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Kamin on Placemaking Efforts: The Food Is Terrible, and Such Small Portions!

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The Lincoln Hub placemaking project. Photo: John Greenfield

Et tu Blair?

It wasn’t surprising when some disgruntled Lakeview residents launched a petition against the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which reclaimed asphalt at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection for pedestrians. After all, one purpose of the street remix was to increase safety by slowing down car traffic, and not all drivers are going to appreciate that. And, sure, the bright green-and-blue polka dots are not everyone’s cup of tea.

But it was distressing to read a recent column by Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin – who’s usually on the right page about urban planning issues – in which he picks apart several aspects of the design and laments that the new layout inconveniences motorists. “The aim of such projects is to ‘calm’ traffic, slowing vehicles and making conditions safer for cyclists and people on foot,” he writes. “It also aims to boost business by creating more inviting outdoor spaces. Yet this mission is far from accomplished.”

Kamin doesn’t have a problem with the colorful spots, and he notes that people on foot like the fact that they’ve been given more space through the use of paint, flexible posts, and planters, which shortens the crossing distance. He also concedes that, by slowing down drivers, the Lincoln Hub has enhanced traffic safety at the intersection, and may be helping turn the location into a place to spend time, rather than just pass through.

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

However, Kamin doesn’t like the fact that most of the seating in the new plazas is provided by round concrete stools rather than benches, which he thinks would be more comfortable. He laments the lack of shade at the intersection. And he argues that the on-street seating is located too close to traffic lanes, and there isn’t enough physical protection to make people feel safe using it.

There’s some validity to these criticisms, but it was disappointing to read this passage from a guy who’s supposed to be a well-informed urbanist:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs [to create pedestrian space], the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Kamin is referring to the elimination of the intersection’s slip lanes, aka channelized right turns, which have been incorporated into the curb extensions. That’s actually one of the best things about the Lincoln Hub. Slip lanes create longer crossing distances and additional conflict points between pedestrians and drivers, and they allow motorists to whip around corners at dangerous speeds.

Because of this, the Chicago Department of Transportation is generally no longer building slip lanes, and most six-way intersections in the city aren’t channelized. Rather than creating an aggravation for drivers, removing the slip lanes simply brought Lincoln/Wellington/Southport up to current standards for pedestrian safety.

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Police: Woman Intentionally Struck and Killed Boyfriend After a Dispute

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The 1100 block of South Francisco Avenue. Image: Google Street View

Police are searching for a woman that they say used her vehicle as a deadly weapon after a domestic altercation in North Lawndale.

In the early morning of Sunday, July 5, the 23-year-old female was involved in a verbal and physical dispute with her boyfriend, 27, on the 1100 block of South Francisco Avenue, according to Officer José Estrada from Police News Affairs. The woman then entered her minivan, intentionally drove on the sidewalk, and struck the man, Estrada said.

The victim was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time afterwards, according to Estrada. The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified him as John Perry, of the 400 block of West 65th Place.

The police are currently working on apprehending the driver and will not release her name until she is arrested and charged, Estrada said.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 19 (7 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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Express Train to O’Hare? We Already Have One and It’s Called The Blue Line

The Blue Line was analyzed by FiveThirtyEight to be faster than taking a taxi from O'Hare airport to downtown. Photo: Edward Kwiatkowski

The Blue Line was analyzed by FiveThirtyEight to be faster than taking a taxi from O’Hare airport to downtown. Photo: Edward Kwiatkowski

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and recently appointed aviation commissioner Ginger Evans have been calling for new, faster, premium train service from O’Hare to downtown in a bid to improve the airport’s standing among its domestic and international peers. They argue that the airport is causing the city to lose business. However, while O’Hare is a low-performing facility, the existing Blue Line service isn’t the airport’s limiting factor.

The idea of high-speed rail service to O’Hare is nothing new. Under former mayor Richard M. Daley, the CTA spent over $250 million to build a “super station” under Block 37 in the Loop for that purpose. Ultimately, the proposal went nowhere, and the empty station space currently sits unused, a monument to poor urban planning.

