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A Wish List for Better Walking and Biking in the Black Metropolis

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Ronnie Harris outside the locked gate that blocks pedestrian and bike access on 29th east of Michigan. Photo: John Greenfield

[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 after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

As we stood astride bicycles in the shadow of Alison Saar’s Monument to the Great Northern Migration last week, Bronzeville-based transportation advocate Ronnie Matthew Harris, 47, told me that community organizing is in his blood.

“Both sides of my family immigrated from the Deep South as part of the Great Migration, and landed here in the great mecca of Bronzeville,” Harris said, gazing at the 15-foot-tall bronze sculpture. “And as long as there has been a historic Bronzeville, you could find an organizer by the name of Harris.” His paternal grandfather and father were labor leaders, he explained, and his mother’s job at a local church involved many aspects of community development. “So it’s the family business.”

Harris is also passionate about improving conditions in the neighborhood—sometimes referred to as the Black Metropolis—where he was born and raised. As the leader of Go Bronzeville, a group that promotes sustainable transportation options in the community, he’d offered to take me on a neighborhood tour highlighting pedestrian and bike access issues he wants to fix.

“Data shows that a community that walks, bikes, and uses public transportation is a community that is healthier, safer, and more economically viable,” he said. “Go Bronzeville wants to respond to some of the inequity in public policy and urban planning that sometimes contributes to disparities in health and wealth.”

Go Bronzeville started as an initiative of the Chicago Department of Transportation, along with similar programs in Pilsen, Garfield Park, Albany Park, and Edgewater. The programs educate residents on how sustainable transportation can help them save time and money and improve their health. After the program ended, Harris got CDOT’s blessing to continue running Go Bronzeville on a mostly volunteer basis. Nowadays the group hosts neighborhood bike rides, mans tables at community events, and, via a city contract, promotes the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 bike-share memberships to low-income Chicagoans.

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City Hopes to Use State Law Allowing Transit TIFs to Rebuild CTA Red Line

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Mayor Emanuel will introduce an ordinance that would create a kind of TIF district around the CTA Red Line on the North Side so the CTA can use property tax revenue to rebuild tracks and stations. Photo: David Wilson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office has started crafting an ordinance that would activate a state law allowing the city to create “transit TIF districts” – officially called Transit Facility Improvement Areas – around four transit projects, according to the Chicago Tribune. Boundaries could be drawn up to a half mile around Chicago’s Union Station (to fund the improvements recommended in its master plan), the CTA’s North Side Main Line, the CTA’s Red Line extension to 130th, and the CTA’s Blue Line Congress branch modernization and possible extension.

The cost for RPM Phase I is $2.1 billion and the CTA is set to receive $1.1 billion in federal grants. Phase I includes rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations and all tracks within a mile of the stations. CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase said, “specifically, about $956 million of federal Core Capacity funding and a $125 million CMAQ grant.” In order to get these funds, she said, the CTA needs to provide a local match of $881 million. The Red Line transit TIF district is projected to generate $622 million to pay back a low-interest “TIFIA” federal loan. The CTA would fund the remaining $219 million from its own bonds.

Transit TIFs would work much like existing tax-increment financing districts, in which the property taxes assessed on any incremental increase in property values since the TIF district’s inception are earmarked for improvements within the district. In the transit TIF districts, loans taken out to pay for public transportation infrastructure would be repaid via the future increase in property values and tax revenue brought about by the better transit service – a form of value capture.

The city’s existing TIF program is highly controversial because, unlike other city expenditures, the mayor gets to decide how the money is spent without needing approval from City Council. Critics also point out that the program diverts money from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies.

However, the transit TIF program would be designed so that the Chicago Public Schools would receive the same portion of property taxes it would if the Transit Facility Improvement Area didn’t exist. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the official regional planning organization, created the following charts to illustrate how that would work.

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Local Leaders Weigh in On 31st Street Beach Transportation Issues

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. The park district plans to more than double the size of the an existing parking lot, center. Image: Google Maps

Last month I reported on the Chicago Park District’s plans to expand a parking lot at the southwest corner of 31st and Lake Shore Drive, a short walk from 31st Street Beach and Harbor. The proposal would enlarge the lot, currently 60,000 square feet of asphalt, by 85,000 feet — that’s about 1.5 football fields worth of existing green space that would be replaced by blacktop.

The project would add more than 250 spaces near the beach, which already has over 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces within a five-minute walk. It would cost $1.6 million, paid for harbor bond funding.

I noted that Friends of the Parks has endorsed the project. Executive director Juanita Irizarry told me last month that if the group advocated against more parking at the South Side beach, they would have essentially been “tell[ing] people of color that they can only utilize the beach if they arrive by CTA or bicycle.”

On the other hand the Active Transportation Alliance is against the parking expansion. Executive director Ron Burke argued that transit, walking, and bike access should be improved instead. “Let’s give people MORE open space, play areas, trails and other attractions and LESS pavement for cars,” he said via email.

