CategoryAccessibility

Pedestrian Street designation in Logan Square

This post is set up as a frequently asked questions page and will be updated as needed. Not all information may be 100% accurate – this is a major work in progress. Also, please don’t freak out about this as information is still being gathered (so far no one has, thank goodness). Photo by BWChicago. 

Update December 13, 2011: I testified this morning to the zoning hearing along with four other Logan Square neighbors (including Lynn Stevens, author of Peopling Places). The ordinance was passed. Afterward, I talked to Virginia, the McDonald’s owner, and Anita, a corporate McDonald’s construction manager. I will have more information later, but I’m busy writing an unrelated article for my main blog, Grid Chicago. I will also post my testimony from the meeting when the City Clerk’s office publishes it (assuming it gets published). Regardless of how you feel on the issues regarding this McDonald’s, this has been an educational experience for me and so many of you reading this blog, as well as many Logan Square neighbors. We and you have learned more about how the zoning processes (there are many at play here) work, how to testify at committee meetings, and what the heck a Pedestrian Street is (I’ve never heard of it before this situation).

Update February 5, 2012: The official record of the Zoning Committee doesn’t actually have verbatim my testimony (thank you to the very responsive social media team at Susana Mendoza’s Clerk’s office for the help on this). I forgot to do this earlier – here’s what I said to Chairman Solis and the other members of the committee:

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. (I am an Avondale resident.) I work as a consultant and writer on sustainable transportation advocacy and planning projects. The text amendment to modify the pedestrian street designation may negatively impact the continuity and safety in traffic of all modes along Milwaukee Avenue, which happens to be the city’s most popular bike route. I ask that prior to any further consideration of this ordinance that McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study.

Also part of this February 2012 update is to answer the question on why I didn’t post this to my other blog, Grid Chicago, where it would get more attention. The reason was twofold: I didn’t have all the information I needed to make a quality post worthy of publishing there; and that I didn’t have my purpose in covering this (and fighting it) fully explained. I am currently working on an article that will be published on Grid Chicago. This is more than a business dealings or zoning process issue: it is a transportation issue and zoning, land use, and how and where we build stuff directly affects how we get to places. Transportation and land use also have well-documented links to individual and societal health.

I’d like to thank all the other blogs that have linked to this page, and furthered the discussion:

Someone is testifying on this issue and no one is paying attention to them. 

What is going on?

Alderman Rey Colón proposes an ordinance to strip “Pedestrian Street” designations from two segments of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Here’s the proposed ordinance and the hearing notice. The hearing is on December 13, 2011, in City Hall at 121 N LaSalle Street at 10 AM.

Why does he want to do that?

It has do to with the McDonald’s at 2707 N Milwaukee Avenue, at the corner of Sawyer Avenue. Here’s what is proposed:

  1. The McDonald’s building will be demolished.
  2. A new McDonald’s building will be constructed.
  3. The new McDonald’s building will have two service lanes in their drive through, to facilitate better “drive-thruing” (and possibly increasing traffic on the streets with additional customers). You would enter from Milwaukee and exit onto Sawyer.
  4. The position/width/geometry of the curb cuts/driveways will change, necessitating the P-Street de-designation.

The alderman’s email describes a lot (although it says this is a renovation). Apparently to construct the new building, as designed, the P-Street designation needs to be lifted so McDonald’s can be issued permits build their new drive-thru, driveways, and curb cuts. However, as the existing building is being destroyed and a new structure is being built, the new structure must comply with zoning (this applies to all properties in Chicago that are new). The curb cuts and driveways already exist: a new building could hypothetically be built in the same footprint without needed any kind of change.

In essence, the new McDonald’s building, as designed, cannot be built without removing (whether temporarily or permanently) the P-Street designation as the P-Street designation disallows new curb cuts, driveways, and buildings with drive-thrus. However, if the existing building is only being renovated, and the curb cuts are neither changing in their size or location, then it’s in my and others’ opinions that no “special permission” is necessary. But, it’s made been made known to me by the email and by the Alderman’s staff that the McDonald’s owners cannot receive permits to do construction without the P-Street designation being lifted.

What is a Pedestrian Street?

