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Reminder: Just Laying Track Is No Guarantee Riders Will Come

Atlanta's streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Atlanta’s streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Laying track isn’t enough to build a successful transit system — as some cities are learning the hard way.

A slate of new rail projects — mostly mixed-traffic streetcars, but that’s not the only way to mess up — are attracting embarrassingly few passengers. Some of these projects may be salvageable to some extent, but for now, they don’t provide the speed, frequency, and access to walkable destinations that make transit useful for people. Here are four cautionary tales about the inadequacy of just putting down rails and praying things work out.

Dallas

Dallas’s streetcar line opened last April and is attracting just 150 to 300 riders a day, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 1.6-mile streetcar connects downtown Dallas to the neighborhood of Oak Cliff. It cost $50 million, and the city hopes to expand it.

Before it opened, Peter Simak, writing for D Magazine, said the line was simply too short, and Dallas simply not walkable enough, for it to have much of an impact. The entire line covers ground formerly served by four bus stops. Still, some advocates maintain that ridership will climb once new development fills in and planned expansions are built.

Atlanta

Ridership on Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar has been underwhelming as well. The project has been roundly panned by the local media, who have pointed out it’s barely faster than walking.

Read more…

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CTA: We Can’t Reduces Fees That Social Service Providers Pay on Ventra

Ventra press event

A CTA bus doubles as an info display during the 2013 Ventra rollout. The switch to Ventra created problems for social service providers, but the CTA says it’s working on fixing one of them.

The Chicago Transit Authority said that it’s working to address some of the new burdens that the switch to Ventra has created for social service providers, as described in a study from the Chicago Jobs Council, which I reported about on Monday.

The study was based on a survey of 53 organizations that provide transit fare assistance to their clients, who may be job seekers, homeless individuals, or young people. The problems include the 50-cent surcharge on single-ride Ventra tickets, which has resulted in these organizations collectively paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Another issue is the need to mail in forms and checks in order to buy Ventra cards in bulk. The study also found that a majority of the organizations waited a long time to receive their bulk orders, and unpredictable delivery delays forced them to scramble to find alternative ways to buy tickets.

According to the report, in 2013 the CTA told the Chicago Jobs Council that online ordering would be available in 2014. Last February, the CTA estimated online ordering would be available by the end of this year. The CTA said in a statement yesterday “work is already underway with our vendor to make online credit card purchases and delivery tracking available.”

Pauline Sylvain-Lewis of the North Lawndale Employment Network said she tries to plan ahead for the long wait by ordering two months worth of tickets at a time. That can be an issue, she said, because the nonprofit’s cash flow doesn’t allow for spending large sums of money on a monthly basis, and the purchase price can be so large that it requires approval from the board. If a delivery is late, staff members go to train stations and use the organization’s bank cards, or even their own bank cards, to buy tickets.

The CTA said that they weren’t aware of any bulk card orders taking two months two arrive, adding that “99.7% of all bulk orders CTA receives are delivered within 11-14 business days and more than 88% of all bulk orders are delivered within seven to 10 business days – or faster.”

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Other Reasons Why The 606 Gets More Ridership Than the Major Taylor Trail

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The 606’s popularity is largely due to what it lacks: at-grade crossings. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Tribune’s new transportation columnist Mary Wisniewski, a former Sun-Times transportation reporter, is off to a good start. She’s written a number of article that show an interest in promoting sustainable transportation, rather than the windshield perspective that has been all-to-common in the mainstream media.

For example, her articles about bicycling have asked *what* Chicago should be doing to encourage bike riding, rather than *whether* we should be promoting cycling at all. That’s a refreshing change from some of the Tribune’s previous misinformed, overly skeptical coverage of new bicycle infrastructure. And let’s not even get started on columnist John Kass’ irresponsible bike trolling.

This new approach is part of the general positive trend of Chicago’s mainstream media coming around to the idea that biking is good our city, as the Active Transportation Alliance recently noted in a blog post.

Wisniewski recently ran an interesting column looking at why the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway on the Northwest Side, which opened last June, is already so much better known and used than the nine-year-old Major Taylor Trail on the Southwest Side. That’s despite the fact that the Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is only 2.7 miles while the Major Taylor is a full 6.5 miles.

According to members of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, even some folks who live close to that trail seem unaware of its existence.