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The design of the expanded parking lot. Image: Chicago Park District

After my article ran, Delmarie Cobb, a lifelong Bronzeville resident and owner of the Publicity Works PR firm fired off an angry email to 4th ward alderman Sophia King’s office about the parking plan and cc-ed me. “Now, the city wants to take more green space so the harbor users will have more parking options,” she wrote. “There’s plenty of parking at the old Michael Reese parking lots.”

In addition to the 650 aforementioned nearby beach and harbor parking spaces, there are 250 public parking spots at the former hospital site, a ten-minute walk from the beach at 31st and Cottage Grove. The city purchased the property under Mayor Richard M. Daley as part of its failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

“Until the city decides what to do with that land, it should be used to accommodate beach goers,” Reese wrote. “We’re already paying for that land, so why should we pay an additional $1.6 million for 250 parking spaces?… On Fullerton, the city [built] six additional acres for green space. At 31st St., the city found 85,000 square feet of green space to turn into a parking lot.”

4th Ward staffer Prentice Butler declined to comment on the lot expansion project, except to confirm that Alderman King is in favor of the plan.

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This sign installed by the entrance to the garage last winter indicated that the garage was for boaters only. Photo via Delmarie Cobb.

When I reached Cobb this afternoon, she told me that she has since realized that, while the parking lot expansion will eliminate green space west of the drive, it won’t affect parkland closer to the beach that is used for barbecues, land she says is in short supply. While that’s less objectionable to her, she still finds it problematic that money was found for more asphalt while a community center originally planned as part of the harbor project, completed in 2012, was never funded.

While the park district and the 4th Ward haven’t had much to say about why exactly it’s believed that another 250 spaces are needed, Cobb offered an explanation. She provided a photo taken last winter of a permanent sign installed by the garage entrance claiming that all public parking spots in the 317-space facility was full, and spaces were only available to people with harbor passes. “Obviously the garage wasn’t full in the middle of the winter, but they were treating it like a private garage for boaters,” Cobb said.

Cobb says that when King took office last spring, she asked the park district to remove that sign and put up a new one stating that the garage spaces are available to the general public. Cobb recently went out with an intern and interviewed boaters to learn more about the parking situation. She says the boaters, many of whom live outside of the city, told them the lot expansion is planned because harbor pass holders were sometimes having trouble finding space in the now-public garage.

“The boaters said they don’t feel they should have to schlep all their stuff from the Michael Reese site to the harbor,” Cobb said. “That’s fine for the residents, but not for the boaters.”

“It just goes to show, the city can always find money to do what they want to do, such as projects to entice tourists,” Cobb said. “But they can never find money for the things we need like the community center, things that improve quality of life for neighborhood residents.”

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Millennial Trains Project Stopped in Chicago to Discuss Affordable TOD Issues

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Logan Square’s Twin Towers TOD development under construction earlier this year. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this week the Millennial Trains project stopped in Chicago on its five-city national tour on Amtrak, bringing a group of 26 young people to meet with locals within each city. They discussed how issues of housing affordability and inequality, and transit affect their lives, and talked about ideas for improving conditions in Chicago.

This leg of the westbound tour is also making stops in Pittsburg, Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles. Next week another group of Young people will travel eastbound from L.A., stopping in San Francisco, Denver, Milwaukee, and Detroit. The national affordable housing and renters advocacy campaign Make Room is a sponsor.

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Rachel Reilly Carroll. Photo: Millennial Trains Project

I caught up on the phone with Rachel Reilly Carroll, an employee of Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based nonprofit that helps develop affordable housing, who is one of the tour participants, shortly after she arrived in Chicago.

Among other projects, Enterprise’s Chicago office has been involved with efforts to encourage affordable transit-oriented development across the region. According to their website, this year they provided grants to ten community developers working on TOD projects in Chicagoland.

They also launched the Enterprise eTOD Collaborative in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in an effort to support these projects and organizations. They’ve also been promoting TOD in the south suburbs through the Southland Community Loan Fund, and through technical assistance to developers and municipalities. They hope to work on several south suburban TOD projects in 2016.

The goal of these efforts is create affordable housing with good access to jobs, schools, healthcare, and recreation, while reducing car dependency.

“Equitable TOD is about ensuring that transit access remains available to folks who have lived near transit, and reducing car dependency for others who may currently have long transit or car commutes, so that they can benefit from the time and cost savings,” Carroll said.

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North Lawndale Residents: Restoring Ogden Bus Would Improve Job Access

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Bus and train routes in and near North Lawndale. Residents say extending the #157 route along Ogden from California to Pulaski would fill in a service gap. Map: CTA

[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 after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

In the second half of the 20th century, the North Lawndale community area on Chicago’s west side was devastated by redlining and other racist lending practices that led to civil unrest among the neighborhood’s by then booming black population. Fifty years ago this summer, Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family to an apartment in the neighborhood to highlight the need for fair housing and other improvements in black areas of northern cities.

North Lawndale never recovered economically from the disinvestment and social upheavals of the last 50 years. The area’s population plummeted from a high of 124,937 in 1960 to 35,623 in 2014. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income is currently $25,797, far below the city average of $47,408.

