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Advocates Request a Fair Share of Bike Resources for Black Communities

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield

A group of African-American bike advocates says they want to do whatever it takes to make sure more black Chicagoans have a chance to enjoy the health, economic, and social benefits of cycling. They’ve called for the city and state, as well as other advocacy groups, to commit to a more equitable distribution of bike facilities and education to low-income, African-American communities on the South and West Sides.

“In the past, the city’s philosophy has been that the communities that already bike the most deserve the most resources,” said Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike & Green, and Southside Critical Mass. “That just perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows fast in some neighborhood and not others. Biking leads to better physical and mental health, safer streets, more connected communities, and support for local businesses. Black communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

As it stands, Chicago has a higher overall density, and better connectivity, of bike lanes downtown and in relatively affluent North Side neighborhoods with higher population density and bike mode share. Their South and West Side counterparts have received more miles of protected bike lanes, due to the fact that wide roads with available right-of-way are more common in these parts of town.

While a number of low-income communities of color, such as Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, and Bronzeville, have received Divvy bike-share, a majority of the stations have been installed downtown and on the North Side. The system is slated to expand to more South and West Side neighborhoods next year. The more bikeable areas of the city also have a higher density of parking racks, which residents can request via a Chicago Department of Transportation website.

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Active Trans’ Bikeways Tracker shows the distribution of protected lanes (green) and buffered lanes (blue). Red is proposed bikeways.

In an effort to win more bike resources for black communities, Reed has partnered with Peter Taylor, an Active Transportation Alliance board member and president of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Shawn Conley, head of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago. On November 1, they met in an Englewood café to strategize with Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of RBG Chicago and a member of the League of American Bicyclists’ Equity Advisory Council, Latrice Williams from Bronzeville Bikes, as well as black bike advocates from Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Out of that meeting came an open letter to the city, state and other advocacy groups, asking for a more fair distribution of bike infrastructure and education, and that more consideration be given to the needs and concerns of black residents when allocating these resources. The letter makes seven specific requests. Among these are that the local governments make a public commitment to prioritize equity, and require contractors who work on transportation projects to do so as well.

The advocates ask the city and state to commit to spending a fair amount of tax dollars on bike resources between 2015 and 2020 in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The city is also asked to provide an update on the status of recommendations made by community advisory groups for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – Reed and Taylor served as leaders for South Side advisory groups.

The black advocates gave a presentation on their campaign at last week’s Mayor’s Advisory Council meeting. At the assembly, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld and Active Trans director Ron Burke acknowledged that more effort needs to be made to promote cycling in communities that don’t already have high ridership. Scheinfeld promised that equity would be strongly considered in prioritizing future projects. One of the 2020 Plan’s goals is to ensure that every Chicagoan lives within a half mile of a bikeway.

“CDOT has been focused on building a comprehensive bikeway network throughout Chicago and we are pleased to have advocates like [Reed, Taylor, and Conley] to partner with to help reach those goals,” said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales “We look forward to continuing to work with them to help determine the needs for cycling facilities in every community.”

“The equity statement delivered at MBAC is an outstanding example of the kind of grassroots leadership we need in Chicago,” said Active Trans’ Jim Merrill. He argued that the city is already working hard to equitably distribute new bike infrastructure. “We hope this call for a renewed look at bike equity in Chicago can amplify those efforts, and we look forward to collaborating with advocates throughout the city to build a bike network that serves all Chicagoans equally.”

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At Last, the Bloomingdale Looks Like a Trail

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Beth White stands under a lighting arch on the Humboldt Boulevard Bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In June, Steven Vance and I got a sneak peek at construction to build the Bloomingdale Trail, AKA The 606. On Tuesday, I went back up on the rail line for a tour with Beth White from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project, and saw that major progress has been made over the last six months. Work on bridges and utilities is largely complete, access ramps are in place, many blocks of railings have been installed, and most of the 2.7-mile route is paved.

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Much of the eastern portion of the trail now has railings. Photo: John Greenfield

The $95 million multiuse trail and linear park was supposed to debut this fall but construction delays, caused by the long, cold winter, have postponed the opening date until June. The upside of the delay is that more of the landscaping for the path and its access parks will be completed by opening time than was originally planned.

