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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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Rotterdam’s Boulevards Demonstrate How to Make Chicago’s Bike-Friendly

Is this Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago, or a boulevard in Rotterdam? Both of them have a main drive and two service drives. Only one is designed for safe and convenient bicycling.

Is this Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago, or a boulevard in Rotterdam? Both of them have a main drive and two service drives. Only one is designed for safe and convenient bicycling. Photo: Steven Vance

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I’ve discovered few similarities between the city of Rotterdam, where I’ve been living for seven weeks, and Chicago. The most striking similarity is the nearly identical layout of the boulevard streets. While biking from my apartment in Rotterdam towards the cool neighborhood of Witte de With, I realized that as I was cycling on the side road of a wide street, I was really biking on a facsimile of Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago.

In the middle was a two-way “main drive,” where through traffic and buses ran, and on both sides, separated by a landscaped area, were one-way service drives for access to individual houses or apartment buildings – just like in Chicago. Other Chicago streets with this layout include Franklin Boulevard and Ogden Avenue.

The difference was that the city of Rotterdam implemented “filtered permeability,” by preventing motorists from driving more than one block at a time on the service drives. As a motorist driving on the service drive approaches the next intersection, there’s an “exit ramp” that carries vehicles over the landscaped area and onto the main drive.

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These two maps show boulevard layouts in Chicago (left) and Rotterdam (right). Where service drives meet main intersections on this street in Rotterdam, motorists must return to the main road while bicyclists can continue straight (in the dashed blue lines).

Side streets that intersect the boulevard can only be entered from the main drive, eliminating the possibility of using the service drive to get around a backed up intersection on the main drive in order to turn right.

A bike path connects the “end” of this service drive to the start of the next one, on the other side of the intersection. Of course, the sidewalks are continuous. Doing a similar layout in Chicago would require eliminating only about one car parking space per block.

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Purple Ride: Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass Pays Tribute to Prince

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Members of Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass at the Prince mural by Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

“I put her on the back of my bike and we went riding / Down by Old Man Johnson’s Farm.” – Prince, “Raspberry Beret”

OK, it’s true that the Purple One was talking about a motorcycle, not a bicycle, in that beloved pop song. And, sure, one of his biggest hits compared a lover to a “Little Red Corvette.” But there are plenty of photographs out there proving that the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson enjoyed cycling.

So it’s appropriate that Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass bike group paid tribute to the self-proclaimed “purple Yoda… from the heart of Minnesota” with a Prince tribute ride last Friday. They made a pilgrimage to a new mural in his honor on the side of an auto repair shop in the Avalon Park nieghborhood, and then pedaled east to purify themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, I mean Michigan.

South Side Critical Mass, a spinoff of the larger Chicago Critical Mass rides that leave from downtown, meets every third Friday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Nat “King” Cole Park, 361 East 85th Street, departing at 7, and drawing a mostly African-American ridership. For the Prince ride, they wore their finest purple garb and towed a sound system blasting songs like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Pop Life,” to the delight of passers-by.

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The full group at Nat “King” Cole Park. Danielle McKinnie and her sister Alisa Holman are in the center with T-shirt’s bearing Prince’s symbol. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

Danielle McKinnie, a technical trainer at Lurie Children’s Hospital, showed up for the cruise with her sister Alisa Holman, who made special T-shirts featuring The Artist’s mysterious symbol. McKinnie says the ride seemed like a natural way to honor the man whose music had brought them so much joy. “You know he rode his bike just before he passed away,” she noted.

From the park, the group pedaled in the 83rd Street bike lanes towards the mural, singing and grooving to the funky tunes while spectators waved and beeped their horns in approval. “People seemed pleased and a little surprised to see us out on our bikes, especially with the South Side having such negative connotations because of violence,” McKinnie said. “We always get that reaction – people are really happy to see us.”

They stopped by the mural at 8051 South Stony Island, painted last month by artist Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes in the wake of the legend’s untimely death. Prince appears as he does on the cover of the “Purple Rain” album, astride a violet motorcycle, but with angel wings.

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Eyes on the Street: Dearborn Detour Suggests Salmoning on Lake Street

Photo by @UncleTaco

The Dearborn bike lane yesterday. Note to contractors: This isn’t an appropriate bike lane detour sign. Photo: Mike Bingaman

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The City of Chicago has made notable progress on expanding its network of protected bike lanes into more community areas and communities of color than it had before Rahm Emanuel became mayor, but it seems nothing is better about the way bicyclists and pedestrians are accommodated around construction projects. The city has even beefed up detour rules contractors must follow multiple times to benefit human-powered transportation.

