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Eyes on the Street: Concrete Pad for Bus Riders Installed in East Garfield

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It doesn’t look like much, but this new concrete parkway pad at the northeast corner of Fulton and Sacramento  (looking east) turned a muddy bus stop area into a proper place to wait. Photo: Steven Vance

People catching the Chicago Transit Authority’s 94-South California bus in East Garfield Park no longer have to wait for their ride in the dirt.

While most CTA bus stops at least offer customers concrete to stand on, if not a bench or a shelter, not every rider has an appropriately designed waiting area. Until recently, three #94 bus stops on the 2900 block of West Fulton had substandard stops.

While the #94 line generally runs north-south, it runs east-west on Fulton between California and Sacramento. At the bus stop near the southeast corner of Fulton/Sacramento, there used to be no concrete, except for a “courtesy walk” running perpendicular from the sidewalk. I noticed that a local man who uses a wheelchair had to wait for southbound bus on this narrow strip of pavement.

This CTA customer formerly had to wait for the southbound #94 bus in the narrow “courtesy walk” at the southeast corner of Fulton and Sacramento. The walk has been replaced with a wider concrete area.

dirt bus stop on Fulton

The man formerly had to alight the northbound bus in this muddy parkway at the northeast corner. Thanks to CDOT, there’s now a concrete pad here as well — see the top photo.

Worse, there was no concrete at all at the bus stop at the northeast corner, only an ugly, broken advertising bench. That meant the man had to roll his wheelchair off the bus into the sometimes-muddy parkway when returning home on the northbound bus.

This week, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed concrete “parkway pads” at both of these stops, plus a third southbound bus stop at the southwest corner of Fulton and Francisco. This provides a much better boarding and alighting situation for the man, and all other people who use these stops.

There don’t seem to be a lot of people using these bus stops, so it might not have been cost effective to install these pads from the standpoint of spending money in a manner that serves the most riders. However, all CTA customers should at least be provided with a dignified place to wait for the bus.

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Klein: Chicago’s Big Projects Show How Better Transit Access Boosts Livability

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Gabe Klein at last week’s talk. Photo: Kathleen Virginia Photography

At the Chicago Loop Alliance’s annual meeting last week, former transportation commission Gabe Klein discussed how he was able to apply private sector strategies to city government in order to quickly launch several major sustainable transportation projects during his 2.5-year tenure. He also talked about the general trend towards more efficient urban living, including transit-oriented development and the shared economy, fueled by new technologies.

At the start of the event, CLA board president David Broz provided announce transportation, urban planning, and placemaking initiatives the Loop Alliance will be sponsoring this year. In 2015, CLA had nine Springboard pedestrian counters installed along State Street between Congress and Wacker, and they plan to use the data to help encourage commercial development along the corridor, as well as improve the pedestrian experience on the street. This year, they’ll be adding six more counters in other parts of the Loop.

CLA will also be presenting the Downtown Futures Series, featuring talks about urban planning, transportation, data science, and technology. The series kicks off on April 14 with “Big Data. Big City,” featuring keynote speaker Charlie Catlett of University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory; followed by “Our Cities’ Autonomous Futures” with Lauren Isaac, Manager of Sustainable Transportation at Parsons Brinckeroff, on June 15; and “Experiential City” with Carol Coletta from The Kresge Foundation on September 14.

The popular ACTIVATE placemaking series will return this year for its third summer, with six arts-oriented parties held in downtown alleys between May and October. The location of each event will be announced a week prior.

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A juggler entertains at ACTIVATE Couch Place. Photo: Lisa Phillips

Klein, who recently published the book Startup-City, based on his experiences as an entrepreneur and the transportation chief for Chicago and Washington, D.C., started his talk by discussing how dense housing, transit, bicycle use, and the shared economy can help make cities work better.

“Postwar, we were all really sold on this idea of buying as much as possible, consuming as much as possible, the white picket fence, two cars, and now the big-screen TV,” he said. “But we can’t continue to consume at the same rate, and young people just don’t care about stuff as much as many of us did. And we’re not just focused on consuming less when it comes to buying stuff, but we’ve got to share space.”

