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Advocates Request a Fair Share of Bike Resources for Black Communities

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield

A group of African-American bike advocates says they want to do whatever it takes to make sure more black Chicagoans have a chance to enjoy the health, economic, and social benefits of cycling. They’ve called for the city and state, as well as other advocacy groups, to commit to a more equitable distribution of bike facilities and education to low-income, African-American communities on the South and West Sides.

“In the past, the city’s philosophy has been that the communities that already bike the most deserve the most resources,” said Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike & Green, and Southside Critical Mass. “That just perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows fast in some neighborhood and not others. Biking leads to better physical and mental health, safer streets, more connected communities, and support for local businesses. Black communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

As it stands, Chicago has a higher overall density, and better connectivity, of bike lanes downtown and in relatively affluent North Side neighborhoods with higher population density and bike mode share. Their South and West Side counterparts have received more miles of protected bike lanes, due to the fact that wide roads with available right-of-way are more common in these parts of town.

While a number of low-income communities of color, such as Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, and Bronzeville, have received Divvy bike-share, a majority of the stations have been installed downtown and on the North Side. The system is slated to expand to more South and West Side neighborhoods next year. The more bikeable areas of the city also have a higher density of parking racks, which residents can request via a Chicago Department of Transportation website.

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Active Trans’ Bikeways Tracker shows the distribution of protected lanes (green) and buffered lanes (blue). Red is proposed bikeways.

In an effort to win more bike resources for black communities, Reed has partnered with Peter Taylor, an Active Transportation Alliance board member and president of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Shawn Conley, head of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago. On November 1, they met in an Englewood café to strategize with Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of RBG Chicago and a member of the League of American Bicyclists’ Equity Advisory Council, Latrice Williams from Bronzeville Bikes, as well as black bike advocates from Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Out of that meeting came an open letter to the city, state and other advocacy groups, asking for a more fair distribution of bike infrastructure and education, and that more consideration be given to the needs and concerns of black residents when allocating these resources. The letter makes seven specific requests. Among these are that the local governments make a public commitment to prioritize equity, and require contractors who work on transportation projects to do so as well.

The advocates ask the city and state to commit to spending a fair amount of tax dollars on bike resources between 2015 and 2020 in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The city is also asked to provide an update on the status of recommendations made by community advisory groups for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – Reed and Taylor served as leaders for South Side advisory groups.

The black advocates gave a presentation on their campaign at last week’s Mayor’s Advisory Council meeting. At the assembly, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld and Active Trans director Ron Burke acknowledged that more effort needs to be made to promote cycling in communities that don’t already have high ridership. Scheinfeld promised that equity would be strongly considered in prioritizing future projects. One of the 2020 Plan’s goals is to ensure that every Chicagoan lives within a half mile of a bikeway.

“CDOT has been focused on building a comprehensive bikeway network throughout Chicago and we are pleased to have advocates like [Reed, Taylor, and Conley] to partner with to help reach those goals,” said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales “We look forward to continuing to work with them to help determine the needs for cycling facilities in every community.”

“The equity statement delivered at MBAC is an outstanding example of the kind of grassroots leadership we need in Chicago,” said Active Trans’ Jim Merrill. He argued that the city is already working hard to equitably distribute new bike infrastructure. “We hope this call for a renewed look at bike equity in Chicago can amplify those efforts, and we look forward to collaborating with advocates throughout the city to build a bike network that serves all Chicagoans equally.”

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Montrose Green TOD Actually Fits Its Neighborhood Just Fine

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A year-old city ordinance could allow a neighborhood restaurant, not car parking spaces, to face the ‘L’ station entrance.

Developer David Brown wants to bring a neighborhood restaurant to a site right outside the the Chicago Transit Authority’s Montrose Brown Line station, along with 24 apartments, a small office space, and 10 car parking spaces. The city’s zoning ordinance would ordinarily require him to fill the entire ground floor of his proposed five-story Montrose Green building with 24 parking spaces. However, Brown has requested that 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar change the site’s zoning to permit more housing and less parking, under what the city terms transit-oriented development.