Zoning code: “The regulations of this section are intended to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago’s best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts. The regulations are intended to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort [emphasis added].” Read the rest in the Municipal Code of Chicago.

Peopling Places: See examples of retail areas that conform to a P-Street designation and examples of non-conforming uses – they’re not pretty.

What is the Logan Square Pedestrian Street?

A P-Street designation starts at the six-way intersection of Diversey, Kimball, and Milwaukee Avenues. The southeast leg moves down Milwaukee Avenue to Kedzie Avenue. See this map that shows the southeast leg and the parts that are proposed to be stripped.


View Proposed ordinance to strip Pedestrian Street designation in a larger map

Where are there other Pedestrian Streets in Chicago?

Map on GeoCommons, current as of December 21, 2011. Municipal Code of Chicago lists all of them in a table.

What’s the problem?

  • Driveways and curb cuts are not conducive to pedestrian friendly retail environments. New ones are not allowed
  • The current use is non-conforming. It was implemented prior to the P-Street designation so it was “grandfathered” in.
  • It’s not clear if the removal of the P-Street designation is temporary (although the alderman said in an email to Bike Walk Logan Square members that it is), and if so, when it will be reinstated. It’s also not clear if anything else will be approved while the P-Street designation is lifted.

What does the zoning code say about non-conforming uses?

17-15-0403-A: Unless otherwise expressly stated in this Zoning Ordinance, nonconforming developments may be altered or enlarged as long as the alteration or enlargement does not increase the extent of nonconformity [emphasis added]. A building addition to an existing nonconforming development that projects further into a required setback or further above the permitted maximum height is an example of increasing the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically extend existing building walls that are nonconforming with regard to front or side setback requirements will also be considered to increase the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically or horizontally extend an existing building wall that is nonconforming with regard to rear yard open space or rear setback requirements will not be considered to increase the degree of nonconformity, provided that the original building was constructed before the effective dates specified in Sec. 17-1-0200 and provided such upper-story addition is set back at least 30 feet from the rear property line.

But since the building is completely new, then the new building must comply with all current zoning ordinances, including the P-Street designation. But since the alderman proposes to lift the P-Street designation, it won’t be complying with the P-Street section of the zoning code that disallows new curb cuts and driveways. Keep in mind that there are already curb cuts and driveways for the existing McDonald’s building. If the new building fit into the same footprint, a change in the driveways and curb cuts would not be needed.

Has anyone seen the building plans?

Not that I know of. I asked the Alderman’s office to see them and they are going to ask the property owners if I can. I feel that by seeing the plans I will have a much better understanding of the situation.

Have you talked to Alderman Colón?

No. I spoke with someone from his office, Monday, December 13, She was able to answer a couple questions, but needed to talk to others about my additional questions.

Other thoughts

If McDonald’s already has a curb cut, then replacing it with a new curb cut should not require the removal of a pedestrian street designation, especially parts of one that don’t have such a designation, and parts of one that should not be affected by this curb cut. (see non-conforming uses above)

Answered questions

Q: What is the estimated length of this “temporary” time period? And is there a chance that other things will change for other areas of that block while the P-Street designation is lifted?

A: If/when the permits are issued, then the Alderman can/will create an ordinance to reintroduce the P-Street designation for the affected segments (see the embedded map above).

Outstanding questions

Is it possible to approve the drive-thru without lifting the P-Street designation, as long as it doesn’t increase the extents of the nonconformity?

Is the proposed ordinance misspelled? It says to strip the P-Street designation from Kedzie to Central Avenue; it should probably read Central Park Avenue. Or, in another reading, perhaps it’s meant to convey that the ped designation is reclassified to be defined as from Logan to Kedzie (that’s a bizarre, needless distinction) and from Sawyer to Central Park., leaving out from Kedzie to Sawyer.

How come it just says “to reclassify pedestrian streets [then describes segments]” but doesn’t say what the new classification would be? Is it assumed that the new classification is just that it acquires the opposite classification (that being “no longer a pedestrian street”)?

Is the McD effort the ONLY effort that taking place? (Or are there other changes that might take place while the P-Street designation is lifted?)

What is involved in the McD effort? (Is it truly to “maintain” what is it currently? Or if there are changes being made to the parking lot, access, etc, what are they?)

