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Eyes on the Street: A Miniature Complete Streets Overhaul on Clarendon

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Looking south on Clarendon, south of Irving Park. This stretch was formerly two-way for motor vehicles but now has a parking-protected contraflow bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Here’s a nice little livable streets makeover in Lakeview. The city recently converted the short stretch of Clarendon between Irving Park and Broadway, changing it from a two-way roadway for motorized traffic to a one-way northbound street for cars with a northbound conventional bike lane and a southbound, contraflow protected lane.

“CDOT received a request from [46th Ward alderman James] Cappleman to evaluate the intersection of North Broadway and Clarendon Avenue,” explained Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey. “Residents had expressed interest in redesigning the intersection in order to reduce conflicts between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, and to improve overall safety and accessibility.”

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The previous layout on Clarendon, looking south from Irving Park. The crossing distance for pedestrians has been significantly shortened. Image: Google Street View

CDOT performed a traffic study and evaluated several options before deciding on the new configuration, Claffey said. “This conversion removed the conflict between vehicles on southbound Clarendon at the Broadway and Clarendon intersection and vehicles and bicyclists on Broadway,” he said.

As a bonus, the protected lane and the concrete cap at the north end of the adjacent parking lane significantly shortens the crossing distance for pedestrians at the south leg of Irving Park and Clarendon. Construction was finished in November 2015 in conjunction with the repaving of this block of Clarendon.

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The Belmont Flyover Has Federal Approval But Still Faces Other Hurdles

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A crowded Red Line train during the morning rush. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

When I recently rode the Red Line downtown during the morning rush, my rail car was as packed as a sardine can by the time we left the Belmont stop. Damon Lockett, a copywriter who commutes daily from Edgewater to River North, told me that overcrowded trains are typical during peak hours nowadays.

“They don’t run enough trains,” said Lockett, who moved here from New York City about a year ago. “You’re waiting ten or 15 minutes for a train, while the platform’s just loading up with people.”

The CTA is planning to address overcrowding on north-side el lines with the upcoming Red-Purple Modernization project. This multibillion-dollar initiative will completely overhaul the nearly 100-year-old Red Line from Belmont to Howard and the Purple Line from Belmont to Linden, in suburban Wilmette.

The agency says the project’s single most important time-saving and capacity-building element is the Red-Purple Bypass, better known as the Belmont flyover. This $570 million proposal would unsnarl the junction north of Belmont—where Brown Line trains cross Red and Purple Line tracks—by building a roller-coaster-like overpass.’

The flyover, and the rest of the modernization plan, recently got the federal go-ahead after passing an environmental review by the Federal Transit Administration. Construction could start as early as late 2017. But hurdles to the project remain: the CTA still needs to find $1.9 billion in funding for the first phase of plan, and many central Lakeview residents are bitterly opposed to the flyover, which would require the demolition of 16 buildings.

Local transit experts and advocates argue that the flyover is essential for meeting future demand. Ridership along the Red Line corridor north of Belmont grew by 40 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.

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Eyes on the Street: Eight TOD Buildings Under Construction Along Milwaukee

500 N Milwaukee: The Kenect building overlooks a busy intersection

The “Kenect” pair of buildings at 500 N Milwaukee Ave, photographed last Thursday, will have 227 units and 88 car parking spaces. View all the photos in this gallery.

The Chicago City Council passed the first comprehensive transit-oriented development ordinance in 2013, and the first buildings to take advantage of that law, which reduced the minimum parking requirement and allowed smaller or more units in buildings near CTA and Metra stations, are now being built. Some of them will open to new residents this year.

The Milwaukee Avenue corridor is replete with construction. There are eight buildings at various stages of construction on Milwaukee, or one block away, between the Grand Blue Line station at Halsted and the California Blue Line station, a distance just over three miles.

Collectively the buildings have 1,146 units and 572 car parking spaces, for an average parking space to unit ratio of just under 0.50 spaces. That’s a savings of 574 parking spaces, and hundreds of fewer drivers in a pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and retail-heavy corridor.