Almost all of the rail line, except for locations currently accessed by heavy trucks, now sports a 14-foot-wide ribbon of concrete that will serve as the walking and biking surface. Mile markers have been embedded in the pavement, and two-foot-wide rubber surfaces will be added to the outside edges of the path to provide a soft surface for running — a similar configuration as the Lakefront Trail.

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City Has 83 Miles of Better Bike Lanes, Will Surpass 100 Mile Goal in 2015

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Crews stripe Kinzie Street, Chicago’s first protected bike lane, three and a half years ago. Photo: Brandon Souba

The Chicago Department of Transportation has nearly reached Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s much-ballyhooed goal of building 100 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes during his first term. CDOT staff at last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting said that they’ve striped 83 miles of the better bike lanes so far, and plan to surpass the 100-mile mark next spring.

2014 saw substantial progress made on building out the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. 34 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes were striped this year, and now such lanes exist in 38 of the city’s 50 wards. As in prior years, almost all of these bike lanes have been buffered, rather than fully protected: This year, 30.75 miles of buffered lanes, and only 3.25 miles of protected lanes, were installed. Another nine miles of streets saw sharrows or conventional bike lanes added in 2014.

An additional 31.5 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes have been designed, and are planned for installation by the end of spring 2015 — giving the city a grand total of 114.5 miles of buffered or protected bike lanes.

Additional greenways, curb separated bikeways, and other safety improvements continue to be coordinated with the city’s ongoing street resurfacing projects. Yet work on some street could always be coordinated better, as with the recently repaved stretch of Garfield Boulevard between King Drive and the Dan Ryan Expressway. That project also included bulb-outs and improved pedestrian crossings, but bike lanes remain only a future possibility. Garfield, from Western Avenue to King Drive, is marked as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan.

A neighborhood greenway is being studied along 97th Street, west of the Dan Ryan and the Red Line’s 95th Street station. If it’s completed, the greenway would include a contraflow bike lane along Lafayette, between 95th and 97th, to link the bikeway to the busy station.

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Bike Chicago May Open a New Bike Station in a Transit-Friendly Location

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The bike station in Millennium Park. Photo: John Greenfield

One of Chicago’s nicest bike amenities is one we often taken for granted, the Millennium Park bike station. Built in 2004 by the Chicago Department of Transportation, using $3 million in federal funds, this attractive glass structure offers indoor parking for about 300 bikes, plus showers, lockers, rentals, and repairs.

The main drawback of the facility is its location. Located at the northeast corner of the park, at the top of one of the city’s only hills, it gets good use from office workers commuting to nearby towers like the Aon Center, the Prudential Building, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois headquarters. However, the station is too far away from the central Loop to be useful for many downtown employees who want to bike, park and shower before heading to work. It’s also not very handy for the majority of people who want to store a bike for “last mile” trips from the Metra and CTA stations to their workplaces.

Bike Chicago, which operates the bike station (and has sponsored Streetsblog Chicago) is considering opening a new station that would better serve those needs. Yesterday the company posted on The Chainlink, a local bike social networking site with over 11,000 members, to ask where Chicago cyclists would like to see another location, and what amenities they’d like to see. So far, four respondents have voted for a bike station near Union Station, and one has requested a cycle center near the Merchandise Mart.

The idea of a West Loop bike station is nothing new. The city’s Bike 2015 Plan, approved in 2006, noted the success of the Millennium Park station and recommended establishing another facility near a popular train station, such as the Ogilivie Transportation Center, to encourage multi-modal trips. In the late 2000s, CDOT looked into the possibility of setting up a cycle center next to Ogilvie’s new French Market, but never sealed the deal.

Ryan Lawber, the general manager of Bike Chicago, said that his company is only putting out feelers at the moment, but launching a second bike station is a definite possibility. “We’ve been running a bike station for ten years now, and it’s very successful,” he said. “We’ve got it down, so we’d like to expand.”

The existing cycle center is managed by MB Real Estate, which supplies janitorial services. In 2006 McDonald’s Corporation bought the naming rights to the stations for $5 million, which has been used to fund maintenance. Bike Chicago pays a percentage of its earnings to MB Realty as rent, and charges bike station members $35 per month or $199 a year. Day passes are also available for $5 for shower and locker use with bike parking, $3 without. “The bike station has definitely been profitable,” Lawber said.

