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What’s Going on With Alderman Reilly and the Kinzie Protected Bike Lanes

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This part of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, from the River east to Dearborn, is supposed to be removed during Wolf Point construction. Photo: masMiguel.

Alderman Brendan Reilly submitted an order to city council on Wednesday that would compel Chicago Department of Transportation Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lane between Dearborn and the Chicago River because he says it conflicts with Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In 2013, under former commissioner Gabe Klein, CDOT agreed to a development plan [PDF], which was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and codified into law. The plan called for Hines, the Wolf Point developer, to pay for installing temporary protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie Street bike lanes to facilitate the construction project.

In the long term, it makes sense for there to be bike lanes on both Grand Avenue – already identified as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – and Kinzie Street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition asking other aldermen to oppose Reilly’s order. “Ald. Reilly has proposed installing new bike lanes on Grand Avenue as an alternative,” the petition stated. “But the reality is, people will continue to bike on Kinzie because it is less stressful than Grand Avenue with fewer cars and no buses, not to mention it provides the most logical and direct connection to the central business district.”

CDOT appears to have changed its position about the development plan. Spokesman Mike Claffey underscored the importance of the Kinzie bike lanes in a statement to Streetsblog:

“CDOT has safety concerns about removing the protected bike lanes on Kinzie, which is the second most popular street for bicycling in Chicago. The protected bike lane is in place to reduce conflicts and the risk of accidents between bicyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians. We have been in discussions with the Alderman about these concerns and will continue to work with him on this issue.”

Specifically, the development plan, identified as Planned Development 98, calls for:

  • Temporary removal of the protected bike lanes on Kinzie from Dearborn to Milwaukee
  • Eastbound and westbound PBLs on Grand from Milwaukee to Wells
  • Westbound PBL on Grand from Dearborn to Wells
  • Eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn
  • “An improved bicycle accommodation on Wells Street for cyclists traveling, between Grand Avenue and Illinois Street”

The Kinzie bike lanes are indeed important, but it’s unclear why Scheinfeld is now pushing back against the plan. Reilly told City Council that Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. We asked for a copy of this report but Claffey said he didn’t have one. The development plan also says that all of the developer’s designs for these temporary bicycle accommodations are subject to Scheinfeld’s departmental review.

CDOT could propose retaining the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes throughout the construction project, which started over a year ago. If that’s not feasible, and the bike lanes must come out, the agency should bring back their support for the original plan that temporarily relocates the bike lanes to Grand. However, it’s important the the Kinzie lanes be reinstalled, because Kinzie is the direct and route between the popular protected bike lanes on Milwaukee and bike lanes on Desplaines, Canal, Wells, and Dearborn.

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Bike2Campus Week Encourages Students to Explore Chicago on Two Wheels

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Stan Treger biked to class on the DePaul campus last month. Photo: John Greenfield

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

I kind of hate the phrase “bike season.” Thousands of Chicagoans get around on two wheels all year ‘round. Even in January, there’s still something of a bike rush hour on the Lakefront Trail and Milwaukee Avenue. And all you really need to keep cycling through the Chicago winter is a bike with fenders and lights, and more-or-less the same clothing you’d wear to stay warm while waiting for the bus.

That said, it’s been fun to observe how, following another cold, gray, snowy winter, how the recent sunshine and relatively balmy temperatures have inspired countless people to drag their dusty steeds out of basements. Like rivers swelling from the vernal thaw, the city’s bike lanes have filled up with riders once again.

As part of this spring awakening, a dozen different higher learning institutions will be challenging their students, faculty, and staff to try bicycling to school. The second annual Bike2Campus Week takes next week from Monday to Friday, highlighting cycling as a green, cheap, healthy and fun way to get around.

Participating institutions include City Colleges of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Dominican University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Roosevelt University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Triton College, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago.

The concept is similar to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge, in which different companies and organizations compete with each other to record the most cycling trips and win prizes and bragging rights. There are a number of ways Bike2Campus participants can get credit toward earning schwag. They can log their bike trips for the week at Bike2Campus.com, pass the League of Illinois Bicyclists’ online safety quiz, share photos from their commute on social media via the hashtag #chibike2campus, or participate in cycling events on their campus.

