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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

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Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.

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Study: Ventra Fees Cost Social Service Providers 140,000 Bus Rides Per Year

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A CTA staffer demonstrates how a Ventra machine works. Ventra replaced simpler and cheaper ways for social service organizations to procure transit cards for their clients. Photo: CTA

Ever since the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace switched from magnetic stripe fare cards to the Ventra smart card system in 2013, social service providers across Chicago have been spending more money on paying for their clients’ transit rides, and giving out fewer rides. A new report from the Chicago Jobs Council details the burdens that Ventra fare policies and ticket ordering delays place on social service organization staff members and money dedicated to helping clients. The jobs council works to change laws and policies to increase access to jobs for marginalized workers.

The report says that for the organizations to provide fares to their clients they have to spend more time and money. The money they spend on the new Ventra fee could otherwise be spent on  hundreds of thousands in additional rides for job seekers. It starts with the cost of a new card. Ventra cards cost $5.

While the CTA refunds the $5 as credit for future rides if the account is registered, staff must spend time managing that registration process, and checking often to see how much value each card has left. In addition, it’s possible for clients to run up a negative balance on their card that, to continue using the card, the organization has to pay off.

The report said that the plastic multi-ride cards “do not make sense for programs that serve highly transient populations” because they represent a “financial liability if they are lost or used to accrue a large negative balance.” Ventra also doesn’t offer a way to register or manage many cards. “Overwhelmingly,” the report said, “providers rely on single-use paper tickets to provide transit assistance.”

Anyone can run a negative balance because bus fare readers sometimes let people on even if they have less than $2.00 on their Ventra account. The CTA assumes you’ll eventually put more money on the account to reach a positive balance.

If an organization doesn’t want to wait long for a bulk order, which has to be mailed in, or pay off negative balances, then they’re out there at CTA stations buying single-use tickets for $3.00, and racking up hundreds of dollars in “limited-use media” (disposable) fees, at a cost of 50 cents per ticket. That’s the fee CTA charges to print a one-time use ticket and encourage using the hard plastic Ventra card.

The report surveyed 53 organizations which provide job training, shelter for the homeless, and youth services and found they’re spending $280,000 annually in fees – the equivalent of 140,000 additional bus rides. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Loop Link Lane Scofflaws Continue to Be a Problem

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A cab driver blocks a bus in the Loop Link lane.

It’s been four months since the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor launched downtown, but it seems like there are still some bugs to be worked out of the system.

The two main issues I’m aware of are bus speeds and private vehicles using the red lanes, which are marked “CTA Bus Only.” The city projected that the system, which also includes raised boarding platforms, and white “queue jump” traffic signals to give buses a head-start at lights, would double cross-Loop speeds from the previous, glacial rush-hour average of 3 mph to 6 mph.

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A private car blocks one of the red lanes.

However, not long after the launch, bus speeds still averaged about 3 mph, largely due to a rule requiring the operators to approach the stations at that speed in order to avoid crashing into the platforms or creaming passengers with their rear-view mirrors. The speeds seemed to improve a bit in subsequent weeks, although CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman told me today that the 3 mph platform restriction is still in place.

“Performance and ridership are trending in the right direction but we still don’t have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions,” Tolman added.

The fact that private bus lines, motorists and taxis drivers sometimes drive or stop in the lanes can’t be helping Loop Link speeds either. This is particularly common with the charter bus lines that ferry office workers to and from Metra stations. When I talked to staff from The Free Enterprise System and Aries Charter Transportation last month, they were fairly unapologetic, arguing that their drivers don’t have much choice but to use the lanes for pick-ups and drop-offs.

Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more…

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Police SUVs That Aren’t Serving or Protecting: Part II

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Apparently the officers who parked this car were responding to a Chicago chicken emergency. Photo: J. Patrick Lynch

We owe a debt of gratitude to the police officers who work hard to make our streets safer for all Chicagoans, which includes enforcing traffic laws. And, as I’ve written before, an officer has every right to park his or her squad car in a crosswalk, bus stop, or bike lane if it’s necessary to quickly access a trouble spot in the line of duty.

However, when officers choose to block access for pedestrians, bus riders, and bicyclists with their vehicles simply because it makes their personal errands a little more convenient, that’s a minor abuse of their authority that undermines respect for the law.

Reader J. Patrick Lynch told us about a couple recent examples of this from Lakeview’s Broadway business strip. In the first case, pictured above, Lynch says two officers left their vehicle in the northbound bus stop at Wellington/Broadway while they ate a Korean-inspired fried chicken dinner across the street at Crisp on a Thursday evening. Can’t fault them for their taste in food.

“I asked one of them if that was their vehicle and if he really thinks he should be blocking access to the bus stop,” Lynch reports. “His response, no joke, was, ‘When you’re girlfriend calls us up because you are beating her, I need to have my vehicle close by.’” Not funny.

