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Posts from the Transportation Category

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To Be Perfectly Frank, This Is A Dog of a Project

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Image: John Greenfield

Does the idea of slathering the centrally located riverside land at Fullerton/Damen/Elston with asphalt make you red-hot? Let 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack know this traffic artery-clogging plan for the sausage emporium site doesn’t cut the mustard.

 

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Sawyer Hopes State Street Road Diet Will Revitalize Struggling Business Strip

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A buffered bike lane and new diagonal parking spaces will reduce the road width, discouraging speeding.

State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, is currently a pretty grim roadway. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, it’s essentially a frontage road, which drivers treat as an extension of the expressway. The pavement is a moonscape, and the street is lined with a motley mix of retail.

However, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer is optimistic that a complete streets overhaul on State will jump start the business strip and bring positive activity to the corridor. “The alderman wants to slow down car traffic and make the area more friendly to pedestrians,” said Sawyer’s chief of staff Brian Sleet. “We’re trying to get the ball tolling to change the image of State Street from a barren ex-warehouse district to something that fits the residential nature of these communities.”

Sleet said the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the speeding problem, improve the pedestrian environment, and add more car parking spaces as part of a project to repave the 1.3-mile stretch. According to CDOT, this section only sees 5,000 motor vehicle trips per day, and the excess road capacity encourages speeding. There were 504 reported crashes on this section between 2009 and 2013, with seven serious injuries and three fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street and 79 Street stations, located next to the strip in the median of the Dan Ryan, see 5,177 and 6,931 average daily boardings, respectively. However, there are few accommodations for pedestrians at these crossings.

CDOT proposed converting one of the three travel lanes on State to a buffered bike lane in order to narrow the roadway, calm traffic, and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking will be converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding seven or eight new spaces. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks and ADA ramps will be added at all intersections.

While CDOT’s Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program will pay for the construction, Sawyer chipped in $30,000 in ward money for a traffic study, Sleet said. “We figured, if they’re going do repave the street, why have them restripe it in a way that would remain ineffective?”

In the future, Sawyer is interested in adding curb extensions at 79th and 69th to further improve pedestrian access to the ‘L’ stops, according to Sleet. The alderman also wants to add a sound-dampening wall by the expressway. “By getting the noise down, that will help make State Street more friendly to pedestrians,” Sleet said. “We hope that will attract retailers and help make this a transit-oriented shopping area.”

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Residents: Car-centric Plan for Vienna Beef Site Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

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The meeting took place in the cafeteria of the Vienna Beef hot dog factory. Photo: Brett Ratner

Last night at a hearing on Mid-America Real Estate Group’s preliminary proposal to redevelop the Vienna Beef hotdog factory site, local residents said they don’t relish the thought of valuable riverfront land being slathered with acres of asphalt. The community meeting, served up by 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, took place at the sausage emporium, 2501 North Damen, which will be razed as part of a Chicago Department of Transportation project to reroute Elston Avenue.

The developer wants to convert this eight-acre-plus parcel at the northeast corner of the current Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection to suburban-style big box retail and office space with 437 car parking spaces. CDOT is relocating Elston about a block east of the junction, a strategy they hope will take a bite out of the intersection’s red-hot congestion problems.

The new Elston link will likely feature buffered or protected bike lanes. Plans for the site also call for some new green space, which would provide storm water mitigation, although nowhere near enough to make up for the vast amount of non-permeable surfaces created by the multiple parking lots. As required by a local ordinance, the developer would build a short stretch of river walk just east of Damen, which could potentially include a kayak launch and a water taxi station.

Waguespack said extending the river walk all the way to Fullerton would be contingent on the acquisition of the smaller land parcel to the east of the Vienna Beef property. He said that space would work well for an “REI-type” outdoor recreation gear store. There already is an REI store at 1466 North Halsted, two miles southeast. “We want a plan that will benefit the whole community,” the alderman said. “We want to find ways to capture that space and use it in ways that haven’t been done before.”

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Hellish Big-Box Proposal Would Nix Traffic Flow Gains From Elston Reroute

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Mid-America’s proposal would cover most of the former Vienna Beef site with parking spaces.

There are many productive ways Chicago could use the hump of centrally located, riverfront land that’s becoming available for redevelopment as part of the reconfiguration of the Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection. The space, currently occupied by the Vienna Beef factory, could accommodate another light industrial business, pedestrian-friendly retail space for local merchants, an apartment complex, and/or some new parkland. Instead, what’s being proposed is a worst-case scenario of suburban-style development that would cover most of the land with asphalt, and likely cancel out any congestion improvements that would otherwise result from the reroute.

