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Posts tagged "Chicago Park District"

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Local Leaders Weigh in On 31st Street Beach Transportation Issues

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. The park district plans to more than double the size of the an existing parking lot, center. Image: Google Maps

Last month I reported on the Chicago Park District’s plans to expand a parking lot at the southwest corner of 31st and Lake Shore Drive, a short walk from 31st Street Beach and Harbor. The proposal would enlarge the lot, currently 60,000 square feet of asphalt, by 85,000 feet — that’s about 1.5 football fields worth of existing green space that would be replaced by blacktop.

The project would add more than 250 spaces near the beach, which already has over 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces within a five-minute walk. It would cost $1.6 million, paid for harbor bond funding.

I noted that Friends of the Parks has endorsed the project. Executive director Juanita Irizarry told me last month that if the group advocated against more parking at the South Side beach, they would have essentially been “tell[ing] people of color that they can only utilize the beach if they arrive by CTA or bicycle.”

On the other hand the Active Transportation Alliance is against the parking expansion. Executive director Ron Burke argued that transit, walking, and bike access should be improved instead. “Let’s give people MORE open space, play areas, trails and other attractions and LESS pavement for cars,” he said via email.

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The design of the expanded parking lot. Image: Chicago Park District

After my article ran, Delmarie Cobb, a lifelong Bronzeville resident and owner of the Publicity Works PR firm fired off an angry email to 4th ward alderman Sophia King’s office about the parking plan and cc-ed me. “Now, the city wants to take more green space so the harbor users will have more parking options,” she wrote. “There’s plenty of parking at the old Michael Reese parking lots.”

In addition to the 650 aforementioned nearby beach and harbor parking spaces, there are 250 public parking spots at the former hospital site, a ten-minute walk from the beach at 31st and Cottage Grove. The city purchased the property under Mayor Richard M. Daley as part of its failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

“Until the city decides what to do with that land, it should be used to accommodate beach goers,” Reese wrote. “We’re already paying for that land, so why should we pay an additional $1.6 million for 250 parking spaces?… On Fullerton, the city [built] six additional acres for green space. At 31st St., the city found 85,000 square feet of green space to turn into a parking lot.”

4th Ward staffer Prentice Butler declined to comment on the lot expansion project, except to confirm that Alderman King is in favor of the plan.

31st St Beach Sign

This sign installed by the entrance to the garage last winter indicated that the garage was for boaters only. Photo via Delmarie Cobb.

When I reached Cobb this afternoon, she told me that she has since realized that, while the parking lot expansion will eliminate green space west of the drive, it won’t affect parkland closer to the beach that is used for barbecues, land she says is in short supply. While that’s less objectionable to her, she still finds it problematic that money was found for more asphalt while a community center originally planned as part of the harbor project, completed in 2012, was never funded.

While the park district and the 4th Ward haven’t had much to say about why exactly it’s believed that another 250 spaces are needed, Cobb offered an explanation. She provided a photo taken last winter of a permanent sign installed by the garage entrance claiming that all public parking spots in the 317-space facility was full, and spaces were only available to people with harbor passes. “Obviously the garage wasn’t full in the middle of the winter, but they were treating it like a private garage for boaters,” Cobb said.

Cobb says that when King took office last spring, she asked the park district to remove that sign and put up a new one stating that the garage spaces are available to the general public. Cobb recently went out with an intern and interviewed boaters to learn more about the parking situation. She says the boaters, many of whom live outside of the city, told them the lot expansion is planned because harbor pass holders were sometimes having trouble finding space in the now-public garage.

“The boaters said they don’t feel they should have to schlep all their stuff from the Michael Reese site to the harbor,” Cobb said. “That’s fine for the residents, but not for the boaters.”

“It just goes to show, the city can always find money to do what they want to do, such as projects to entice tourists,” Cobb said. “But they can never find money for the things we need like the community center, things that improve quality of life for neighborhood residents.”

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Parks Group Endorses Plan to Replace Two Acres of Green Space With Asphalt

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. Friends of the Parks has endorsed the park district’s plan to more than double the size of the west lot, center. Image: Google Maps

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

It’s another case of parks versus parking lots.

