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The Street Ballet of a Bike Lane Behind a Transit Stop

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Why don’t more cities escape the curse of bus-bike leap-frogging by putting bike lanes between transit platforms and sidewalks?

Though “floating bus stops” and similar designs are being used in many cities, others have avoided doing so, sometimes out of concern that people will be injured in collisions with bikes while they walk between platform and sidewalk.

But is this actually a problem? An intersection in San Francisco that uses a similar design seems to be working just fine.

The annotated video above shows one minute of the self-regulating sidewalk ballet.

Seleta Reyolds, the San Francisco Municipal Transportaiton Agency’s section leader for livable streets, calls the corner of Duboce Avenue and Church Street “a great example of how to design for transit-bike interaction.”

Though it’s only been open since June 2012 and hasn’t worked its way into the city’s official collision records yet, Reynolds said she couldn’t find any record of a complaint arising from the intersection.

A few details worth noting:

  • This block is unusual in that it’s closed to cars, even on the other side of the transit stop. This removes any risk of right hooks due to limited visibility, an issue that other such designs must handle differently.
  • The relatively narrow bikeway here, with a curb on each side and a flat grade, prompts people to move at manageable speeds. This wouldn’t work as well on a slope.
  • There is no fence here between platform and bike lane. This gives people maximum visibility and maximum flexibility as they negotiate past each other.

A key lesson here is that what’s often true of car traffic — that the safest designs are the ones that avoid as many potential conflicts as possible — is not true for people on bikes and foot. In pedestrianized areas (a British study of 21 such spots turned up exactly one bicycle-related collision in 15 years) people are very good at negotiating around one another. Sometimes, we can all just get along.

Video shot by Charly Nelson. You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Construction Cycle: CDOT Has a Lot on Its Plate This Summer

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Dumping infill to build out the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

If 2013 was Chicago’s Long, Hot Summer of Transportation, then 2014 is the Summer of the Big Projects. Last year featured well-publicized game changers like the South Red Line rehab and the Divvy bike-share launch, but this year’s initiatives might not be so obvious to casual observers. That’s partly due to the changing of the guard at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

After forward-thinking, sharply-dressed commissioner Gabe Klein stepped down in November, he was replaced by the CTA’s head planner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, who’s only the second female chief in CDOT history. While her management and sartorial style is lower key than Klein’s, she’s no less progressive. “A lot got kicked off in the last two-and-a-half years,” she recently told me. “My goal is to continue that momentum, to make sure that we are bringing these projects in on time and on budget.”

One planned initiative whose future is somewhat beyond Scheinfeld’s control is the expansion of Divvy from its current 300 docking stations to 475. In January, Montreal-based Bixi, which provides the bikes and stations for the system, declared bankruptcy, putting the supply chain in jeopardy. However, Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Divvy for CDOT, is looking into alternative suppliers in case Bixi goes belly-up, and Scheinfeld says she expects the city will meet its expansion goals this year.

CDOT is currently moving forward with Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes within his first term. As of this spring, Chicago had about thirty-one miles of buffered lanes and roughly seventeen miles of protected lanes, by the Active Transportation Alliance’s count. The city has announced plans to install five more miles of PBLs this summer on Broadway (Montrose to Foster), Harrison (Desplaines to Wabash), and Lake (Austin to Central Park). Fifteen miles of new buffered lanes are planned, and new bikeways on Clybourn, Kedzie, Leland and Randolph may also get built this year.

The Navy Pier Flyover, a series of sixteen-foot-wide ramps and bridges, will solve the problem of the dangerous bottleneck at the center of the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. At $60 million, mostly federally funded, and featuring Cadillac-level infrastructure, it will be the most expensive single bike project in Illinois history and a symbol of Chicago’s commitment to better cycling. Construction started in March, but it won’t wrap up until 2018.

