Skip to content

Posts from the "Transportation" Category

17 Comments

Thoughts About Bollards vs. Green Paint, and Chicago’s 100-Mile PBL Goal

Screen-Shot-2014-12-15-at-16.48.21-

A typical Chicago protected bike lane on Broadway, and a typical NYC PBL on 1st Avenue. Photos: John Greenfield

[This article also ran in Checkerboard City, my column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

There’s nothing like visiting another city to give you a fresh perspective on your own. Earlier this month I traveled to New York City to pow-wow with other Streetsblog editors. Pedaling a Citi Bike around Manhattan, I was struck by the thought that Chicago’s protected bike lanes could be a little nicer than they are.

In both cities, PBLs are generally located curbside, with parked cars relocated to the left of the bike lane to shield cyclists from moving vehicles, and a striped buffer marked between the parking lane and the bike lane. In Chicago, flexible plastic posts, AKA bollards, are installed in the buffer to discourage motorists from driving and parking in the lanes.

New York protected lanes usually don’t have the posts, but there’s generally an extra-wide buffer, and the entire bike lane is painted green. Often, the parking lane is capped with a concrete pedestrian island at the intersection.

That helps remind other road users that PBLs improve safety for everybody — not just cyclists — by shortening crossing distances for pedestrians and calming motor vehicle traffic. We don’t have safety stats for Chicago protected lanes yet, but a study by the city of New York found that the installation of a PBL on Manhattan’s 9th Avenue led to a 56 decrease in injuries to all road users.

It occurred to me that Chicago might do well to emulate the New York style of protected lanes. Despite the lack of bollards, I didn’t notice any problems with cars in the lanes during my visit. Meanwhile, the posts by Chicago PBLs often start looking ragged after a few months, and they’re frequently knocked out by careless motorists and snowplow operators. This year, the city of Chicago has temporarily removed bollards on PBLs along snow routes in an effort to reduce the damage to the posts and improve snow clearance.

It seems that the Chicago Department of Transportation could save the trouble and expense of removing, reinstalling, and replacing the bollards, which cost about $90 each installed, by getting rid of them altogether and painting the lanes green instead. Judging from New York, drivers wouldn’t be any more likely to park in the lanes – the colored pavement might actually make it more obvious that these are bike-only zones.

Read more…

6 Comments

The 2014 Chicago Streetsies

streetsie_2014

[Most of these entries also appeared in Newcity magazine's Best of Chicago issue.]

Best local universities to visit for that pedestrian-friendly, old-world feel

Loyola University and The University of Chicago

Nearly all Medieval-era cities in Europe, and countless other old cities around the world, are known for their pedestrian streets – markets and residential areas where driving is banned or limited. Two Chicago universities have recently turned streets into car-free spaces, and third has proposed a Dutch-style “woonerf” — a pedestrian-priority street. Loyola University transformed the 6300 block of North Kenmore  from a typical road into a sustainably-landscaped pedestrian and bike-only street, complete with permeable pavers that allow stormwater to drain into the ground. The University of Chicago similarly converted a block of 58th Street in front of the Oriental Institute, as well as a stretch of 58th west of Ellis. This extended the tranquil walkways of the main quadrangle into the greater Hyde Park neighborhood. Meanwhile, DePaul University has proposed building the woonerf on the block of Kenmore south of Fullerton in Lincoln Park.

Best place to see grown Chicagoans acting like little kids

The Chicago Riverwalk construction site

The less-than-incendiary Great Chicago Fire Festival made riverfront headlines, but if you wanted to check out a spectacle of different kind this summer, you could join the crowds oohing and aahing this as workers build the $100 million Chicago Riverwalk extension, slated for 2016 completion. This new segment will extend from State to Lake, incorporating six themed sections delineated by the bridges, ranging from “The Jetty” fishing area to “The Cove” kayak dock to “The Swimming Hole” water play zone. It was mesmerizing to watch towering cranes on barges driving long pilings and dropping huge loads of gravel to widen the shoreline. Sure, a barge sunk now and then, but that was part of the excitement.