High-speed train service to airports – with fares that typically run several times the non-express rate – is becoming a emoree common amenity among busy, international airports. However, express service that runs directly to the center of town is uncommon. Chicago is unusual in that both O’Hare and Midway offer efficient train service to the Loop. According to the Blue Line’s schedule, it takes 38 minutes to travel from O’Hare to the Clark/Lake station, a respectable pace that’s often faster than driving.

Throwing more money at the O’Hare express idea that could otherwise be used for improving or expanding existing transit service is a bad idea. There are much more cost-effective ways that current O’Hare Branch ‘L’ service could be upgraded. Moreover, the CTA should work on improving travel times to the airport from many of Chicago’s densest neighborhoods that aren’t near the Blue Line.

The O’Hare express proposal has been endorsed by Tribune transportation writer and aviation buff Jon Hilkevitch, who recently referred to the Blue Line “old and slow”. While age doesn’t necessarily make a train line sluggish, deferred maintenance does. However, the CTA is currently in the midst of the $492 million Your New Blue project, which is rehabbing seven stations and removing slow zones from Grand to the airport. The agency estimates these upgrades will shave five minutes off the trip from downtown to O’Hare.

Despite the fact that a trip to the airport will soon take little more than a half hour, Evans recently told the Sun-Times that a premium train line to the airport is “essential infrastructure” because other peer cities have one. However, she also told the Tribune that other cities’ airports are “stealing traffic” from Chicago because O’Hare has many flight operations problems that put the airport at or near the bottom of on-time rankings, so perhaps premium train service shouldn’t be her top priority.

The Blue Line is already a competitive train service

As of April 24, 2015 [PDF], only 3.3 percent of the O’Hare Branch tracks were under slow zone restrictions, in which trains are limited to 35 mph. Some of the branch’s tracks are already in good enough shape to allow for speeds greater than the CTA’s systemwide speed limit of 55 mph, and all of its train cars are capable of traveling 70 mph. One reason for the current speed limit is that faster speeds would result in more wear-and-tear on the tracks and wheels, thus higher maintenance costs.

The Blue Line is already a great alternative to taking a taxi. FiveThirtyEight analyzed travel times between airports and central business districts in major cities and found that only in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Honolulu was it faster to take transit than a cab.

On weekdays, trains run between Clark/Lake and O’Hare every 2 to 8 minutes during rush hours, with ten-minute headways during non-peak times. Airport express trains in other cities typically have 15-to-30-minute headways. Waiting longer to catch a premium train to or from O’Hare might nullify any advantage from the higher speed.

The express would be an expensive project with limited benefits

The current push to create “world-class” train service to O’Hare is a distraction from actually fixing what’s wrong with Chicago’s transit system. In a recent Sun-Times op-ed, public policy consultant and former mayoral candidate Dr. Amara Enyia argued that spending money to create a premium train line would be a case of skewed priorities. Rather, she argued, the focus should be on improving transit for Chicago residents. “Maintaining our streets continues to be a challenge that affects transit time, quality, and safety,” she said, adding that CTA service cuts have made it more difficult for residents to access jobs.

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Don’t Worry, Clybourn Merchants — The PBL Parking Issue Is Covered

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Much of the on-street parking in the Clybourn project area gets little use. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article posted on DNAinfo yesterday, business owners along Clybourn Avenue in Old Town said they were worried that parking conversions for upcoming curb-protected bike lanes on the street might scare off customers. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project, and the Chicago DOT, which is consulting, have crunched the numbers on the parking issue, and it looks like everything will work out just fine.

This affected stretch of Clybourn, between North Avenue and Division Street, is under state jurisdiction. IDOT had previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city. However, after cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larabee Street in May of 2013, IDOT agreed to pilot a protected lane on this stretch. It will be the city’s second curb-protected lane, after CDOT installed one on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park last month.

Construction of the Clybourn lanes started on Monday. The bike lanes will be located next to the sidewalk and will be protected by three-foot-wide concrete medians. There will also be a short stretch of curb-protected lanes on Division between Clybourn and Orleans. To provide sufficient right-of-way for the lanes on Clybourn, car parking will be stripped from the west side of the street, with a net loss of 65 parking spaces.

