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Evanston Protected Lanes Face Backlash While Making Dodge Ave. Safer

A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston

A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston in very light afternoon rush hour traffic. Photo: Steven Vance

Evanston installed new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue from Howard Street to Lake Street last month, and already some residents are complaining that the lanes have made it unsafe to park their cars. But these fears are unfounded because Chicago has had protected lanes with a nearly identical design for five years.

The new Dodge protected bike lanes replace conventional bike lanes that were located on the left side of the parking lanes, in the door zone. The new bike lanes are curbside with the parking to the left, separated from bike traffic by a striped buffer and flexible posts. It’s the same strategy that was used on Kinzie Avenue, Chicago’s first protected bike lane street, in 2011 and has been employed successfully on many more Chicago roadways since then.

I recently rode the Dodge Avenue PBLs and found them to be just as good as any that the Chicago Department of Transportation has installed. They’re also a little better than the first PBLs Evanston installed downtown on Church Street because the Dodge bike lanes are somewhat wider.

Map of the new protected bike lane on Dodge Avenue, from Howard Street (the border with Chicago) to Lake Street. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

Location of the new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue, from Howard St. (the border with Chicago) to Lake St. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

But some Evanston residents are up in arms about the new street configuration. “The new design makes it more hazardous for people boarding buses or getting into cars, because driver-side doors now open into very heavy, fast moving traffic,” a resident complained at a City Council meeting on Monday night, according to a report in Evanston Now. Actually, bus passengers aren’t affected by the protected lanes at all because the design still allows buses to pull up to the curb to pick up and drop off customers.

When I rode the Dodge bike lanes during the evening rush, motorized traffic was light, and vehicles were traveling at moderate speeds. That was probably partly because the street reconfiguration involved narrowing the existing travel lanes to make room for the PBLs, a type of “road diet,” which discourages speeding. While the new layout may put parked cars a bit closer to moving traffic, the traffic is likely going somewhat slower than before. Another benefit is that the bike lanes shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.

Some meeting attendees also argued that the new bike lanes make it challenging for emergency vehicles to travel on Dodge Avenue, according to Evanston Now. However, reporter Bill Smith added that he observed a fire department ambulance making its way down Dodge from Church Street to a nursing home near Howard at the end of Tuesday’s a.m. rush, and the ambulance seemed to have no trouble navigating the street.

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Drink Beer and Help Save the Lincoln Bus With the 11 on 11 Passport Program

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The 11 on 11 Beer Explorers Passport.

On June 20, thanks to tireless lobbying efforts by transit advocates led by 47th Ward alderman Ameya Pawar, the restored #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route returned as a pilot program. The new service includes the stretch of Lincoln between the Brown Line’s Western station and the Fullerton ‘L’ stop in Lincoln Park.

Community members are stoked about the new service, but it’s not a sure thing that the CTA will continue running buses on this segment of Lincoln after the six-month test period is over. The agency set a target of rides per day during the pilot, and buses are only running between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, every 16 to 22 minutes.

Local chambers of commerce have teamed up with the Active Transportation Alliance to organize a clever promotion to help ensure the #11 gets sufficient ridership while promoting local businesses. During the month of August you can win prizes by visiting five or more drinking and dining establishments along Lincoln as part of the 11 on 11 Beer Explorer Passport program.

When you grab a brew or a bite at any of the 11 participating breweries, taverns and bars, from August 1-31 and you’ll be given a stamp for a passport, which you can download here. Collect five of them and you’ll be registered to win prizes ranging from $25 Lakeview Neighborhood gift cards to a $100 gift card to Bistro Campagne to a Giro Trinity bike helmet to a wooden toy CTA bus.

The passport must contain five different stamps and be submitted by September 9 to enter. Winners will be notified by September 16.

The idea for the Beer Explorer Passport came out a meeting Pawar hosted with stakeholders along the line, according to Lakeview Chamber of Commerce director Lee Crandell. “He brought on some of the other local chambers on board to start developing a promotion,” Crandell said.

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Due to Limited Rapid Transit the Far South Side is Dependent on Bus Service

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A #87 bus at the 87th Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last fall the Chicago Reader 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.]

Chicago’s ‘L’ system, with its iconic train cars, relatively fast speeds, and occasionally breathtaking views, is the sexier side of the CTA. But the city’s grid of 130 bus routes is really the meat and potatoes of our transit network, with 274.3 million boardings in 2015 compared to the train system’s 241.7 million trips.