2211 N Milwaukee: "The L" building really grabs that corner with Talman

“The L” at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave. (at Talman Ave.) will have 120 units and 60 car parking spaces, but also 120 bike parking spaces with an exclusive bike entrance.

The TOD ordinance at the time allowed a reduction of the normally required 1 parking space per unit to 1 car space per 2 units. City Council revised the ordinance on its two-year anniversary last year to extend the distance a building can be from a train station, and to allow a 100 percent reduction in the number of required car parking spaces for residential buildings. Developers can now build 51-100 percent fewer parking spaces than the 1:2 ratio if they go through an additional zoning process.

There are still no TOD buildings near Metra stations.

2237 N Milwaukee: Crane in the sky

The unnamed two towers development in Logan Square one block from the California Blue Line station was probably the most controversial. View all the photos in this gallery.

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Oboi Reed: Colombia Offers Lessons for the American Bike Equity Movement

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A Ciclovía worker in Bogotá. Photo: Oboi Reed

Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed has traveled to a number of biking hotspots around the U.S. this year, to learn about how other American cities are working to promote bike equity, and talk about his group’s efforts to encourage cycling in communities of color on Chicago’s South and West Sides. But his latest fact-finding journey took him further afield, to Colombia, South America, where he recently spent 11 days checking out car-free Ciclovía events and meeting with local city planners, bike advocates, and activists.

“I’ve been watching the work Colombia has done for biking from afar, and I’ve been incredibly inspired by the Ciclovía movement and had a desire to see Bogotá’s Ciclovía for myself,” he said. While organizations like the advocacy group People for Bikes have funded trips for American politicians, planners, and advocates to bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, Reed’s trip was paid for by Slow Roll Chicago, a nonprofit organization.

“I felt like there was too much focus in the U.S. on European cities as models for how to make American cities more livable,” Reed said. “But European cities don’t really resonate with low-to-moderate-income, black and brown people. We don’t really connect with Copenhagen or Stockholm culturally or historically, and there’s not a big presence of people of color in those cities, although there certainly is a presence.”

Reed adds that while American conversations about European-style cycling tend to focus on biking as a form of transportation, that’s not Slow Roll’s focus. “We would love that in our neighborhoods as well, but we are most interested in bicycles as a vehicle for social change, as a way to improve health, reduce violence, and create jobs. If you have no job, or you’re overweight, or you’re concerned about safety, we have to address those issues before we can convince you that bicycling is a form of transportation.”

Reed said Latin America, and particularly Colombia, has a lot the U.S. bike equity movement can learn from. “There’s a connection for our members of Latino descent, and in many countries there’s also a strong presence of African-descended people, which is the case in Colombia,” he said. “That allows us to make this social and cultural connection to biking that doesn’t really exist with these European models. And in Colombia, they’re using bicycles to address the same issues we’re working on: safety, health, and economic opportunity.”

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Reed in the La Candaleria district of Bogotá with a local professor and a staff member from the city agency that runs the Ciclovía. Photo: Oboi Reed

Before the trip, Reed did research on people and organizations to connect with in Colombia. Active Transportation Alliance campaign director Jim Merrell, who travels to the country regularly with his wife to visit family, helped put Reed in touch with bike community leaders in Bogotá, the capital and largest city, and Medellín, the second-largest city. Reed also got tips from the SRAM Cycling Fund‘s Randy Neufeld and Gil Peñalosa, the former parks commissioner of Bogotá who helped expand the Ciclovía and now runs the Ottawa-based livable streets organization 8 80 Cities.

While in Bogotá, Reed got to ride in the local Ciclovía twice, once with Oscar Ruiz, who’s the head of the city agency who runs the event. “He told me about the nuts and bolts of how it works,” Reed said. “The events draws more than 1.5 million people every Sunday and holiday in cities around the country.”

He also rode with Jaime Ortiz Mariño, a bike advocate who organized the very first Ciclovía in 1974, when the country was in the midst of a civil war. “He was concerned that a bomb would go off during the event,” Reed said. “But one of the leftist rebels was quoted in a newspaper saying, if there’s one thing we will never touch, it’s the Ciclovía, because that represents the people.”

