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The Divvy Perimeter Ride: Checking Out Bike-Share in Outlying Communities

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

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

This year’s Divvy bike-share expansion, beefing up the system from 300 docking stations to 476, has moved at warp speed. As of yesterday, 168 of the new stations have been installed since mid-April; The remaining seven are pending concrete pouring or other factors, and should be in by next month.

As Divvy grows, the city is also trying to make it more equitable. After the expansion, the portion of the population that lives in the service area will grow from about 53 percent to 56 percent, and several low-income communities are getting stations for the first time. Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Transportation is working on a strategy to provide Divvy access for residents who don’t have credit cards, and they promise they’ll have a major announcement about this by early summer.

To get a sense of how the stations are working out on the terra nova, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, I set out to pedal the perimeter of the completed service area on a sunny afternoon earlier this month. I began my quest at the southeastern-most outpost of the system at Rainbow Beach in South Shore, a mostly African-American community. There was an eerie fog on the shoreline, and the sound of the waves mingled with birdsongs as I undocked my Divvy.

As I made my way clockwise, stopping at every station along the perimeter to snap a photo, plenty of residents approached me to ask about the system. From small children to seniors, the first question was almost always a variation on “How much does it cost to rent those bikes?” I explained that a day pass is $7, and an annual membership is $75, but you have to be careful to check in your bike within a half hour, or else you start racking up late fees.

Outside Comer College Prep, a nice-looking public school at 71st and South Chicago in Grand Crossing, little kids are using a Divvy station as a coat rack, playing with the bungees and bells, and using the cycles like exercise bikes. Diane Griffin, an adult who’s waiting for the bus, is curious about the giant blue cycles.

Like most people I’ve spoken with, she’s unclear on how the system works, such as the fact that you don’t have to return your bike to the same station you got it from. But after I explain, she warms up to the idea. “I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s good exercise, and it beats riding a crowded bus.”

Pedaling along the system’s perimeter turns out to be pretty comfortable, since the docks tend to be located along designated bike routes, many of which have well-marked bike lanes. I make my way west to Englewood, and north to a station at 56th and Halsted.

Bobbie Flowers, a healthcare worker who’s going to the adjacent hardware store, asks me about the system and is pleased to learn that you can use it 24/7. Although it’s been a while since she’s ridden a bike, she’s curious to try a Divvy. “It seems like a nice alternative to sitting in the car and burning gas,” she says.

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Automated Bike Rental is Coming to the Forest Preserves This Summer

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Bike and Roll will use equipment by the French company Smoove.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County recently announced that they will be offering bike rental at six locations this summer. The forest preserve district’s board approved a contract with Bike and Roll, Chicago’s largest bike rental company, which will be setting up automated rental stations, plus a staffed facility at the Dan Ryan woods. “We’re really excited to have another way to encourage people to visit the forest preserves and engage in physical activity when they get there,” said district spokeswoman Lambrini Lukeidis.

Next month, Bike and Roll (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) will open the Dan Ryan Woods concession, which will provide access to the Major Taylor Trail. Later this summer they will install bike-share-style docking stations at Tower Road, Blue Star Memorial, Bunker Hill, Caldwell Woods, and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The manned facility will offer various types of bikes and quadcycles, as well as baby seats, child trailers, and trail-a-bike attachments. For the automated stations, Bike and Roll will be using cycles and docks supplied by the French company Smoove. Each station will hold up to ten bikes, which can be rented via credit, debit, and prepaid cards, with rates beginning at $7 per hour or $28 per day. Customers can check bike availability online from mobile devices. Unlike bike-share vehicles, the forest preserve cycles must be returned to the original rental location.

“It’s a natural fit for the forest preserves to offer bike rental, because we have 300 miles of trails throughout the county,” Lukeidis. “People who know our trail system are really avid users, but a lot of people haven’t experienced them yet.” She added that the rental stations will make it easier for county residents to try cycling in the preserves if they don’t own a bike, live too far away to ride there, and/or don’t have the ability to transport their bike with a car.

