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Posts from the "Transportation" Category

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CDOT Tells Council Improved Red Light Cameras Might Mean More Tickets

Rate of fatal crashes due to red light running has dropped more than rate of fatal crashes due to all other causes between the period Chicago didn't have and did have red light cameras.

In 12 of 14 cities surveyed, fatal crashes due to red light running dropped relative to all fatal crashes after red light camera enforcement began. Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian & Traffic Safety that equipment problems that have plagued the city’s red light camera enforcement program have mostly been resolved. Although some aldermen were there to pounce upon the media ruckus around the cameras, other aldermen understood that red light cameras can play a role in keeping Chicago’s streets safer.

Alderman Deborah Graham (29th) recounted her experience with a motorist who ran a red light caused a car crash two years ago. “I was going through an intersection at Lake and Sacramento, and a woman trying to beat the traffic light cut me off, and I struck the CTA support beam,” she told the committee at their regular meeting on Tuesday. “I had to have a major surgery,” she said, adding, “So I have a real concern when we’re approaching intersections and dealing with the (red light) cameras.”

Graham was asking Scheinfeld about how CDOT plans to keep equipment in “top-notch” form since the city changed vendors from Redflex, which used unreliable induction loop detectors, to Xerox, which uses a more accurate radar system that can easily be checked remotely.

Alderman Deb Mell (33rd) expressed her confidence in the changes that CDOT had made in response to the IG’s investigation. “I think people drive way too fast in this city,” she said, adding, “I’m really happy that we had this [hearing], and kind of air it out, and going forward, [red light cameras will] do their job.”

Scheinfeld described changes CDOT has made to their agreement with Xerox, which include financial penalties if Xerox flags too many “false positives.” (Violations are sent to IBM for a second review.) CDOT also reduced the allowable rate of “close calls” from 15 percent in Redflex’s contract to 10 percent in Xerox’s contract. The new contract has already had results: CDOT has already fined Xerox $28,867 for “failure to meet specified performance metrics.”

She said these new “business rules” will be posted on the CDOT website, along with the violation data that’s already been posted to the city’s open data portal. If there are “spikes” in the future, an “early warning system” will alert Xerox staff, who will be required to consult with CDOT staff. Scheinfeld said that CDOT’s own staff will also be monitoring violations data themselves, watching for anomalies.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson was also at the meeting to answer questions about his report [PDF], which detailed Redflex’s poor record keeping and CDOT’s lax management. Since the report was issued, he said, “CDOT has been extremely responsive to all of our suggestions.”

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Slow Roll Chicago’s Founders: “Potential Is Endless” To Connect Communities

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In October, Slow Roll Chicago visited Pullman’s former railcar factory and the Pullman Porter museum. Photo by E. Espoz.

Slow Roll Chicago is a new addition to our city’s already impressive roster of community-based bicycling organizations. Inspired by a global bicycle movement that started in Detroit, the local chapter works to strengthen neighborhoods, connect diverse citizens, and transform communities through bicycling.

Last weekend, I met with co-founders Olatunji Oboi Reed and Jamal Julien to discuss how Slow Roll provides south and west side communities with a venue to explore their vibrant, beautiful streets.

Lorena Cupcake: How did you two get involved with Slow Roll?

Oboi Reed: Slow Roll is a global bicycling movement. It was founded as a movement in Detroit by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool in 2010. It started out small, with a few people riding on a weekly basis, and over the years it grew to several hundred, and eventually it grew to several thousand, and just earlier this year, it kind of caught fire in Detroit. Right now, to this day, the Slow Roll average in Detroit is three to four thousand people every Monday night.

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Families joined Slow Roll’s ride to the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

Jamal and I, maybe about six months ago, found out about Slow Roll in Detroit via Facebook. We saw some videos and we just loved this idea of all of these thousands of people rolling slow through Detroit. It’s just an incredible sight to see, even just watching a video. We kind of fell in love with the concept, but for a while we just watched from afar.

