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Experts and Advocates Weigh in on Rauner’s Proposal to Widen the Stevenson

Sunday morning Stevenson

The Stevenson, just west of the Dan Ryan. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

On Thursday, Governor Bruce Rauner announced a new proposal to address congestion on the Stevenson Expressway, aka I-55, by adding lanes. The construction would be financed via a public-private partnership, and the new lanes would be tolled. Revenue would go to the concessionaire, allowing them to recoup their investment.

The so-called “managed lanes” would be an option for drivers who are willing to pay a premium to bypass traffic, while the existing lanes would not be tolled. Some local transportation exports and advocated lauded the plan as a creative way to address congestion woes. But others argued that our region’s focus should be on providing better alternatives to single-occupant vehicle commutes, rather than simply building more capacity for them.

The proposed lanes would cover a 25-mile stretch of the Stevenson between the Dan Ryan Expressway and the Veteran’s Memorial Tollway, a segment that carries about 170,000 vehicles a day. The plan calls for adding at least one lane in each direction, at an estimated cost of $425 million. The P3 model would need to be approved by a majority of state lawmakers.

The new lanes would feature “congestion pricing” – the toll price would vary according to the number of cars in the managed lanes, as well as the rest of the expressway. Rauner said it’s possible that drivers with one or more passengers might be allowed to use the new lanes without paying a toll. The state hopes to finalize a design by this spring and start construction by late 2017.

The Metropolitan Planning Council pushed for several years in Springfield for legislation to enable this kind of public-private partnership, which passed in 2011. MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey said his organization applauds Rauner’s proposal, adding that adding capacity to I-55 is listed as a priority in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 regional plan.

“Experience shows that simply adding another regular lane will not ease congestion in the long term: once that capacity is there, it will just fill up,” Skosey said. “Putting a variable-priced toll on that lane lets you manage demand and keep it free-flowing. If you’re really in a time crunch, you have the choice to take that lane.”

Skosey argued that the new lane would also make taking the bus a more attractive choice. “[Pace’s] current Bus-on-Shoulder service has been incredibly successful, but it isn’t able to use the shoulder for the whole corridor and it’s limited to 35 mph. This lane would give it a continuous path and let it go as fast as 55 mph, improving reliability and opening the door to more frequent service.”

Steve Schlickmann, the former head of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center, agreed that the governor’s plan makes sense. “The combination of high congestion in regular travel lanes and insufficient growth in federal and state funding to maintain Illinois roads and transit, makes I-55 managed toll lanes a reasonable approach to address congestion and to help pay for I-55’s on-going maintenance needs,” he said.

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Senior Killed at Location Where the City Chose Not to Mark a Crosswalk

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A senior crosses in an unmarked crosswalk at Surf and Broadway yesterday afternoon. That morning, a 69-year-old woman was killed in the same crosswalk.

Early yesterday morning, a 69-year-old woman was struck and killed by a driver in an unmarked crosswalk at Surf Street and Broadway in Lakeview. Less than two years ago, the city decided not to stripe a visible crosswalk at this location, which might have reminded the driver to watch for pedestrians. Why? Because the intersection was deemed too dangerous for a marked crosswalk.

Surf and Broadway actually meet at two different intersections. As you approach Broadway from the west on Surf, located about half a block north of Diversey, there’s a T intersection with crosswalks marked on all three legs. About 200 feet south, as you approach Broadway from the east on Surf, there’s a second T intersection, but there’s only a marked crosswalk on the east leg.

However, according to Streetsblog reader J. Patrick Lynch, who lives next door to the southern intersection, many residents, including plenty of seniors, regularly cross at this intersection in order to reach Walmart, T.J. Maxx, and other retail south of Surf Street. It is legal for them to use the unmarked crosswalks at the north and south legs of the T, even though the lack of striped crosswalks makes it less likely that motorists will be watching out for them.

