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Vast Majority of Palmer Square Residents Want Raised Crosswalks

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Rudy Keller and his daughter Sequoia use a midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Palmer Square residents who want to see the city install raised raised crosswalks by the park greatly outnumber opponents, according to numbers provided by both sides.

Earlier this month, Streetsblog Chicago detailed how neighbors have been campaigning to convert the two marked, mid-block crosswalks on the north side of the park to raised crosswalks. Contrary to what was reported in an earlier DNAinfo article, the speed tables would be a relatively inexpensive $20,000 each, and the Chicago Department of Transportation supports the proposal. According to local alderman Scott Waguespack’s chief of staff Paul Sajovec, Waguespack also has no problem with the proposal – except that a few residents have repeatedly contacted him to oppose the idea.

Andrea Keller, whose young family lives near one of the mid-block crosswalks, recently launched an online petition calling for the raised crosswalks as a strategy to calm traffic next to the park and make crossing safer. Using a speed gun during for three 15-minute observations during a recent evening rush, Streetsblog writer Steven Vance and contributor Justin Haugens found that 75 percent of motorists were speeding. So far 60 people have signed the online petition.

Keller’s husband Rudy wrote me to thank Streetsblog for drawing attention to the issue, and for clearing up misconceptions about the proposal. However, he argued that we actually underrepresented the support for the safety improvements. Andrea and other organizers also received over 100 signatures on a written petition they circulated in summer of 2013, he said.

“The ratio of people signing the petition, versus people rejecting it, was overwhelmingly in favor of implementing the raised crosswalks,” Rudy wrote. He claimed that a small, vocal minority of people on the block “have been very aggressive in their opposition, and have been able to use their influence with Alderman Waguespack to stop (for now, at least) this worthwhile proposal.”

Rudy Keller added that, at a February 2014 meeting of the Homeowners Association of Palmer Square, only two attendees opposed the speed tables. Earlier this month, roughly 30 people at a meeting of Logan Square Preservation voted to endorse the raised crosswalk proposal, according to president Andrew Schneider.

One of the leaders of the opposition is Corrine Bradley, who told me she dropped off paper surveys at every household on the north side of the park, and that most of the responses she received were against the speed tables. She didn’t have that number handy, but confirmed that it was under 20. Rudy Keller and his neighbor Steve Hier, who has also been advocating for the speed tables for years, both told me the total number of opponents is six or fewer.

Bradley, who lives near the northeast corner of the park, wrote a letter to Waguespack arguing that raised crosswalks would delay first responders, form an obstacle to bicyclists, and create constant noise as motor vehicles pass over them. Sajovec told me he suspected that some of the neighbors don’t understand the difference between speed humps and speed tables. While the former are commonplace on Chicago side streets and are several inches tall, speed tables are only two or three inches high, with a very shallow trapezoidal cross-section that has a minimal impact on emergency vehicles, cyclists, and noise levels.

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Decades in the Works, D.C.’s Silver Line Opens to Commuters

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By 10 a.m., more than 9,500 passengers had made trips that started or ended at the five new Silver Line stations today. Photo: @drgridlock/Twitter

Half a century ago, when Dulles International Airport was constructed in the farmlands of Virginia, planners were forming a blueprint for the Washington region’s new Metro system. Back then, they ruled out the idea of stretching the rail line 30 miles beyond the capital through rural counties to connect with the airport. Such a line would serve no purpose for commuters, they said, and would do nothing to help congestion.

But there wasn’t a total absence of foresight regarding the region’s potential explosion. Along with the airport came the Dulles Access Road — and through the center of it, a median reserved for future transit.

The new Silver Line, which officially opened to riders on Saturday after months of delays, runs along that exact path. Ultimately, the 23-mile extension — the largest infrastructure project in the nation – will connect not only to the airport but beyond it to Ashburn, Virginia. The $2.9 billion first phase laid 11.7 miles of new track along five new stations in Tysons Corner and Reston, expanding the Metro system’s mileage by 10 percent.

Today is the first weekday for commuters to try out the new line, which runs east from Reston through the city to Largo Town Center in Maryland. WMATA predicts ridership will be low at first, then eventually reach as many as 25,000 boardings a day. As of 10 a.m. today, more than 9,500 people had passed through the five new stations, the agency said.

It took over five decades for the Silver Line to get here. The last 20 years were particularly contentious, as the project overcame political strife, cost overruns, financing complexities, and construction delays.