One day, Jamal and I just both had this idea: we could bring this to Chicago. We reached out to the organizers, the founders of Slow Roll Detroit, and we started a conversation with them about potentially bringing it to Chicago. It took some work, some time, but after a lot of effort we made it happen. We did our first ride here in Chicago on September 20th, and here we are.

LC: Can you tell me about the Big Marsh Ride you did this morning?

OR: Today, Jamal and I rode with two people from SRAM, a global bike component manufacturing company headquartered here in Chicago. We worked very closely with Randy Neufeld, who’s the SRAM Cycling Fund director (he runs the company’s foundation), and Dan Stefiuk, the manager of road sports marketing at SRAM. ​We also had with us two people from the management team of Slow Roll Chicago, the team we call #SquadChicago. That includes David Peterson, the executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, and our good friend Vaughn Coney Varaski, who works for the railroad and is a longtime resident of Pullman.

This morning, the five of us rode on out to Big Marsh to explore the creation of Big Marsh into an eco-recreation park. A lot of resources and time and effort are going into that piece of land, and we wanted to just experience it for ourself. [We wanted] to really think about how Slow Roll Chicago could help with community engagement on that project, to ensure that black, brown, and low- to moderate-income people in Pullman, in Roseland, and surrounding communities are engaged in the planning process from the beginning. [They'll] feel connected to that process, feel a sense of ownership in Big Marsh, and really want to engage beyond just visiting once in a while.

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Eyes on the Street: Bike and Ped Facilities on the South Side and in the Loop

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Bike traffic in the new Grand BBL during the evening rush. Photo: John Greenfield

As the construction season winds down, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been busy building a number of new bikeways and pedestrian facilities. We’ll get you up to speed on these with a few Eye on the Street posts in the near future.

CDOT recently striped buffered bike lanes on a .6-mile stretch of Pershing from King to Oakwood. Unlike many new BBLs that involved upgrading existing, non-buffered lanes, these were put in on a section of road that formerly had no bikeway at all.

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The wide BBLs on Oakwood replaced excess travel lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Best of all, the Pershing lanes involve a road diet to what was formerly a de facto four-lane street. The new lanes, with very wide buffers, occupy the excess road width, which calms traffic and shortens pedestrian crossing distances. Since the city striped buffered lanes on Oakwood from Pershing to the Lakefront Trail earlier this year as part of a repaving project, you can now get from King to the lakefront entirely on BBLs.

Speaking of King, while scouting out facilities last Sunday morning, I passed by the historic South Park Baptist Church, 3722 South King. You may recall that the city originally proposed installing protected bike lanes on King from 26th to 51st. However, largely due to feedback from local clergy, who were concerned that the lanes would impact church parking, CDOT installed buffered lanes here instead.

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The BBLs by South Park Baptist Church fill up with cars on Sundays. Photo: John Greenfield

In various parts of the city, it’s common for parishioners to park in travel lanes along boulevards on Sundays. While this longstanding practice is technically illegal, aldermen generally condone it. Such was the case when I passed by South Park — dozens of cars were parked in the BBLs. Fortunately, this situation only exists for a few hours a week, and traffic on King is usually light on Sundays.

A couple miles north, at 18th and Calumet, the city has eliminated an annoying barrier for cyclists. There’s an underpass and pedestrian bridge here that leads over railroad tracks to Soldier Field and the lakefront, but there was previously no curb cut to access the path to the underpass from the street.

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When Will the Trib Get to the Bottom of Chicago’s Traffic Violence Problem?

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Members of the Trib’s investigative reporting team at Tuesday’s discussion. Jim Webb is on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

Tuesday night, the Chicago Tribune hosted a discussion of its red light camera coverage with members of its investigative reporting team. During the Q & A session, I noted that 48 pedestrians were killed and 398 were seriously injured in Chicago in 2012, the most recent year that we have accurate data for. “It doesn’t seem like you guys have done much coverage about what can be done to address Chicago’s crash epidemic,” I said. “Are there any plans for a multi-part series to address this issue?”