The Chicago Park District plans to put more than 250 new parking spots near the recently revamped 31st Street Beach and Harbor, in addition to the more than 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces already available within a roughly five-minute walk of the beach. That would make for a whopping grand total of more than 900 stalls at the lakeside facility.

On top of that, to make room for the additional parking, the project would involve the elimination of 85,000 square feet of existing green space south of a current car park.

The Park District says the additional parking is meant to accommodate future demand for access to the 900-slip harbor—although a spokesperson admits the department hasn’t conducted a parking demand study.

But here’s what really gets me: the parking lot expansion has been endorsed by none other than Friends of the Parks, the same group that helped tank George Lucas’s proposal to replace Soldier Field’s 1,500-space south lot with his Museum of Narrative Arts.

“Friends of the Parks has been hearing from stakeholders as well as the Chicago Park District about the great demand for parking for both beachgoers and boaters at the 31st Street Beach,” executive director Juaniza Irizarry said via e-mail this week.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Friends of the Parks’ previous advocacy work. I respect the group’s role as a guardian of our city’s recreational spaces—working, for example, to stop private music festivals from destroying public parks. It’s also taken progressive stances on parking at other parks. Still, I saw its stance in rejecting the Lucas Museum as a case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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Active Trans May Launch a Petition Drive to Keep The 606 Open 24/7

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While many people would like to commute after 11 p.m. on The 606, it’s currently illegal to do so. Photo: John Greenfield

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

It was an unseasonably warm 61 degrees just before midnight last Tuesday, and there was the best kind of rain for bicycling, a refreshing mist that was too fine to soak into my jacket, but one that gave the streetlights a dreamy glow.

Beneath the dull roar of the Kennedy Expressway, I approached the eastern trailhead of the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the 606. I was about to do something the Chicago Police Department insists is a fineable offense: pedal on the 2.7-mile elevated greenway during the city’s 11 PM-to-6 AM park curfew.

Representatives of the Chicago Park District, which manages the trail, and the Trust for Public Land, the national nonprofit that’s spearheading its ongoing development, disagree with police on this matter. They say it’s perfectly legal to commute on the 606 at night, and cite a clause in the Park District code that allows for nonstop after-hours travel through the city’s green spaces.

Police officers are currently shooing all cyclists, joggers, and strollers off the path at 11, and may show up to oust them at other times if a neighbor calls to complain.

Nonetheless, plenty of people are using the trail to bike home from work or play late at night, which is only common sense. Some 80,000 Chicagoans live within a half mile of the path, which provides an alternative to sharing the road with cars on busy Armitage and North Avenues, the two nearest parallel main streets.

Recently though, bad actors have taken advantage of the late-evening path traffic and the relative isolation of the linear park. In the wake of three recent muggings of bike riders, it’s time for the police to step up their patrolling of the Bloomingdale and start allowing 24/7 commuting. A higher number of legitimate users at all times of night would mean more eyes on the trail and safety in numbers.

As I spun west on the gently undulating path last Tuesday, there were a few people out on bikes, foot, and skateboards, despite the gentle rain and the curfew. One of them was Jessica Dickerson, 31, who was pedaling a black fixed-gear bike home to her apartment near Central Park and Cortland, a block north of the trail.

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Legalizing 24/7 Commuting on The Bloomingdale Trail Would Make It Safer

cyclist riding on the Bloomingdale Trail

Last summer, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman told me that, according to the park district code, it’s legal to commute on the Bloomingdale Trail at all times of day. But in the wake of the mugging of a cyclist on the greenway last Friday night, the agency seems to have flip-flopped on the issue – a spokeswoman implied that the 2.7-mile facility is closed between 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. However, if it was open 24/7, that would improve safety because there would more “eyes on the trail.”

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale, aka The 606, and many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

Last June spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code. “Persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination,” the code states. Lemons said this allows commuters to use paths through parks, including The 606, for transportation.

