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Posts from the "Transportation" Category

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Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Lanes on Halsted Between Fulton and Erie

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Looking south on Halsted near Ohio. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has taken advantage of recent warm spells to do some late-year bikeway construction. In addition to new bikeways on Lincoln, the department recently striped buffered bike lanes on Halsted, between Fulton and Erie in the West Loop and River West.

This half-mile stretch, done as part of a repaving project between Lake and Chicago Avenue, is a handy link between Greektown and Milwaukee Avenue. It will become even more useful if it the lanes are extended further north to Chicago Avenue, where Halsted has existing non-buffered lanes. CDOT would like to do this, but staffer Mike Amsden says there’s nothing planned at this point.

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Looking north at Fulton Market. Bollards would be a nice addition here. Photo: John Greenfield

There are a few nice things about this new stretch of BBLs. Although the section of Halsted between Fulton and Chicago was shown on the 2014 Chicago Bike Map as having non-buffered bike lanes, there actually haven’t been visible bikeways on this segment for years, so the new lanes are essentially terra nova.

Between Fulton and Kinzie, the bike lanes are curbside, with wide buffers to the left. Installing flexible posts in the buffers, to encourage drivers to stay out of the BBLs, would be a helpful addition.

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Looking south on the bridge over Kinzie. A southbound travel lane was converted to make room for the BBLs here. Photo: John Greenfield

A short road diet was done on the one block north of Fulton, with one of the southbound mixed-traffic lanes removed to make room for buffered lanes in both directions. This helps calm traffic on the bridge over Kinzie, a long stretch without intersections where drivers often speed.

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Parking-Lite Residences Sprouting All Across Chicago

Proposed building at 830 N Milwaukee Avenue. Rendering by bKL Architecture

The resurgent downtown economy and the growing demand for car-lite living, both in Chicago and nationally, have spurred an apartment-building boom that’s transforming neighborhoods citywide. Many of these apartments are rising along the Chicago Transit Authority’s rail lines, partially thanks to a recent change to the city’s zoning ordinance that has made it easier to build parking-lite buildings near transit.

The city’s “transit-oriented development” ordinance, enacted in fall 2013, revises the zoning code to reduce minimum car parking requirements for new or renovated buildings within 600 feet (about one city block) of a train station. That radius extends to 1,200 feet, or about two city blocks, if that distance is along a city-designed Pedestrian Streets, which are streets where zoning rules also encourage developments that enliven the sidewalks. Instead of the usual rule that requires one car parking space for every single housing unit, the new law requires half as many spaces for housing and no spaces for shops or offices on site. Developers can ask the city’s Department of Planning and Development and Zoning Board of Appeals for an exemption to build even fewer parking spaces.

Parking requirements impose huge fixed costs on developments, making it difficult to build — especially on small city lots. The parking spaces that result are often leased or sold at a loss, and sometimes go completely empty — costs that get passed down to the building’s future occupants, whether or not they own cars.

The ordinance offers relief from parking requirements in mixed-use areas citywide, but another incentive that allows transit-oriented developments to build more small apartments rather than fewer large apartments only within a very small slice of the city. Not only do the sites have to be practically next to a train station, they must also be zoned “dash 3″ (e.g., a zone like B3-3 or C1-3), which are zones found only in a few areas that already have high densities. Developers who want to build transit-oriented small apartments outside a “dash 3″ zone must first apply for a zoning change to the right zoning, which requires approvals from the alderman, the Chicago Plan Commission, the city council, and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Despite the law’s limited applicability, 15 transit-oriented developments have been proposed just in its first year. Streetsblog has previously reported on six of these (see links at the end of this post), and profiles of four more across the city are included below. We’ll take a look at five more, all of which are in Wicker Park, in another post tomorrow.

Updated December 31, 2014 to clarify applicability of parking reductions and small-apartment regulation.

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Divvy Bike-Share Hopes Expanded Area, Outreach Also Expands Appeal

Damen/Pierce Divvy station being installed

Divvy installation crews will be visiting many more neighborhoods next year as the system grows by 75 percent. Photo: Steven Vance.

The December meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee included lots of news about the future of the Divvy program. Ever since the bike-share program launched on June 28, 2013, 3.1 million users, including 23,177 annual members and many daily users, have biked over 6.6 million miles starting at 300 stations.