Police News Affairs reported that Wednesday’s crash happened at Broadway and Diversey. However, an aerial photograph that accompanied a Tribune article about the case showed that police actually taped off the south leg of the southernmost Surf/Broadway intersection.

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The crash took place in the southernmost intersection of Surf and Broadway, in the south leg of the intersection. Image: Google Maps

According to Officer Anna Pacheco from News Affairs, the driver was making a right turn onto southbound Broadway at 6:05 a.m. when he or she struck the woman. This indicates that the motorist exited a parking garage on the west side of the T before striking the senior in the unmarked crosswalk in the south leg of the intersection. Pacheco did not state whether victim was crossing eastbound or westbound.

The woman was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. Her identity has not yet been released, pending notification of next of kin. No charges have been filed against the driver, who stayed at the crash site.

Back in January 2014, Lynch emailed 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney to alert him that, due to the increased foot traffic at the intersection at the intersection generated by the then-new Walmart, a marked crosswalk was needed. “I am concerned about the safety of pedestrians who routinely cross at Broadway and Surf,” Lynch wrote. He recommended striping the crosswalk on the north leg of the T because it wouldn’t conflict with the garage exit or require the removal of metered parking.

Lynch’s request was forward to Sougata Deb, Tunney’s infrastructure specialist. When Lynch followed up that March, Deb acknowledged that the unmarked crosswalks at Surf/Broadway got plenty of use. “I cross here at least three times a week, so I understand the benefit of having a crosswalk here,” he wrote.

However, that April, after Chicago Department of Transportation staff surveyed the intersection, Deb told Lynch the engineers had decided against striping a crosswalk. They reasoned that the crossing would conflict with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines because it would be too close to the garage exit and a light pole, which would block sight lines.

Lynch then asked Deb if the light pole could be relocated, or if a crosswalk on the south leg of the intersection might be feasible. Deb replied that the garage exit made it unfeasible to install crosswalks on either side of Surf. He also brought up a new argument against the crosswalks: since there’s a slight curve in Broadway between Diversey and Surf, drivers have limited visibility on this stretch.

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Chicago Joins Vision Zero Network While Pedestrian Fatality Rate is in Flux

AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo questioned the efficacy of doing motorist outreach when red light running is "epidemic" in Chicago.

AARP Illinois state director Bob Gallo questioned the efficacy of doing motorist outreach (“High Visibility Crosswalk Enforcement”) when red light running is “epidemic” in Chicago.

At yesterday’s quarterly meeting of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld mentioned the “somber” statistics that there was a significant increase in Chicago pedestrian fatalities in 2015 compared to previous years.

There were 35 pedestrian deaths in the city in 2014, according to official Illinois Department of Transportation figures, and 46 fatalities in 2015, according to unofficial figures from the Chicago Police Department – a 24-percent increase. IDOT data for 2015 won’t be available until the fall.

“This is still a decrease if you look at the 10-year trend,” Scheinfeld said. “We are headed in the right direction for the long-term trend, but we still have our work cut out for us.”

As part of Chicago’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths, last month it was announced that the city would be joining the Vision Zero Network as one of ten focus cities this year. “Each focus city will have a multi-departmental effort,” Scheinfeld said at the MPAC meeting. “We will have reps from the Chicago Police Department, CDOT, Department of Public Health, and the Mayor’s Office.”

“Vision Zero is an international traffic safety movement guided by the principle that no loss of life on our streets is acceptable,” explained Active Transportation Alliance campaign director Kyle Whitehead in a blog post last week.

Nearly a year ago, the group noted that Chicago had already created several resources for analyzing what’s causing crashes throughout the city and determining how they can be prevented, including the Chicago Pedestrian Plan, the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and Chicago Forward Action Agenda. However, they noted that there was no Vision Zero action plan at the time – which is still true today.

Scheinfeld noted two trends that CDOT has seen among last year’s pedestrian fatalities. Despite the growing number of speed cameras in the city, she said “we still saw a significant amount” of pedestrian fatalities “hit by motor vehicles that were moving at excessively high speeds.” And more than half – 56 percent – of the deadly crashes occurred in or very near intersections.