Mohammad Rafiq, owner of New Zaika, a Pakistani restaurant at 1316 North Clybourn, told DNA he understands that the street need to be made safer, but he’s worried that the loss of parking spots will drive him out of business. The eatery is popular with cab drivers, including many Muslim people who visit several times a day to use the basement prayer room. “If they don’t come, who am I going to serve?” he asked.

Marcus Moore owns Yojimbo’s Garage, a bike shop at 1310 North Clybourn, across the street from a memorial to Cann. He’s a longtime bike advocate who recently won an award from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council for saving the South Chicago Velodrome, and he witnessed Cann’s fatal crash. However, DNA quoted him as saying the parking conversions could hurt business. “It’s going to be a big experiment,” he said. “I’m kind of neutral. I’m not sure what to expect.”

Obviously, creating a low-stress bikeway on Clybourn is going to attract more cyclists to the street and more two-wheeled customers to Yojimbos. That, plus a safer, more relaxing environment for walking due to less speeding by drivers, could also bring some additional diners to New Zaika.

Moreover, the flaw in the otherwise-solid DNA article is that the reporter didn’t check in with IDOT and CDOT about the parking issue. According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the agencies did a parking utilization study of the corridor to gauge the impact of the proposed design. They found that much of the parking on this stretch of Clybourn, which has relatively little retail, is underutilized.

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Speeding Driver Jumps Curb, Fatally Strikes Pedestrian in West Pullman

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The intersection of 118th and Halsted, looking north. Image: Google Street View

A 45-year-old male pedestrian is dead after a motorist lost control of his vehicle and drove onto the sidewalk.

Andre Silas Jr., 19, was driving northbound on Halsted Street on Wednesday morning at about 11 a.m., according to Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs. At 118th Street, Silas ran into a light pole on the east side of Halsted, then struck the pedestrian, Sedevic said.

The victim, whose has not yet been identified, was pronounced dead on the scene, according to Sedevic. Silas, of the 1400 block of Stanley Boulevard in Calumet City, stayed on the scene and has been charged with driving on a sidewalk or parkway, and speeding not more than 30 mph over the speed limit, Sedevic said.

This section of Halsted is a broad roadway with four travel lanes plus turn lanes, which encourages speeding.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 18 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

Update 6/19/15: The Cook County medical examiner’s office has identified the victim as Larry Jordan, of the 11800 block of South Emerald.

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Getting Closer to the End: Judge Nullifies Federal Approval of Illiana Tollway

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One of the key phrases from Judge Alonso’s ruling.

It’s looking like the nightmarish vision of a totally unnecessary, 47-mile highway cutting through prime Illinois farmland is not going to become a reality. A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Illinois Department of Transportation failed to provide a proper Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Tollway.

U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso wrote that the final EIS the state submitted was “arbitrary and capricious.” He also noted that the Federal Highway Administration shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [IDOT] consultants,” rather than sound policy.

The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing Openlands, the Sierra Club, and the Midewin Heritage Association. They argued that the state used circular logic to justify the Illiana: IDOT’s projections for population growth in the project area were based on the the assumption that the highway would be built. “This [ruling] is an opportunity for the Illiana saga to be brought [to] an end once and for all,” said ELPC’s executive director Howard Learner.

Alonso’s decision is the latest stake in the heart of the Illiana, a terrible idea that was promoted heavily by former governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs. Two weeks ago, current governor Bruce Rauner ordered IDOT to suspend all existing contracts and procurements for the tollway, stating in a news release that “the project costs exceed currently available resources.” He also told IDOT to remove the Illiana from its current multi-year transportation plan.

The ruling [PDF] also noted that IDOT and its consultants met with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Northwestern Illinois Regional Planning Commission to discuss population and employment forecasts for the Illiana corridor, but chose not to use those projections. That’s because CMAP’s forecasts were “based on ‘aggressive assumptions regarding infill, redevelopment & densification'” and not how people would be drawn to new subdivisions made accessible by a massive highway.