The six-way intersection currently sees about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranks among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. Delays to drivers at the junction can be as much as seven minutes, CDOT said. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’re moving Elston about a block east and bypassing it through the land at the northeast corner of the six-way, which was also formerly occupied by WhirlyBall. Construction is slated to begin next month, with the bulk of the work finished by next spring.

WhirlyBall has already relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and Vienna Beef will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport. Now, Mid-America Real Estate Group is proposing building 105,000 square feet of retail space, with a whopping 437 parking spaces on the site. Preliminary renderings show a layout in which the vast majority of the site would be occupied by surface parking spots.

Mid-America wants to bring in a national grocery chain that would occupy a roughly 68,000 square feet of retail with 192 parking spots. Other buildings shown on the company’s drawings include 12,000 and 6,000 square-foot retail spaces, a three-story office building with 15,000 square feet of floor space, and a 4,000 square-foot restaurant. A spokesman for 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack told DNAinfo that the eatery would be that noted bastion of support for LGBT rights, Chick-fil-A.

It’s true that the stretch of Elston between Fullerton and Diversey is already lined with pedestrian-hostile, suburban-style retail, and there are also big box stores north and east of the river from the Vienna Beef site. It’s also the case that many Logan Square, Bucktown, and Lincoln Park would welcome a new a place to buy groceries.

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The Divvy Density Dilemma: Are Stations in Low-Income Areas Too Far Apart?

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This station by Kennedy-King College in Englewood is a 3/4-mile walk from neighboring stations. Photo: John Greenfield

Planning a useful, equitable, and financially sustainable bike-sharing system in a big, diverse city like Chicago is no easy task. You have a finite budget, and therefore a limited number of cycles and docking stations to work with. You want to provide access to the system for as many people as possible, and you’re certain to get complaints from residents and politicians whose neighborhoods don’t get bikes. However, if you spread the available stations across too large a service area, there will be poor station density and the system won’t be convenient to use.

I respect the the fact that the Chicago Department of Transportation has had to make some tough decisions in implementing the Divvy bike-share system. However, a new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials suggests that the city may have made a mistake by placing Divvy stations too far apart from each other in many neighborhoods, especially low-income communities. The report, titled “Walkable Station Spacing Is Key to Successful, Equitable Bike Share,” argues that cities don’t do residents any favors by creating sprawling service areas that cover large numbers of neighborhoods, but don’t provide a useful network.

Low station density discourages use and undermines equity

The NACTO paper notes that, while bike-share can be an inexpensive, time-saving form of transportation, low-income people are underrepresented among American bike-share customers. In the U.S., poor neighborhoods tend to have a relatively low density of people and destinations, and when bike-share planners respond to this by putting a lower density of stations in these communities, it exacerbates the usage issue.

The study argues that, just as people usually aren’t willing to walk more than ten minutes to a rapid transit stop, if bike-share stations are located more than a five minute walk from a person’s starting point or destination, that person will generally choose a different mode. That jibes with my personal experience. I’m fortunate to live a quarter mile away from a Divvy station, but I find the five-minute walk to and from the station a little annoying, and if it was another block away I’d probably use it less often.

NACTO’s analysis of several different North American systems supports the five-minute rule theory. They found that the number of rides per day to or from a given station increases according to its proximity to other stations. For example, bikes in New York’s Citi Bike system, with 23 stations per square mile, got more than three times as much use as those in as the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride network, with only four stations per square mile.

Therefore, NACTO recommends that stations be placed no more than a five-minute walk from each other, which they define as 1,000 feet, for a density of 28 stations per square mile. I’d argue that average walking speed is a 20-minute mile, so placing stations every quarter-mile (two standard Chicago blocks), for a density of 25 per square mile, should be sufficient.

Low-income people tend to have less spare time and disposable income than wealthier folks, so they are even more likely to be deterred from paying to use bike-share if the station locations aren’t convenient. The study argues that, while efforts to increase bike-share use by low-income people have focused on offering discounted memberships and providing access to unbanked individuals, the density issue has largely been overlooked.

NACTO recommends having a consistently high station density across the service area, including poor neighborhoods with relatively low population densities. Rather than reducing the number of stations in these communities, the number of docking points at the stations should be adjusted according to demand.

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StreetFilms
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The Philadelphia Bike Story

Of U.S. cities with more than a million residents, the one where people bike the most is Philadelphia. In 2012, the U.S. Census estimated Philadelphia’s bicycle commute rate at 2.3 percent [PDF], higher than Chicago (1.6 percent) and New York (1.0 percent).