A previously planned expansion will bring the system to 475 stations, 4750 bikes and 31 wards. That will broaden the service area’s edges to Touhy Avenue (7200 North) to 75th Street (7500 South), from the lake to as far west as Pulaski (4000 West). State grant money has been allocated for an additional 50 stations, further extending Divvy north through Rogers Park into Evanston, and west through Garfield Park and Austin into Oak Park.

A new member survey will be going out soon. Last winter’s survey showed a disappointing lack of diversity among annual members, who were 65 percent male, 79 percent white, 93 percent college educated, and averaged 34 years old. Divvy hopes that a larger coverage area, continued outreach, and efforts to increase access for the unbanked will improve diversity among both annual members and daily users.

Divvy has launched an equity initiative that applies to station siting, public outreach, hiring, and youth training. In the first two years, station siting prioritized locations with perceived high demand. The priority now is being shifted to create a higher density network of stations throughout the Divvy service area, so that lower density neighborhoods of color (where current stations are sometimes a mile apart) will be better served. The goal for both infill and expansion of the service area is for stations to be no more than half a mile apart, putting Divvy within a five minute walk of everyone within the service area.

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CDOT Tries Out a New Kind of Bikeway on Lincoln Avenue: “Barrows”

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CDOT will be adding sharrows next to the buffers on Lincoln north of Wells. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has a toolbox of different bikeway treatments: neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and shared lane markings, also known as “sharrows.” Now they’re experimenting with a new kind of treatment that consists of sharrows — bike symbols with chevrons — with a striped buffer painted on the right. I propose that that these buffered sharrows should be referred to as “barrows.”

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A photo of the old sharrows on Lincoln, plus a rendering of the “barrows.”

This CDOT pilot is being done in conjunction with an Illinois Department of Transportation project to repave Lincoln between Diversey and Wells, the portion of the street which is a state route. Lincoln, a key diagonal route downtown from the North Side is included in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 as Crosstown Bike Route. However the blogs Let’s Go Ride a Bike and Bike Walk Lincoln Park have both posted articles detailing the challenging conditions for biking on the street, including lousy pavement.

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Prior to repaving, Lincoln was plagued with potholes. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

LGRAB’s Dottie Brackett noted that, although bikes sometimes make up 40 percent of rush hour traffic on Lincoln, speeding drivers, carelessly opened car doors, huge six-way intersections, and stopped delivery trucks create a hostile environment for cyclists. She said she’d like too see buffered or protected bike lanes on the street. Unfortunately, most of the stretch between Diversey and Wells is too narrow to install these kind of bikeways without stripping large amounts of parking. In spring of 2013, BWLP’s Michelle Stenzel and her neighbors surveyed Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park and counted 24 potholes.

43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith — who told me she often rides a bike herself – said she lobbied hard to get IDOT to repave the street in order to create safer conditions for cyclists and drivers alike. Work began in October, including repairs to sidewalks, curbs, and gutters, as well as concrete bus stop pads. Smith also told me that she urged CDOT to get involved in planning meetings for the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital Site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, to ensure that the project includes pedestrian and bike improvements. As a result, bike lanes will be striped through the six-way intersection.

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Yellow Journalism: Tribune Panics Over “Risky” Stoplight Timing

The Tribune is trying to brew a storm of controversy over the city's red light camera program by pointing out that Chicago, like every other city, times its yellow lights differently. Photo: Jamelah

The Tribune is trying to provoke controversy over Chicago’s red light camera program by pointing out that the city times its yellow lights differently — just like every other city. Photo: Jamelah, via Flickr

Day in and day out for at least 30 years (and perhaps for almost a century), over 3,000 stoplights all across Chicago have whirred through tens of millions of cycles the exact same way: green, then yellow for three seconds, then red. Yet today, this three second cycle was suddenly declared a public safety emergency, with the Tribune’s front page fomenting panic about the crisis posed by “risky” and “too short” yellow phases.

The Tribune, of course, has long pursued a vendetta against the automated enforcement of red lights in Chicago, consistently whining about a program that penalizes criminals who blow through stoplights with deadly consequences. In its newest episode, the newspaper assembled a cadre of experts to inveigh against the long-established three second yellow phase, and arguing for a few tenths of a second more leeway. (This isn’t the first time the Tribune has zeroed in on fractions of seconds in arguing against enforcement.) Drivers, it seems, feel as if they’ve been “ambushed” by yellow lights that work exactly the same way they’ve worked for decades.