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New Grocery’s City-Mandated Car Parking, Not Buses, Will Congest Broadway

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The proposed development, viewed from the north. Image: Antunovich Associates

Some East Lakeview neighbors are unhappy with a proposed retail complex along Broadway, just north of Wellington, that would house a large Mariano’s supermarket on its lower floors and an Xsport Fitness on its upper floors. The five-story building will have retail space with a large driveway and loading area on the ground floor, the supermarket mostly on the second floor, two levels of parking, and the fitness center on the top floor.

Many of the neighbors’ criticisms center on the building’s bulk, and the number of parking spaces — both of which largely result from the city’s zoning ordinance, which requires plentiful parking even in car-light neighborhoods like East Lakeview. Over half of the building’s area will be devoted to storing and moving cars and trucks, but the 279 car parking spaces proposed are just five percent more than zoning requires for a commercial development of this size.

A traffic analysis [PDF], performed by local firm KLOA, predicts that many people would drive to the development (which seems natural if they know that they can easily park there), and that slightly longer delays at intersections would result. KLOA does note in its analysis that trips to the development will be lower than average, because people will combine trips – going to work out, and then going grocery shopping afterwards – and because many local residents will arrive on bike, foot, or by transit. Today, this stretch of Broadway sees fairly light car traffic: Even at rush hour yesterday, it was easy to cross the street mid-block.

Project architect Joe Antunovich says that the solution for increased traffic is not to reduce parking — but rather to stripe more space for cars on the street (squeezing out room that bikes currently use to maneuver), and to add a new stoplight just 210 feet away from an existing one at Wellington. Antunovich further said that the 36-Broadway bus route causes traffic congestion when people are trying to board. He placed more blame on the bus, which carries dozens of passengers, than the single-occupancy vehicles driving down Broadway — many of whom block traffic on Broadway by making left turns from the center lane.

Alderman Tom Tunney is going along with the proposal. Although he says that the city, as a whole, is moving away from auto-centric development, he says that bike lanes elsewhere are counter-balanced by adding car traffic in this part of Lakeview, a place where half of households don’t own a car.

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CDOT Proposes Chicago’s First Curb-Separated Bike Lane On Clybourn

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A Streetmix graphic showing the protected bike lane that would run from Halsted to Division, or in a secondary proposal, a shorter segment from Halsted to Larrabee. Image: CDOT

The Chicago Department of Transportation presented a proposal last night to build curb-separated bike lanes on each side of Clybourn, from Halsted to Division Streets, and to reconfigure the oversized intersection where Clybourn meets Division, Sedgwick, and Orleans in front of Seward Park.

CDOT bikeways engineer and project manager Nate Roseberry explained that Clybourn is part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s ongoing protected bike lanes feasibility study, which will test many elements of the design. Its goals, he said, are to reduce crashes, increase options for how people get around, and evaluate new design features. Those features include two infrastructure features new to Chicago: a curb separating the bike lanes from the auto travel lanes, which at three feet wide will also provide an opportunity for rain gardens; and a bus stop island, where bicyclists will go up and behind the bus stop.

Roseberry said that the proposal “was by no means complete,” and that he wanted to listen to feedback from a group of keen and curious neighbors. Many people who bike through the area also gave their input.

27th Ward Alderman Burnett kicked off the meeting by saying the “state is allowing the city to propose” the first protected bike lane on a state route. In 2011, IDOT banned protected bike lanes on state routes, preventing CDOT from extending the Jackson protected bike lane where the street comes under state jurisdiction, east of Ogden Avenue.

Burnett said the proposal is intended to “stop the danger of bikes and cars from running into each other.” He recalled that the death of 26-year-old Bobby Cann, who was bicycling on Clybourn at Larrabee, “enhanced the conversation” about safety on the street. Read more…

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Davis Street Disagreement Tables Evanston Bike Plan Progress

Evanston bike plan by Melissa

A map of proposed bike routes in north Evanston, showing the “comfortable bike corridors” along Church and Davis, just west of downtown Evanston.

Last year, the City of Evanston started work on a 2014 Bicycle Plan Update [PDF], envisioning further improvements in its cycling infrastructure. The previous bicycle plan, adopted in 2003, resulted in 38 miles of bicycle facilities and a marked increase in bicycle ridership. The new plan will bring a new focus on “comfortable bike corridors” along Evanston’s major streets, like Howard, Emerson, Greenleaf, Lincoln, Harrison, and Central — and along the intersecting side streets of Hinman, Chicago, Maple, Orrington and Crawford. The city estimates the construction cost of these comfortable corridors at $4 million, and hopes that funding will come from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program or other state and federal grant programs.

Although the plan update is largely complete, residents concerned with topics like parking and aesthetics have temporarily tabled the plan before the City Council.

