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Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

Virginia Hamman brings 4,000 petitions against proposed farmland-destroying tollway

Virginia Hamman, a property owner who would be affected by the Illiana Tollway, asked the policy committee to vote against the project last year.

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO TO 2040 Plan.

The CMAP Board will meet on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the proposed GO TO 2040 update [PDF]. The award-winning plan lists all major capital projects proposed for the region. All projects, both highway expansion and new transit lines, must be listed on the plan in order to receive federal funding. Governor Pat Quinn earlier persuaded Metra and Pace to vote in favor of adding the Illiana Tollway to GO TO 2040, thereby shrinking their own available funding. Both CMAP’s Board and MPO Policy Committee will vote on whether to adopt the plan update at a joint meeting in October.

The plan update is an opportunity for the Sierra Club, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to make their case that the Illiana Tollway should be struck from the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The Active Transportation Alliance also wants the plan to drop Illiana: executive director Ron Burke told me, “Yes, take it out. We opposed its inclusion in the first place.” He added that what Active Trans said a year ago – a vote for Illiana is a vote against transit – holds true today.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also submitted a comment to CMAP head Randy Blankenhorn, reiterating her earlier opposition to the project. She criticized the Illiana Tollway because it would require $250 million in taxpayer dollars at a minimum (but honestly up to $1 billion) to jumpstart the project, and that beyond that the state of Illinois would be responsible for any financial shortcomings. Preckwinkle stated, “it would be irresponsible of me to support a project like this that will compromise other, more fully vetted transportation improvements with greater benefits for Cook County, metro Chicago and Illinois.”

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“Trick Out Your Trip” With ioby and TransitCenter

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Photo: ioby

How would you improve your transit experience? OK, maybe not with a Persian rug and a harpist. But shelter and a place to sit couldn’t hurt, right? And how about some better lighting and safer pedestrian features along your way to the stop?

Those small, inexpensive improvements are the target of a new campaign by TransitCenter and the crowdfunding platform ioby. TransitCenter will be offering match funds to support “at least 10 ioby projects” aiming to improve the transit experience. That means you need to crowdfund support for your idea on ioby, and then TransitCenter will match it — up to $4,000. Projects shouldn’t exceed a $10,000 total budget.

Unlike grants to transit agencies — marked by cumbersome red tape and big money for big equipment — this process is led by the transit user. TransitCenter and ioby are out to “put riders at the center of creating, funding, implementing and stewarding amenities, entertainment, convenience and comfort in transit hubs,” according to ioby co-founder Erin Barnes.

The organizations call the matching fund campaign “Trick Out My Trip,” and they’re hoping to find cheap and easy ways to make the commuter experience “faster, more reliable, more comfortable (in terms of lighting, sounds, temperature and smell), safer, with more opportunities to get home faster (with pedestrian friendly paths, carpooling or bike sharing) and to take care of other errands as part of the commute (to go to the post office, library or grocery), and to make it easy on the people who need better transit options most, like families, the very young and the very old.”

Bike-share, ride-share, and pedestrian improvements are also fair game. TransitCenter and ioby are up for funding improvements to any mode of “clean transportation.”

“While we always support better service overall, we hope small-scale projects will inspire institutions and governments and other communities to consider non-capital improvements for their customers, the riders of public transportation,” says Shin-pei Tsay of TransitCenter.

You have until October 6 to let them know you’re interested. Visit ioby for details.

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CBS 2 Presents the Windshield Perspective on Loop BRT

Construction work to build the $32 million Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project has been postponed until next year, but workers are already out replacing utility lines on downtown streets to prepare for the project. CBS 2 anchor Rob Johnson responded with a faux exposé that trots out tired clichés about the city’s purported war on cars.

“We noticed crews digging up Loop street after street with no seeming plan,” he intones. “Then we started digging and found a city plan to radically alter the heart of the Loop.” Quite the scoop, except that the BRT project, announced back in February of 2013, has been in the news for a year and a half.