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South Siders Spar Over Proposed Stony Island Protected Bike Lanes

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Elihu Blanks and Waymond Smith on Stony Island, a few blocks north of the Skyway access ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For much of its length, Stony Island Avenue is basically an expressway with stoplights. Located on the southeast side between 56th and 130th, it generally has eight travel lanes, the same number as Lake Shore Drive, although it carries half as many vehicles per day—35,000 versus 70,000. Due to this excess lane capacity, speeding is rampant.

The city has proposed converting a lane or two of Stony between 67th and 79th into protected bike lanes. Some residents, and Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, fear the “road diet” would cause traffic jams, and argue the street is too dangerous for bike lanes. Other neighbors say Stony is too dangerous not to have them.

According to the Chicago Crash Browser website, created by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, 53 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists were injured along Stony Island between 67th Street (the southern border of Jackson Park) and 79th Street (where access ramps connect Stony with the Chicago Skyway) between 2010 and 2013.

Two pedestrians and a person in a car  were killed in crashes on this stretch between 2010 and 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. Last year was unusually deadly, with two fatal pedestrian crashes and two bike fatalities.

The complex intersection of Stony Island, 79th, and South Chicago, a diagonal street, is particularly problematic. Located beneath a mess of serpentine Skyway access ramps, the six-way junction has terrible sightlines. It was the site of 444 traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013, the most of any Chicago intersection, according to CDOT.

Adding protected bike lanes could change this equation, making Stony, among other things, a useful bike route. Due to the Chicago Skyway and other barriers like railroad tracks, cul-de-sacs, and a cemetery, it’s one of the few continuous north-south streets in this part of town.

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CNT Study of D.C. Parking Could Pave the Way for Better Chicago Policies

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A screen shot from Park Right DC development tool, which Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology helped create.

Chicago’s City Council recently passed a beefed-up transit-oriented development ordinance that eliminates parking minimums for new residential buildings near transit. However, new development outside of the TOD zones still are still generally required to provide a parking space for every unit.

A report co-authored by Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology provides more evidence that this kind of arbitrary parking mandate is inappropriate. It makes an argument that instead of parking minimums, evidence-based projections should be used to determine how many – if any – spaces should be built. The study, which focused on Washington, D.C., was honored last week as the best transportation and land use paper of 2016 by the Transportation Research Board.

CNT did similar research in the Seattle metro area about five years ago when King County Metro, the region’s transit agency, hired the nonprofit to look at parking use at multiunit buildings in the area, according to CNT’s chief research scientist Peter Haas. A subcontractor did parking counts at about 230 buildings in downtown Seattle, the neighborhoods, and suburban areas, tallying the number of cars parked late at night on weekdays, to get a sense of the total number of automobiles owned by residents.

The King County study also took into account the building size, income levels of the residents, transit access, and the density of people and employment in the surrounding areas. “We found that just about everybody had built too much parking,” Haas said. “Only about 60 percent of the spaces were being used.”

Using that data, the researchers developed the King County Right Size Parking Calculator, which provides estimated projections of the number of parking spaces per unit that are likely to be used at multiunit developments in different parts of the county. Seattle has since changed its zoning to allow for zero off-street parking in new buildings on transit corridors.

Leaders in Washington, D.C. who wanted to make an argument for reducing parking minimums heard about the King County study. The D.C. transportation and planning departments contracted CNT and other consultants to do the same thing within the city limits.

This time, the researchers looked at about 120 buildings and did a statistical regression for factors like transit access, job access (with a breakdown for retail jobs), and walkability. Once again, they found that parking was overbuilt by about 40 percent. “That seemed odd, but when we brought it up with the people in D.C., they said that’s what they had estimated anecdotally,” Haas said.

The consultants used the data to create Park Right DC, a similar tool as the King County calculator. The DC version lets you zoom in on a neighborhood, click on one or more parcels, and predict how many parking spaces would be needed for various kinds of developments on the site. The DC projections range from 0.3 to 0.9 parking spaces per unit.

