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Eyes on the Street: Milwaukee Bottleneck Update and New Bikeways

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Drivers continue to respect the parking ban on Milwaukee, so there’s sufficient space for northbound cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is chugging along, creating new buffered and protected bike lanes this summer. Recently, new stretches of buffered lanes were striped striped in Noble Square, on Noble between Erie and Augusta, and downtown, on Upper Randolph between Michigan and the bike station.

Before I went to check out a couple of new stretches of buffered lanes this morning, I stopped by the construction bottleneck on Milwaukee north of North. I was pleasantly surprised to see that paper “No Parking” signs are still affixed to poles on the east side of the block, and drivers seem to be respecting them. As a result, there’s sufficient road width for north- and southbound cyclists to share the road with motorists fairly safely.

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Southbound cyclists on Milwaukee have more breathing room now. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week, Streetsbog reader Andrew Scalise sent us a photo of a tow truck enforcing the parking ban, which is a likely factor in the compliance by drivers. There are also some safety cones sitting in the gutter.

Next, I dropped by Noble, which now has buttery-smooth new asphalt. Noble has always been a good biking street, but the addition of the good pavement and buffered lanes should make it an even more popular route. The lanes have dead space striped on the right side to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.

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Looking north on Noble by Eckhardt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Noble connects Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, and Erie, a good east-west connection between Ukrainian Village and River West. The new lanes would be even more useful if CDOT striped a contraflow lane on the short, one-way northbound block of Noble between Augusta and Milwaukee.

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

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Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

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There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.” That puts expansion plans for cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver – won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015′s equipment orders.

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Eyes on the Street: It’s On For Once-Missing Washington/Michigan Crosswalk

Crosswalk signal finally installed two months after markings

The crosswalk signal was working as of Monday evening.

To help make it easier to walk to the second busiest tourist attraction in Chicago, the Department of Transportation recently reopened a crosswalk across the north leg of the intersection of Michigan and Washington. The crosswalk provides an essential, direct link between the Cultural Center and Millennium Park’s many attractions, like next week’s Milton Suggs Big Band concert.

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A man, ignoring the now-removed signs, waits for car traffic to clear before he crosses Michigan.

Earlier, Streetsblog reported that the crosswalk markings – which are quite narrow, at about five feet – were installed two months ago. However, the pedestrian signals were only activated this week. In the meantime, many pedestrians walked around the “sidewalk closed” signs and crossed there anyways because, well, people will go wherever it’s convenient. Since pedestrians may or may not have had the right of way during that interim period, there’s no telling who might have been at fault if a crash had happened. Next time, the city should consider installing the signals first — which, admittedly, is more complicated — and better coordinate their activation with the relatively simple task of painting the crosswalks.

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Cost Isn’t the Issue With Palmer Square Speed Tables, NIMBYs Are

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Midblock crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month, a DNAinfo.com article drew attention to a new campaign to improve pedestrian safety at Palmer Square by installing raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. Unfortunately, factual errors in the piece left the impression that raised crosswalks would be an expensive solution that doesn’t have the Chicago Department of Transportation’s approval. It turns out that speed tables would be quite affordable, and CDOT first proposed adding them years ago. Other changes to the roadway could further discourage speeding and enhance the park – if only the park’s neighbors would allow them.

Ever since Palmer Square got new playground equipment and a soft-surface track in 2009, the green space has become increasingly popular with families and other Logan Square residents seeking recreation and relaxation. However, the current street layout encourages fast driving, which endangers people crossing to the park, as well as cyclists on Palmer Boulevard.

The eastbound portion of the boulevard runs south of the oval-shaped park, with two travel lanes plus a bike lane. Stop signs at the three-way intersections of Palmer and Albany Avenue, as well as Palmer and Whipple Street, help to calm motorized traffic.

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On the south side of the park, stop signs at Albany and Whipple help slow down cars. Photo: John Greenfield

However, on the north side of the green space, there are three westbound travel lanes, plus a bike lane. Albany and Whipple don’t continue north of the park, so there are no intersections or stop signs on the quarter-mile stretch between Sacramento and Kedzie boulevards, which makes it easy for drivers to pick up speed.

