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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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Express Train to O’Hare? We Already Have One and It’s Called The Blue Line

The Blue Line was analyzed by FiveThirtyEight to be faster than taking a taxi from O'Hare airport to downtown. Photo: Edward Kwiatkowski

The Blue Line was analyzed by FiveThirtyEight to be faster than taking a taxi from O’Hare airport to downtown. Photo: Edward Kwiatkowski

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and recently appointed aviation commissioner Ginger Evans have been calling for new, faster, premium train service from O’Hare to downtown in a bid to improve the airport’s standing among its domestic and international peers. They argue that the airport is causing the city to lose business. However, while O’Hare is a low-performing facility, the existing Blue Line service isn’t the airport’s limiting factor.

The idea of high-speed rail service to O’Hare is nothing new. Under former mayor Richard M. Daley, the CTA spent over $250 million to build a “super station” under Block 37 in the Loop for that purpose. Ultimately, the proposal went nowhere, and the empty station space currently sits unused, a monument to poor urban planning.

High-speed train service to airports – with fares that typically run several times the non-express rate – is becoming a emoree common amenity among busy, international airports. However, express service that runs directly to the center of town is uncommon. Chicago is unusual in that both O’Hare and Midway offer efficient train service to the Loop. According to the Blue Line’s schedule, it takes 38 minutes to travel from O’Hare to the Clark/Lake station, a respectable pace that’s often faster than driving.

Throwing more money at the O’Hare express idea that could otherwise be used for improving or expanding existing transit service is a bad idea. There are much more cost-effective ways that current O’Hare Branch ‘L’ service could be upgraded. Moreover, the CTA should work on improving travel times to the airport from many of Chicago’s densest neighborhoods that aren’t near the Blue Line.

The O’Hare express proposal has been endorsed by Tribune transportation writer and aviation buff Jon Hilkevitch, who recently referred to the Blue Line “old and slow”. While age doesn’t necessarily make a train line sluggish, deferred maintenance does. However, the CTA is currently in the midst of the $492 million Your New Blue project, which is rehabbing seven stations and removing slow zones from Grand to the airport. The agency estimates these upgrades will shave five minutes off the trip from downtown to O’Hare.

Despite the fact that a trip to the airport will soon take little more than a half hour, Evans recently told the Sun-Times that a premium train line to the airport is “essential infrastructure” because other peer cities have one. However, she also told the Tribune that other cities’ airports are “stealing traffic” from Chicago because O’Hare has many flight operations problems that put the airport at or near the bottom of on-time rankings, so perhaps premium train service shouldn’t be her top priority.

The Blue Line is already a competitive train service

As of April 24, 2015 [PDF], only 3.3 percent of the O’Hare Branch tracks were under slow zone restrictions, in which trains are limited to 35 mph. Some of the branch’s tracks are already in good enough shape to allow for speeds greater than the CTA’s systemwide speed limit of 55 mph, and all of its train cars are capable of traveling 70 mph. One reason for the current speed limit is that faster speeds would result in more wear-and-tear on the tracks and wheels, thus higher maintenance costs.

The Blue Line is already a great alternative to taking a taxi. FiveThirtyEight analyzed travel times between airports and central business districts in major cities and found that only in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Honolulu was it faster to take transit than a cab.

On weekdays, trains run between Clark/Lake and O’Hare every 2 to 8 minutes during rush hours, with ten-minute headways during non-peak times. Airport express trains in other cities typically have 15-to-30-minute headways. Waiting longer to catch a premium train to or from O’Hare might nullify any advantage from the higher speed.

The express would be an expensive project with limited benefits

The current push to create “world-class” train service to O’Hare is a distraction from actually fixing what’s wrong with Chicago’s transit system. In a recent Sun-Times op-ed, public policy consultant and former mayoral candidate Dr. Amara Enyia argued that spending money to create a premium train line would be a case of skewed priorities. Rather, she argued, the focus should be on improving transit for Chicago residents. “Maintaining our streets continues to be a challenge that affects transit time, quality, and safety,” she said, adding that CTA service cuts have made it more difficult for residents to access jobs.

