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Posts from the "Driving" Category


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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BOMA Misses the Memo on How Loop BRT Will Work

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Rendering of BRT on Washington at LaSalle.

File this one under “People unclear on the concept.” On September 29, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced it had launched the bidding process for the $32.5 million Central Loop BRT project and released final plans for the corridor. Yesterday, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago published an ill-informed op-ed piece in Crain’s, warning that the current design for Washington Street will create carmaggedon, including crashes caused by right-turning vehicles.

It’s odd that the article, written by BOMA vice president Michael Cornicelli, contains so many misconceptions about the plan. The city met with the association several times to discuss the project, according to CDOT spokesman Pete Scales.

“It’s difficult to imagine Chicago’s downtown traffic becoming worse, but that could be the result if the city of Chicago doesn’t steer its Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit plan in the right direction,” Cornicelli warns. He claims that the BRT project will reduce the number of lanes available to motorists on Washington from the current four or five to only two, in order to make room for the dedicated bus lanes, island bus stations, and a protected bike lane. “Reducing vehicular capacity by half on this heavily traveled route means a dramatic increase in congestion and delays.”

Actually, in addition to maintaining two through lanes for motorists at all times, the design provides left- and right-turn lanes where these turns are permitted, which means three or four lanes will be available to motorists. True, car traffic will move somewhat slower on eastbound Washington and westbound Madison after BRT is implemented on these streets, but there are plenty of parallel streets that can be used as alternatives.

Meanwhile, CDOT predicts the project will make an eastbound trip across the Loop 25 percent shorter, and a westbound trip 15 percent shorter. While cars and taxis occupy most of the downtown street space and cause most of the congestion, buses make up only four percent of motor vehicles in the Loop but move 47 percent of the people traveling in vehicles. BRT will speed commutes for an estimated 30,000 people per day, which more than justifies slightly longer travel times for a much smaller number of drivers.

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Actually, Logan Square’s Neither Traffic-Choked Nor Overcrowded

Caption. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Rendering of a proposed development near the California ‘L’ stop. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Late last month, over 100 people crowded into a public presentation to hear about a proposed development of 254 housing units, plus 72 car parking spaces and retail, on what’s now a vacant lot around the corner from the California Blue Line ‘L’ station in Logan Square. The number of parking spaces proposed is 182 fewer than the city’s zoning would typically require, but recent changes to city laws make it possible for exceptions to be granted on sites near transit, and an adopted plan for this area encourages taller buildings with less parking.

Many attendees echoed the auto-centric concerns commonly heard at such meetings. Some said that the car parking proposed will prove completely insufficient, or that 300 or more new residents would result in unfathomable congestion. A flyer distributed door to door in the neighborhood sternly warned that in “High Rise City,” “They will make it impossible to drive on California or Milwaukee.”

Here’s the rub, though: Traffic volumes on major streets near the development have dropped substantially, and so has the local population. If there are fewer people and fewer cars, how could it be that some perceive traffic congestion to be worse than ever?

Between 2006 and 2010 (the most recent year available), the Illinois Department of Transportation reports that the number of drivers on Milwaukee Avenue and California Avenue declined by 17.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively. Traffic volumes on both streets fell by thousands of cars per day: approximately 2,600 fewer cars on Milwaukee and 4,600 fewer cars on California.

Population loss in the area has also been dramatic, since household sizes are rapidly declining. The population in the area around this proposed development declined by over 3,000 people, or 16 percent, from 2000 to 2010. The number of housing units increased by 316, but that was more than offset by an average household size that dropped from 2.7 to 2.2. It’s unlikely that the population trends have changed much since 2010: Census estimates project that the development’s Census tract added fewer than 100 people from 2008 to 2012.

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Cyclist Dies a Few Weeks After Being Struck by 89-Year-Old Driver

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The crash site at Lincoln, Addison and Ravenswood.

A bicyclist who was struck from behind by an elderly driver in September has died from his injuries.On September 27, around 7:35 p.m., Joseph Korner was bicycling north near 3559 North Lincoln in Lakeview, according to Officer José Estrada from Police News Affairs. Korner, 78, was struck from behind by Reverend Evaristo Loaiza, 89 at the time, Estrada said. Loaiza was driving a Mazda sedan.

Korner, of the 2100 block of West Belle Plaine, about a mile north on Lincoln from the crash site, was transported to Illinois Masonic Medical Center, according to Estrada. Although Korner’s condition was initially stabilized, he was pronounced dead last Thursday at 9:26 p.m., the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. An autopsy conducted Friday found he died from complications from his injuries.

Laoiza, now 90, was cited for failing to reduce speed to prevent a crash, according to Estrada. He last appeared in court on October 17.