It’s just about always been that way. That comes as a surprise to many people, since Philadelphia doesn’t have a lot of bike infrastructure. But there are other street design and urban design factors at work, many due to the fact that Philadelphia is an old city.

For one, the city has a lot of narrow streets. That makes it tougher to add bike lanes, but it also means motorists tend to travel at speeds that don’t intimidate people on bikes. On average, people also live closer to their jobs than in most other places, making bike commuting a better option. Stop signs are more prevalent than signals, and where there are traffic lights, the sequencing is short, so people on bikes don’t have to wait long at intersections. In the end, most people bike because it is the fastest, most convenient option.

Thanks to Alex Doty, executive director of the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and all the other bicyclists I got to speak with. They’ll tell you plenty more reasons why biking is good there, and how it could be better.

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New Type of TIF District Would Increase Funding for Transit Projects

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Transit TIFs in Chicago would send a majority of revenue to specific transit improvement projects. Photo: CTA

A new bill that passed the Illinois Senate last week would create a new class of tax increment financing district that could only be created around Chicago transit stations and lines to capture the property value that being near transit generates. Most of the revenue generated by these TIFs would be earmarked to pay for construction of rapid transit lines, stations, and other transit-related facilities.

In case you’re not a follower of Ben Joravsky’s TIF-centric column in the Chicago Reader, a Chicago TIF district is a designated area in which the amount of property tax revenue that goes to taxing bodies like Cook County, the Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Park District is capped when the district is created. Any additional tax revenue from rising property values can only be spent in that area. Chicago TIF money is currently often used to provide a local match to win federal grants for transportation projects.

The new state law, which would only apply to Chicago, would allow City Council to create transit TIFs district that would include the area within a half-mile of the following projects:

The Chicago region spends less money on building and running transit than its U.S. peer cities, and gas tax revenue has been a declining source of funding for transit infrastructure. The Illinois gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents per gallon since 1990 so, due to inflation, the buying power of the revenue it generates has dropped in recent decades. This revenue source is also impacted as cars become more fuel-efficient and driving rates fluctuate.

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Streetsblog USA
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The 10 States With the Best Bike Policy Tend to Have One Thing in Common

How does your state measure up on bike policy? The League of American Bicyclists is out with its 2015 state rankings, highlighting the states that are doing the most — and the least — to make bicycling a safe and convenient way to get around. Washington tops the list for the eighth year in a row, with Alabama bringing up the rear.

Here are the top ten:

  1. Washington
  2. Minnesota
  3. Delaware
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Utah
  6. Oregon
  7. Colorado
  8. California
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Maryland

Now, these states aren’t perfect, and most still have their share of highway expansion projects in the pipeline. But most of them have one key thing in common: They’re finally letting cities and towns implement street designs like protected bike lanes, which the American engineering establishment shunned for decades. Of the top ten states, seven have endorsed the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide. Only one state that has endorsed the NACTO guide is not in the top ten — Tennessee, which the League rated number 20.

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Pritzker Park Sale Is a Chance to Create New Transfer from ‘L’ to Subway

A skybridge could connect the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren station to the new development on the Pritzker Park site, creating an enclosed transfer to the Red and Blue Line stations on Jackson.

There are several pros and cons of the city’s controversial plan to sell the Pritzker Park site for development. One important and urgent aspect is that it would be an unparalleled – and potentially free – opportunity to create the first enclosed, wheelchair-accessible transfer between the CTA’s Loop elevated lines and the Red and Blue Line subways.

A skybridge could be built between the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren station, which serves the Brown, Pink, Orange, and Purple elevated lines, and the new building. A concourse and elevator within the building would take CTA riders to the Jackson Red Line stop’s below-ground ticketing mezzanine. From there, customers could stairs or an elevator down to the Red Line platform, or take the existing, ADA-accessible transfer tunnel to the Blue Line platform.

On Tuesday, the city’s Department of Planning and Development announced that it is seeking proposals to redevelop a one-acre, L-shaped parcel of land bounded by Plymouth Court, Van Buren Street, and State Street, which is currently occupied by the park and a city-owned parking garage. The city’s request for proposals is light on specifics and essentially asks developers to come up with a mix of uses “that will complement the ongoing revitalization of the Loop.”

However, now is the time for the planning department to specify that the developer must integrate the ‘L’ transfer into the new building. Once the building is constructed, it would be next to impossible to get the developer to retrofit it with the concourses and elevators.

