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Pace Pulse Express Bus Service Will Help Improve Traffic Circulation

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The Pulse stops will feature heated shelters with vertical markers.

If you’re a fan of faster bus service with handy amenities, here’s some news to get your pulse racing. Pace Suburban Bus Service is planning Pace Pulse, a new network of express bus routes along major roads throughout Chicagoland. The agency has proposed establishing the service, which they refer to as arterial bus rapid transit (ART), on several busy arterials, including Milwaukee Avenue, Dempster Street, Harlem Avenue, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, 95th Street, and Roosevelt Road.

Pulse, slated to launch on Milwaukee Avenue in 2017, will include roughly half-mile stop spacing, transit signal priority, buses with WiFi and USB charging ports, plus stations with real-time arrival information signs and – best of all – overhead heat during the winter. However, it’s worth noting that the service can’t be classified as true bus rapid transit, because it will lack features like prepaid boarding and car-free bus lanes, which are necessary for bringing buses up to train-like speeds on congested streets.

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The #270 local bus route

The flagship Pulse route on Milwaukee Avenue will run between the Jefferson Park Transit Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side and the Golf Mill Shopping Center in northwest-suburban Niles. Pace currently operates the #270 Milwaukee Avenue bus daily between Jefferson Park and Golf Mill. During select hours, the route is extended to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview and the Allstate Insurance corporate headquarters in Northbrook.

The #270 is one of Pace’s key north-suburban routes, with strong ridership. According to the Regional Transportation Authority which oversees Pace, the CTA, and Metra, the line’s ridership as of June 2015 is 2,995 boardings on weekdays, 1,966 on Saturdays and 1,418 on Sundays.

The Jefferson Park Transit Center is a major transportation hub on the Northwest Side of Chicago. It is served by the CTA Blue Line, Metra’s Union Pacific / Northwest Line, nine CTA bus routes and three Pace Suburban bus lines. Golf Mill is a large shopping mall located at the intersection of Milwaukee and Golf Road. It attracts shoppers from all over the surrounding area to its department stores, specialty stores, and movie theater. Many people from Chicago’s Northwest Side ride the #270 to shop and work at the mall.

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The Milwaukee Pulse route.

Planning for the Milwaukee Pulse route started in 2014 and is currently in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin next year, with service debuting in 2017, according to the project schedule.

The total cost of the shelters and signage is estimated at $9.1 million, while the cost of new buses, which will be used exclusively on this route, is estimated at $4.5 million. The funding is largely provided by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, with a 20-percent local and regional match.

The Milwaukee ART buses will only make stops at eight locations between the mall and the transit center, including (from south to north) Central Avenue, Austin/Ardmore Avenues,Haft Street/Highland Avenue (near Devon Avenue), Touhy Avenue, Howard Street/Harlem Avenue, Oakton Street/Oak Mill Mall, Main Street, and Dempster Street. The transit signal priority feature, which shortens red light phases and extends greens to help prevent buses from getting stuck at intersections.

Each Pulse stop will feature a heated bus shelter with a bus tracker display with real-time arrival info, plus a vertical marker that will make it easy to spot the express stops from a distance, and bike parking racks. In addition to Wi-Fi and charging ports, the buses will feature audio/visual stop announcements.

The Milwaukee Pulse route will operate from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, with buses running every ten minutes during rush hours, 15 minutes during most non-peak periods, and every 30 minutes from 10 p.m. to midnight. On weekends, it will run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to midnight on Sundays, with buses every 15 minutes until 10 p.m. and every 30 minutes between 10 p.m. and midnight. The frequency of the local #270 Milwaukee buses will be reduced to every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 60 minutes on weekends. Service north of Golf Mill will remain the same.

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The public meeting at the Copernicus Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace held a public meeting on the project last night at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, with about 30 people in attendance. Most of the residents I talked with were in favor of the new express bus service, and said it would speed up their commutes. Garland and Heather Armstrong of Elmwood Park said Pulse will be a significant upgrade from the current #270 bus service, which they said is a lifeline for people with disabilities.

However, not everyone was a complete fan of the Pulse plan. Jacob Aronov, from the grassroots transit advocacy group Citizens Taking Action, said he’s worried about the longer headways for the local buses, and wants to make sure the local route isn’t eventually eliminated.

A majority of riders will likely opt to take the faster Pulse service, since the stops will be no more than a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk for most people) from any of the local stops. However, some seniors and people with mobility issues may prefer to continue using their closest local stop. Hopefully, riders’ concerns will be factored into the final plan.

Streetsblog USA
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Highway Safety Group Tells Pedestrians to Be Safe on Roads Built to Kill Them

Dumb pedestrian.

Dumb pedestrian.

