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Posts from the "Transportation" Category

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Business Owners on Elston Won’t Fight Buffered Bike Lanes

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Biking on Elston, just west of Ashland. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s official: business owners along the Elston industrial corridor are giving up their fight against better bike lanes on the street.

In December, when Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” However, transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld wrote Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the industrial council, last month pointing out that there’s already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and 26 percent of crashes resulting in injuries involve cyclists. She also noted that ANBR would add half a mile to a bike trip downtown, and the infrastructure could cost 100 times as much as the buffered lanes.

At the end of March, CDOT project manager Mike Amsden presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, to North Branch Works, and now the council is grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes are slated for construction in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Elston Has a Speeding Problem — A Safe Bike Lane Can Help

Without protected bike lanes on Elston, bicyclists will continue to get the truck route squeeze

Without protected bike lanes on Elston, bicyclists will continue to get squeezed between trucks.

To reach Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of having five percent of trips under five miles made by bike, bicycling will have to appeal to a much broader base of people than it does today. CDOT’s bikeway projects will only succeed at that goal if new cyclists feel safe and comfortable while riding in these lanes — which, in turn, largely depends on whether they feel safe from nearby traffic.

Elston Avenue, where a proposal for buffered bike lanes has proven contentious, is a good place to measure how fast people are driving — and whether bike lanes provide sufficient separation from speeding cars. CDOT has proposed a buffered bike lane from North Avenue to Webster Avenue, and, at some point in the future, an extension further north through Avondale and beyond. The North Branch Works business association isn’t pleased with the proposal, saying that it will impede truck traffic.

John Greenfield and I spent last Tuesday morning measuring drivers’ speeds at two different locations on Elston. We used our new radar speed gun — donated by Streetsblog readers — to collect data on northbound drivers on Elston at Blackhawk/Magnolia, where Elston bends slightly, and on Elston at Willow, next to the Creative Scholars Preschool. The Blackhawk/Magnolia intersection is part of the stretch of Elston that has a bike lane separated from traffic by flexible posts, and the Willow intersection is part of CDOT’s new project area.

The proportion of speeders was high at both locations. At Blackhawk/Magnolia, 37.6 percent of drivers exceeded the 30 mph speed limit, and at Willow, 32.3 percent of drivers were speeding. We measured vehicle speeds for 15 minutes at each location, capturing 100 drivers apiece. While ideally a larger sample would be collected to gauge the extent of speeding, our measurements suggest there is a higher proportion of speeders on Elston than on other bike routes known for high speeds, like Marshall Boulevard and 55th Street.

High motor vehicle speeds not only pose a danger to people who bike, they also discourage people from biking in the first place by increasing the perception of risk. Likewise, bikeways that provide greater separation from speeding traffic not only reduce the risk of injury, they also lead more people to bike by increasing the perception of safety. To compensate for the high level of speeding on Elston — and the preponderance of truck traffic — the street should have the safest bicycle infrastructure available.

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Chicago Building Four Miles of Protected Bike Lanes This Year

Can you believe this road was expanded from 4 lanes to 6?

CDOT will install a buffered bike lane on Harrison Street through this asphalt monstrosity built for the Congress Parkway interchange expansion.

The City of Chicago announced a new slate of bikeway projects today, outlining about 15 miles of new buffered bike lanes and a little more than four miles of protected lanes to be built in 2014.

Under the plan for this year, protected bikeway construction in Chicago would continue to outpace every other American city except perhaps for New York. But the city still embellishes its progress by counting buffered lanes as protected lanes, saying that it is already halfway to the goal of building 100 miles of protected lanes by 2015. (In fact, just under 17 miles of protected bike lanes have been built.)

It’s unfortunate that the city continues to mislabel buffered bike lanes, not only because it’s misleading but because it cheapens the substantial progress being made in Chicago — often in the face of difficult obstacles like the Illinois Department of Transportation ban on protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction streets, including Clybourn Avenue and parts of Elston Avenue. (The ban has now been lifted on a trial basis on Clybourn.)

