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Posts tagged "Rebekah Scheinfeld"

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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.

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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…

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CDOT Is Finally Moving Forward With the Loop BRT Project

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Rendering of BRT on Washington at LaSalle.

Last July, City Hall broke the news that the start of construction on the $32.5 million Central Loop BRT project was being delayed from this fall until at least next year, if not later. That spurred concern that the project might be in jeopardy, or that it might be a low priority for Mayor Emanuel. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation today announced it has launched the bidding process for BRT system, as well as the $43 million Union Station Transit Center, and the $75 million Washington/Wabash CTA station.

All three projects will break ground by March 31, according to CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. The transit center and BRT route will be in operation by the end of 2015, and the station will open in 2016, she said. “Any one of these would be a big deal,” she said. “But it’s exciting for downtown, the neighborhoods, and the region that we’re working on all three – there are synergies between these projects.”

Walter Hook, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which is consulting on Chicago’s Loop and Ashland BRT projects, previously speculated that Mayor Emanuel had pushed back these initiatives for political reasons. It seems likely that the Loop BRT construction work, and ensuing traffic headaches, won’t begin until after the February 24 election.

The Loop BRT system will feature dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, running between Union Station and Michigan Avenue, plus several other time-saving features. CDOT predicts these will make a westbound trip across the Loop 15 percent shorter, and an eastbound trip 25 percent shorter.

Eight extra-long stations, averaging 90 feet in length, will be built on Washington (at Franklin, LaSalle, Clark, and State) and on Madison (at Franklin, LaSalle, Dearborn, and State). The stations will be long enough to accommodate two articulated buses at a time.

Seven existing stops will be eliminated on Madison (Clark, Wells, and Wacker), Canal (Washington, Monroe, and Van Buren), and Clinton (Van Buren). Having stops roughly every other block, instead of every block, will definitely speed things up.

The buses will get a type of traffic signal prioritization at seven intersections, most of which already give pedestrians a head start on motor vehicle traffic. When pedestrians get the early walk signal, a special signal will also give buses a head start over cars. Since buses won’t be turning right at these intersections, there shouldn’t be conflicts with pedestrians.

All stations will feature level boarding, which will eliminate the time needed to make buses “kneel” for seniors and people with disabilities. However, for starters, only the Madison/Dearborn station will feature prepaid boarding.

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Pedestrian Fatality Tracker: More Deaths This Year Than Last

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Pedestrian fatalities from January to July 2014 are up over the same period last year. Data: IDOT, CDOT via Chicago Police Department

More people were killed while walking in Chicago in the first seven months of this year, compared to the same time period last year. Chicago transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld pointed out to the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council last week that “this is the first increase since 2009.”

21 people on foot died in car crashes between January and July of this year, versus 18 who died in the same months in 2013. Scheinfeld said that major injuries to pedestrians have also increased, by eight percent over last year’s rate. She noted that the number of miles that people have driven in Chicago has also increased, and suggested that may be a factor in the increase this year.

The 21 deaths this year are still fewer than the 2008-2012 average, Scheinfeld said – and far below the unusually high number of deaths in 2012, when 47 pedestrians were killed in car crashes. Last year’s 29 pedestrian deaths were one-third fewer than the five-year average, and 40 percent below 2012′s death toll.

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

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Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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CDOT & CPD Launch Annual Crosswalk Safety Stings

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A plain-clothes police officer (blue top) crosses the street. Photo: John Greenfield

You might have noticed many square, black bases bolted in the center of Chicago streets, which held “Stop for Pedestrians” signs before they were taken out by motorists. These testify to the fact that many local drivers don’t operate safely around crosswalks.

In an attempt to change that behavior, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Police Department once again launched a pedestrian safety campaign, including crosswalk stings and ads reminding drivers to stop for people in crosswalks. As part of last year’s campaign, the police department wrote more than 1,200 tickets to motorists who failed to stop, resulting in $120 fines.

Earlier today, the city held a press conference at Clark Street and Germania Place in Old Town, where the police were conducting a sting. There’s a pedestrian island here, with chunks of concrete missing due to careless drivers, and “Stop for Pedestrians” signs were installed a while ago at crosswalks on the north and south legs of the intersection. Signs further north and south of the intersection warned drivers of the crosswalk enforcement event. Unfortunately, one of them was partially blocking the bike lane on Clark.

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What would Alanis Morisette have to say about this? Photo: John Greenfield

Plain-clothes police officers repeatedly crossed the street, while another officer in a squad car stood by, waiting to chase down drivers who failed to yield. In general, motorists were stopping when pedestrians were in the crosswalk, and sometimes even when the crosswalk was empty. Occasionally, the cop in the car would zoom out of his spot with lights and siren on to ticket an offender.

A nearby resident I spoke to said that drivers are generally pretty good about yielding to people on foot at this location. However, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said this intersection was chosen for the sting because there have been some crashes here. Similar “crosswalk awareness initiatives” are planned citywide at 60 crossings near schools, senior housing and business strips. The program is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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Active Trans’ Ron Burke, Scheinfeld and IDOT’s Bola Delano face the cameras. Photo: John Greenfield

“On average, roughly 3,000 pedestrians are hit by motor vehicle [drivers] every year in Chicago, resulting in an average of 30 deaths per year,” Scheinfeld told reporters. “This is unacceptable. Our goal is to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent over the next five years, and to eliminate pedestrian fatalities within ten years.”

