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Posts from the Bicycling Category


Norway or the Highway? Oslo’s Car-Free Plan Should Inspire Chicago


Madison Street, part of the Loop Link network, might be a good candidate to be a car-free street. Photo: John Greenfield

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

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they’ve accomplished,” socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said recently. That statement surely gave the Republicans hives.

One area where U.S. cities like Chicago should definitely look to Scandinavia for inspiration is traffic management. Last month, the newly elected city council of Oslo, Norway, announced that it plans to make the central city free of private cars by 2019. It’s part of a plan to cut greenhouse emissions in half within five years, as compared to 1990 levels.

“We want to make it better for pedestrians and cyclists,” Lan Marie Nguyen Berg from the city’s Green Party told reporters. The party won the September 14 election along with its allies from the Labor and Socialist Left parties. “It will be better for shops and everyone.”

European cities like London and Madrid charge congestion fees to drivers entering their downtowns, and others have car-free days in their city centers, like Paris did last September. But Oslo’s plan is said to be the first total and permanent ban of private cars in the center of a European capital. Streetcars and buses will continue to provide downtown access, and accommodations will be made for deliveries and people with disabilities, the three parties said in a statement.

The politicians hope to reduce overall car traffic in Oslo by twenty percent by 2019, when the next election will be held, and thirty percent by 2030. “In 2030, there will still be people driving cars but they must be zero-emissions,” Nguyen Berg said.

The initiative involves a “massive boost” in transit funding, subsidies for the purchase of electric bicycles, and the construction of at least thirty-seven miles of new bike lanes by 2019. In comparison, Chicago has installed 103 miles of bike lanes over the last four years. But since Oslo has less than a quarter of our population, their goal is the equivalent of the Windy City installing 154 miles of lanes.

While I’m not suggesting that Chicagoans will be swapping Italian beef for lutefisk any time soon, we would do well to consider a similar strategy for reducing congestion and pollution. I’m not proposing that private automobiles be immediately banned from all streets in the entire central business district, or even the Loop proper. But, along with Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, I’ve brainstormed a few ideas about how car-free and car-lite roadways could make downtown travel safer, more efficient and more pleasant.

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Could Longer Rental Times Help Divvy Appeal to More Chicagoans?


Vienna’s CityBike Wien system givers users twice as much rental time as Divvy. Photo: Michael Podgers

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

While visiting Vienna, Austria, I gave their CityBike Wien bike-share system a spin and found it has a couple of advantages over Chicago’s Divvy system. CityBike Wien is dirt cheap, with a one-time registration fee of only one euro, about a dollar, compared to $9.95 for a Divvy day pass. And the first hour of every ride on CityBike Wien is free, while Divvy users start racking up late fees after the first 30 minutes. That means you can practically ride across the entire city of Vienna without having to re-dock your bike.

My experience with CityBike Wien made me think about what Divvy could do to improve user experience and encourage more ridership. Offering a longer period before late fees kick in might make the system more convenient to use, and there are several other possibilities for making the system more user-friendly.

Bike-share is generally designed for short trips and errands, especially “last-mile trips” between transit stations and other destinations. When Divvy bikes are used this way, 30 minutes is plenty of time. Moreover, customers can take longer rides without accruing late fees by “dock surfing,” briefly checking in the bike at a station every half hour. If you have a membership key, this usually adds only a dozen seconds or so to your trip time.

On the other hand, there are other systems besides Vienna’s that offer a longer free rental period than Divvy. For example, New York’s Citi Bike and Paris’ Vélib’ allow annual members to use bikes for 45 minutes without late fees, although day pass holders can only use them for 30 minutes without extra fees.

So would it make sense to extend the Divvy rental period? Michelle Stenzel, co-leader of the grassroots group Bike Walk Lincoln Park, isn’t convinced that’s necessary.