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Police, Park District Still Disagree About Late-Night Travel on The 606

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Photo: John Greenfield

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway that connects Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. Many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

However, that’s not currently how things work. As it stands, Chicago police officers are enforcing the city’s 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they politely (according to all accounts I’ve heard) order the trail users to leave. When I looked into the issue two weeks ago, Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed that this is the department’s current protocol.

However, the police policy contradicts that of the Chicago Park District, which owns the Bloomingdale. Two weeks ago, spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code. “This allows commuters to use paths through our parks, including The 606, for transportation.”

When I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue. I made several follow-up calls to both agencies over the last two weeks, and was repeatedly promised an update in the near future.

In the meantime, I checked in with community leaders in the surrounding neighborhoods about the issue. Alderman Scott Waguespack’s 32nd Ward includes the Bloomingdale east of Western Avenue, where the trail is bordered by upscale housing. Prior to the path’s June 6 opening, constituents had expressed concerns that heavy foot and bike traffic would lead to a spike in crime. That fear hasn’t materialized, but there have been complaints about noisy skateboarders.

Waguespack seems to endorse the police-enforced curfew. “From early planning stages, the word was that the Bloomingdale Trail would be open during regular park hours only, and the hours would be enforced by the police or park district security,” he told me. “I don’t think that rule has changed and likely won’t.”

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Roger That! Low-Stress, North-South Bike Route Planned for Rogers Park

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Greenview north of Touhy, looking north. Image: Google Street View

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently held a public meeting about their clever proposal to install a contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood, between Ridge and Carmen, in Edgewater. More quietly, CDOT and the 49th Ward have been moving forward with an equally promising plan for a neighborhood greenway on Glenwood and and Greenview in Rogers Park.

CDOT staff declined to discuss the proposal, referring me to 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore’s office. “Our main goal was to create some kind of route from Devon Street, the southern boundary of the ward, up to Evanston,” explained Bob Fuller, an assistant to Moore. Glenwood and Greenview are already popular bike routes in Rogers Park, with cyclists accounting for up to 25 percent of rush hour traffic. “Instead of high-traffic streets like Sheridan, Clark, and Western, it made sense to put the greenway on these residential streets,” Fuller said.

The draft plan is to have the route run along Glenwood from Devon to either Pratt or Farwell. From there, the greenway would jog west a block to Greenview and continue to either Howard or Jonquil. From there, cyclists could head west to Clark or east to Sheridan in order to get to Evanston. The roughly 1.7-mile route would work both northbound and southbound.

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Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

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A bottleneck along The Marina section of the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which features stone-like concrete seating units and kayak rentals, the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments, and The River Theater, featuring dramatic stair-step seating, criss-crossed by ramps. Upcoming amenities include a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded.

Gina Ford, a landscape architect at Sasaki Associates, which helped plan the riverwalk, offered to discuss the reasoning behind the design.

John Greenfield: The Riverwalk’s been getting rave reviews overall, but please tell me what you guys had in mind with the routing for pedestrians and cyclists.

Gina Ford: One of the challenges that we had to deal with on the riverwalk was how to accommodate what we felt should be included in a really small space. Part of that has to do with the fact that the [landfill to extend the riverbank] required a permit, and it took many years and an act of Congress to permit it. The dimensions of our buildout zone were very fixed in order to maintain safe harbor on the river and making sure that barge traffic has the right clearances.

We were really limited with the underbridge connections, where you have a twenty-foot offset [the maximum amount of land that could be built out from the existing shoreline] and a twenty-five-foot offset in each “room” of the riverwalk. So part of the right-angle turn critique we agree with. It would have been lovely if there was a much broader space, but there were other factors that determined that boundary and that shape.