One example the Tribune cites approvingly is Maryland, where a 2004 law lengthened the minimum yellow signal phase to 3.5 seconds. Yet the story there was all about political perception, rather than engineering standards. Frank Murphy from Baltimore’s transportation department told the Tribune, “The reason the law was passed was because it was represented that there was an ambush situation, when yellow lights were set so low – even though they had always been set at three seconds previously.”

True, some recent engineering guidance recommends that cities assume that drivers are usually speeding when approaching traffic signals, and such formulas find Chicago’s yellow signals to be on the short side. For example, Institute of Transportation Engineers’ formula recommends that for situations like a citywide standard (where actual travel speeds can’t be observed), adding 7 mph to the speed limit across the board — thus assuming that drivers citywide are traveling at 37 mph.

Moving forward with that assumption would endorse and enable speeding, which is a far cry from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s recent push to eliminate all fatalities from our streets. David Zavattero is head of traffic safety programs at CDOT, and oversees the red light camera program. He said that Chicago uses a three second yellow light because “we don’t believe it is a safe environment to be [in], basing your signal timing on a 40 mph vehicle traveling through the intersection.” Plus, Chicago’s citywide three second phase has a long history: The federal government’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices first recommended a three second minimum back in 1935, and continues to do so today.

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Why Don’t the South and West Sides Have a Fair Share of Bike Facilities?

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Kids ride in the Franklin Boulevard protected bike lanes in the Garfield Park neighborhood. PBLs are the one type of bike infrastructure that is more common on the South and West Sides than on the North Side. Photo: CDOT

Black bike advocates Oboi Reed, Peter Taylor, and Shawn Conley recently started an important conversation about the need for more bike resources in low-income African American communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides. At a recent Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, they presented an open letter to the city, state, and local advocacy groups, asking that bike infrastructure, education, and encouragement be provided in a more equitable manner. Read the full letter here.

The letter pointed out that downtown and relatively affluent, North Side neighborhoods have generally received a higher density of bike lanes, racks, and Divvy stations than South and West Side communities. The advocates also asked for more input and participation from African-American residents, organizations, and businesses in the planning and implementation of bike infrastructure and programming.

Reed argued that the city has tended to focus bike resources on neighborhoods that already have high levels of biking. This creates a vicious cycle where low-income African American communities get left behind as bicycling continues to grow in wealthier areas, he said. “It just cuts us off from all the benefits, and our communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

Judging from statements from the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active Transportation Alliance, plus comments from Streetsblog readers and on social media, city leaders and advocates agree that more work is needed to achieve bike equity in African-American neighborhoods. There’s a consensus that strong leadership from within the black community, as embodied by Reed, Taylor, Conley, and others in the five black-led bike groups they represent, is a key piece of the puzzle to reach that goal. The groups include Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike and Green Chicago, Southside Critical Mass, the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, and Friends of the Major Taylor Trail.

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Oboi Reed (right) and other riders from Slow Roll Chicago on a bike tour of the Millennium Reserve on the Southeast Side. Photo: Slow Roll

As part of this dialogue, it’s important to discuss what has contributed to the relative lack of  bike infrastructure on the South and West Sides compared to some parts of the North Side. In the near future, Streetsblog plans to publish a piece from Reed addressing the “personal, emotional, cultural, structural, and systemic reasons for why we don’t bike much as adults in black, brown and low- and middle-income neighborhoods, and why we don’t have infrastructure in our neighborhoods.”

In the meantime, here are some of the political and geographic factors I’m aware of that help explain the lower density of bike lanes, Divvy stations, and bike racks in Chicago’s African American neighborhoods.

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Why the Tribune’s Red Light Camera Story Is Garbage Journalism

The Chicago Tribune’s reporting ignored the human toll of car crashes at intersections with red light cameras in failing to consider the severity of injuries in right-angle crashes. Image: Wikipedia

In a huge front-page story Friday, the Chicago Tribune published yet another installment in its long-running vendetta against the city’s photographic traffic enforcement program. Because the Trib chose to obscure key information about the severity of crashes, the story is worthless as an evaluation of the city’s red light camera program.

The article lavishes attention on a $14,000 study “commissioned by the Tribune [that] concluded the cameras do not reduce injury-related crashes overall.” But if you manage to get 2,000 words into the article, authors David Kidwell and Alex Richards acknowledge that nine years ago the Federal Highway Administration also commissioned a study on red light cameras. And if you take a close look at the FHWA study, it debunks the entire premise behind the Tribune’s analysis.

