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Could Rauner Stop the Illiana Boondoggle? Sure. But Will He?

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner says he needs to “see the studies” on the Illiana before making a decision on whether it should continue.

The Illiana Tollway, a joint proposal by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation to build a 47-mile highway through thinly populated farmland about 40 miles south of Chicago, rolled over another hurdle yesterday when the Federal Highway Administration approved the project’s environmental impact study. FHWA’s approval allows IDOT and InDOT to proceed with soliciting bids for the highway.

In a press release, IDOT called the FHWA’s “record of decision” an endorsement of the project and process. IDOT, of course, is reading too much into this: FHWA didn’t endorse the project by awarding it a huge grant. Instead, FHWA merely acknowledged that the Illiana meets the federal government’s minimum justification standard for highways. Even though the Illiana might meet that bare minimum, the FHWA isn’t putting its own money on the line. Rather, FHWA has simply said that Illinois is now free to waste its own money on the project.

This monstrous boondoggle – one of the most wasteful road projects in the entire country – surely won’t be stopped by IDOT or by any agency, like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, dependent on IDOT. The federal government’s involvement concluded with the EIS review, so it’s now out of the picture. It’s up to governor-elect Bruce Rauner to put an an end to this travesty.

Stephen Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recently told the Better Government Association that Rauner “has the authority to shelve [Illiana]. He doesn’t have to ask anyone.” Schlickman added that, because the Illiana is “moving so rapidly,” Rauner will need to act quickly and decisively. IDOT is just weeks, or months, away from formally issuing a Request for Proposals to its short list of bidders, and award contracts soon afterwards.

Rauner told the Tribune’s editorial board in September that he didn’t know if the Illiana should be built, and that he’d “have to see the studies” before making that decision. In the past, he’s hedged on the issue – both saying that the project “may have the potential to be an economic development engine,” but also that IDOT’s public-private partnership shouldn’t leave taxpayers “holding the bag.”

If Rauner does take a close look at the studies, he’ll find that the Illiana’s economic development “potential” lies entirely in Indiana, and that the state’s $1.3 billion would create just 940 jobs through 2040. The editorial board directly asked Rauner if he had seen the studies, and wrote then that “there is no upside” to the road.

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CDOT Tweaks Randolph/Michigan, But It’s Still Dysfunctional for Pedestrians

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The new right turn signal at Randolph/Michigan. Photo: John Greenfield

When you build a fabulous new attraction in the center of a bustling metropolis, you obviously want to maximize pedestrian access to make it easy for large numbers of people to walk there, right? That’s not what happened with Millennium Park.

A month after the music and art venue opened in the summer of 2004, drawing big crowds of pedestrians, the city actually took steps that made it more difficult to access the park on foot. After observing many conflicts between pedestrians crossing Michigan and motorists turning left onto the avenue, city traffic engineers solved the problem – by eliminating the pedestrians.

The Chicago Department of Transportation ground out crosswalks and barricaded corners at several intersections. Most egregiously, they removed the crosswalk at the south leg of Michigan/Randolph. At the time, a CDOT spokesman told me it was done because of safety concerns. Conveniently for motorists, however, eliminating this pedestrian movement also facilitated southbound turns onto Michigan by drivers heading west on Randolph.

The city spent $51,000 to install bollards and chains at the southwest and southeast corners of this intersection, deterring people from walking directly from the Chicago Cultural Center (which houses the city’s main visitor info center) to Millennium Park. Instead, pedestrians are now expected to cross the street three times to make the same move: north across Randolph, east across Michigan, then south across Randolph again. In addition to creating a major detour across 19 lanes of traffic, this made the remaining crosswalks more crowded.

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Formerly you could cross directly between the southwest corner and the southeast. Now it takes three crossings to make the same trip.

When the Emanuel administration took over in 2011, the appointment of forward-thinking transportation commissioner Gabe Klein suggested that this kind of cars-first planning might be a thing of the past. Shortly after he started at CDOT, I asked Klein if for his take on the Michigan Avenue situation, and the fact that the city had also taken out the midblock crosswalk between Buckingham Fountain and the lakefront in 2004.