IMG_0766

Dumping infill to build out the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

Best places to use protection

New protected bike lanes on Harrison and Broadway

It’s awesome that Mayor Emanuel is trying to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes within his first term, but a few of the locations are questionable. How many people really want to pedal on Lake Street, in the gloomy, cacophonous space below the ‘L’? However, new bikeways on Harrison in the South Loop, and Broadway in Uptown, are truly useful. The PBLs on Harrison, between Desplaines and Wabash, feature S-curves of green paint that help cyclists navigate the skewed Harrison/State intersection. PBLs and BBLs on Broadway, from Montrose to Foster, involved a “road diet,” which transformed this former four-lane speedway into a safer, more civilized place for pedestrians and drivers as well.

Read more…

6 Comments

Another 207 Parking-Lite Residences Sprouting In Wicker Park

The TOD building at 1237 N Milwaukee is currently under construction. Rendering by Jonathan Splitt Architects

A building currently under construction at 1237 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Rendering by Jonathan Splitt Architects

Way back in 2012, one developer proposed what was then a radical idea: tearing down what had been a cheesy restaurant and a moat of parking overlooking a faded corner, and replacing them with a gleaming tower housing 99 apartments, two shops, and just 16 car parking spaces. Ever since 1611 W. Division Street showed the way — both from a legal and a market standpoint, developers have flocked to the adjacent blocks of Wicker Park to try and replicate its success.

Last year, the original ordinance permitting 1611 W. Division to be built with so few parking spaces was expanded to encompass a broader array of sites in the city. Many of the newly permitted sites for these transit-oriented developments happen to encircle the Chicago Transit Authority’s station at Division and Milwaukee, an intersection better known as the Polish Triangle. This largely built-out area, adjacent to thriving retail corridors along both streets, has many small pieces of land where redevelopment had been hindered by city zoning that required many on-site parking spaces. Now, thanks to new rules, new apartments can be built without expensive and sidewalk-interrupting parking garages.

Out of 15 developments citywide proposed under the TOD rules so far, six – including 1611 W. Division – are in Wicker Park. Read more about five new developments below.

Read more…

13 Comments

Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Lanes on Halsted Between Fulton and Erie

IMG_3464

Looking south on Halsted near Ohio. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has taken advantage of recent warm spells to do some late-year bikeway construction. In addition to new bikeways on Lincoln, the department recently striped buffered bike lanes on Halsted, between Fulton and Erie in the West Loop and River West.

This half-mile stretch, done as part of a repaving project between Lake and Chicago Avenue, is a handy link between Greektown and Milwaukee Avenue. It will become even more useful if it the lanes are extended further north to Chicago Avenue, where Halsted has existing non-buffered lanes. CDOT would like to do this, but staffer Mike Amsden says there’s nothing planned at this point.

IMG_3424

Looking north at Fulton Market. Bollards would be a nice addition here. Photo: John Greenfield

There are a few nice things about this new stretch of BBLs. Although the section of Halsted between Fulton and Chicago was shown on the 2014 Chicago Bike Map as having non-buffered bike lanes, there actually haven’t been visible bikeways on this segment for years, so the new lanes are essentially terra nova.

Between Fulton and Kinzie, the bike lanes are curbside, with wide buffers to the left. Installing flexible posts in the buffers, to encourage drivers to stay out of the BBLs, would be a helpful addition.

IMG_3443

Looking south on the bridge over Kinzie. A southbound travel lane was converted to make room for the BBLs here. Photo: John Greenfield

A short road diet was done on the one block north of Fulton, with one of the southbound mixed-traffic lanes removed to make room for buffered lanes in both directions. This helps calm traffic on the bridge over Kinzie, a long stretch without intersections where drivers often speed.

Read more…

27 Comments

Parking-Lite Residences Sprouting All Across Chicago

Proposed building at 830 N Milwaukee Avenue. Rendering by bKL Architecture

The resurgent downtown economy and the growing demand for car-lite living, both in Chicago and nationally, have spurred an apartment-building boom that’s transforming neighborhoods citywide. Many of these apartments are rising along the Chicago Transit Authority’s rail lines, partially thanks to a recent change to the city’s zoning ordinance that has made it easier to build parking-lite buildings near transit.

The city’s “transit-oriented development” ordinance, enacted in fall 2013, revises the zoning code to reduce minimum car parking requirements for new or renovated buildings within 600 feet (about one city block) of a train station. That radius extends to 1,200 feet, or about two city blocks, if that distance is along a city-designed Pedestrian Streets, which are streets where zoning rules also encourage developments that enliven the sidewalks. Instead of the usual rule that requires one car parking space for every single housing unit, the new law requires half as many spaces for housing and no spaces for shops or offices on site. Developers can ask the city’s Department of Planning and Development and Zoning Board of Appeals for an exemption to build even fewer parking spaces.

