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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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Once Again, the South Shore Line Is Standing in the Way of Bike Progress

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A man bikes across the South Shore tracks on Burnham Avenue. Photo: Active Trans

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Last August, the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District did the right thing by voting to dramatically reduce the wait until customers are allowed to bring bikes on South Shore Line trains. While NICTD had previously been talking about delaying the bikes-on-board pilot until 2021, they instead agreed to test the program this April. Their decision was surely influenced by the Active Transportation Alliance sarcastically giving them the Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.”

But there’s another important bike issue that NICTD is still dragging their feet about. The 11-mile Burnham Greenway Trail will eventually connect Chicago’s Lakefront Trail with the growing network of multiuse paths in the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, including the Cal-Sag Trail. However, there’s a two-mile gap in the trail in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood and the suburb of Burnham.

The gap forces cyclists to ride on wide roads with fast traffic, or else detour several miles out of the way. Although the needed two-mile stretch of trail is already designed, approved, and funded, the transit agency doesn’t want to let the trail cross its tracks at grade level. Instead, NICTD, along with the South Shore Freight Line, is insisting that a multimillion-dollar bridge be built, a project that would take years to complete.

The trail crossing in question would be on Burnham Avenue just south of Brainerd Avenue, near the South Shore’s Hegewisch station. “NICTD is worried about safety and liability,” explains Active Trans suburban outreach coordinator Leslie Phemister. “But right now there’s nothing to stop a pedestrian from walking onto the tracks when a train is coming.” There are currently crossing gates and warning signals for drivers, but not for pedestrians.

The planned trail crossing would involve widening the existing sidewalk to accommodate bikes, adding bollards to keep pedestrians and cyclists out of the street, and adding gates that would block the sidewalk when a train approaches. Phemister says the transit agency should welcome these improvements, which would benefit people walking to the station. “Safety is everyone’s concern,” she says. “No one wants to get hit by a train.”

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Experts and Advocates Weigh in on Rauner’s Proposal to Widen the Stevenson

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The Stevenson, just west of the Dan Ryan. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

On Thursday, Governor Bruce Rauner announced a new proposal to address congestion on the Stevenson Expressway, aka I-55, by adding lanes. The construction would be financed via a public-private partnership, and the new lanes would be tolled. Revenue would go to the concessionaire, allowing them to recoup their investment.

The so-called “managed lanes” would be an option for drivers who are willing to pay a premium to bypass traffic, while the existing lanes would not be tolled. Some local transportation experts and advocates lauded the plan as a creative way to address congestion woes. But others argued that our region’s focus should be on providing better alternatives to single-occupant vehicle commutes, rather than simply building more capacity for them.

The proposed lanes would cover a 25-mile stretch of the Stevenson between the Dan Ryan Expressway and the Veteran’s Memorial Tollway, a segment that carries about 170,000 vehicles a day. The plan calls for adding at least one lane in each direction, at an estimated cost of $425 million. The P3 model would need to be approved by a majority of state lawmakers.

The new lanes would feature “congestion pricing” – the toll price would vary according to the number of cars in the managed lanes, as well as the rest of the expressway. Rauner said it’s possible that drivers with one or more passengers might be allowed to use the new lanes without paying a toll. The state hopes to finalize a design by this spring and start construction by late 2017.

The Metropolitan Planning Council pushed for several years in Springfield for legislation to enable this kind of public-private partnership, which passed in 2011. MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey said his organization applauds Rauner’s proposal, adding that adding capacity to I-55 is listed as a priority in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 regional plan.

“Experience shows that simply adding another regular lane will not ease congestion in the long term: once that capacity is there, it will just fill up,” Skosey said. “Putting a variable-priced toll on that lane lets you manage demand and keep it free-flowing. If you’re really in a time crunch, you have the choice to take that lane.”

Skosey argued that the new lane would also make taking the bus a more attractive choice. “[Pace’s] current Bus-on-Shoulder service has been incredibly successful, but it isn’t able to use the shoulder for the whole corridor and it’s limited to 35 mph. This lane would give it a continuous path and let it go as fast as 55 mph, improving reliability and opening the door to more frequent service.”