While there are marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square where Albany and Whipple would be, the three travel lanes create long crossing distances and the so-called “multiple threat” scenario. Even if one driver obeys the law by stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, there’s no guarantee that the motorist in the next lane will do so.

Two churches near the square encourage their parishioners to park in the central lane on the north side of the green space during services and special events. That’s technically illegal, but has been condoned by the local aldermen in the past. This practice further endangers pedestrians, because it makes it more difficult for westbound drivers to see people crossing the street.

As DNAinfo reported, residents have launched an online petition calling for installing raised crosswalks on the northern portion of the boulevard at Albany and Whipple. “A park designed for and frequented by very small children, residential homes and a church borders this portion of the street,” the petition reads. “A school also borders the park and school children often utilize the park for physical education and after school programs. The speeding traffic on the street creates a grave safety hazard.”

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What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

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Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

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Do All Bike Crashes Deserve Police Reports?

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The author’s own crash report from 2007.

Crash data, more so than any other regularly collected and readily reported public data sets, shine a bright light upon the most dangerous parts of our city’s streets. Crash reports tell authorities who was injured, where, and under what circumstances, and the Illinois Department of Transportation collects the same information from all police departments statewide. IDOT uses these reports “for a number of vital purposes, including crash analysis, roadway engineering improvements, safety program design, and ultimately, preventing death/injury on Illinois roadways.”

Yet unlike automated counters, having good crash data relies upon people filing reports – and in many cases, people don’t. I talked with two bicyclists who recently had crashes, but declined to file reports afterwards, to understand how the current process could be improved.

Jackie lives in Wrigleyville and works in insurance. She was riding west on Van Buren on June 25th towards home, about to cross State Street. As she tells it:

A person driving a car in the right southbound lane of State Street ran the red light in an effort to turn right on Van Buren. I’m not certain, but I think her head was down — looking at her phone, most likely. She looked up at the last second, and hit the brakes in time to hit my bike, between the fork and the downtube, with her bumper. I was thrown from the bike onto the street.

Jackie stood up, the driver asked if she was okay, and then the driver apologized “profusely.” The driver pulled her car to the curb so the two could exchange contact information. Jackie said she wasn’t going to visit the hospital, and the driver said she would pay for any damages to the bicycle.

Jackie says that filing a crash report was not necessary in the context of her situation.

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Driver Who Killed Jesse Bradley Got 16-Year Prison Sentence

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Jesse Bradley

Unfortunately, due to some crossed wires, I didn’t hear about the outcome in the case of Jesse Bradley, a Northwestern law student killed by an intoxicated driver, until recently. However, Streetsblog readers will want to know that Bianca Garcia, the motorist who killed Bradley while drunk and high and then fled the scene, has received an appropriately long jail sentence. “It’s a very good ending,” said victim advocate Sharon Johnson from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

“My son was so smart and so loving, just a good, good kid,” Bradley’s mother Colleen told me earlier this year. She described the 32-year-old as a shy, quiet person with a dry sense of humor. Having completed a couple years of challenging studies at Northwestern, he’d taken off two terms and was working at a Gold Coast Starbucks, where he’d learned to become much more outgoing by chatting with customers. He was set to finish school that summer and planned to work in business law.

Around 2:30 a.m. on March 24, 2012, Bradley was walking home to his apartment at 1140 North LaSalle after finishing a late shift and getting a snack with coworkers. Garcia, 21 at the time, had been out drinking with friends at several bars that night. As Bradley walked west across the south leg of the LaSalle/Division intersection, Garcia was speeding south on LaSalle, swerving violently. She struck Bradley, killing him instantly, then fled eastbound on Elm, going the wrong way down the one-way street for two blocks.