Parking requirements impose huge fixed costs on developments, making it difficult to build — especially on small city lots. The parking spaces that result are often leased or sold at a loss, and sometimes go completely empty — costs that get passed down to the building’s future occupants, whether or not they own cars.

The ordinance offers relief from parking requirements in mixed-use areas citywide, but another incentive that allows transit-oriented developments to build more small apartments rather than fewer large apartments only within a very small slice of the city. Not only do the sites have to be practically next to a train station, they must also be zoned “dash 3″ (e.g., a zone like B3-3 or C1-3), which are zones found only in a few areas that already have high densities. Developers who want to build transit-oriented small apartments outside a “dash 3″ zone must first apply for a zoning change to the right zoning, which requires approvals from the alderman, the Chicago Plan Commission, the city council, and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Despite the law’s limited applicability, 15 transit-oriented developments have been proposed just in its first year. Streetsblog has previously reported on six of these (see links at the end of this post), and profiles of four more across the city are included below. We’ll take a look at five more, all of which are in Wicker Park, in another post tomorrow.

Updated December 31, 2014 to clarify applicability of parking reductions and small-apartment regulation.

Read more…

8 Comments

Divvy Bike-Share Hopes Expanded Area, Outreach Also Expands Appeal

Damen/Pierce Divvy station being installed

Divvy installation crews will be visiting many more neighborhoods next year as the system grows by 75 percent. Photo: Steven Vance.

The December meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee included lots of news about the future of the Divvy program. Ever since the bike-share program launched on June 28, 2013, 3.1 million users, including 23,177 annual members and many daily users, have biked over 6.6 million miles starting at 300 stations.

A previously planned expansion will bring the system to 475 stations, 4750 bikes and 31 wards. That will broaden the service area’s edges to Touhy Avenue (7200 North) to 75th Street (7500 South), from the lake to as far west as Pulaski (4000 West). State grant money has been allocated for an additional 50 stations, further extending Divvy north through Rogers Park into Evanston, and west through Garfield Park and Austin into Oak Park.

A new member survey will be going out soon. Last winter’s survey showed a disappointing lack of diversity among annual members, who were 65 percent male, 79 percent white, 93 percent college educated, and averaged 34 years old. Divvy hopes that a larger coverage area, continued outreach, and efforts to increase access for the unbanked will improve diversity among both annual members and daily users.

Divvy has launched an equity initiative that applies to station siting, public outreach, hiring, and youth training. In the first two years, station siting prioritized locations with perceived high demand. The priority now is being shifted to create a higher density network of stations throughout the Divvy service area, so that lower density neighborhoods of color (where current stations are sometimes a mile apart) will be better served. The goal for both infill and expansion of the service area is for stations to be no more than half a mile apart, putting Divvy within a five minute walk of everyone within the service area.

Read more…

20 Comments

CDOT Tries Out a New Kind of Bikeway on Lincoln Avenue: “Barrows”

IMG_3400

CDOT will be adding sharrows next to the buffers on Lincoln north of Wells. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has a toolbox of different bikeway treatments: neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and shared lane markings, also known as “sharrows.” Now they’re experimenting with a new kind of treatment that consists of sharrows — bike symbols with chevrons — with a striped buffer painted on the right. I propose that that these buffered sharrows should be referred to as “barrows.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 5.38.20 PM

A photo of the old sharrows on Lincoln, plus a rendering of the “barrows.”

This CDOT pilot is being done in conjunction with an Illinois Department of Transportation project to repave Lincoln between Diversey and Wells, the portion of the street which is a state route. Lincoln, a key diagonal route downtown from the North Side is included in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 as Crosstown Bike Route. However the blogs Let’s Go Ride a Bike and Bike Walk Lincoln Park have both posted articles detailing the challenging conditions for biking on the street, including lousy pavement.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.22.18 PM

Prior to repaving, Lincoln was plagued with potholes. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

LGRAB’s Dottie Brackett noted that, although bikes sometimes make up 40 percent of rush hour traffic on Lincoln, speeding drivers, carelessly opened car doors, huge six-way intersections, and stopped delivery trucks create a hostile environment for cyclists. She said she’d like too see buffered or protected bike lanes on the street. Unfortunately, most of the stretch between Diversey and Wells is too narrow to install these kind of bikeways without stripping large amounts of parking. In spring of 2013, BWLP’s Michelle Stenzel and her neighbors surveyed Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park and counted 24 potholes.