The system will run between Union Station and Michigan, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station. The city has said time-saving features will cut 7.5 minutes off a roundtrip across the Loop. As part of the project, workers will build a protected bike lane between the bus lane and the curb on Washington.

“If you commute to downtown Chicago for work, your life is about to change,” Johnson warns before setting off to interview people in automobiles. “City planners have decided to move buses and bikes ahead of cars.”

“I hate it,” says one motorist. “It’s crazy. Guess I’ll be on that bus.” CBS apparently couldn’t be troubled to interview an actual bus rider who would appreciate the faster ride.

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The Letter to the Times That Foresaw NYC’s Biking Triumph 10 Years Ago

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

With the recent news that Bicycling Magazine has named New York America’s best city for biking, this seems like a particularly good moment to share the very first time protected bike lanes were mentioned in The New York Times.

It happened on October 10, 2004, in a letter to the editor from a man named Kenneth Coughlin. It was a response to a personal narrative the previous week from a young Times reporter who had made the daring decision to start riding her bicycle to work. In that article, then-Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall had made the prediction that New York City could one day be “one of the world’s great bicycling cities.”

It seemed like an obviously ridiculous claim. In a city of 8.2 million, fewer than 20,000 New Yorkers biked to work at the time. There was no Streetsblog, no Summer Streets, certainly no Citi Bike. The Times reporter, Lydia Polgreen (later a decorated Times correspondent in Africa, now the newspaper’s deputy international editor), described an incident in which she spent 20 minutes just looking for a place to lock her bike. Still, Polgreen came away from her first summer of bike commuting convinced that New York (“flat and compact … perfectly suited to biking”) had potential.

You can still find Coughlin’s 151-word reply to Polgreen on the NYT’s website. Here it is:

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Cyclist Killed in Collision With Driver Is Bridgeport’s 2nd Bike Fatality in 2014


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The crash site from the cyclist’s point of view.

A 20-year-old bicycle rider who died after a collision with a Jeep driver was the second person killed in a bike crash in the Bridgeport neighborhood this year.

On May 29, Suai Xie, 59, was cycling on the 2900 block of South Poplar when she was fatally struck by van driver Gabriel Herrera, 65. After Herrera fled the scene, police were able to track him down via his plate number. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a death, as well as failure to render aid and give information.

Last night around 11 p.m., Jacob Bass was riding a bike westbound on the 700 block of West 33rd Street, according to Officer Bari Lemmon from News Affairs. At the intersection of 33rd and Emerald Avenue, Bass was involved in a crash with the driver of a southbound Jeep Wrangler.

Police records state that the cyclist ran a red light at the intersection and “hit the vehicle,” according to Lemmon. Bass was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Police ticketed the motorist for driving without a valid license, Lemmon said.

David Ziemba, 20, who lives near the intersection, told DNAinfo.com that he heard the crash, and then looked out the window to see Bass sprawled on the pavement with his backpack and shoes scattered a few feet away from his body. A friend of the victim stood over him and called for help. “He was crying and yelling ‘Wake up wake up’ and ‘He’s my best friend,’” Ziemba said.

This intersection is unusual in that it’s a junction of two side streets with a stoplight, rather than stop signs. There is also a stoplight a block east at Union Avenue, a northbound side street. Ziemba said that 33rd and Emerald is a dangerous place for both cyclists and drivers, adding that a friend of his was struck by a motorist there about a week ago, but escaped with minor injuries.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths

Pedestrian: 19 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 5 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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More Women Signing Up for Divvy, But Not Necessarily Riding

Divvy use by women members

Many women signed up for Divvy annual memberships in months coinciding with promotions.

The rate at which women are signing up for new Divvy memberships is slowly increasing, but the rate at which female members use Divvy for trips is increasing even more slowly.

35.7 percent of annual Divvy subscribers identified themselves as women as of the end of August. This is the highest it’s been since Divvy started selling memberships in May 2013, and well above the low of 30.4 percent in July 2013.