“We had ten schools participating last year, and the Art Institute of Chicago was the top dog,” says John Wawrzaszek, sustainability manager at Columbia (and a Newcity contributor), who’s helping to organize the program as part of the Chicagoland Bike 2 Campus Coalition. Divvy provided the trophy, made from a front basket from a decommissioned bike-share vehicle affixed to a wooden pedestal. “We’re trying to do a Stanley Cup thing this year, where the winner will move the trophy around the city,” Wawrzaszek says.

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FHWA Will Help Cities Get Serious About Measuring Biking and Walking

This bike counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about biking rates. Photo: via The Fast Lane Blog

This counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about bike trips on Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF

The lack of good data on walking and biking is a big problem. Advocates say current metrics yield a spotty and incomplete picture of how much, where, and why Americans walk and bike. The U.S. Census only tells us about commuting — a fairly small share of total trips. The more detailed National Household Transportation Survey comes with its own drawbacks: It’s conducted infrequently and doesn’t provide useful data at a local scale.

Without a good sense of people’s active transportation habits, it’s hard to draw confident conclusions not only about walking and biking rates, but also about safety and other critical indicators that can guide successful policy at the local level. A new program from the Federal Highway Administration aims to help fill the gap.

U.S. DOT announced today that FHWA will help local transportation planners gather more sophisticated data on walking and biking. The agency has selected metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in 10 regions — Providence, Buffalo, Richmond, Puerto Rico, Palm Beach, Fresno, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Memphis — to lead its new “Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Program.”

FHWA says the program will provide funding for equipment to measure biking and walking trips. Writing on U.S. DOT’s Fast Lane blog, FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau adds that “each MPO will receive technical assistance in the process of setting up the counters; uploading, downloading and analyzing the data; and –most importantly– using the data to improve the planning process in their community.”

The first counts will be available in December. Following the initial pilot, a second round of regions may be chosen to participate, Nadeau writes.

This would be an enormous improvement over what they do in Cleveland, where I live, as well as many other regions: recruit volunteers to stand at intersections with clipboards once a year and count cyclists by hand.

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Twice as Many Pedestrian and Bike Deaths So Far in 2015 as Previous Years

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Elizabeth Peralta-Luna and her two children were fatally struck by a semi driver in March.

So far, 2015 has been a deadly year for pedestrian and bike crashes in Chicago. By this time in 2013, there had been six pedestrian fatalities, including three hit-and-runs, and no bike fatalities. By mid-April of 2014, there had also been six pedestrian deaths, five of which were hit-and-runs, and zero bike deaths. However, as of last Sunday, there have been ten pedestrians fatalities this year, including four hit-and-runs, and two bike fatalities, both of which involved drivers who fled. Here’s a recap of the cases.

On New Year’s Day, at about 1:30 a.m., a hit-and-run minivan driver fatally struck Aimer Roblado, 30, as he rode his bike on the 4700 block of West Division in West Humboldt Park. Robledo, a construction worker and DJ who lived on the 1400 block of North Avers, was cycling east when he was struck by the driver of a dark-colored minivan, who fled the scene. The victim was pronounced dead two hours later. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

On Friday, January 2, at around 1:20 p.m., a pickup truck driver fatally struck Nancy Sell, 59, on the 7500 block of North Clark Street in Rogers Park. Sell, who lived nearby on the 7400 block of North Greenview, was a cancer awareness advocate who had previously been struck by a bus driver and had undergone six months of physical therapy to learn how to walk and talk again, according to DNAinfo. She died on Saturday, January 10, from brain injuries sustained in the recent crash. The driver of the Ford F-250 received several tickets.

On Friday, January 15, at about 6:25 a.m., an SUV driver struck and killed Maria Hernandez, 58, in the 3600 block of West Addison in Avondale, by the Addison Blue Line station. The motorist, 41, exited the Kennedy Expressway northbound and then made a left turn to go west on Addison. She struck Hernandez as the pedestrian was crossing Addison northbound in a crosswalk. Hernandez, who lived nearby on the 3800 block of West Addison, was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Police did not cite the driver, the Tribune reported.

On Saturday, January 17, at around 10:10 p.m., car driver Jose Estrada, 24, fatally struck pedestrians Raman Cruz, 36, and Pablo Esquivel-Vega, believed to be in his 50s, on the 4300 block of West North Avenue in Hermosa. The victims were crossing North Avenue when Estrada struck them with his 2002 Buick and allegedly sped away, the Tribune reported. The two men were pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Estrada collided with three parked vehicles a few blocks from the scene of the first crash and was apprehended by police. Prosecutors said the driver had a blood-alcohol content of 0.157, almost twice the legal limit. He was charged with two felony counts of aggravated DUI, plus a misdemeanor charge and failure to reduce speed.

