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5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S.

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While walk and bike commute rates aren’t changing rapidly, since 2005 walking to work has ceased a long-term decline, and biking to work has started to rise after many years of stagnation. All graphics: Alliance for Walking and Biking.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released its big biannual benchmarking report today, a 200-page document that measures the scope, status, and benefits of biking and walking across the United States, using 2011 and 2012 data to update its previous reports.

Streetsblog will be running a series of posts looking at the Alliance’s findings over the next few days. To start it all off, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Biking and walking are growing — slowly

Nationwide, 3.4 percent of commuters got to work by foot or bike in 2011 and 2012.

In those two years, walking accounted for 2.8 percent of work trips, up from 2.5 percent in 2005 but not perceptibly different than any year since. Nationwide, bike commute mode share stood at 0.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.4 percent in 2005 but not much different than when the previous benchmarking report came out two years ago.

The Alliance calls this a continuation of the “very gradual trend of increasing biking and walking to work.”

2. But walking to work is growing more noticeably in cities

In the 50 largest cities, however, a recent increase in walking is somewhat more discernible. The walking commute share rose to 5 percent in 2012 — half a percentage point higher than in 2005. Meanwhile, bike commuting in the 50 largest cities rose to 1 percent mode share in 2012 from 0.7 percent in 2005.

Boston had the highest share of walking commuters at 15 percent, and Portland had the highest share of bike commuters at 6.1 percent.

Keep in mind that these mode-share numbers are based on the Census, which only counts people who bike or walk for the longest part of their commute more than three days a week. As we’ll see, this understates total biking and walking activity.

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Updates in Bobby Cann, Hector Avalos Cases

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Bobby Cann and Hector Avalos.

Hearings were recently held for the cases of Robert “Bobby” Cann and Hector Avalos, two Chicago cyclists who were killed by allegedly drunk drivers in separate incidents last year. Each case continues to progress slowly.

On the evening of May 29, Cann, 26, was riding from work at the nearby Groupon offices when motorist Ryne San Hamel, 28, struck him at the intersection of Clybourn and Larabee in Old Town. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

The case’s latest status hearing took place Friday at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California, with about 20 Cann family and supporters in attendance, according to Kate Conway, an attorney for the family. The State’s Attorney’s office had expects that tests on San Hamel’s car and analysis of other evidence for reconstructing the events of the crash would be completed by then. However, a brake expert is currently examining the car to determine what speed it was going and what, if any, braking occurred.

San Hamel’s attorney filed a motion requesting documents related to the blood test on the driver that was performed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, perhaps in an attempt to invalidate the test results, Conway said. That evidence will first go to Judge William Hooks, who will determine whether it is admissible in the case, according to victim advocate Sharon Johnson from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

“To me that seems like a time extension tactic by the defense,” Johnson said. “My guess is that it won’t reveal anything, but it will make the case longer, which is hard on the victim’s family.” The next hearing for the criminal case was set for May 23.

In March, the Cann family filed a wrongful death suit against San Hamel and his business, AllYouCanDrink.com, a bar promotions website. The defense has not yet responded to the complaint. The initial hearing is scheduled for June 4.

On Tuesday, there was a status hearing at the county courthouse for Avalos’ case. A 28-year-old former marine and aspiring chef, he was biking on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park on December 6, when Robert Vais, 54, fatally struck him from behind. He is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges.

Avalos’ mother, grandmother, young brother and sister, and a few friends, as well as a coworker of Cann and representatives of AAIM and the Active Transportation Alliance, attended the hearing, according to the family’s lawyer, Michael Keating. “There was a very nice turnout in support of Hector,” Keating said.

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Could IDOT Bike Plan Represent a Turning Point for the Car-Centric Agency?

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Cover of the executive summary for the bike plan.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has a long history of promoting driving before all other modes. However, its new Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, released this morning at the Illinois Bike Summit in Champaign, may represent a new direction for the department.

In recent years, IDOT has pushed wasteful, destructive highway projects like the Circle Interchange Expansion and the Illiana Tollway, and it recently released a “Purpose and Need” statement for the North Lake Shore Drive rehab that was written largely from a windshield perspective.

When the department launched the public input process for the state bike plan last summer, it was still prohibiting Chicago from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city, apparently for reasons that had nothing to do with safety. It seemed ironic that IDOT was seeking input on strategies for improving bike safety when its own policy undermined it.

In October, at a memorial for Robert “Bobby” Cann, a cyclist who was killed by a motorist on Clybourn, a state road, it was announced that IDOT was lifting the PBL ban. The agency is currently working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to design protected bike lanes on Clybourn, possibly shielded by concrete curbs, on an experimental basis.

This morning, the Active Transportation Alliance heralded the release of the bike plan, which calls for improvements to state road design and more funding for bike safety projects, as a sign of IDOT’s growing commitment to improving conditions for non-motorized transportation. “This is not an easy task given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking,” the Active Trans release said.

