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Scheinfeld Lauds City’s Bike Wins at Rally, Burke Urges Crowd to Ask for More

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Scheinfeld, Reed, Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Jamal Julien, Moore, Burke. Photo: John Greenfield

The gorgeous weather – and the promise of a free breakfast – drew hundreds of cyclists to Daley Plaza this morning for the annual Bike to Work Rally. There, Chicago Department of Transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld delivered the traditional state of the union address on the city’s efforts to improve cycling.

“We share the common goal of making bicycling a safe, fun, and practical option to travel throughout Chicago, for commuting, running errands, or just to enjoy the ride,” Scheinfeld said. She noted that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has essentially accomplished all three of the ambitious goals for biking he set before taking office. CDOT has built 90 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, the Divvy bike-share system has been a huge success, and the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway opened two weeks ago.

In keeping with Chicago’s “Windy City” nickname, Scheinfeld’s speech contained a couple of blustery half-truths about the city’s bicycle gains. She stated that all 90 miles of bike lanes are protected, when only 18.5 miles of them offer physical protection – CDOT refers to buffered lanes, which are merely paint on the road, as “buffer-protected.”

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Cyclists packed Daley Plaza for the rally. Photo: John Greenfield

She also called Divvy “the largest bike-share system in North America,” which is only true if you’re going by the number of docking stations. Chicago does hold that title, with 476 stations. However, while Divvy has 4,760 cycles, Montreal’s Bixi system has 5,200, and New York’s Citi bike has 6,000. That said, Emanuel and CDOT certainly deserve major kudos for completing these three huge cycling projects in only four years.

Scheinfeld also gave out the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council awards to several key players in the local bike scene. She recognized Oboi Reed, cofounder of Slow Roll Chicago, noting that he has created “a diverse coalition of people, organizations, and businesses, all working together to increase bicycle usage across the city regardless of race, income, or geography.” She added that Reed has been a valuable partner to CDOT.

The Trust for Public Land got a shout-out for doing yeoman’s work in managing the Bloomingdale project. Marcus Moore, owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike shop, was recognized for his successful campaign to save the South Chicago Velodrome through crowdfunding. And police lieutenants Joe Giambrone and Joe Andruzi Jr. won awards for partnering with CDOT to do bike safety outreach, and working to get more officers on bicycles.

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Is Late-Night Commuting on The 606 Kosher? Police, Park District Disagree

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Photo: John Greenfield

The Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, is a 2.7-mile walking and cycling corridor that connects many destinations across the Near Northwest Side and intersects with several key bike routes. Some 80,000 residents live within a half mile of the path. As such, it’s a no-brainer that people should be allowed use it for commuting 24/7, just like on Lakefront Trail.

However, that’s not currently the case. Steven Vance and I have heard several reports of people who were biking on the Bloomingdale after 11 p.m. being stopped by police officers and asked to leave. “The elephant in the room regarding the Bloomingdale Trail is its operating hours,” one reader told us.

He said he was recently biking home on the trail around 11:30 p.m. when he was flagged down by officers. They checked his ID and told him the linear park is closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., like other Chicago Park District properties. The police were polite and friendly, and they let him continue home on the path, but warned him he would be ticketed next time, the reader said.

I dropped by the Bloomingdale after dark for my first time last night around 10 p.m., when there were plenty of people taking advantage of the balmy weather by cycling and strolling, including entire families walking with kids and grandparents. Officers were patrolling the path on bicycles. It was heartwarming to see so many residents out for exercise and relaxation in the safe, car-free space.

As I was leaving the trail just before 11, I asked the police whether commuting on the trail on foot or bike is permitted after the park officially closes. They politely told me that, currently, it is not. “The rule might be revamped in the future but, right now, while the trail is still new, you have to leave after 11,” one officer said.

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Police officers patrol the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: John Greenfield

After speaking to a contact at the 14th Police District, which is responsible for security on the Bloomingdale, Police spokeswoman Janel Sedevic told me that this is, in fact, the police department’s current policy. “Officers go through the park at 11 p.m. to make sure it is empty, and if there’s a call with a complaint after 11, they’ll go check it out,” she said.

The thing is, that doesn’t jibe with the policy of the park district, which owns the trail and its access parks. Spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – like the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking is allowed on The 606 after hours due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code.