Steve Schlickmann, the former head of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center, agreed that the governor’s plan makes sense. “The combination of high congestion in regular travel lanes and insufficient growth in federal and state funding to maintain Illinois roads and transit, makes I-55 managed toll lanes a reasonable approach to address congestion and to help pay for I-55’s on-going maintenance needs,” he said.

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Eyes on the Street: A Miniature Complete Streets Overhaul on Clarendon

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Looking south on Clarendon, south of Irving Park. This stretch was formerly two-way for motor vehicles but now has a parking-protected contraflow bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Here’s a nice little livable streets makeover in Lakeview. The city recently converted the short stretch of Clarendon between Irving Park and Broadway, changing it from a two-way roadway for motorized traffic to a one-way northbound street for cars with a northbound conventional bike lane and a southbound, contraflow protected lane.

“CDOT received a request from [46th Ward alderman James] Cappleman to evaluate the intersection of North Broadway and Clarendon Avenue,” explained Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey. “Residents had expressed interest in redesigning the intersection in order to reduce conflicts between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, and to improve overall safety and accessibility.”

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The previous layout on Clarendon, looking south from Irving Park. The crossing distance for pedestrians has been significantly shortened. Image: Google Street View

CDOT performed a traffic study and evaluated several options before deciding on the new configuration, Claffey said. “This conversion removed the conflict between vehicles on southbound Clarendon at the Broadway and Clarendon intersection and vehicles and bicyclists on Broadway,” he said.

As a bonus, the protected lane and the concrete cap at the north end of the adjacent parking lane significantly shortens the crossing distance for pedestrians at the south leg of Irving Park and Clarendon. Construction was finished in November 2015 in conjunction with the repaving of this block of Clarendon.

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Oboi Reed: Colombia Offers Lessons for the American Bike Equity Movement

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A Ciclovía worker in Bogotá. Photo: Oboi Reed

Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed has traveled to a number of biking hotspots around the U.S. this year, to learn about how other American cities are working to promote bike equity, and talk about his group’s efforts to encourage cycling in communities of color on Chicago’s South and West Sides. But his latest fact-finding journey took him further afield, to Colombia, South America, where he recently spent 11 days checking out car-free Ciclovía events and meeting with local city planners, bike advocates, and activists.

“I’ve been watching the work Colombia has done for biking from afar, and I’ve been incredibly inspired by the Ciclovía movement and had a desire to see Bogotá’s Ciclovía for myself,” he said. While organizations like the advocacy group People for Bikes have funded trips for American politicians, planners, and advocates to bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, Reed’s trip was paid for by Slow Roll Chicago, a nonprofit organization.

“I felt like there was too much focus in the U.S. on European cities as models for how to make American cities more livable,” Reed said. “But European cities don’t really resonate with low-to-moderate-income, black and brown people. We don’t really connect with Copenhagen or Stockholm culturally or historically, and there’s not a big presence of people of color in those cities, although there certainly is a presence.”

Reed adds that while American conversations about European-style cycling tend to focus on biking as a form of transportation, that’s not Slow Roll’s focus. “We would love that in our neighborhoods as well, but we are most interested in bicycles as a vehicle for social change, as a way to improve health, reduce violence, and create jobs. If you have no job, or you’re overweight, or you’re concerned about safety, we have to address those issues before we can convince you that bicycling is a form of transportation.”

Reed said Latin America, and particularly Colombia, has a lot the U.S. bike equity movement can learn from. “There’s a connection for our members of Latino descent, and in many countries there’s also a strong presence of African-descended people, which is the case in Colombia,” he said. “That allows us to make this social and cultural connection to biking that doesn’t really exist with these European models. And in Colombia, they’re using bicycles to address the same issues we’re working on: safety, health, and economic opportunity.”