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On the Anniversary of Hector Avalos’ Death, His Family Is Hoping for Justice

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

Last Friday, exactly one year after Hector Avalos was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk driver, his family and friends gathered to remember him at the “ghost bike” erected in his honor. The white-painted bicycle, installed at the crash site on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park, is part of a worldwide movement to memorialize fallen cyclists. Avalos’ memorial serves as a somber reminder of a valuable life lost.

Avalos, 28, was a former marine and aspiring chef who often commuted by bike. On the night of December 6, 2013, he was biking back to the South Side from his job as a line cook at El Hefe restaurant in River North. He was several blocks west of his home on the 1800 block of West Cermak when his path intersected with that of motorist Robert Vais.

Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, had reportedly spent the evening at a staff Christmas party at Francesca’s on Taylor, a restaurant in Little Italy. At 11:50 p.m., he was driving home to southwest suburban Riverside in his Ford Windstar minivan when he struck Avalos from behind. After emergency personnel arrived, Avalos was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m.

According to a police report, Vais walked up to an officer on the scene and said, “I was the driver of that van over there. I hit him. Is he OK?” The officer testified that Vais smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes, which spurred his decision to arrest Vais and take him to the hospital for a blood draw. The test showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.118, well above the legal limit of 0.08.

A small crowd of Avalos’ loved ones gathered on Friday to tell stories and share memories. Wrapped in scarves and blankets, they solemnly poured beer at the base of the light pole that supports the ghost bike, forming foamy puddles. Someone wiped clean the framed photograph of Avalos in his Marine dress uniform, a souvenir from his two tours of duty. Flickering veladoras — religious votive candles — were lit, creating a small circle of light and warmth in the dark, cold night.

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Active Trans to Oak Park Trustees: Quit Stalling on Madison Road Diet

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Rendering of Madison in Oak Park after a “four-to-three conversion” road diet.

Active Transportation Alliance director and Oak Park resident Ron Burke says he’s tired of waiting for the village’s trustees to move forward with making Madison a safer and more economically viable complete street. A plan was proposed nearly three years ago to reduce crashes and make the street more walkable and bikeable with a road diet on the street between Austin and Harlem. A survey at the time found the overwhelming majority of residents support the plan, Burke said.

The suburb has millions of dollars in tax increment financing, as well as a federal grant, that could be used for the project. However, no action has been taken since the plan came out, because the village board has been deliberating on whether to use TIF money for a new school district headquarters, Burke said. Now that decision is largely resolved, Active Trans recently launched a letter writing campaign to let Oak Park leaders know they shouldn’t further delay improvements to Madison, garnering over 200 signatures in a week.

Currently, this stretch of Madison is a wide, four-lane street with a limited number of left turn lanes and too much capacity for the 18,300 cars it carries on average each day. As a result, it’s got one of the highest crash rates in Chicagoland, with about 235 collisions per year. That’s roughly twice the collision rate of Lake Shore Drive, which the Illinois Department of Transportation has said is one of the most crash-prone roads in the state.

The collisions on Madison are mostly car-on-car, but an average of seven pedestrians and cyclists are struck on this stretch per year. Active Trans recently included Madison/Harlem on its list of the 20 most dangerous intersections in the region.  Tragically, 92-year-old Suleyman Cetin was fatally struck while biking across Madison at Scoville last year.

Furthermore, Madison serves as a major barrier to people on foot and bikes, discouraging travel between the north and south sides of Oak Park. The car-centric street layout and high speeds have also contributed to a lackluster retail picture on the street, with a high number of fast food restaurants and empty lots, Burke said.

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Oak Park Getting Children’s Bike Fleet, “Kids on Wheels” Is Expanding

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Kids get ready to ride a skills course at an Oak Park school. Photo: Active Trans

Last weekend, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced that Oak Park will receive a $12,000 federal Safe Routes to School grant to purchase a trailer, bicycles, helmets and supporting materials for its local Kids on Wheels education program. This will likely be the first time SRTS funds have been used for a fleet of training bikes, according to Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Ted Villaire.

The advocacy group created Kids on Wheels last spring, as a mobile program to bring bike-ed to municipalities across the region. “Since Oak Park will be buying their own gear, this will be a nice, natural transition to their program becoming all theirs,” said Active Trans education specialist Jason Jenkins.