Scheinfeld cited CDOT safety initiatives like bumpouts, speed humps, and countdown walk signals as part of that effort, along with the Safe Routes Ambassadors program, which educates school children about safe walking and biking. 800 “Stop for Pedestrians” PSAs are going up on CTA buses, 100 are being installed in bus shelter posters, 50 are being displayed on news racks, and 40 are going up on solar garbage compactors. Notably, each ad includes an image of a bicyclist, which implies that lawbreaking behavior by bicyclists is a comparable threat to pedestrians as dangerous driving, when that’s obviously not the case.

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No Central Loop BRT in 2014 as CDOT Delays Launch Indefinitely

11,000 people ride the J14 Jeffery Jump each weekday

The 11,000 people who ride the J14 Jeffery Jump daily, plus 20,000 on other bus routes, will have to wait until 2015 — or later — for a speedier trip through downtown.

Construction delays have pushed back the Central Loop BRT project, from a projected 2014 start until next year or even later. The causes of the setback remain troublingly vague, and there is no clear timetable for the improvements proposed for four downtown streets, which are supposed to speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes with a combined ridership of 30,000.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the CTA said that improved transit service would start in 2014, but the Sun-Times reports that construction has been delayed. While the Sun-Times said the project might proceed next year, the city is not providing a specific timetable.

CDOT and CTA plan to run the six routes via bus-only lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington, and Madison Streets, so that bus riders won’t get slowed by congestion downtown. Combined with off-board fare collection at distinctive bus stations, along with priority at certain traffic signals, the improvements will reduce ride times across the Loop by 3 to 9 minutes. That would save a commuter going from Union Station to Illinois Center up to 75 hours over the course of a year.

As late as November, the plan was still to launch service this year. After CDOT acknowledged another Sun-Times report that water pipes under the proposed bus stations would have to be relocated, former commissioner Gabe Klein said (after he announced his resignation):

“As far as I know, the project will be done in December of 2014, just like it was supposed to be. You build in time for minor moves and changes. I’m not aware that there’s going to be a significant delay.”

The timeline began to slip one month ago, when CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said that construction would start this year but added that service wouldn’t start until 2015.

Now the timeline has been pushed back again. Scheinfeld told the Sun-Times the design is taking “longer than expected to complete” and that, as the paper put it, “the Emanuel administration is more interested in getting it right than rushing it through.” However, she did not give the paper a new construction timetable.

It’s good that CDOT says it won’t sacrifice quality to get shovels in the ground, but the lack of a specific project timeline is troubling. Without knowing when the project is supposed to get built, it’s hard to know whether the department is still committed to this important improvement to the city’s transportation system.

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Scheinfeld Lauds Chicago’s Bike Gains at Rally; Pedicabbers Protest

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Members of the Chicago Pedicab Association protest at this morning’s rally. Photo: CPA

Despite the gloomy weather this morning, hundreds of people pedaled to Daley Plaza for the annual Bike to Work Rally, where city officials provided an update on Chicago cycling initiatives. Among the cyclists were pedicabbers defying the city’s recently enacted ban on rush-hour pedicab use in the Loop to protest the ordinance but, happily, no $500 tickets were issued.

Unlike last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not speak at the rally, but he did stop by for a few minutes near the end of the event to greet cyclists and take photos with them. Instead, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld gave the traditional “state of the union” speech on local bike efforts.

Scheinfeld noted that before Emanuel took office in 2011, Chicago’s reputation as a great cycling city had declined. In 2001, Bicycling Magazine rated Chicago the best big U.S. city for biking, but by 2010, New York City had claimed that honor. She argued that Emanuel’s support for cycling has brought our city back to the forefront.

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The Crowd at Daley Plaza. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

The commissioner noted that, under the current administration, the city has built roughly 40 miles of buffered bike lanes and 16.5 miles of protected lanes. The number of people riding bikes to work has tripled since 2000, and Chicago now has the second-highest total number of bike commuters of any American city, behind only NYC. She added that, on some Chicago streets, the number of bike trips is almost the same as car trips. For example, Milwaukee sometimes sees upwards of 7,000 bicycles a day.

The commissioner also touted the success of Divvy: in less than a year, the system has racked up 22,000 annual members, over 220,000 day pass sales, and 1.5 million rides, covering more than 3.3 million miles. She added that the recently announced $12.5 million Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois sponsorship of the system will help fund the expansion of bike-share into new neighborhoods, as well as bikeway maintenance and bike education programs.

However, Scheinfeld acknowledged that Chicago still has a long way to go before it is truly bike-friendly, noting that the city has seen two bike fatalities this year. The goal of the city’s “Zero in Ten” initiative, announced in 2012, is to eliminate all traffic fatalities. She argued that city efforts like innovative bikeways, safety education, and traffic cameras are helping to make this vision a reality.