This case serves as a reminder of the need for better screening of elderly drivers, to ensure that they can still safely operate a two-ton vehicle. Studies show that, after age 70, drivers are twice as likely to be involved in fatal crashes, per mile driven, as they were when middle-aged. After age 85, they are nine times more dangerous to themselves and others.

Korner’s death is the eighth Chicago bike fatality so far in 2014. This is a sharp increase from last year, when there were only four bike fatalities.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 23 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 8 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)


The Real Reason There Are Speed Cams by Challenger Park


CDOT crash map of the Challenger Park safety zone.

Uptown’s Challenger Playlot Park is the poster child for the anti-traffic camera crowd. Along with Mulberry Playlot Park, in the McKinley Park neighborhood, Challenger is frequently cited as a small, little-used park that’s not even visible from the locations of speed cameras that are supposedly there to protect park users. This is proof, according to the naysayers, that the camera’s true purpose is revenue, not safety.

Challenger is a roughly five-acre park located on a narrow strip of land, bordered by Irving Park Road, Montrose Avenue, Graceland Cemetery, and the Red Line tracks. Last year, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed three speed cameras nearby: two on Broadway north of Montrose and one at 1100 West Irving Park. State law dictates that speed cameras may only be installed inside Children’s Safety Zones, the area within one-eighth mile of schools and parks. These three cams sit within those boundaries.

The driver advocacy blog The Expired Meter noted that the southern half of Challenger is occupied by a parking lot, used by Cubs fans on game days. “[Challenger seems to defy the definition of what most people consider a park to be,” wrote the pseudonymous Mike Brockway. “It’s essentially a glorified parking lot next to train tracks. But now there’s a speed camera on Irving Park… protecting the thousands of dead behind the fences and buried in the ground of Graceland Cemetery from the speeders.”

The Uptown Update blog went ahead and implied the cams are a money grab:

The city’s new speed camera program says it exists to protect the children who play in Challenger Park, not to plunder your paycheck.  If children’s safety is paramount, we think it might have been a wiser move not to turn half of the park into a parking lot, but … oh well.  We all know why the cameras are there.

Although Challenger would, in fact, benefit from being de-paved, there are still plenty of reasons to walk there. A fenced in “dog-friendly area” at the center of the park is known as “Challenger Bark.” Just east is Buena Circle Playlot Park, which has a good-sized playground. And the northern half of Challenger is a nicely landcaped green space with walking trails. When I visited on a warm afternoon a few weeks ago, I saw a handful of people with pooches, and a couple of dads taking a walk with their toddlers.

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Greasing the Wheels: LIB Uses Prizes to Promote Online Bike Safety Quiz

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A tricky question from the quiz for teen and adult cyclists.

If you ride a bike on Illinois roadways, you’ve probably had the infuriating experience of having a motorist drive by you and yell, “Get on the sidewalk!”

Sure, that person was being a jerk, but it’s also likely they were unaware Illinois law says cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers when traveling in the roadway. They also probably didn’t know that, in many municipalities like Chicago, it’s illegal for adults to pedal on the sidewalk.

To help spread the word about state bike laws, as well as to educate motorists about how to safely operate around cyclists, the League of Illinois Bicyclists launched the Illinois Bike Safety Quiz in June 2013. Since then, almost 18,000 people have taken the online test, which features dozens of challenging questions that were approved by the Secretary of State.

There are three versions of the quiz: one for elementary school age bicyclists, one for teen and adult cyclists, and one for motorists of all ages, including driver-ed students. Moving up through the bronze, silver, and gold levels requires answering all of the questions correctly, so the test rewards learning rather than just prior knowledge.

To make things more interesting, the League is awarding cash prizes to randomly selected test takers. Last month they gave out five $200 prizes to Peter Barson from Arlington Heights, Anthony Mikrut from Chicago, Jessica VanDyke from Olney, Maurice Ball from Lisle, and Nicole Ream-Sotomayor from Urbana. The prizes are funded by proceeds from the sale of the state’s “Share the Road” license plates.

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Pedestrian Lida Xhelo Killed After SUV Driver Collides With Another Vehicle

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The crash site.

A Belmont-Craigin woman is dead after being struck by an SUV driver who had crashed into a second car.

Around 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, the SUV driver was traveling south on Austin Avenue and made an abrupt left turn to head east on Belmont Avenue, according to Officer José Estrada from Police News Affairs. The driver struck another motorist’s car and then careened northbound, Estrada said.

The SUV driver then struck a woman on the north sidewalk of Belmont, just east of Austin, Estrada said. A photo posted by ABC7 shows that the vehicle crashed through a wrought-iron fence and came to rest on the front lawn of St. Patrick High School.

The woman was transported to Our Lady of Resurrection Medical Center and pronounced dead at 7:03 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. She was identified as Lida Xhelo, of the 6000 block of West Eddy, a block south of the crash site, the medical examiner’s office said.