He used the reconfiguration of Chicago’s Dearborn Street as an example of how public space was redistributed to work more efficiently. “We went from a street with three car lanes and an unenforced bus lane to a two-way protected bike lane, using new technology, using new turn lanes with sensors for the cars and the bikes triggering the lights,” he said. “We learned that throughput could be kept at almost the same level, while allocating space for active transportation.”

The redesign of Dearborn, which led to a 171 percent increase in biking on the street, is a great example of the principal of the concept of induced demand, Klein said. “People are understanding that now,” he said. “If people have bike lanes, what are people going to do? They’re going to ride their bikes. If you build more car lanes, you will fill them with cars. If you build a train, they will get on the train.”

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Will CMAP Stop Prioritizing Increasing Road Capacity in Next Regional Plan?

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The GO TO 2040 regional plan says we should encourage transit use, but CMAP’s policy would allow road binging projects if they cost a minimum of $100 million, while applying a $250 million threshold on other project types. Photo: David Grant

This is the second post in a two-part series on the upcoming ON TO 2050 regional plan. The first discussed public outreach goals for the new plan, and this one critiques its predecessor, GO TO 2040.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has launched the process to create the successor to the regional comprehensive plan, GO TO 2040. The new plan, called ON TO 2050, will illustrate with ideas, strategies, predictions, and research, what the region will be like in 2050, and how communities can get there.

GO TO 2040 is a good plan: it envisions a growing region, with an aim for sustainable, compact development in already developed areas, plus big gains in transit ridership, and bicycling and walking. What it did poorly is connect the dots between those goals and how municipalities, including Chicago, in the seven-county region can achieve them. Here are some of the praiseworthy aspects of GO TO 2040, as well as some of plan’s shortcomings.

“Parking pricing” is a strategy in GO TO 2040 to maximize the use of existing resources and reduce car dependence in a neighborhood. Liz Schuh, a principal policy analyst at CMAP and ON TO 2050 co-manager, said in a phone interview, “There hasn’t been much progress.” That doesn’t mean they haven’t made inroads.

In 2013, CMAP and Metropolitan Planning Council staff thoroughly analyzed the so-called parking crunch in the area administered by the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area, a business improvement district. They found that there’s plenty of unused, on-street parking, even during busy shopping or nightlife times, if only people were willing to walk an extra block or two to their destinations.

They recommended, among other ideas, testing congestion pricing in the area, with meter prices going up during high-demand periods, and falling during off-peak periods, in an effort to ensure that there’s almost always a space for the person willing to pay for it, which could reducing the amount of driving people do while searching for a spot.

Another area where GO TO 2040 has fallen short is detailing how to reach certain goals, like doubling transit ridership from 2 million daily rides to 4 million daily rides by the year 2040. The plan also recommends increasing the the proportion of residents who can walk to transit from home and work. The plan doesn’t say how the region can achieve these goals within the next couple of decades, beyond recommending that more transit service be provided and that new development should focus on existing developed areas, which would limit suburban sprawl. Sprawl persists.

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CMAP Launches Input Process for ON TO 2050, Chicago’s Next Regional Plan

Jane Grover speaks about ON TO 2050

Jane Grover, a former Evanston alder, is coordinating the community outreach for CMAP’s ON TO 2050 planning process.

This is part one of a two-part series about ON TO 2050, the new comprehensive regional plan for Chicagoland.

The official planning agency for the Chicagoland region is looking for your big ideas on what the region should look like – and how it could get there – in 2050. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is drawing up a new plan to succeed the GO TO 2040 plan, which was released in 2010 after being unanimously approved by 284 municipalities. The next plan, called ON TO 2050, will be released in late 2018 or early 2019.

The federal government requires every urbanized area of 50,000 or more inhabitants to create a regional plan. At its core, the purpose of Chicago’s regional plan is to serve as a guide for how to generate and spend public transportation funds.

