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Retiring Messenger Mike Morell Discusses the State of the Local Courier Biz

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When Time Out Chicago still ran in print, Morell (center) distributed hundreds of pounds of magazines via trailer. Also shown: Jim Freeman and Bob Matter, now with the bike-focused firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor). Photo: T.C. O’Rourke

Imagine how much better Chicago’s central business district would work if all the deliveries that don’t require motor vehicles were made by bicycle instead.

While the traditional bike messenger industry, based around moving envelopes and small packages, has been steadily shrinking with the rise of digital media, it’s still alive and kicking. Meanwhile, human power is becoming an increasingly common way to transport larger items and, especially, food.

Last week Mike Morell, 39, a 15-year veteran of the courier business and a mainstay of the local messenger scene, announced he was retiring to “explore some other pursuits.” Morell is known as a cofounder of 4 Star Courier Collective, Chicago’s first cooperatively owned messenger company.

Morell is also a seasoned racer. He won the title of Chicago’s fastest bike messenger as the top-ranked local competitor in the 2012 Cycle Messenger World Championships, held in the south parking lot of Soldier Field (originally proposed as the site for the Lucas Museum). I caught up with him to get his take on how the local courier biz has evolved over the years.

Morell founded 4 Star with friends in September 2005. “We all had our gripes with most of the companies out there, although we really liked the job,” he said. “It was a last-gasp effort to continue to do the job we loved.”

The company is no longer purely a collective. “Unfortunately, one of the tricky things was to find an equitable way to have owners come and go,” Morell said. “The owners still do deliveries nowadays, but they make a little bit more.” However, he says the bike messengers and car couriers who work as employees for the company are still paid fairly. “The focus is making sure everyone is still making a living.”

Although Morell will no longer be riding or dispatching for 4 Star, he will continue to help out behind the scenes for some time. The remaining owners are Tom Willett and Al Pearson.

Morell says that while there is much less traditional messenger work in Chicago than when he started, the number of companies has also greatly decreased, so 4 Star is still doing well. “Our share of the market has grown as companies with a more top-heavy management structure folded,” he explained.

There are about 12 traditional companies left downtown, and about a third as many bike couriers as there were a decade ago, Morell estimates. “It used to be that you would run into people you knew all the time,” he recalled. “You still do, but it’s more of a novel occurrence.”

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In Rainy Areas, Protected Bike Lanes Can Cut Road Construction Costs

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

As protected bike lanes arrive in American suburbs, some city builders are making an unexpected discovery.

Not only are protected bike lanes by far the best way to make biking a pleasant transportation option for shorter trips — sometimes they can also significantly cut the cost of constructing new roads from scratch.

In the central cities where protected bike lanes first arrived, brand-new roads are rarely built. But now that many suburbs are upping their own game on bike infrastructure, a protected bike lane is being planned into streets from the get-go.

“It’s definitely something that we’re seeing more of,” said Zack Martin, engineering manager at the Washington State development consulting firm MacKay Sposito. “It’s coming up on I’d say most of the new arterial roads we’re looking at.”

In a blog post last month, Martin explained the unexpected reason protected bike lanes can save construction costs: rainwater.

Curb-protected bike lanes, his firm realized, can reduce the huge cost of managing rainwater that falls on pavement and then flows into streams and rivers. That runoff is a major source of water pollution, which is why the federal Clean Water Act requires local governments to minimize it. But in rainy parts of the country, preventing excess runoff from pavement that cars are driving on has also become a major cost factor in road construction.

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Cast Your Vote for the Milwaukee Avenue Bike Counter Design

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Wicker Park/Bucktown

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Comic Book

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1st Ward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a chance to have your say on what Chicago’s newest piece of bike infrastructure will look like.

The real estate company LG Development, in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Transportation, is planning to install a bike counter in front of a transit-oriented development they’re building at 1241 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park. They received three different proposals for the image panels of the counter, a vertical, rectangular device called an Eco-TOTEM, manufactured by the Montreal-based company Eco Counter, and they’ve asked Streetsblog to host the poll to pick the winner

The proposed designs include “Wicker Park/Bucktown” by Transit Tees, “Comic Book” by J. Byrnes from Fourth is King, and “1st Ward” by Clemente High School. You can cast your vote by clicking on one of the buttons below. The poll will be open until Saturday, April 30.

