[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
If 2013 was Chicago’s Long, Hot Summer of Transportation, then 2014 is the Summer of the Big Projects. Last year featured well-publicized game changers like the South Red Line rehab and the Divvy bike-share launch, but this year’s initiatives might not be so obvious to casual observers. That’s partly due to the changing of the guard at the Chicago Department of Transportation.
After forward-thinking, sharply-dressed commissioner Gabe Klein stepped down in November, he was replaced by the CTA’s head planner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, who’s only the second female chief in CDOT history. While her management and sartorial style is lower key than Klein’s, she’s no less progressive. “A lot got kicked off in the last two-and-a-half years,” she recently told me. “My goal is to continue that momentum, to make sure that we are bringing these projects in on time and on budget.”
One planned initiative whose future is somewhat beyond Scheinfeld’s control is the expansion of Divvy from its current 300 docking stations to 475. In January, Montreal-based Bixi, which provides the bikes and stations for the system, declared bankruptcy, putting the supply chain in jeopardy. However, Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Divvy for CDOT, is looking into alternative suppliers in case Bixi goes belly-up, and Scheinfeld says she expects the city will meet its expansion goals this year.
CDOT is currently moving forward with Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes within his first term. As of this spring, Chicago had about thirty-one miles of buffered lanes and roughly seventeen miles of protected lanes, by the Active Transportation Alliance’s count. The city has announced plans to install five more miles of PBLs this summer on Broadway (Montrose to Foster), Harrison (Desplaines to Wabash), and Lake (Austin to Central Park). Fifteen miles of new buffered lanes are planned, and new bikeways on Clybourn, Kedzie, Leland and Randolph may also get built this year.
The Navy Pier Flyover, a series of sixteen-foot-wide ramps and bridges, will solve the problem of the dangerous bottleneck at the center of the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. At $60 million, mostly federally funded, and featuring Cadillac-level infrastructure, it will be the most expensive single bike project in Illinois history and a symbol of Chicago’s commitment to better cycling. Construction started in March, but it won’t wrap up until 2018.
Another massive infrastructure project that’s in the thick of construction is the long-awaited Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606. Since the nineties, Northwest Side residents have lobbied the city to convert the Bloomingdale rail line into a 2.7-mile elevated greenway and linear park, and now their dream is finally coming true. The basic trail, slated to open this fall, will cost about $54 million, largely bankrolled with federal dollars. Project manager the Trust for Public Land is working on raising an additional $40-$50 million to pay for building parks at the access points, plus enhancements like playgrounds, landscaping and art.