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Posts from the "Bicycling" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways

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Drivers continue to respect the parking ban on Milwaukee, so there’s sufficient space for northbound cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along, creating new buffered and protected bike lanes this summer. Recently, new stretches of buffered lanes were striped striped in Noble Square, on Noble between Erie and Augusta, and downtown, on Upper Randolph between Michigan and the bike station.

Before I went to check out a couple of new stretches of buffered lanes this morning, I stopped by the construction bottleneck on Milwaukee north of North. I was pleasantly surprised to see that paper “No Parking” signs are still affixed to poles on the east side of the block, and drivers seem to be respecting them. As a result, there’s sufficient road width for north- and southbound cyclists to share the road with motorists fairly safely.

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Southbound cyclists on Milwaukee have more breathing room now. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, Streetsbog reader Andrew Scalise sent us a photo of a tow truck enforcing the parking ban, which is a likely factor in the compliance by drivers. There are also some safety cones sitting in the gutter.

Next, I dropped by Noble, which now has buttery-smooth new asphalt. Noble has always been a good biking street, but the addition of the good pavement and buffered lanes should make it an even more popular route. The lanes have dead space striped on the right side to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.

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Looking north on Noble by Eckhardt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Noble connects Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, and Erie, a good east-west connection between Ukrainian Village and River West. The new lanes would be even more useful if CDOT striped a contraflow lane on the short, one-way northbound block of Noble between Augusta and Milwaukee.

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

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Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

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There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.” That puts expansion plans for cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver – won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015′s equipment orders.

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What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

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Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

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Do All Bike Crashes Deserve Police Reports?

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The author’s own crash report from 2007.

Crash data, more so than any other regularly collected and readily reported public data sets, shine a bright light upon the most dangerous parts of our city’s streets. Crash reports tell authorities who was injured, where, and under what circumstances, and the Illinois Department of Transportation collects the same information from all police departments statewide. IDOT uses these reports “for a number of vital purposes, including crash analysis, roadway engineering improvements, safety program design, and ultimately, preventing death/injury on Illinois roadways.”

Yet unlike automated counters, having good crash data relies upon people filing reports – and in many cases, people don’t. I talked with two bicyclists who recently had crashes, but declined to file reports afterwards, to understand how the current process could be improved.

Jackie lives in Wrigleyville and works in insurance. She was riding west on Van Buren on June 25th towards home, about to cross State Street. As she tells it:

A person driving a car in the right southbound lane of State Street ran the red light in an effort to turn right on Van Buren. I’m not certain, but I think her head was down — looking at her phone, most likely. She looked up at the last second, and hit the brakes in time to hit my bike, between the fork and the downtube, with her bumper. I was thrown from the bike onto the street.

Jackie stood up, the driver asked if she was okay, and then the driver apologized “profusely.” The driver pulled her car to the curb so the two could exchange contact information. Jackie said she wasn’t going to visit the hospital, and the driver said she would pay for any damages to the bicycle.

Jackie says that filing a crash report was not necessary in the context of her situation.

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Eyes on the Street: Crew Responds To Bike Lane Sewer Collapse

Fixing two Logan Square sewer collapses

Progress as of Monday early afternoon.

A Chicago Department of Water Management crew was on Logan Boulevard today fixing a sewer collapse in the bike lane. We alerted the Chicago Department of Transportation and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack last week about the hazard, just outside Xsport Fitness.

Streetsblog reader Patrick Lynch sent us some photos he took on Monday night. We forwarded them to CDOT staff on Tuesday morning, who acknowledged the issue a few hours later.

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The sewer collapse one week ago. Photo: Patrick Lynch

It turns out, though, that Alderman Waguespack submitted the issue himself via SeeClickFix 11 days ago.

The way the city initially addressed the situation (since Waguespack’s initial reporting) was problematic. Instead of placing barricades ahead of the road hazard, a barricade was placed within it.

It was a situation like this that led to the paralyzing crash of Brian Baker, while he was bicycling on Wabansia Avenue in 2009. The city settled the case this year for $1.2 million. When bike lanes are affected by full-width road hazards, bicyclists require more advance warning than motorists do, because they need more time to merge out of the bike lane and into faster moving traffic.

Waguespack also reported a sewer collapse around the corner on Elston Avenue, in front of Panera. The crews today were adding more barricades to prevent people from riding or driving into this hole.

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Commuter Idyll Winner Matt Gjertson Shares His Stirring Tale of Redemption

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Sam Schwartz Engineering staffers Vig Krishnamurthy and Morgan Whitcomb created this awesome illustration of Matt and his commute options. Morgan’s boyfriend Jake Williams won last years Streetsblog USA Commuter Idyll contest.

Thanks to everybody who participated in Streetsblog Chicago’s Commuter Idyll contest, sharing your inspiring stories of switching from a nerve-racking car commute to a pleasant walking, biking and/or transit trip. Big thanks also to contest sponsor New Belgium Brewing, which hosts the fun-tastic Tour de Fat bikes-and-beers fest this Saturday in Palmer Square – see details about this can’t-miss event below. Be sure to drop by the Streetsblog table at the tour, where we’ll have free schwag, including our famous “I [Heart] Bus Rapid Transit” buttons.

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Matt Gjertson outside of his workplace.

A number of readers told us about how they ditched long, aggravating drives to work by switching to walking, biking, bike-share, CTA, Metra, carpooling, or some combination of the above. Some discussed how they moved closer to work – or got a job closer to home. Everyone reported that switching modes improved their health and happiness by helping them get more fresh air, exercise, or time to read or nap, allowing them to arrive at their job alert and ready to handle the day’s challenges.