The FHWA employed a methodology that closely resembles the Tribune’s, with one all-important difference: The feds incorporated the severity of crashes into their calculations. Both studies found that red light cameras tend to prevent right-angle crashes, while rear-end crashes increase. But since FHWA also acknowledged that right-angle crashes are more severe and impose higher costs on society than rear-end crashes, it found that even with increases in one crash type, the benefits of red light cameras outweigh the costs.

On its website explaining the FHWA study, the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center clearly states: ”Since the angle and rear-end crashes are of different severities, you must combine both the change in frequency with differences in severity in the analysis. This is why looking… just at changes in total crash numbers is not correct.” While the Trib interviewed a UNC researcher about camera site selection, it failed to note this basic conclusion that upends the paper’s own methodology.

Put simply, the Tribune’s methodology ignores the most important factor – the number of people killed and the severity of injuries sustained at intersections with red light cameras.

The FHWA didn’t make that mistake. Factoring in “the lesser severities and generally lower unit costs for rear end injury crashes” the agency concluded that red light cameras achieved $14-18 million in savings to motor vehicle occupants in urban and rural intersections in seven municipalities. Only thousands of words into the piece, when mentioning the FHWA study, does the Tribune admit that there is a difference in severity of different crash types.

The Tribune also drew unwarranted conclusions from its own study, which found that the change in total crash numbers was not statistically significant. The study itself says “the increase in crashes may not necessarily be because of [adding red light cameras], but may just have happened by chance.”

But the data the Tribune collected is sufficiently robust to bolster the conclusion that red light cameras reduce right-angle crashes.

“[The] Chicago Tribune’s study confirms that these cameras help to reduce dangerous angle crashes that are more likely than rear-end crashes to cause serious injury or death,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said in a statement today. They’re less severe because they’re slower – drivers are decelerating, and going the same direction, during rear-ends – and cars have crumple zones in the front and rear, but not the sides. Read more…

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Advocates Request a Fair Share of Bike Resources for Black Communities

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield

A group of African-American bike advocates says they want to do whatever it takes to make sure more black Chicagoans have a chance to enjoy the health, economic, and social benefits of cycling. They’ve called for the city and state, as well as other advocacy groups, to commit to a more equitable distribution of bike facilities and education to low-income, African-American communities on the South and West Sides.

“In the past, the city’s philosophy has been that the communities that already bike the most deserve the most resources,” said Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike & Green, and Southside Critical Mass. “That just perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows fast in some neighborhood and not others. Biking leads to better physical and mental health, safer streets, more connected communities, and support for local businesses. Black communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

As it stands, Chicago has a higher overall density, and better connectivity, of bike lanes downtown and in relatively affluent North Side neighborhoods with higher population density and bike mode share. Their South and West Side counterparts have received more miles of protected bike lanes, due to the fact that wide roads with available right-of-way are more common in these parts of town.

While a number of low-income communities of color, such as Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, and Bronzeville, have received Divvy bike-share, a majority of the stations have been installed downtown and on the North Side. The system is slated to expand to more South and West Side neighborhoods next year. The more bikeable areas of the city also have a higher density of parking racks, which residents can request via a Chicago Department of Transportation website.

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Active Trans’ Bikeways Tracker shows the distribution of protected lanes (green) and buffered lanes (blue). Red is proposed bikeways.

In an effort to win more bike resources for black communities, Reed has partnered with Peter Taylor, an Active Transportation Alliance board member and president of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Shawn Conley, head of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago. On November 1, they met in a Woodlawn café to strategize with Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of RBG Chicago and a member of the League of American Bicyclists’ Equity Advisory Council, Latrice Williams from Bronzeville Bikes, as well as black bike advocates from Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Out of that meeting came an open letter to the city, state and other advocacy groups, asking for a more fair distribution of bike infrastructure and education, and that more consideration be given to the needs and concerns of black residents when allocating these resources. The letter makes seven specific requests. Among these are that the local governments make a public commitment to prioritize equity, and require contractors who work on transportation projects to do so as well.

The advocates ask the city and state to commit to spending a fair amount of tax dollars on bike resources between 2015 and 2020 in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The city is also asked to provide an update on the status of recommendations made by community advisory groups for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – Reed and Taylor served as leaders for South Side advisory groups.