The Oak Park grant is part of $5.9 million in new federal awards that IDOT announced for 58 different safe routes initiatives in many Illinois communities. “Students deserve to feel safe while traveling to and from school every day,” Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement. “The Safe Routes to School program will help communities improve public safety to keep students safe, and promote healthy habits like walking and biking to school.” The projects also include infrastructure improvements like sidewalk installation and repair, pedestrian countdown signals, speed feedback signs, pedestrian islands, and police speed enforcement equipment.

In May, Active Trans launched Kids on Wheels (originally Bikes on Wheels) with Oak Park as the pilot community. The advocacy group purchased a 20-foot trailer using using its own money, plus a donation from Oak Park’s Green Line Wheels, a local nonprofit that offers bike rentals and tours. Specialized Bicycles donated 30 single-speed kids’ bikes through a dealer grant via Chicago’s Kozy’s Cyclery.

In that first season, Active Trans staffers took the trailer to seven of Oak Park’s eight elementary schools and taught kids bike safety basics, assisted by teachers, local police officers, and parent volunteers, Jenkins said. The children were taught proper helmet use and how to do an “ABC Quick Check” to make sure their bike’s air pressure, brakes, chain, and quick releases are up to snuff.

The children practiced hand signals, turning, checking for traffic, and braking on a skills course. They also learned how to do a “Power Start,” positioning their pedals at the 2:00 / 8:00 position for maximum go. They even got to compete in a “Snail’s Race,” seeing who could ride the slowest without falling over.

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Eyes on the Street: Goodbye to “Lake Kluczynksi”?

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Formerly home to a large divot, the stretch of the Dearborn cycle track just south of Adams is now glassy-smooth. Photo: John Greenfield

The Dearborn protected bike lanes are one of the gems of Chicago’s bikeway network, but ever since the two-way route opened, poor drainage has been a major fly in the ointment.

Two years ago, the bike lanes were installed curbside, on existing asphalt that had some rough spots. From the get-go, rain and slush accumulated in low spots. Large puddles at Randolph (by Petterino’s Restaurant) and Adams (by the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building) were practically permanent geographic features, which remained full of water for days after a storm. “Lake Kluczynski” was usually filled with cigarette butts left by office workers on smoking breaks.

These bodies of water, which often occupied most of the width of the bike lanes, might be a thing of the past. The Chicago Department of Water Management improved drainage at Randolph last year, which helped shrink “Lake Petterino’s.” This September, the Chicago Department of Transportation repaved problem sections along Dearborn, which may eliminate Lake Kluczynski as well.

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“Lake Kluczynski” was a major annoyance for cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT resurfaced about 500 linear feet of Dearborn in the Loop, largely to address poor pavement conditions, rather than drainage, according to spokesman Pete Scales. All affected bike lane markings have been restriped with thermoplastic.

When roughly 200 linear feet of new asphalt was put in south of Adams, by the federal building, the contractor added a slight downward grade towards the curb. That will help water flow out of the bike lanes, towards the sewer catch basin, Scales said. This month, CDOT will do a little more grinding on that stretch to further improve drainage.

The eradication of that not-so-great lake will be cause for celebration by cyclists. And, who knows, maybe it will encourage the IRS employees to toss their butts in a real trashcan.

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Logan Square NIMBYs Don’t Understand the Value of Housing Density

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Save Our Boulevards’ unintentionally hilarious flyer.

There must be something in the water along Milwaukee Avenue, since lately Logan Square NIMBYs have been giving their Jefferson Park counterparts a run for their money. Exhibit A is an unintentionally hilarious flyer protesting plans for transit-oriented development in Logan, circulated by the local group Save Our Boulevards.

As reported by DNAinfo, the handout, headlined “1,500 Units Coming to You,” warns residents that fixie-pedaling, Sazerac-sipping “hipsters” will be moving into the parking-lite buildings. SOB insists that, even though these hypothetical bohemians will bike everywhere, they’ll simultaneously create a car-parking crunch and clog the roads.

The flyer cites an October 28 Curbed Chicago article reporting that nearly new 1,500 apartment units are currently planned for Milwaukee between Grand and Diversey. The development boom is in response to the demand for housing along the Blue Line, largely from young adults who want a convenient commute to downtown jobs. It’s worth noting that only about a third of this 4.5-mile stretch lies within Logan Square.