A display at the top of the bike counter will show the number of cyclists who have passed each day. A vertical display will show the total number of bike trips on the stretch for the year. As in other cities, the nearly real-time data will be posted on a website, and CDOT will also have direct access to the info.

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Dozens of Residents Showed Up for This Week’s South Side Bikeways Meetings

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Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Anne Alt

After poor turnout from locals at last month’s two West Side bikeways hearing, with a total of only five area residents attending, there was a much better turnout at the two South Side meetings this week. The input sessions are part of a strategy by the Chicago Department of Transportation to improve bike equity for these parts of the city, which have historically gotten sparser bike lane coverage than the North and Northwest Sides, where more residents have advocated for them.

Monday night about 20 people attended a hearing at the Vodak-East Side Library in the East Side neighborhood, according to CDOT officials. I went to Tuesday’s meeting in Pullman where about 40 people showed up, including a staffer for 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale. Many Pullman residents were there, along with people from the Riverdale community area, Beverly, and South Shore. Both meetings focused on the area roughly bounded by Vincennes, 91st, the lake, Indiana, and the Calumet River.

CDOT’s Mike Amsden of CDOT did a presentation explaining the planning process for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which was released in 2012. “What happened to the Bike 2015 Plan?” asked one attendee. Amsden explained that Bike 2015 was all about policy, while Streets for Cycling focuses on building a citywide bike network.

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The South Side study area

Prior to these meetings, CDOT reps met with Beale, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and staff for aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Greg Mitchell (7th). Aldermen Howard Brookins (21st) and Michelle Harris (8th) were notified but did not schedule meetings.

Additional meetings were held with community organizations and institutions, including Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Chicago Commission Pullman Civic Organization, Chicago State University, LISC Chicago, and Beverly Area Planning Association.

CDOT is taking public input on a draft of the proposed route map and weighing it along with technical criteria (route and feasibility analysis, as described in the presentation) in order to prioritize which routes should be built next.

Funding for route design is available now, although construction funding is not available for all mapped routes. Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds can be used, but planning and approval for CMAQ-funded bikeways takes a few years. Locally funded projects can be built faster, but city and state budget issues limit that option.

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People Will Win if Wrigley Field Streets are Closed to Vehicle Traffic

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On game days, pedestrians fill the Addison/Clark intersection. Why bother keeping it open to vehicle traffic during these times? Photo: Peter Tauch

Two local politicians have proposed changing the streets around Wrigley Field to help defend it from terrorist attacks. Instead we should be looking at ways to protect the area from an excess of car traffic.

U.S. representative Mike Quigley (5th district) recently floated the idea of pedestrianizing Clark and Addison Streets during game days to prevent attacks. A spokesperson for Quigley clarified that while he hasn’t proposed anything specific yet, he’s interested in restricting private vehicle traffic during games but allowing buses and pedestrians to use Addison and Clark.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has previously rejected the idea of pedestrianizing these streets. But on Wednesday he announced he’d seek federal funding to widen the sidewalk on the south side (Addison) of the ballpark by four feet and add concrete bollards or planters to improve security.

“There [are] ways to achieve the security without shutting down Clark and Addison,” he told the Tribune. “We can do it in another way without all the other kind of ramifications that shutting down a major intersection [would entail].”

Quigley’s office released a statement yesterday endorsing Emanuel’s plan and offering help secure the federal funding.

While widening the sidewalk is a step in the right direction, more should be done to improve pedestrian and transit access to Wrigley. As it stands, motor vehicles can already barely get through Addison and Clark before and after games, when some 42,000 fans flood the intersection, and pedestrians in the street are at risk of being struck.

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CDOT’s 2015 Bikeways Report Highlights Last Year’s Many Innovative Projects

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CDOT tried lots of new stuff this year, including this treatment at Washington/Franklin, inspired by Dutch “protected intersections.” Photo: CDOT

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s new report “2015 Bikeways – Year in Review” showcases the fact that the CDOT bike program got a heck of a lot of stuff done last year. It quantifies the significant progress that was made in 2015, the year the city debuted curb-protected bike lanes.