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Don’t Worry, Clybourn Merchants — The PBL Parking Issue Is Covered

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Much of the on-street parking in the Clybourn project area gets little use. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article posted on DNAinfo yesterday, business owners along Clybourn Avenue in Old Town said they were worried that parking conversions for upcoming curb-protected bike lanes on the street might scare off customers. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project, and the Chicago DOT, which is consulting, have crunched the numbers on the parking issue, and it looks like everything will work out just fine.

This affected stretch of Clybourn, between North Avenue and Division Street, is under state jurisdiction. IDOT had previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city. However, after cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larabee Street in May of 2013, IDOT agreed to pilot a protected lane on this stretch. It will be the city’s second curb-protected lane, after CDOT installed one on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park last month.

Construction of the Clybourn lanes started on Monday. The bike lanes will be located next to the sidewalk and will be protected by three-foot-wide concrete medians. There will also be a short stretch of curb-protected lanes on Division between Clybourn and Orleans. To provide sufficient right-of-way for the lanes on Clybourn, car parking will be stripped from the west side of the street, with a net loss of 65 parking spaces.

Mohammad Rafiq, owner of New Zaika, a Pakistani restaurant at 1316 North Clybourn, told DNA he understands that the street need to be made safer, but he’s worried that the loss of parking spots will drive him out of business. The eatery is popular with cab drivers, including many Muslim people who visit several times a day to use the basement prayer room. “If they don’t come, who am I going to serve?” he asked.

Marcus Moore owns Yojimbo’s Garage, a bike shop at 1310 North Clybourn, across the street from a memorial to Cann. He’s a longtime bike advocate who recently won an award from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council for saving the South Chicago Velodrome, and he witnessed Cann’s fatal crash. However, DNA quoted him as saying the parking conversions could hurt business. “It’s going to be a big experiment,” he said. “I’m kind of neutral. I’m not sure what to expect.”

Obviously, creating a low-stress bikeway on Clybourn is going to attract more cyclists to the street and more two-wheeled customers to Yojimbos. That, plus a safer, more relaxing environment for walking due to less speeding by drivers, could also bring some additional diners to New Zaika.

Moreover, the flaw in the otherwise-solid DNA article is that the reporter didn’t check in with IDOT and CDOT about the parking issue. According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the agencies did a parking utilization study of the corridor to gauge the impact of the proposed design. They found that much of the parking on this stretch of Clybourn, which has relatively little retail, is underutilized.

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South Shore Line: We Want to Accommodate Bikes But Don’t Know How Yet

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The Chicago Perimeter Ride passes under a South Shore Line train. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

As I discussed yesterday, the agency that runs the South Shore Line commuter rail service, between Chicago and South Bend, is considering piloting a bikes-on-trains program, but not for six long years. The Northern Illinois Commuter Transportation District’s ridiculous feet-dragging on the issue prompted the Active Transportation Alliance to sarcastically bestow them a Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.”

Even though the South Shore is the only commuter line in the country that doesn’t accommodate cyclists, NICTD recognizes the importance of bicycle access, according to marketing and outreach director John Parsons. “There are a lot of great places to get on a bike around here,” he said, adding that the agency knows that it can be challenging to access destinations from its train stations on foot.

Parsons acknowledged that there has been an outpouring of support for a bikes-on-trains program from people who took a NICTD survey and signed online petitions. “We know the demand is there, so we want to do it right,” he said. NICTD doesn’t think it can successfully accommodate bikes until it gets new rail cars, which wouldn’t happen for several years. “Without additional capacity, we would have to remove seats from cars.”

The South Shore isn’t currently planning to buy new cars, but they’re exploring options, Parsons said. Most of the agency’s capital budget is earmarked for installing Positive Train Control, a federally mandated safety system that automatically brakes trains when operators drive too fast for conditions or lose control.

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The South Shore Line Expects You to Wait Six Years for Bike Access

When NICTD policies don't make sense

This man hoped he would be allowed on the South Shore if he took the wheels off his bike. Photo: Strannik45.

Update: NICTD responded to our request for comment after publication and we will post a follow up story on Tuesday. 

