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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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Speed Cameras Issue 1.25 Million Warnings, Cut Speeding 43%

Speed camera near Gompers Park

The first speed camera, at Gompers Park, was turned on nearly a year ago.

The City of Chicago’s automated speed enforcement system continues to succeed in reducing dangerous speeding around parks and schools. The Chicago Department of Transportation issued a press release earlier this month, stating that the number of speeding cars observed by its 51 speed cameras has fallen an average of 43 percent ever since the first week of the cameras’ operation. At some locations, the number of speeders dropped as much as 99 percent.

These stats continue the pattern established early on — just three weeks after a handful of speed cameras started issuing tickets, the number of cars seen speeding had already dropped 65 percent.

The 11-month-old speed camera program started almost a year ago with one installation at Gompers Park, and since then the program has issued “more than 1.25 million warnings to motorists.” Written warnings are issued within a camera’s first 30 days of operation, as well as on the first instance that a motorist is caught speeding, in any zone. Tickets are only issued when drivers exceed the speed limit by 10 mph or more.

The release also said motorists received 230,000 citations. That five warnings are issued for every citation might indicate that many motorists receive warnings, and don’t speed through safety zones again.

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Altgeld Gardens Residents Campaigning for Sidewalk on 130th Street

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Deloris Lucas and Victor Maurice Flemings Sr. at Rosebud Farm Stand on 130th Street. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Altgeld Gardens is really secluded,” Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Bell recently told me. “It’s like its own city.” The area, which includes the housing project of the same name, plus the Concordia Place, Riverside Village and Golden Gate subdivisions, is located by a bend in the Calumet River on the Far South Side, surrounded by industrial land and isolated from other neighborhoods.

Bell has been assisting the local Safety Transportation Advisory Council, residents who want to improve conditions for walking, biking and transit use. “They have a lot of issues with the built environment, like missing sidewalks and crosswalks,” she said. “They’re really underserved.”

Deloris Lucas, a former Chicago Public Schools employee and longtime Golden Gate resident who’s spearheading the council, has been working hard to change that. In particular, she’s upset that 130th Street, the interstate-like roadway that walls in the community from the north, has no sidewalk. That forces people walking to Rosebud Farm Stand, the area’s only source for fresh produce and healthy groceries, from the west, to trudge along a narrow, muddy dirt trail by the side of the road. The store is located at 525 East 130th.

The path is a textbook example of a “desire line,” urban planning lingo for a trail blazed by pedestrians who want to walk somewhere, but haven’t been provided with a sidewalk that would allow them to do it in safety, comfort and dignity. To add insult to injury, drainage issues in the market’s parking lot create a permanent pond that pedestrians have to detour around.

Altgeld Gardens was built in 1945 to provide housing for African-American vets returning from World War II, and named after John Peter Altgeld, the Illinois governor who pardoned three of the Haymarket Affair defendants. “These communities were established decades ago,” Lucas told me when I met her at a local youth center last week. “It’s 2014, and you would think that the neighborhood would have been made safer by now. To me, it’s appalling that people still have to walk through the dirt to get to the store.”

To start organizing for sidewalks and other improvements, Lucas and her neighbors formed the STAC in August 2013, with the motto “Safety Is Our First Priority.” Last November, they partnered with Active Trans and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to do a walkability assessment in the neighborhood. The residents surveyed the area, taking inventory of unsafe walking conditions and brainstorming ways to improve transportation access.

In addition to adding a sidewalk on the south side of 130th between Indiana and Ellis avenues, the STAC members want to install “Stop for Pedestrians” signs at key intersections. They also hope to get more high-visibility crosswalks striped, especially near schools, plus speed humps, pedestrian-refuge islands and wheelchair ramps. And, in an area where many people rely on the bus in order to travel outside their neighborhood, more bus shelters are needed—right now there are only two.

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Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways

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Drivers continue to respect the parking ban on Milwaukee, so there’s sufficient space for northbound cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along, creating new buffered and protected bike lanes this summer. Recently, new stretches of buffered lanes were striped striped in Noble Square, on Noble between Erie and Augusta, and downtown, on Upper Randolph between Michigan and the bike station.

Before I went to check out a couple of new stretches of buffered lanes this morning, I stopped by the construction bottleneck on Milwaukee north of North. I was pleasantly surprised to see that paper “No Parking” signs are still affixed to poles on the east side of the block, and drivers seem to be respecting them. As a result, there’s sufficient road width for north- and southbound cyclists to share the road with motorists fairly safely.