Another massive infrastructure project that’s in the thick of construction is the long-awaited Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606. Since the nineties, Northwest Side residents have lobbied the city to convert the Bloomingdale rail line into a 2.7-mile elevated greenway and linear park, and now their dream is finally coming true. The basic trail, slated to open this fall, will cost about $54 million, largely bankrolled with federal dollars. Project manager the Trust for Public Land is working on raising an additional $40-$50 million to pay for building parks at the access points, plus enhancements like playgrounds, landscaping and art.

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Eyes on the Street: Halsted Street Cyclists Battle Drivers for Bike Lanes

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A reader submitted this photo, taken from inside of REI at 1466 N. Halsted St., of a CTA bus being driven in the Halsted bike lane. It was one of four seen within a 15-minute period last week.

Two readers have contacted Streetsblog to report that many Chicago Transit Authority bus operators and other Chicagoans are driving in Halsted Street’s buffered bike lane, between Division and North. Drivers appear to be taking to the bike lane to avoid queues on northbound Halsted as it approaches the busy three-way intersection at Clybourn and North Avenues.

One reader has submitted three complaints to CTA, saying, “Buses in the bike lane… [are] illegal and dangerous to people on bikes in the bike lane, bus passengers, and motorists who are patiently waiting in the legal lane.” She also attached photos of four Halsted bus operators, all seen using the bike and parking lanes in a span of 15 minutes.

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A driver illegally uses the Halsted bike and parking lane.

The same reader sent us photos of several drivers who are also using the bike lane to bypass backed-up traffic. Reader J. Patrick Lynch, who commutes along Halsted from the West Loop to Lakeview, has also seen this: “Because there is relatively little commercial use from Grand Avenue to North Avenue, the empty parking lanes have turned into de facto traveling” lanes, he said in an email. This has become more common, he wrote, since construction at the New City site (seen above) has blocked off parking along the east side of Halsted’s 1400 block, and opened up an extra-wide space outside the travel lane.

“People are so frustrated at the traffic that they choose to drive in the parking and biking lanes now,” Lynch said.

CTA didn’t respond to our request for comment, and responded to the reader with a standard message: “Your information has been forwarded to the responsible General Manager for appropriate corrective action. Safety is the CTA’s top priority, so thank you for reporting this incident.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: Houston, Transit Paradise?

Welcome to a super-long extra-bonus episode of Talking Headways! We only took on two topics this week, but we got so enthralled by both of them we just couldn’t shut up.

First, we talked to Christof Spieler, a member of Houston Metro, about the “blank-sheet” bus overhaul he helped design. Instead of trying to tweak the current system around its edges, Metro decided to start again from scratch, planning routes and service that make sense for the way the city is now. Metro thought the upside would outweigh the downside, but the agency wasn’t prepared for this: There was almost no downside. By eliminating redundant and inefficient service, Metro could optimize routes without eliminating low-ridership routes that people depend on. And to hear Christof tell it, what they’re accomplishing is pretty amazing:

What we’re really doing is focusing on frequent service. We’re basically doubling the number of routes that offer frequent service, and we’re extending that frequent service to seven days a week. So: every 15 minutes, seven days a week, network of about 20 routes.

That puts a million people within walking distance of those routes; it puts a million jobs within walking distance of those routes. It is going to be one of the largest coverage areas of high frequency transit in the United States. And that is a huge deal for our existing riders, because currently only about 25 percent of our boardings are at stops that have all-week frequent service. This will take that up to 73 percent.

Once we tear ourselves away from Christof and his beautiful vision of the future of transit, we do a debrief on what’s going on with the transportation bill in Congress. The Senate bill isn’t all it could be, but in Congress nothing is ever all it could be, and this one at least stands a chance of passage — or it would if there were an actual, realistic funding stream attached to it. No such luck. Tune in for all the gory details.

Side note: Big thanks to all who have donated during Streetsblog’s spring pledge drive, especially those of you who specifically mentioned the podcast as why you’re giving. We appreciate you! There’s still time to get in on the fun: Please donate today!

As always, Talking Headways is available on iTunes or Stitcher or by signing up for our RSS feed, and this right here is where you leave your snappy comments. We welcome your backtalk and your sassy mouth.