The two-way bike lane on one-way Dearborn Street is one of the city’s most important bike lanes, because it carries hundreds of people on bikes each day, through the heart of the Loop, where few blocks have a bike lane relative to the number of people who bike downtown.

It’s regrettable, then, when bicyclists, who have few options in the central business district, receive the suggestion to bike against vehicle traffic on Lake Street to reach Clark Street in order to get around a construction project. That was the situation Wednesday and today for people cycling southbound on Dearborn. People bicycling north, in the same direction as Dearborn vehicle traffic, at least had the option to merge with vehicle traffic.

construction scene on Dearborn

The construction takes up the parking lane, a travel lane, and the bike lane. Photo: Mike Bingaman

The construction project, according to four permits on the city’s open data portal, is to cut open a trench and install Comcast fiber cables, and a new Peoples Gas main.

Yesterday, a hand-painted sign on Dearborn, just south of Lake Street, said “Bike lane closed – use Clark St.” But any reasonable person would see why this is foolish. To follow these directions, a bicyclist would have to head the wrong way against eastbound traffic on Lake Street to reach Clark, or else use the sidewalk.

I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation, which reviews detour plans before permitting construction sites. CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey couldn’t confirm today if the contractor was following an approved detour plan. Streets with protected bike lanes, like Dearborn, also have a special step in the permitting process “to ensure proper reinstallation of all bicycle facility elements.” Read more…

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“Summer by Rail” Train and Bike Blogger Checks Out Chicago Infrastructure

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“Summer by Rail” blogger Elena Studier on Northerly Island, a rustic park on a peninsula that used to be an air strip. Photo: Mariah Morales

National Association of Railroad Passengers intern Elena Studier is taking a 38-day-trip around the country on Amtrak with her bicycle to document the current state of the U.S. passenger rail system and its connectivity with cycling. It’s a timely journey, since we’re now living in an era when an increasing number of Americans are interested in getting around without having to rely on driving.

Her 10,000-mile trip launched on Sunday in New York City, and Chicago was her first destination – a fitting one, since our city is the railroad hub of the nation. After she arrived here on Monday, staffers from Amtrak and the Active Transportation Alliance gave her a grand tour of the highlights of our local rail, path, and parks networks on two wheels.

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An Amtrak worker hands Studier her bike at Chicago’s Union Station. Photo: Mariah Morales

Studier, a second-year international affairs and geography major at George Washington University in D.C., got the idea for the project, dubbed “Summer by Rail,” while brainstorming ideas for an epic journey using an Amtrak USA Rail Pass. She’s using a 45-day pass, which allows you to take a voyage around the country with up to 18 different segments for $899 ($440.50 for children 2-12). 15- and 30-day passes are also available.

After she started her internship with NARP, which advocates for improving and expanding passenger rail service, she pitched the idea of riding the Amtrak system to highlight how it connects communities and provides access to local transportation networks. The folks at NARP thought it was a great idea, so they agreed to sponsor her travels and worked with Amtrak to coordinate the trip.

Studier will be documenting her adventures on the Summer by Rail blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. From Chicago, she’ll be taking the Empire Builder to Seattle, and then heading down the West Coast to Los Angeles, east to New Orleans, and then up the East Coast to D.C., with lots of stops and side trips along the way. For example, on Tuesday she rode Amtrak’s Lincoln Service to Normal, Illinois, to check out the town’s new multi-modal transit center and bikeways.

She brought her Vilano hybrid bike “Stevie” along with her not only to facilitate touring and travel within cities and national parks, but also to showcase how Amtrak and other rail systems have become increasingly bike-friendly in recent years. She’s also helping Amtrak test out roll-on service on lines where cyclists are currently required to box their bikes.

For her trip from NYC on the Lakeshore Limited train, which doesn’t yet have roll-on service, Studier was allowed to bring her cycle to the baggage car, where a worker hung in on a vertical bike rack. It’s the same convenient amenity that Amtrak debuted earlier this month on the Chicago-to-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and the Chicago-to-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette Service. Amtrak hopes to offer roll-on service for the Lakeshore Limited to the public in late summer or early fall.

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It’s a Lobby-palooza! Join MPC’s 43 Minutes for $43 Billion Infrastructure Push

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MPC says Investing $43 billion over the next years could help get the CTA system, and other Illinois infrastructure, in good working order. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Are you ready for (almost three-quarters of) an hour of power?