“The Randolph/Michigan issue is interesting,” he said. “I don’t like it, from the standpoint that I would like to give priority to the pedestrians that we’re relying on to populate the park. Having said that, if the crosswalk was taken out because of safety concerns, then we really have to look at Michigan Avenue, which I think is just a problem.”

Klein added that he would like to reinstall the Buckingham crosswalk, and a few months later, CDOT did just that. Last summer, the department restriped the crossing at the north leg of Washington/Michigan, the main entrance to the park.

However, the Randolph/Michigan intersection has remained unchanged – until this fall. In October, CDOT installed a new right-turn arrow signal for drivers heading west on Randolph and turning north on Michigan. A recent newsletter from 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, who bankrolled the project with ward money, claimed the new dedicated right-turn phase is reducing congestion.

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Driver Fatally Strikes 53-Year-Old Woman in Wicker Park

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The entrance to the CVS parking lot. Image: Google Streetview

Last night, a young woman driving out of a drug store parking lot struck and killed a female pedestrian in Wicker Park, according to Officer Janel Sedovic from News Affairs.

At about 7:40 p.m., Samar Khan, 23, was exiting the parking lot of the CVS at 1200 North Ashland in her Nissan Juke mini-SUV, Sedovic said. The lot’s driveway passes through the building and abruptly crosses the sidewalk on Division.

As Khan, of the 1200 block of North Cleaver in Noble Square, turned left to head east on Division, she struck a 53-year-old woman who was “standing in the street,” Sedovic said.

A police source noted that the pedestrian was “intoxicated” and “was wearing all black clothing.” However, the police report did not include details about the movements of the driver or the pedestrian.

The victim was taken to Stroger hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, Sedovic said. As of early this afternoon, the Cook County medical examiner’s office had not released the woman’s identity.

Khan was cited for failure to exercise due care to avoid a collision with a pedestrian in the roadway. Major Accidents is investigating.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 24 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 8 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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On the Anniversary of Hector Avalos’ Death, His Family Is Hoping for Justice

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Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

Last Friday, exactly one year after Hector Avalos was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk driver, his family and friends gathered to remember him at the “ghost bike” erected in his honor. The white-painted bicycle, installed at the crash site on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park, is part of a worldwide movement to memorialize fallen cyclists. Avalos’ memorial serves as a somber reminder of a valuable life lost.

Avalos, 28, was a former marine and aspiring chef who often commuted by bike. On the night of December 6, 2013, he was biking back to the South Side from his job as a line cook at El Hefe restaurant in River North. He was several blocks west of his home on the 1800 block of West Cermak when his path intersected with that of motorist Robert Vais.

Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, had reportedly spent the evening at a staff Christmas party at Francesca’s on Taylor, a restaurant in Little Italy. At 11:50 p.m., he was driving home to southwest suburban Riverside in his Ford Windstar minivan when he struck Avalos from behind. After emergency personnel arrived, Avalos was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m.

According to a police report, Vais walked up to an officer on the scene and said, “I was the driver of that van over there. I hit him. Is he OK?” The officer testified that Vais smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes, which spurred his decision to arrest Vais and take him to the hospital for a blood draw. The test showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.118, well above the legal limit of 0.08.

A small crowd of Avalos’ loved ones gathered on Friday to tell stories and share memories. Wrapped in scarves and blankets, they solemnly poured beer at the base of the light pole that supports the ghost bike, forming foamy puddles. Someone wiped clean the framed photograph of Avalos in his Marine dress uniform, a souvenir from his two tours of duty. Flickering veladoras — religious votive candles — were lit, creating a small circle of light and warmth in the dark, cold night.

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Active Trans to Oak Park Trustees: Quit Stalling on Madison Road Diet

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Rendering of Madison in Oak Park after a “four-to-three conversion” road diet.

Active Transportation Alliance director and Oak Park resident Ron Burke says he’s tired of waiting for the village’s trustees to move forward with making Madison a safer and more economically viable complete street. A plan was proposed nearly three years ago to reduce crashes and make the street more walkable and bikeable with a road diet on the street between Austin and Harlem. A survey at the time found the overwhelming majority of residents support the plan, Burke said.