Bus service is especially important on the far south side, where access to other forms of public transportation is limited; although the city extends as far south as 138th Street, the Red Line terminates at 95th, and the Divvy bike-share coverage area currently stops at 79th.

To get a sense of what it’s like riding buses on the far south side—and whether residents are satisfied with the level of service or feel that improvements are needed—last week I rode the entire route of the 87th Street bus, the southernmost bus line to cover a continuous east-west path across the entire width of the city.

The #87 runs ten miles, from Cicero Avenue in the quaintly named southwest suburb Hometown (near Oak Lawn) east to Buffalo Avenue in the hardscrabble South Chicago neighborhood. On the return trip the route dips south on Buffalo to 91st Street, heads west to Commercial Avenue, then back up to 87th. The route connects with the Red Line as well as Metra’s Rock Island and Electric District lines, which contributes to the route’s popularity—an average of nearly 13,000 people ride the 87th Street bus each weekday, according to the CTA. Except for Hometown, which is 97 percent white according to the U.S. Census, and South Chicago, which is about one-fifth Latino, just about all of the communities served by the bus line are solidly African-American.

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Parks Group Endorses Plan to Replace Two Acres of Green Space With Asphalt

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. Friends of the Parks has endorsed the park district’s plan to more than double the size of the west lot, center. Image: Google Maps

[Last year the Chicago Reader 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.]

It’s another case of parks versus parking lots.

The Chicago Park District plans to put more than 250 new parking spots near the recently revamped 31st Street Beach and Harbor, in addition to the more than 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces already available within a roughly five-minute walk of the beach. That would make for a whopping grand total of more than 900 stalls at the lakeside facility.

On top of that, to make room for the additional parking, the project would involve the elimination of 85,000 square feet of existing green space south of a current car park.

The Park District says the additional parking is meant to accommodate future demand for access to the 900-slip harbor—although a spokesperson admits the department hasn’t conducted a parking demand study.

But here’s what really gets me: the parking lot expansion has been endorsed by none other than Friends of the Parks, the same group that helped tank George Lucas’s proposal to replace Soldier Field’s 1,500-space south lot with his Museum of Narrative Arts.

“Friends of the Parks has been hearing from stakeholders as well as the Chicago Park District about the great demand for parking for both beachgoers and boaters at the 31st Street Beach,” executive director Juaniza Irizarry said via e-mail this week.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Friends of the Parks’ previous advocacy work. I respect the group’s role as a guardian of our city’s recreational spaces—working, for example, to stop private music festivals from destroying public parks. It’s also taken progressive stances on parking at other parks. Still, I saw its stance in rejecting the Lucas Museum as a case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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Rosemont Transit Center Rehab, Bus Lanes on I-90 Could Spur New Ridership

People getting off buses at Rosemont and heading into the station

The Rosemont Transit Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace Suburban Bus is starting a $1.5 million dollar project to modernize and rebuild the Rosemont Transit Center to increase capacity, improve service and maximize efficiency of traffic flow between buses, cars and pedestrians. The project is being coordinated with the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways and the Chicago Transit Authority. The scope of the program details is as follows:

  • Expand the bus station islands to accommodate two buses in each bay for additional boarding capacity
  • Construct two new bus bays for additional boarding and one new bus bay for extra buses to sit on layovers
  • Upgrade sidewalks and bus boarding islands for improved ADA compliance
  • Improve pedestrian and bicycle access and safety around the transit center with additional sidewalks, crosswalks and bike racks
  • Improve the flow of traffic for taxi, shuttle, and Kiss-n-Ride zones to avoid conflict and congestion
  • Realign the bus lanes from the Tollway exit to reduce conflict with vehicular traffic around the parking lots upon entry into the Transit Center
  • Repair pavement and construct new parking lot gates

Pace will reimburse Cook County for the cost of the project because Cook County owns the land where the project will occur. The project is expected to start this summer and to be completed around October. However, according to northwest suburban news site Journal & Topics, Pace is still finalizing selection of a construction manager.

The Rosemont Transit Center was built in 1983 during the extension of the CTA Blue Line from Jefferson Park to O’Hare Airport. Today, the center is a busy multi-modal station hub located in the northwest suburban village of Rosemont serving over 6,000 riders a day. Rosemont is a small town with a large concentration of businesses, entertainment, restaurants and lodging adjacent to O’Hare Airport. In addition to the Blue Line, it’s served by 12 Pace bus routes. Additionally, the station is served by taxis as well as corporate and hotel shuttles. The station also has a 798-space Park & Ride lot for commuters and a drop off (Kiss-n-Ride) area.