All told, CDOT installed about 20 miles of new buffered bike lanes and roughly three miles of protected lanes, as well as restriping some 19 miles of existing, faded lanes. The city has put in a total of 108 miles of bike lanes since Mayor Emanuel took office in 2011, including many miles of existing conventional lanes that were upgraded to buffered or protected lanes. Currently there are 87 miles of buffered lanes and 21.35 miles of protected lanes.

The city’s first curb-protected lanes went in on Sacramento, Milwaukee, Clybourn, Washington, and 31st Street. Concrete protection represents a big step forward towards creating a bike network that so-called “interested but concerned” types will feel comfortable using.

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The Clybourn curb-protected bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

The new curb protection on 31st represents an upgrade from the old PBLs, which were chiefly separated from car traffic by plastic posts. “This project exemplifies the strategy of installing bike infrastructure quickly and then upgrading the project through future inprovements,” the report states.

CDOT also built the city’s first raised bike lanes on the north sidewalk of a short stretch of Roosevelt between State and the Grant Park skate park. Green “crosswalks for bikes” still need to be marked to shepherd cyclists through the cross streets.

While the Roosevelt bikeway is more of a demonstration project than a particularly useful route, hopefully the city will build a longer raised bikeway in the near future. It would be great to see Chicago pilot Copenhagen-style facilities, where the bike lane is located above the street level but below the sidewalk, which helps keep walkers out of the bike lane.

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City Begins Work on Next 50 Miles of Bikeways, Funds Bikes N’ Roses

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IIT grad student Yuan Zheng rides in a new curb-protected bike lane on 31st. Photo: John Greenfield

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Today at a ribbon cutting for curb-protected bike lanes on 31st Street by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mayor Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld elaborated on the city’s previously announced plan to build 50 more miles of bikeways by 2019.

This represents a slower pace of installation than the city’s previous achievement of installing 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes in about 4.5 years, starting in 2011. However, while 83.5 miles of those lanes were buffered, merely paint on the road, it’s possible that a higher percentage of the new bikeways will feature better protection from car traffic.

Scheinfeld say the upcoming 50 miles will include many so-called “better bike lanes,” including off-street paths, new “neighborhood greenway” routes on traffic-calmed residential streets, concrete-protected lanes, and safety improvements at key intersections.

Cortland/Ashland in Bucktown, near the eastern terminus of the Bloomingdale Trail, and Logan/Western in Logan Square spring to mind as intersections with high bike traffic that also are scary junctions with high crash rates – hopefully these are on the shortlist for improvements.

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Scheinfeld and Emanuel in of the 31st Street lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

“We’ve made progress installing protected bike lanes in neighborhoods across Chicago, making it easier and safer for everyone – no matter their age or ability – to get around on a bicycle,” Emanuel said. “Today, we’re building on that progress and looking to the future.”

Today’s event highlighted the new roughly half-mile, seven-foot-wide bikeway on 31st between State and LaSalle. It’s a mix of buffered lanes, curbside lanes protected by plastic posts, and concrete-protected lanes, with the majority of the concrete near the college campus. After I took a quick spin on the facility my impression is that it’s a well-designed bikeway, although we’ll have to see how it holds up in rainy and snowy weather – which has been an issue with the city’s other major curb-protected bikeway on Clybourn.

This year the city plans to install nine more miles of “better bikeways,” up to 18 more bikes of other (“worse”?) bikeways, and restripe up to 20 miles of existing bike lanes. “As we focus on building better bike lanes, CDOT will continue to strengthen and improve the connectivity of Chicago’s existing bike network so that bicycling continues to grow and serve as a safe and enjoyable way to travel around our city,” said Scheinfeld.

The commissioner added that protected bike lanes seem to be effective in reducing crashes, partly due to their traffic calming effect. For example, CDOT reports that, since the 55th Street protected bike lanes were installed on 55th Street in Hyde Park in 2012, overall crashes have dropped by 32 percent. CDOT recently released the new bike lane report 2015 Bikeways: Year in Review, which has more info on their findings. I’ll provide an analysis of that document tomorrow.