This year, about 4.25 miles of new bike lanes will be physically protected from traffic by parked cars and/or flexible posts. CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden said in December that the city is considering using curbs for protection on Clybourn Avenue from Division Street to North Avenue — a stretch that traverses the intersection where cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by drunk driver Ryne San Hamel — and State Street south of 26th Street. The news release says this is still being designed. (CDOT said at the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting in March that curb separation was “still on the table.”)

The new protected bike lanes are:

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Jefferson Parkers Can Vote for Bike Lanes, Metra Improvement in PB Election

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Conventional bike lanes on Lawrence could be upgraded to buffered lanes. Image: Google Street View

Last year, residents of the 45th Ward, made up largely of the Jefferson Park neighborhood, had the opportunity to vote for a number of outside-the-box transportation projects in the ward’s participatory budgeting election. Most of those proposals, including bike lanes on Lawrence and Milwaukee, and on-street bike parking corrals, didn’t win, but voters did opt to spend $125,000 of the ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funds to install a new pedestrian crossing light at the Jefferson Park Transit Center.

This year, in the ward’s second PB election, there are fewer livable streets projects to choose from, but the proposal to stripe buffered bike lanes on Lawrence, from Cicero to Long, is back on the ballot. Voters can also opt to replace the fences on a pedestrian bridge over the Kennedy that serves the Gladstone Park Metra station.

Alderman John Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh says Arena decided to bring back the PB process this year because last year’s election succeeded in getting constituents more involved with their community – over 650 people voted. “This is the taxpayer’s money, and the taxpayers should have a direct voice in how we’re spending it,” Brugh said. “This really gives them the power to make important decisions that will affect the ward for years to come.”

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CNT and Active Trans Launch “Transit Future” Funding Campaign

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Map showing potential expansion of the local rapid transit system. Image: CNT

On Monday, Governor Quinn’s Northeast Illinois Public Transit Taskforce released its final report, underscoring the need for better funding for regional transit. Yesterday, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance launched a new campaign, dubbed “Transit Future,” to raise that money via a new Cook County-based revenue stream that would help the region leverage federal dollars.

Transit Future calls on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to create a dedicated funding source for maintaining and expanding the transit system in Chicago and the rest of the county. Creating this revenue stream would allow the region to take advantage of federal funding sources like America Fast Forward, which provides long-term, low interest loans to cities for construction projects.

The campaign is inspired by the successful drive to raise $40 billion for public transportation in Los Angeles, which is bankrolling the largest expansion of transit in the region’s history. That campaign, called Move LA and spearheaded by former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Santa Monica mayor Denny Zane, led to voters approving a half-cent sales tax increase in a 2008 referendum called Measure R. By 2013, four new transit lines had opened, with two more under construction.

Villaraigosa and Zane, as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook Count Board President Toni Preckwinkle, showed up to support Transit Future at a launch party last night at the University Club of Chicago, 76 East Monroe. A map on display at the event showed the potential for expanding the local rapid transit system.

In addition to well-publicized projects that will extend the South Red Line and build bus rapid transit on Chicago’s Ashland Avenue, the map shows other line extensions and new routes outlined in the region’s GO TO 2040 plan. Existing lines could be expanded to suburban destinations like Old Orchard, Schaumburg, Oak Brook, and Ford City, while new north-south lines could parallel Cicero Avenue and connect O’Hare and Midway airports.

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for policy at CNT and director of Transit Future, emceed the event. “Building a world-class transit system requires a steady, long-term investment,” she told the crowd. “We’ve been falling short. There are over $20 billion in potential projects that are just sitting on the shelf that will help us to expand and improve our system, so that we can’t afford to fall short any longer.”

Emanuel told the audience that a coordinated effort between the city and county to create dedicated transit funding could unlock the region’s economic potential. “Our ability to recruit new companies, our ability to see companies expand, our ability for families to go from where they live to work, is dependent on a 21st Century public transportation system,” he said. “Because people years ago made a great investment, Chicago had the opportunity to become the city it is. For us to become the city we want to be, we have to continue to make that commitment to our public transportation system.” He noted that the city is already taking advantage of federal transportation loans for projects like the Red Line’s 95th Street station rehab and the Chicago Riverwalk extension.