That’s what the Metropolitan Planning Council has planned for Wednesday, May 18, at 11 a.m., when they’ll hold the 43 Minutes for $43 Billion transportation infrastructure lobbying jam session. They’re asking Chicagoland residents to call their legislators and contact leaders in Springfield to ask them to commit to investing $43 billion over the next ten years to fund repairs and improvements to transit, bridges, and roads. They’re also asking citizens to tweet about the fact that we’re sick and tired of the shoddy state of Illinois’ transportation network.

The action is timed to coincide with Infrastructure Week, which Washington, D.C. infrastructure advocates have organized over the last few years, as well as the May 31 adjournment date for the Illinois state legislature. According to MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey, there appears to be plenty of interest on both sides of the aisle for a new transportation funding bill, but the general consensus is that the initiative won’t move forward until the state budget, which has been mired in partisan deadlock, moves forward.

“It’s problematic that we don’t already have a transportation bill,” Skosey said. “In [MPC’s] opinion, it needs to be done immediately, but it also needs to be done adequately.” He noted that if, say, lawmakers agreed to budget $1 billion a year for infrastructure, many Illinoisans would think that’s a big expenditure. “But that wouldn’t be sufficient,” he said. “A billion a year would only make us fall behind farther. It has to be $4.3 billion to get us up to par.”

While MPC hopes a bill can be passed before legislators adjourn at the end of the month, Skosey said there are other windows of opportunity for getting it approved. It could also happen during the November vetoe session (when the governor signs or vetoes legislation the general assembly has passed), or else it could take place during the lame duck session following the November elections, when Illinoisans will vote on every House seat and some Senate seats.

However, it would be much more difficult to pass a bill after May 31 because a two-thirds majority of the assembly would be needed. After January 1, only a simple majority of 51 percent would be required.

At any rate, it makes sense to get the word out to leaders sooner than later that we’re fed up with slow, unreliable train and bus service, potholed roads, and increasingly unsafe bridges. Skosey said MPC came up with the idea for 43 Minutes for $43 Billion as an alternative to organizing a lobbying day in which representatives from the 43 local companies and nonprofits who’ve endorsed the Accelerate Illinois infrastructure funding campaign would have to schlep down to Springfield. “We figured that calls, emails, and social media would be a fast, effective way to send a message,” Skosey said. Here’s how you can get involved.

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During His Musical Bike Tour, Al Scorch Discusses the Perks of Car-Free Gigs

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Al Scorch rides a bike decorated to look like the heart-pierced-with-swords emblem from his album cover, while towing his banjo and guitar. Photo: John Greenfield

In a Chicago Reader cover story this week, rising banjo star Al Scorch credits the local bike advocacy community with helping to launch his music career:

I played this show at the Hideout when I was 18. It was a benefit for Bike Winter, which is a winter-biking education advocacy group. One of my first communities in Chicago, before the music community, was the bicycle-­activism community around Critical Mass—in 2000 to 2004 or 2005. That and Rat Patrol [freak bike gang]. My world was bicycles – and it was simultaneously music.

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The bike procession passes by Horner Park at Irving Park and California. Photo: John Greenfield

On Saturday Scorch, who worked for years at West Town Bikes, gave a shout-out of sorts to the local bike scene. To celebrate the release of his new album of high-octane, five-string-fueled “country soul” music, entitled Circle Round the Signs, he led a bike tour of five local record shops. Scorch and his band hauled all their instruments – including banjo, fiddle, drums, and upright bass – by bike, and then did an in-store performance at each store.

Dozens of bike riders joined the group for a bike procession the size of a small Critical Mass ride. The turnout included double-decker tall bikes, chopper bikes with extra-long forks, a tricycle with a giant cooler box hauling beef and vegan tacos, and a pedicab blaring a house music remix of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

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Scorch’s drummer loads his bike outside Laurie’s Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Scorch hauled his banjo and guitar and a Fresh Air trailer while riding a bike decorated to look like one of the sword-pierced hearts from his album cover. During the leg of the tour I rode on, bystanders on foot and in vehicles gave a warm reception to the colorful parade.

As Scorch tuned his banjo before playing at Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Avondale, I buttonholed him for a quick interview about why he prefers to tour on two wheels.

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Celebrate The 606 at Its One-Year Anniversary Party Next Month

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The anniversary celebration will feature many processions like this one, which took place on opening day. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606, debuted last June 6th (6/06). The elevated greenway already seems like a Chicago institution, and it’s a little hard to remember a time Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park didn’t have a ribbon of recreational space running through them.

On Saturday, June 4, the Chicago Park District and the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the ongoing development of the path and access park system, are celebrating its one-year anniversary with The 606 Block Party. The festival will be similar to last year’s opening celebration, which drew an estimated 50,000 attendees to check out the new trail, a street party on Humboldt Boulevard, live music, and parades along the path.