“Although I don’t want to diminish the needs of users who truly want to ride a Divvy for 45 minutes…I have to ask whether those people have actually tried riding a Divvy for that long,” Stenzel said. “Those bikes are heavy!” She added that she avoids using Divvy for more than 20-25 minutes at a time, but that’s plenty of time for the kind of trips the system is intended for.

However, as the Divvy coverage area grows, customer may wish to take longer rides. This year the network expanded to 476 stations, covering 476 stations and 33 of Chicago’s 50 wards, making it the largest system in North America based on the number of stations and the geographic area served. Next year, Divvy is adding 70 new stations in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park next year, so the the coverage area will grow significantly.

But Jim Merrell, a campaign director at the Active Transportation Alliance doesn’t think the larger service area will lead to a demand for a longer rental period. “Divvy’s great for the shorter trips, but I have a hard time seeing people using Divvy [for longer trips],” he said. He added that Divvy seems to be most useful for rides within neighborhoods, or when combined with transit. Still, longer rental times could make using Divvy a more relaxing experience by reducing the need to watch the clock and dock surf.

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How Much Can Bicycling Help Fight Climate Change? A Lot, If Cities Try

A new study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy attempts to measure the potential of bikes and e-bikes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Buenos Aires has been ambitiously building out a network of well designed, separated bike infrastructure. If this kind of commitment were employed worldwide, the environmental and financial repercussions would be enormous. Photo: ITDP

Buenos Aires has been building out a network of protected bike infrastructure. If this kind of commitment were employed in cities worldwide, the climate benefits would be huge. Photo: ITDP

ITDP’s conclusion, in short: Bicycling could help cut carbon emissions from urban transportation 11 percent.

The authors calculated the carbon emissions reduction that could result if cities around the world make a strong, sustained commitment to promoting bicycle travel.

In a scenario where 14 percent of travel in the world’s cities is by bike or e-bike in 2050, carbon emissions from urban transportation would be 11 percent lower than a scenario where efforts to promote sustainable transportation sidestep bicycling.

The ITDP scenario calls for 11 percent of urban mileage by bike by 2030 before hitting 14 percent in 2050. For many big American cities where bicycling accounts for a small share of total travel, that may sound like a high bar — and that was part of the point. The ITDP targets will require a significant public policy commitment. But the goals are achievable and aren’t as daunting as they might seem, the authors say.

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Drunk Driver Who Killed Hector Avalos Sentenced to Only 100 Days in Prison


Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the family

At a hearing today, Judge Nicholas Ford gave Robert Vais, the driver who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk, a relatively light sentence of 100 days in a state prison plus two years probation. Vais must also perform manual labor as part of the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program once a month for two years, and undergo drug and alcohol treatment.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos, 28, a former Marine, was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, now 56, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

Blood drawn from Vais soon after the crash showed his blood alcohol level was 0.152 percent, nearly twice the legal level of 0.08. He was charged with felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. On September 16 of this year, Vais pleaded guilty.

30 to 40 supporters of the Avalos family, including members of the local bike community, attended today’s sentencing hearing, according to Active Transportation Alliance staff member Jason Jenkins, who has attended most of the hearings for the case. A comparable number of people were there in support of Vais.

At the hearing, Avalos’ mother Ingrid Cossio, stepfather Jorge Cossio, and younger stepsiblings Brandon and Brandi read victim impact statements. Vais’ sister, a childhood friend, and a coworker read mitigating statements. Vais was given an opportunity to make a statement and expressed strong regret and remorse, and apologized profusely to Avalos’ relatives while tears came to his eyes, Jenkins said.

According to Illinois law, aggravated DUI carries a jail sentence of three-to-fourteen years, at least 85 percent of which must be served in prison, plus fines of up to $25,000. Probation is generally not an option, except in extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, it’s noteworthy that Judge Ford gave Vais a sentence of only 100 days, plus two years probation, with no fine. The jail term will begin on November 30, which gives Vais time to put his affairs in order before he serves time.