Some of our favorite entries came from contest runners-up Courtney Cobbs, Brett Miller, and Elizabeth Edwards, who win VIP passes to the tour. You can read their inspirational tales, along with submissions from other readers here and here.

Our grand prize winner is Matt Gjertson, who talked about how his stress level soared after he switched jobs and had to give up a long-but-fun Metra commute. However, Matt’s tale is ultimately one of redemption, as he was able to regain his sense of wellbeing by fine-tuning his travel strategy. Here’s his story…

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Eyes on the Street: Handy New Protected Bike Lanes on Harrison

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A green lane shepherds cyclists across the offset Harrison/State intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is almost finished building the city’s latest protected bike lanes, on Harrison between Desplaines and Wabash, and they’re useful ones. The new PBLs serve as a handy connection between protected lanes on Desplaines, Canal, and Dearborn, as well as conventional and buffered lanes on Clinton, Franklin, and Wabash, and they’re mitigating a couple of problem spots on Harrison.

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A worker heats green thermoplastic on Harrison. Photo: John Greenfield

It appears that the white lines for the lanes are finished, and a crew was out laying down green thermoplastic yesterday. In general, the lanes are curbside, but they will not be protected by parked cars. Presumably, CDOT will soon be installing flexible posts in the buffer on the left side of the lanes, to discourage motorists from driving in them.

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Typical lane configuration, looking west near the main post office. Photo: John Greenfield

At Desplaines, in front of the Greyhound station, the westbound bike lane is a buffered lane to the left of the taxi stand, which seemed to be working well when I dropped by this afternoon. However, the eastbound lane, set against the curb by a self-storage facility, was filled with parked cars. That wasn’t surprising, since pay-and-display parking signs are still up. CDOT plans to remove two free parking spaces and relocate eight metered spots from in front of the storage facility, which should solve this problem. There are also some major potholes in the eastbound curb lane, so it would be great if this stretch was repaved.

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Tell Us Your “Commuter Idyll” Story Today, Be a Tour de Fat VIP

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Try out a wacky bicycle in the rodeo. Photo: Josh Koonce

Today’s the last day of our Commuter Idyll contest. That means it’s your last chance to tell us how you switched from a stressful car commute to a relaxing transit ride or stress-relieving walk to work — and win one of several prizes!

Last year’s contest was run by Streetsblog USA, and the winner was Jake Williams from Chicago, who switched from a 26-mile drive to Lincolnshire to a 12-minute walking commute to a new job.

We’ve got cool prizes this year thanks to a generous sponsorship from New Belgium Brewing, the employee-owned company from Fort Collins, Colorado who’s bringing Tour de Fat back to Palmer Square Park this coming Saturday.

What’s your commuting story? Did you give up on the cost and headaches of constant car breakdowns, then switched to listening to Talking Headways on Metra? Were you so sick of stop-and-go traffic on the Kennedy or Eisenhower that you instead chose to park the car and hop aboard the Blue Line instead?

Even if you don’t yet have an Idyllic story yet, but want to give it a try, New Belgium is also looking for someone to give up their car at the fest and get a new bike in return. You’ll have to apply online beforehand.

The Tour brings “bikes, beer, and bemusement” to every stop, including numerous live bands and a wacky bicycle rodeo, and also raises funds for local bicycle nonprofits. For Chicago, 100 percent of beer proceeds will be donated to West Town Bikes, a bike kitchen in Humboldt Park which teaches high school students how to repair bikes and manage a store.

John will be holding down the fort at the Streetsblog Chicago table, while I’ll be pouring $5 drafts of Snapshot and Fat Tire for West Town Bikes until 2:30 p.m.

Last year’s fest drew 8,000 attendees and raised more than $40,000 for after school programs at West Town Bikes. The fest starts with a bicycle parade (and cargo bike roll call) around Logan Square. Costumes are encouraged, so look for 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón in his Zorro outfit. Read more…

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Milwaukee Bottleneck Addressed but Illegal Parkers Endanger Cyclists

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Illegally parked cars force a cyclist to ride dangerously close to traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

On Thursday, Steven Vance and I got the news that the city was forcing a developer to fix a dangerous bottleneck on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s busiest bike street, in Wicker Park. However, when I dropped by around 4:30 p.m. yesterday to check out the new street configuration, I found that the situation was as dysfunctional as ever.

In late June, Convexity Properties, a developer that’s turning the neighborhood’s iconic Northwest Tower into a hotel, built a pedestrian walkway in the street to protect people on foot while façade work takes place. The walkway’s exterior concrete wall narrowed the southbound lane of much of the 1600 block of North Milwaukee. As a result, southbound cyclists who tried to ride to the right of motorized traffic ran the risk of being squeezed into the wall.

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The street configuration last week, before the centerlines were striped. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance brought the problem to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s attention. Last Thursday, a CDOT source told Steven that Convexity was not complying with the terms of its construction permit, which requires that both lanes of traffic be safely maintained.

CDOT would force the developer to pay for restriping the road’s center line to provide more room for southbound bike riders, Steven was told. Relocating the northbound lane east would require temporarily removing metered parking on the east side of the block, and Convexity would be responsible for compensating the city’s parking concessionaire for lost revenue.

Readers told us the work was carried out later that day. When I dropped by yesterday, the new yellow centerlines looked sharp. However, all of the paper “No Parking” signs, affixed to poles on the east side of the street, had been torn out of their wood frames and plastic lamination, presumably by disgruntled merchants or motorist. That side was still lined with parked cars.

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Hulk no like “No Parking” sign! Photo: John Greenfield

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