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CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld Discusses the Loop BRT Project

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Rebekah Scheinfeld. Photo: John Greenfield

I recently sat down with Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to discuss the city’s efforts to create safer, more efficient conditions for walking, transit and biking. We’ll be publishing the interview in a few installments, starting with this conversation about plans for bus rapid transit in the Loop.

John Greenfield: What’s going on with the schedule for the Loop BRT? I’ve heard there has been a little pushback from business owners. Some of them weren’t excited about the idea of having large bus stations in front of their storefronts, even though the design is transparent. So, when are you thinking that’s going to get rolled out and how many stations does it look like we’re going to get?

Rebekah Scheinfeld: We’re still planning to start construction this year. We have to finish the design process, and then it will go through the procurement process for the construction contractor, and there will be a full season of construction. So the expectation is that it will be operational by the end of 2015. And that also includes the Union Station Transit Center.

The design for the Washington and Madison corridors calls for eight stations at major connection points. We’re still working through the design. Obviously, it’s complex because it’s a major investment in the heart of the Loop, and it requires a lot of coordination with the different users: building owners, business owners, and other constituencies along both corridors.

So, we’re being thoughtful about the design and we’re working through concerns that are being raised through the outreach process we started last year, to reach out to stakeholders in the corridor, to make sure they’re aware of the project, and to talk through any impact concerns that they have about how the street is going to be reconfigured. That’s an ongoing process.

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The planned street configuration on Washington.

JG: What are some of the concerns the business owners have?

RS: One, it’s about understanding what the project entails, in terms of how the street would be designed and the way that there will be space allocated to bikes and pedestrians and transit and regular, general through traffic. We’re explaining that, just to get beyond any pre-conceived notions that people might have, like worries that the streets are only going to be only for buses, or something like that.

We’re explaining that this is going to be a corridor for all users, as well as explaining that there are going to be impacts in terms of where people can load or unload, for example. Obviously, businesses want to make sure that they can accommodate deliveries, for example. And there’ll be some minor offsets to parking. So a lot of it is about education, and each block is not cookie-cutter. On every block there are different kinds of buildings and different kinds of uses, so we take that very seriously.

JG: You have heard some concerns from people worried that their storefronts are going to be obscured, right?

RB: That was an early question that was raised, so we’re doing a lot to make sure that there is transparency in the design, but also that any information panels in the shelters would be perpendicular to the sidewalk, so that it maximizes the view and the sightlines.

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A Ride Downtown on the Blackline Shuttle Is a Black Tie Affair

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The Blackline bus at Belmont/Sheridan. Photo: John Greenfield

This morning, Steven Vance and I checked out upscale public transportation, catching a lift on the Blackline commuter shuttle during its first day of operations.

The company’s new Belmont Express service is billed as a more reliable and comfortable alternative to the CTA’s #135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express bus. The Blackline takes a similar route downtown from Belmont/Sheridan to three Loop destinations, but with fewer stops and tightly scheduled pickup times, plus features like reserved seats and free Wi-Fi. These perks come at a premium price of about $4.60 per ride with a weekly morning pass, more than twice the cost of CTA bus fare.

For now, Blackline is offering only morning service, leaving Lakeview at 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. In the near future, the company plans to add evening pickups from downtown, plus new lines departing from Belmont/Clark and Wicker Park. When we showed up for the 8:30 run, the bus was standing in a loading zone at the southwest corner of Belmont/Sheridan, sporting a large, black bowtie on its grille, reminiscent of the pink mustaches that adorn the fronts of Lyft ride-share vehicles.

Proprietor Joey Hawilo, 29, originally from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, welcomed us aboard and offered us complimentary breakfast bars. Aside from Blackline staff and reporters, there were five passengers along for the ride. We departed at 8:30 sharp and made our way onto Lake Shore Drive. As we cruised along in the moderate rush hour traffic, we enjoyed better views of Lake Michigan and Belmont Harbor than one might get on a crowded CTA bus.