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., began with a similar situation: at the beginning, only 40 percent of new members were women. After a year and a half of operation, the ratio flipped and 64 percent of new members were women.

Women made 27 percent of Divvy subscriber trips in August. That’s also an increase from 21 percent during the previous reporting period (June to December 2013), but considerably less than the sign-up rate.

Surprisingly, the percent of Divvy trips made by women is still slightly lower than the 28 percent of Chicago bike commutes made by women. Divvy is convenient for non-work trips, which constitute a higher proportion of the trips that women make nationally – 86.2 percent, compared with 82.4 percent of men’s trips.

In addition to tracking the current share of members by sex, Divvy also tracks new member sign-ups by sex. Women accounted for nearly half of memberships activated in February and in July, coinciding with the deadline to activate discounted memberships purchased via a Groupon promotion, and with the promotion of June (also Bike To Work Month) as the first “Women’s Bike Month.”

Divvy’s deputy manager Elliot Greenberger said reaction to Women’s Bike Month was positive. Almost 43 percent of new members in June, and just over 43 percent in July, were women. Greenberger said “over 80 female riders wrote in to tell us why they ride bikes, and there was a lot of excitement about the idea of celebrating female riders.”

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Does Chicago Deserve to Be Ranked the Nation’s Second Best Bike City?

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Biking in the Dearborn protected lanes. Photo: Steven Vance

When I heard that Bicycling Magazine gave Chicago second place in its “America’s Best Bike Cities” ratings, just behind New York and two slots above Portland, I was puzzled. However, I’m starting to warm up to the idea that our city and NYC deserve credit for taking bold action to improve cycling.

Few people would argue that Chicago, where dangerous driving and torn-up pavement are commonplace, is currently a more pleasant place to cycle than Portland, which fell to fourth place from its top ranking in 2012. Plus, our bike commute mode share — the percentage of trips to work made by bicycle — is only 1.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. That’s less than a quarter of the Rose City’s 6.1 percent.

New York’s 2012 mode share was even less than ours, at only one percent. Minneapolis, with a mode share of 3.8 percent, took third place this year — down a notch from second in Bicycling’s 2012 rankings. Washington, D.C., whose mode share was 3.6 percent, dropped from fourth place to fifth. Chicago was in fifth place last time.

These kinds of magazine ratings largely exist to boost newsstand sales, and Bicycling’s current rankings shake-up has already succeeded in garnering plenty of ink from other publications. One could argue that the Best Bike Cities ratings are arbitrary, and a little silly, but they do have a purpose. They create competition between the leading cities, and encourage less bike-friendly towns to improve. For example, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has made cracking Bicycling’s top-ten rankings a signature goal.

Rahm Emanuel has taken notice of the new ratings. “Chicago is a national leader in building new and improved cycling facilities, and we are setting a new standard for other cities to follow,” he said in a statement today. “This new ranking by Bicycling Magazine demonstrates that Chicago is on the right path to becoming the best cycling city in America.”

Frankly, I was a little disappointed by this relatively humble response from the mayor who bragged two years ago that he planned to take all of Seattle’s bikers and tech jobs. Since the Emerald City came in at eighth place this year, Emanuel missed a chance to razz his former deputy transportation chief Scott Kubly, who recently defected to become Seattle’s commissioner.

While Bicycling’s rankings are subjective, they do have some quantitative backbone. New York and Chicago got credit for having steadily rising rates of bike commuting. Between 2000 and 2012, Chicago’s mode share rose more than 150 percent, from 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, while Portland and Minneapolis’ mode shares have leveled off in recent years. The 2013 Census estimates, due later this month, are likely to show further improvement in Chicago and NYC.

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Fixing a Blank Wall Streetscape With Storefront Retrofits

Every city has places where the buildings present a blank face to the sidewalk. A dark, recessed arcade deadening the pedestrian environment or a soulless concrete wall fronting a windswept plaza.