For example, since Chicagoland is a non-attainment region for air quality goals, CMAP can only spend federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program funds on projects if CMAP’s analysis finds that they would reduce air pollution. While CMAP has approved many CMAQ grants for sustainable transportation projects, unfortunately they’ve also awarded these funds to intersection widening projects, since these are believed to reduce idling and emissions.

This time around, though, CMAP wants to tweak the planning process. First, they want more community input. Local TV personality Geoffrey Baer, who has made documentaries the Chicago River and the city’s boulevard system, recently previewed the planning process on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight program two weeks ago. “This is the start of a process,” he said. “CMAP doesn’t have all the answers, and they don’t even have the questions.”

Last Wednesday CMAP hosted a launch event for the community input process at their office in the Sears Tower. “We want to reach into communities that aren’t typically represented, and translate the planning process to make sense to those who are affected by it,” said plan outreach coordinator Jane Grover, a former Evanston alder, during the presentation. “We want to find a good way to bring planning to life, and make it a reality.” Grover said she wants to involve high school students and chambers of commerce.

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The Union Station Transit Center and Wilson Station Rehab Are Rolling Along

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The new temporary entrance to the Wilson stop on the north side of the street is almost finished. Photo: John Greenfield

Steven Vance and I took advantage of today’s sunshine to check out the progress of two major transit projects that are slated to wrap up this spring.

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CDOT rendering of the Union Station Transit Center, looking west.

The $43 million Union Station Transit Center will be a key enhancement to the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor. Located on Jackson between Canal and Clinton, the new facility will replace a surface parking lot. The Chicago Department of Transportation is spearheading this project.

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Looking southeast at the construction site. Photo: Steven Vance

The transit center will include sheltered staging areas for CTA buses, plus an elevator leading to an underground Amtrak pedway. That will allow customers to make fairly seamless transfers between buses and trains.

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Explore National Transportation Change Trends by Age Group

Cross-posted from City Observatory

In some ways, the urban renaissance of the last decade or two has been quite dramatic. Downtown or downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in cities around the country have seen rapid investments, demographic change, and growth in amenities and jobs. Even mayors in places with a reputation for car dependence, like Nashville and Indianapolis, are pushing for big investments in urban public transit.

Because many of those who work in urban planning live in or near these walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, it may be easy to imagine that their changes are representative of the overall pace of transition to a more urban-centric nation. Butas we and others have discussed before, in at least one way — transportation — change has actually been excruciatingly slow at the national level.

According to the American Community Survey, from 2006 to 2014, the proportion of people using a car to get to work declined — from 86.72 percent to 85.70 percent. Even among young people, the shift seems underwhelming: from 85.00 percent to 83.94 percent. (Though, as we stressed last week, these Census data only cover journey-to-work trips and tend to overstate the extent to which households rely exclusively on cars for their transportation needs.)

The changes for transit, biking, and walking are, obviously, similarly small. Transit mode share increased from 4.83 percent to 5.21 percent; among those 20 to 24, the increase was 5.53 to 6.35 percent. The overall share of walking commutes actually fell.

In fact, we’ve built a little tool to let people explore these data in an interactive way, selecting mode type and age ranges to see how things have changed, and haven’t, over the last almost-decade. The tool displays the same data in two ways: first, as a graph (above), and then as a simple table (below), for those who find that easier to read. (On the graph, yes, we have allowed the y-axis to begin at numbers larger than zero — in large part because the changes are so small that a chart that began at zero would be unintelligible. We will trust our readers to be sophisticated enough at reading graphs to understand.)

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Life in the Fast Lane: Shuttles Are Still Illegally Using the Loop Link Route

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An Aries Charter Transportation bus and an Aon / Prudential Center Shuttle in the Loop Link lane on Madison at Wacker.

Private bus lines in the Loop Link bus rapid transit lanes is definitely a thing.

