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Posts tagged "Chicago Park District"


#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.


The Lakefront Trail Really Is Open All Day, All Night

Fog at Fullerton

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.


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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Will the New Morgan Park Sports Center Include Good Bicycle Access?

Bird's eye view of the Morgan Park Sports Center (looking east) shows the proposed cul-de-sac in the upper left corner. Image: Beverly Review

Bird’s eye view of the Morgan Park Sports Center (looking east) shows the proposed cul-de-sac in the upper left corner. Image: Beverly Review

The Chicago Department of Transportation will close 115th Street just east of Western Avenue to motor vehicle through traffic, creating a cul-de-sac to reduce neighborhood traffic after a Chicago Park District ice hockey rink and gymnastics center opens. The closure for cars could improve this important bike route, but only if it maintains street connectivity for bicycling, which doesn’t seem to be the case in previous designs and project renderings. 

Images presented at a community meeting last year show no indication that people will be able to bicycle through the cul-de-sac. Sidewalks are unimpeded, but adding a new curb and filling in the roadbed will inhibit bicycle use on what some residents consider the best east-west bicycling route in the 19th Ward.

There are dozens of cul-de-sacs in the ward designed to limit turning movements to and from 95th Street. Other cul-de-sacs built around Chicago are installed for similar reasons, and force bicyclists to use sidewalks.

Anne Alt, who lives nearby and rides a bike in this neighborhood, emailed 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea, CDOT, and the Active Transportation Alliance to express her concern that nothing be done to impede this great bike route. She wrote:

Both 111th and 119th are hazardous to cyclists, so 115th has frequently been used by cyclists seeking a safe crossing of Western at a controlled intersection. For pedestrians, crossing Western anywhere except at a stoplight is also a hazardous proposition. 115th St. is a critical crossing for both pedestrians and cyclists.

On the same thread, Active Transportation Alliance board member Jane Healy, who leads kids’ bike rides from Blue Island, echoed Alt’s concern, saying she leads three to six bike rides a month through this intersection.

A traffic study indirectly underscored the potential of 115th as a bike route. The street was closed temporarily last fall, causing 60 percent of drivers to divert to 111th and 119th. With fewer people driving on the street, it will be even more appealing for biking. Read more…


City of Chicago Finally Takes Possession of the Bloomingdale


Rendering of the Bloomingdale Trail at Milwaukee Avenue.

After a few months of relative quiet since the last community meeting in September, there’s some news about the highly anticipated project to build a multi-use trail and “linear park” along the Bloomingdale Line. On Tuesday of last week, years after announcing its intention to open the trail, the city of Chicago finally purchased the right-of-way from Canadian Pacific Railway for one dollar, plus $105,000 in administrative fees associated with the railroad vacating the land. The city will eventually give the property to the Chicago Park District, which will administer the trail. “That’s pretty typical of what happens when the park district acquires land,” says Beth White, director of the Trust for Public Land, which is spearheading fundraising efforts.

The 2.65-mile greenway will cost $91 million, with $76.5 million going towards construction and the remainder budgeted for design and stewardship, White says. $39 million is coming from a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant. The required 20 percent local match of $9 million includes $2 million from the Park District plus donations of $5 million from Exelon and $1 million each from Boeing and CNA. This funding is enough to build the basic trail.

Meanwhile, TPL is working to raise $40 – $50 million more in private donations to pay for building parks at the access points, plus enhancements like public art, maintenance and programming, with $12.5 million raised so far, White says. Last week over 75 potential donors attended a fundraiser at the Casino Club hosted by Winona Capital Management’s Laird Koldyke, also a Park District board member, and his wife Deirdre, head of the Earthheart Foundation, a philanthropic organization. White declined to tell me who some of the major donors are so far but says there will be an announcement this spring.

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