Consultant Brent Toderian, formerly the planning director for the city of Vancouver, pointed out a cheap and easy solution to this problem. He calls them “blank wall retrofits,” storefronts that can be inserted over blank walls to add sidewalk-facing retail. He tweeted this great example in Calgary, Alberta:

This retrofit fits between the lobby and plaza of the brutalist Westin Calgary and the sidewalk.

“It’s a great technique for dealing with fundamentally flawed architecture that presents blank walls to streets and public places,” Toderian says. “Unlike ‘make-up on a pig’ — e.g. murals — this fundamentally changes the street edge condition. The pig is no longer a pig. It potentially changes un-urban to urban.”

We reached out to our readers to find more success stories. Here’s what they sent us.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Metra: All Told, Alex Clifford Settlement Cost $1.3 Million (Tribune)
  • Cyclist Struck and Killed by SUV Driver Is 2nd Bridgeport Bike Fatality This Year (DNA)
  • Gabe Klein Takes COO Job With a Black Line-Style Bus Pop-Up Bus Service (BostInno)
  • Driver Arrested After She Severely Injured a Pedestrian, Then Fled the Scene (Tribune)
  • Police Conduct Crosswalk Sting in Logan Square (DNA)
  • 48th Ward Provides and Update on the Argyle Shared Street Project
  • Speed Cams at 3 New Locations Start Issuing Warnings Today (Expired Meter)
  • A Wheel Problem: South Side Is Seeing an Epidemic of Car Tire Thefts (DNA)
  • How to Carry Your Suit to Work on Your Bike (Ding Ding)
  • Bill Savage: The Machine Gets Its Revenge on Ex-Mayor With “Jane Byrne Interchange” (Crain’s)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Quigley Pushes Pedals, Better Transportation Funding, on Bike Tour

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Quigley (center) with Merrell, 5th District staffer Emily Hampsten, Neufeld, and Amsden. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05) took a spin on some of our city’s next-generation bikeways with a city staffer and local advocates, as part of his “Mike on the Move” campaign to highlight how federal funding can support Chicago transportation infrastructure.

Quigley’s district covers a large swath of Chicago’s North Side and a few inner-ring suburbs. He’s the only Illinois rep currently serving on the House Appropriations Committee, where he’s a member of the transportation subcommittee.

The congressman helped win a $35 million Core Capacity grant for the CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization project, and he pushed for increased funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, which has bankrolled transit, bike, and pedestrian improvements.

Recently, Quigley successfully included language in the transportation subcommittee’s 2015 report calling on the Federal Highway Administration to create new safety performance measures for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. These would be used by states to track and reduce injuries and fatalities. He also fought against changes to legislation that would have blocked funding for transit, bike, and pedestrian projects.

Last month, Quigley kicked off his infrastructure campaign with a tour of Red, Purple and Brown Line infrastructure. Future excursions will highlight Metra, Chicago’s freight network, the Pace bus system, Divvy bike-share, and the Bloomingdale Trail.

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The route map.

Mike Amsden from the Chicago Department of Transportation led yesterday’s tour of North Side bike facilities, and the Active Transportation Alliance’s Jim Merrell and Randy Neufeld from the SRAM Cycling Fund came along for the ride. Starting at Milwaukee and Green in River North, Amsden showed Quigley the protected and buffered bike lanes that CDOT installed last year on Milwaukee. From there, they checked out new buffered lanes on Augusta, then headed north on the recently built neighborhood greenway on Wood.

After that, they rolled east on Cortland, where Quigley noticed the non-slip bridge plates on the bridge over the Chicago River. From there, they headed northwest on Clybourn, which is slated to become the first state-jurisdiction road in Illinois with protected lanes. Next they pedaled north on Damen to the Berteau Greenway, where Amsden showed the congressman how traffic calming and a contraflow lane transformed the street into a mellow, two-way bike route.

Before he got in the saddle, I asked Quigley a few questions about his crusade for better transportation infrastructure funding, as well as his biking habits.

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