Can the P-Street designation be lifted for a smaller portion of that block…so that it stretches only the length of the McD property area? (To play devil’s advocate, perhaps because of the way that designation works, it must be done “enforced” full block at a time?)

Why lift that small segment on the west side of Milwaukee between Sawyer and Sawyer (which is written wrong, mixing up east/west or north/south)? Why doesn’t it continue south to Kedzie on the west side of Milwaukee? Or alternatively, why lift the designation on the west side of Milwaukee at all? The southern point where Sawyer crosses Milwaukee is still in the middle of the McDonald’s properties, so it wouldn’t fully cover that development even if the west side of the street was relevant.

When I update articles, I always write when I updated it and a summary of changes I made. I will not be doing that for this article as the changes are being made fast and I may change a lot. 

Summary of benefits from transit tracker reports

What benefit does this bus tracker display in a grocery store have on transit passengers? And on the transit agency?

This is a complementary article to the one I posted on Grid Chicago today, The state of transit trackers in Chicago.

The text is excerpted from two reports (unquoted sections are my own paraphrases or thoughts):

  1. “OneBusAway: Results from Providing Real-Time Arrival Information for Public Transit” by Brian Ferris, Kari Watkins, and Alan Borning. University of Washington. Download the report. Referenced with “OneBusAway”.
  2. “Real-time Bus Arrival Information Systems Return-on-Investment Study” by Laura Cham, Georges Darido, David Jackson, Richard Laver, Donald Schneck. Booz Allen Hamilton. Download the report. Referenced with “Booz”.

Purpose

“Towards this goal, there are two principal reasons for providing better transit traveler information: to increase satisfaction among current riders; and to increase ridership, es- pecially among new or infrequent transit users and for non- peak hour trips. These are two key priorities for many transit agencies. It has been shown that transit traveler information can result in a mode-shift to public transportation [14]. This stems from the riders’ ability to feel more in control of their trip, including their time spent waiting and their perception of safety. Real-time arrival information can help in both of these areas. Existing studies of permanent real-time arrival signage at transit stations have shown that the ability to de- termine when the next vehicle is coming brings travelers’ perception of wait time in line with the true time spent wait- ing [6]. Transit users value knowing how long their wait is, or whether they have just missed the last bus. In addition, it has been found that providing real-time information signifi- cantly increases passenger feelings of safety [20].” (OneBusAway 1)

Results

“The results suggest a number of important positive outcomes for OneBusAway users: increased overall satisfaction with public transit, decreased wait times, increased transit trips per week, increased feelings of safety, and even increased dis- tance walked when using transit.” (OneBusAway 2)

Uncertainty

“The most common response, mentioned by 38% of respondents, concerned how OneBusAway alleviated the uncertainty and frustration of not knowing when a bus is really going to arrive. Ttypical comments:

  • ‘The biggest frustration with taking busses is the inconsistency with being able to adhere to schedules because of road traffic. Onebusaway solves all of that frustration.’
  • ‘I no longer sit with pitted stomach wondering where is the bus. It’s less stressful simply knowing it’s nine minutes away, or whatever the case.’ “

Flexibility in planning

“The next most common response, mentioned by 35% of respondents, concerned how OneBusAway increased the ease and flexibility of planning travel using public transit, whether it be a question of which bus to take or when to catch it. A typical comment: ‘I can make decisions about which bus stop to go to and which bus to catch as I have options for the trip home after work.’ and ‘It helps plan my schedule a little better to know if I can take a little extra time or if I have to hurry faster so I don’t miss my bus.’ ” (OneBusAway 5)

Wait time

“Among respondents, 91% reported spending less time waiting, 8% reported no change, and less than 1% reported an increase in wait times.” (OneBusAway 6)

While 95% of Transit Tracker users agreed the system reduces their wait time, there are at present, no solid measures of what the average reduction in wait time actually is. (Booz 49)

Survey responses from users of Transit Tracker information displays at equipped bus stops suggests that actual reductions in total wait time may be negligible. However, this seems unlikely to be the case for those users accessing Transit Tracker via either phone or the internet. Given the availability of accurate, real-time arrival information, riders accessing Transit Tracker via phone or internet have the opportunity of optimizing (i.e., delaying) their bus stop arrival time and thus reduce time spent waiting a transit stop. (Booz 49)