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Send Us Your Nominations for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Last year's winner: this sorry bus stop in greater St. Louis

Last year’s winner, a very sorry bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in greater St. Louis.

Streetsblog’s “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest is back by popular demand.

Last year, readers nominated dozens of forlorn bus stops to call attention to the daily indignities and dangers that bus riders have to put up with. This sad, windswept patch of grass between two highway-like roads in a St. Louis inner suburb took the prize.

We’ve been hearing from readers and transit advocates who want another shot to name and shame the public agencies who’ve let public bus stops go to seed. So the Sorriest Bus Stop competition is back. (If you have a great bus stop you want to recognize, don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a different competition later this year.)

We’ll be doing the contest as a Parking Madness-style, 16-entry single elimination bracket. Below is an early submission from downtown Austin and reader Chris McConnell, who says, “This has to be the saddest #busstop in Austin. It has no shade, no seating, and no stop ID for checking times. AND it’s at the main transfer point downtown. FAIL.”

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Prepaid Boarding Debuts on Belmont, But Why Doesn’t Loop Link Have It Yet?

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a 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.]

Earlier this month, when the CTA announced its plan to test a faster bus-boarding method on the #77 Belmont Avenue route, my first reaction was “huh?”

The six-month pilot, which started last Monday and is in effect from 3 to 7 PM on weekdays, has customers who catch the westbound Belmont bus from the Blue Line’s Belmont-Kimball station paying their fares in advance. When the bus arrives, they walk right on via both the front and rear doors without having to pay onboard—just like getting on an el car.

Prepaid, all-door boarding is a key time-saving feature of fast bus systems around the country (including New York City’s Select Bus Service lines and Seattle’s RapidRide routes) because it shortens “dwell time” at the stops. So the decision to try it in Chicago was a no-brainer.

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Customers tap their fare card at the portable reader before entering the Belmont waiting area. Photo: John Greenfield

The head-scratcher for me was that the CTA has been planning to implement off-board fare collection along the Loop Link bus-rapid-transit corridor for years. But nearly six months after that route launched last December, prepaid boarding still hasn’t materialized.

In contrast, there was no advance notice about the Belmont experiment until this month.

Why did the CTA decide to test prepaid boarding on the #77 before making this long-awaited upgrade to Loop Link?

The downtown BRT corridor already features red bus-only lanes, limited stops, raised boarding platforms, and special signals that give buses a head start at traffic lights—all of which help shorten travel times. But in 2014, before construction on the corridor began, the city revealed that it planned to implement prepaid boarding only at one of the eight Loop Link stations, located at Madison and Dearborn.

And in fall 2015, the city announced that prepaid boarding wouldn’t even be in place at that station in time for the system’s December debut. Instead, the CTA planned to pilot it at Madison-Dearborn sometime this summer.

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CTA Will Begin Off-Board Fare Collection Pilot, But Not on the Loop Link

Photo: Cragin Spring

Starting Monday, the CTA will test collecting fares on the sidewalk for the westbound 77-Belmont at the Blue Line station, so boarding the bus takes less time during rush hour. Photo: Cragin Spring

The Chicago Transit Authority plans to test off-board fare collection – where riders pay on the sidewalk before boarding the bus – in an unexpected location. Previously, the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation announced they would pilot prepaid fare collection at the Dearborn/Madison station on Loop Link. Instead, the first off-board fare collection will be tested in Avondale on the northwest side.

Flyers posted yesterday at the Belmont Blue Line station, on buses, and shared on Twitter, told riders that the Chicago Transit Authority is going to test a new boarding procedure for the westbound 77 Belmont bus at the station.

Starting Monday, June 6, riders heading west during the 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. rush hour from the subway station will pay and enter a “paid area” before waiting and boarding the next bus. The CTA will set up a mobile fare collector at the entrance to a designated and sheltered “paid area.”

In other U.S. cities with off-board fare collection for buses, there is no “paid waiting area.” To ride a Select Bus Service route in New York City, riders exchange their fare for a receipt at a special vending machine. If a fare inspector comes, you must show the receipt.

Muni, the bus and light rail operator in San Francisco, implemented all-door boarding in 2012, which requires those who enter the rear door to tap a Ventra-like card at a card reader in the back of the bus, or have a valid pass. Fare inspectors may ask you to show the pass, a transfer receipt, or check your card to see that you checked in to the bus.

The pilot will last for six months. The CTA said in a statement that “prepaid boarding is expected to provide customers with faster boarding and reduce bus delays that occur from the high volume of customers.”