In April the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and others launched the neighborhood’s first comprehensive plan since 1958, covering infrastructure, housing, economic development, transit, and more. Last week, the council hosted a panel discussion that featured a pair of speakers, Cynthia Hudson from the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue from the Red Line Extension Coalition, to discuss possible transit improvements in North Lawndale and share best practices from transit advocacy elsewhere in the city. Read a separate post about LaFargue’s advocacy efforts here.

The area—bounded roughly by Taylor Street, Kenton Avenue, Metra’s BNSF Line, and Campbell Avenue—has four CTA Pink Line stations. The Blue and Green Lines aren’t far away. But community leaders say further improving public transportation access is key in creating more opportunities for residents. Specifically, NLCCC members argue that restoring bus service on Ogden Avenue and other corridors would be a shot in the arm for the struggling neighborhood.

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Fallen Courier Blaine Klingenberg’s Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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Blaine Klingenberg. Photo: Facebook

[This article was produced in partnership with the Chicago Reader.]

Yesterday afternoon a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of the father of fallen bike courier Blaine Klingenberg, who was fatally struck by the driver of a double-decker tour bus at Michigan and Oak during the evening rush on June 15. The suit names bus driver Charla Henry and her employer Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company.

According to friends of Klingenberg, he was on his way to meet up with colleagues at Oak Street Beach after work when the collision occurred. He was bicycling north on Michigan through the intersection when he was struck and dragged by Henry, who was driving westbound. Klingenberg was rushed to Northwestern hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

The Chicago Police Department crash report clearly laid the blame on Klingenberg, stating, “The victim disregarded the light at Oak and turned into the bus, causing the collision.” Henry has not been issued traffic citations or charged with a crime. However, two witnesses told me they were convinced the bus driver was at least partly responsible for the messenger’s death because she also entered the intersection after her light turned red.

The lawsuit was filed in the Cook County circuit court by the bike-focused personal injury firm FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). Klingenberg’s father Walter Klingenberg is named as the plaintiff. The document states that Henry was guilty of one or more of the following acts and/or omissions:

  • Disobeyed a solid-red traffic signal
  • “Failed to exercise the degree of care and caution tht a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have exercised in the operation of the [double decker] bus”
  • “Failed to keep an adequate lookout”
  • “Drove the… bus at a speed at a speed that was greater than was reasonable given the traffic conditions and the use of the highway”
  • Failed to avoid hitting a bicyclist
  • “Was otherwise careless or negligent in the operation of the … bus”

The suit argues that, in addition to being fatally injured, Klingenberg “suffered great pain and anguish, both in mind and body prior to his death.”

It also states that Walter Klingenberg, as well as Blaine’s mother Beverly Klein, brother Corey Klingenberg, and sister Kendal Klingenberg have suffered the loss of the deceased man’s “company and society.”

Read the rest of the article on the Chicago Reader’s website.

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Obama Library’s Jackson Park Location Will Be Easy to Visit Without Driving

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The Obama library site, located between 60st, 63rd, Stony Island, and Cornell, will be easy to access by Metra, bus, and bike. Image: Google Maps.

Today a spokesman for the Obama Foundation officially confirmed that the Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side, and he lauded the project as the nation’s first urban presidential library. “For the first time, a presidential center will be in the heart of an urban community,” foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt, said in a statement.

It was previously announced that Washington Park, to the west of Hyde Park, where the president previously worked as a University of Chicago law professor, and Jackson Park, to the southeast, were under consideration. As opposed to a more glamorous downtown location, siting the museum in either park would have had the benefit spurring investment in struggling nearby communities, in keeping with Obama’s former role as a community organizer. Each park is also well served by transit.

While there are two Green Line stops just west of Washington Park, the Jackson Park location has an edge when it comes to sustainable transportation access. The library will be located on a narrow, 20-acre parcel between 60th and 63rd streets, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, land currently occupied by a running track, football field, and baseball diamonds.

Just west are the Metra Electric District line’s 59th Street and 63rd Street stations. Four CTA bus lines run past the parcel on Stony Island: the #2 Hyde Park Express, the #6 Jackson Park Express, the #15 Jeffery Local, and the #28 Stony Island. The location is also accessible from the lakefront via an underpass and multiuse trails through the park, so it will be possible to bicycle there from downtown without having to share the road with cars.

The Green Line offers more frequent and consistent service to Washington Park than Metra’s train service to Jackson Park. However, it’s likely that decision makers assumed out-of-town visitors would be less comfortable taking the ‘L’ through the heart of the South Side than riding commuter rail towards the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Some local leaders hope that the addition of the library will spark the creation of a new South Side museum campus.

The Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric has been lobbying for the line to be converted to more frequent rapid transit-style service as well as fare integration with CTA and Pace, in order to increase job access for South Siders. Mayor Emanuel has shown interest in the proposal and the Obama library makes it even more likely that upgrade will happen. Moreover, it’s almost certain that the minimalist Metra stations near the library site will be overhauled in order to better accommodate crowds of visitors.

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Evanston Protected Lanes Face Backlash While Making Dodge Ave. Safer

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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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