Wisniewski highlights several reasons why the Major Taylor gets less use. Broken glass is a problem. There are some challenging streets crossings that need improvement, such as those at Halsted Street and 111th Street. There’s a gap in the path between 105th Street and 95th Street, which forces riders to take a somewhat convoluted route on streets between the two segments.

Wisniewski notes that the Major Taylor runs though less densely populated neighborhoods than the Bloomingdale. She also points out that The 606 connects with Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s busiest biking route, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway.”

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Wife of Cyclist Dragged in Bridgeport Provides an Update on His Condition

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The Jacobsons and their three children. Photo: GoFundMe

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Scott Jacobson continues to stoically recover from the horrific injuries he suffered after being struck on his bike and dragged hundreds of feet by a driver, according to Jacobson’s wife Rachel. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will level more serious charges against the motorist, who so far has only been charged with misdemeanors.

On Monday, May 2, at around 6 p.m., Scott Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue when SUV driver Joshua Thomas, 26, made a U-turn and struck him, according to police.

Jacobson was dragged hundreds of feet until bystanders ran to stop the vehicle. The cyclist’s pelvis was fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.

Rachel Jacobson, Scott’s wife of some 20 years and a CPS teacher, provided an update on his situation over the phone from Stroger Hospital, where he’s being treated in the burn ward for his abrasions. “He’s doing pretty well,” she said. “He’s in good spirits, but he’s in a lot of pain. His dressings need to be changed twice a day, and that hurts.”

Rachel said she’s grateful for contributions to the GoFundMe page that has raised more than $36,000 within a week to help support the family while Scott recovers. Doctors say it will likely be six months before he is able to return to his job as a superintendent for a construction company. Bridgeport community activist Kimberly Cannatello Lazo, who didn’t know the family before the collision but was moved by the story, contacted the family, and launched the crowdfunding page in order to help out, Rachel said.

Rachel told me more about how the crash occured. As Scott was biking west on 35th towards his home in McKinley Park, he saw Thomas weaving in the SUV towards the line of parked cars. “When Scott came up from behind him to pass, [Thomas] did a crazy U-turn and ran into him,” she said. “Scott looked at him, yelled, and slapped the hood but [the driver] kept going and Scott got sucked under.”

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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

NACTO_transit_lanes

Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.

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Study: Ventra Fees Cost Social Service Providers 140,000 Bus Rides Per Year

Ventra Vending Machine Preview Event

A CTA staffer demonstrates how a Ventra machine works. Ventra replaced simpler and cheaper ways for social service organizations to procure transit cards for their clients. Photo: CTA

Ever since the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace switched from magnetic stripe fare cards to the Ventra smart card system in 2013, social service providers across Chicago have been spending more money on paying for their clients’ transit rides, and giving out fewer rides. A new report from the Chicago Jobs Council details the burdens that Ventra fare policies and ticket ordering delays place on social service organization staff members and money dedicated to helping clients. The jobs council works to change laws and policies to increase access to jobs for marginalized workers.

The report says that for the organizations to provide fares to their clients they have to spend more time and money. The money they spend on the new Ventra fee could otherwise be spent on  hundreds of thousands in additional rides for job seekers. It starts with the cost of a new card. Ventra cards cost $5.

While the CTA refunds the $5 as credit for future rides if the account is registered, staff must spend time managing that registration process, and checking often to see how much value each card has left. In addition, it’s possible for clients to run up a negative balance on their card that, to continue using the card, the organization has to pay off.

The report said that the plastic multi-ride cards “do not make sense for programs that serve highly transient populations” because they represent a “financial liability if they are lost or used to accrue a large negative balance.” Ventra also doesn’t offer a way to register or manage many cards. “Overwhelmingly,” the report said, “providers rely on single-use paper tickets to provide transit assistance.”

Anyone can run a negative balance because bus fare readers sometimes let people on even if they have less than $2.00 on their Ventra account. The CTA assumes you’ll eventually put more money on the account to reach a positive balance.

If an organization doesn’t want to wait long for a bulk order, which has to be mailed in, or pay off negative balances, then they’re out there at CTA stations buying single-use tickets for $3.00, and racking up hundreds of dollars in “limited-use media” (disposable) fees, at a cost of 50 cents per ticket. That’s the fee CTA charges to print a one-time use ticket and encourage using the hard plastic Ventra card.

