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Teens Help Spread the Word About the Bloomingdale Bridge Transplant

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The Ashland bridge removal. Image: Trust for Public Land

Tomorrow morning, early risers can catch what may be the most dramatic step in the process of converting the Bloomingdale Line to an elevated greenway and linear park. Starting around 5 a.m., crews will begin the process of transporting the rail line’s massive Ashland bridge 1.5 miles to its new home at Western.

“On Saturday, you’re going to see a bridge parade,” said Beth White, director of the local office of the Trust for Public Land, which is managing the Bloomingdale Trail project for the city and the Chicago Park District. The span will be rolled down Ashland, North and Western using a device called a self-propelled modular transporter, operated by remote by a crew member with a joystick.

“It’s a piece of very specialized machinery that moves very large things,” White said. “It has about 80 wheels. It’s the same piece of machinery that was used to move the space shuttle. You’ll see the machine move the bridge into place, and then they’ll secure the bridge, and the machine sort of collapses down and is taken away in pieces.”

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The Western bridge site. Photo: John Greenfield

The old Western bridge was the only one that was found to be structurally unsound for the Bloomingdale Trail, the centerpiece of the park network the city has dubbed The 606. Meanwhile, plans call for the trail to terminate at Walsh Park, on the west side of Ashland, although White says it will eventually be extended east to Elston.

In March, crews demolished the Western bridge and took down the Ashland bridge, which is currently sitting in a park district work yard just north of Wash Park. They also removed concrete from the line’s Milwaukee bridge, when will be elevated and enhanced with decorative arches.

“One of the goals of the sustainability plan for The 606 was to reuse and repurpose infrastructure,” White said. She estimates that recycling the Ashland bridge will save $300,000 compared to building a new Western bridge. “So it wasn’t just a case of, ‘It would be cool to repurpose the bridge.’”

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Female Cyclists Share Tips and Encouragement at Women on Wheels Summit

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Test riding a Divvy bike at the conference. Photo: Melissa Manak

“I became one with the biking culture,” said Angela Ford, discussing her personal cycling renaissance during the keynote speech at Women on Wheels, a conference hosted last Saturday in Pilsen by the group Women Bike Chicago. “This is what I’m gonna live,” she decided eight years ago.

The summit was the second annual “day of discussion and dialog” organized by Women Bike Chicago, an opportunity for women to share cycling stories and tips. The group’s goal is to encourage more women to ride in a city where 70 percent of people who bike to work are male, according to the 2010 Census. Attendees included veteran and newbie cyclists, ranging from seven to 67 years old.

Angela, who owns a real estate management firm specializing in environmentally friendly practices, said she gave up biking when she got her driver’s license at age 16. She got back into biking 18 years later when her son needed to learn to ride for a school outing. Since then, she’s gotten involved with promoting cycling to her peers as a strategy for maintaining health and wellness. “Let’s not let fear or all these other excuses take us away from it,” she told the audience. “I’m telling my girlfriends, ‘Ride with me once.’”

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Angela Ford. Photo: Melissa Manak

The conference included group sessions on bike commuting, visiting bike shops, planning routes, cycling with kids, “bike safety, comfort, and style,” and more. It also featured a corral where attendees could try out hybrid, road, touring and cargo bikes, and a Divvy representative was on hand to explain the bike-share program and offer test rides of the blue bikes. You could try your hand at loading a bike on a CTA bus rack, and learn basic bike maintenance skills like fixing a flat.

Anne Alt and Veronica Joyner hosted the session on commuting. They discussed how combining cycling with bus and rail can extend your travel range, explained how to use the bus racks, and noted that CTA and Metra staff are sometimes willing to help with carrying bikes on and off their vehicles.

The leaders of the ride-planning seminar shared several low-stress routes throughout the city. The session then split into groups to discuss two different routes. One group talked about the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated greenway that’s currently under construction on the Northwest Side. The other focused on a “sweets and treats” itinerary that got all the participants excited about summer and ice cream.

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11 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your City’s Buses

Turning at busy intersections costs buses time.