“With the adoption of its Complete Streets policy in 2007, its plans to pilot-test protected bike lanes on state routes, and now the state bike plan, I think it’s fair to say IDOT is turning the corner, so to speak, toward a multi-modal approach that provides a range of transportation options for Illinois residents,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke in a statement.

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Tell IDOT to Rehab LSD as a Complete Street, Not a Speedway

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This bus stop on Inner Lake Shore Drive at Addison is an unwelcoming space for riders. Image: Google Street View

On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Transportation kicked off the feedback process for the the North Lake Shore Drive rehabilitation’s future alternatives analysis, at the third meeting of the project’s task forces. During the previous two meetings, it seemed like IDOT would insist upon just another highway project, with minimal benefits for pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists. Yet as the process of determining the lakefront highway’s future has evolved, some hope that the project can be steered in a more positive direction.

When the city of Chicago began building LSD in the late 1800s, the road was designed to be a place where one could take a leisurely ride to enjoy views of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Today, an average of 161,000 cars use the drive on a daily basis, few of them leisurely partaking in the view. IDOT estimates that 78 to 95 percent of drivers break the posted 45 mph (40 mph in winter) speed limit. In the highest-speed section, nine percent of drivers were doing more than 70 mph.

Several of the CTA’s busiest bus routes also use Lake Shore Drive. Around 69,000 passengers ride on the 970 local and express buses that ply the Drive every day, many of them residents of high-density lakefront neighborhoods. That’s almost as many passengers as the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch carries daily, and more than twice as many riders as dedicated busways in other cities, like Cleveland’s HealthLine and Los Angeles’ Orange Line.

Yet unlike those passengers, those riding LSD buses frequently get bogged down by car traffic. Northbound bus commuters who use stops along Inner Lake Shore Drive have to wait for the bus on narrow sidewalks, with only a thin fence and guardrail separating them from high-speed traffic on the main road. At intersections were buses get on and off the drive, there are complex interchanges with tight turns.

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Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last night. Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving a blessing California cities to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now.

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Bollard Blues: This Winter Was Rough on Chicago’s Protected Bike Lanes

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All the bollards along Milwaukee have been taken out. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also runs on the Green Lane Project's blog.]

In the wake of this brutal winter, Chicago’s third snowiest on record, some sections  of the Dearborn protected bike lanes resemble a gap-toothed grin. Several of the white, plastic posts that delineate the bi-directional bikeway are missing in action. Roughly half of the posts that once separated bikes from cars on nearby Kinzie are gone.

On Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, every single bollard is missing from protected bike lanes the city installed less than a year ago. It’s a reminder of the downside of relying on plastic posts for protection, and the advantages of permanent lane separations such as curbs.

Milwaukee Avenue, with bollards - photo by Steven Vance

Milwaukee Avenue, shortly after the buffered and protected lanes opened. Photo: Steven Vance

Mike Fierstein, co-owner of Ancien Cycles, which recently opened on Milwaukee to take advantage of its high bike traffic, said the bollards were wiped out by reckless motorists, snowplows, and a water main project which tore up a stretch of the street last fall. That section of road is slated to be repaved and restriped this spring. “It seems like the posts aren’t really made to last that long anyway,” Fierstein said.

Chicago Department of Transportation project manager Mike Amsden has said the city made the decision to start out with the flexible, plastic posts, which cost about $90 each installed, rather than more durable, but more expensive, concrete infrastructure, in order to build many miles of protected bike lanes ASAP. “There’s pros and cons to doing it both ways — quality versus quantity, honestly,” Amsden told Seattle Bike Blog in January. “The philosophy of just getting as much in as quickly as you can is great.”

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Hairston, Cappleman Pass on Participatory Budgeting This Year

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Proposed design of SherMon Plaza, which won funding last year in the 46th Ward.

As we’ve recently reported, the 49th Ward is holding its fifth participatory budgeting election this year, the 45th Ward is holding its second, and the 22nd Ward is taking the process for a spin for the first time. However, the 5th and 46th wards, which experimented with PB last year, won’t be taking part.

It’s no shock that Alderman Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward, on the south lakefront, isn’t holding a PB election: last year, only about 100 out of the district’s 50,000-plus residents voted. In Alderman Joe Moore’s 49th Ward, largely made of Rogers Park, a whopping 1,400 people cast ballots. John Arena’s 45th, largely Jefferson Park, and James Cappleman’s 46th, largely Uptown, drew 650 and 390 voters, respectively.

Hairston’s office didn’t return my call, but in January, the Hyde Park Herald reported that the alderman decided not to stage an election this year because of the low turnout. She also cited the expense of running the election, which she said included $60,000 for a staffer to administer the program, plus money out of her own pocket for materials and refreshments, and added that some constituents found the PB process too time-consuming.

A resident who helped organize the election blamed the low turnout on the location of the poling place, in a relatively remote corner of the ward. A candidate who ran against Hairston in the last election attributed the lack of participation to constituents being unhappy with the alderman’s leadership.