Many outbound Blue Line riders who get off at the Belmont station transfer to the Belmont bus, and after each train stops, a crowd of people walk up to the westbound or eastbound waiting areas at the same time and form long queues.

CTA’s press release also said “current boarding times during evening peak periods can take as long as 5 minutes due to heavy ridership” and since buses come every four to five minutes during rush hour, the slow boarding process sometimes results in bus bunching and trip delays.  Read more…

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Did the CTA Set up the Lincoln and 31st Street Bus Reboots to Fail?

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Waiting for the #11 Lincoln bus in Lincoln Square. 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.]

Community activists who lobbied for years for the restoration of the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street bus routes rejoiced last November after CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. made a surprise announcement that the routes would be coming back on a trial basis in 2016. The CTA board voted earlier this month to relaunch each of the bus routes as a six-month-long test to determine whether there’s enough ridership to bring back the lines permanently. But transit advocates say the way the agency devised the program’s bus schedules ensures the pilots will fail.

While the restored #11 Lincoln line will debut on June 20, the #31 bus won’t return until September. South-side activists say that will undermine the pilot because summer ridership towards 31st Street Beach won’t be counted. Worse, residents say, both bus lines will run only on weekdays between 10 AM and 7 PM, so they’ll be useless for morning rush-hour commutes. And while the Lincoln buses will run every 16 to 22 minutes, 31st Street buses will arrive only every half hour.

“It looks like it’s set up to fail,” Tom Gaulke, pastor of First Lutheran Church of the a and member of the Bridgeport Alliance, a social justice organization, told DNAinfo last week in regards to the #31 bus. “It feels like a bit of a slap in the face.” Commenters on social media were also dismissive of the limited Lincoln bus schedule. “No availability on the weekend or morning hours for commuting doesn’t appear to make this a true ‘test’ of whether there is demand for the #11 bus,” north-side resident Brendan Carter wrote on Facebook.

The CTA says, on the contrary, that the schedules were actually devised to make sure the pilots succeed.

So how did it come to this?

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It’s a Lobby-palooza! Join MPC’s 43 Minutes for $43 Billion Infrastructure Push

Brown Line crossing the river

MPC says Investing $43 billion over the next years could help get the CTA system, and other Illinois infrastructure, in good working order. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Are you ready for (almost three-quarters of) an hour of power?

That’s what the Metropolitan Planning Council has planned for Wednesday, May 18, at 11 a.m., when they’ll hold the 43 Minutes for $43 Billion transportation infrastructure lobbying jam session. They’re asking Chicagoland residents to call their legislators and contact leaders in Springfield to ask them to commit to investing $43 billion over the next ten years to fund repairs and improvements to transit, bridges, and roads. They’re also asking citizens to tweet about the fact that we’re sick and tired of the shoddy state of Illinois’ transportation network.

The action is timed to coincide with Infrastructure Week, which Washington, D.C. infrastructure advocates have organized over the last few years, as well as the May 31 adjournment date for the Illinois state legislature. According to MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey, there appears to be plenty of interest on both sides of the aisle for a new transportation funding bill, but the general consensus is that the initiative won’t move forward until the state budget, which has been mired in partisan deadlock, moves forward.

“It’s problematic that we don’t already have a transportation bill,” Skosey said. “In [MPC’s] opinion, it needs to be done immediately, but it also needs to be done adequately.” He noted that if, say, lawmakers agreed to budget $1 billion a year for infrastructure, many Illinoisans would think that’s a big expenditure. “But that wouldn’t be sufficient,” he said. “A billion a year would only make us fall behind farther. It has to be $4.3 billion to get us up to par.”

While MPC hopes a bill can be passed before legislators adjourn at the end of the month, Skosey said there are other windows of opportunity for getting it approved. It could also happen during the November vetoe session (when the governor signs or vetoes legislation the general assembly has passed), or else it could take place during the lame duck session following the November elections, when Illinoisans will vote on every House seat and some Senate seats.

However, it would be much more difficult to pass a bill after May 31 because a two-thirds majority of the assembly would be needed. After January 1, only a simple majority of 51 percent would be required.

At any rate, it makes sense to get the word out to leaders sooner than later that we’re fed up with slow, unreliable train and bus service, potholed roads, and increasingly unsafe bridges. Skosey said MPC came up with the idea for 43 Minutes for $43 Billion as an alternative to organizing a lobbying day in which representatives from the 43 local companies and nonprofits who’ve endorsed the Accelerate Illinois infrastructure funding campaign would have to schlep down to Springfield. “We figured that calls, emails, and social media would be a fast, effective way to send a message,” Skosey said. Here’s how you can get involved.

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