The site is already zoned to allow over 700,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and residential uses. The city last appraised the property’s value at $14 million, and the property has the potential to be very lucrative for the future developer. Therefore, it’s very reasonable for the city to require that the new building include the transfer, and they should add that requirement to the RFP immediately.

CTA riders would reap several other benefits benefits from the new transfer:

  • A station with direct access among all ‘L’ lines, except the Green and Yellow lines
  • The first enclosed transfer between the Red and Pink Lines
  • An enclosed transfer from the Orange and Green lines to the Red Line within the Loop. Right now, the only place to make an indoor transfer is the Roosevelt station, located more than half a mile south.
  • An accessible, enclosed transfer from the Brown Line to the southbound Red Line for customers who board the Brown Line south of Fullerton. The current downtown transfer between these lines is the State/Lake stop, which isn’t accessible.
Riders transfer between elevated and the Red or Blue Lines at Jackson by exiting the fare zone and walking outside. A new building at Pritzker Park could build the vertical circulation and a tunnel to connect to the Red Line station, to which riders would also gain enclosed access to the Blue Line station.

Riders currently transfer between Loop Elevated and the Red and Blue Lines’ Jackson stations by exiting the system and traveling around the corner via sidewalks. The new library transfer would allow riders to directly access the Red Line station, and travel to the Blue Line via an existing, accessible transfer tunnel, without going outdoors.

The city’s announcement is upfront about the fact that Pritzker Park – one of the Loop’s few green spaces – would be eliminated. However, the RFP stipulates that the developer must provide up to 12,000 square feet of multi-purpose recreational space that is accessible to the public.

The park was created in 1992, during the construction of the library, on a site formerly occupied by a single-room occupancy hotel. The green space currently has few amenities, except for a low seating wall. As a result, the park seems to get relatively little use from downtown workers and visitors, although the Chicago Loop Alliance has recently tried to activate the space with temporary seating and special events. If the city moves forward with its plan to eliminate this rare downtown open space, it’s important that Chicagoans get a better public facility out of the deal than what currently exists.

Friends of the Parks has already come out against the city’s plan, stating in a press release this week, “The elimination of Pritzker Park would leave this community unserved by proximate public open space.”

“The site was originally cleared in anticipation of its redevelopment as part of a Washington Library plan, and the interim use as public open space has only been marginally successful,” DPD deputy commissioner Peter Strazzabosco told DNAinfo last month. “We believe it should be developed for more people-intensive uses that align with the evolving role of State Street for new retail, commercial, and institutional uses.”

Here’s one more thorny aspect of the city’s plan. The RFP calls for the development to house a new Chicago Park District headquarters, with up to 80 car parking spaces. The site is well served by every other local transportation mode, including the ‘L’, Metra, buses, taxis, city fleet vehicles, car-share, and bike-share. This begs the question of why the park district – an agency whose mission is to preserve the environment – feels it’s appropriate to warehouse dozens of private cars in the heart of the Loop.

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Active Trans: Improve, Don’t Remove Cams, Launch a Vision Zero Strategy

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Photo: John Greenfield

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke said the advocacy group approves of reforms to Chicago red light camera program that passed in City Council on Tuesday, but the city needs to keep its eyes on the prize of eliminating serious injuries and deaths from crashes. He called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to formulate a comprehensive Vision Zero strategy for achieving this goal.

During the last election, Emanuel and many City Council members came under fire from opponents who pledged to abolish the automated enforcement program. In early March, Emanuel announced he would remove 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections that saw one or fewer right-angle crashes in 2013.

The mayor also promised to have pedestrian countdown signals installed at all of the city’s 174 red-light camera intersections by June 1. He pledged that community meetings would be held before red light cameras are installed, moved, or removed. At the time, several aldermen also proposed extending yellow signals from 3.0 seconds to 3.2 seconds, and requiring a council vote before installing new red light cameras.

The ordinance that passed codifies the requirement for the community meetings and pedestrian timers (all but nine of the red light cam intersections now have have these), and lowers the down payment that motorists with a large ticket debt must pay to avoid getting booted. The law also authorizes the Chicago Department of Transportation to appoint an outside academic team to do a full review of the effectiveness of the city’s red light camera program. The yellow light extension and City Council vote requirement did not make it into the final ordinance.

“As long as the city views these changes as a way to improve, rather than remove the cameras, that’s fine,” Burke said. “We’re all for community input on the camera locations.” He noted that local residents who walk, bike, and drive through neighborhood intersections on a regular basis have a good sense of which ones can best benefit from automated enforcement, although he wouldn’t support giving residents veto power over proposed cams locations.

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