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Scheinfeld Talks About Divvy, PBLs, Traffic Cams, and Long Term Goals

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Scheinfeld with Mayor Emanuel at the groundbreaking for the Navy Pier Flyover. Photo: John Greenfield

In this final installment of my interview with Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, we talked about the Divvy expansion, traffic cameras, protected bike lanes, and her overall goals as CDOT chief. Read the first and second parts of the interview here and here.

John Greenfield: We’re slated to get 175 more Divvy stations this year. Do you think that’s actually going to happen, what with the Bixi [aka Public Bike System Company] bankruptcy?

Rebekah Scheinfeld: That’s still our intention. Obviously, our options are impacted by what happened with the PBSC bankruptcy, and we’ve been following that very closely. Our contractor is Alta [Bicycle Share] – we don’t have a direct relationship with PBSC. Now that the bankruptcy procedures are closed, we’re able to move forward to make some more certain decisions about the supply chain and timing. We are moving aggressively to try to still meet our goals for expansion this year, so I expect we still will.

JG: If Bixi’s not able to provide any more equipment, do we have equipment that’s in storage now that could be installed, so that we might get some of the new stations?

RS: Alta has been exploring alternative supply chains. PBSC doesn’t necessarily make all of those pieces. They assemble a lot of it into those packages. So there are other suppliers out there that are actually making the bikes or the different components for the stations or bikes.

Alta has been pressing as aggressively as possible, considering the bankruptcy process, as well as investigating alternative supply chains, so that they’ll be able to do the expansion. We’d like to end up in a situation where we’re able to continue working with PBSC, because we still think that’s going to be the most expeditious way.

JG: OK, this next question is probably going to annoy Pete [Scales, the CDOT spokesman who is sitting in on the interview.] [Laughter.] So you were involved in putting together the mayor’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan, right?

RS: Yes, I was part of the transportation and infrastructure committee.

JG: When you guys put together that document, the protected bike lane goal defined protected bike lanes as being separated from traffic by a physical barrier, such as bollards or parked cars. The current definition of protected bike lanes that the city is using includes buffered lanes, which the city is now classifying as “buffer-protected.” While the transition plan originally called for 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes in the mayor’s first term, it looks like a much higher percentage of the bike lanes are going to be buffered instead.

It’s awesome that we’re getting all these miles of buffered and protected lanes. But arguably, it’s a letdown that we were promised 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes and, due to reality setting in, this is the one goal out of the three major bike goals, including the Bloomingdale Trail and Divvy, that is not going to be accomplished. When it’s time to cut the ribbon on the hundredth mile, how will you respond to that question — will we have achieved the goal that was set out in the transition plan?

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CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld Discusses the Loop BRT Project

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Rebekah Scheinfeld. Photo: John Greenfield

I recently sat down with Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to discuss the city’s efforts to create safer, more efficient conditions for walking, transit and biking. We’ll be publishing the interview in a few installments, starting with this conversation about plans for bus rapid transit in the Loop.

John Greenfield: What’s going on with the schedule for the Loop BRT? I’ve heard there has been a little pushback from business owners. Some of them weren’t excited about the idea of having large bus stations in front of their storefronts, even though the design is transparent. So, when are you thinking that’s going to get rolled out and how many stations does it look like we’re going to get?

Rebekah Scheinfeld: We’re still planning to start construction this year. We have to finish the design process, and then it will go through the procurement process for the construction contractor, and there will be a full season of construction. So the expectation is that it will be operational by the end of 2015. And that also includes the Union Station Transit Center.

The design for the Washington and Madison corridors calls for eight stations at major connection points. We’re still working through the design. Obviously, it’s complex because it’s a major investment in the heart of the Loop, and it requires a lot of coordination with the different users: building owners, business owners, and other constituencies along both corridors.

So, we’re being thoughtful about the design and we’re working through concerns that are being raised through the outreach process we started last year, to reach out to stakeholders in the corridor, to make sure they’re aware of the project, and to talk through any impact concerns that they have about how the street is going to be reconfigured. That’s an ongoing process.

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The planned street configuration on Washington.

JG: What are some of the concerns the business owners have?

RS: One, it’s about understanding what the project entails, in terms of how the street would be designed and the way that there will be space allocated to bikes and pedestrians and transit and regular, general through traffic. We’re explaining that, just to get beyond any pre-conceived notions that people might have, like worries that the streets are only going to be only for buses, or something like that.

We’re explaining that this is going to be a corridor for all users, as well as explaining that there are going to be impacts in terms of where people can load or unload, for example. Obviously, businesses want to make sure that they can accommodate deliveries, for example. And there’ll be some minor offsets to parking. So a lot of it is about education, and each block is not cookie-cutter. On every block there are different kinds of buildings and different kinds of uses, so we take that very seriously.

JG: You have heard some concerns from people worried that their storefronts are going to be obscured, right?

RB: That was an early question that was raised, so we’re doing a lot to make sure that there is transparency in the design, but also that any information panels in the shelters would be perpendicular to the sidewalk, so that it maximizes the view and the sightlines.

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