“The issue isn’t really whether or not there’s a pedestrian fatality problem in Chicago,” responded Jim Webb, political editor for Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. “The issue is what the city [should do] about the pedestrian fatality problem.” Webb asserted that while Mayor Emanuel has touted the safety benefits of red light and speed cameras, the paper has found that the cams aren’t as beneficial as advertised.

Afterwards, Webb sent me a couple of links to Tribune stories questioning the effectiveness of traffic cameras in reducing crashes. A November 2011 piece reported that fewer than half of Chicago’s 251 pedestrian fatalities between 2005 and 2009 occurred within “safety zones” — the areas near schools and parks where the speed cams can legally be installed. A March 2012 article reported that Emanuel had handed reporters a study that overstated the effectiveness of existing red light cameras in reducing deaths at Chicago intersections.

In both cases, City Hall should have conveyed the safety effect of cameras better, but the Trib also neglected to give readers an accurate picture of the existing research. The fact that automated traffic enforcement saves lives is settled science, and yet the Trib still frames it as a matter of ”camera advocates” debating “critics.” Reading the Trib’s reporting on the subject, you would think the enforcement cameras are a purely speculative venture with no proven track record.

To the contrary, a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light camera programs in 14 large cities reduced the rate of fatal red light running crashes by 24 percent. And a 2010 review of 28 studies of automated speed enforcement programs found they were uniformly successful in decreasing speeding and fatality rates.

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Alta Bicycle Share Has New Owners, New CEO, New Expansion Plans

With new ownership and a new CEO, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has even started taking suggestions for bike-share expansion again. Image: DOT

With new ownership from executives at real estate giant Related and a new CEO in former MTA head Jay Walder, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has already started taking suggestions for new bike-share stations. Image: DOT

It’s official: Alta Bicycle Share, the company that runs Citi Bike, has a new owner, an infusion of cash, and a fresh face at the top — longtime transit executive Jay Walder. At a press conference this afternoon, the new team promised to correct Citi Bike’s blunders and double the system’s size by the end of 2017.

The same ownership group will also be running Alta bike-share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston, among other cities. While today’s news signals potential changes in those cities as well, the most immediate changes — along with Alta Bicycle Share’s headquarters — are coming to New York.

Citi Bike’s reboot has been months in the making. Top executives from Equinox Fitness, itself a division of real estate giant The Related Companies, burst onto the bike-share scene in April with an unsuccessful last-minute bid for Bixi, the bankrupt Canadian supplier of Alta’s bike-share components. Related execs resurfaced in July, when word came that they were on the verge of buying out Alta. After months of negotiations, the deal is now official, with a company backed by Related executives and other investors, called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquiring all of Alta Bicycle Share.

Alta is getting a major cash infusion — $30 million from Bikeshare Holdings LLC, which is led by Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related CEO Jeff Blau, and investor Jonathan Schulhof. Citi has extended its initial $41 million, five-year sponsorship of NYC bike-share by promising an additional $70.5 million through 2024, contingent on system expansion. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, which has already helped finance Citi Bike, is increasing its credit line to Alta by $15 million. The deal includes $5 million from the Partnership Fund for New York City, an investment fund backed by the city’s big business coalition, to expand Citi Bike to more neighborhoods.
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Quinn Talks Good Game On Active Transportation, But Does He Deliver?

6.24.13 Governor Quinn and Indiana Governor Mike Pence Open Business Development Forum in Rosemont

Governor Quinn supports active transportation policy in spirit, but his administration has lavished funds on wider roads and the Illiana Tollway. Photo: Governor Quinn

Governor Pat Quinn, who is up for re-election next week, shared warm words about sustainable transportation with the Active Transportation Alliance in response to their candidate questionnaire [PDF]. His words haven’t always been matched by actions from his five-year-old administration — but unlike opponent Bruce Rauner, at least he’s talking to advocates.

