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Spruced-Up California Station Reopens After Six-Week Closure

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CTA Chairman Terry Peterson, State Senator Iris Martinez, Emanuel, Borggren, Durbin, and Claypool. Photo: Lisa Phillips.

The freshly renovated California station on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch reopened today after being closed for six weeks, an interminable wait for locals who rely on the train stop. Originally opened in 1895, the station recently received both structural and cosmetic improvements. These include a larger building footprint, refurbished walls, stairs, and platforms, new lights and signs, and more bike racks.

California is one of 13 stations on the O’Hare Branch, from Grand to Cumberland, that are being rehabbed as part of the CTA’s $492 million “Your New Blue” initiative, which also includes repairs to aging signals, power systems, and tracks. Launched nine months ago, the project is the largest investment in the Blue Line since it was extended to the airport in 1984. The branch currently carries about 80,000 riders each weekday.

Speaking at the California stop’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning, CTA President Forrest Claypool boasted that the station rehab was completed on time and on budget. He added that the Blue Line work will “not only make the [riding] experience more comfortable, but also ultimately take ten minutes off the commute to O’Hare Airport from downtown and back.” Claypool noted that the faster travel times will be a boon for local commuters, as well as tourists coming into the city from O’Hare.

“All of this is part of an unprecedented $5 billion CTA modernization plan launched by Mayor Emanuel in 2011, and supported staunchly and consistently by Governor Quinn and Senator Durbin,” Claypool added. “It’s been a true partnership from the very beginning between the state and city… demonstrating that modern, effective mass transit is worth the investment — because of the jobs, and because of the [improvement to] quality of life in neighborhoods like Logan Square.”

Erica Borggren, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, speaking on behalf of Governor Pat Quinn, argued that investing in transit helps the city and state stay globally competitive. She promised that the current work is a harbinger of more such investments to come during a third term for Quinn, who hopes to be reelected on November 4.

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#1 North Lake Shore Drive Request: Separate Bike, Pedestrian Trails

Chicago's Lakefront Trail and Lake Shore Drive

The current configuration of the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton rings a narrow path with dangerously low bollards, right next to a popular trail entrance and major attractions like Theater on the Lake and volleyball courts. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

This week, the Redefine the Drive study team listed the most requested improvements (PDF) that Chicagoans want to see as part of the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. By far the most popular is also among the easiest and least expensive ways to improve safety: creating separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the overcrowded Lakefront Trail.

Creating two paths would allow families to enjoy the scenery at a meandering child’s pace. It would result in fewer close calls and fewer “blame game” articles. Runners, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wouldn’t have to be startled by “on your left” anymore.

Theater on the Lake project

A park improvement will add new park space at Fullerton. The current shoreline is shown in red. Image: CDOT

One small step towards having more lakefront trail options advanced on Monday, when Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld broke ground on a rebuilt shoreline revetment at Fullerton Avenue. By 2016, the $31.5 million project will create nearly six new acres of park space south of Theater on the Lake, along with two through paths.

A new shoreline path for wanderers will hug the shoreline, while a path for through travel will run further from shore. People entering the park from the end of Fullerton Avenue will have several paths to choose from, replacing the current “big mixing bowl” setup that routes trail travelers through crowds of people entering or leaving the park.

The Chicago Park District made similar changes two years ago at 31st Street Beach, by moving the Lakefront Trail underneath the main path that visitors use to walk into the beach and park area. Between there and the 43rd Street beach, the Park District also added new paths that better accommodate users moving at different speeds and reduce congestion along the main trail.

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Q&A With Peter Norton: History Is on the Side of Vision Zero

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Public safety posters like these fought against the pervasive violence of motor vehicles on public city streets in the first part of the 20th century. Images via Peter Norton

Last week, a bunch of bigwigs gathered to talk infrastructure in one of Washington’s most historic and prestigious sites, the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House. I was offered an opportunity to interview former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and a host of other VIPs. But — no offense to those guys — the person I wanted to talk to was Peter Norton, listed as the “lead scholar” of the Miller Center’s new commission to “develop innovative, bipartisan ideas on how to create and sustain middle-class jobs through infrastructure policy.”

Peter Norton. Photo: ##http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2006/20060627PeterNorton.html##UVA##

Peter Norton. Photo: UVA

Norton is a professor at the University of Virginia (where the Miller Center is housed) and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. The book is a chronicle of the battle over who and what streets were for as automobiles were proliferating at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a conversation worth revisiting today.