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Other Issues Aside, It Was a Good Election for Transportation

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Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Whether you were rooting for Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García, I think most Streetsblog readers will agree that there were some positive outcomes for sustainable transportation in yesterday’s municipal runoff election. Regardless of how you feel about Emanuel in terms of the economy, education, crime, transparency, ethics, and other issues, it’s safe to say he was the more progressive candidate when it comes to walking, biking, transit, and traffic safety.

For all his faults, the mayor has racked up an impressive list of transportation achievements during his first term, which got little airtime in the election coverage. These include the successful south Red Line reconstruction, many new and rehabbed ‘L’ stations, and the start of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project. We’ve seen an increased focus on reducing pedestrian fatalities, including plenty of new safety infrastructure. Big projects for bicycling have included dozens of miles of buffered and protected lanes, Divvy bike-share, and the Bloomingdale Trail.

García’s transportation platform, which voiced support for the Transit Future campaign for a dedicated funding at the county level, as well as for winning a fair share of state transportation dollars for the Chicago region, suggested that he understands the need for a high-quality transit system. When I interviewed him for Newcity magazine, the commissioner also said he was interested in creating a line item in the city budget for pedestrian infrastructure, and he praised Emanuel’s bike initiatives.

However, there were indications that the rate of transportation progress would have slowed down under a García administration. He told me he’s in favor of road diets and protected bike lanes, both of which became common over the last four years. However, he said that a more extensive community input is needed for road diets, and he would only install PBLs “where there’s good support for building [them.]”

Worse, the commissioner’s positions on automated traffic enforcement and the city’s plan for BRT on Ashland Avenue were downright reactionary, and seemed calculated to attract votes from disgruntled drivers. García and the other mayoral challengers deserve credit for drawing attention to ways that the Emanuel administration mismanaged the traffic cam program, including questionable locations, malfunctioning cameras and more. As a result, the mayor recently pledged to remove red light cams from low-crash intersections and make other changes to help rebuild Chicagoan’s confidence in the program.

However, García threw out the baby with the bathwater by promising abolish, rather than reform, automated enforcement if elected, even though numerous studies have shown that well placed cams have been very successful in reducing serious crashes and fatalities in other cities. Although he argued that the program unfairly targeted low-income and working-class Chicagoans, there’s actually a higher density of cams in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods. Moreover, Chicago’s worst intersections for pedestrian crashes involving children are located in low-income neighborhoods and, from my experience scanning news stories for Today’s Headlines, it appears that the majority of serious traffic crashes take place on the South and West Sides.

Likewise, García’s opposition to the Ashland BRT plan, which would nearly double bus speeds via dedicated lanes and other time-saving features, appeared to be a case of pandering to motorists. “This project cannot be approved in its current form, and frankly may never be appropriate for approval,” he told the Sun-Times.

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A Look at Two Big Chicagoland Trail Projects: The Bloomingdale and Cal-Sag

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Beth White on the Bloomingdale Trail’s bridge over Humboldt Boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

The Trust for Public Land’s Beth White is a petite woman with a light southern accent, despite the fact that she’s lived much of her life in here in Chicago. She hands me an oversized white hardhat and an orange safety vest, and we walk a couple of blocks from a construction office through the December gloom to the worksite for the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606. This 2.7-mile elevated trail and linear park is slated to open in June. When it does, it’s certain to become one of the Windy City’s signature public spaces.

The Bloomingdale, which is being built on the old rail embankment of the same name, will stretch across four economically and culturally diverse neighborhoods on Chicago’s Northwest Side, providing a gorgeous space for strolling, running, biking, and relaxing. Meanwhile, in the city’s near south suburbs, the Cal-Sag Trail — a 26-mile multiuse path that will run almost entirely along the banks of the Cal-Sag Channel and the Calumet River — is partly completed and should be finished by 2018. Both greenways are great examples of how grassroots advocacy, efforts by municipalities and national nonprofits, and federal funding can combine to create projects with big economic, environmental, and health benefits.

White leads me up the embankment at a trailheads in Julia de Burgos Park, named after the late Puerto Rican nationalist and feminist poet who is a hero to many residents of Humboldt Park, the largely Latino community to the south. The railroad right-of-way runs about 16 feet above street level, and it averages only about 30 feet wide, but it will soon be home to colorful plantings and art installations. There’s already a 14-foot-wide ribbon of concrete that will become the multiuse path. “The story of the 606 is a unique combination of passion and perseverance,” White says. “Those things don’t often go together.”