As noted above, the value of time for transit riders waiting at stops is twice that for riders once they have boarded the vehicle. This wait-time premium reflects a variety of wait-time costs that are not experienced “in-vehicle” including reduced personal comfort (e.g., exposure to the elements), potential safety concerns and uncertainty regarding the arrival time of the next transit vehicle. (Booz 50)

Safety

“We asked users how their perception of personal safety had changed as result of using OneBusAway. While 79% of re- spondents reported no change, 18% reported feeling some- what safer and 3% reported feeling much safer. This in- crease in the perception of safety when using OneBusAway is significant overall (X2 = 98.05, p < 10?15). We also found that safety was correlated with gender (X2 = 19.458, p = 0.001), with greater increases for women.

We additionally asked respondents whose feeling of safety had changed to describe how in a free-form comment. Of such respondents, 60% reported spending less time waiting at the bus stop as their reason, while 25% mentioned that OneBusAway removed some of their uncertainty. Respondents specifically mentioned waiting at night (25%) or at unsavory stops (11%) as potential reasons they might feel unsafe in the first place. Respondents also described using OneBusAway to plan alternate routes (14%) or to help de- cide on walking to a different stop (7%) in order to increase feelings of safety.” (OneBusAway 6)

Two representative comments:

  • Having the ability to know when my bus will arrive helps me decide whether or not to stay at a bus stop that I may feel a little sketchy about or move on to a different one. Or even, stay inside of a building until the bus does arrive.
  • Onebusaway makes riding the bus seem more accessible and safe. I can plan when to leave the house better and spend less time waiting at dark or remote stops.

These results are consistent with a 2006 King County Metro rider survey which found that 19% of riders were dissatisfied with personal safety while waiting for the bus after dark [7].” (OneBusAway 6)

Walking
Transit tracker information gives one the power/tools/ability? to decide if walking to a stop on another route is a good idea (OneBusAway 7).

Also means people can walk to next or previous stop (for exercise or better seat) and know the buss won’t pass them while walking, or arrive before they get there.

Also means you can walk if wait is long and walking is faster than waiting. Might work best with transfers.

Also means that you can take the bus instead of walking if the trip is short, walking is your primary mode, and the bus is arriving within minutes. “…users might be taking advantage of the real-time arrival information from OneBusAway to hop on a bus arriving shortly to save a trip of a few blocks that they would have otherwise walked. Some 26% of respondents in the follow up survey indicated that they do in fact take the bus for short trips for which they previously would have walked based on information from OneBusAway, but overall the balance is more walking.” (OneBusAway 7)

Case against transit tracker at ALL stops (both bus and train)

“However, it is likely prohibitively expensive to provide and maintain such displays at every bus stop in a region. With the increased availability of powerful mobile devices and the public availability of transit schedule data in machine read- able formats, a significant number of tools haven been de- veloped to make this information available on a variety of interfaces, including mobile devices. These systems are often cheaper to deploy than fixed real-time arrival displays at a large number of stops. Further, these systems, especially mobile devices, can support additional, personalized func- tionality, such as customized alerts.” (OneBusAway2)

Implications on service planning

“In the transit service planning industry, 10 minutes has long been considered the barrier between schedule-based and headway-based service. A recent study found that at 11 min- utes, passengers begin to coordinate their arrivals rather than arriving randomly [15]. This is consistent with earlier stud- ies documenting random versus coordinated arrivals. There- fore, at a time between buses greater than 10 minutes, pas- sengers want a schedule to coordinate their arrival times. However, with the introduction of real time information such as OneBusAway, we have shown that users more frequently refer to real time information than to schedules to determine when to wait at the bus stop. This is important for transit ser- vice operations because a significant amount of time is lost in attempting to maintain reliability for scheduled service — planners must build a certain amount of slack time into the schedule. One study found the slack ratio to be 25% in Los Angeles [8]. With headway-based service, supervisors use real time transit data to maintain a certain amount of time between buses, rather than attempting to maintain a sched- ule, thereby allowing free running time and saving slack time [21]. This savings in running time can reduce agency costs to provide the same level of service on a transit route.” (OneBusAway 9)