Turning at busy intersections slows down buses, so many transit agencies are simplifying routes to speed up service. Photo: Steven Vance

All across America, city buses are waiting. Waiting at stoplights, waiting behind long lines of cars, waiting to pull back into traffic, waiting at stops for growing crowds of passengers. And no, it’s not just your imagination: Buses are doing more waiting, and less moving, than they used to. A recent survey of 11 urban transit systems conducted by Daniel Boyle for the Transportation Research Board found that increased traffic congestion is steadily eroding travel speeds: The average city bus route gets 0.45 percent slower every single year. That’s especially discouraging given how slowly buses already move, with a typical bus averaging only 13.5 mph.

Transit agencies are taking action against the waits. A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds” surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.

  1. Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
  2. Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
  3. Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
  4. Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
  6. Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
  7. Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
  8. Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
  9. Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible “headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
  10. Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
  11. Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.

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Benched: How Does National Bike & Walk Benchmark Rank Chicago?

Yesterday, the Alliance for Biking & Walking released its 2014 Benchmarking Report, which details data and trends about bicycle and walking infrastructure in all U.S. states and in the 52 largest cities. The report enables both public officials and advocates to evaluate how their communities stack up, compared to other communities. It also provides concrete examples of innovative pedestrian and bicycle projects nationwide. How does Chicago compare?

Source: Alliance for Biking & Walking Benchmark report.

At the national level, bicycling and walking to work have slightly risen or remained flat over the past nine years. In Chicago, 6.3 percent of commuters walk and 1.3 percent bike, more than in the average city, yet still far below cities like Minneapolis (3.6 percent bicycle) or Boston (15 percent walk).

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Alderman Beale Opposes Extending Red Line South on Halsted

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95th Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday’s Sun-Times update on the CTA’s proposed South Red Line extension included some interesting details about the project, as well as a few misguided comments about transit from 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, who is also the chair of City Council’s transportation committee.

The CTA is considering two rail routes for the $2 billion, roughly five-mile extension. Bus rapid transit is a third possibility under consideration. One rail alternative would follow existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks, initially paralleling Eggleston, a half mile west of the current terminus at 95th and State.  After continuing south for a few miles, the route would gradually make its way southeast to 130th and King, by the Altgeld Gardens housing project. For this option, the CTA plans to build new stations at 103rd, 111th, 115th, and 130th. View a map of the route here. The agency selected this scenario as the “locally preferred alternative” in 2009 based on initial analysis and public feedback.

The other rail option would travel down Halsted, through a more densely populated area. From the 95th station, it would travel in the median of I-57 until reaching Halsted, where it would operate as an elevated train and continue to Vermont Avenue, just south of 127th. Stops would be located at 103rd, 111th, 1119th, and Vermont. View a map of the route here.

While several Metra lines serve this part of the South Side, the proposed station locations for both rail options would mean that the ‘L’ stops would generally be several blocks from the nearest Metra station. That way, the Red Line service wouldn’t necessarily be redundant, but would instead provide convenient transit access for new areas of the city.

However, a total of up to 2,000 parking spaces is proposed for the four new Red Line stops, which seems excessive. The potentially valuable land around the stations shouldn’t be largely used for warehousing cars. Instead, the focus should be on developing housing, retail, and other uses that take advantage of the proximity to rapid transit.

Beale, who was briefed on the two options Tuesday, was enthusiastic about the UPRR route, but expressed a strong distaste for building ‘L’ tracks on Halsted. “Halsted Street is wide open,” he said. “Putting elevated tracks down the middle of the street would disrupt the integrity and cosmetics of Halsted. It would hurt existing businesses.

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5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S.

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While walk and bike commute rates aren’t changing rapidly, since 2005 walking to work has ceased a long-term decline, and biking to work has started to rise after many years of stagnation. All graphics: Alliance for Walking and Biking.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released its big biannual benchmarking report today, a 200-page document that measures the scope, status, and benefits of biking and walking across the United States, using 2011 and 2012 data to update its previous reports.