Read the rest of the story at Rails to Trails Magazine.

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What Would Jesús Ride? Talking Transportation With Jesús “Chuy” García

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García with CTA customers at a Woodlawn bus shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

[The full text of this interview runs in Newcity magazine.]

For most of the campaign, mayoral hopeful Jesús “Chuy” García has been relatively quiet about transportation issues, except for his vocal opposition to Chicago’s automated traffic enforcement program. Most recently, following the revelation that a former top aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied for awarding the latest red light contract to Xerox, García announced that he would shut down all of the city’s traffic cameras on his first day as mayor.

The Emanuel campaign has noted that, before the Cook County commissioner joined other candidates in criticizing automated enforcement, he supported it. On March 11, 2014, García was part of a narrow majority of commissioners who approved an intergovernmental agreement that allowed Safespeed, LLC to install a red light camera on County property in suburban Forest Park.

Campaign finance records show that Citizens for Jesús García received a $1,500 contribution from Safespeed one day before the vote. When I asked about this issue, a García spokeswoman stated that the donation was from Safespeed president and CEO Nikki Zollar, a “thirty-year-old friend” of the commissioner, and it did not influence his decision.

Shortly before the February 24 municipal election, García, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from UIC, broke his relative silence on other transportation topics by releasing a transportation platform. The document suggests that he is well informed about transit funding and transit-oriented development, although there’s little mention of pedestrian and bike issues.

The platform endorses Transit Future, a campaign by the Active Transportation Alliance and the Center for Neighborhood technology to create a dedicated revenue stream at the county level for public transportation infrastructure (as does the Emanuel campaign). García says he’s interested in the possibility of raising the state gas tax to fund transit, and/or creating a transit-impact fee for new developments.

The candidate called for building more housing near train stations and reducing the parking requirements for these developments, in order to reduce car dependency. He also stated that he wants to secure a larger percentage of state and federal transportation funds for the Chicago region, which contains seventy percent of Illinois’ population but only gets forty-five percent of state transportation funds.

On March 7, I caught up with García at his Woodlawn campaign office to talk about sustainable transportation and safe streets issues in advance of the April 7 runoff election. We discussed his positions on pedestrian infrastructure, bike facilities, road diets, bus rapid transit and, of course, traffic cams. I’ve edited the conversation for brevity and clarity.

John Greenfield: I was impressed that your transportation platform endorsed Transit Future and transit-oriented development.

Jesús “Chuy” García: I’m a transit rider, a Pink Line guy. We fought for the reconstruction of the Pink Line, which used to be the Blue Line, the Douglas [Branch], back in the nineties, when they were going to eliminate it. We fought back and got it renovated. We even engaged in some civil disobedience to force the contractor to hire some folks from North Lawndale and South Lawndale. We got arrested for blocking the entrance to an office of the contractor because they weren’t hiring any minorities.

JG: Interesting. I just wanted to double check, on the Active Transportation Alliance’s transportation survey, you checked a box that said, yes, you would be in favor of dedicated funding for pedestrian safety infrastructure. These are things like speed humps, crosswalk striping, curb bump-outs and pedestrian islands. If elected, would you, in fact, propose a line item for safety infrastructure in the city budget, instead of requiring aldermen to pay for that stuff out of menu money?

CG: I’m leaning toward doing that. I say that with some hesitancy, recognizing how the financial straits of the city seem to be worsening, with the [credit] downgrade that we suffered, the park district downgrade, and now yesterday’s Chicago Public Schools downgrade. I would want to do that, but I’ve got to have a better picture of exactly what the finances are going to be, in terms of the city budget. But if I had it my way, yes, I would do that.

Read the rest of the interview at Newcity magazine’s website.

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John Discusses Active Trans’ Candidates Survey on WBEZ’s Morning Shift

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Mayoral candidates Walls, Fioretti, Emanuel, García, and Wilson. Photo: Chicago Sun Times

This morning I pedaled down the Lakefront Trail to WBEZ’s studios at the end of Navy Pier to talk with “Morning Shift” host Tony Sarabia about a questionnaire the Active Transportation Alliance sent to all of the mayoral and aldermanic candidates. Listen to the full recording of our on-air conversation here.