“This allows commuters to use paths through our parks, including The 606, for transportation,” Lemons said. “In other words, if someone is on a bike or walking and they are actively moving during [curfew] hours, then they are free to use the trail without questions from the park district or officers.”

When I notified police and park district representatives that their policies are in conflict, they promised to look into the issue. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide an update in the near future. In the meantime, keep in mind that if you are walking or biking on the Bloomingdale after 11, you may be ordered to amscray.

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Speeding Driver Jumps Curb, Fatally Strikes Pedestrian in West Pullman

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The intersection of 118th and Halsted, looking north. Image: Google Street View

A 45-year-old male pedestrian is dead after a motorist lost control of his vehicle and drove onto the sidewalk.

Andre Silas Jr., 19, was driving northbound on Halsted Street on Wednesday morning at about 11 a.m., according to Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs. At 118th Street, Silas ran into a light pole on the east side of Halsted, then struck the pedestrian, Sedevic said.

The victim, whose has not yet been identified, was pronounced dead on the scene, according to Sedevic. Silas, of the 1400 block of Stanley Boulevard in Calumet City, stayed on the scene and has been charged with driving on a sidewalk or parkway, and speeding not more than 30 mph over the speed limit, Sedevic said.

This section of Halsted is a broad roadway with four travel lanes plus turn lanes, which encourages speeding.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 18 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

Update 6/19/15: The Cook County medical examiner’s office has identified the victim as Larry Jordan, of the 11800 block of South Emerald.

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Getting Closer to the End: Judge Nullifies Federal Approval of Illiana Tollway

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One of the key phrases from Judge Alonso’s ruling.

It’s looking like the nightmarish vision of a totally unnecessary, 47-mile highway cutting through prime Illinois farmland is not going to become a reality. A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Illinois Department of Transportation failed to provide a proper Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Tollway.

U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso wrote that the final EIS the state submitted was “arbitrary and capricious.” He also noted that the Federal Highway Administration shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [IDOT] consultants,” rather than sound policy.

The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing Openlands, the Sierra Club, and the Midewin Heritage Association. They argued that the state used circular logic to justify the Illiana: IDOT’s projections for population growth in the project area were based on the the assumption that the highway would be built. “This [ruling] is an opportunity for the Illiana saga to be brought [to] an end once and for all,” said ELPC’s executive director Howard Learner.

Alonso’s decision is the latest stake in the heart of the Illiana, a terrible idea that was promoted heavily by former governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs. Two weeks ago, current governor Bruce Rauner ordered IDOT to suspend all existing contracts and procurements for the tollway, stating in a news release that “the project costs exceed currently available resources.” He also told IDOT to remove the Illiana from its current multi-year transportation plan.

The ruling [PDF] also noted that IDOT and its consultants met with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Northwestern Illinois Regional Planning Commission to discuss population and employment forecasts for the Illiana corridor, but chose not to use those projections. That’s because CMAP’s forecasts were “based on ‘aggressive assumptions regarding infill, redevelopment & densification'” and not how people would be drawn to new subdivisions made accessible by a massive highway.

CMAP and NIRPC objected to IDOT’s market-driven projections because their respective regional plans recommend that new development should be concentrated in the existing metropolitan area, rather than replacing farmland with sprawl. In essence, the state said that growth should be geographically unconstrained and the MPOs said growth should be focused and sustainable. Read more…

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“Two Wheels, One City” Pledge Is an Invitation to Work for Bike Equity

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride in Pullman. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

“We work to create a city of Chicago where no matter who you are or where you live, you are able to enjoy all the benefits biking can offer,” states the Two Wheels, One City Call to Action. This online pledge to build a more diverse local bike culture was released last week by Slow Roll Chicago, the Active Transportation Alliance, the Chicago Cycling Club, and endorsed by over a dozen community organizations. These groups are also hosting two bike rides with a focus on diversity as part of Chicago Bike Week: tonight’s Two Wheels, One City Ride and Friday’s Rolling Spokes Ride.

A post about the pledge on Slow Roll’s website discusses the need for a more inclusive Chicago bike community:

As we celebrate the wonderful progress Chicago has made through advances like protected bike lanes and the Divvy bike share system, we must also continue to call attention to the work that remains to be done to create better biking and encourage healthy transportation.