The suburb has millions of dollars in tax increment financing, as well as a federal grant, that could be used for the project. However, no action has been taken since the plan came out, because the village board has been deliberating on whether to use TIF money for a new school district headquarters, Burke said. Now that decision is largely resolved, Active Trans recently launched a letter writing campaign to let Oak Park leaders know they shouldn’t further delay improvements to Madison, garnering over 200 signatures in a week.

Currently, this stretch of Madison is a wide, four-lane street with a limited number of left turn lanes and too much capacity for the 18,300 cars it carries on average each day. As a result, it’s got one of the highest crash rates in Chicagoland, with about 235 collisions per year. That’s roughly twice the collision rate of Lake Shore Drive, which the Illinois Department of Transportation has said is one of the most crash-prone roads in the state.

The collisions on Madison are mostly car-on-car, but an average of seven pedestrians and cyclists are struck on this stretch per year. Active Trans recently included Madison/Harlem on its list of the 20 most dangerous intersections in the region.  Tragically, 92-year-old Suleyman Cetin was fatally struck while biking across Madison at Scoville last year.

Furthermore, Madison serves as a major barrier to people on foot and bikes, discouraging travel between the north and south sides of Oak Park. The car-centric street layout and high speeds have also contributed to a lackluster retail picture on the street, with a high number of fast food restaurants and empty lots, Burke said.

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Logan Square NIMBYs Don’t Understand the Value of Housing Density

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Save Our Boulevards’ unintentionally hilarious flyer.

There must be something in the water along Milwaukee Avenue, since lately Logan Square NIMBYs have been giving their Jefferson Park counterparts a run for their money. Exhibit A is an unintentionally hilarious flyer protesting plans for transit-oriented development in Logan, circulated by the local group Save Our Boulevards.

As reported by DNAinfo, the handout, headlined “1,500 Units Coming to You,” warns residents that fixie-pedaling, Sazerac-sipping “hipsters” will be moving into the parking-lite buildings. SOB insists that, even though these hypothetical bohemians will bike everywhere, they’ll simultaneously create a car-parking crunch and clog the roads.

The flyer cites an October 28 Curbed Chicago article reporting that nearly new 1,500 apartment units are currently planned for Milwaukee between Grand and Diversey. The development boom is in response to the demand for housing along the Blue Line, largely from young adults who want a convenient commute to downtown jobs. It’s worth noting that only about a third of this 4.5-mile stretch lies within Logan Square.

“Many of these [apartment buildings] have little or no parking,” the handout states. “Parking space is important to most of us. Most of us don’t ride our bikes to work. Most of us think density and congestion adversely affect our quality of life.”

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This man is not coming to steal your car-parking spot. Photo John Greenfield

SOB scolds 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno for paving the way for more density, since he supported the city’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance. The new law makes it easier for developers to build relatively tall buildings near transit stops, and halves the number of required parking spaces.

“Tell [Moreno] to stop representing the hipsters who don’t live here, but want to move her [sic], drink fancy cocktails for a few years, and then move to the suburbs because it’s too congested and their friends can’t find a place to park,” the flyer exhorts. Obviously, this is pretty scrambled logic.

Ironically, SOB was formed in 2011 as an anti-parking group. Back then, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón introduced an ordinance that legalized the longstanding practice of church parishioners parking in the travel lanes of Logan Square boulevards on Sundays. It also permitted weekend parking on the lanes by drivers patronizing local businesses. The neighborhood group argued that this practice detracted from the historic character of the boulevard system.

Nowadays, SOB is particularly upset about a plan to build two 11- and 15-story towers on vacant lots at 2293 North Milwaukee, just southeast of the California/Milwaukee intersection and the California Blue stop. The development would have 250 housing units, but only 72 parking spaces, as opposed to the standard 1:1 ratio.

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City Writing New Rules of the Road to Allow Shared Space on Argyle Street

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A rendering of the new street configuration on Argyle.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently hashing out an ordinance to regulate how motorists will behave on the Argyle “shared street” [PDF], a pedestrian-priority zone slated for construction next year. The streetscape project — the first of its kind in Chicago — will create a plaza-like feel along Argyle from Broadway to Sheridan, by raising the street level and eliminating curbs. Slow motorized traffic and car parking will still be permitted on the street, but pedestrians will rule the space.