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Reed in the La Candaleria district of Bogotá with a local professor and a staff member from the city agency that runs the Ciclovía. Photo: Oboi Reed

Before the trip, Reed did research on people and organizations to connect with in Colombia. Active Transportation Alliance campaign director Jim Merrell, who travels to the country regularly with his wife to visit family, helped put Reed in touch with bike community leaders in Bogotá, the capital and largest city, and Medellín, the second-largest city. Reed also got tips from the SRAM Cycling Fund‘s Randy Neufeld and Gil Peñalosa, the former parks commissioner of Bogotá who helped expand the Ciclovía and now runs the Ottawa-based livable streets organization 8 80 Cities.

While in Bogotá, Reed got to ride in the local Ciclovía twice, once with Oscar Ruiz, who’s the head of the city agency who runs the event. “He told me about the nuts and bolts of how it works,” Reed said. “The events draws more than 1.5 million people every Sunday and holiday in cities around the country.”

He also rode with Jaime Ortiz Mariño, a bike advocate who organized the very first Ciclovía in 1974, when the country was in the midst of a civil war. “He was concerned that a bomb would go off during the event,” Reed said. “But one of the leftist rebels was quoted in a newspaper saying, if there’s one thing we will never touch, it’s the Ciclovía, because that represents the people.”

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South Siders Spar Over Proposed Stony Island Protected Bike Lanes

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Elihu Blanks and Waymond Smith on Stony Island, a few blocks north of the Skyway access ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For much of its length, Stony Island Avenue is basically an expressway with stoplights. Located on the southeast side between 56th and 130th, it generally has eight travel lanes, the same number as Lake Shore Drive, although it carries half as many vehicles per day—35,000 versus 70,000. Due to this excess lane capacity, speeding is rampant.

The city has proposed converting a lane or two of Stony between 67th and 79th into protected bike lanes. Some residents, and Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, fear the “road diet” would cause traffic jams, and argue the street is too dangerous for bike lanes. Other neighbors say Stony is too dangerous not to have them.

According to the Chicago Crash Browser website, created by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, 53 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists were injured along Stony Island between 67th Street (the southern border of Jackson Park) and 79th Street (where access ramps connect Stony with the Chicago Skyway) between 2010 and 2013.

Two pedestrians and a person in a car  were killed in crashes on this stretch between 2010 and 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. Last year was unusually deadly, with two fatal pedestrian crashes and two bike fatalities.

The complex intersection of Stony Island, 79th, and South Chicago, a diagonal street, is particularly problematic. Located beneath a mess of serpentine Skyway access ramps, the six-way junction has terrible sightlines. It was the site of 444 traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013, the most of any Chicago intersection, according to CDOT.

Adding protected bike lanes could change this equation, making Stony, among other things, a useful bike route. Due to the Chicago Skyway and other barriers like railroad tracks, cul-de-sacs, and a cemetery, it’s one of the few continuous north-south streets in this part of town.

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City Tries to Avoid Liability by Calling Bike Lanes “Recreational Property”

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The crash site at 1124 North Damen. Image: Google Street View

At a hearing in the Circuit Court of Cook County last week, a judge denied a motion by the city of Chicago’s law department to dismiss a lawsuit by a female bicyclist who was seriously injured after she struck a hole in one of the Damen bike lanes. The law department argued that the bike lane is “recreational property” and, as such, the city should have limited liability. The plaintiff’s attorney, Brendan Kevenides from FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) argues that if the judge had accepted this reasoning, it would have set a dangerous precedent for local cyclists.

According to the lawsuit, on September 5, 2014, Kirstie Shanley was riding her bike near 1124 North Damen in Ukrainian Village when she struck a sinkhole, which was hard to see because it was filled with water and obscured by a puddle. Shanley, now a 35-year-old occupational therapist, was thrown over her handlebars and suffered significant facial injuries, including broken teeth and bad scarring, Kevenides said.

Following the crash, Shanley called local alderman Scott Waguespack’s office.  She told them what happened and that she planned to hire an attorney. Soon afterwards, the hole was fixed.  