The Governors’ Highway Safety Association wants you to know it’s working really hard on pedestrian and bicycle safety. The coalition of state road safety agencies just put out another report in a series of well-intentioned but a off-base attempts to draw attention to the issue.

In Everyone Walks: Understanding and Addressing Pedestrian Safety, GHSA notes that pedestrian deaths have increased 15 percent since 2009 and recommends a “3 E” approach — engineering, enforcement, and education. Except, forget the engineering part, because GHSA’s members — state highway safety offices — “are tasked with tackling the behavioral side of traffic safety — laws and their enforcement, and education — but do not usually handle infrastructure or engineering,” according to spokesperson Kara Macek. So the 21 recommendations in the report barely touch on infrastructure, arguably the most important factor in making streets safe for everyone.

The recommendations are still wide-ranging, touching on everything from FHWA Section 403 highway safety grants to slow speed zones to the relative merits of overtime pay for traffic cops. But the two E’s left in the “3 E” approach put a heavy emphasis on pedestrian behavior. Case studies include a Philadelphia enforcement campaign that issued 85 percent of its 1,525 warnings to pedestrians. Minnesota warns pedestrians, “Getting smashed at the bar? Don’t get smashed walking home,” and California berates texters with this message:

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The Suburbanophile: Renn Praises Chicago Big-Boxes, Pans Ashland BRT

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Aaron Renn

Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor at City Journal, writes the popular blog The Urbanophile, and sometimes his articles are right on the money. For example Streetblog NYC reporter Stephen Miller tells me Renn was justified in complaining about the high cost of New York infrastructure projects in a Daily News op-ed earlier this year.

However, the Chicago-centric piece that Renn published today in the urban planning site NewGeography.com, cofounded by pro-sprawl guru Joel Kotkin, is a real doozy. He argues that our city’s Ashland Bus Rapid Transit project is example of wrongheaded one-size-fits-all thinking by car-hating urbanists that’s about “actively making things worse for drivers.”

Renn, a former Chicagoan, actually makes some good points about the benefits of transit-oriented development and protected bike lanes in the article. I even agree with his assertion that, for many residents, the fact that Chicago offers numerous sustainable transportation options, as well as the ability to own, drive and park a car relatively cheaply and conveniently, represents “the best of both worlds.” He argues that, along with more affordable housing prices, the fact that it’s easy to live with or without with a car in Chicago is one of its main advantages over peer cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

However, the article goes south when the author, who currently lives in Manhattan, argues that big-box stores with vast parking moats are one of Chicago’s finest features. He tells a harrowing tale of trying to whip up a batch of artisanal mayonnaise, only to discover that his local grocery store in the Upper West Side didn’t stock the right kind of olive oil.

“I can assure you in my old place in Chicago, one quick trip to Jewel or any of the other plentiful supermarkets would have taken care of that,” he writes. “Stores like that, or like Sam’s Wine and Spirits and host of others, only exist because they are able to draw from a trade area served by the car, and because people can buy large quantities best transported by car.”

A more serious problem with Renn’s piece is his assertion that the Ashland BRT project would be a case of transit advocates intentionally “degrading the urban environment” for drivers, which would make Chicago a less livable city. The plan calls for converting two of the four travel lanes on Ashland Avenue to dedicated, center-running bus lanes, which would require the elimination of most left turns off of the street.

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Driver Who Killed Cyclist Hector Avalos Will Plead Guilty at Next Hearing

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

At a court hearing last Thursday in the case against Robert Vais, the motorist who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while allegedly drunk, the defense team announced that Vais plans to plead guilty at the next hearing.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

Vais was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.118 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. He was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. Vais recently asked Judge Nicholas Ford for a “402 conference,” a meeting between his defense team, the Cook County State’s Attorney, and the judge, which took place at Thursday’s hearing.

During the 402 conference, the parties met in the judge’s chambers and the prosecutor told Ford why the State’s Attorney’s office believes they would prevail if the case went to trial. The defense also stated their case to the judge. The judge then let the prosecution and defense know what his recommended sentence would be for Vais if he pleads guilty.

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Dense Thinking: CNT Staffers Discuss the TOD Reform Ordinance

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This TOD development at 2211 N. Milwaukee will have 120 units but only 60 parking spaces. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Believe it or not, back in the early nineties, ex-mayor Richard M. Daley was planning to tear out an entire branch of the El system. “The Lake Street branch of what’s now the Green Line had terrible slow zones and you could almost walk to Oak Park faster,” recalls Jacky Grimshaw, the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s vice president for policy. “The mayor and the CTA president wanted to take it down.”

Grimshaw says this moment of crisis was the birth of Chicago’s transit-oriented development movement, a push to create dense, parking-light housing and retail near rapid-transit stations in order to reduce car dependency. CNT and the West Side community organization Bethel New Life teamed up to present the CTA with a plan for TOD near the Lake/Pulaski stop, but it fell on deaf ears.