The Active Transportation previously put out a call for the city to install 100 miles of better bikeways by 2020, but director Ron Burke says OK with the city’s current, more modest mileage goal of 50 miles, although he still hopes CDOT will wind up installing more.

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Reckless Homicide Charge Has Been Reinstated in the Bobby Cann Case

A memorial for Bobby Cann on Clybourn Avenue.

A memorial for Bobby Cann near the crash site in spring 2013. Photo: Steven Vance

There’s been some good news in the case against the driver who killed cyclist Bobby Cann while allegedly drunk and speeding. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office announced today that they won an appeal to have the reckless homicide charge against motorist Ryne San Hamel reinstated. The charge had previously been dismissed by Judge William Hooks at a hearing last July.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street when Ryne San Hamel, 28, struck and killed him. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, as well as misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

At the July hearing Judge Hooks dismissed the homicide charge, agreeing with defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. that the wording of the charge in the indictment was too vague for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense. The reasoning was that the state’s attorney’s office hadn’t been specific enough about what acts by San Hamel were reckless.

The following month the state’s attorney filed an appeal of Hooks’ decision with the Illinois Appellate Court, contending that that level of specificity wasn’t required by law. “The appeals court sided with the state, which means the reckless homicide charge will be rolled back in and [the court] will address that moving forward,” explained Active Transportation Alliance crash victim advocate Jason Jenkins.

The next hearing in the case will take place on Thursday, May 5. “That one will be to hear testimony from the judge who signed the search warrant [to test San Hamel’s blood alcohol content level], and possibly some of the police officers who were involved in relation to a motion by the defense to dismiss the warrant due to some irregularities with the way it was filled out,” Jenkins said. “So they’re going to get the judge on the stand to testify and straighten that out.”

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Outgoing 606 Project Manager Discusses The Trail’s Impact on Neighborhoods

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Beth White on the half-finished Bloomingdale Trail in December 2014. Photo: John Greenfield

The Trust for Public Land’s Chicago director Beth White announced last week that she will be leaving Chicago to take a new job as president and CEO of the nonprofit Houston Parks Board, beginning in June.

White is best known here as the woman who led the development of the $95 million, 2.7-mile Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway and its access parks, a collectively known as The 606. Jamie Simone, currently the director of TPL’s Chicago urban parks program, will take over as the organization’s interim director after White steps down.

In her new position, White will oversee the implementation of the $220 million Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative to create 160-mile system of interconnected trails and parks along the Texas city’s waterways. The project was made possible by a $100 million city bond measure, which TPL helped get passed.

I checked in yesterday with White to discuss the challenges of managing The 606, which recently won an award from the American Planning Association, and what she believes its legacy will be.

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White, Mayor Emanuel, CDOT’s Rebekah Scheinfeld, and the park district’s Michael Kelly tour the trail prior to opening day. Photo: John Greenfield

White told me that one of most difficult aspects of getting the trail built was coordinating with all the different entities involved. These included multiple city departments, Canadian National Railway (which previously owned the right-of-way the trail is built on), the design team, community organizations and residents, and private donors.

“There were so many moving parts, and sustaining the project over time was challenging, what with all the ups and downs in the economy and the changes in leadership,” she said. “But it’s a testament to the project that so many people were committed to it that we were able to get it done.”

The greenway has been nearly universally cited as a wonderful amenity for Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. However, many have argued that the trail has accelerated the pace of gentrification in Humboldt and Logan.

For example, in January dozens of residents held an anti-displacement rally after a developer announced plans for luxury town houses a block south of the trail, priced at $929,000 each. Community leaders in Pilsen and Little Village recently told me they feel the city should be more proactive about preserving affordability when it builds the recently announced Paseo trail through these neighborhoods.

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The Calgary Model: Connect Protected Bike Lanes Fast, Watch Riders Pour In

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Graphic: City of Calgary. Click to enlarge.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Last week, we shared a new report about the best practices for cities that want to make faster, cheaper changes to their streets.

Today, let’s take a moment to recognize the North American city that has used these tools better than any other to rapidly improve its bike infrastructure.

The city is Calgary, Alberta. The secret is that it piloted a connected downtown network of low-stress bike routes all at once.

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Downtown Calgary. Images: City of Calgary.

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