We had that conversation on a shady park bench in Lafayette Square, one of Washington’s most iconic green spaces, between the Hay-Adams and the White House.

If our interview piques your interest, you can catch Norton in person at the opening reception of the upcoming Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a national gathering organized by Transportation Alternatives in New York City next month (November 13-15), where public officials and street safety advocates will strategize about “how to achieve Vision Zero in cities around the world.”

First let me ask about the Infrastructure campaign that you’re part of here as the lead scholar –

That’s the title!

I have questions about the push for infrastructure investment from the point of view of someone who is skeptical of increasing car infrastructure. Not to start on a negative note, but a lot of the push for increased infrastructure investment is not necessarily choosy about whether that infrastructure goes toward sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly, city-friendly infrastructure, or whether it’s highways and cars.

Right. When I was invited to this thing, that question that you’re asking was foremost in my mind. And you find yourself thinking, I could stay out of it as a way of saying I don’t really think these discussions are being held in an inclusive way that includes all kinds of ideas, including ones that haven’t been on the table before — or I could join in and see if I could work in some of those less orthodox perspectives. And I chose the latter. I had some opportunities over the last two days to work in some points of view that weren’t being represented there.

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A New Bike Network Takes Shape, and Atlantans Turn Out in Droves

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

The capital of the New South is working on its latest “highway” network. This one is going to be a lot quieter.

The massive Beltline trail and an impressive grid of protected lanes that will connect the trail system to key urban destinations are poised to remake transportation in the city that anchors the country’s ninth-largest metro area. Striving for Mayor Kasim Reed’s goal of making Atlanta one of the country’s top ten cities for biking, Atlantans have shown their enthusiasm with their feet: An estimated 95,000 to 106,000 people attended the open-streets event Atlanta Streets Alive on September 28 — shattering the previous record by at least 12,000 people.

For comparison’s sake, Portland’s Sunday Parkways festivals also set an attendance record in 2014 — by drawing 109,000 attendees to all five events combined.

As the video above shows, Atlanta’s embrace of open streets is part of a bigger shift in a city that’s shaking off its old “Sprawlville, USA” image with a combination of new housing and bike and transit infrastructure.

“It’s really shifting the way people think about living in the City of Atlanta,” says Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “The focus is on the core of the city.”

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Motorists Respond to Stranded Divvy Rider With Concern, Not Abuse

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The Divvy rider on the Dan Ryan. Photo: Stephanie Kemen

Remember the unfortunate young woman who found herself pedaling a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive last November? Instead of offering to help the endangered rider, a couple of people driving by thought it was funny to shoot a cell phone video of her, while repeatedly calling her a “dumb b—-.” After the clip went viral on YouTube, many more people joined the chorus of ridicule, including a Chicagoist writer and downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly.

A similar incident happened last Saturday morning on the Dan Ryan, but this time the motorists had a more compassionate response. Stephanie Kemen was driving south on the Ryan with her boyfriend when they spotted a woman pedaling on the expressway near 18th Street, RedEye reported. “I felt so bad for her,” Kemen said. “I think at first we were laughing … but her legs looked tired.”

The boyfriend rolled down the window to let the woman know that biking on the Ryan is illegal and dangerous. “She was like, ‘I know, I know,’ and you could hear in her voice that she was scared s—less,” Kemen said. Afterwards, they called 311 and 911 to report the incident to the authorities. State police who responded said they received several calls about an “elderly woman” biking on the expressway, but when they arrived, she was gone. “I hope she’s OK,” Kemen said.

“We don’t know who rode the bike nor what the circumstances were, so we don’t know enough about the situation to comment on it,” Divvy manager Elliot Greenberger told me. “We’ve served nearly 2.9 million trips in the past 16 months and there have only been a couple of incidents like this that we’ve become aware of, usually through social media.”

Former Active Transportation Alliance staffer Lee Crandell summed up the situation nicely in a comment on the RedEye site:

Divvy users are just regular people, and incidents like this are a good indication of how unintuitive and confusing our streets are for regular people. I can see how if you’re not an “avid cyclist” and you’re riding on streets you’re not familiar with, you could easily end up making a wrong turn onto a highway ramp. And many Chicago streets already feel like expressways, so you might just keep riding before you realize your mistake.

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Spielman Trots Out “War on Cars” Rhetoric for Report on Parking Tax Hike

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The Greenway Self-Park at Kinzie and Dearborn. Photo: John Greenfield

Veteran Sun-Times reporter’s Fran Spielman’s recent piece on Mayor Emanuel’s plan to raise the city’s parking garage tax was a classic example of windshield-perspective journalism.