Streetsblog will be running a series of posts looking at the Alliance’s findings over the next few days. To start it all off, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Biking and walking are growing — slowly

Nationwide, 3.4 percent of commuters got to work by foot or bike in 2011 and 2012.

In those two years, walking accounted for 2.8 percent of work trips, up from 2.5 percent in 2005 but not perceptibly different than any year since. Nationwide, bike commute mode share stood at 0.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.4 percent in 2005 but not much different than when the previous benchmarking report came out two years ago.

The Alliance calls this a continuation of the “very gradual trend of increasing biking and walking to work.”

2. But walking to work is growing more noticeably in cities

In the 50 largest cities, however, a recent increase in walking is somewhat more discernible. The walking commute share rose to 5 percent in 2012 — half a percentage point higher than in 2005. Meanwhile, bike commuting in the 50 largest cities rose to 1 percent mode share in 2012 from 0.7 percent in 2005.

Boston had the highest share of walking commuters at 15 percent, and Portland had the highest share of bike commuters at 6.1 percent.

Keep in mind that these mode-share numbers are based on the Census, which only counts people who bike or walk for the longest part of their commute more than three days a week. As we’ll see, this understates total biking and walking activity.

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Updates in Bobby Cann, Hector Avalos Cases

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Bobby Cann and Hector Avalos.

Hearings were recently held for the cases of Robert “Bobby” Cann and Hector Avalos, two Chicago cyclists who were killed by allegedly drunk drivers in separate incidents last year. Each case continues to progress slowly.

On the evening of May 29, Cann, 26, was riding from work at the nearby Groupon offices when motorist Ryne San Hamel, 28, struck him at the intersection of Clybourn and Larabee in Old Town. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

The case’s latest status hearing took place Friday at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California, with about 20 Cann family and supporters in attendance, according to Kate Conway, an attorney for the family. The State’s Attorney’s office had expects that tests on San Hamel’s car and analysis of other evidence for reconstructing the events of the crash would be completed by then. However, a brake expert is currently examining the car to determine what speed it was going and what, if any, braking occurred.

San Hamel’s attorney filed a motion requesting documents related to the blood test on the driver that was performed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, perhaps in an attempt to invalidate the test results, Conway said. That evidence will first go to Judge William Hooks, who will determine whether it is admissible in the case, according to victim advocate Sharon Johnson from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

“To me that seems like a time extension tactic by the defense,” Johnson said. “My guess is that it won’t reveal anything, but it will make the case longer, which is hard on the victim’s family.” The next hearing for the criminal case was set for May 23.

In March, the Cann family filed a wrongful death suit against San Hamel and his business, AllYouCanDrink.com, a bar promotions website. The defense has not yet responded to the complaint. The initial hearing is scheduled for June 4.

On Tuesday, there was a status hearing at the county courthouse for Avalos’ case. A 28-year-old former marine and aspiring chef, he was biking on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park on December 6, when Robert Vais, 54, fatally struck him from behind. He is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges.

Avalos’ mother, grandmother, young brother and sister, and a few friends, as well as a coworker of Cann and representatives of AAIM and the Active Transportation Alliance, attended the hearing, according to the family’s lawyer, Michael Keating. “There was a very nice turnout in support of Hector,” Keating said.

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Could IDOT Bike Plan Represent a Turning Point for the Car-Centric Agency?

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Cover of the executive summary for the bike plan.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has a long history of promoting driving before all other modes. However, its new Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, released this morning at the Illinois Bike Summit in Champaign, may represent a new direction for the department.

In recent years, IDOT has pushed wasteful, destructive highway projects like the Circle Interchange Expansion and the Illiana Tollway, and it recently released a “Purpose and Need” statement for the North Lake Shore Drive rehab that was written largely from a windshield perspective.

When the department launched the public input process for the state bike plan last summer, it was still prohibiting Chicago from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city, apparently for reasons that had nothing to do with safety. It seemed ironic that IDOT was seeking input on strategies for improving bike safety when its own policy undermined it.