On Saturday, the Public Works Department, along with the contractor, TY Lin, hosted an open house for residents that focused on their Sheridan Road proposal [PDF]. The Public Works Department discussed their proposal, and received feedback from participants. A common theme throughout the feedback was that removing parking lanes might cause backlash from drivers.

Other suggestions included wider bike lanes that would permit safer passing, as well as better connectivity from the Green Bay Trail through downtown to Sheridan. Sharon Feigon, an Evanston resident for over thirty years, noted that while conditions have improved since 2003, more work needs to be done. She said that “riding through Wicker Park was safer than in Evanston,” and is thrilled that Evanston is pursuing the Complete Streets concept.

A police officer, and daily bike commuter, who lives in Evanston also attended. Her concern with the new plan was that, while it improves infrastructure and will likely increase ridership, what’s really necessary is more education for both cyclists and drivers. The officer also supported separating driving and biking lanes. When asked about traffic law enforcement, and if it will be increased, the officer replied that the police are limited by manpower — but when residents call in, police are dispatched quickly to react and enforce the law for all parties.

On Monday night, the Evanston City Council’s meeting featured discussion of the Bike Plan on the agenda. Nearly all of the over 20 public comments addressed the bike plan, continuing for 45 minutes. The comments were primarily in favor of the bike plan, though several repeated concerns about its effects on the historic district along Davis Street, near Asbury.

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Metra Ridership Rising Unevenly; Development Could Maximize Its Potential

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Transit-oriented development has transformed downtown Arlington Heights. Photo: JB

Start with the good news: Ridership on Metra, Chicagoland’s main commuter rail service, has grown almost 14 percent over the last ten years. It remains near the all-time high it reached in 2008, just before the Great Recession. On any given weekday, Metra provides nearly 300,000 rides across its 11 lines, or roughly as many as the CTA’s Brown and Blue lines put together. Some lines have even continued to grow, surpassing their 2008 ridership, notably the North Central Service running northwest to Antioch, and the SouthWest Service through Ashburn and Orland Park to Manhattan. Of Metra’s more-established lines, the best performer since 2008 has been the Union Pacific Northwest line, which runs through towns like Arlington Heights (pictured above) and Des Plaines that have pursued Transit Oriented Development in their downtowns.

But in other ways, the picture isn’t so rosy. Overall, Metra ridership has stagnated for the last six years, even as CTA rail ridership has grown 16 percent over the same period. More alarming, ridership on several lines — including the Metra Electric and Rock Island, which have rapid-transit-like stop spacing every half-mile through large parts of the city that lack “L” access — was falling even before the recession.

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Ridership change on Metra lines from 2004-2014 and 2008-2014.

Unfortunately, Metra doesn’t provide up-to-date information on ridership by stop, which makes more thorough analysis impossible. (The freshest station-level data available is from 2006.) But the line data is enough to see some patterns. Unsurprisingly, many services lucky enough to go through high-growth neighborhoods and suburbs have the strongest ridership. Conversely, routes that pass mostly through parts of Chicagoland that have lost population are mostly struggling.

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Metra Electric trains run down the middle of 71st Street in South Shore, the densest community area on the South Side. Photo: David Wilson

That includes Metra Electric and Rock Island, which have the potential to serve as transit backbones through much of the South Side, but currently provide extremely spotty off-peak service. Both lines go through promising territory: Metra Electric’s main line runs from downtown through the South Side’s largest employment hub, Hyde Park, and one branch continues through dense neighborhoods along the south lakefront all the way to 93rd Street. Rock Island stops at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then makes stops every half-mile at attractive and walkable commercial districts in thriving Beverly and Morgan Park. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Parked Bikes, Meet Stationary Bikes

20 bikes, or two cars? Photo by author.

If you’re looking for bike parking along trendy commercial streets in Chicago, it seems to be a lot easier to find around fitness centers than almost anywhere else. Surely this is no mistake: Either the gyms, or their neighbors, must be requesting many bike racks, and their patrons might be taking an active way to get to their indoor physical activities.

At the same time, many health clubs also seem to have a ton of “free” car parking. Some recently proposed (and approved) developments in Chicago neighborhoods – many of which have large fitness centers within their retail spaces – have a large amount of parking, which is sometimes touted by the developer as necessary for success. For example, Addison Park on Clark, a development with just 148 residential units but 493 parking spaces, may include an XSport Fitness center within its 170,000 square feet of commercial space.

Down the street, XSport is allegedly in talks with another developer to build a fitness facility alongside a Mariano’s grocery store – and 280 parking spaces. Both developers are working on a faulty assumption that fitness centers require hundreds of parking spaces.