For too many, biking is still not seen as a viable option.  Many barriers to biking exist for many different reasons. To change that, we must fully incorporate the voices and leadership of historically marginalized and underrepresented groups into the work of building a bike friendly city, including women, people of color, and individuals from low- to moderate-income communities.

“The Call to Action is a very small ask,” SLC cofounder Oboi Reed (a Streetsblog Chicago board member) told me. “We just want people to acknowledge that all of us can do better to create a diverse and equitable bike culture.” In December, Reed and other African-American bike advocates released an open letter to local transportation leaders calling for a fairer distribution of bike resources. This year, Slow Roll has been leading weekly group rides, with a focus on getting more South and West Side residents on bikes.

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Eyes on the Street: A Wild Night for Chicago’s Public Spaces

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Blackhawks fans fill the Clark/Sheffield/Newport intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Whether you’re a rabid Blackhawks fan or couldn’t care less about professional sports, Monday night was an unforgettable evening on the streets of Chicago — and on its newest bike and pedestrian paths.

The torrential rains wreaked havoc with the transportation network, flooding streets and viaducts all over the city, and forcing the closures of a section of the Eisenhower Expressway and some Kennedy Expressway offramps, DNAinfo reported. The CTA also temporarily shut down service on the Blue Line between Harlem and Forest Park in the western suburbs.

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The soggy 606. Photo by Instagram user blipsman.

The severe weather also took its toll on the city’s newest places for walking and biking, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, and the new Chicago Riverwalk sections, both of which opened within the last month. The elevated greenway was swamped with rain last night, and neighbors told DNA they feared runoff from the trail was doing damage to their homes. However, the path was largely dry by this morning.

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Flooded walkway around the State Street bridge house. Photo: John Greenfield

It looks likes it’s going to be a longer cleanup process for the riverwalk. Just yesterday afternoon, when I checked out the newest section, dubbed The River Theater, it was a sparkling new jewel in Chicago’s collection of world-class public spaces. Sadly, when I dropped by on my way home in the early evening, the walkways around the bridge houses were completely flooded, and The River Theater, The Cove, and The Marina were caked with foul-smelling muck.

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Workers start cleaning up the mess at The River Theater. Photo: John Greenfield

Workers were already out assessing the damage last night. “The Riverwalk is designed to withstand high water,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told me earlier today. “That said, we are out there and beginning the cleanup this morning.”

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To Improve Biking and Walking, Seattle Uses Posts That Can Take a Punch

Nate Faris of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful tests one of Seattle’s flexposts, designed to withstand up to 50 impacts at 55 mph from any direction.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

As American cities have looked for simple, cheap ways to get physical barriers between bikes and cars, they’ve been reminded of a sad truth: You get what you pay for.

Cheap and fast solutions like plastic posts can be good, of course — especially in the world of protected bike lanes, where the primary role of such barriers isn’t actually to control a careening vehicle but to give everyone on the street the accurate and reassuring sensation that bikes and cars are in fully separate spaces.

But there’s still a problem: Once in a while, a driver will encroach enough to knock the posts down or tear them out.

Then there’s the problem of street sweepers, which come in surprisingly small sizes but are sometimes inefficient to use with post-protected lanes.

Seattle, the U.S. city that’s currently making the fastest progress on protected bike lanes, has found a simple solution: posts that fold neatly down.

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The River Theater’s Ramps Let People on Wheels Make a Grand Entrance

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It’s fairly easy to bike down to the water via the new ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

With the Friday opening of the Chicago Riverwalk’s third new section, dubbed The River Theater, wheelchair users, families with strollers, and bicyclists have a new way to get down to the riverfront from Upper Wacker. This segment, located between Clark and LaSalle, consists almost entirely of stair-stepped, amphitheater-style seating. However, the steps are split up by gently graded, ADA-compliant ramps that zigzag back and forth across the stately new public space.

As you can see from this video, the ramps work fairly well for bicycling, although they’re narrow enough that cyclists need to be especially mindful about yielding to people in wheelchairs and pedestrians. But, overall, the ramps are an elegant solution for providing access.

The concrete steps, while Spartan, are a comfortable place to perch with a pleasant view of the waterway, and the space is sure to be popular with people eating lunch and relaxing on nice days. I visited this afternoon, shortly after a downpour, so the steps were sparsely populated.