Prior to the crash, someone had circled the hole with red spray paint, which indicated that the city was aware of the hole, according to Kevenides. “Who else would have marked that?” he said. “Of course the city is not responsible for keeping bike lanes in pristine condition – that would be impossible. But they should be held responsible for for failing to repair hazards in bike lanes that they’re aware of, or should be aware of.” Shanley is suing the city for more than $50,000.

Last fall, the law department filed the motion to dismiss, arguing that “the bike lane where Plaintiff claims she fell is recreational property for which the city has tort immunity.” The city cited Section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act [emphasis added in the motion]:

Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury where the liability is based on the existence of a condition of any public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes, including but not limited to parks, playgrounds, open areas, buildings or other enclosed recreational facilities, unless such local entity or public employee is guilty of willful and wanton conduct proximately causing such injury.

The law department therefore claimed that, since the city hadn’t willfully or wantonly neglected the maintenance of the bike lane, the suit was invalid.

Law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey told me the department feels Kevenides has mischaracterized its actions. McCaffrey did not provide a full statement on the issue by press time. If they provide a statement, I’ll update this post.

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Report: In Chicago, Bike Amenities Correlate With Gentrication

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The Division Street bike lanes in Humboldt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The idea that new bike infrastructure is linked to of gentrification is nothing new in Chicago. Leaders of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community originally opposed bike lanes on the neighborhood’s Division Street business strip because they believed the city was installing the lanes mostly for the benefit of new, wealthier residents. And while the recently opened Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway has attracted an economically and ethnically diverse crowd of users, many longtime residents are worried that a real estate boom around the trail will displace low-income and working-class families.

Researchers at McGill University and the University of Quebec in Montreal wanted to lend credibility to the claims that cycling infrastructure and gentrification are related. In a study presented this week at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, Elizabeth Flanagan, Ahmed El-Geneidy and Ugo Lachapelle found a correlation between bike infrastructure and socioeconomic indicators related to gentrification in Chicago and Portland.

For the report, titled “Riding tandem: Does cycling infrastructure investment mirror gentrification and privilege in Portland, OR and Chicago, IL?,” the researchers looked changes in the rates of home ownership, home values, college education, age, employment, and race in neighborhoods between 1990 and 2010. Then they mapped these demographic changes alongside the locations of bike lanes, bike rack, and, in Chicago, Divvy stations.

While they found that dense neighborhoods and areas close to downtown tended to have infrastructure, they also found that demographic characteristics were a big factor. In Portland, changes in home ownership and education level had the largest influence. However, in Chicago, probably because our city is more diverse, race and home value also played a large role.

The study found that Chicago neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents are people of color are less likely to gentrify and have bike infrastructure. Interestingly, however, it also found that, in neighborhoods where 60 percent or more residents are white, a higher percentage of people of color corresponds with more bike infrastructure.

I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the report yet, but it appears that, unlike a recent League of American Bicyclists study that incorrectly claimed that Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 is inequitable, the Montreal researchers used accurate bike infrastructure data. It probably helped that Flanagan worked as a transportation planning intern at Bronzeville Bikes in the summer of 2014, which included discussing transportation equity issues with Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy staffers.

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Study: Sharrows Don’t Make Streets Safer for Cycling

Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

Sharrows are useless and perhaps even harmful, a new study found. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

Sharrows without traffic-calming won’t do much to make cycling safer. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.

Ferenchak and Marshall’s study divided Chicago into three geographic categories using Census block groups: areas where bike lanes were added between 2008 and 2010, areas where sharrows were added, and areas where no bike treatments were added. They then looked at how bike commuting and cyclist injuries changed in these areas over time.

They found that bike commute rates more than doubled in areas with new bike lanes, compared to a 27 percent increase in areas with new sharrows and a 43 percent increase in areas where nothing changed.

Meanwhile, the rate of cyclist injuries per bike commuter improved the most where bike lanes were striped, decreasing 42 percent. Areas that got sharrows saw the same metric fall about 20 percent –worse than areas where streets didn’t change (36 percent), although the difference was not great enough to be statistically significant.