In late August, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman released the final designs for the street, which will be lined with pavers from building line to building line. Two or three different colors of pavers, as well as trees and other street furniture, will be used to differentiate between travel lanes, parking lanes, and a pedestrian-only zone.

The speed limit will be lowered to 10 mph, which will allow pedestrians to safely cross the street throughout the block — not just at crosswalks — and make it make it comfortable for cyclists to ride in the center of the travel lanes. Other features will include wider pedestrian-only spaces to make room for outdoor cafes, plus permeable pavers, and bioswales. A colorful pillar, emblazoned with the word “Argyle,” will stand in a median at the Broadway intersection, complementing the strip’s existing “Asia on Argyle” sign.

Work to replace gas and water lines on Argyle will take place in January and February, respectively, according to Osterman’s assistant Sara Dinges. The streetscape construction is scheduled to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2015. “We want to emphasize that Argyle businesses will be open during the construction, so we want people to continue to support them,” she said.

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The border between the pedestrian-only area and parking will undulate, creating a gentle chicane.

The merchants will likely be rewarded for their patience during construction with a boost in sales after the work is finished. Studies from London found that economic activity increased on streets after shared spaces were built. Meanwhile, traffic injuries and deaths decreased by 43 percent, and drivers became 14 percent more likely to stop for pedestrians.

At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last month, CDOT Complete Streets Director Janet Attarian noted that Chicago’s municipal code currently doesn’t allow for speed limits to be reduced below 20 mph. The code also only gives pedestrians the right-of-way within designated crosswalks on roadways.

Therefore, the department is working on an ordinance to define shared streets, designating them as locations where a lower speed limit is permissible and where drivers must stop for pedestrians anywhere along the corridor, Attarian said. Once the ordinance is drafted, Osterman will introduce it to City Council, according to Dinges.

Cambridge, Massachusetts [PDF] has built successful shared streets on Winthrop and Palmer streets, two narrow streets around historic Harvard Square. In conjunction with this, the city added language to its vehicular code mandating that that all vehicle operators, including cyclists, must yield to pedestrians on shared streets. The ordinance also states that operators must travel at a speed that ensures pedestrian safety, and that speeds over 10 mph on shared streets are “considered hazardous.”

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Effective “Stop For Pedestrians” Signs Worth The Minimal Replacement Cost

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A city crew installs a “Stop for Pedestrians” sign on Diversey Parkway in 2012.

An article in Monday’s Tribune confirmed what we already knew: Chicago’s “Stop for Pedestrians” signs have been taking a beating from careless drivers. In 2012, the city began installing the placards by crosswalks at unsignalized intersections. The Trib reported that 78 percent of the 344 signs installed have been replaced after motorists crashed into them.

The Chicago Department of Transportation estimates that a total of $265,000 has been spent so far to install and replace signs. Material and labor for replacing a sign at one location costs $550. Usually, two are replaced at the same time, which costs $920. Even so, the amount the city has spent on sign replacement comes out to roughly five cents per Chicagoan.

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the Trib that this minimal expense is worthwhile. “The signs have gone a long way in increasing driver awareness of the four-year-old state law” requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians, she said.

Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton said the same thing at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council Meeting earlier this month: “I think it’s worth $920 to put them out there, even at the frequency of every 6-12 months.”

The price tag for installing and replacing the signs pales in comparison to the price of losing life and limb to crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that pedestrian fatalities cost the Illinois economy $168 million in 2005. CDOT estimates the social and economic cost of each crash as $53,000 per injury, or $3.8 million per death [PDF].

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman endorsed the value of the placards, telling the Trib that his ward has “replaced our fair share of these signs, but people are slowing down and stopping” as a result. An Active Transportation Alliance study confirmed that signs are working. The report found that three times as many drivers stopped for pedestrians at Cook County crosswalks with the signs than at crosswalks without them.

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Despite Saturday’s Tragic Crash, Divvy Has a Strong Safety Record

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Travis Persaud.

Last weekend, medical student Travis Persaud was struck by two different drivers while riding a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive, a limited-access highway where cycling is prohibited. Persaud, 25, is the only person ever to have been critically injured while riding bike-share in Chicago since the system launched in June 2013.

