to help pay for the Red-Purple Modernization project.

At the meeting, representatives explained how transit TIFs work compared to traditional ones. The former are a brand-new funding tool that creates a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation projects in Chicago. Earlier this summer the Illinois legislature passed a bill legalizing the funding mechanism, only within the city limits.

The proposed North Side transit TIF would extend from Division Street to Devon Street, within a half-mile east and west of the Main Line, and it would last for 35 years. The TIF district bankroll Phase I of the two-phase modernization project, which includes the Red-Purple Bypass (aka the Belmont Flyover) and the reconstruction of the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations. This will involve rebuilding the tracks and track structures, widening the platforms, and modernizing the station houses, including making them wheelchair accessible. Phase II would include other track improvements and station projects.

The transit TIF would be used to generate revenue to pay back a federal loan for the infrastructure. Since the improved transit service will raise local property values, which means more property tax revenue, the TIF allows some that transit-generated income to be capture and used for the loan payments.

Traditional TIFs, which also capture revenue from property tax increases for improvements within the TIF district, have been widely criticized for diverting tax revenue from the Chicago Public Schools. However, the transit TIF law requires that the proportion of tax revenue currently given to the CPS remains unchanged. After the school funding is allocated, 80 percent of the remaining revenue goes to the transit project and 20 percent to other taxing bodies.

Even after the officials discussed how the North Side transit TIF would function, there was still some confusion from attendees. More than once residents asked if property tax revenue would be diverted from schools, and whether funds from this TIF would be used for projects like the reconstruction of the Wilson Red/Purple Line station or the Clark/Division Red Line stop, which aren’t included in the RPM project.

43rd Ward Alderman Michelle Smith spoke briefly against the proposed transit TIF to loud applause from the audience. She argued that the proposal, which will be going before City Council this fall, was a rushed mechanism to pay for the project. She added ominously that this would be the first-ever TIF district in the ward.

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