Of course, CTA, Pace, and Metra accept bicycles, so that’s another option for accessing the forest preserve trails without driving. And Cook County municipalities should be developing safe, family-friendly bikeways that allow residents to pedal comfortably from their homes to their local nature area. However, the opportunity to rent a bike at a forest preserve and ride on car-free trails could serve as a gateway to cycling for many people who don’t currently ride at all. That could help build support for creating low-stress, on-street bike routes as well.

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CTA: Belmont Bypass Necessary to Accommodate Current and Future Riders

The Chicago Transit Authority published on Tuesday its federally mandated environmental assessment for the Red-Purple Bypass project, better known as the Belmont flyover. The bypass is part of the Red-Purple Modernization project, which will rebuild all of the tracks from Belmont to Linden station in Wilmette, and reconstruct several stations to add elevators and other amenities.

This bypass would eliminate the intersection of northbound Brown Line trains with Red and Purple Line tracks north of the Belmont station in Lakeview, increasing capacity on the system’s busiest lines and reducing delays. The structure would allow the CTA to boost the number of trains they run each day – especially during rush hour – in response to the current growing ‘L’ ridership. It would also allow the system to accommodate new residents as more people move into North Side neighborhoods in the future.

The flyover is controversial because 21 buildings on 16 parcels of land would need to be relocated, demolished, or partially demolished. The buildings, an array of commercial, residential, and mixed-use structures, contain 47 homes and 18 active businesses. Per federal law, the CTA would pay “just compensation” based on fair market value for the properties, and pay for relocation assistance for all homeowners and tenants. While the EA mentions the number of residences, it doesn’t include the number of residents who would be affected.

Residents have also argued that the new concrete overpass would be an eyesore. Of course, this is a matter of opinion: One person’s blight is another person’s ride to work. The anonymous website Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover recently compared the structure to neighborhood-devaluing elevated freeways. However, while highways often take people past neighborhoods without stopping, transit always adds value to communities because it brings people to them.

The bypass structure is shown without any redeveloped buildings. The CTA said it would work with Alderman Tunney and the city's planning department to create a redevelopment plan. Image: CTA

A CTA rendering of the flyover with no redevelopment. The CTA said it would work with Alderman Tunney and the city’s planning department to create a redevelopment plan.

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Eyes on the Street: Seeing Spots at the Lincoln Hub

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Looking southeast from the north side of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s first painted curb extensions are starting to take shape. Workers recently spray-painted the outlines of green and blue polka dots at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection as part of the “Lincoln Hub” traffic calming and placemaking projects. The street remix is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont.

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St. Alphonsus Church is on the left side of this rendering.

Flexible plastic bollards that extend the intersection’s six corners, planters, round seating units, and café tables and chairs have been in place for a few weeks now. These treatments have already improved pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, eliminating several slip lanes, and discouraging speeding. Residents have also been enjoying the additional seating on nice days.

However, now that the outlines of the dots are in place, it’s more obvious that the asphalt outlined by the posts is intended as space for walking and sitting, and it’s easier for motorists to understand the new configuration. The painting project had been delayed by recent rainy weather, according to SSA program director Lee Crandell. Pending warmer, sunny weather, crews will fill in the dots, creating an Oriental carpet-inspired design that will unify the intersection. After the paint is dry, additional seating will be added, completing the project.

DNAinfo reported that, at a recent South Lakeview Neighbors meeting, there were complaints that the new layout requires drivers to queue up behind left-turning motorists, since there is no longer space to pass on the right. I’ve hung out at the intersection a few times during rush hours and haven’t seen any major issues. “One of the goals of this project is to slow down cars to improve safety for pedestrians,” Crandell told me. “We think there are some significant improvements here for pedestrians.”

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Crandell has talked to the Chicago Department of Transportation about the possibility of tweaking the design, including relocating bollards and adjusting signal timing for Southport to allow more drivers to move through the intersection. “But I’ve emphasized to the community that we need to see how this works when it’s completed,” he said. “After we let it settle in for a few weeks, we can make decisions based on what impact it’s having.”