On a busy Saturday afternoon, Lynch drove by a patrol car that was parked in a crosswalk at Surf and Broadway, even though there was space to park behind the vehicle. After Lynch parked and was walking back to his apartment five minutes later, he saw an officer walking back to the unattended squad car.

Read more…

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This Year’s 49th Ward PB Ballot Includes a Few Transit Projects

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A 49th Ward participatory budgeting expo. Photo: 49th Ward

Each of Chicago’s 50 wards gets an annual $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funding to spend on infrastructure projects each year. Usually the alderman decides how the money is spent and typically most of the money is used for traditional projects like street resurfacing, sidewalk repair, and streetlamp installation.

However, the growing participatory budget movement, which lets constituents vote on how menu money is spent, has paved the way for more innovative uses, including many sustainable transportation projects. Seven years ago 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore pioneered participatory budgeting in the United States, and this year six other wards are holding PB elections:

Ward 10 – Susan Sadlowski Garza
Ward 17 – David H. Moore
Ward 31 – Milly Santiago
Ward 35 – Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Ward 36 – Gilbert Villegas
Ward 45 – John Arena

In recent years, some activists in Moore’s diverse Rogers Park ward have argued that the PB process, intended to make the decision-making process for spending ward money more democratic, actually favors wealthier residents. They noted that there was relatively low participation from low-income residents, people of color, and Spanish speakers.

Moore’s assistant Wayne Frazier, who handles infrastructure issues, told me that the ward did additional outreach this year, and new residents were involved. The work of a Spanish outreach committee resulted in good turnout at the ward’s Spanish-language PB meetings, and there were generally 35 to 60 residents at all of this year’s PB meetings, Frazier said.

Read more…

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MPC: We Can Solve IL Infrastructure Woes via Higher Gas Tax, Vehicle Fees

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Looking east along the Green Line from Ashland. According to the RTA, about a third of the Chicago region’s transit network is not in a good state of repair. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

A new report by the Metropolitan Planning Council finds that Illinois needs to invest $43 billion over the next decade to get its roads, bridges, and transit lines in a state of good repair. This is a daunting number, especially for a state that has gone over nine months without a budget plan. However, the nonprofit argues that this goal is achievable if leaders recognize the importance of facing the problem head-on by creating a new funding stream, rather than dealing with the costly consequences of continuing to neglect our transportation network.

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Chart: MPC

“The $43 billion needed to rebuild and improve our transportation infrastructure is less than what we’re wasting today on vehicle repairs due to poor road conditions, time lost to traffic congestion, and population and jobs going to neighboring states,” said MPC senior fellow Jim Reilly in a statement. “To reverse these costly trends, we need a significant, reliable state revenue source dedicated to infrastructure investment.”

The new study notes that Illinois’ fixed, per-gallon gas tax was last raised in 1991. During the quarter of a century that followed, the purchasing power of the tax has dropped by over 40 percent. The average Illinois resident’s contribution to the gas tax fund has declined from the equivalent of $160 to less than $100 (in 2013 dollars). As a result, the state is spending 40 percent less money on transportation infrastructure than it did 25 years ago.

The report finds that, as a result of Illinois’ lack of investment in rebuilding infrastructure, one out of five roads in the state is in a state of disrepair. The group says twice as many roads will be in poor condition by 2021 if we continue this trend.

Similarly, the Regional Transportation Authority says that only about two-thirds of Chicagoland’s transit network is in a state of good repair. That will drop to less than half of the network by 2030 if we don’t take action.

Read more…

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Actually, the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont Remix Will Be a Major Improvement

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Before and after views of the intersection. Planned features include bumpouts, new crosswalks, bike lanes, and far-side bus stops.

Last week a ward staffer provided me with a preview of plans for the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont reconstruction project. From what I gathered from that conversation, the Chicago Department of Transportation was planning a relatively conservative redesign of one of the North Side’s most dangerous intersections.

But at a public meeting about the initiative last week, I learned that it’s actually going to be somewhat bolder than I thought, with significant improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. The project also includes streetscaping work on Belmont between Ashland and Southport, and Lincoln from Melrose to Wellington, which will further improve conditions for walking.

During the hearing at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont, CDOT’s complete streets manager Janet Attarian outlined the planned changes. She noted that Lincoln/Ashland Belmont was the 5th most dangerous intersection in the city in 2010, with 35 crashes.

New sidewalk bumpouts will be added on Lincoln and Ashland, which will narrow these streets at the intersection and shorten the turning radius for drivers, preventing high-speed turns. They will also improve sightlines and shorten pedestrian crossing distance. In addition, the bumpouts will help straighten out a kink in Lincoln which occurs at the six-way junction.

Left turns off of Lincoln will be banned. This will affect relatively few drivers, since these moves make up only 2-4% of traffic at the intersection, according to CDOT counts. During rush hours, left turns currently account for 8-16% of traffic on Lincoln.