The commissioner credited speed cameras for reducing crashes and injuries near parks and schools. She said that in locations where cameras were installed in 2013, there were 18 percent fewer injury crashes in 2014, compared to only a four percent reduction citywide. The total number of crashes in 2014 at locations with speed cameras fell two percent, while crashes were up by six percent citywide.

Deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton said that speeding violations dropped an average of 53 percent in the first 90 days after camera installation, and that most vehicles issued a citation aren’t cited again. “So [drivers are] learning from having this violation imposed on them,” Hamilton said. “That’s the intention in the first place, to teach people it’s not acceptable to speed.”

CDOT pedestrian program manager Eric Hanss shared his analysis of pedestrian crash and injury data for the ten-year period of 2005-2014. “When we look at the ten year [interval, pedestrian crashes are] down, but when we look at five years, it’s flatter.”

Hanss said that nowadays in Chicago, fewer than 3,000 pedestrians are struck annually, and the decline in pedestrian crashes is occurring at a faster rate than the city’s overall decline in crashes.

Because people on foot are more likely to die if a crash occurs than any other type of road user, CDOT is focusing its efforts on reducing pedestrian crashes, Hanss said. Fourteen percent of pedestrians involved in collisions are seriously injured or killed, compared to only 1.2 percent of all people involved in crashes.

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Eyes on the Street: A Miniature Complete Streets Overhaul on Clarendon

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Looking south on Clarendon, south of Irving Park. This stretch was formerly two-way for motor vehicles but now has a parking-protected contraflow bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Here’s a nice little livable streets makeover in Lakeview. The city recently converted the short stretch of Clarendon between Irving Park and Broadway, changing it from a two-way roadway for motorized traffic to a one-way northbound street for cars with a northbound conventional bike lane and a southbound, contraflow protected lane.

“CDOT received a request from [46th Ward alderman James] Cappleman to evaluate the intersection of North Broadway and Clarendon Avenue,” explained Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey. “Residents had expressed interest in redesigning the intersection in order to reduce conflicts between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, and to improve overall safety and accessibility.”

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The previous layout on Clarendon, looking south from Irving Park. The crossing distance for pedestrians has been significantly shortened. Image: Google Street View

CDOT performed a traffic study and evaluated several options before deciding on the new configuration, Claffey said. “This conversion removed the conflict between vehicles on southbound Clarendon at the Broadway and Clarendon intersection and vehicles and bicyclists on Broadway,” he said.

As a bonus, the protected lane and the concrete cap at the north end of the adjacent parking lane significantly shortens the crossing distance for pedestrians at the south leg of Irving Park and Clarendon. Construction was finished in November 2015 in conjunction with the repaving of this block of Clarendon.

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The Belmont Flyover Has Federal Approval But Still Faces Other Hurdles

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A crowded Red Line train during the morning rush. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

When I recently rode the Red Line downtown during the morning rush, my rail car was as packed as a sardine can by the time we left the Belmont stop. Damon Lockett, a copywriter who commutes daily from Edgewater to River North, told me that overcrowded trains are typical during peak hours nowadays.

“They don’t run enough trains,” said Lockett, who moved here from New York City about a year ago. “You’re waiting ten or 15 minutes for a train, while the platform’s just loading up with people.”

The CTA is planning to address overcrowding on north-side el lines with the upcoming Red-Purple Modernization project. This multibillion-dollar initiative will completely overhaul the nearly 100-year-old Red Line from Belmont to Howard and the Purple Line from Belmont to Linden, in suburban Wilmette.

The agency says the project’s single most important time-saving and capacity-building element is the Red-Purple Bypass, better known as the Belmont flyover. This $570 million proposal would unsnarl the junction north of Belmont—where Brown Line trains cross Red and Purple Line tracks—by building a roller-coaster-like overpass.’