The SUV driver is in custody and charges are pending, Estrada said.

Updated November 6: Police have identified the SUV driver as Maciej Machniewicz, 45, of the 4400 block of West Barry. He was charged with a felony count of aggravated driving under the influence that resulted in a death. He was also cited three misdemeanors, including for driving without a license. Machniewicz is scheduled to appear in bond court today.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 23 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 7 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)


The Next Governor of Illinois Is a Total Mystery on Transportation

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner at a Metropolitan Planning Council forum. Photo: Steven Vance

Billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner is going to be the next governor of Illinois, and it’s not yet clear what that means for transit, biking, and walking in the Prairie State. Rauner avoided taking positions on transportation issues for the most part and failed to return a candidate survey from the Active Transportation Alliance. However, his stated goal of cutting taxes could mean less funding for transportation infrastructure of all kinds.

As of this morning, Rauner had 50.6 percent of the vote to incumbent Pat Quinn’s 46 percent, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, the Tribune reported.

Quinn leaves, at best, a mixed legacy on transportation. As governor, he pushed hard for a number of car-centric projects — most notably the disastrous Illiana Tollway proposal — as a strategy to garner votes. Under his watch, the Illinois Department of Transportation blocked the construction of protected bike lanes on its streets, though it has since changed its policy. Quinn also recently granted $3 million for Divvy expansion.

In his response to the Active Trans candidate questionnaire, Quinn said all the right things. He voiced support for better conditions for sustainable transportation, noted that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, and said he does not support widening roads as a strategy to improve mobility.

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Oak Park Will Take a Step Backward by Reinstalling Pedestrian “Beg Buttons”


The Oak Park Village Board and their ironic wallpaper. Photo: Village of Oak Park

The walls of the Oak Park Village Board’s chambers are emblazoned with environmental buzzwords like “Bicycle Friendly,” “Mass Transit,” “LEED Certified,” “Energy Efficient,” and “Clean Air.” So it’s pretty ironic that the board recently voted, in that very room, to make walking harder in order to make driving easier.

Back in 2011, the suburb did the right thing by removing existing walk-signal request buttons at major intersections along Lake Street. Push buttons that make a walk signal appear faster – similar to “induction loops” in the pavement that tell a stoplight when a driver is waiting – are a good thing. But when pushing a button is the only way to get a walk signal at all, as was the case on Lake, the device is disparagingly known as a “beg button,” because it requires pedestrians to ask for permission to cross the street.

Beg buttons are problematic in a number of ways. Unless someone has pushed the button before you arrive at an intersection, you will always have to wait at least a moment before being given the opportunity to cross. If you fail to notice the button, you may wait in vain for a walk signal for a cycle or two before you realize what’s going on. And, since the main purpose of beg buttons is to maximize the length of the green phase for drivers, they send the message that pedestrians are tolerated on the public way, but the real purpose of streets is to move cars.

That’s basically the statement that the village board made yesterday when they voted to reinstall the beg buttons on Lake between Marion Street and Oak Park Avenue. At the meeting, acting village engineer Bill McKenna told the board that bringing back the beg buttons would “decrease traffic congestion,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

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Single, Universal Taxi App Could Level Playing Field

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Chicago may create an app that can dispatch a ride to you as easily as Uber or Lyft. Photo: Mike Travis

The City of Chicago wants to set up a centralized, online taxi dispatching system that would accept anyone’s request for a cab. This new tool could let the local taxi industry catch up to the user-responsiveness of increasingly popular taxi alternatives like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. Those companies’ easy-to-use apps, and sometimes lower fares, are tempting riders out of conventional taxicabs

Taxis and ride-sourced trips are among the many transportation choices that makes it possible to live richly without a car in Chicago. Even though these trips can be expensive, they can also be a convenient adjunct to transit, walking, or bicycling trips.

Currently, numerous apps crowd the market for Chicagoans who want to flag cabs, each of which can only hail cabs from particular taxi brands. Even though competition is usually good, this fractured market hurts both customers and taxicab drivers. People hailing taxis on the street don’t have to memorize six different hand signals that each flag a different company’s cabs — given the degree of regulation applied to cabs, the first cab to arrive is usually just as good as any other. Nor should people hailing taxis online have to download six different apps to find just one cab.

The fragmentation has also made life difficult for taxi drivers in recent years, both in Chicago and across the United States. Ride-sourcing providers can summon fleets of drivers far larger than individual cab companies, and gives both drivers and customers a chance to “look around the corner” to find cabs or fares. Meanwhile, cabs and customers are left to either just show up at the right place at the right time, or use phone dispatchers that give a lot of power to a few large cab associations. A centralized taxi dispatching system, with an easy-to-use app, could put the taxi industry — and especially non-affiliated cab drivers — on better footing when competing for the same passengers.

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