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Eyes on the Street: Pedestrian Islands Taking a Beating From Drivers

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Refuge island at Chicago and Hoyne, as it looked on Monday. Photo: John Greenfield

Pedestrian islands make walking across a street safer and easier. At signalized intersections, they allow individuals who might have trouble crossing the street in a single walk cycle, such as people with disabilities, seniors and parents with small children, to make a partial crossing and then safely wait for the next cycle. At unsignalized crosswalks, they allow everybody to cross half of the street when there’s no oncoming traffic to the left, and then wait safely until the coast is clear on the right. However, Chicago drivers sure dish out plenty of abuse to these concrete refuges.

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The Chicago/Hoyne island in 2011. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Department of Transportation installed this island at Chicago and Hoyne in Ukrainian Village in 2009. Drivers knocked out the diamond-shaped pedestrian sign on the island in the above photo on at least two occasions. More recently, CDOT replaced that sign with a “Stop for Pedestrians Within Crosswalk” placard, which is designed to bounce back up when struck. When I dropped by Monday, that has also been torn out of the brickwork, and several bricks were missing from the corner of the island.

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Eyes on the Street: Windy City Limousine Blocks Downtown Bike Lanes

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Windy City Limousine buses are frequently found blocking Chicago’s precious few downtown bike lanes. Photos: Brian Elmore

As if bicycling downtown, where there is little space to safely pedal, wasn’t hard enough, private limo bus company Windy City Limousine frequently blocks bike lanes on Franklin Street outside Walgreens and Orleans next to the Merchandise Mart.

Brian Elmore bicycle commutes from Madison Street and Wacker Drive to Ukrainian Village by taking the bike lanes on Franklin and Orleans, to Hubbard, Kingsbury, and Kinzie. He says that Windy City Limousine chauffeurs are parking their wide charter buses in bike lanes on both streets “constantly” during rush hour. Elmore sent in these photos and explained the issue.

It’s problematic because it’s a very congested area around rush hour, and motorists are traveling at a high rate of speed down Franklin & Orleans. More so than anything, it’s inconsiderate to the vast number of cyclists that commute to and from The Loop daily.

The law is on Elmore’s side, and the city’s website succinctly explains why: ”motorists parking in bike lanes endanger bicyclists by forcing them to merge unexpectedly with faster moving motor vehicle traffic.”

If you encounter this situation you can call police dispatchers at 911 (calling 311 will transfer you to 911) to report a bus blocking the bike lane, or go straight to the source. Windy City Limousine’s phone number is right on the back of the bus.

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Regional Transit Needs New Funding to Meet $20 Billion Backlog

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The Regional Transportation Authority estimates $20 billion is needed to clear the transit infrastructure maintenance backlog. Photo: CTA

Transit systems in Northeastern Illinois face a $20 billion maintenance backlog. Now the question is how to pay for it.

Governor Pat Quinn’s Northeastern Illinois transit task force has shown some of the possibilities at the region’s disposal, but hasn’t staked out a position on how to secure the necessary revenue to keep Chicagoland’s track, trains, and buses from sliding into disrepair.

All told, the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that $20 billion is necessary to bring existing transit infrastructure into a state of good repair, with an initial five-year outlay of $4.7 billion called for in its capital plan. Expanding service will require funding in addition to meeting those maintenance needs.

The transit task force highlighted 12 funding sources used by national transit agencies and reviewed many short-term financial options “common in the private” sector. New funding sources could include fuel taxes, a broader sales tax that covers services, a payroll tax, land development charges, and parking fees. However, the task force stopped short of recommending new funding sources for the integrated transit agency it proposes.

The task force analyzed regional transit’s existing funding, noting how reactive the transit agencies’ financial planning has been. “The region,” the task force writes, “lacks a strategic financial plan for transit that does more than show funding gaps based on the status quo.” The agencies don’t work together, so there’s no “coordinated planning for investments to increase or improve inter-system connectivity.” CTA, Metra, and Pace have a “natural desire” to “minimize RTA oversight” and choose priorities independently — or not choose at all, as Metra has done since 1992 by not adopting a capital plan.