The flyover, and the rest of the modernization plan, recently got the federal go-ahead after passing an environmental review by the Federal Transit Administration. Construction could start as early as late 2017. But hurdles to the project remain: the CTA still needs to find $1.9 billion in funding for the first phase of plan, and many central Lakeview residents are bitterly opposed to the flyover, which would require the demolition of 16 buildings.

Local transit experts and advocates argue that the flyover is essential for meeting future demand. Ridership along the Red Line corridor north of Belmont grew by 40 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.

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Eyes on the Street: Eight TOD Buildings Under Construction Along Milwaukee

500 N Milwaukee: The Kenect building overlooks a busy intersection

The “Kenect” pair of buildings at 500 N Milwaukee Ave, photographed last Thursday, will have 227 units and 88 car parking spaces. View all the photos in this gallery.

The Chicago City Council passed the first comprehensive transit-oriented development ordinance in 2013, and the first buildings to take advantage of that law, which reduced the minimum parking requirement and allowed smaller or more units in buildings near CTA and Metra stations, are now being built. Some of them will open to new residents this year.

The Milwaukee Avenue corridor is replete with construction. There are eight buildings at various stages of construction on Milwaukee, or one block away, between the Grand Blue Line station at Halsted and the California Blue Line station, a distance just over three miles.

Collectively the buildings have 1,146 units and 572 car parking spaces, for an average parking space to unit ratio of just under 0.50 spaces. That’s a savings of 574 parking spaces, and hundreds of fewer drivers in a pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and retail-heavy corridor.

2211 N Milwaukee: "The L" building really grabs that corner with Talman

“The L” at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave. (at Talman Ave.) will have 120 units and 60 car parking spaces, but also 120 bike parking spaces with an exclusive bike entrance.

The TOD ordinance at the time allowed a reduction of the normally required 1 parking space per unit to 1 car space per 2 units. City Council revised the ordinance on its two-year anniversary last year to extend the distance a building can be from a train station, and to allow a 100 percent reduction in the number of required car parking spaces for residential buildings. Developers can now build 51-100 percent fewer parking spaces than the 1:2 ratio if they go through an additional zoning process.

There are still no TOD buildings near Metra stations.

2237 N Milwaukee: Crane in the sky

The unnamed two towers development in Logan Square one block from the California Blue Line station was probably the most controversial. View all the photos in this gallery.

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Oboi Reed: Colombia Offers Lessons for the American Bike Equity Movement

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A Ciclovía worker in Bogotá. Photo: Oboi Reed

Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed has traveled to a number of biking hotspots around the U.S. this year, to learn about how other American cities are working to promote bike equity, and talk about his group’s efforts to encourage cycling in communities of color on Chicago’s South and West Sides. But his latest fact-finding journey took him further afield, to Colombia, South America, where he recently spent 11 days checking out car-free Ciclovía events and meeting with local city planners, bike advocates, and activists.

“I’ve been watching the work Colombia has done for biking from afar, and I’ve been incredibly inspired by the Ciclovía movement and had a desire to see Bogotá’s Ciclovía for myself,” he said. While organizations like the advocacy group People for Bikes have funded trips for American politicians, planners, and advocates to bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, Reed’s trip was paid for by Slow Roll Chicago, a nonprofit organization.

“I felt like there was too much focus in the U.S. on European cities as models for how to make American cities more livable,” Reed said. “But European cities don’t really resonate with low-to-moderate-income, black and brown people. We don’t really connect with Copenhagen or Stockholm culturally or historically, and there’s not a big presence of people of color in those cities, although there certainly is a presence.”

Reed adds that while American conversations about European-style cycling tend to focus on biking as a form of transportation, that’s not Slow Roll’s focus. “We would love that in our neighborhoods as well, but we are most interested in bicycles as a vehicle for social change, as a way to improve health, reduce violence, and create jobs. If you have no job, or you’re overweight, or you’re concerned about safety, we have to address those issues before we can convince you that bicycling is a form of transportation.”