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Southbound cyclists on Milwaukee have more breathing room now. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, Streetsbog reader Andrew Scalise sent us a photo of a tow truck enforcing the parking ban, which is a likely factor in the compliance by drivers. There are also some safety cones sitting in the gutter.

Next, I dropped by Noble, which now has buttery-smooth new asphalt. Noble has always been a good biking street, but the addition of the good pavement and buffered lanes should make it an even more popular route. The lanes have dead space striped on the right side to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.

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Looking north on Noble by Eckhardt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Noble connects Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, and Erie, a good east-west connection between Ukrainian Village and River West. The new lanes would be even more useful if CDOT striped a contraflow lane on the short, one-way northbound block of Noble between Augusta and Milwaukee.

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

Divvy Bike Share Station

Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

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There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.” That puts expansion plans for cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver – won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015′s equipment orders.

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Eyes on the Street: It’s On For Once-Missing Washington/Michigan Crosswalk

Crosswalk signal finally installed two months after markings

The crosswalk signal was working as of Monday evening.

To help make it easier to walk to the second busiest tourist attraction in Chicago, the Department of Transportation recently reopened a crosswalk across the north leg of the intersection of Michigan and Washington. The crosswalk provides an essential, direct link between the Cultural Center and Millennium Park’s many attractions, like next week’s Milton Suggs Big Band concert.

Crosswalk but no signal at Michigan/Washington

A man, ignoring the now-removed signs, waits for car traffic to clear before he crosses Michigan.

Earlier, Streetsblog reported that the crosswalk markings – which are quite narrow, at about five feet – were installed two months ago. However, the pedestrian signals were only activated this week. In the meantime, many pedestrians walked around the “sidewalk closed” signs and crossed there anyways because, well, people will go wherever it’s convenient. Since pedestrians may or may not have had the right of way during that interim period, there’s no telling who might have been at fault if a crash had happened. Next time, the city should consider installing the signals first — which, admittedly, is more complicated — and better coordinate their activation with the relatively simple task of painting the crosswalks.

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Cost Isn’t the Issue With Palmer Square Speed Tables, NIMBYs Are

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Midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month, a DNAinfo.com article drew attention to a new campaign to improve pedestrian safety at Palmer Square by installing raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. Unfortunately, factual errors in the piece left the impression that raised crosswalks would be an expensive solution that doesn’t have the Chicago Department of Transportation’s approval. It turns out that speed tables would be quite affordable, and CDOT first proposed adding them years ago. Other changes to the roadway could further discourage speeding and enhance the park – if only the park’s neighbors would allow them.

Ever since Palmer Square got new playground equipment and a soft-surface track in 2009, the green space has become increasingly popular with families and other Logan Square residents seeking recreation and relaxation. However, the current street layout encourages fast driving, which endangers people crossing to the park, as well as cyclists on Palmer Boulevard.

The eastbound portion of the boulevard runs south of the oval-shaped park, with two travel lanes plus a bike lane. Stop signs at the three-way intersections of Palmer and Albany Avenue, as well as Palmer and Whipple Street, help to calm motorized traffic.

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On the south side of the park, stop signs at Albany and Whipple help slow down cars. Photo: John Greenfield

However, on the north side of the green space, there are three westbound travel lanes, plus a bike lane. Albany and Whipple don’t continue north of the park, so there are no intersections or stop signs on the quarter-mile stretch between Sacramento and Kedzie boulevards, which makes it easy for drivers to pick up speed.

While there are marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square where Albany and Whipple would be, the three travel lanes create long crossing distances and the so-called “multiple threat” scenario. Even if one driver obeys the law by stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, there’s no guarantee that the motorist in the next lane will do so.

Two churches near the square encourage their parishioners to park in the central lane on the north side of the green space during services and special events. That’s technically illegal, but has been condoned by the local aldermen in the past. This practice further endangers pedestrians, because it makes it more difficult for westbound drivers to see people crossing the street.

As DNAinfo reported, residents have launched an online petition calling for installing raised crosswalks on the northern portion of the boulevard at Albany and Whipple. “A park designed for and frequented by very small children, residential homes and a church borders this portion of the street,” the petition reads. “A school also borders the park and school children often utilize the park for physical education and after school programs. The speeding traffic on the street creates a grave safety hazard.”

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What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

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Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

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