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Eyes on the Street: Roosevelt Raised Bike Lane Is Almost Ready to Ride

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

It seems like it has taken an eternity, but the Roosevelt Road raised bikeway is finally getting the green paint and bike symbols that will turn it into a functional cycling route. This Chicago Department of Transportation initiative is part of a streetscaping project that involved widening the sidewalk along Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan Avenue to make room for the two-way bike lane.

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Street layout from State to Wabash, where the bikeway will exist as on-street lanes, to the left of bus lanes.

The new lane extends a block or so past Michigan on the north sidewalk of Roosevelt, ending near the trunkless metal legs of the “Agora” installation and the Grant Park skate park. From there, cyclists can head north a block to the 11th Street bike and pedestrian bridge over Metra and South Shore tracks. From there a multi-use path leads under Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive to the Museum Campus.

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CDOT rendering of Roosevelt streetscape, looking east from Wabash. Note the separation between the blue crosswalks and the green “crossbikes.”

The streetscape project also includes new metal benches and decorative pavers inscribed with various words that are meant to be thought-provoking, or evoke the cultural facilities of the Museum Campus. Near the CTA ‘L’ station at Roosevelt and State, which serves the Red, Orange, and Green Lines, CDOT has installed extra-long bus shelters that will have ad panels.


A crew member applies adhesive to the lane for attaching the thermoplastic bike symbol segments. Photo: John Greenfield

Between State and Wabash Avenue, the bikeway will exist as a pair of one-way bike lanes located in the street and marked with green paint. Eastbound bicyclists will use a special “crossbike” – a crosswalk for bikes – to move to the bi-directional raised bike lane on the north side of Roosevelt east of Wabash. Westbound cyclists will be shepherded from the raised lane to the westbound on-street via a green-marked lane that will slant from the sidewalk to the bike lane.

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Witness: Officer Drove Recklessly; Judge: Cyclist Probably Had Road Rage

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James Liu.

According to a witness, an off-duty police officer swerved in and out of traffic while chasing cyclist James Liu, driving in a “really dangerous” manner. However, at a hearing yesterday, Judge George Berbas upheld a charge of disorderly conduct against Liu. Berbas argued it was likely that the bike rider – not the officer – was guilty of road rage.

The incident occurred on October 14, around 8:15 a.m., when Liu, 33, was bicycling downtown on Milwaukee Avenue to his job as a bankruptcy attorney. After he turned south on Desplaines Street, he says, the driver of a silver SUV started edging into the Desplaines bike lane as he tried to illegally pass other vehicles on the right. Liu says the motorist was getting too close for comfort, so he knocked twice on the door of his truck to alert him of his presence.

Unfortunately for Liu, the driver was Officer Paul Woods, from the traffic administration department, who was also on his way to work. The attorney says Woods immediately began chasing him in the bike lane, then rolled down his window and yelled, “I’m a f—ing cop.”

UIC associate professor Rachel Havrelock was driving her daughter to school at the time. “I saw the SUV driver swerving in and out of traffic and he seemed to be going after the cyclist,” Havrelock told me. After Liu changed lanes to head east on Washington Street, Havrelock says Woods swerved across two lanes of southbound Desplaines to blockade the cyclist’s path. “I was very shocked by what I saw,” she said.

Woods then handcuffed Liu, called for backup, and had the attorney transported to a police station. Liu was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct.

At yesterday’s administrative hearing, Liu reiterated that he knocked on the SUV because Woods was driving in the bike lane, DNAinfo reported. However, the officer testified that he was stopped in traffic when the attorney banged on his vehicle and was not driving in the bike lane. He added that he was taken aback by Liu’s action, and that the attorney also extended a middle finger at him.

Liu told me today that it’s possible he did flip the officer the bird at some point during the incident, although he doesn’t recall doing so. However, he repeated that the SUV was moving towards him in the bike lane when he knocked on it, not stationary.