Last week I posted footage of the red lanes, clearly marked “CTA Bus Only,” being used by Aon / Prudential Center shuttle buses, as well as shuttles operated by The Free Enterprise System. A Streetsblog Chicago reader who wished to remain anonymous provided the videos.

This week that person, plus another reader named Matt Kaynee, provided still more photos and videos of private buses using the Madison Loop Link lane during the evening rush. In addition to the aforementioned companies, shuttles run by Aries Charter Transportation were also captured using the red lanes. In some cases, the shuttles stopped to drop off passengers on Madison, which forced CTA buses to merge into the mixed-traffic lanes to get around them.

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A Free Enterprise System bus in the Loop Link lane on the Madison bridge.

Yesterday I shared the images with staff members responsible for the shuttle buses. “Thanks for bringing that to my attention,” said Aon Center manager Matt Amato. “Right now I have someone calling our third-party bus service provider to let them know they have no business driving in the CTA bus lanes.” Amato didn’t mention which bus company operates the shuttle.

A staff member from The Free Enterprise System, who asked not to be named, was unapologetic about the company’s drivers using the red lanes. “When the city sold Loop Link to the public, they said that there would be bus, bike, and car lanes, but they made no provisions for private buses,” he said. He claimed that it’s legal for the shuttles to pull into the red lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.

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Metra To Study Changes to Make its Fare Structure More “Creative”

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Metra wants a consultant to study how it might changes its fare structure. Photo: Jessica Davidson

Metra, the regional commuter train operator, is seeking a consultant to develop “creative recommendations” on how to change its fare structure. The consultant would be in charge of finding the pros and cons of the current fare structure, comparing it to Metra’s commuter rail peers around the country, and building a model that allows Metra to test how different fare policies would affect ridership and revenue. The Request for Proposals is due at the end of the month.

There are some drawbacks to Metra’s current fare policy. Trips that have a nearly equivalent route via the Chicago Transit Authority ‘L’ and bus cost over $1 more, which in some cases means people are opting to take a slower but cheaper trip via CTA. There’s also no transfer discount except for those who buy $55 Link-Up passes to be used on CTA in combination with a monthly Metra pass during rush hours only.

Recently Metra raised the fares for trips within and between Zones A and B at a higher percentage than other zones, partly because of the need to stick to $0.25 increments. A coalition of South Side community organizations has asked transit agencies and legislators to study transfer discounts, and integrating fares with CTA and Pace because they say the Metra Electric line is hampered by a fare structure more appropriate for suburban lines. The Kenwood, Hyde Park, South Shore, and South Chicago neighborhoods are entirely within Zones A and B.

Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis said the RFP offers room for a unique fare policy, and that any recommended changes would “reflect our efforts to modernize operations and increase ridership. We want to see creative and innovative fare structure scenarios that can bring some excitement to our product.”

Changing the fares, or allowing new kinds of fares – like transfer discounts – could have positive ramifications for the nine million people who live in the region. People would have new transit travel options if transferring between a Metra train and a CTA or Pace bus didn’t require two full fares.

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Active Trans Celebrates 30 Years With a New Commitment to Healthy Streets

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Ron Burke. Photo: John Greenfield

For three decades, the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) has been advocating for better conditions for bicycling and, in recent years, walking and transit. They marked their 30th anniversary with a fundraiser on Monday at Germania Place, and more than 250 supporters turned out to celebrate the occasion. During the event the group gave public service awards to three key players in the local sustainable transportation scene: former Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch, Friends of the Major Taylor Trail president Peter Taylor, and U.S. Congressman Dan Lipinski.

Active Trans director Ron Burke kicked off the evening by discussing how much attitudes about transportation have changed over the years. “When I first started bike commuting during the winter, people used to look at me with shock and awe,” he said. “Now on Milwaukee Avenue during the summer, we’re seeing 5,000 bikes a day and bikes are piling up at suburban Metra stations.” He noted that while CTA ridership bottomed out during the 1990s, when it was easy to get a seat on the North Red Line, 2015 saw the highest rail ridership in 58 years.