Hawilo, who has worked at various Internet startups but is new to the transportation industry, told me how he got the idea for the new service. “I had moved to Lincoln Park, and I thought that it was really inefficient that I was getting in an Uber or a cab once or twice a week,” he said “The CTA is great, in that it runs frequently, but when I’d go to get a bus at rush hour, it would often be really busy. Chiberia made it worse, waiting for the bus in zero-degree weather.”

He pondered the question of how to best meet transportation needs during peak demand hours. “We wanted to create a service that is cheaper than cabs or ride-share, and helps get people out of their cars.” He noted that Chicago’s Loop-centric orientation is well-suited to the Blackline model. “I thought, why can’t we aggregate demand from the neighborhoods and offer to point-to-point service, rather than having a spread-out route that stops at every block?”

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CTA Should Take Cue from London With Automatic Day Passes

Calling at all stops to London King's Cross. | London's Calling for Flickr Friday | Explored

The Oyster card caps daily fares on all Greater London Area transit, without the need to purchase a daily pass beforehand. Photo: Paul Kitchener

Transport for London, that city’s regional transit operator and planning agency, has had a “daily cap” on bus, tram, and train fares since 2005. The fare system stops charging pay-as-you-go riders for trips once they spend a certain amount, which depends on which services you use and zones you visit. This means that you’ll never spend more on transit in one day than a daily pass would have cost (sometimes even less), which gives everyone the value of a day pass without making people buy those passes in advance.

The Ventra card and Transport for London’s Oyster card were both created and installed by Cubic Transportation Systems, so it’s possible that daily capping can be implemented in Chicago.

One-day transit passes encourage more transit use, since they lower the cost of each additional ride, and give the pass holder the freedom to travel as much they want in a day. They’re especially good at encouraging people to ride off-peak, like midday or in the evening, since these additional trips are “free.” By making the purchase of a daily pass automatic, a daily cap benefits riders — both residents and tourists — who either are used to paying for transit as they go, aren’t sure if the one-day pass is a good buy, or who want to budget their travel costs.

For Chicago tourists, a $10 day pass is an excellent value for a busy day of sightseeing — say, getting from a bed & breakfast in Logan Square to downtown, ferrying themselves among museums up and down Michigan Avenue, stopping in Chinatown for dinner, and then taking the Blue Line back home. For locals, a day pass is a great buy if one needs to hit up several shops across the city on their day off, take the bus for lunchtime errands, or have an evening out that traverses several neighborhoods. But instead of making customers choose beforehand whether a daily pass or pay-as-you-go would make sense for the day, a daily cap automatically chooses the best value for the rider.

Daily capping could even work on Metra trains and CTA + Metra journeys: Oyster works on buses, the Underground rapid transit, the Overground regional rail service, and local commuter trains. At the end of the day, the fare software sums your journeys’ costs, applies the cap if you reached it, and distributes revenues among the various transit systems you used. CTA could still sell one-day passes, for people who don’t want to load more than $10 at a time onto their Ventra card.

Once CTA and Pace finish rollout on July 1 this year, by no longer accepting fare media that aren’t Ventra, they should begin a conversation with Cubic to start a daily capping pilot project.

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Will Blackline Buses Be a Threat or a Complement to the CTA?

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Rendering of comfortable-looking seats on a Blackline bus.

A new bus company called Blackline will offer upscale, express commuter service that will compete with the CTA. It remains to be seen whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing for local transit.

As reported in Crain’s Friday, Blackline will be running “luxury buses” between Belmont/Sheridan in Lakeview and three stops in the Loop, with two inbound trips per morning and two outbound trips per evening, starting May 19. The route, called the Belmont Express, includes stops at Randolph/Stetson, Washington/Clark, and Monroe/Franklin, largely paralleling the CTA’s #135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express. However, Blackline touts its service as “better, faster, cleaner, and actually pleasant.”