However, in practice, police officers enforce the city’s usual 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they order the trail users to leave. Last summer Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed this is the department’s current protocol.

After I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue.

On Friday at around 11:30 p.m., a 25-year-old man was biking on the trail near Kedzie Avenue when he was jumped and mugged by four males, DNAinfo reported. They pulled him off his cycle, beat him, and took his wallet, phone, before leaving the scene, according to police.

“I was biking home from work in Lakeview and took the trail because there were a lot of cars out, and I have ridden late at night before without incident,” the victim told DNA.

In the wake of the attack, park district spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner indicated that it was illegal for the cyclist, as well as the assailants, to be on the trail at the time, referring to the fact that the parks are usually closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Therefore it appears that the park district and the police department are now on the same page. Unfortunately it’s the wrong page.

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Police, Park District Still Disagree About Late-Night Travel on The 606

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Photo: John Greenfield

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway that connects Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. Many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

However, that’s not currently how things work. As it stands, Chicago police officers are enforcing the city’s 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they politely (according to all accounts I’ve heard) order the trail users to leave. When I looked into the issue two weeks ago, Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed that this is the department’s current protocol.

However, the police policy contradicts that of the Chicago Park District, which owns the Bloomingdale. Two weeks ago, spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path 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.”

When I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue. I made several follow-up calls to both agencies over the last two weeks, and was repeatedly promised an update in the near future.

In the meantime, I checked in with community leaders in the surrounding neighborhoods about the issue. Alderman Scott Waguespack’s 32nd Ward includes the Bloomingdale east of Western Avenue, where the trail is bordered by upscale housing. Prior to the path’s June 6 opening, constituents had expressed concerns that heavy foot and bike traffic would lead to a spike in crime. That fear hasn’t materialized, but there have been complaints about noisy skateboarders.

Waguespack seems to endorse the police-enforced curfew. “From early planning stages, the word was that the Bloomingdale Trail would be open during regular park hours only, and the hours would be enforced by the police or park district security,” he told me. “I don’t think that rule has changed and likely won’t.”

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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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#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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The Lakefront Trail Really Is Open All Day, All Night

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Bicyclists can and should feel free to enjoy the Lakefront Trail’s beauty 24 hours a day. Photo: Jennifer Davis

Have you ever been hassled by Chicago police officers while bicycling on the Lakefront Trail after parks officially close at 11 PM? You’re not alone. Sebastian Huydts, who bicycles for most of his transportation needs, has been stopped twice this year — most recently on May 13, at about 11:15 p.m. “They actually told me to stop with a bright light and asked why I was there,” Huydts recently told Streetsblog. The police insisted that the park is closed after 11 p.m., telling Huydts “that you cannot use the path after that time, and that it wasn’t safe anyways.”

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path used by tens of thousands of bicyclists on warmer days, and by many as a key commuting route throughout the year.

Huydts said that the officers weren’t unfriendly, and that he wasn’t mistreated. He countered the police, saying that riding home among drunk drivers on Kinzie Street would be far less safe. The officers asked for his destination (Montrose Avenue), and after talking amongst themselves, they “told me I was good to go — but should exit as soon as I could.”

The police officer on duty when I called the news affairs office said that he would look into what the rule is, and also how many bicyclists the department has warned, issued citations to, or given a contact card to.

The Chicago Park District, which owns and maintains the Lakefront Trail, said that the path is open at all times. Spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said flatly that “the trail is open for ingress/egress after regular hours.” The Chicago Department of Transportation deferred to the Park District for a response.

Maxey-Faulkner’s answer that the path is open is in keeping with Park District code [PDF], which states that nobody can be in a park between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., “except that persons and vehicles may pass through such parks without stopping, on the more direct walk or driveway leading from their point of entrance to the exit nearest to their point of destination.” This code appears to extend to trails through other large parks throughout the city.

Others have previously reported instances where a police vehicle parked squarely across the path, with the attending police officer ordering bicyclists to immediately exit the trail. Active Transportation Alliance said in 2010 that they would like to see better awareness of the overnight trail use policy. This policy should be conspicuously posted along the path, and communicated to the police units who patrol the trail.