“Many of these [apartment buildings] have little or no parking,” the handout states. “Parking space is important to most of us. Most of us don’t ride our bikes to work. Most of us think density and congestion adversely affect our quality of life.”

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This man is not coming to steal your car-parking spot. Photo John Greenfield

SOB scolds 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno for paving the way for more density, since he supported the city’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance. The new law makes it easier for developers to build relatively tall buildings near transit stops, and halves the number of required parking spaces.

“Tell [Moreno] to stop representing the hipsters who don’t live here, but want to move her [sic], drink fancy cocktails for a few years, and then move to the suburbs because it’s too congested and their friends can’t find a place to park,” the flyer exhorts. Obviously, this is pretty scrambled logic.

Ironically, SOB was formed in 2011 as an anti-parking group. Back then, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón introduced an ordinance that legalized the longstanding practice of church parishioners parking in the travel lanes of Logan Square boulevards on Sundays. It also permitted weekend parking on the lanes by drivers patronizing local businesses. The neighborhood group argued that this practice detracted from the historic character of the boulevard system.

Nowadays, SOB is particularly upset about a plan to build two 11- and 15-story towers on vacant lots at 2293 North Milwaukee, just southeast of the California/Milwaukee intersection and the California Blue stop. The development would have 250 housing units, but only 72 parking spaces, as opposed to the standard 1:1 ratio.

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City Writing New Rules of the Road to Allow Shared Space on Argyle Street

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A rendering of the new street configuration on Argyle.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently hashing out an ordinance to regulate how motorists will behave on the Argyle “shared street” [PDF], a pedestrian-priority zone slated for construction next year. The streetscape project — the first of its kind in Chicago — will create a plaza-like feel along Argyle from Broadway to Sheridan, by raising the street level and eliminating curbs. Slow motorized traffic and car parking will still be permitted on the street, but pedestrians will rule the space.

In late August, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman released the final designs for the street, which will be lined with pavers from building line to building line. Two or three different colors of pavers, as well as trees and other street furniture, will be used to differentiate between travel lanes, parking lanes, and a pedestrian-only zone.

The speed limit will be lowered to 10 mph, which will allow pedestrians to safely cross the street throughout the block — not just at crosswalks — and make it make it comfortable for cyclists to ride in the center of the travel lanes. Other features will include wider pedestrian-only spaces to make room for outdoor cafes, plus permeable pavers, and bioswales. A colorful pillar, emblazoned with the word “Argyle,” will stand in a median at the Broadway intersection, complementing the strip’s existing “Asia on Argyle” sign.

Work to replace gas and water lines on Argyle will take place in January and February, respectively, according to Osterman’s assistant Sara Dinges. The streetscape construction is scheduled to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2015. “We want to emphasize that Argyle businesses will be open during the construction, so we want people to continue to support them,” she said.

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The border between the pedestrian-only area and parking will undulate, creating a gentle chicane.

The merchants will likely be rewarded for their patience during construction with a boost in sales after the work is finished. Studies from London found that economic activity increased on streets after shared spaces were built. Meanwhile, traffic injuries and deaths decreased by 43 percent, and drivers became 14 percent more likely to stop for pedestrians.

At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last month, CDOT Complete Streets Director Janet Attarian noted that Chicago’s municipal code currently doesn’t allow for speed limits to be reduced below 20 mph. The code also only gives pedestrians the right-of-way within designated crosswalks on roadways.

Therefore, the department is working on an ordinance to define shared streets, designating them as locations where a lower speed limit is permissible and where drivers must stop for pedestrians anywhere along the corridor, Attarian said. Once the ordinance is drafted, Osterman will introduce it to City Council, according to Dinges.

Cambridge, Massachusetts [PDF] has built successful shared streets on Winthrop and Palmer streets, two narrow streets around historic Harvard Square. In conjunction with this, the city added language to its vehicular code mandating that that all vehicle operators, including cyclists, must yield to pedestrians on shared streets. The ordinance also states that operators must travel at a speed that ensures pedestrian safety, and that speeds over 10 mph on shared streets are “considered hazardous.”

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