In finding Liu guilty of disorderly conduct, Judge Berbas asserted that the cyclist probably knocked on the SUV due to road rage or “overreaction to a traffic situation,” DNA reported. “If a Chicago police officer is in uniform on his way to work, he really just wants to get to work, check in and do his job,” Berbas said. “I don’t think that while in his personal vehicle he’s going to be looking to instigate or start anything.”

Liu told me the judge’s logic is flawed. “His statement seems to imply that an attorney who is just riding his bike to work is looking to start something,” Liu added. “What’s my motivation?”

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More Bike Parking Drama at the University of Chicago


The railing from which Edwards’ bike was removed is commonly used as overflow parking when the adjacent racks are full. Photo. Elizabeth Edwards

Last year, Streetsblog reader Elizabeth Edwards alerted us that just about every sign pole, light post, fence and handrail by University of Chicago Medical Center sported stickers reading “Not a Bike Rack.” This passive-aggressive campaign to keep cycles out of the way of pedestrians was also illegal, since some of these poles were on the public right of way and Chicago’s municipal code specifies that it’s legal to lock bikes to sign posts on public sidewalks. Happily, a few days after I contacted the medical center about the issue, every single sticker was removed.

Last week, however, there was more bike parking drama within the university’s Gothic confines. Edwards reports that, for two or three weeks she had been locking her cycle to the railing of a little-used ramp that serves the emergency exit of a meeting room in a campus building.

While the railing is located next to some bike racks, they are frequently at capacity, so it has been common for cyclists to use the railing for overflow parking, according to Edwards. There was no sign warning that it can’t be used as such, so it has often been covered with bikes during nice weather, she said.

However, last week when she went to retrieve her orange Motobecane road bike for the commute home, she found a removal notice instead. It turns out that the university has a policy of removing any bike — seemingly abandoned or not — that is locked to any campus fixture that’s not a bike rack. Here’s an outline of the process from Facilities Services’ abandoned bike policy:

Abandoned bicycles and bicycles found secured to any object other than the University-maintained bicycle racks are subject to removal by Facilities Services. A tag, advising the owner of the reason for removal, is left at the site of removal; the bicycle is brought to the Young Building, 5555 S. Ellis Avenue. A record of the impounded bicycle is made and shared with the [University of Chicago Police Department] in the event that an owner reports their bicycle as stolen. Bikes are stored for 10 business days and during that time may be reclaimed by calling 773-834-1414 or by bringing the removal site tag to the Young Building reception area on the 1st floor. If the bicycle is not claimed within 10 business days it will be donated to charity.

“The process for retrieving an impounded bike is sketchy at best,” Edwards said. When she called to confirm that Facilities Services had her bike, the person she spoke to wasn’t able to give her any information. When she went to went to the Young Building, she was told to wait by a bike rack where a number of removed bikes were locked up.

“When someone arrived to help me, they unlocked the collected bikes, asked which one was mine, and sent me on my way,” Edwards said. “I wasn’t asked for the impound tag, or anything that might indicate the bike was mine. I could’ve picked a much nicer bike.”

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Eyes on the Street: New Section of Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Is Half Open


The new section of trail north of Fullerton. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

About a year ago, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District kicked off the Fullerton Revetment project, which is building 5.8 acres of new parkland along the lake. The main goal of the $31.5 million endeavor was to to replace the crumbling seawall. But it’s also making room for the partial separation of pedestrian and bike routes on a section of the Lakefront Trail that’s currently a bottleneck. Infill and revetment construction is wrapping up this fall, and landscaping should be done by next summer.

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A plan view of the project.

North of Fullerton Avenue, a section of the new path is already open, although the separate pedestrian walkway will only exist south of the avenue, west of the bike path. The soft-surface footpath will run for about 600 feet before ending at a turnaround at Fullerton. Workers have ripped out the old stretch of the trail north of Fullerton that hugged the Theater on the Lake, and walkers, joggers, and cyclists are now directed to the brand-new path segment.