Reed said Latin America, and particularly Colombia, has a lot the U.S. bike equity movement can learn from. “There’s a connection for our members of Latino descent, and in many countries there’s also a strong presence of African-descended people, which is the case in Colombia,” he said. “That allows us to make this social and cultural connection to biking that doesn’t really exist with these European models. And in Colombia, they’re using bicycles to address the same issues we’re working on: safety, health, and economic opportunity.”

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Reed in the La Candaleria district of Bogotá with a local professor and a staff member from the city agency that runs the Ciclovía. Photo: Oboi Reed

Before the trip, Reed did research on people and organizations to connect with in Colombia. Active Transportation Alliance campaign director Jim Merrell, who travels to the country regularly with his wife to visit family, helped put Reed in touch with bike community leaders in Bogotá, the capital and largest city, and Medellín, the second-largest city. Reed also got tips from the SRAM Cycling Fund‘s Randy Neufeld and Gil Peñalosa, the former parks commissioner of Bogotá who helped expand the Ciclovía and now runs the Ottawa-based livable streets organization 8 80 Cities.

While in Bogotá, Reed got to ride in the local Ciclovía twice, once with Oscar Ruiz, who’s the head of the city agency who runs the event. “He told me about the nuts and bolts of how it works,” Reed said. “The events draws more than 1.5 million people every Sunday and holiday in cities around the country.”

He also rode with Jaime Ortiz Mariño, a bike advocate who organized the very first Ciclovía in 1974, when the country was in the midst of a civil war. “He was concerned that a bomb would go off during the event,” Reed said. “But one of the leftist rebels was quoted in a newspaper saying, if there’s one thing we will never touch, it’s the Ciclovía, because that represents the people.”

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South Siders Spar Over Proposed Stony Island Protected Bike Lanes

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Elihu Blanks and Waymond Smith on Stony Island, a few blocks north of the Skyway access ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For much of its length, Stony Island Avenue is basically an expressway with stoplights. Located on the southeast side between 56th and 130th, it generally has eight travel lanes, the same number as Lake Shore Drive, although it carries half as many vehicles per day—35,000 versus 70,000. Due to this excess lane capacity, speeding is rampant.

The city has proposed converting a lane or two of Stony between 67th and 79th into protected bike lanes. Some residents, and Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, fear the “road diet” would cause traffic jams, and argue the street is too dangerous for bike lanes. Other neighbors say Stony is too dangerous not to have them.

According to the Chicago Crash Browser website, created by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, 53 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists were injured along Stony Island between 67th Street (the southern border of Jackson Park) and 79th Street (where access ramps connect Stony with the Chicago Skyway) between 2010 and 2013.

Two pedestrians and a person in a car  were killed in crashes on this stretch between 2010 and 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. Last year was unusually deadly, with two fatal pedestrian crashes and two bike fatalities.

The complex intersection of Stony Island, 79th, and South Chicago, a diagonal street, is particularly problematic. Located beneath a mess of serpentine Skyway access ramps, the six-way junction has terrible sightlines. It was the site of 444 traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013, the most of any Chicago intersection, according to CDOT.

Adding protected bike lanes could change this equation, making Stony, among other things, a useful bike route. Due to the Chicago Skyway and other barriers like railroad tracks, cul-de-sacs, and a cemetery, it’s one of the few continuous north-south streets in this part of town.

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CNT Study of D.C. Parking Could Pave the Way for Better Chicago Policies

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A screen shot from Park Right DC development tool, which Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology helped create.

Chicago’s City Council recently passed a beefed-up transit-oriented development ordinance that eliminates parking minimums for new residential buildings near transit. However, new development outside of the TOD zones still are still generally required to provide a parking space for every unit.

A report co-authored by Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology provides more evidence that this kind of arbitrary parking mandate is inappropriate. It makes an argument that instead of parking minimums, evidence-based projections should be used to determine how many – if any – spaces should be built. The study, which focused on Washington, D.C., was honored last week as the best transportation and land use paper of 2016 by the Transportation Research Board.