43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith — who told me she often rides a bike herself – said she lobbied hard to get IDOT to repave the street in order to create safer conditions for cyclists and drivers alike. Work began in October, including repairs to sidewalks, curbs, and gutters, as well as concrete bus stop pads. Smith also told me that she urged CDOT to get involved in planning meetings for the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital Site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, to ensure that the project includes pedestrian and bike improvements. As a result, bike lanes will be striped through the six-way intersection.

Read more…

34 Comments

Yellow Journalism: Tribune Panics Over “Risky” Stoplight Timing

The Tribune is trying to brew a storm of controversy over the city's red light camera program by pointing out that Chicago, like every other city, times its yellow lights differently. Photo: Jamelah

The Tribune is trying to provoke controversy over Chicago’s red light camera program by pointing out that the city times its yellow lights differently — just like every other city. Photo: Jamelah, via Flickr

Day in and day out for at least 30 years (and perhaps for almost a century), over 3,000 stoplights all across Chicago have whirred through tens of millions of cycles the exact same way: green, then yellow for three seconds, then red. Yet today, this three second cycle was suddenly declared a public safety emergency, with the Tribune’s front page fomenting panic about the crisis posed by “risky” and “too short” yellow phases.

The Tribune, of course, has long pursued a vendetta against the automated enforcement of red lights in Chicago, consistently whining about a program that penalizes criminals who blow through stoplights with deadly consequences. In its newest episode, the newspaper assembled a cadre of experts to inveigh against the long-established three second yellow phase, and arguing for a few tenths of a second more leeway. (This isn’t the first time the Tribune has zeroed in on fractions of seconds in arguing against enforcement.) Drivers, it seems, feel as if they’ve been “ambushed” by yellow lights that work exactly the same way they’ve worked for decades.

One example the Tribune cites approvingly is Maryland, where a 2004 law lengthened the minimum yellow signal phase to 3.5 seconds. Yet the story there was all about political perception, rather than engineering standards. Frank Murphy from Baltimore’s transportation department told the Tribune, “The reason the law was passed was because it was represented that there was an ambush situation, when yellow lights were set so low – even though they had always been set at three seconds previously.”

True, some recent engineering guidance recommends that cities assume that drivers are usually speeding when approaching traffic signals, and such formulas find Chicago’s yellow signals to be on the short side. For example, Institute of Transportation Engineers’ formula recommends that for situations like a citywide standard (where actual travel speeds can’t be observed), adding 7 mph to the speed limit across the board — thus assuming that drivers citywide are traveling at 37 mph.

Moving forward with that assumption would endorse and enable speeding, which is a far cry from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s recent push to eliminate all fatalities from our streets. David Zavattero is head of traffic safety programs at CDOT, and oversees the red light camera program. He said that Chicago uses a three second yellow light because “we don’t believe it is a safe environment to be [in], basing your signal timing on a 40 mph vehicle traveling through the intersection.” Plus, Chicago’s citywide three second phase has a long history: The federal government’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices first recommended a three second minimum back in 1935, and continues to do so today.

Read more…

23 Comments

Why Don’t the South and West Sides Have a Fair Share of Bike Facilities?

Lake-PBL

Kids ride in the Franklin Boulevard protected bike lanes in the Garfield Park neighborhood. PBLs are the one type of bike infrastructure that is more common on the South and West Sides than on the North Side. Photo: CDOT

Black bike advocates Oboi Reed, Peter Taylor, and Shawn Conley recently started an important conversation about the need for more bike resources in low-income African American communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides. At a recent Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, they presented an open letter to the city, state, and local advocacy groups, asking that bike infrastructure, education, and encouragement be provided in a more equitable manner. Read the full letter here.

The letter pointed out that downtown and relatively affluent, North Side neighborhoods have generally received a higher density of bike lanes, racks, and Divvy stations than South and West Side communities. The advocates also asked for more input and participation from African-American residents, organizations, and businesses in the planning and implementation of bike infrastructure and programming.