Eager to bring your bike on a South Shore Line train to visit Notre Dame University, commute from Northwest Indiana to Chicago, or take a spin around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore? You may well be able to do that – some time in 2021.

At a recent board meeting of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the agency that runs the rail line between Chicago and South Bend, consultants recommended that the transit agency wait six years to pilot a bikes-on-board program. We’re not even talking about full implementation here, but merely testing out the program on a limited basis.

In contrast, Metra’s Bikes on Trains program has been around for over a decade. Granted, it took some strong-arming from then-lieutenant governor Pat Quinn to force Metra to agree to the policy change. NICTD has been studying the issue since 2013, around the time I launched a petition for bike access on the South Shore, which 731 people signed.

The recommendation to delay the Indiana line’s bikes-on-trains pilot was made by staff from Quandel Consultants, a construction and engineering consulting firm, and LTK Engineering Services and The McCormick Group. Part of the reasoning behind that advice was that the South Shore could get new train cars by then, according to the Active Transportation Alliance’s south suburban outreach manager Leslie Phemister, who attended the board meeting. When new cars would be in service, NICTD can begin piloting the bike program by removing half of the seats in an older car to make room for bikes. However, NICTD doesn’t know if or when they may obtain new – or used – train cars.

Dedicating half the space in a rail car for bikes is a great idea. However, the plan for the pilot only calls for attaching this car to two trains per day: one morning run to Chicago and one evening train to Indiana, according to Phemister. If you miss that train, you won’t be able to get home with your bike.

Phemister added that the length of the delay is absurd. “I think a [six-year] wait is a little bit of a long time,” she said. In response to NICTD’s foot dragging on the issue, as well as their resistance to a proposed at-grade crossing of South Shore tracks for an extension of the Burnham Greenway, Active Trans recently crowned them “The least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.” The advocacy group sarcastically presented the group with its “Broken Spoke Award,” noting that the South Shore is the only commuter line in the nation that doesn’t accept bikes.

Active Trans wants NICTD to come up with another solution for accommodating cyclists in the near future, Phemister said. This strategy should also be implemeted on off-peak trains, in addition to the rush-hour bike car.

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Calgary Opens a Downtown Protected Bike Lane Network All at Once

A city map of Calgary’s pilot project.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

One of North America’s unlikeliest and most ambitious protected bike lane projects is now on the ground.

Calgary, the arid Alberta prairie town and natural gas capital, agreed last year on a novel strategy: Instead of upgrading one street for biking at a time, as most cities do, it would pilot a connected protected bike lane network on four downtown streets at once.

The stakes are high, and Wednesday’s official opening is obviously too soon to declare a success or failure.

But something’s working so far, reports CTV News:
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Surfing the Green Wave: CDOT Pilots Bike-Friendly Signal Timing on Wells

Here’s another clever new idea from the Chicago Department of Transportation. This week, they re-timed the stoplights along Wells Street between Huron Street and Wacker Drive in River North, so that southbound bicyclists who maintain a 12 mph pace get an unbroken series of greens.

Known as a “green wave,” this kind of signal timing has been common on main streets in Copenhagen since 2007, and San Francisco has recently implemented it on several roadways. Not only does it make bicycling more efficient, it also reduces the chances that bike riders will endanger themselves by blowing red lights.

Wells was a logical place to pilot a green wave in Chicago, according to Mike Amsden, CDOT’s assistant director of transportation planning. “After Milwaukee Avenue, it’s probably the second most popular on-street bike commuting route in the city,” he said, noting that cyclists account for up to 38 percent of all traffic during the morning rush. The street has buffered bike lanes and is classified as a Crosstown Route in the city’s bike plan, and several Divvy stations are nearby.

Previously, the stoplights were timed so that a cyclist pedaling at 12 mph starting from a green at Huron would hit a red light at almost every intersection. “I think there was a lot of frustration with the number of lights you’d hit and have to wait at, and hopefully that’s changed,” Amsden said. Note that the Wacker Drive stoplight is not part of the wave, so you’ll tend to get a red when you arrive there after a series of greens.

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