Read more…

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CNT: There’s Only One Parked Car for Every Three Units at Local Buildings

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Ontario and State in River North. Due to pre-TOD ordinance minimums, many downtown buildings have large pedestals of garage parking, much of which is unused. Image: Google Street View

A new report from the Center for Neighborhood Technology quantifies something that we already suspected to be true: Apartment buildings in the Chicago area tend to have way too much off-street car parking. The report, titled Stalled Out: How Empty Parking Spaces Diminish Neighborhood Affordability, points out that, since parking spots are surprisingly expensive to build, this surplus of spots drives up housing costs.

CNT has done similar parking studies in the San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. metro areas, including the creation of development of tools for predicting “right-size parking” in the latter two cities. This time around, they looked at 40 multiunit buildings on the North, South, and West Sides of Chicago, as well as northwest, west, and southwest Cook County suburbs, according to transit-oriented development manager Kyle Smith, the report’s author.

As in the other regions, the researchers did parking counts at the Chicagoland apartment buildings, both market-rate and subsidized, at 4:00 a.m., the peak time for parking use. Similar to what was observed in the other regions, they found that:

  • While the 40 buildings averaged two parking spots per every three units, only one space was being used per every three units.
  • The more parking spaces a building had, the higher the percentage that sat unused.
  • Apartments within a half mile of a high-frequency transit line, such as a CTA ‘L’ branch tended to have fewer spots, with only one space per two units. But even at those buildings, one-third of the spots weren’t used. Again, there was only one parked car for every three units.

The excess number of spaces reflects the fact that, while Chicago and many suburban municipalities require a minimum number of off-street spots in new developments, these minimums are somewhat arbitrary and don’t necessarily reflect actual demand.

This situation has improved somewhat in Chicago in recent years. In 2013 City Council passed the city’s first transit-oriented development, which halved the usual one-to-one parking ratio requirement for new buildings near rapid transit stops. Last year, a beefed-up version of the ordinance passed, which doubled the size of the TOD zones and completely waived the parking minimums. However, the usual parking minimums still apply outside of the TOD districts.

Read more…

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CDOT Plans a (Conservative) Safety Overhaul of Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln

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The vast, crooked intersection is dangerous for all road users. Image: Google Street View

The six-way intersection of Belmont, Ashland, and Lincoln in Lakeview is one of the most confusing and scariest intersections on the North Side, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The north and south legs of Lincoln don’t line up properly. The six-way junction is a massive expanse of asphalt, roughly 150 feet across at its widest point, creating a long exposure time for cyclists on the diagonal street, a recommended bike route. Pedestrians are forced to make as many as three street crossings to get where they need to go, using long, skewed crosswalks.

Not surprisingly, the intersection has a high crash rate. According to Steven Vance’s Chicago Crash Browser, based on state collision statistics, from 2009 to 2013 there were 185 total crashes at the intersection, including 12 in which bicyclists were injured, and five in which pedestrians were injured. The junction is sure to become even more chaotic in early 2017 when a new Whole Foods opens at the northeast corner with a whopping 300-plus car parking spaces.

In an effort to increase safety for all road users, enhance walkability and reduce the “barrier effect” of the intersection, The Chicago Department of Transportation will be making some safety improvements. It’s part of a larger streetscape project that also includes making the Lincoln Hub placemaking pilot, located two blocks southeast at Wellington/Southport/Lincoln, a permanent – though scaled-back – feature of Lakeview.

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The northern seating plaza of the Lincoln Hub. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT will be holding a public hearing to discuss their plan next Tuesday, March 29, from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont. Last Tuesday the department held a private meeting to outline the project with local aldermen Scott Waguespack, Tom Tunney, and Ameya Pawar, plus the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and other neighborhood organizations.

Waguespack’s chief of Staff Paul Sajovec filled me in what was discussed at the recent meeting. CDOT considered making some fairly bold changes to Belmont/Ashland/Lincoln, including closing off Lincoln Avenue entirely in one direction or the other, Sajovec said. However, they ultimately decided to go with options that involve the least amount of changes to motor vehicle throughput, according to Sajovec.

It’s tempting to fault CDOT for prioritizing traffic flow over improvements that would maximize safety and walkability here. However, the changes to the intersection will require approval from the more conservative Illinois Department of Transportation. In addition, all three streets are bus routes (or will be, once the CTA’s #11 Lincoln route re-launches this year), so unless the redesign includes dedicated bus lanes, reducing throughput would slow down transit trips.

Moreover, from what Sajovec told me, some positive changes are planned. Curb extensions will be added to some of the six corners, shortening crossing distances for pedestrians. In addition, these will help reduce the kink in Lincoln.

Left turns from that diagonal street will be banned in both directions. That will allow bike lanes to be striped on Lincoln through the intersection, which will make pedaling across the vast expanse a little less nerve-wracking.

Read more…