A meeting last week hosted by Brown and Pawar drew some of the usual complaints about the neighborhood having too many cars and too little on-street parking. For example, DNAinfo quoted Kristina Stevens saying, “Most of these people, I believe, are going to have cars and park on our streets. Taking the train does not mean you don’t own a car.”

In fact, many of Montrose Green’s neighbors in North Center take the train (and bus) and don’t own cars — and the new building would help even more make car-lite choices, and accelerate a neighborhood-wide (and nationwide) trend towards less driving.

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Montrose Green actually provides more car parking spaces per resident (but fewer per unit) than current zoning requirements. Image: David Brown

42 percent of households in the building will be able to store a car behind the building, a percentage that nearly matches the 46 percent of households in nearby Census tracts who own one car. Even fewer residents own cars in the tracts closest to the Brown Line.

Not only are there fewer cars than one might expect in the neighborhood, there’s also less vehicle traffic — and even less with every passing year. Vehicle counts on Montrose, between Western and Ashland, show 42 percent fewer cars (5,000 cars per day) between 2006 and 2010, the most recent data available. Car traffic also declined by 23 percent, or 2,400 cars, on Damen across Montrose. Since then, citywide miles driven people have continued to fall, dropping by 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Meanwhile, transit use in North Center has gone up across the board, even though the surrounding Census tracts have shown minimal population growth. Brown Line boardings at Montrose increased by nearly 20 percent between 2010 and 2013, across both weekdays and weekends — a sign that people aren’t just using transit for work, but also for errands and social trips. (Fully 47.5 percent of local residents do take transit to work.) Bus ridership on the #78 Montrose bus increased by over 10 percent over the same period, as well.

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At Last, the Bloomingdale Looks Like a Trail

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Beth White stands under a lighting arch on the Humboldt Boulevard Bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In June, Steven Vance and I got a sneak peek at construction to build the Bloomingdale Trail, AKA The 606. On Tuesday, I went back up on the rail line for a tour with Beth White from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project, and saw that major progress has been made over the last six months. Work on bridges and utilities is largely complete, access ramps are in place, many blocks of railings have been installed, and most of the 2.7-mile route is paved.

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Much of the eastern portion of the trail now has railings. Photo: John Greenfield

The $95 million multiuse trail and linear park was supposed to debut this fall but construction delays, caused by the long, cold winter, have postponed the opening date until June. The upside of the delay is that more of the landscaping for the path and its access parks will be completed by opening time than was originally planned.

Almost all of the rail line, except for locations currently accessed by heavy trucks, now sports a 14-foot-wide ribbon of concrete that will serve as the walking and biking surface. Mile markers have been embedded in the pavement, and two-foot-wide rubber surfaces will be added to the outside edges of the path to provide a soft surface for running — a similar configuration as the Lakefront Trail.

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City Has 83 Miles of Better Bike Lanes, Will Surpass 100 Mile Goal in 2015

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Crews stripe Kinzie Street, Chicago’s first protected bike lane, three and a half years ago. Photo: Brandon Souba

The Chicago Department of Transportation has nearly reached Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s much-ballyhooed goal of building 100 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes during his first term. CDOT staff at last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting said that they’ve striped 83 miles of the better bike lanes so far, and plan to surpass the 100-mile mark next spring.

2014 saw substantial progress made on building out the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. 34 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes were striped this year, and now such lanes exist in 38 of the city’s 50 wards. As in prior years, almost all of these bike lanes have been buffered, rather than fully protected: This year, 30.75 miles of buffered lanes, and only 3.25 miles of protected lanes, were installed. Another nine miles of streets saw sharrows or conventional bike lanes added in 2014.

An additional 31.5 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes have been designed, and are planned for installation by the end of spring 2015 — giving the city a grand total of 114.5 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes.

Additional greenways, curb separated bikeways, and other safety improvements continue to be coordinated with the city’s ongoing street resurfacing projects. Yet work on some street could always be coordinated better, as with the recently repaved stretch of Garfield Boulevard between King Drive and the Dan Ryan Expressway. That project also included bulb-outs and improved pedestrian crossings, but bike lanes remain only a future possibility. Garfield, from Western Avenue to King Drive, is marked as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan.