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City Tries to Avoid Liability by Calling Bike Lanes “Recreational Property”

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The crash site at 1124 North Damen. Image: Google Street View

At a hearing in the Circuit Court of Cook County last week, a judge denied a motion by the city of Chicago’s law department to dismiss a lawsuit by a female bicyclist who was seriously injured after she struck a hole in one of the Damen bike lanes. The law department argued that the bike lane is “recreational property” and, as such, the city should have limited liability. The plaintiff’s attorney, Brendan Kevenides from FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) argues that if the judge had accepted this reasoning, it would have set a dangerous precedent for local cyclists.

According to the lawsuit, on September 5, 2014, Kirstie Shanley was riding her bike near 1124 North Damen in Ukrainian Village when she struck a sinkhole, which was hard to see because it was filled with water and obscured by a puddle. Shanley, now a 35-year-old occupational therapist, was thrown over her handlebars and suffered significant facial injuries, including broken teeth and bad scarring, Kevenides said.

Following the crash, Shanley called local alderman Scott Waguespack’s office.  She told them what happened and that she planned to hire an attorney. Soon afterwards, the hole was fixed.  

Prior to the crash, someone had circled the hole with red spray paint, which indicated that the city was aware of the hole, according to Kevenides. “Who else would have marked that?” he said. “Of course the city is not responsible for keeping bike lanes in pristine condition – that would be impossible. But they should be held responsible for for failing to repair hazards in bike lanes that they’re aware of, or should be aware of.” Shanley is suing the city for more than $50,000.

Last fall, the law department filed the motion to dismiss, arguing that “the bike lane where Plaintiff claims she fell is recreational property for which the city has tort immunity.” The city cited Section 3-106 of the Tort Immunity Act [emphasis added in the motion]:

Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury where the liability is based on the existence of a condition of any public property intended or permitted to be used for recreational purposes, including but not limited to parks, playgrounds, open areas, buildings or other enclosed recreational facilities, unless such local entity or public employee is guilty of willful and wanton conduct proximately causing such injury.

The law department therefore claimed that, since the city hadn’t willfully or wantonly neglected the maintenance of the bike lane, the suit was invalid.

Law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey told me the department feels Kevenides has mischaracterized its actions. McCaffrey did not provide a full statement on the issue by press time. If they provide a statement, I’ll update this post.

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44-Unit TOD Building Proposed at an Abandoned Drive-Through in Bucktown

A rendering of the proposed building at 1920 N Milwaukee Ave. Image: Vequity/YouTube

A rendering of the proposed building at 1920 N Milwaukee Ave. Image: Vequity

A proposal for a transit-oriented development in Bucktown is going before the Chicago Plan Commission for approval this Thursday. River North-based developer Vequity wants to build a six-story residential tower with minimal parking at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Western avenues in Bucktown, right next door to the Western stop on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch.

Vequity needs the Plan Commission to approve a zoning change from the current manufacturing and low-density business designation to slightly higher-density mixed-use zoning. A shuttered title loan store has occupied the property for a few years. Before that it was a Checkers drive-through burger joint.

The proposal calls for 44 apartments but only ten car parking spaces, plus 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, or about three shops. The revised TOD ordinance passed last year eliminated the minimum parking requirement for residential buildings within two blocks of rapid transit stations.

Street view of 1920 N Milwaukee Ave

An abandoned title loan store, formerly a drive-through fast food restaurant, occupies a site that may become a mixed-use TOD building. Image: Google Street View

Vequity’s sales video (below) points out the fact that a Bloomingdale Trail access point is a block away. It also highlights how busy the intersection is, noting that over 6,000 people use the Blue Line station daily, while over 43,000 motorists and 6,000 bicyclists pass by each day.

By restoring the urban street wall at the corner and adding over 50 new residents, the new building would help make the intersection more vibrant. At six stories, it would be one level higher than the tallest nearby building, located across the street. Adding housing and retail density, without adding a lot of new parking, will make the neighborhood less car-dependent. Hopefully, pressure from neighbors won’t result in a shorter building with more parking spots.