The black advocates gave a presentation on their campaign at last week’s Mayor’s Advisory Council meeting. At the assembly, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld and Active Trans director Ron Burke acknowledged that more effort needs to be made to promote cycling in communities that don’t already have high ridership. Scheinfeld promised that equity would be strongly considered in prioritizing future projects. One of the 2020 Plan’s goals is to ensure that every Chicagoan lives within a half mile of a bikeway.

“CDOT has been focused on building a comprehensive bikeway network throughout Chicago and we are pleased to have advocates like [Reed, Taylor, and Conley] to partner with to help reach those goals,” said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales “We look forward to continuing to work with them to help determine the needs for cycling facilities in every community.”

“The equity statement delivered at MBAC is an outstanding example of the kind of grassroots leadership we need in Chicago,” said Active Trans’ Jim Merrill. He argued that the city is already working hard to equitably distribute new bike infrastructure. “We hope this call for a renewed look at bike equity in Chicago can amplify those efforts, and we look forward to collaborating with advocates throughout the city to build a bike network that serves all Chicagoans equally.”

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Montrose Green TOD Actually Fits Its Neighborhood Just Fine

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A year-old city ordinance could allow a neighborhood restaurant, not car parking spaces, to face the ‘L’ station entrance.

Developer David Brown wants to bring a neighborhood restaurant to a site right outside the the Chicago Transit Authority’s Montrose Brown Line station, along with 24 apartments, a small office space, and 10 car parking spaces. The city’s zoning ordinance would ordinarily require him to fill the entire ground floor of his proposed five-story Montrose Green building with 24 parking spaces. However, Brown has requested that 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar change the site’s zoning to permit more housing and less parking, under what the city terms transit-oriented development.

A meeting last week hosted by Brown and Pawar drew some of the usual complaints about the neighborhood having too many cars and too little on-street parking. For example, DNAinfo quoted Kristina Stevens saying, “Most of these people, I believe, are going to have cars and park on our streets. Taking the train does not mean you don’t own a car.”

In fact, many of Montrose Green’s neighbors in North Center take the train (and bus) and don’t own cars — and the new building would help even more make car-lite choices, and accelerate a neighborhood-wide (and nationwide) trend towards less driving.

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Montrose Green actually provides more car parking spaces per resident (but fewer per unit) than current zoning requirements. Image: David Brown

42 percent of households in the building will be able to store a car behind the building, a percentage that nearly matches the 46 percent of households in nearby Census tracts who own one car. Even fewer residents own cars in the tracts closest to the Brown Line.

Not only are there fewer cars than one might expect in the neighborhood, there’s also less vehicle traffic — and even less with every passing year. Vehicle counts on Montrose, between Western and Ashland, show 42 percent fewer cars (5,000 cars per day) between 2006 and 2010, the most recent data available. Car traffic also declined by 23 percent, or 2,400 cars, on Damen across Montrose. Since then, citywide miles driven people have continued to fall, dropping by 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Meanwhile, transit use in North Center has gone up across the board, even though the surrounding Census tracts have shown minimal population growth. Brown Line boardings at Montrose increased by nearly 20 percent between 2010 and 2013, across both weekdays and weekends — a sign that people aren’t just using transit for work, but also for errands and social trips. (Fully 47.5 percent of local residents do take transit to work.) Bus ridership on the #78 Montrose bus increased by over 10 percent over the same period, as well.

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At Last, the Bloomingdale Looks Like a Trail

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Beth White stands under a lighting arch on the Humboldt Boulevard Bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In June, Steven Vance and I got a sneak peek at construction to build the Bloomingdale Trail, AKA The 606. On Tuesday, I went back up on the rail line for a tour with Beth White from the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project, and saw that major progress has been made over the last six months. Work on bridges and utilities is largely complete, access ramps are in place, many blocks of railings have been installed, and most of the 2.7-mile route is paved.

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Much of the eastern portion of the trail now has railings. Photo: John Greenfield

The $95 million multiuse trail and linear park was supposed to debut this fall but construction delays, caused by the long, cold winter, have postponed the opening date until June. The upside of the delay is that more of the landscaping for the path and its access parks will be completed by opening time than was originally planned.

Almost all of the rail line, except for locations currently accessed by heavy trucks, now sports a 14-foot-wide ribbon of concrete that will serve as the walking and biking surface. Mile markers have been embedded in the pavement, and two-foot-wide rubber surfaces will be added to the outside edges of the path to provide a soft surface for running — a similar configuration as the Lakefront Trail.

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