One possible factor in the low turnout that wasn’t mentioned in the Herald is Hairston’s decision to exclude several nontraditional ideas for promoting biking and transit use from the ballot. Unlike the other three aldermen who held elections, Hairston designated these proposals as “service requests” that should instead be funded by city departments, the CTA or the park district. However, street, sidewalk and lighting repairs, which can also be paid for by city agencies, were left on the PB ballot. The winning three projects were an urban garden, street lamp improvements, and new lighting in Metra viaducts.

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Business Owners on Elston Won’t Fight Buffered Bike Lanes

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Biking on Elston, just west of Ashland. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s official: business owners along the Elston industrial corridor are giving up their fight against better bike lanes on the street.

In December, when Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” However, transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld wrote Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the industrial council, last month pointing out that there’s already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and 26 percent of crashes resulting in injuries involve cyclists. She also noted that ANBR would add half a mile to a bike trip downtown, and the infrastructure could cost 100 times as much as the buffered lanes.

At the end of March, CDOT project manager Mike Amsden presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, to North Branch Works, and now the council is grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes are slated for construction in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Elston Has a Speeding Problem — A Safe Bike Lane Can Help

Without protected bike lanes on Elston, bicyclists will continue to get the truck route squeeze

Without protected bike lanes on Elston, bicyclists will continue to get squeezed between trucks.

To reach Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of having five percent of trips under five miles made by bike, bicycling will have to appeal to a much broader base of people than it does today. CDOT’s bikeway projects will only succeed at that goal if new cyclists feel safe and comfortable while riding in these lanes — which, in turn, largely depends on whether they feel safe from nearby traffic.

Elston Avenue, where a proposal for buffered bike lanes has proven contentious, is a good place to measure how fast people are driving — and whether bike lanes provide sufficient separation from speeding cars. CDOT has proposed a buffered bike lane from North Avenue to Webster Avenue, and, at some point in the future, an extension further north through Avondale and beyond. The North Branch Works business association isn’t pleased with the proposal, saying that it will impede truck traffic.

John Greenfield and I spent last Tuesday morning measuring drivers’ speeds at two different locations on Elston. We used our new radar speed gun — donated by Streetsblog readers — to collect data on northbound drivers on Elston at Blackhawk/Magnolia, where Elston bends slightly, and on Elston at Willow, next to the Creative Scholars Preschool. The Blackhawk/Magnolia intersection is part of the stretch of Elston that has a bike lane separated from traffic by flexible posts, and the Willow intersection is part of CDOT’s new project area.

The proportion of speeders was high at both locations. At Blackhawk/Magnolia, 37.6 percent of drivers exceeded the 30 mph speed limit, and at Willow, 32.3 percent of drivers were speeding. We measured vehicle speeds for 15 minutes at each location, capturing 100 drivers apiece. While ideally a larger sample would be collected to gauge the extent of speeding, our measurements suggest there is a higher proportion of speeders on Elston than on other bike routes known for high speeds, like Marshall Boulevard and 55th Street.

High motor vehicle speeds not only pose a danger to people who bike, they also discourage people from biking in the first place by increasing the perception of risk. Likewise, bikeways that provide greater separation from speeding traffic not only reduce the risk of injury, they also lead more people to bike by increasing the perception of safety. To compensate for the high level of speeding on Elston — and the preponderance of truck traffic — the street should have the safest bicycle infrastructure available.

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Chicago Building Four Miles of Protected Bike Lanes This Year

Can you believe this road was expanded from 4 lanes to 6?

CDOT will install a buffered bike lane on Harrison Street through this asphalt monstrosity built for the Congress Parkway interchange expansion.

The City of Chicago announced a new slate of bikeway projects today, outlining about 15 miles of new buffered bike lanes and a little more than four miles of protected lanes to be built in 2014.

Under the plan for this year, protected bikeway construction in Chicago would continue to outpace every other American city except perhaps for New York. But the city still embellishes its progress by counting buffered lanes as protected lanes, saying that it is already halfway to the goal of building 100 miles of protected lanes by 2015. (In fact, just under 17 miles of protected bike lanes have been built.)

It’s unfortunate that the city continues to mislabel buffered bike lanes, not only because it’s misleading but because it cheapens the substantial progress being made in Chicago — often in the face of difficult obstacles like the Illinois Department of Transportation ban on protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction streets, including Clybourn Avenue and parts of Elston Avenue. (The ban has now been lifted on a trial basis on Clybourn.)

This year, about 4.25 miles of new bike lanes will be physically protected from traffic by parked cars and/or flexible posts. CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden said in December that the city is considering using curbs for protection on Clybourn Avenue from Division Street to North Avenue — a stretch that traverses the intersection where cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by drunk driver Ryne San Hamel — and State Street south of 26th Street. The news release says this is still being designed. (CDOT said at the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting in March that curb separation was “still on the table.”)

The new protected bike lanes are:

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