Health and fitness clubs have their own section of the Chicago Municipal Code, 4-6-020, which states that no license for a health club may be issued unless there is off-street parking, either on-site or contracted, within 500 feet (about one block) of the premises, and that can accommodate ten percent of the capacity of the health club.

Chicago’s north and northwest sides have an abundance of gyms, many of them located near transit, Divvy stations, or near bike racks. At the same time, many of these gyms offer subsidized parking to members, either in the form of parking validation at nearby garages, or else in their own parking garages.

One of several bike corrals in Andersonville, in front of the Cheetah gym. Image: Jeremy Bressman, via Edgeville Buzz.

Despite the overabundance of parking that’s resulted from almost 60 years of arbitrarily high zoning requirements, at least a few neighborhoods have made it easy to bike to the gym. Eco Andersonville, a program of the non-profit Andersonville Development Corporation, has sponsored several 10-bike corrals throughout the neighborhood. One of these corrals sits outside Cheetah Gym on Clark Street in Andersonville, and it (as well as the several traditional U-shaped bike racks) are often full in the evening.

Bike corrals aren’t the only way to make biking to the gym easier: the Lakeview Athletic Club has several blue- and orange-colored bike racks outside the Lakeview Athletic Center, which combined can hold 20 bikes. Even before the evening rush, these racks were largely full.

Finally, one more great example of a fitness center that has a ton of bike parking is the recently opened Mariano’s/LA Fitness complex in Ravenswood. It looks like there is room for more than 60 bikes in a space tucked under Mariano’s, but still visible from the street. While some of the racks are probably used by Metra commuters, that sort of sharing is all the more appropriate for uses with complementary hours.

So while there is still a lot to be done in terms of lightening up the city’s zoning requirement that fitness centers (and nearly every other land use) provide tons of parking, it’s great to see that many gyms also provide a large amount of bike parking, too. Being welcomed to the gym by dozens of your neighbors’ bikes might reinforce the message that being fit involves how you get to the gym, just as much as what you do inside.

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Central Loop BRT Will Skimp On Key “Rapid” Features

Station platforms would have level boarding, a feature that helps to decrease dwell time. Image: CDOT

Station platforms would have level boarding, a feature that helps to speed bus boarding. Image: CDOT/CTA

The Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project will launch without key features that distinguish BRT from conventional bus service. The busways, which the Chicago Department of Transportation will begin building later this year, will include most of BRT’s concrete features, like high-level bus-boarding platforms and dedicated lanes. These features will undoubtedly speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes as they traverse the Loop.

However, key service improvements, which have been proven to speed up buses elsewhere, will only be “tested” in 2015, and their eventual adoption is far from certain. The initial absence of these features, namely off-board fare collection and signal priority, will knock Central Loop BRT down to a mere “basic” BRT system, using the methodology behind a new international standard meant to encourage effective, quality BRT.

At a May event, sources said that CDOT and CTA will “test” off-board fare collection at only one of the system’s eight on-street stations. At all other stations, riders will pay on the bus, one at a time, just like they now do on all CTA buses. CDOT would not comment on what the test will entail, how long the test will run, or how it will be evaluated. A test involving just one station, out of hundreds of bus stops along the routes, could confuse customers even more than a test at all eight BRT stations — and will offer only minimal travel time savings.

Collecting fares at the stations, before passengers board the bus, has been proven in several other cities to substantially reduce “dwell time,” or how long a bus waits at stops. In New York City, BRT features were added one at a time along the M34 route across Midtown Manhattan, which runs past the Empire State Building and Macy’s. When just prepaid boarding was added, total travel time for the entire route fell 10 percent. On Manhattan’s first BRT route, off-board fare collection alone reduced dwell times on New York City’s M15 Select Bus Service route by 36 percent.

Even though San Francisco hasn’t yet implemented any form of BRT, the city’s transit agency recently adopted “all-door boarding” — allowing passengers who’ve already paid (and have a valid transfer slip) or who will pay with a Clipper card (a contactless fare card, like a Ventra card or ticket) to enter buses through the rear door. As a result, dwell times fell by four seconds per stop, on average.

Another key technology that keeps BRT routes moving through heavily congested areas like the Loop is transit signal priority. Signal priority takes many forms, but the most far-reaching forms won’t be part of Central Loop BRT. Last year, CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that full transit signal priority, which re-programs the signaling system to better accommodate buses, won’t be included in Central Loop BRT. The J14 Jeffery Jump has signal priority as it travels through the South Shore neighborhood, but Scales said this technology is more appropriate for neighborhoods’ bus stop spacing than in the “dense grid of the Loop.” Sources also say that signal pre-emption, which allows buses to override normal signals, also won’t be used in Central Loop BRT.