A trip from Belmont/Sheridan to Randolph/Stetson via the #135, plus a short walk, would take 20 minutes, according to Google Maps. While the same trip via Blackline would also take 20 minutes, according to the timetable on the website, they claim the buses would leave at the scheduled time, so riders wouldn’t have to wait for a bus. Moreover, the Belmont Express would only make three stops in the Loop, fewer than the #135, so a Blackline trip to Monroe/Franklin is scheduled to take 30 minutes, while the same trip by CTA would take 33 minutes.

Perhaps more importantly, all Blackline seats are reserved and must be purchased in advance online, so there’s no risk of having to stand for the ride or getting passed up by a full bus. The black, armchair-like seats look comfy, and free wi-fi is available.

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Never Fear, the Rogers Park Greenway Is Still in the Works

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The proposed northbound route for the Rogers Park greenway.

I was nonplussed when I checked out the results of Saturday’s 49th Ward participatory budgeting election this morning. The most exciting proposal, a bike-priority neighborhood greenway, which was discussed at a community meeting in mid-April, wasn’t one of the winning projects, since it wasn’t even included on the ballot.

Fortunately, the north-south greenway, originally proposed for Greenview and Glennwood, is still a strong possibility. “It looks like we will have enough funding to pay for it without using menu money,” said Alderman Joe Moore’s chief of staff Betsy Vandercook. “Plus, we’re not even sure what streets this would go on, so it seemed premature to ask people to fund it.”

Vandercore said the Chicago Department of Transportation may apply for a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant to help cover the greenway’s cost, which will depend on the final design. “It looks like there’s a good chance we’ll get a grant,” she said.

There may also be some leftover money after previously elected Rogers Park bike projects are completed, which could go towards the required 20-percent local match for the CMAQ grant. For example, last year residents voted to spend $75,000 on bike-and-chevron shared lane markings on Clark from Albion to Howard but, due to gas line work, they haven’t been installed yet. If the grant doesn’t come through, the greenway may wind up on a future PB ballot.

Meanwhile, CDOT staffers will be doing traffic studies to determine which route would work best for the greenway. At last month’s meeting, several attendees worried that Greenview and Glenwood have too much car and truck traffic during rush hours to make for a low-stress bike route. Vandercook said many Rogers Parkers have signed up for an advisory council for the project.

Five years ago, Moore was the first U.S. elected official to hold a PB election, and this was the ward’s biggest turnout yet, with 1,763 voters, compared to 1,400 in 2013. This year, constituents voted to spend 69 percent of the $1 million PB budget (out of the ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” money) on conventional projects like street repaving, repairing sidewalks and fixing streetlights. That’s not surprising, since the harsh winter left the streets in rough shape.

However, residents did vote to spend $36,750 on 15 black metal benches for bus stops on Clark, Howard, Rogers and Sheridan. Vandercook said the ward has already installed its share of the city’s bus shelters. The benches, which will be installed at stops with no seating, will certainly encourage transit use in a ward with plenty of senior housing. Residents also opted to spend $100,000 on carpet for the Rogers Park library, $75,00 for a new water play area at Pottawattomie Park, and $75,000 for a wheelchair and stroller path at Hartigan Beach.

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Talking Headways Podcast: California Über Alles

Welcome to our all-California, all-the-time episode of the Talking Headways podcast.

We start with a statewide debate over whether $60,000+ Teslas should qualify for tax breaks — or whether any electric vehicles should get tax breaks. Then on to the conversation about how California’s cap-and-trade dollars should be spent. One proposal, from the State Senate leader, would spend it on affordable housing, sustainable communities, transit, and high-speed rail. And then we zoom in on Fresno, where one blogger wonders why the political threat to BRT didn’t get as much attention as it did in Nashville.

We missed the podcast after a long-ish break and are glad to be back! We hope you filled the gaping hole in your life by listening to back episodes of Talking Headways goodness and subscribing to us on iTunes or Stitcher or signing up for the RSS feed.

And, side note: The giveaway for our spring pledge drive has changed since we recorded this podcast. Now, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a package of zines and books by feminist bike activist and writer Elly Blue. Thanks for your donation!