Around 2:50 a.m. Saturday, Persaud was biking north on the highway near the Belmont exit, according to Officer Ana Pacheco of News Affairs. The 27-year-old male driver of a Mitsubishi told police the cyclist “was swerving between the two rightmost lanes” of the drive, Pacheco said. Persaud then “collided with and was thrown under” the car, according to Pacheco.

Another driver in a Nissan stopped in the second-rightmost lane to try to help Persaud, Pacheco said. However, a third motorist in a Honda was unable to stop, striking first the Nissan, the cyclist, and then the Mitsubishi, she said.

Persaud was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition, according to Pacheco, and was the only person injured during the chain-reaction crash. The Honda driver, a 22-year-old male, was cited for driving without insurance. “Alcohol is believed to have played a factor in this accident, as the investigation revealed that the bicyclist had a high level of alcohol in his system,” Pacheco said.

A passenger in the Mitsubishi, which was in service as an Uber vehicle at the time, told DNAinfo on Saturday that Persaud’s left foot was severed and that there was a large cut on his head. However, an update DNA posted this morning stated that the cyclist did not lose his foot, but instead suffered a broken leg and a dislocated shoulder.

Persaud is currently in a medically induced coma, his father Frank told DNA. “His prognosis is critical, but he is stable… It will be a long road to recovery, but it’s looking upward.”

Travis Persaud is a third-year medical student who had recently moved to Chicago to do a ten-month rotation at Mount Sinai Hospital, his father said. The family told DNA that Travis lives in an apartment near the crash site, and they think he was trying to cross Lake Shore Drive in order to go home when he was struck.

This is the third media-reported case of a Divvy rider on a limited-access highway in Chicago, including a woman who was spotted on Lake Shore Drive in the summer of 2013, and a woman who was seen on the Dan Ryan in October. Several commenters on the DNA articles about Persaud ridiculed the cyclist for his poor judgment in biking on the drive while intoxicated, and argued that this case is evidence that Divvy is inherently dangerous.

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33rd Ward P-Streets Pass; Noon-O-Kabab Moving to Car-centric New Digs

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Noon-O-Kabab’s current pedestrian and transit-friendly  location. Image: Google Streetview

Albany Park just took a step towards a more walkable future. Last week, City Council passed an ordinance to officially zone stretches of Montrose, Lawrence, and Kedzie in the neighborhood as Pedestrian Streets, or P-Streets.

“This lets developers know what kind of vision we have regarding movement around the ward,” said 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. On June 25, she introduced the ordinance to create P-Streets on Montrose from California to Kimball, Lawrence from Sacramento to Central Park, and Kedzie from Montrose to Lawrence. “We want to prioritize pedestrians, bikes, transit, and then cars, in order to improve safety and reduce congestion.”

Mell said the ward’s transportation advisory committee came up with the idea for the P-Streets after Walgreens proposed building a suburban-style drugstore across the street from the Kimball Brown Line stop. The designation will prevent this kind of car-centric development in the future.

The ordinance forbids the creation of new driveways, and requires that new building façades be adjacent to the sidewalk. Buildings’ main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and most of the façade between four and ten feet above the sidewalk must be windows. Any off-street parking must be located behind the building and accessed from an alley or side street.

Meanwhile, developers who build on P-Streets near transit stops can get an “administrative adjustment” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. In effect, the designation ensures that future developments will be pedestrian-friendly, and blocks the creation of drive-throughs, strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes and other businesses that cater to drivers.

The ordinance passed City Council with no opposition. “I’ve heard from a lot of people in the ward who are really happy about this,” Mell said. That’s in sharp contrast to the nearby 45th Ward, where the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association unanimously voted to oppose a P-Street ordinance introduced by Alderman John Arena. That ordinance also passed the council earlier this month.

Interestingly, Mell originally planned to schedule a zoning committee hearing on her ordinance in early September, but she pushed the hearing back a few weeks to accommodate a local eatery’s plans to move into a car-centric new location. Noon-O-Kabab, a popular Persian restaurant at 4661 North Kedzie, is planning to relocate across the street to the former location of a Kentucky Fried Chicken with a drive-through.

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