Costs

“In addition, the investment in website and phone-based real time transit information can also save an agency substan- tially in deployment costs. As an example, Portland de- ployed their Transit Tracker program in 2001 with informa- tion displays at transit stops, a webpage and more recently a phone system. The transit tracker signs at light rail stations and 13 bus stops in Portland cost $950,000 including mes- sage signs and conduit. The cost for computer servers and web page development was much cheaper at $125,000 [4]. Given the widespread availability of cell phones and web access, providing real time transit information via a service such as OneBusAway could yield a substantial savings for an agency over constructing real-time arrival display signs. At the same time, we don’t want to unfairly disadvantage people who do not have access to such technology.”

Other notes

Also, better opportunity to provide focused tools for people with different cognitive and physical abilities. (OneBusAway)

My first iPhone app – Request a bike rack

Here’s a video preview of my first iOS app that will hopefully, in the end, allow you to request a bike rack in Chicago based on where you and your device are currently standing.

I don’t know if it will ever hit the Apple App Store because Apple requires developers to pay a $99 fee each year. I’m surely not going to pay this. It will be able to run on jailbroken iOS devices and it will work on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

The code is based on my Bike Crash Portal website that asks permission to use your location (given automatically through HTML5 and the computer’s own location software). A fork of this project may include a mobile-optimized website that allows you to request a bike rack; again, based on your current location.

The purpose of this is to eliminate the need to know the address of where you want to request a bike rack. Oftentimes a person will arrive at their destination and not find any bike racks. Open the app, hit “Share my location” when the app loads and then tap submit. The Chicago Bicycle Parking Program (hopefully) will receive your request.

Recap for the June 2011 MBAC meeting

Updated June 15, 2011: Added section on snow removal for the Kinzie Street bike lane. Updated October 16, 2011, to add quotes protected bike lane planning. 

Every three months, staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation and Chicago Bicycle Program come to Room 1103 in City Hall to tell the bicycle community at large what they’re up to – it’s the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council. Other organizations get an opportunity to speak as well (especially Active Transportation Alliance) but a majority of the time is dedicated to the divisions of the Bicycle Program (namely bikeways, bike parking, and education).

Wednesday’s meeting was the only one I’ve been to where I felt that CDOT was doing something new, different, and interesting. And I’ve been to many, all as an employee of CDOT – at least 10 meetings since 2007. A LOT of new information was imparted at this meeting.

Thanks to Jim Limber, you can watch the meetings live. Or watch the recordings: Part 1, Part 2.


Here’s my MBAC recap, originally written for the weekly Chainlink newsletter:

Streets for cycling and protected bike lanes

Ben Gomberg introduced Mark de Lavergne of Sam Schwartz Engineering who will be leading the new Streets for Cycling planning process that will include 3-6 public meetings across the city to talk about future locations of Chicago’s bikeway network. The plan will include a toolbox of ideas and implementations adapted from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The report will be completed by Bike To Work Day 2012.

The first 25 miles of protected bike lane locations has apparently already been assessed and will be done right away, without waiting for the plan to be completed. The starting place for these protected bike lanes is getting people in and out of downtown.

Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg said that the location of 25 miles had already been assessed. Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton said,

We’re being asked to be creative and come up with new information quickly by the new mayor, but we already did some planning before the new mayor. Our starting place: How to get in and out of downtown.

People interested in providing their ideas before the public planning process begins can send them to Mike Amsden. [email protected]

Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign

Adolfo Hernandez from Active Transportation Alliance announced the Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign, to be led by John Lankford (not present). Here’s a paraphrasing of what he said: “There will be a fight early on about bikeways. The people in this room love these things. Businesses to be supportive of this, our local alderman. This isn’t on every alderman’s radar. As cycling advocates, we need to talk to our neighbors, businesses, churches, and schools. As part of the campaign for 100 miles, we are going to meet with people to do some organizing, spreading messages, building support, before the backlash. People are going to be upset, not going to like it.”

Kinzie Street snow removal

When a meeting attendee asked how snow would be dealt with on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton mentioned that new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein built similar lanes in Washington, D.C., where it also snows, and will bring his experience in this to Chicago. 