Fortunately, two police officers were sitting in a squad car on Elm at the time. They pulled Garcia over as she fled south on Dearborn and found her drivers license had expired. A test showed her blood alcohol content was 0.168 percent, more than twice the legal limit, and she had a cocktail of hard drugs in her system. She was charged with felony aggravated DUI and several other counts.

According to a Sun-Times report, Garcia had been pulled over by police at least six times in the previous five years. The first time was in 2008 when she was seventeen and was driving home from a New Year’s Eve party in Riverside after drinking a pint of rum. She was required to pay more than $1,000 in fines and undergo a year of supervision, but kept her license.

In early 2013, Garcia was offered a sentence of 12 years in prison, with the requirement that she serve at least 8.5 years of the sentence, Johnson said. After the defendant rejected that offer, the case continued for several more months. Last December, Garcia entered a blind plea of guilty to the charges in the Bradley case. On May 21, Judge Stanley Sacks sentenced her to 16 years of prison, with a minimum of 12 years of “real time.”

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Eyes on the Street: Crew Responds To Bike Lane Sewer Collapse

Fixing two Logan Square sewer collapses

Progress as of Monday early afternoon.

A Chicago Department of Water Management crew was on Logan Boulevard today fixing a sewer collapse in the bike lane. We alerted the Chicago Department of Transportation and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack last week about the hazard, just outside Xsport Fitness.

Streetsblog reader Patrick Lynch sent us some photos he took on Monday night. We forwarded them to CDOT staff on Tuesday morning, who acknowledged the issue a few hours later.

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The sewer collapse one week ago. Photo: Patrick Lynch

It turns out, though, that Alderman Waguespack submitted the issue himself via SeeClickFix 11 days ago.

The way the city initially addressed the situation (since Waguespack’s initial reporting) was problematic. Instead of placing barricades ahead of the road hazard, a barricade was placed within it.

It was a situation like this that led to the paralyzing crash of Brian Baker, while he was bicycling on Wabansia Avenue in 2009. The city settled the case this year for $1.2 million. When bike lanes are affected by full-width road hazards, bicyclists require more advance warning than motorists do, because they need more time to merge out of the bike lane and into faster moving traffic.

Waguespack also reported a sewer collapse around the corner on Elston Avenue, in front of Panera. The crews today were adding more barricades to prevent people from riding or driving into this hole.

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Commuter Idyll Winner Matt Gjertson Shares His Stirring Tale of Redemption

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Sam Schwartz Engineering staffers Vig Krishnamurthy and Morgan Whitcomb created this awesome illustration of Matt and his commute options. Morgan’s boyfriend Jake Williams won last years Streetsblog USA Commuter Idyll contest.

Thanks to everybody who participated in Streetsblog Chicago’s Commuter Idyll contest, sharing your inspiring stories of switching from a nerve-racking car commute to a pleasant walking, biking and/or transit trip. Big thanks also to contest sponsor New Belgium Brewing, which hosts the fun-tastic Tour de Fat bikes-and-beers fest this Saturday in Palmer Square – see details about this can’t-miss event below. Be sure to drop by the Streetsblog table at the tour, where we’ll have free schwag, including our famous “I [Heart] Bus Rapid Transit” buttons.

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Matt Gjertson outside of his workplace.

A number of readers told us about how they ditched long, aggravating drives to work by switching to walking, biking, bike-share, CTA, Metra, carpooling, or some combination of the above. Some discussed how they moved closer to work – or got a job closer to home. Everyone reported that switching modes improved their health and happiness by helping them get more fresh air, exercise, or time to read or nap, allowing them to arrive at their job alert and ready to handle the day’s challenges.

Some of our favorite entries came from contest runners-up Courtney Cobbs, Brett Miller, and Elizabeth Edwards, who win VIP passes to the tour. You can read their inspirational tales, along with submissions from other readers here and here.

Our grand prize winner is Matt Gjertson, who talked about how his stress level soared after he switched jobs and had to give up a long-but-fun Metra commute. However, Matt’s tale is ultimately one of redemption, as he was able to regain his sense of wellbeing by fine-tuning his travel strategy. Here’s his story…

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