CMAP and NIRPC objected to IDOT’s market-driven projections because their respective regional plans recommend that new development should be concentrated in the existing metropolitan area, rather than replacing farmland with sprawl. In essence, the state said that growth should be geographically unconstrained and the MPOs said growth should be focused and sustainable. Read more…

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Driver Who Fatally Struck Pedestrian in Grant Park Was Not Cited

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The 1100 block of South Columbus, looking north. Image: Google Street View

A female motorist who struck and killed a 37-year old man in Grant Park has not been cited with any violations, according to Officer Janel Sedevic from News Affairs.

At around 12:40 p.m., Richard Hill “stepped into oncoming traffic” while walking eastbound across the 1100 block of Columbus Drive in Grant Park, near the Museum Campus, Sedevic said. The driver, who was traveling south when she struck him, stayed on the scene, according to Sedevic.

Hill, of the 3000 block of Monroe Street in south-suburban Bellwood, was transported to Northwestern Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. He was pronounced dead at 1:07 p.m.

Columbus is a six-lane street with relatively few stoplights, which encourages speeding. It appears that the drive may have too much capacity for the amount of car traffic it carries. If that is the case, the city should consider removing the excess travel lanes and possibly using the right-of-way to widen the sidewalks or add protected bike lanes.

Major Accidents is investigating the crash.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 17 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

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More Parking Meters Would Help, Not Hurt, City Neighborhoods

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Another way the city can re-earn revenue from the meters is by encouraging more people to use the smartphone app to pay for car parking as the city collects a portion of the service fee after a minimum amount. Photo: Mike Travis

It turns out that, despite Chicago’s disastrous parking meter deal, the city government can still use meters to benefit neighborhoods. During a recent discussion of Chicago’s parking challenges and their accompanying report, Metropolitan Planning Council vice president Peter Skosey and research director Chrissy Mancini Nichols told me how the city can make lemonade out of this lemon of a deal. There are a few issues that need to be resolved first, and this turnaround would require installing more meters, but that would only be a good thing for neighborhoods.

In 2008, then-mayor Richard M. Daley pushed the meter contract through City Council, where the vast majority of aldermen voted for it. The deal turned over the next 75 years of meter revenue to private investors in exchange for a lump sum payment of $1 billion, most of which Daley quickly spent on balancing the budget.

That was likely billions less than the concession was actually worth. To add insult to injury, the city is now required to repay the Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, a company representing the investors, anytime meter revenue is lost due to festivals and other street closures. (The city has started charging contractors for lost revenue when they close roads for construction.) It also means that any time the city strips metered parking for other street uses like bike or bus lanes, they must compensate CPM by installing meters of equal or better potential revenue nearby.

However, Mancini Nichols explained, the contract does allow the city to collect 85 percent of the revenue from new “reserve” meters it chooses to install. Rather than lining the pockets of the investors, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council could opt to use that money to pay off Chicago’s pension debt, or for investments in the neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we can’t start collecting that additional revenue until CPM gets the full annual revenue promised in the contract, based on the number of functioning meters that were available in 2009. Until CPM reaches that level of compensation, the city must use revenue from new meters to “true up” its payment to CPM at the end of every year. The meter availability is called “system in service,” and the 2009 level is considered 100 percent system in service. Currently, Chicago’s meters are at 96 percent system in service, Mancini Nichols said.

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Hit-and-Run Driver Kills Pedestrian in West Englewood, Abandons the Car

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The 6400 block of South Ashland. Image: Google Street View

Police are searching for the motorist who fatally struck a 48-year-old man in the West Englewood neighborhood, fled the scene, and then abandoned the car nearby.

On Tuesday night around 9:15 p.m., the pedestrian was walking west on 64th Street across Ashland Avenue, when the southbound motorist struck him and continued driving, according to Officer Janel Sedevic from New Affairs. The victim was transported to Christ Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Sedevic said. The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the man as Leon Radcliff, of west-suburban Forest Park.

The car, a dark-colored Nissan Altima sedan, was later found abandoned on the 6500 block of South Laflin Avenue, a few blocks southeast, Sedevic said. Major Accidents is investigating.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 16 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)