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Man Dies After CTA Bus-Pedestrian Crash in Canaryville

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The crash site. Image: Google Street View

A 62-year-old man has died after being fatally struck by a CTA bus driver in the Canaryville neighborhood.

On Monday evening at 9:06 p.m., the man “tripped and fell into the intersection” at 43rd and Halsted streets, according to Officer Stacey Cooper from Police News Affairs. He was then struck by the driver of a northbound CTA bus, Cooper said.

The victim was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Cooper said. The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the man as Erroll Ellison, from the 4200 block of South Princeton Avenue.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 13 (4 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

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Sauganash Whole Foods Is Building Parking Where There Should Be Housing

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Sauganash Place. Image: Google Maps

Sauganash Place, a mixed-use development near Peterson and Cicero avenues, is a strikingly urban element in the eponymous Chicago neighborhood, a quiet, mostly residential community on the Far Northwest Side. Featuring several stories of condominiums with balconies, plus a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor, the building wouldn’t look out of place in denser neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview.

Although the supermarket already has a large underground parking garage, as well as a surface parking lot, the company recently announced it has purchased land to the north of the store — which was originally slated for more condos — in order to expand the lot. The plan is moving forward with little-to-no opposition, even though it would be much more productive to use this land for development, especially for more multi-unit housing.

The original proposal for Sauganash Place included two condo buildings with a total of 136 units, plus commercial space. The completed portion, built in 2007, includes the Whole Foods, 61 condo units, and 260 garage parking spaces in garages. Due to the housing market crash that occured shortly after that, the second building was never constructed. The site is currently a gravel lot, which Whole Foods is already using for parking.

The store’s plan to permanently convert the land to car storage was approved by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the Chicago Department of Transportation, as well as 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino and local community leaders. “The Alderman is satisfied that the proposal is the right fit for that location,” said John Riordan, the ward’s director of economic development and business affairs.

However, more space for people, rather than cars, would have been a much better community asset. The predominant housing type in Sauganash is single-family housing. Over 85 percent of all units in the Forest Glen community area – which includes Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook, and Wildwood — are single-family units, according to DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies. Condos and apartments located in buildings with six or more units only make up about six percent of the area’s total units.

Citywide, only about 25 percent of housing units are single-family homes. Even in other Far Northwest Side community areas, the percentage of housing units represented by single-family homes is much lower than in Forest Glen, which has one of the highest single-family home percentages of any community area.

DPD’s current housing plan, entitled “Bouncing Back: Five-Year Housing Plan” explicitly states, “People of all income levels, in all neighborhoods, should have a range of housing options.” It goes on to say “A commitment to diverse communities and…fair housing is essential to a healthy, vibrant Chicago.” Whole Foods’ plan to permanently convert valuable land to parking is in conflict with those goals.

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Chicago Gets First Curb-Protected Lanes; Many Other Bike Projects on Deck

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The curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive in Douglas Park. Photo: CDOT

In a surprise move, the Chicago Department of Transportation recently began building the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive through Douglas Park. This morning, assistant director of transportation planning Mike Amsden provided an update on this game-changing facility, plus a slew of other bikeways projects slated for 2015.

Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes within his first term. Later the goal was revised to include buffered bike lanes — which don’t offer physical protection from cars — as wells as PBLs. The city currently has 71.5 miles of BBLs and 18.5 miles of protected lanes, for a grand total of 90 miles, according to Amsden.

Since Emanuel was inaugurated for his second term this morning, the 100-mile target has obviously been pushed back a bit, but it’s likely CDOT will exceed that goal by the end of this year. “When we get there, [Streetsblog] will be the first to know,” Amsden promised. “Our focus this year is really going to be on bridging the gaps in the bike network.”