Reed argued that the city has tended to focus bike resources on neighborhoods that already have high levels of biking. This creates a vicious cycle where low-income African American communities get left behind as bicycling continues to grow in wealthier areas, he said. “It just cuts us off from all the benefits, and our communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

Judging from statements from the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active Transportation Alliance, plus comments from Streetsblog readers and on social media, city leaders and advocates agree that more work is needed to achieve bike equity in African-American neighborhoods. There’s a consensus that strong leadership from within the black community, as embodied by Reed, Taylor, Conley, and others in the five black-led bike groups they represent, is a key piece of the puzzle to reach that goal. The groups include Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike and Green Chicago, Southside Critical Mass, the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, and Friends of the Major Taylor Trail.

B03CZeTCAAAeA8A

Oboi Reed (right) and other riders from Slow Roll Chicago on a bike tour of the Millennium Reserve on the Southeast Side. Photo: Slow Roll

As part of this dialogue, it’s important to discuss what has contributed to the relative lack of  bike infrastructure on the South and West Sides compared to some parts of the North Side. In the near future, Streetsblog plans to publish a piece from Reed addressing the “personal, emotional, cultural, structural, and systemic reasons for why we don’t bike much as adults in black, brown and low- and middle-income neighborhoods, and why we don’t have infrastructure in our neighborhoods.”

In the meantime, here are some of the political and geographic factors I’m aware of that help explain the lower density of bike lanes, Divvy stations, and bike racks in Chicago’s African American neighborhoods.

Read more…

45 Comments

Why the Tribune’s Red Light Camera Story Is Garbage Journalism

The Chicago Tribune’s reporting ignored the human toll of car crashes at intersections with red light cameras in failing to consider the severity of injuries in right-angle crashes. Image: Wikipedia

In a huge front-page story Friday, the Chicago Tribune published yet another installment in its long-running vendetta against the city’s photographic traffic enforcement program. Because the Trib chose to obscure key information about the severity of crashes, the story is worthless as an evaluation of the city’s red light camera program.

The article lavishes attention on a $14,000 study “commissioned by the Tribune [that] concluded the cameras do not reduce injury-related crashes overall.” But if you manage to get 2,000 words into the article, authors David Kidwell and Alex Richards acknowledge that nine years ago the Federal Highway Administration also commissioned a study on red light cameras. And if you take a close look at the FHWA study, it debunks the entire premise behind the Tribune’s analysis.

The FHWA employed a methodology that closely resembles the Tribune’s, with one all-important difference: The feds incorporated the severity of crashes into their calculations. Both studies found that red light cameras tend to prevent right-angle crashes, while rear-end crashes increase. But since FHWA also acknowledged that right-angle crashes are more severe and impose higher costs on society than rear-end crashes, it found that even with increases in one crash type, the benefits of red light cameras outweigh the costs.

On its website explaining the FHWA study, the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center clearly states: ”Since the angle and rear-end crashes are of different severities, you must combine both the change in frequency with differences in severity in the analysis. This is why looking… just at changes in total crash numbers is not correct.” While the Trib interviewed a UNC researcher about camera site selection, it failed to note this basic conclusion that upends the paper’s own methodology.

Put simply, the Tribune’s methodology ignores the most important factor – the number of people killed and the severity of injuries sustained at intersections with red light cameras.

The FHWA didn’t make that mistake. Factoring in “the lesser severities and generally lower unit costs for rear end injury crashes” the agency concluded that red light cameras achieved $14-18 million in savings to motor vehicle occupants in urban and rural intersections in seven municipalities. Only thousands of words into the piece, when mentioning the FHWA study, does the Tribune admit that there is a difference in severity of different crash types.

The Tribune also drew unwarranted conclusions from its own study, which found that the change in total crash numbers was not statistically significant. The study itself says “the increase in crashes may not necessarily be because of [adding red light cameras], but may just have happened by chance.”

But the data the Tribune collected is sufficiently robust to bolster the conclusion that red light cameras reduce right-angle crashes.

“[The] Chicago Tribune’s study confirms that these cameras help to reduce dangerous angle crashes that are more likely than rear-end crashes to cause serious injury or death,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said in a statement today. They’re less severe because they’re slower – drivers are decelerating, and going the same direction, during rear-ends – and cars have crumple zones in the front and rear, but not the sides. Read more…