CNT did similar research in the Seattle metro area about five years ago when King County Metro, the region’s transit agency, hired the nonprofit to look at parking use at multiunit buildings in the area, according to CNT’s chief research scientist Peter Haas. A subcontractor did parking counts at about 230 buildings in downtown Seattle, the neighborhoods, and suburban areas, tallying the number of cars parked late at night on weekdays, to get a sense of the total number of automobiles owned by residents.

The King County study also took into account the building size, income levels of the residents, transit access, and the density of people and employment in the surrounding areas. “We found that just about everybody had built too much parking,” Haas said. “Only about 60 percent of the spaces were being used.”

Using that data, the researchers developed the King County Right Size Parking Calculator, which provides estimated projections of the number of parking spaces per unit that are likely to be used at multiunit developments in different parts of the county. Seattle has since changed its zoning to allow for zero off-street parking in new buildings on transit corridors.

Leaders in Washington, D.C. who wanted to make an argument for reducing parking minimums heard about the King County study. The D.C. transportation and planning departments contracted CNT and other consultants to do the same thing within the city limits.

This time, the researchers looked at about 120 buildings and did a statistical regression for factors like transit access, job access (with a breakdown for retail jobs), and walkability. Once again, they found that parking was overbuilt by about 40 percent. “That seemed odd, but when we brought it up with the people in D.C., they said that’s what they had estimated anecdotally,” Haas said.

The consultants used the data to create Park Right DC, a similar tool as the King County calculator. The DC version lets you zoom in on a neighborhood, click on one or more parcels, and predict how many parking spaces would be needed for various kinds of developments on the site. The DC projections range from 0.3 to 0.9 parking spaces per unit.

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City Tries to Avoid Liability by Calling Bike Lanes “Recreational Property”

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The crash site at 1124 North Damen. Image: Google Street View

At a hearing in the Circuit Court of Cook County last week, a judge denied a motion by the city of Chicago’s law department to dismiss a lawsuit by a female bicyclist who was seriously injured after she struck a hole in one of the Damen bike lanes. The law department argued that the bike lane is “recreational property” and, as such, the city should have limited liability. The plaintiff’s attorney, Brendan Kevenides from FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) argues that if the judge had accepted this reasoning, it would have set a dangerous precedent for local cyclists.

According to the lawsuit, on September 5, 2014, Kirstie Shanley was riding her bike near 1124 North Damen in Ukrainian Village when she struck a sinkhole, which was hard to see because it was filled with water and obscured by a puddle. Shanley, now a 35-year-old occupational therapist, was thrown over her handlebars and suffered significant facial injuries, including broken teeth and bad scarring, Kevenides said.

Following the crash, Shanley called local alderman Scott Waguespack’s office.  She told them what happened and that she planned to hire an attorney. Soon afterwards, the hole was fixed.  

Prior to the crash, someone had circled the hole with red spray paint, which indicated that the city was aware of the hole, according to Kevenides. “Who else would have marked that?” he said. “Of course the city is not responsible for keeping bike lanes in pristine condition – that would be impossible. But they should be held responsible for for failing to repair hazards in bike lanes that they’re aware of, or should be aware of.” Shanley is suing the city for more than $50,000.

Last fall, the law department filed the motion to dismiss, arguing that “the bike lane where Plaintiff claims she fell is recreational property for which the city has tort immunity.” The city cited Section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act [emphasis added in the motion]:

Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury where the liability is based on the existence of a condition of any public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes, including but not limited to parks, playgrounds, open areas, buildings or other enclosed recreational facilities, unless such local entity or public employee is guilty of willful and wanton conduct proximately causing such injury.

The law department therefore claimed that, since the city hadn’t willfully or wantonly neglected the maintenance of the bike lane, the suit was invalid.

Law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey told me the department feels Kevenides has mischaracterized its actions. McCaffrey did not provide a full statement on the issue by press time. If they provide a statement, I’ll update this post.

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