Quinn’s written response stated that, between eight options that Active Trans listed to improve the public’s ability to to get around Illinois, “All are priorities for my administration… with the exception of widening existing roads.” He added that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, “where we believe in accommodating the transportation needs of all residents.” Indeed, Illinois was the first state to adopt Complete Streets as law, back in 2007.

Yet under Quinn’s administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation has demonstrated that its priorities include widening existing roads, rather than bus rapid transit, congestion pricing, or the other options Active Trans outlined. IDOT has widened dozens of miles of roads throughout the suburbs, and even widened Harrison Street through the South Loop in 2012 — a move that the Chicago Department of Transportation partially reversed this year with a road diet and buffered bike lanes.

Quinn has also championed the expensive and unnecessary Illiana Tollway as his top priority for IDOT, thereby depriving all other priorities of crucial state funding. That’s even as support for the road continues to diminish: although the state has repeatedly claimed that the road is necessary to support truck traffic, major trucking interests have soured on the proposal.

According to Active Trans, IDOT’s own survey “identified Protected Bike Lanes as the most preferred treatment for making roads safer and comfortable for biking,” but the department currently bans cities from installing protected bike lanes on state roads. Quinn pledges that, during his next term, he’ll install 20 miles of PBLs on state roads. He also took credit for IDOT’s newly cooperative stance regarding a curb-separated protected bike lane on state-administered Clybourn Avenue, after an allegedly drunk driver hit and killed Bobby Cann while Cann was bicycling on Clybourn.

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Road Diet Curbs Lawrence Avenue’s Dangerous Mile

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Refuge islands allow pedestrians to cross the street one lane at a time. Bump-outs, in the background, shorten the distance across the street and reduce the chance that motorists will park in the crosswalk. Photo: John Greenfield

The one mile of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western avenues, through the Ravenswood neighborhood, went on a road diet this year. The diet slimmed Lawrence from four to two travel lanes, and used the extra space to create room for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extensive landscaping. The streetscape project right-sized this stretch of Lawrence, bringing it in line with the two-lane segments both west of Western and east of Ashland.

Crashes at Damen and Lawrence

11 people were injured in pedestrian crashes at Lawrence and Damen avenues, near McPherson elementary school and the Levy senior center. Source: IDOT, via ChicagoCrashes.org

“Road diets” are a widely accepted method to make streets safer, and (as on Lawrence) are often combined with other safety-enhancing streetscape improvements like bump-outs and median pedestrian refuges. Just the road diet, though, can be enough to reduce speeding by drivers and cut the number of crashes and injuries, while also opening up space for uses like bike lanes, street trees, and sidewalk cafés.

The road diet on Lawrence will improve the safety of a notoriously dangerous street. Traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation tells us that from 2005 to 2012, 72 people were injured in pedestrian-car crashes within the nine blocks (just over one mile) of Lawrence between Clark and Western avenues.

That means that there have been many more pedestrian-car crashes along this stretch of Lawrence than on comparable streets: This stretch of Lawrence has 11 times more injuries from crashes than the average mile of street in Chicago.

Lawrence even has many more injuries than comparable busy arterial streets. 60 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes occurred on this previously four-lane stretch of Lawrence than on the one-mile stretch to its west through Albany Park. There were even 54 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes on the dangerous mile of Lawrence than on a comparable one-mile stretch of Halsted, between Grand and Van Buren through Greektown. That part of Halsted carries a similar number of cars on its two lanes, but probably sees more pedestrians due to its thriving shops and nightlife.

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CDOT Announces Proposed Divvy Locations for 33rd Ward

Proposed Divvy stations in 2015

Proposed 33rd Ward Divvy locations.

At the 33rd Ward transportation committee meeting last Thursday, deputy transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel presented the locations for nine proposed Divvy stations in the Northwest Side district. Alderman Deb Mell has approved all of the spots.