Central Loop BRT will, however, include queue jumps — bus-only signals that turn green a few seconds before the other signals, and give buses a head start on other traffic where there’s no bus lane ahead. These work somewhat like leading pedestrian intervals, which have been added to many intersections around Chicago and give pedestrians a slight head start before turning drivers get a green light.

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“People Street” to Pop Up, Activate Andersonville’s North End on Friday

This block of Olive St between Clark and Ashland will be transformed into a pop-up park. Photo: Google Street View.

Even though Chicago may not be getting any Open Streets this year, we don’t have to worry about any shortage of opportunities to enjoy car-free streets full of live music, local food, and beautiful summer weather. Chicagoans can instead turn to the city’s scores of summertime street festivals, including a new concept in Andersonville: two “Pop-Up Park & Market” events this summer.

During the event, one short block of Olive Street, between Ashland and Clark, will transform into “the neighborhood’s newest public park” — complete with trees, seating, and plenty of activities.

Brian Bonanno of the Andersonville Development Corporation said Olive was selected because it’s in the northern, less-trafficked part of Andersonville. The southern end of Andersonville, near Foster and Berwyn, has plenty of foot and bike traffic and dozens of shops hugging the sidewalks. That intense foot traffic wanes around Catalpa Avenue, where the large Jewel-Osco supermarket breaks up the parade of storefront windows with two blocks of parking lot and blank wall. The pop-up park will hopefully entice more people to wander past the Jewel-Osco, north of Bryn Mawr, and patronize the local coffee shops, restaurants, and home furnishing stores at Clark’s northern tip.

A large Jewel-Osco parking lot breaks up the cozy, storefront feel of Andersonville – but there’s more to see further north, too. Photo: Google Street View.

Olive was also selected for the project in the hopes that it will introduce local residents to the positive benefits of having more lasting public space in their neighborhood. Bonanno hopes that the pop-up park in Andersonville warms people to the idea, after local residents expressed skepticism last year about turning one block into a park or public plaza.

Bonanno cited Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square as an example. Situated between busy Lawrence Avenue and quiet Leland Avenue, and perpendicular to the traffic-calmed oasis of Lincoln Avenue, the plaza was once a through street but was converted to a public plaza in 1979. At first, drivers complained that the plaza was an inconvenience, but nowadays, the city would have a very hard time convincing anyone that the popular space would be worth giving up in favor of a few parking spaces and some cut-through traffic. Like Kempf Plaza, Olive has relatively few entrances directly facing it.

The pop-up park, just around the corner from The Coffee Studio and its parklet, will feature places to sit and enjoy some grub from food trucks. Visitors will get a chance to play bocce ball and perhaps some other games, such as life-size chess. Musicians will also perform and a family friendly movie, “The March of the Penguins,” will be shown outside from 8-10 PM.

The event will take place on Friday, July 25th and Friday, August 29th, from 4-10 PM, on Olive Street between Ashland and Clark.

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Quinn Borrows $1.1 Billion to Keep IDOT’s Steamrollers Going

Governor Quinn Signs $1.1 Billion   Capital Construction Bill

Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill in front of workers at the Circle Interchange construction site today. Photo: IDOT

Governor Pat Quinn signed two bills today that allow the state to issue $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds to spend on highway resurfacing, widening, and bridge repair. The bills explicitly exclude transit from the new funds, and while they don’t seem to exclude bike lanes, trails, or sidewalks, all of the funds are already obligated to car-centric road projects [PDF].

Erica Borggren, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a press release, “This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs.”

What the economy and our transportation system also need is an efficient and sustainable way for users to pay the system’s ongoing costs — rather than a stopgap that socks future taxpayers, whether transit riders or pedestrians or drivers, with big loan payments. Keep in mind that today, Illinois has the country’s worst credit rating, and thus pays the highest interest rate of any state — 42 percent more interest than usual.

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported that “the plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to study where the money would go.” The answer, as with most anything related to IDOT spending, is “overwhelmingly Downstate.”

Just over four percent of the funds will be spent in Chicago, home to 22 percent of the state’s population. Most of that will go to reconstruct and replace the bridges and viaducts on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), between the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) and South Lake Shore Drive. $700,000 will be spent to resurface 0.6 miles of South Michigan Avenue in Washington Park.

Just under 37 percent of the funds will be spent in the six-county Chicagoland area, and the majority of that will go to exurbs and rural areas. This might prove convenient for Quinn during an election year, especially given the dwindling fund balance in his signature “Illinois Jobs Now!” program. The program has just $115 million left to spend, according to IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin.

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