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Eyes on the Street: Sidewalks Are For Walking, Not Parking

A resident parks a car on a vaulted sidewalk across from Eckhart Park. Photo: Lindsay Bayley

A car parked on a sidewalk across from Eckhart Park. Photo: Lindsay Bayley

A springtime walk in the park, or down a sidewalk, should be simple and straightforward. Alas, there are some places around Chicago where someone out for a stroll instead has to dodge parked cars that plainly have no place within the sidewalk.

These intrusions on pedestrian space don’t just rudely place dangerous moving cars within a space that should be safe for children. They’re also illegal under city code section 9-64-110, and can structurally damage sidewalks that aren’t meant to bear the weight of multi-ton cars and trucks.

Lindsay Bayley has noticed consistent parking violations at Eckhart Park, noting that “the sidewalk feels like the last remnant of public space that we have to ourselves — and even that is often interrupted with driveways.” Although the Chicago Park District has added employee parking lots to many parks, the lot at Eckhart sits empty most of the time. There, “the park director does not use the employee parking lot, and instead parks her car so that it blocks the handicapped ramp.” When Bayley approached the park director to ask why she was parking there, the director responded, “because I work here.”

Aside from watching yet another local government flouting traffic law, it seems that these instances encourage broader irresponsibility by other drivers. Just across from Eckhart Park, Bayley also watched a driver pull up past empty curb space and onto a fragile vaulted sidewalk to unload his car, perhaps encouraged by the sight of multiple sidewalk-parked cars nearby.

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Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council Should Be More Than an Info Session

Rebekah Scheinfeld and Gabe Klein during Q&A

New CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld needs to lead the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council in a more engaging and meaningful direction. Photo: Ryan Griffin-Stegink

I recently moved to the Windy City from Portland, Oregon, where I had served as a member of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee at the state level for bike and pedestrian issues. So I came into last Wednesday’s meeting of the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council excited to hear the breadth and depth of pedestrian advocacy and projects happening in Chicago. Based on my experience in Oregon, I expected a meeting structured around deliberate conversation and debate. Instead, what I saw was an information session.

In Oregon, I was appointed by the governor to my four-year term in the fall of 2009, and my tenure on OBPAC was marked by a significant shift in the way viewpoints of advocates and members of the committee were incorporated into broader policy change. What had at one time been more of a one-way arrangement, in which Oregon DOT staff came to present information in a “show and tell” format, became a real committee where the governor’s top sustainability and transportation advisors frequently dropped by to pick up ideas. Tabletop nameplates served to create a sense of professionalism and respect. The committee’s later decision to increase the number of meetings from four to six per year increased the stakes for committee member participation and staff preparation.

Sitting back and observing the room on Wednesday, it wasn’t clear to me who was on the committee and who wasn’t. With several presenters and members of the public nestled among the committee, the resulting dynamic was one of indecisiveness. What actions were going to come out of the meeting? Which players in the room were going carry out the action? What were the results of these conversations?

What should be an opportunity to press for changes to the status quo instead felt more like a rote list of ongoing projects and initiatives. We were told about Safe Routes to School projects and grants, the Safe Routes Ambassadors program, snow removal efforts, and pedestrian fatalities, but we did not exchange ideas.

While there is certainly value to informing advocates of current efforts, in Oregon the advisory committee also involved truly advising public agencies. At MPAC, there should be an opportunity for larger ideas and discussions. General questions should be posed of committee members, such as the best way to go about a policy change, which partners to include in reform efforts, or general concerns for pedestrians in the built environment. At the very least, a public comment period, which was conspicuously absent from the agenda, would be a good start.

While Oregon may be perceived as an anomaly in the amount of public process at each level of government, it has taken the concerted efforts of government staff and citizens to make it this way. If you believe in public process, creating a dialogue in which all topics are welcomed and encouraged is but a small step in fulfilling the potential of advisory committees. The result of this approach is more robust, vetted, and longer-lasting solutions.

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