The survey asked the candidates what modes they and their family members use for work commutes, errands, and work commutes. It asked whether they support expanding the bike network, and earmarking money for transit and pedestrian infrastructure. The questionnaire also covered automated traffic enforcement, separation of pedestrians and cyclists on the lakefront path, and indoor bike parking at office buildings.

Since the survey was mostly in a yes-or-no format, it’s not surprising that it resulted in nearly identical responses from mayoral contenders Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Bob Fioretti, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García, and former Harold Washing aide William “Dock” Walls. Businessman Willie Wilson didn’t return the questionnaire.

Obviously, none of the respondents was going to say “no,” they’re not in favor of better conditions for walking, biking, and transit. The only place where the responses varied was on the subject of red light and speed cams — Emanuel was the only one who voiced support for more of them.

If you want to learn anything new about the mayoral hopeful’s viewpoints on transportation, you need to look at the PDFs of the additional comments on the surveys from Emanuel, Fioretti, and García — Walls simply checked the “yes” and “no” boxes. Emanuel has the most extensive responses, since he’s got four years of transportation achievements to boast about. However, it’s a little disappointing that he promises to continue pursuing state and federal grants for pedestrian infrastructure but doesn’t commit to creating a line item in the city budget.

Fioretti deserves credit for being the only candidate to reference the recent campaign for a more equitable distribution of bike resources for the South and West Sides. But his claim that cameras that ticket traffic scofflaws are “an unfair burden on taxpayers” is pretty laughable.

García had nothing additional to say about walking, biking, or transit, but he wrote that, before adding more traffic cams or traffic cops, “I would… look to other jurisdictions for the best, most effective strategies that can be used to increase compliance.” Actually, that’s already been done — there’s no doubt that red light and speed cameras save lives.

While I was on the air, we got several nice tweets from Streetsblog readers who were excited to hear our take on the mayoral race. (Note to self: Turn off the text message alert chime on your cell phone before doing radio interviews.) One reader lamented the fact that, due to our current funding shortfall, we haven’t been able to do original reporting on a regular basis.

Thanks for the contribution, Carmin! The good news is, we’re closing in on reaching 50 percent of the $75K we need to fund a year of operations, and we’re hoping to garner some major donations and grant money in the near future. If you haven’t already done so, please consider donating to the Streetsblog Chicago Resurrection Fund. If the site does not return to daily publication of original reporting by April 8, all money will be returned. Thanks again for your support.

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Eyes on the Street: Broadway’s Keeper

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I took took protected bike lane snow clearance into my own hands this afternoon. Photo: Justin Haugens

Steven Vance and I have been touched by the many shout-outs and well-wishes we’ve received on social media in the wake of last week’s shutdown of Streetsblog Chicago due to funding issues. We’ve heard a collective groan from everyone from our readers, to transportation blogging colleagues around the country, to other Chicago media outlets like Gapers Block, Chicagoist, and Chicago Magazine. We’ve even heard from local elected officials bemoaning the loss of the city’s daily source for sustainable transportation and livable streets news:

 

The good news is that we’ve made significant headway in the effort to raise funds so that Steven and I can return to producing original reporting. Readers have responded generously to my request for donations, with over 80 individual donations made within a few days.

If you value Streetsblog’s hard-hitting reporting and haven’t already done so, please consider making a contribution to the Streetsblog Chicago Resurrection Fund. I still need to raise a significant chunk of money from small-to-medium donations as part of my fundraising strategy, which also includes major donors, ad revenue, and foundation grants. Donations are not tax-deductible at this point, but all donors will receive an email stating that their money will be returned if daily publication of original articles has not resumed by April 8, three months from the start of the hiatus.

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The northbound PBL on the 4400 block of North Broadway before shoveling. Photo: John Greenfield

I took a break from my fundraising work this afternoon for a little direct intervention to improve Chicago street safety. Ever since Mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection following the brutal Blizzard of ’79, Chicago mayors have done an excellent job of keeping the streets clear of snow for drivers. However, they haven’t always done such a great job of making sure bike routes get plowed. Last winter, many of the city’s protected bike lanes were often unrideable because they were filled with snow or slush.

To their credit, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been trying harder this year to make sure the PBLs are maintained. They temporarily removed the flexible posts that delineated several protected lanes along snow routes, to make it easier for the department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the entire street.