The locations include the three westernmost Brown Line stations and two sites near Horner Park, plus locations near Montrose/Kedzie, Irving Park/Kedzie, Elston/Addison/Kedzie, and Elston/Belmont/California. These would be installed in March, at the earliest. Installation of one of the proposed Horner Park stations, at the northeast corner of Irving Park/California, may conflict with riverbank restoration work at the park, so CDOT and the ward are looking for an alternative location.

Wiedel showed a map of the locations, as well as renderings of how each station would be oriented. In a few cases, the stations will replace metered parking spots. These metered spaces will be moved elsewhere in the ward, in keeping with the city’s parking contract.

One constituent suggested relocating the proposed Divvy station that would serve the Brown Line’s Kimball stop. The bike-share station would be installed in the street on the south side of Lawrence, just east of Christiana.

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CDOT plans to install a Divvy station to the left of this bus stop at Lawrence/Christiana. Image: Google Streetview

Currently, the north-south crosswalk for this T-shaped intersection runs right into an eastbound bus stop for the #81 Lawrence bus, so buses often block the crosswalk. To address this problem, the resident suggested moving the bus stop east of Christiana, to where the Divvy station is proposed. The bike-share station could then be placed where the bus stop is now.

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Sources: Alta Buyout a Done Deal; Citi Bike Fleet to Double

The REQX Alta purchase bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The REQX purchase of Alta bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The buyout of Alta Bicycle Share rumored since July is finally a done deal. REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, and Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike, have agreed to terms on the purchase, according to published accounts and sources familiar with the negotiations.

The injection of capital from REQX is expected to help resolve lingering problems with Citi Bike’s supply chain, software system, and operations, which until now have prevented any expansion of the bike-share network.

The sale was reported Friday by Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, and Streetsblog has confirmation from two people with knowledge of the deal.

Rubinstein reported that REQX plans to double the size of the Citi Bike fleet to 12,000 bikes. In July, the expansion was rumored to reach up to 145th Street in Manhattan, western Queens, and another ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods adjacent to the current service area. Annual membership prices are expected to increase about 50 percent.

New management and an infusion of funds from REQX bodes well for all Alta bike-share programs over the next year after a stagnant 2014. Alta’s supply chain troubles have hampered system expansions in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, among other cities.

The city is expected to make an official announcement soon. However, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg refused to discuss the Alta deal at a press conference earlier today about NYC’s new 25 mph speed limit.

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Across the U.S., Poor Job Access Compels Even People Without Cars to Drive

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Metropolitan share of zero-vehicle commuters driving to work, 2013. Source: Brookings analysis of American Community Survey data

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends.

While more Americans are relying on alternative modes to get to work every day, cars still define most of our commutes. Over time, these high driving rates not only reflect a built environment that continues to promote vehicle usage — despite recent shifts toward city living and job clustering — but also call into question how well our transportation networks offer access to economic opportunity for all workers.

This is especially important for those workers without cars.

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed light on the commuting habits of the 6.3 million workers who don’t have a private vehicle at home. That’s about 4.5 percent of all workers, up from 4.2 percent in 2007.

Zero-vehicle workers still do quite a bit of driving. Over 20 percent drive alone to work — meaning they find a private car to borrow — and another 12 percent commute via carpool. Both rates jumped between 2007 and 2013, defying national trends toward less driving. This paints a discouraging picture about transportation access across the country for a segment of commuters who must expend extra effort to get to work.

Metropolitan data underscores the breadth of this problem. Transit-rich metros like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have the most zero-vehicle workers, and they drive less frequently. However, in other large metro areas like Dallas, Detroit, and Riverside, over half the zero-vehicle workers find a car to drive to work. Driving rates jump to over 70 percent in metros like Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; and Provo, UT. Across 77 of the 100 largest metro areas, at least 40 percent of zero-vehicle commuters drive to work.

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