A neighborhood greenway is being studied along 97th Street, west of the Dan Ryan and the Red Line’s 95th Street station. If it’s completed, the greenway would include a contraflow bike lane along Lafayette, between 95th and 97th, to link the bikeway to the busy station.

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Bike Chicago May Open a New Bike Station in a Transit-Friendly Location

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The bike station in Millennium Park. Photo: John Greenfield

One of Chicago’s nicest bike amenities is one we often taken for granted, the Millennium Park bike station. Built in 2004 by the Chicago Department of Transportation, using $3 million in federal funds, this attractive glass structure offers indoor parking for about 300 bikes, plus showers, lockers, rentals, and repairs.

The main drawback of the facility is its location. Located at the northeast corner of the park, at the top of one of the city’s only hills, it gets good use from office workers commuting to nearby towers like the Aon Center, the Prudential Building, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois headquarters. However, the station is too far away from the central Loop to be useful for many downtown employees who want to bike, park and shower before heading to work. It’s also not very handy for the majority of people who want to store a bike for “last mile” trips from the Metra and CTA stations to their workplaces.

Bike Chicago, which operates the bike station (and has sponsored Streetsblog Chicago) is considering opening a new station that would better serve those needs. Yesterday the company posted on The Chainlink, a local bike social networking site with over 11,000 members, to ask where Chicago cyclists would like to see another location, and what amenities they’d like to see. So far, four respondents have voted for a bike station near Union Station, and one has requested a cycle center near the Merchandise Mart.

The idea of a West Loop bike station is nothing new. The city’s Bike 2015 Plan, approved in 2006, noted the success of the Millennium Park station and recommended establishing another facility near a popular train station, such as the Ogilivie Transportation Center, to encourage multi-modal trips. In the late 2000s, CDOT looked into the possibility of setting up a cycle center next to Ogilvie’s new French Market, but never sealed the deal.

Ryan Lawber, the general manager of Bike Chicago, said that his company is only putting out feelers at the moment, but launching a second bike station is a definite possibility. “We’ve been running a bike station for ten years now, and it’s very successful,” he said. “We’ve got it down, so we’d like to expand.”

The existing cycle center is managed by MB Real Estate, which supplies janitorial services. In 2006 McDonald’s Corporation bought the naming rights to the stations for $5 million, which has been used to fund maintenance. Bike Chicago pays a percentage of its earnings to MB Realty as rent, and charges bike station members $35 per month or $199 a year. Day passes are also available for $5 for shower and locker use with bike parking, $3 without. “The bike station has definitely been profitable,” Lawber said.

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Wicker Park Station Rehab Experience Shows Power of Transit to Boost Sales

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Stan’s Donuts is one of several nearby businesses looking forward to a sales boost when the Damen stop reopens. Image: Google Streetview

The old saying goes, “You don’t miss your water ‘til your well runs dry.” That’s been the case with Wicker Park merchants during the two month closure of the O’Hare Branch’s Damen station for renovations.

They’ve learned the hard way how important proximity to transit is to their bottom line. DNAinfo reports that several independent businesses near the Blue Line stop are so relieved that the station will reopen next Monday, December 22, they’re offering customers freebies and specials to celebrate.

“We did not realize how much we depend on the traffic, being so close to the station,” Ulysses Salamanca, owner of Flash Taco at 1570 North Damen, told DNA. The tacqueria, located just north of the transit hub, will be handing out free tamales during rush hours on the first three days after the station reopens. “There is a great community of Blue Liners, and we want to show gratitude to the commuters,” Salamanca said.

Ridership on the O’Hare Branch has risen by 30 percent over the last five years, and the Damen stop handles about 12 million rides a year. It closed on October 20 for renovations as part of the CTA’s $432 million Your New Blue initiative, which includes rehabs to 13 stations.

The $13.6 million Damen facelift includes the removal of the stop’s concession space, which will increase space for customers within the small, crowded station house by 36 percent. The rehab also includes new platforms, lighting, signs, and bike racks, although the stop won’t become wheelchair accessible. An installation by LA-based artist Gaston Noques will be added sometime in 2015.