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Report: In Chicago, Bike Amenities Correlate With Gentrication

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The Division Street bike lanes in Humboldt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The idea that new bike infrastructure is linked to of gentrification is nothing new in Chicago. Leaders of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community originally opposed bike lanes on the neighborhood’s Division Street business strip because they believed the city was installing the lanes mostly for the benefit of new, wealthier residents. And while the recently opened Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway has attracted an economically and ethnically diverse crowd of users, many longtime residents are worried that a real estate boom around the trail will displace low-income and working-class families.

Researchers at McGill University and the University of Quebec in Montreal wanted to lend credibility to the claims that cycling infrastructure and gentrification are related. In a study presented this week at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, Elizabeth Flanagan, Ahmed El-Geneidy and Ugo Lachapelle found a correlation between bike infrastructure and socioeconomic indicators related to gentrification in Chicago and Portland.

For the report, titled “Riding tandem: Does cycling infrastructure investment mirror gentrification and privilege in Portland, OR and Chicago, IL?,” the researchers looked changes in the rates of home ownership, home values, college education, age, employment, and race in neighborhoods between 1990 and 2010. Then they mapped these demographic changes alongside the locations of bike lanes, bike rack, and, in Chicago, Divvy stations.

While they found that dense neighborhoods and areas close to downtown tended to have infrastructure, they also found that demographic characteristics were a big factor. In Portland, changes in home ownership and education level had the largest influence. However, in Chicago, probably because our city is more diverse, race and home value also played a large role.

The study found that Chicago neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents are people of color are less likely to gentrify and have bike infrastructure. Interestingly, however, it also found that, in neighborhoods where 60 percent or more residents are white, a higher percentage of people of color corresponds with more bike infrastructure.

I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the report yet, but it appears that, unlike a recent League of American Bicyclists study that incorrectly claimed that Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 is inequitable, the Montreal researchers used accurate bike infrastructure data. It probably helped that Flanagan worked as a transportation planning intern at Bronzeville Bikes in the summer of 2014, which included discussing transportation equity issues with Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy staffers.

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Union Station Plan Moves Forward and Megabus is Moving Pick-Up Locations

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Union Station serves 120,000 riders each day. Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council

It looks like plans to renovate Union Station are on track. On Wednesday, City Council passed an ordinance that will move the Union Station Master Plan forward by authorizing an intergovernmental agreement between the Chicago Department of Transportation, Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority, and Amtrak.

The ordinance paves the way for the use of up to $500,000 of Chicago’s tax increment financing money to fund preliminary engineering and design work for the station. In addition, Metra is committing $1 million to the project, Amtrak is providing $3 million, and $1.5 million is coming from the RTA.

The city, Amtrak, Metra, RTA, and other stakeholders are collaborating on short-term improvements to Union Station that will increase passenger capacity by renovating and expanding the concourse and platforms. The project will also address safety, wheelchair accessibility, and general mobility issues at and around the station, according to the mayor’s office.

Passage of the ordinance comes weeks after President Obama signed into law the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill, aka the FAST Act. The bill expands the Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing program, which could be a key source of funding for the Union Station Master Plan, a long-term plan to redevelop the station and surrounding area.

“The ordinance approved today by the City Council represents an important step forward for our ambitious plan to modernize Union Station,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement. “We want to improve the experience for everyone who travels through Union Station and tap the potential that the station has to serve as an anchor for further economic development of the West Loop and surrounding neighborhoods.”

Amtrak recently issued a Request for Information from real estate developers asking for proposals to redevelop the Amtrak-owned station and surrounding land parcels. The passenger rail service is also in the process of hiring consultants to conduct planning, historic review and preliminary engineering work for the short-term term improvements to the station that are outlined in the master plan.

The design work will determine how best to widen platforms and corridors that often operate at or beyond their design capacity during peak times. It will also develop plans for adding elevators, escalators, and/or stairs from the widened platforms to street level and creating new pedestrian tunnels to the Ogilvie Transportation Center and the Blue Line Clinton Station.

The consultants will also prepare design plans for improving access to Union Station’s passenger terminal, including the Great Hall waiting room, which features a 110-foot-high ceiling with a barrel-vaulted skylight. The addition of a passenger elevator at the Canal Street entrance will improve wheelchair accessibility.

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