As part of his 2015 budget, Emanuel has proposed raising the parking tax by 10 percent on weekdays and 11 percent on weekends, to 22 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Spielman reported. The mayor hopes the hike will generate an additional $10 million, which would be earmarked to hire 80 new employees for year-round pothole repair crews.

The increased garage tax “is not the only hit motorists will be asked to absorb in 2015,” Spielman wrote. The budget would also raise the tax paid by Chicago residents who lease their cars from eight to nine percent. That increase is expected to generate $60 million in additional revenue.

This would be the third time Emanuel has tweaked the garage parking tax since he took office in 2011. His first budget included a $2 surcharge for weekday garage parking, which the mayor referred to as a “congestion fee.” In 2013, he changed the parking tax from a sliding scale to a fixed percentage, Spielman reported.

Predictably, downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly and Marc Gordon, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, are griping that making it a little more expensive to drive downtown would have a chilling effect on local commerce. Gordon has said the same thing before each previous parking tax hike.

“[The garage parking tax is a popular punching bag for the mayor, in part, because it’s part of a larger plan to discourage driving by building protected bike lanes and bus rapid transit lanes that shrink the number of lanes available for passenger vehicles,” Spielman wrote. Here we see the tired “war on cars” rhetoric that’s all too common among mainstream news sources.

The purpose of street reconfigurations that make room for PBLs and dedicated bus lanes is not to stick it to motorists. For example, converting a mixed-traffic lane to a two-way protected bikeway on Dearborn created a safe place for north-south Loop bike traffic. It also reduced speeding on a street that formerly had capacity for 40,000 motor vehicles a day but only carried about 13,000.

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Making It Easier to Get to the Museum Campus Without a Car

Museum Campus Transportation study

Residents asked for protected bike lanes near the Museum Campus at the meeting.

It’s already a bit of a hassle to get to and around Chicago’s Museum Campus, which includes the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field. In light of plans to build the Lucas Museum, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s goal to increase tourism from 49 million visitors last year to 55 million in 2020, the problem could get worse.

This summer, the mayor created the Museum Campus Transportation Task Force to review how people currently get to the campus and travel between the attractions, as well as to propose transportation improvements. The Metropolitan Planning Council is heading up the task force, which also includes city agencies, the leadership of the four main campus amenities, and nearby neighborhood groups.

MPC president MarySue Barrett said Emanuel gave the task force 90 days to finish the study. The report will serve as the transportation component of the Chicago Park District’s long-term Framework Plan. Plans for the Lucas Museum were announced after the task force convened. “Access has been troublesome for a while before that,” Barrett noted.

“This is the first time there’s been planning for the museum campus since the relocation of Lake Shore Drive,” Barrett said. The northbound lanes of the highway, which formerly ran between the Field and the Shedd, were moved west of the football stadium in the late 1990s, which allowed for the creation of the campus. The budget for that project didn’t “have enough give at the time,” Barrett said, for the kind of transportation planning and improvements the task force is now considering.

Museum Campus Transportation study

MarySue Barrett (right) co-chairs the task force with Chicago Chief Operating Officer Joe Deal (left).

Barrett said that the first step in the task force’s research process is to collect public input and information from the dozen involved organizations. “There are five million visitors annually to the Shedd, Adler, and Field Museums,” she said, adding that they’re trying to get input from three types of visitors: Chicagoans, suburbanites, and visitors from outside the region. “We’re looking at the museums’ attendance surveys to see how people arrive,” she said.

To brainstorm ideas for improving access to the museum campus, MPC is hosting three public meetings, the first of which was held yesterday evening at their downtown offices. See below for details on the two remaining events. The public is also encouraged to submit ideas and concerns about campus transportation issues online.

Roughly 70 people attended last night’s session. Issues ranged from security measures during special events that block park access days after the event, to police hassling pedicabbers when they offer Bears fans rides to transit stations or bars. Attendees were invited to sketch out their ideas on maps. Some South Loop residents highlighted streets where they’d like to see protected bike lanes.

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Conquering the Unbearable Whiteness of Bike Advocacy: An Equity How-To

In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino community members learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility

In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino residents learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility

Many bicycle advocacy groups find themselves in a sticky position today: They’re increasingly aware that their membership doesn’t reflect the diversity of the broader population, but they’re not sure how to go about recruiting new members, or how to do it in a way that doesn’t amount to tokenism.