Currently, highway and transit projects are partially funded by state and federal fuel taxes, levied in cents per gallon of gas or diesel sold. However, both taxes are in decline as gas sales slip; the federal Highway Trust Fund will again run out of money this summer. A new fuel sales tax would instead tax the final purchase price, at a set percentage. The report calls it “easy and inexpensive to implement and administer,” but could push drivers to buy gas outside the area, or switch to electric vehicles.

The report specifically warns against continued reliance on federal gas tax grants, which paid for a quarter of Chicagoland’s transit construction projects between 2002 and 2012. “At best,” the task force writes, “future federal funds for transit will stagnate, at worst they will decline.” Read more…

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Rogers Park Participatory Budgeting Ideas Include a North-South Greenway

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Discussing proposals at a 49th Ward participatory budgeting meeting in 2011. Photo by John Greenfield.

Chicago aldermen traditionally use their $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” money for basic street, sidewalk and lighting improvements. However, this year a handful of wards are holding participatory budgeting elections. These often result in money being set aside for innovative transportation projects, and walking and biking infrastructure is a relative bargain. 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, who five years ago became the first U.S. elected official to pioneer the participatory budgeting process, is once again holding a PB election, and a few walking, biking, and transit projects may be on the ballot.

The ward has hosted two community events so far, where residents have had the opportunity to discuss proposed projects. The final meeting takes place this evening at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church by the Lake, 7100 North Ashland. PB committee members will draw upon feedback from constituents to narrow down the candidates to a final ballot, according to Moore’s aid Bob Fuller. Early voting will take place from April 26 to May 2, with the final election happening on May 3. “We’ve been doing this for five years now, and by all accounts things are going smoothly this year,” Fuller said. “But it’s certainly a challenge finding consensus in a neighborhood of 56,000 people.”

The ballot will have a section where residents vote on what percentage of menu money should be spent on street and alley repaving, sidewalk repair and streetlights, from zero to 100 percent. The results are averaged – last year it was 62 percent – and the remainder of the money is awarded to nontraditional projects, according to how many votes they garnered.

The winning proposals in 2013 included funding a $30,000 pedestrian safety engineering study on hectic Sheridan Road, exploring whether bumpouts, signal timing improvements and other strategies could make the street more walkable. Voters also opted to spend $75,000 to install bike-and-chevron shared lane markings on Clark from Albion to Howard. Other proposals that won funding the restoration of cobblestones on Glenwood, and cherry blossom trees and a new water fountain at Touhy Park.

None of the above projects have been finished yet. “It definitely takes more than a year for some things to get done,” Fuller said. The traffic safety study and sharrows are pending the completion of gas line work on Sheridan and Clark.

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Final State Task Force Report Dives Into Transit Reform Details

Metra and Elevated again

The task force proposes that CTA and Metra trains run under an integrated transit agency. Photo: Marcel Marchon

Governor Pat Quinn’s northeastern Illinois task force released its final report [PDF] yesterday, detailing recommendations from its mid-March draft. The task force launched last year, after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford resigned to protest the commuter rail operator’s long-running patronage culture.

The task force of transit experts, business and union leaders spends most of the report writing about how regional transit governance developed, starting with CTA’s formation in 1947 and the RTA in 1974, and describing how previous transit reforms failed to create a coordinated planning capacity at RTA and instead simply patched a broken funding system.

Their recommendation to create a unified transit agency that would replace the existing RTA is also joined by new recommendations to restore public faith in Chicagoland transit, and to create a system that better supports the economy and residents’ needs.

Transit service, vehicle purchases, and infrastructure upgrades should be planned cohesively in all areas and for all modes, instead of by the RTA and independently by Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. (Metra, the report says, hasn’t released a capital plan since 1992 and “does little more than list capital improvements in its annual budget.”)

The task force highlights the disparity between job locations and transit access that we’ve reported before and recommends including development around transit as a performance measure. Doing this, the report says, would incentivize municipalities to develop plans and policies that focus development near transit. In other words, if certain towns want more funding for better transit, they’re going to have to ensure that developers build near transit. Read more…