Burke said that 30 years ago, the region saw a much higher rate of traffic injuries and fatalities, which he blamed on “a vision that was basically, move cars as fast as possible.” However, he noted, in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of better pedestrian facilities, bus rapid transit, protected bike lanes, Divvy, and The 606. “These are things which 20 or 30 years ago were barely on the radar but now are a reality, in part because of the work Active Trans has done over the last 30 years.”

Jon Hilkevitch recently ended a 36-year tour of duty at the Trib, with half of that time spent covering the transportation beat, including publishing the popular “Getting Around” column, which largely focused on the commuting needs of average Chicagoans. Of course, Streetsblog Chicago didn’t always seen eye-to-eye with Hilkevitch, particularly when it came to his early skepticism about bike-share.

But his articles were generally well researched and written, and he eventually came around on the Divvy issue. I was also pleasantly surprised by his comments in a recent Active Trans interview, in which he expressed his support for bus rapid transit and people-friendly street reconfigurations, which I hadn’t gathered from his articles. It even turns out that he’s a regular bike commuter, who used to pedal 12 miles each day to the Tribune tower back when he lived in Evanston.

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Gala attendees, including Streetsblog contributor Anne Alt (second from right) and pedestrian advocate Deloris Lucas. Photo: Active Trans

During his acceptance speech, Hilkevitch discussed the need to reduce the number of traffic fatalities on Chicago streets. He recalled that one of his most difficult interviews was with the mother of Clint Micelli, a 22-year-old graphic designer who was fatally doored while riding a bike on LaSalle Street on the Near North Side. “Thanks to Active Trans’ efforts, that led to new legislation requiring the police to keep records of dooring crashes,” Hilkevitch said. “A day when there are no more ghost bikes will truly be a day to celebrate.”

Peter Taylor, an Active Trans board member, was a tireless advocate for completing the Southwest Side’s Major Taylor Trail, named for the turn-of-the-century bike racing legend. Now he serves as a guardian of the trail, pushing for better amenities and trying to ensure the path is well maintained and glass-free. He is also part of a coalition of local African-American bike advocates who have lobbied the city for a more equitable distribution of bike resources in recent years.

During his speech, Peter Taylor gave shout-outs to Major Taylor, who overcame racism to become one of the nation’s first Black sports stars, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “for demanding that government live up to its promises equally.” He added that he’s looking forward to the expansion of the Cal-Sag Trail in the south suburbs, because it will link up with the Major Taylor Trail, “and a new cycling network will be born.”

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CTA Ridership Report: Train Use Hits Record Levels, Bus Ridership Still Falling

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A crowded Brown Line train at the Belmont station. Photo: John Greenfield

Today the CTA released some generally good news about ridership, heralding 2015 as the highest-ever recorded year for rail use. Meanwhile there was only a minor dip in bus ridership compared to last year, which means a three-year decline in bus use is leveling off.

The total number of rail and bus rides in 2015 was 516 million, up 1.6 percent from 514.5 million last year. This was the eighth year in a row that there were more than half a billion total rides.

As usual, in 2015 bus rides made up the majority of the ridership, with 274.3 million rides, down 0.6 percent from 276 million in 2014. That’s a much smaller decline from the previous year compared to the 8 percent drop that occurred in 2014, and the 3 percent dip that happened in 2013.

The transit agency blamed some of the bus ridership decline on the cold, snowy weather the city experienced in February of 2015, as well as downtown construction for projects like the Loop Link bus rapid transit system and the Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station. However, bus ridership increased on several routes, including ones in Evanston, near Midway Airport, and on the Far South Side.

In 2015 rail ridership hit 241.7 million, a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year’s record of 238 million rides. The CTA noted that this happened in spite of the shutdown of the Yellow Line for several months dues to an embankment collapse caused by a nearby construction project.

Thanks in part to the opening of the Cermak/McCormick Place station in February 2015, the Green Line South saw the highest ridership bump, with an 11.2 percent increase. The new stop had more than 390,000 station entries last year.

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