The report surveyed 53 organizations which provide job training, shelter for the homeless, and youth services and found they’re spending $280,000 annually in fees – the equivalent of 140,000 additional bus rides. Read more…

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Why Driver Who Dragged a Cyclist in Bridgeport Should Face Felony Charges

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Scott Jacobson. Photo: GoFundMe

Earlier this week there was a horrific act of traffic violence in Bridgeport. An SUV driver struck Scott Jacobson as he rode his bicycle and dragged him hundreds of feet, causing grievous injuries.

While DNAinfo initially reported that the motorist was only charged with failure to exercise due car for a pedestrian in the roadway, a misdemeanor, police told me the driver was charged with several other misdemeanors, including reckless driving. However, local attorneys who specialize in bike cases argue that the perpetrator should have been charged with aggravated reckless driving, a felony.

On Monday at around 6 p.m., Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue, where a firehouse is located, when a 26-year-old man driving a 2000 Dodge Durango made a U-turn on Lowe and struck him, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs.

The cyclist was dragged hundreds of feet. “If it wasn’t for the witnesses and the firemen running to his rescue to stop the vehicle, Scott might not have made it,” Kimberly Cannatello Lazo wrote on a GoFundMe page she launched to raise money for the victim and his family.

Jacobson was taken to Stroger hospital with his pelvis fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket, according to Cannatello Lazo. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in some locations. His recovery is expected to take six months, during which he will be unable to work.

Amezaga said the driver “stayed at the scene” after he was stopped. It’s hard to believe that the motorist had been unaware he was dragging Jacobson for such a long distance, so it seems likely he was fleeing the scene and would had continued dragging his victim, perhaps causing fatal injuries, had bystanders not intervened.

However, the motorists wasn’t charged with leaving the scene of a crash. In addition to failure to exercise due care and reckless driving, he was charged with failure to keep in lane, improper U-turn, driving on a revoked license, and uninsured vehicle, all of which are misdemeanors, according to Amezaga.

Chicago bike lawyers told me that the driver’s egregious actions warrant a felony charge of aggravated reckless driving. “The fact that the driver didn’t stop immediately, dragging Scott for hundreds of feet, warrants more serious charges being brought,” said attorney Brendan Kevenides of FK Law, a firm that specializes in bike and pedestrian cases (and a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). “This was a crime.  It seems like the driver didn’t care whether Scott lived or died.”

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Popular “Transit” App Now Enables Bypassing the Divvy Kiosk

three people wait in line at a Divvy station

If you’ve got a 24-hour pass for Divvy and you don’t want to wait in line behind these folks to retrieve your next ride code, pull out the updated “Transit” app. Photo: John Greenfield

A new partnership between Divvy and Transit app, you can now get 24-hour Divvy passes and ride codes via smartphone. This means that people who have just signed up for an annual membership won’t have to wait for a key to arrive in the mail before they can start using the blue bikes. It also means that folks who want to use bike-share for the day won’t have to wait in line at a kiosk to sign up for a pass and check out a bike.

I’ve been using the Transit app for over a year because it’s handy for figuring out the most convenient car-free travel options from wherever you are. It displays the next bus or train departure times for the three stops or stations closest to you in the iPhone notifications area, and many more in the app itself.

If you’ve just signed up for a Divvy membership and want to start riding now, you can download Transit to Android and iPhone, enter your Divvy account username and password, and request a ride code.

If you're at Rogers Park Social and open Transit, you'll see a result for the nearby Divvy station. If you're signed in to your annual membership account you'll see a button to get a ride code to unlock the bike without a key fob.

Let’s say you’re at the bar Rogers Park Social and want to check out travel options. The Transit App provides bus and Red Line arrival times, and also shows you there’s a Divvy station nearby. If you’re signed in as a Divvy member, the app will offer a ride code to unlock a bike.

You can then enter that three-digit code into the keypad of a Divvy dock to release a bike, just as you would if you’d signed up for a day pass at the kiosk. Even if you’re a longterm member, you can get ride codes via the app, which is handy if you need a bike but don’t have your key with you.

The Transit app allows you to enter payment information within and purchase a 24-hour pass, or use a promotional code.

Use the Transit App to enter payment information and purchase a 24-hour pass, or use a promotional code for a free pass.

Transit will also be timesaver for short-term Divvy users. It eliminates the need to ever wait in line to register for a day pass, as well as the need to re-insert your bank card into a kiosk every time you want to check out a bike during that 24-hour period.

The sign-up process at the kiosks is time-consuming due to slowly responding touch screens, and sometimes there are long lines at the kiosks at popular locations and after special events like music festivals.