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Streets and San did a good job of clearing the southbound PBL on the same block of Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

However, I recently heard that the PBLs on Broadway, between Montrose and Wilson,  have been impassible this month due to poor snow clearance, so that some cyclists have been taking Clark as an alternative. That means the Broadway lanes, which People for Bikes recently rated the nation’s tenth-best new PBLs, are actually deterring bicycling instead of encouraging it. That’s not right.

I went over to Broadway with a shovel in hand to investigate. While some portions of the lanes were well plowed and people were riding in them, other stretches were choked with slush, forcing cyclists to instead share the narrow travel lanes with cars. I didn’t have time to clear the entire bikeway, but I spent about 45 minutes digging out the northbound side of the 4400 block. I was rewarded by the sight of cyclists immediately taking advantage of the clear, protected passageway.

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The northbound PBL, after my guerrilla intervention. Photo: John Greenfield

I’d like to think that the blockage in the Broadway lanes was mostly due to property owners pushing their sidewalk snow into them, rather than neglect by the city. Either way, it would be great if CDOT and Streets and San could take additional steps to ensure that PBLs around the city enable, rather than thwart, cycling.

In the meantime, I invite concerned cyclists from around the city to grab a shovel and join me in the fight to keep Chicago’s protected lanes rideable. Feel free to tweet your guerilla PBL shoveling experience at #AdoptABikeLane.

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Why I Fight: How Biking Saved My Life and Can Help Other Black Chicagoans

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Oboi Reed and Jamal Julien from Slow Roll Chicago. Photo: SRC

[Streetsblog invited Olatunji Oboi Reed, president of Slow Roll Chicago, to share his perspective on our city’s bicycle equity challenges.]

Let me explain why I’m aggressively advocating for bike equity in Chicago.

About ten years ago, when I was 30 years old, I took an extended medical leave from my job at Citibank when work, family and relationship stresses brought on a severe bout of clinical depression. I have struggled with this illness on-and-off since high school.

During this time, I was experiencing a level of emotional pain so intense, an escape route was the only thing I could think about. One day, as I sat on my couch in Chatham, crying in the dark, I summoned the will to explore an alternative to taking my own life.

A few years before, when I was living in Champaign, my dear friend Ogunsola Hammond Carter sold me a green Diamondback mountain bike for about $50. After I moved back to Chicago, I hardly ever rode the bike. However, during my moment of crisis, I felt my final option was to try bicycling as a healthy escape from my pain.

I got up and went next door to my mother’s house, where the bike sat in the basement with two flat tires, covered in dust and badly in need of a tune up. I resolved to take the Diamondback to John’s Hardware & Bicycle Shop for repairs, then go for a ride and see what happened.

Early in the morning on a beautiful summer Saturday, I put the now-rideable bike in the trunk of my car and drove to 63rd Street Beach. I walked the bike to the trail, took a deep breath and started to ride.

Soon, I noticed the tranquil beach and the waves rhythmically crashing on the sand. I started to play hide and seek with the sun, as I pedaled by the trees along the trail. The rustling leaves sang a song to me, drowning out the negativity in my head. I was smiling for the first time in months.

I began to take note of other Black people on the trail, enjoying themselves, walking and running and biking. Feeling a newfound desire to connect with other people, I would sometimes look up from my handlebars and make eye contact with a fellow brother or sister on the trail. I was a bit surprised to find that, every single time, I was greeted with a head nod, a warm smile, or a friendly “How you doing brother?” I no longer felt alone.

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The Lakefront Trail near 63rd Street Beach. Image: Google Streetview

I had found the respite from my pain that I so desperately needed. Over the next several weeks, I rode as often as I could. It was still a struggle to find the will to get out of bed each day and do basic things like showering and eating, but I pushed through. Each ride gave me more energy to address my problems.

After ignoring my depression for nearly two decades, I decided to do something about it. I began seeing a therapist and started a regimen of medication. Eventually, I returned to work.

I continued to struggle with this mental illness, and it sometimes got the best of me, but I no longer considered suicide. Along with counseling, diet, yoga, and spending time with family and friends, biking is still my one of my greatest weapons against depression.

I know unequivocally that I am alive today because of that ride on the Lakefront Trail a decade ago. This knowledge fuels my current efforts to bring the many benefits of cycling to others in the Black community.

For a host of reasons, many Black Chicagoans have little interest in cycling. Like I once did, they view biking as something for children and White people on the Northside. Very few of them consider biking to be a viable form of transportation.

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