In October, at a memorial for Robert “Bobby” Cann, a cyclist who was killed by a motorist on Clybourn, a state road, it was announced that IDOT was lifting the PBL ban. The agency is currently working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to design protected bike lanes on Clybourn, possibly shielded by concrete curbs, on an experimental basis.

This morning, the Active Transportation Alliance heralded the release of the bike plan, which calls for improvements to state road design and more funding for bike safety projects, as a sign of IDOT’s growing commitment to improving conditions for non-motorized transportation. “This is not an easy task given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking,” the Active Trans release said.

“With the adoption of its Complete Streets policy in 2007, its plans to pilot-test protected bike lanes on state routes, and now the state bike plan, I think it’s fair to say IDOT is turning the corner, so to speak, toward a multi-modal approach that provides a range of transportation options for Illinois residents,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke in a statement.

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Tell IDOT to Rehab LSD as a Complete Street, Not a Speedway

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This bus stop on Inner Lake Shore Drive at Addison is an unwelcoming space for riders. Image: Google Street View

On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Transportation kicked off the feedback process for the the North Lake Shore Drive rehabilitation’s future alternatives analysis, at the third meeting of the project’s task forces. During the previous two meetings, it seemed like IDOT would insist upon just another highway project, with minimal benefits for pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists. Yet as the process of determining the lakefront highway’s future has evolved, some hope that the project can be steered in a more positive direction.

When the city of Chicago began building LSD in the late 1800s, the road was designed to be a place where one could take a leisurely ride to enjoy views of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Today, an average of 161,000 cars use the drive on a daily basis, few of them leisurely partaking in the view. IDOT estimates that 78 to 95 percent of drivers break the posted 45 mph (40 mph in winter) speed limit. In the highest-speed section, nine percent of drivers were doing more than 70 mph.

Several of the CTA’s busiest bus routes also use Lake Shore Drive. Around 69,000 passengers ride on the 970 local and express buses that ply the Drive every day, many of them residents of high-density lakefront neighborhoods. That’s almost as many passengers as the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch carries daily, and more than twice as many riders as dedicated busways in other cities, like Cleveland’s HealthLine and Los Angeles’ Orange Line.

Yet unlike those passengers, those riding LSD buses frequently get bogged down by car traffic. Northbound bus commuters who use stops along Inner Lake Shore Drive have to wait for the bus on narrow sidewalks, with only a thin fence and guardrail separating them from high-speed traffic on the main road. At intersections were buses get on and off the drive, there are complex interchanges with tight turns.

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How Will a New FRA Rule Affect Commuter Rail?

Misguided safety rules from the Federal Railroad Administration are cited as the cause for all sorts of problems, from high-construction costs to pedestrian hazards to, ironically, worse safety outcomes.

Would a new FRA regulation dampen commuter rail expansion across the U.S.? Photo: Richard Masoner via Flickr

Transit observers are concerned that a new FRA regulation may hamper commuter rail expansion. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Which helps explain why Jarret Walker at Network blog Human Transit is alarmed about a new rule “requiring two-person train crews… for most main line freight and passenger rail operations.” It’s “much too soon to panic,” Walker says, but he was still compelled to send the FRA his concerns about how this might play out for commuter rail:

The language creates a reasonable suspicion you are about to ban one-person crews on urban commuter rail services regulated by the FRA, which usually fall within FRA’s use of the term “passenger rail.” While the text is unclear about what “minimum crew size” standard it proposes for “passenger rail,” it makes no sense that you would need to “establish minimum crew size standards” if the intended minimum were one.

Your release mentions later that the rule is expected to contain “appropriate exceptions.” It would be wise to give the transit and urban development worlds some assurance that you don’t plan to shut down the possibility of one-person-crew urban transit — using FRA-regulated rail corridors — through this rule. Such services — similar to existing commuter rail but with higher frequency and smaller vehicles — are one of the best hopes for cost-effective new rail transit in the US.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Velo reports that Indianapolis is getting ready to launch its bike-share system. Strong Towns gives advice for communities that don’t have much of a biking and walking culture but are trying to change that. And Urban Review STL reports that a new hospital expansion in St. Louis is coming with an immense parking garage.