However, after Grimshaw penned a “woodsman spare this tree” op-ed for the Tribune, Daley apparently took notice. Soon afterwards, she says, the CTA managed to find $364 million in funding from leftover projects to pay for rehabbing the Lake Street branch, according to Grimshaw.

Chicago’s TOD movement has picked up steam over the past couple years. In 2013, City Council passed its first TOD ordinance, sponsored by First Ward alderman Proco Joe Moreno. The city’s zoning code generally mandates a one-to-one ratio of parking spots to housing units in new or rehabbed buildings. However, the 2013 law cuts that requirement in half for parcels within 600 feet of a rapid-transit stop, 1,200 feet on a designated Pedestrian Street, and allows higher density within these districts.

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Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection

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Concrete curbs will protect a section of the southbound bike lane on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

Chicago’s busiest cycling street is receiving some safety improvements, including a segment of bike lanes with concrete protection. Milwaukee Avenue, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway” due to its high bike traffic, is currently getting upgrades between Elston Avenue and Division Street in River West and Noble Square.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a combination of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street and Elston. The current project includes a similar mix of bikeway styles, plus a short stretch of curb-protected bike lane, as well as a parking-protected lane with concrete “parking caps.”

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Milwaukee from Division and Augusta has been upgraded to a double-buffered bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Contractors working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction last week and had completed a significant portion of the new bikeways by last Monday evening. From Division to Augusta Boulevard, existing conventional bike lanes have been upgraded to lanes with a striped buffer on each side. This help keep moving cars further away from bikes, and encourage cyclists to ride a few feet away from parked automobiles, so that they don’t get “doored.”

Previously, the bike lanes disappeared about 150 feet south of Division, but the buffered lanes go all the way to the intersection’s south crosswalk — a nice improvement. The new northbound section is located next to the curb, and drivers are currently parking in it, but adding “No Parking” signs should help solve that problem.

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Strong Turnout Needed for Tomorrow’s Hearing in the Hector Avalos Case

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the family

At a court hearing tomorrow morning, Judge Nicholas Ford will likely recommend a sentence for the driver who allegedly struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk. It’s crucial that there be a large turnout of Avalos family supporters in the courtroom to remind the judge that, if defendant Robert Vais is guilty, he must not be let off with a slap on the wrist.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

Vais was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.118 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. He was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. Vais recently asked Judge Ford for a “402 Conference,” a meeting between his lawyer, the Cook County State’s Attorney.

The 402 Conference is scheduled to take place at tomorrow’s hearing, according to Avalos family attorney Michael Keating of Keating Law Offices (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). During the meeting, the prosecutor will tell Ford why the State’s Attorney’s office believes they would prevail if the case went to trial. The defense will also state their case to the judge.

The judge will then give a recommended sentence for Vais. “Whether or not the defense chooses to accept or reject it is their prerogative,” Keating said. If they reject the sentence, the case would proceed towards trial. If they accept the recommendation, and the sentence includes jail time, Vais would be subject to being taken into immediate custody, according to Keating.

Asked whether he would prefer to see Vais accept a plea agreement or have the case go to trial, Keating said, “My desire as an attorney is always to see justice done, one way or another.” He added that all of his employees will be at the hearing in support of their client, Avalos’ mother Ingrid Cossio.

Given that tomorrow is the day that Judge Ford will likely give the recommended sentence, it’s key that there be a big turnout from Avalos family supporters and bike advocates. If there is a strong showing from those who demand an appropriate sentence for the man who allegedly chose to drive drunk, taking another man’s life in the process, that’s sure to influence Ford’s decision.

The hearing takes place tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California, room 702.

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How the New TOD Ordinance Could Save a Rejected Jeff Park Development

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Rendering of the proposed development.

Last Tuesday, the city’s Community Development Commission put the brakes on Mega Realty’s plan to build a housing and retail development on two vacant lots located a five-minute walk from the Jefferson Park Transit Center. One of the parcels is city-owned, and the commission voted against a proposal to give the land, valued at $530,000, to the developer free of charge.

The plan for the lots at 5161 and 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. calls for a four-story structure with 39 rental apartments and 11 storefronts. The project would include 62 parking spots: 41 for tenants and 21 for the commercial uses, so the ratio of housing units to residential parking spaces would be slightly higher than the 1:1 ratio required at this location by the city’s current zoning code.

It’s unclear exactly why the CDC rejected the proposal, which was championed by 45th Ward Alderman John Arena, who said the development would serve as a “grand gateway” for Jefferson Park. Arena has argued that it makes sense for the city to give the land to Mega Realty, because the parcel has sat vacant for 13 years and the development would generate an estimated $175,000 a year in property taxes.