The new curb-separated lanes run on both sides of Sacramento, a curving roadway within the Southwest Side green space, on a quarter-mile stretch between Douglas Boulevard and Ogden Avenue. The curbs are about six inches high and two feet wide, with breaks at drainage basins, and wherever park paths cross the street.

The Sacramento protected bike lanes were originally installed in 2012 on a section that included some truly awful pavement – a counterproductive practice that CDOT has since discontinued. The new curbs are being put in as part of a resurfacing project.

“Over the past four years, we’ve put in a lot of bike lanes in a short time, but it was always our goal to upgrade them over time,” said Amsden. “We’re piloting curb separation here. Experimenting with concrete is something we want to do moving forward whenever we can.”

While CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced plans for curb-separated bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in Old Town last summer, there was no public announcement about the Sacramento curbs, Amsden said. However, 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler signed off on the plan. In early 2013, Chandler asked CDOT to downgrade an existing PBLs on nearby Independence Boulevard to buffered bike lanes.

While Amsden said he has heard reports of drivers parking in the Sacramento PBLs south of Ogden, near baseball diamonds and soccer fields, he doesn’t anticipate problems with cars blocking the curb-protected lanes, which are about eight feet wide. “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, but one of the goals of the concrete separation is to encourage drivers not to park in them.”

IDOT had previously prohibited CDOT from installing PBLs on state roads within the city. However, the state transportation department lifted the ban after an allegedly drunk driver struck and killed cyclist Bobby Cann at Clybourn and Larabee Street in 2013, and is actually spearheading and funding the Clybourn curb-protected lane project. CDOT has been helping out with design input and public outreach, Amsden said.

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Not Just Greasy Kid Stuff: Active Trans Hosting Family Biking Series

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Rebecca Resman bikes with her daughter Sloane. Photo: Oren Miller

As dozens of my friends with young kids demonstrate, becoming a parent doesn’t mean you have to give up your car-free or car-lite lifestyle. An upcoming three-part series on family biking presented by the Active Transportation Alliance and Chicago Kidical Mass aims to provide families with the info and encouragement they need to keep pedaling through pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.

“Ultimately, we want to normalize cycling, and one of the best ways to do that is getting more women, children and families on bikes,” explains Active Trans’s Rebecca Resman. “We’re confident that this series is going to lead to more biking families.” Here’s the schedule for the free seminars:

Resman and her husband Zeb regularly transport their two-year-old daughter Sloane and two-month-old son Max via a Dutch-style bakfiets (“box bike”) cargo cycle. “That always yields a lot of looks, a lot of smiles, and a lot of questions,” she said. “I get a ton of questions from people who are interested in taking the plunge and bike with their kids, but don’t know where to start.”

Each of the educational sessions will focus on a different phase of family cycling, with a 30-40 minute presentation, followed by breakout sessions for Q & A. Besides Resman, presenters will include Active Trans’ Jason Jenkins, plus parents Anika Byrley, Jennifer Wilson, Kevin Womac, Emily Ransom, Jane Healy, and Julie Caddick Kaufield.

The seminar on biking while pregnant will help future moms decide whether cycling during pregnancy is right for them, including an examination of different opinions from experts and parents. The session will also cover different styles of bikes (step-through frames can be helpful), riding positions, and saddles. “Like many things when you’re pregnant – sleeping, eating, and walking – it’s all about making you feel comfortable, emotionally and physically,” Resman said.

She kept biking until the 21st week of her pregnancy with Sloane, and cycled until two days before Max was born. “For me, biking was absolutely more comfortable than walking with my stomach bouncing around.” Getting fresh air while cycling can also be helpful for women experiencing morning sickness, she said. “And, unlike on the CTA, it’s nice to know that there’s always going to be a seat available for you on your bike.”

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From Minneapolis, Evidence That the Census Undercounts Walking and Biking

Biking jumped 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

Biking increased 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

The U.S. Census is the most widely cited source of data about how Americans get around. It’s updated regularly and it covers the whole country, but it comes up short in a number of ways. The Census only asks about commute trips, and commuting only accounts for about 16 percent of total household travel [PDF]. What happens when you measure the other 84 percent?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to design a better way to track how people move around the Twin Cities region, and one key finding is that walking and biking appear to be growing a lot faster than the Census indicates.