“Our sales have been down 20 percent since the station closed,” Ken Lubinsky of Lubinsky Furniture, located around the corner at 1550 North Milwaukee, told DNA. He said CTA commuters often browse his store after work. If 63 ‘L’ riders – the station closure is lasting 63 days – drop off business cards between December 22 and January 10, the shop will hold a drawing for a free recliner chair.

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Could Rauner Stop the Illiana Boondoggle? Sure. But Will He?

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner says he needs to “see the studies” on the Illiana before making a decision on whether it should continue.

The Illiana Tollway, a joint proposal by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation to build a 47-mile highway through thinly populated farmland about 40 miles south of Chicago, rolled over another hurdle yesterday when the Federal Highway Administration approved the project’s environmental impact study. FHWA’s approval allows IDOT and InDOT to proceed with soliciting bids for the highway.

In a press release, IDOT called the FHWA’s “record of decision” an endorsement of the project and process. IDOT, of course, is reading too much into this: FHWA didn’t endorse the project by awarding it a huge grant. Instead, FHWA merely acknowledged that the Illiana meets the federal government’s minimum justification standard for highways. Even though the Illiana might meet that bare minimum, the FHWA isn’t putting its own money on the line. Rather, FHWA has simply said that Illinois is now free to waste its own money on the project.

This monstrous boondoggle – one of the most wasteful road projects in the entire country – surely won’t be stopped by IDOT or by any agency, like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, dependent on IDOT. The federal government’s involvement concluded with the EIS review, so it’s now out of the picture. It’s up to governor-elect Bruce Rauner to put an an end to this travesty.

Stephen Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recently told the Better Government Association that Rauner “has the authority to shelve [Illiana]. He doesn’t have to ask anyone.” Schlickman added that, because the Illiana is “moving so rapidly,” Rauner will need to act quickly and decisively. IDOT is just weeks, or months, away from formally issuing a Request for Proposals to its short list of bidders, and award contracts soon afterwards.

Rauner told the Tribune’s editorial board in September that he didn’t know if the Illiana should be built, and that he’d “have to see the studies” before making that decision. In the past, he’s hedged on the issue – both saying that the project “may have the potential to be an economic development engine,” but also that IDOT’s public-private partnership shouldn’t leave taxpayers “holding the bag.”

If Rauner does take a close look at the studies, he’ll find that the Illiana’s economic development “potential” lies entirely in Indiana, and that the state’s $1.3 billion would create just 940 jobs through 2040. The editorial board directly asked Rauner if he had seen the studies, and wrote then that “there is no upside” to the road.

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CDOT Tweaks Randolph/Michigan, But It’s Still Dysfunctional for Pedestrians

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The new right turn signal at Randolph/Michigan. Photo: John Greenfield

When you build a fabulous new attraction in the center of a bustling metropolis, you obviously want to maximize pedestrian access to make it easy for large numbers of people to walk there, right? That’s not what happened with Millennium Park.

A month after the music and art venue opened in the summer of 2004, drawing big crowds of pedestrians, the city actually took steps that made it more difficult to access the park on foot. After observing many conflicts between pedestrians crossing Michigan and motorists turning left onto the avenue, city traffic engineers solved the problem – by eliminating the pedestrians.

The Chicago Department of Transportation ground out crosswalks and barricaded corners at several intersections. Most egregiously, they removed the crosswalk at the south leg of Michigan/Randolph. At the time, a CDOT spokesman told me it was done because of safety concerns. Conveniently for motorists, however, eliminating this pedestrian movement also facilitated southbound turns onto Michigan by drivers heading west on Randolph.

The city spent $51,000 to install bollards and chains at the southwest and southeast corners of this intersection, deterring people from walking directly from the Chicago Cultural Center (which houses the city’s main visitor info center) to Millennium Park. Instead, pedestrians are now expected to cross the street three times to make the same move: north across Randolph, east across Michigan, then south across Randolph again. In addition to creating a major detour across 19 lanes of traffic, this made the remaining crosswalks more crowded.