The alderman told DNAinfo he is looking into to the reasons why the commission voted against the land transfer, and investigating ways to salvage the project.”Make no mistake, I am not giving up on this initiative, which would help revitalize the downtown Jefferson Park commercial district,” he said.

Time is running out before a new ordinance takes effect on October 13, which would require the developer to include on-site affordable housing units, or else pay $500,000 into the city’s affordable housing fund — the current “in lieu” fee is only $400,000. Mega Realty and Arena have said missing this deadline would make the project financially unfeasible.

Map of proposed mixed-use development on Lawrence Ave

The site is less than three blocks from a major transit center and local shopping.

However, City Council may also be approving an expansion of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, as early as September 24. If this legislation passes, it might be possible for Mega Realty to add affordable units in order to comply with the new housing ordinance, yet still maintain an acceptable profit margin.

The 2013 TOD ordinance halves the parking requirements for residential developments within 600 feet of rapid transit stations, and provides density bonuses for some projects within this zone. On designated Pedestrian Streets, the TOD district is expanded to 1,200 feet.

Last fall, Arena was successful in his effort to have this stretch of Lawrence, and other sections of Lawrence and Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park designated as P-Streets. The alderman deserves credit for this move, since the designation requires that new developments promote a walkable environment, and bans new auto-centric land uses like strip malls and drive-throughs.

Since 5161 and 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. have been fallow for so long, the path of least resistance would have been for Arena to allow a developer build any kind of tax-generating project on the site, even if it was a car-focused land use that degraded the pedestrian environment. Instead, the alderman pushed for walkable development, which is much more appropriate for this transit-friendly location.

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Senior Fatally Struck on Halsted Street in Boystown

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The 3300 block of North Halsted, from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Maps

An elderly man was struck and killed yesterday afternoon on the 3300 block of North Halsted Street in Lakeview’s Boystown district.

Around 3:15 p.m., a 78-year-old male “unexpectedly crossed in the middle of the street into traffic,” according to Officer José Estrada from Police News Affairs. The man was struck by a southbound driver, Estrada said.

The victim was transported in critical condition to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, according to Estrada. The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the senior as Chisun Lee, of the 3200 block of North Halsted. An autopsy is pending.

An employee of a nearby Sherwin Williams paint store said the driver stayed on the scene and the vehicle was a van, adding that a stretch Halsted just north of Belmont Street was closed to traffic after the crash. The driver was not cited, Estrada said. Major Accidents is investigating.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 24 (8 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

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Will the Return of the Ashland Express Bus Lay the Groundwork for Full BRT?

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A sign for the old X49 Western Express. Photo: John Dunlevy

This morning Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval Carter announced the return of the #X9 Ashland Express and #X49 Western Express buses. These limited-stop, morning through evening routes formerly paralleled the #9 Ashland and #49 Western local bus lines. While the stops for the local routes are generally spaced a mere one-eighth of a mile apart, the express buses only stopped every half-mile or so, for a roughly 75-percent reduction in stops.

The old #X9 and #X49 routes had good ridership because they offered modest savings in travel times compared to the locals. For example, the CTA estimates that the Ashland express bus traveled an average of 10.3 mph during rush hour, including stops, compared to the 8.7 mph local buses. However, the Ashland and Western express bus routes were eliminated due to funding shortfalls back in 2010, along with nearly every other Chicago express route, save for the Lake Shore Drive lines.

The city plans to make the new #x9 and #x49, as well as the locals, run somewhat faster than before by adding a bus rapid transit-style feature on Western and Ashland. Transit-signal priority will be implemented on these streets, so that stoplights will turn green earlier or change to red later to keep all buses from being delayed. Fewer stops plus TSP means express bus riders will save up to 22 minutes on trips along each route, compared to the current local service, according to the CTA.

The #9 Ashland is currently the CTA’s highest-ridership bus line, while the #49 Western has the third-highest ridership, after the #79 bus on 79th Street. The agency predicts that the new express service will lead to a four-percent increase in ridership on the Ashland route, according to its application for a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, which will help bankroll the TSP features.

Of course, an express bus ride that’s, say, seven minutes shorter than traveling the same stretch on a local bus doesn’t save you any time if you wait ten minutes longer to catch the express. Hopefully, the #X9 and #X49 will have short headways to maximize the time savings for customers. Otherwise, it might make more sense for riders to simply board the first bus that shows up, rather than wait longer for an express.

Meanwhile, the CTA also plans to speed up the local bus service on these streets by eliminating some of the least-used stops, a strategy that the agency says could save #9 and #49 riders up to 12 minutes per trip. The CTA will undertake a community input process this fall to solicit feedback about the stop consolidation plan.

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