The UMN survey asked about 1 percent of the region’s residents to keep a travel diary, recording every trip. This resembles the National Household Travel Survey, a more detailed but infrequently-conducted cousin to the Census data on commuting, but the sample collected by the UMN team was much bigger. That’s especially important for measuring less prevalent modes of travel like walking and biking. The UMN study also provided more detailed information about people’s origins and destinations than the National Household Travel Survey.

The UMN team found that driving decreased in the region between 2000 and 2010, while biking and walking grew. Cycling rose over that period from 1.4 to 2.2 percent of trips. That’s about 190,000 daily trips, or a 58 percent increase. Meanwhile, walking grew from 4.5 to 6.6 percent of trips, a 44 percent increase, or almost three quarters of a million daily trips. Residents of the Twin Cities region typically make about 12 million total daily trips.

What’s especially interesting is that the share of biking and walking trips in the UMN survey is much bigger than what the Census indicates — about two to three times larger.

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The Way Forward: Gas Tax, Vehicle Miles Traveled, or Value Capture?

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Blankenhorn, Skosey, Puentes, and Porcari. Photo: Ryan Griffith Stegink, Metropolitan Planning Council

Local leaders agree that Chicago region’s public transit system, and Illinois transportation infrastructure in general, are sorely underfunded. However, it’s clear that the traditional strategy of relying on gas tax revenue to fund projects is no longer working. The state gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents a gallon since 1990, and due to inflation, the buying power of the revenue it generates has fallen over the past few decades.

Given the fact that Governor Rauner plans to cut almost $170 million from state funding for Chicagoland mass transit, and gas prices that are at their lowest point in years, it’s time for lawmakers in Springfield to show some backbone and approve a gas tax increase. Meanwhile, we need to consider creative ways of funding rail, roads, and bridges, such as a vehicle miles traveled tax and real estate value capture.

Transportation experts discussed these topics earlier this week at a panel titled “The Long and Winding Road,” part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s symposium for Infrastructure Week 2015, “Broke, Broken, and Out of Time.” Panelists included former U.S. Department of Transportation deputy secretary John D. Porcari, the Brooking Institute’s Robert Puentes, and the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey. The Illinois Department of Transportation’s acting secretary Randy Blankenhorn moderated.

“Are we going to continue to fund infrastructure with smoke and mirrors?” Blankenhorn asked. “Are we going to continue to fund transportation on cigarette taxes and gambling? Let’s talk about user fees versus some of these more innovative or different types of revenue streams.”

Porcari argued that the political courage and innovation for raising money for transportation projects is more commonly at the local and state level nowadays, and not the federal level. “There a number of states that have raised the gas tax, indexed it, added new funding sources, used sales tax for transportation revenues, and they’ve all lived to tell the tale,” he said. “Those governors have actually survived.”

Puentes, pointed out that it’s not just Democratic states that are raising their gas taxes, but also Republican states like Wyoming. “So I think there is a myth that the gas tax is unpopular,” he said. “[Former Governor] Ed Rendell said that when they raised the gas tax in Pennsylvania, not one legislator who voted for the increase lost their election in the next cycle.”

Puentes noted that it’s easier to raise gas taxes at the local or state level than at the federal level. “The lower you get, the bigger the connection, a brighter line between the money that’s being raised, the projects that are being invested in, and then the [economic] outcomes at the end of the day,” he said. “People are willing to invest if they know what they’re getting.”

However, Porcari asserted that depending on gas tax to pay for roads, bridges, and rail won’t be sustainable in the long run. “That’s arguably a good thing, in the sense that what’s driving that are things like efficiency in the corporate average fuel economy and electrification of the fleet. Those are important for the nation but are accelerating the decline of [the gas tax] as a stable funding source.”

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