A newsletter sent to Divvy members this morning said, “We hope this new feature makes it easier when you forget your key at home, when it isn’t convenient to bring your key out, or if you just prefer to do everything by phone.”

When you open the Transit App while you’re in Chicago, a new “Unlock & Pay for Divvy Bikes!” banner appears, which leads you to these instructions. If you’re not signed in as a Divvy member and you’re near a bike-share station, Divvy shows up as a transit option. A button to “Purchase Pass” also appears. If you’re signed in, you’ll be offered the option to get a ride code.

Divvy general manager Elliot Greenberger said that they’ll be upgrading kiosks “later this month and in to June which improves the speed of getting a pass and codes.” He said they’ve redesigned the “kiosk flow” and made improvements to the underlying software.

New software has eliminated a lot of the friction of checking out low-cost public bicycles, but many Chicago streets are still in line for an upgrade.

 

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Driver Who Fatally Struck Woman on Southwest Side Allegedly Fled at 80 mph

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Guadalupe Chavez. Photo: GoFundMe

Reckless homicide and DUI charges have been filed against a driver who allegedly killed a woman and injured a man last weekend in the Vittum Park neighborhood near Midway Airport.

At a hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors said that about 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Cicero resident Guadalupe Chavez, 42, and a 39-year-old man had parked on the south side of Archer Avenue near Lavergne Avenue, about three blocks north of the airport, the Chicago Tribune reported. As they walked north across the four-lane street, they stopped in the middle of the road to wait for a westbound bus to pass. However, the bus driver slowed down to let them cross.

Brazel had been following the bus in the same lane in his red Jeep Patriot, driving at least 45 mph in the 30 mph zone, prosecutors said. When the bus slowed down, he attempted to pass on the right, hitting the two pedestrians as they proceeded across the street. The male victim was struck in the leg, while Chavez was thrown into the air.

According to prosecutors, witnesses said Brazel did not hit his brakes during the crash and drove away at a high speed. A witness called police with the vehicle’s description and plate number and then followed Brazel through side streets and alleys as the fleeing man drove at up to 80 mph in an apparent effort to evade the witness.

The witness eventually located the Jeep parked near 59th Street and Neenah Avenue with front-end damage and a missing mirror, which was left at the crash site, according to prosecutors. Police apprehended Brazel as he was walking near 58th Street and Rutherford Avenue.

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Trying Out New Roll-on Bike Service on the Hiawatha Line to Milwaukee

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Maybe “Hoist-on service” would be more accurate, but simply handing your bike to an Amtrak worker is much more convenient than boxing and checking it. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

This morning as officials cut the ribbon for roll-on bike service on Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains, a whole new set of destinations that can easily be accessed without a car opened up for Chicago and Milwaukee residents.

While the Hiawatha line has allowed passengers to check boxed bikes as luggage for years, it’s a relatively expensive and cumbersome affair. There’s a $10 surcharge each way, the boxes are $15 if you purchase them from the railway, and then you have to dissemble your bike and box it up on each leg of the trip.

Now passengers can pay a mere $5 surcharge each way and simply roll their bikes up to the baggage car, where a staffer will hang it on a vertical bike rack. The one-way adult fare for the Hiawatha Service is $25, with discounts available for ten-ride tickets and monthly passes.

Reservations are required for the roll-on service. To reserve a space for your bike, select “add bike” when booking your trip online, on the phone at 800-USA-RAIL, or when using the ticket counters or the Quik-Trak SM kiosks at both stations. Only standard-size bikes are permitted.

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Bikes in the baggage car — some were more festive than others. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday I rode Metra to Kenosha, Wisconsin, with my bicycle (one-way weekday fare from the Ravenswood stop was $9) and then pedaled some 40 miles to Milwaukee for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by a dozen or two local bike advocates.

“We have worked with [the Wisconsin Department of Transportation] by thinking ‘out of the box’ and mounting 15 bike racks in the [baggage car] on each of the Hiawatha trains,” said Jim Brzezinski, Amtrak’s senior regional director for state corridors. “This will make bringing your bike along on these trips more welcoming and get you on your wheels and pedaling away immediately after arrival.”

“No assembly required, starting now for bicyclists,” said John Alley, WisDOT’s transit, local roads, railroads & harbors manager. “This saves our bicycling passengers money and makes their everyday journeys or vacation trips to explore Milwaukee and Chicago so much easier.”

When the folks with bikes approached the baggage car, Amtrak employees cheerfully hauled their cycles onboard. I was asked to remove my panniers beforehand.

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