Unlike the two next sections of the riverwalk that debuted earlier this month, The Marina and The Cove, most of the River Theater’s shoreline does not allow easy access to the water, since it’s located a few feet above the surface and fenced off. However, there is a staircase at the east end of the space leading down to the water for boat access.

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A river taxi and a tour boat pass by The River Theater

The River Theater will be an ideal venue for live performances, which are being booked by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. On Sunday, May 21, as part of the Make Music Festival, the Chicago Academy of Piping and Drumming will perform there at 1 p.m. and the Chicago Philharmonic Brass will perform at 3 p.m. There will also be live music that day at The Cove, The Marina, and the riverside Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with performers ranging from a Mariachi band to a cabaret group to a steel drum ensemble.

Jai Cruz, relaxing on the steps with a friend from out of town, gave The River Theater a thumbs-up. “It’s pretty fantastic,” he said. “I like the architectural views that it has to offer, and that they’re going to be offering bands on the weekends for the tourists and for those of us who live in the city.” He added that the ramps are a nice touch. “It makes it pretty convenient for people on bikes to go up and down.”

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The Glenwood Avenue Neighborhood Route Isn’t Just a Pipe Dream

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Image: John Greenfield

I’m not sure what the Chicago Department of Transportation has been smoking lately, but they’ve cleverly proposed installing a contra-flow bike lane on a northbound stretch of Glenwood Avenue in Edgewater. Southbound cycling is already common here because Glenwood is a safer, more relaxing alternative to nearby Clark Street and Broadway.

At a recent community meeting on the project, some neighbors expressed fears that encouraging “wrong-way” cycling will lead to more crashes. However, contra-flow lanes installed nearby on Berteau Street, Ardmore Avenue, and Albion Avenue have reduced the number of bike crashes, because they encourage cyclists to ride predictably, and give drivers a heads-up that they should watch for bikes coming from the other direction.

Learn more about the neighborhood route proposal here. To make sure the project doesn’t go up in smoke, be sure to contact 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman and let him know you support it.

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Lawyer: Cyclist Was Not to Blame for Pedestrian Crash in Dearborn Bike Lanes

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The Dearborn protected bike lanes, near Madison Street. Image: Google Street View

While the headline of a recent Chicago Sun-Times article states that cyclist Matthew Gagui caused a crash that seriously injured a pedestrian in the Dearborn protected bike lanes, his lawyer says that wasn’t the case.

In last week’s piece, “Husband, wife sue ‘reckless’ bicyclist who caused crash,” the Sun-Times reported that Arely Lara and her husband Christopher Craig filed a lawsuit in the Cook County Circuit Court against Gagui on May 28. The suit states that Lara and Craig were walking near the intersection of Dearborn and Madison on Monday, March 30, when the crash occurred. This intersection is close to the restaurant Trattoria No. 1, which has seen conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians, but a manager told me he did not recall hearing about this collision.

According to the claim, Gagui was bicycling southbound in the Dearborn bike lanes, which allow bi-directional cycling on the otherwise one-way northbound street, when he struck Lara. She suffered injury to her nervous system, as well as disfigurement, the suit states. “She was seriously injured, hospitalized and required surgery,” Lara’s attorney Eric Check told the Sun-Times. “She also spent several weeks in a rehab facility.”

The lawsuit claims that Gagui was riding a bike with no brake, he wasn’t riding in the southbound lane of the PBLs, and he was riding in a “reckless” manner, among other allegations. The suit accuses Gagui of negligence and claims Lara and Craig suffered loss of consortium, i.e. deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to injuries. They are seeking over $60,000 in damages, plus legal fees.

Gagui’s attorney Jim Freeman of FK Law (a Streetsblog Sponsor), told me that at least some of those allegations are false. “When all of the facts are heard, it’s going to be clear the pedestrian wasn’t acting in a way that a reasonable pedestrian would act, and that Matthew was doing everything a reasonable cyclist would do to avoid a collision,” he said. “[The crash] really didn’t go down the way the complaint describes it.”

“People who hear about the case may assume the pedestrian was legally crossing the street in the crosswalk with the light and the cyclist blew a red, but that’s not what happened,” Freeman added. “Pedestrians do illegal things, just like all other road users. While we all need to watch out for each other, we also need to take responsibility for our own actions.”

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