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Formerly you could cross directly between the southwest corner and the southeast. Now it takes three crossings to make the same trip.

When the Emanuel administration took over in 2011, the appointment of forward-thinking transportation commissioner Gabe Klein suggested that this kind of cars-first planning might be a thing of the past. Shortly after he started at CDOT, I asked Klein if for his take on the Michigan Avenue situation, and the fact that the city had also taken out the midblock crosswalk between Buckingham Fountain and the lakefront in 2004.

“The Randolph/Michigan issue is interesting,” he said. “I don’t like it, from the standpoint that I would like to give priority to the pedestrians that we’re relying on to populate the park. Having said that, if the crosswalk was taken out because of safety concerns, then we really have to look at Michigan Avenue, which I think is just a problem.”

Klein added that he would like to reinstall the Buckingham crosswalk, and a few months later, CDOT did just that. Last summer, the department restriped the crossing at the north leg of Washington/Michigan, the main entrance to the park.

However, the Randolph/Michigan intersection has remained unchanged – until this fall. In October, CDOT installed a new right-turn arrow signal for drivers heading west on Randolph and turning north on Michigan. A recent newsletter from 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, who bankrolled the project with ward money, claimed the new dedicated right-turn phase is reducing congestion.

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Driver Fatally Strikes 53-Year-Old Woman in Wicker Park

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The entrance to the CVS parking lot. Image: Google Streetview

Last night, a young woman driving out of a drug store parking lot struck and killed a female pedestrian in Wicker Park, according to Officer Janel Sedovic from News Affairs.

At about 7:40 p.m., Samar Khan, 23, was exiting the parking lot of the CVS at 1200 North Ashland in her Nissan Juke mini-SUV, Sedovic said. The lot’s driveway passes through the building and abruptly crosses the sidewalk on Division.

As Khan, of the 1200 block of North Cleaver in Noble Square, turned left to head east on Division, she struck a 53-year-old woman who was “standing in the street,” Sedovic said.

A police source noted that the pedestrian was “intoxicated” and “was wearing all black clothing.” However, the police report did not include details about the movements of the driver or the pedestrian.

The victim was taken to Stroger hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, Sedovic said. As of early this afternoon, the Cook County medical examiner’s office had not released the woman’s identity.

Khan was cited for failure to exercise due care to avoid a collision with a pedestrian in the roadway. Major Accidents is investigating.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 24 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 8 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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On the Anniversary of Hector Avalos’ Death, His Family Is Hoping for Justice

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

Last Friday, exactly one year after Hector Avalos was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk driver, his family and friends gathered to remember him at the “ghost bike” erected in his honor. The white-painted bicycle, installed at the crash site on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park, is part of a worldwide movement to memorialize fallen cyclists. Avalos’ memorial serves as a somber reminder of a valuable life lost.

Avalos, 28, was a former marine and aspiring chef who often commuted by bike. On the night of December 6, 2013, he was biking back to the South Side from his job as a line cook at El Hefe restaurant in River North. He was several blocks west of his home on the 1800 block of West Cermak when his path intersected with that of motorist Robert Vais.

Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, had reportedly spent the evening at a staff Christmas party at Francesca’s on Taylor, a restaurant in Little Italy. At 11:50 p.m., he was driving home to southwest suburban Riverside in his Ford Windstar minivan when he struck Avalos from behind. After emergency personnel arrived, Avalos was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m.

According to a police report, Vais walked up to an officer on the scene and said, “I was the driver of that van over there. I hit him. Is he OK?” The officer testified that Vais smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes, which spurred his decision to arrest Vais and take him to the hospital for a blood draw. The test showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.118, well above the legal limit of 0.08.

A small crowd of Avalos’ loved ones gathered on Friday to tell stories and share memories. Wrapped in scarves and blankets, they solemnly poured beer at the base of the light pole that supports the ghost bike, forming foamy puddles. Someone wiped clean the framed photograph of Avalos in his Marine dress uniform, a souvenir from his two tours of duty. Flickering veladoras — religious votive candles — were lit, creating a small circle of light and warmth in the dark, cold night.

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