“It was no small task to turn an unused rail line into a green, open space – with a network of parks, art installations and community programming that supports recreation, education, and wellness,” stated Jamie Simone, who took the reins of TPLs regional office after director Beth White recently stepped down to lead a parks group in Houston. “The 606 Block Party is our way of thanking the communities, partners and donors who helped build this beloved Chicago park and make it a success.”

The opening of the Bloomingdale has helped spur a wave of upscale along the trail corridor, and some longtime residents have expressed concerns that rising property values, property taxes, and rents may price them out of the area. However, TPL noted in the news release for the anniversary celebration that, in addition to the trail’s massive popularity as a recreational resource, there have been a number of positive milestones on the trail in the past year year:

  • The installation of Chakaia Booker’s “Brick House 2015” sculpture
  • Star-gazing events with the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago Park District at the observatory at the path’s western trailhead
  • Youth ambassadors from West Town Bikes promoting bike safety on the path
  • Moos Elementary School students participating in an after-school running club
  • Quarterly celebrations and community events with Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

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Other Reasons Why The 606 Gets More Ridership Than the Major Taylor Trail

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The 606’s popularity is largely due to what it lacks: at-grade crossings. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Tribune’s new transportation columnist Mary Wisniewski, a former Sun-Times transportation reporter, is off to a good start. She’s written a number of article that show an interest in promoting sustainable transportation, rather than the windshield perspective that has been all-to-common in the mainstream media.

For example, her articles about bicycling have asked *what* Chicago should be doing to encourage bike riding, rather than *whether* we should be promoting cycling at all. That’s a refreshing change from some of the Tribune’s previous misinformed, overly skeptical coverage of new bicycle infrastructure. And let’s not even get started on columnist John Kass’ irresponsible bike trolling.

This new approach is part of the general positive trend of Chicago’s mainstream media coming around to the idea that biking is good our city, as the Active Transportation Alliance recently noted in a blog post.

Wisniewski recently ran an interesting column looking at why the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway on the Northwest Side, which opened last June, is already so much better known and used than the nine-year-old Major Taylor Trail on the Southwest Side. That’s despite the fact that the Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is only 2.7 miles while the Major Taylor is a full 6.5 miles.

According to members of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, even some folks who live close to that trail seem unaware of its existence.

Wisniewski highlights several reasons why the Major Taylor gets less use. Broken glass is a problem. There are some challenging streets crossings that need improvement, such as those at Halsted Street and 111th Street. There’s a gap in the path between 105th Street and 95th Street, which forces riders to take a somewhat convoluted route on streets between the two segments.

Wisniewski notes that the Major Taylor runs though less densely populated neighborhoods than the Bloomingdale. She also points out that The 606 connects with Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s busiest biking route, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway.”

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Wife of Cyclist Dragged in Bridgeport Provides an Update on His Condition

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The Jacobsons and their three children. Photo: GoFundMe

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Scott Jacobson continues to stoically recover from the horrific injuries he suffered after being struck on his bike and dragged hundreds of feet by a driver, according to Jacobson’s wife Rachel. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will level more serious charges against the motorist, who so far has only been charged with misdemeanors.

On Monday, May 2, at around 6 p.m., Scott Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue when SUV driver Joshua Thomas, 26, made a U-turn and struck him, according to police.

Jacobson was dragged hundreds of feet until bystanders ran to stop the vehicle. The cyclist’s pelvis was fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.

Rachel Jacobson, Scott’s wife of some 20 years and a CPS teacher, provided an update on his situation over the phone from Stroger Hospital, where he’s being treated in the burn ward for his abrasions. “He’s doing pretty well,” she said. “He’s in good spirits, but he’s in a lot of pain. His dressings need to be changed twice a day, and that hurts.”

Rachel said she’s grateful for contributions to the GoFundMe page that has raised more than $36,000 within a week to help support the family while Scott recovers. Doctors say it will likely be six months before he is able to return to his job as a superintendent for a construction company. Bridgeport community activist Kimberly Cannatello Lazo, who didn’t know the family before the collision but was moved by the story, contacted the family, and launched the crowdfunding page in order to help out, Rachel said.

Rachel told me more about how the crash occured. As Scott was biking west on 35th towards his home in McKinley Park, he saw Thomas weaving in the SUV towards the line of parked cars. “When Scott came up from behind him to pass, [Thomas] did a crazy U-turn and ran into him,” she said. “Scott looked at him, yelled, and slapped the hood but [the driver] kept going and Scott got sucked under.”

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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

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Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.