Poor bicycling conditions on Vincennes

Anne Alt showed in a slideshow and described the reasons why Vincennes Avenue is a great bike route (even if bike lanes were removed and never reinstalled) but it has a lot of problems. She highlighted problems, especially at the train viaduct at 83rd and Parnell. Luann said that CDOT would help Anne identify the responsible railroad as a first step to getting the nearly invisible potholes under the viaduct repaired.

She posted her narratives and photos on The Chainlink.

I took a lot more notes so if you have any questions about something else that was said or wasn’t said, let me know and I’ll update it. I picked these as the most interesting and important parts of the meeting. One more thing: The Bicycle Program officially announced the on-street bike parking in Wicker Park, which I discussed a couple weeks ago.

Gin and I rode on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane together right after the meeting. Notice how wide it is! I’ve said it before: bikes are social. I’d already written over this a few times prior to the meeting, but I wanted to ride with someone else to see that experience. There’s normally not enough room in the bike lanes to ride next to someone, but here there is. I’m very excited about the opportunities this kind of facility opens up.

Chicago catches up to NYC in one 3-day project

What were Mayor Daley and the previous Transportation commissioners waiting for when it came installing modern and then-innovative bikeway facilities?

Why have Rahm Emanuel, Gabe Klein, and the Chicago Bicycle Program installed every modern and previously-innovative bikeway treatment under the sun in just three days? The project’s not over, but a lot has happened since Monday.

On Day 3 of construction of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, CDOT builds (photos from the Bicycle Program’s Flickr photostream):

Bike-only left turn on southbound Milwaukee to Kinzie (perfect)

Through-intersection bike lane using European-style “yield squares” (okay, they’re actually called elephant’s feet)*

Same yield squares (elephant’s feet) at driveways.

Very wide!

New signage telling turning drivers to stop for people walking across the street and riding their bikes.

*I always forget that Chicago created its first through-intersection bike lane at Sheridan and Ardmore, at the north terminus of the Lakefront Trail, to get bicyclists onto the on-street bike lane network.

Friday is final day for comments about Damen-Elston-Fullerton

Tomorrow, Friday, May 13, 2011, is the final day to email comments to Bridget Stalla, project manager for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton reconfiguration.

What should you do?

  1. Read an overview of the project and my analysis
  2. View photos of the posters at April’s open house to understand what will and won’t change
  3. Think of what you like or don’t like about the project
  4. Email your comments to Bridget: [email protected]
  5. Think about posting your comments here.

My draft comments

Here’s what I plan to email Bridget tomorrow:

  1. Bike lane on Damen – There should be a bike lane on Damen connecting the two ends north and south of Fullerton. Additionally, the bike lane should go THROUGH both intersections. See an example of a “through bike lane” in this photo. Too often bicyclists in Chicago are “dropped off” at intersections, left to fend for themselves and get caught in the same problems as automobiles. But automobiles and bicycles are different kinds of vehicles and need different treatments and direction.
  2. Roundabout – Was a roundabout considered for any of the three intersections? What were the results of this analysis? A modern, turbo roundabout should be given serious consideration for at least one of the three intersections.
  3. Curve and wide road on New Elston Avenue – On “New Elston Avenue” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway.
  4. Removing the center island – Was removing the center island an alternative the project team considered?
  5. Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection – The project area should be expanded to include the intersection to the west of the project area, at Fullerton/Kennedy ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp.

A bird’s eye view of the new configuration.

Chicago may get its first on-street bike parking corral today

Well, it won’t actually be built or open for “business” today.

The Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA (#33) will vote Tuesday at 7 PM on a motion (PDF) on whether or not to spend $4,000 to pay CDOT to install the city’s first on-street bike parking corral on Milwaukee near Damen in front of the Flat Iron building in Alderman Moreno’s 1st Ward. I plan to attend the meeting.

This location will serve Bank of America customers, Debonair clubgoers, and artists and gallery visitors at the the Flat Iron Arts Building. Note that the bike parking would be paid for by the Special Service Area’s revenue, which comes from taxing businesses in the district.