The League of American Bicyclists has been working hard to address equity in the bike movement, and their collaboration with a wide variety of local groups has led them to share some of the most successful practices in a new report, The New Movement: Bike Equity Today. Here are some how-tos, drawn from the report, for people who want to bring new voices into the movement.

Listen. How can bike advocates be sure that the infrastructure solutions and education programs they’re promoting work for everyone unless they ask everyone — or better yet, get everyone at the table in the first place when designing the advocacy program? “You can’t just go and say, ‘We need you to show up at a meeting,’” says Karen Overton of New York’s Recycle-a-Bicycle. “That’s not the way to do it. People may reach out to African American churches and say, they don’t call us back. But what if you actually go to church and then start talking?”

Elevate new leaders. Portland’s Community Cycling Center trained 12 members of the low-income, Latino housing developments they were working with to be bike educators “to cultivate and sustain [a] community-led bike culture.” The trainings were led in Spanish. “These projects also represent the promise that the best solution to barriers to bicycling are created by those experiencing the barriers,” said CCC Director Alison Hill Graves, “particularly when there are cultural, income, or age differences.” Local Spokes of New York City has a Youth Ambassadors program in which local teens explored the Lower East Side and Chinatown by bike, learning about urban planning, bicycle infrastructure, community organizing, public space, and gentrification along the way. They then created educational materials to share what they learned with local residents. “In the short term, youth became educators, stewards, and champions of this work,” says the League.

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Active Trans Launches a New Crusade Against Dangerous Intersections

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McCormick and Touhy in Skokie was ranked the worst intersection for pedestrians in suburban Cook County. Image: Google Maps

The Active Transportation Alliance was instrumental in creating the Transit Future campaign, with the goal of creating a dedicated funding source for regional transit. Now they’re also pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure, while raising awareness of Chicagoland’s many hazardous intersections, with their new Safe Crossings initiative.

“It’s really important that we recognize the challenges that pedestrians face across the region,” Active Trans’ director of campaigns, Kyle Whitehead, told me. “People tend to assume that these dangerous and difficult intersections are going to stay that way. We want people to realize that there are proven solutions to address these issues. If we can raise awareness and muster resources, there’s the potential to solve these problems throughout the region.”

This morning, Active Trans released a list of ten of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Chicago, and ten of the most hazardous junctions in suburban Cook County. Topping the urban list is the notoriously chaotic North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park, with 43 reported pedestrian and bike crashes between 2006 and 2012. In the ‘burbs, the worst-ranked junction is Skokie’s McCormick and Touhy intersection, where two six-lane roads cross next to the North Shore Channel Trail bike-and-pedestrian path.

The crash data, provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, was only one of the factors Active Trans used to compile the lists. They also incorporated feedback from their planning and outreach staff, plus public input. The group received more than 800 responses to an online survey that was posted on their blog, shared via social media, and emailed to members. Here are the full lists:

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Englewood Flyover Now Smoothing Out South Side Metra Rides

The Englewood Flyover train bridge unofficially opened three weeks ago, carrying test trains along the Metra Rock Island District tracts. The mile-long flyover, near 63rd Street and Wentworth Avenue, is one of the largest projects within CREATE, a larger program to untangle railroad flows around Chicago. The $141 million project could eliminate 7,500 hours of Metra delays each year that stem from this busy intersection, which sees 78 Metra, 60 freight, and 14 Amtrak trains every day.

Anne Alt is a regular rider of the Rock Island line between Beverly and the Loop. (Anne works for FK Law Illinois, a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor.) Alt described the delays on her commute as erratic: “I can go weeks or months without seeing any delays there, and then go two or three days in a row where my train waits anywhere from a few minutes, to 10 or 15,” an appreciable amount on a half-hour ride. Metra’s July delay report [PDF] listed multiple delays at the Englewood interlocking, varying from five to 15 minutes long.

Metra will be the only user of the Englewood Flyover, sending its Rock Island trains soaring over three previously intersecting tracks. Metra will soon add a third track to the flyover for SouthWest Service trains, after another CREATE project is constructed. That flyover [PDF], at 75th Street and Normal Avenue, will allow SWS trains to head to downtown Chicago on the RID tracks. The switch would also send SWS trains into LaSalle Street Station rather than Union Station, freeing up room at Union Station for other Metra lines and for Amtrak service to Michigan and Missouri.

Alt said that her first impression of the new flyover was that it “feels real solid.” She added, “I’m really hoping that the flyover will help reduce weekend delays, which often make it difficult to be on time for things unless I leave ridiculously early (like a couple of hours early) or take the [CTA] Red Line.”

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