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Divvy Adding More Stations in Black Communities, Fewer Bikes Than Planned

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Photo by Wei Sun.

Back in September 2014, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced a $3 million grant to help expand the Divvy system into Oak Park and Evanston, as well new areas on Chicago’s West Side and in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The plan was to install 70 stations and 700 bikes by spring or summer of 2015.

Last summer, Chicago added 175 stations and 1,750 bikes, bankrolled by federal and city money, which expanded the original coverage area in all directions. But the state-funded equipment still hasn’t materialized yet.

Today, after introducing to City Council two intergovernmental agreements with the suburbs regarding Divvy, Mayor Emanuel announced a change to the state-funded expansion plan. Instead of 70 stations and 700 bikes, 96 stations and “more than” 250 bikes will be added to the system, with the roll-out taking place next summer.

Oak Park and Evanston, which are providing a combined $200,000 in matching funds to help fund the expansion, will be getting 13 and eight stations, respectively. Chicago, which is providing $550,000 in matching funds, will get 75 stations within the city.

Adding more stations and fewer bikes means that this year’s expansion will grow the service area faster, to include more Chicago neighborhoods than originally planned. The city had previously announced that the predominantly African-American, low-to-moderate-income Garfield Park and Austin communities on the West Side would be getting stations, as well as new sections of ethnically and economically diverse Rogers Park on the Far North Side.

However, today Emanuel said the expansion will also include several LMI or middle-class neighborhoods on the South and Southwest Sides. These include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, and Englewood. All of these are heavily African-American, except for Brighton Park, which is mostly Latino.

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Eyes on the Street: Many West Side Bike Lanes Are Snow-Blocked

Franklin Boulevard bike lane wasn't plowed

There was no evidence that the city attempted to clear snow from the protected bike lane on Franklin Boulevard, which normally has flexible posts, in East Garfield Park between Sacramento (pictured) and Central Park Avenue (3/4 miles).

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Biking on the West Side has been a mixed bag each time it’s snowed this winter. When it snowed on the weekend after Thanksgiving it took more than two days for the protected bike lanes on Lake Street to be plowed. With last week’s snowfall it’s been over a week, and the protected bike lanes on Franklin and Jackson Boulevards still haven’t been cleared as of Monday afternoon.

The conventional and buffered bike lanes in the area had varying levels of cleared snow. Some blocks on the same street were totally clear, others had snow from motorists clearing their own cars, and the remaining seemed like the plow missed a whole eight feet.

At the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting last month, Mike Amsden, assistant transportation planning director for the Chicago Department of Transportation said “We are committed to maintaining our protected bike lanes year round so people can bike in them year round.” The goal, Amsden said, “is to get to each of the locations within 24 hours.” If you notice a bike lane hasn’t been cleared he said you can email cdotbikes@cityofchicago.org.

Lake Street protected bike lane was perfectly cleared of snow

The protected and buffered bike lanes on Lake Street were well-cleared from Kedzie, at a minimum, to the border with Oak Park last week, but it’s unclear if they were done within 24 hours of last Monday’s snowfall.

CDOT and the Department of Streets and Sanitation use myriad equipment to do this, including the normal large plows, pickup trucks, and smaller vehicles. To increase the number of protected bike lanes that could be cleared with the regular plows, Amsden said that CDOT would remove the flexible posts from streets with the two inch snow ban, or where there’s no on-street parking. He specified Broadway in Uptown, Jackson in East Garfield Park, Lake, Vincennes in Auburn Gresham, Franklin in East Garfield Park, and Halsted in Bridgeport.

The posts were removed from Franklin but not Jackson, and neither street was cleared. The other protected bike lane in the area, Lake Street, was cleared well from California Ave. to Oak Park, an about face from the Thanksgiving snowfall. East of California, though, snow banks, patches of ice, a frozen pond, and a string of garbage bins blocked the path this morning.

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