This won’t be the first bike parking corral in Illinois – that honor probably goes to Oak Park, a village east of Chicago. And it won’t be the first in the Midwest. Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, and Milwaukee will have beat us. In fact, Milwaukee’s first bike parking corral opened last Friday, May 6, 2011, in front of an Alterra café.

See list of cities around the world with bike parking corrals.

Oak Park’s on-street bike parking corral at 719 South Blvd., next to David A. Noyes Company and Anthony Lullo’s hair designs. I probably wouldn’t have selected this location, but it’s also across the street from the Oak Park Green Line station, so it can serve as overflow parking. Notice that at least 12 bicycles can park in the same space a car can park.

Milwaukee’s first on-street bike parking corral at 2211 N. Prospect Ave.,  designed by Chris Socha of The Kubala Washatko Architects and fabricated by Ryan Foat, Principal of Oxbow Studio. Photo by Dave Reid of UrbanMilwaukee.com.

Improvements in store for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection

Updated May 2, 2011, with additional comments and concerns.

The City of Chicago plans to make major changes to the intersection of Damen-Elston-Fullerton. They revealed a lot of these changes and invited the public to learn more and make comments on the current proposal at an open house event Wednesday, April 27, 2011, at the Wicker Park-Bucktown library.

What is now actually three, closely-spaced intersections with six legs (two of them skewed), will become three, distantly-spaced intersections at right angles.

Why is this being done?

  • The closely-spaced intersections “encourage poor decision making.”
  • Small radii makes it difficult for trucks to make turns.
  • The island and closely-spaced intersections makes for limited queue capacity which blocks the other legs.
  • There are a lot of crashes, over 400 in a 3-year period. That’s over 7 per week.

So what’s the solution?

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation, and project consultant Benesch came up with 4 alternatives.

  • Enhanced “no build” – no improvements, but modernize signals didn’t address safety or delay. [In infrastructure project planning, there’s always a “no build” alternative to which the other alternatives are compared.]
  • Fullerton tunnel, or underpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same conditions outlined under “why.” Additionally, there are many utilities under the intersection that would all need to be relocated. It would take 3 years to build. For the length of the tunnel, surface traffic on Fullerton could only make right-in, right-out turns.
  • Overpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same dismal conditions. This has the same turn restrictions as the underpass – this and its imposing aesthetics could impact economic development (the presentation didn’t say whether the project designers expected this to be positive or negative).
  • And there’s the “preferred alternative.” It has wider sidewalks, larger turn radii, and “safer bike accommodations.” Delays would improve from up to 7 minutes to under 30 seconds.

Other benefits of the preferred alternative include:

  • Access to properties is preserved.
  • Simpler intersections means fewer conflicting movements.
  • A “new bike lane” (I disagree with calling it new – the project is preserving the existing bike lane, bringing it into the new route of Elston Avenue, or whatever the new street will be called).
  • Supports future economic development by having simpler traffic.

What’s the timeline?

  • 2011 – Finalize phase 1 engineering. Seek approval from IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Start the design process.
  • 2012 – While continuing work on the design, begin acquiring right of way.
  • 2013 – Finish design, and bid out project.
  • 2014 – Award project and begin construction.

The project is estimated to cost $32 million, with funds coming from the TIF Bank, grants from the FHWA, and the City’s own capital improvement funds.

Comment on the design until May 13 by emailing Bridget Stalla, the project manager who works for the City of Chicago. All emails to her about this project will go on the public record.

So what are my comments?

Lack of bike lanes

Currently there’s no striped bike lane for .26 miles on Damen Avenue between where it ends at the I-90/I-94 highway and railroad viaducts to where it ends on the hill to the bridge over the Chicago River.

The project does not add this bike lane, which I feel is much needed for the cyclists who deal with the congestion and tight spaces. I talked to Bridget and Colin Coad, a staffer at Benesch about this. Both admitted that a bike lane in this location was considered. It wasn’t in the current design because Damen Avenue must have two lanes northbound to keep the queue capacity and keep delays down. An animation showed the difference in delays between the existing and proposed intersection configuration. The delay reduction in the new configuration was very noticeable. This doesn’t preclude installing a bike lane.

An attendee asked Ryan Thady, who was explaining the animation, if Benesch had done analysis on a single northbound travel lane south of Fullerton Avenue on Damen Avenue. He answered, “No. If there’s one lane, there’s an increased delay.”