The old section of the path by the Theater on the Lake is now closed. Photo: John Greenfield

The initiative includes widening the strip of parkland along the trail by as much as several hundred feet via infill, creating a brand-new hump of land that’s sure to be a hit with sunbathers. Last summer, that area resembled a milky turquoise tropical lagoon, contained by a wavy wall of corrugated steel pilings. Crews have since filled in the lagoon with rocks and dirt, and are currently covering the area with sod.

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Miami’s “Underline” — The Vision for a 10-Mile Greenway Beneath the Rails

Miami's "Underline" proposes making the derelict space under Miami's Metrorail into a "10-mile linear park." Image:

The “Underline” would remake the leftover space beneath Miami’s Metrorail as a 10-mile greenway. Image: The Underline

The idea for Miami’s “Underline” came to Meg Daly after she broke both her arms in 2013.

Unable to drive, Daly, who lives in Coral Gables, started taking Miami’s Metrorail to physical therapy. When she got off at her stop, she would walk the last mile under the shade of the elevated rail platform.

“I just kind of had this moment of discovery,” she told Streetsblog. “I ended up walking beneath the train tracks. I was like, ‘There’s so much space here.'” She thought the neglected but nicely shaded area could make for great walking and biking.

Now, just a few years later, a real plan for a 10-mile linear park called the Underline is moving forward. Daly heads the nonprofit group Friends of the Underline, which is finishing up the master plan for the project. The group received $650,000 for planning and design, funded by the city of Miami, the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and others.

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami's Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami’s Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Friends of the Underline vision is to create an inviting place for active transportation running through one of the most densely populated urban areas in the American South.

Miami’s Metrorail corridor runs 10 miles between South Miami, Coral Gables, and Miami, terminating in the walkable Brickell neighborhood. The corridor roughly parallels US-1, a traffic-clogged urban highway that runs up the eastern coast of Florida.

About 100,000 people live within a 10-minute walk, Daly says. But active transportation options are limited, largely because of South Florida’s notoriously wide, dangerous roads.

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Cyclist Arrested by Allegedly Road-Raging Officer Will File Civil Rights Lawsuit


According to the police, cyclist James Liu was not actually arrested but merely cited. Photo: Ben Raines

[This piece also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the street in print on Wednesday evenings.]

Picture yourself bike commuting downtown on Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s busiest cycling street. After you turn south on Des Plaines Street, the driver of a silver SUV starts edging into the bike lane as he tries to illegally pass other vehicles on the right in his rush to get to work.

The motorist is getting too close for comfort, so you knock twice on the door of his truck to alert him of your presence. Unfortunately, he turns out to be an off-duty police officer, and less than a minute later you find yourself sitting in the street with your hands cuffed behind you, and your orange fixie sprawled across the asphalt.

That’s what bankruptcy attorney James Liu, 33, says happened to him on October 14 at around 8:15am, while he was trying to make his way to the office. “As soon as I tapped on his side panel, he immediately started chasing me, driving in the bike lane,” Liu says. “Around Fulton Street he rolls down his window and yells, ‘I’m a f—ing cop!’ I just look at him and shrug my shoulders, and then we continue south at a normal speed.”

Liu says that when they came to a red light at Washington Street, he changed lanes to head east. The uniformed officer then zoomed across two lanes of southbound Des Plaines and stopped his SUV at a ninety-degree angle to traffic, blocking the attorney’s path. “It was a pretty dangerous move,” Liu recalls.

The officer then got out of his SUV and demanded that the cyclist stand in front of the vehicle with his hands up, the attorney says. When he complied, the cop handcuffed him and then called for backup. “I repeatedly asked whether I was under arrest and, if so, what I was being charged with,” Liu says, adding that the officer eventually told him he was under arrest for reckless conduct.

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