Colin said that a bike lane has always been under consideration and will be again under consideration. Bridget says she realizes there’s a need to reevaluate the bikes on Damen Avenue situation. “We need the two lanes to really make this thing work like it’s supposed to. We will look at extending the bike lane on Damen north of Fullerton [from the bridge approach to the intersection of Damen and Elston].”

I’m confused about “making this thing work like it’s supposed to.” After hearing this, I felt that I don’t know if it’s clear to me what this thing is supposed to do. I thought it was about improving safety and reducing delays. By having a bike lane, bicyclists’ safety will be improved and their delays will also be reduced.

Some bicyclists may be involved in collisions with motor vehicles here because they move against signals. The same is probably true for drivers who get into collisions: frustration and impatience and simply not knowing when you’ll have a turn may lead road users at this intersection to proceed when it’s not safe to do so (and against the signal). The project designers said that this intersection “encourages poor decision making.” With dedicated space, in the form of a bike lane, as well as simpler design and an expectation of when it will be one’s turn to go, bicyclists and drivers alike will better comply with intersection controls.

The plan does nothing to add bike lanes through the Elston or Damen intersections. The Damen bike lane currently ends 700 feet before the intersection. The Elston bike lane ends 400 feet before the intersection. That funny business needs to stop and we need bike lanes in Chicago that go THROUGH intersections, much like you see in New York City (example photo 1 and photo 2.

Complete Streets

My final comment, a quick one, is that the project made no mention of reduced travel times for those who ride the Fullerton or Damen Avenue buses through this intersection. We still have a long ways to go in accommodating, and caring about, our sustainable transportation modes.

Bicycle crashes are also not mentioned in the documentation, while motor vehicle crashes with pedestrians are. There were more crashes with bicyclists than with pedestrians in the 3-year period of 2007-2009 (12 versus 4). Bicycle counts have not yet been taken at this location; they should be conducted as soon as possible.

Complete Streets in Illinois needs to stop being a policy without any teeth and put into regular practice. Enough with just “considering” all transportation modes; we need to “provision” them.

Roundabout

Was a roundabout considered at this location? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Guide to Roundabouts (PDF) lists criteria on where to use roundabouts, including these which describe the intersections in question:

  • Large traffic signal delays
  • Heavy left turning traffic
  • More than four legs or unusual geometry
  • History of crashes involving crossing traffic
  • Traffic growth expected to be high and future traffic patterns uncertain or changeable [because Elston is a diagonal and near shopping, traffic volume will not change]
  • History of right angle crashes [this is true because of the confusing signal phases]

While three roundabouts may not be necessary, one should be considered at least for the Elston-Fullerton intersection, which has the most space available for such a facility.

Curve and wide road of New Elston Avenue

On “New Elston Avenue,” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway. Thank you to A. Lottes for pointing out the curve to me.

Removing the  center island

Some commenters on The Expired Meter have suggested removing the tinny center island (as well as removing the second stop bar and signal every road user passes over) and converting it to a simple six-way intersection like Lincoln-Ashland-Belmont. While doing so may reduce delays or the number of crashes, it would probably fail to do both. I think it should be a considered alternative.

Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection

The plan does not address the westbound queue backups that start at the Fullerton intersection with the I-90/I-94 highway ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp. This intersection is outside the project area but pivotal in its success at reducing delays, at least with the “remaining,” new intersection at Damen.

More information

The end of the presentation said that all exhibit materials would be on the City’s website, but I didn’t find all the poster boards, so here are most of them in my Flickr photoset. I assume they would be posted here.

Photos

A visualization of the crash history (only automobiles and pedestrian types included) at the intersection.

Bird’s eye view of preferred alternative.

Using Google Refine to get the stories out of your data

Let’s say you’re perusing the 309,425 crash reports for automobile crashes in Chicago from 2007 to 2009 and you want to know a few things quickly.

Like how many REAR END crashes there were in January 2007 that had more than 1 injury in the report. With Google Refine, you could do that in about 60 seconds. You just need to know which “facets” to setup.

By the way, there are 90 crash reports meeting those criteria. Look at the screenshot below for how to set that up.

Facets to choose to filter the data

  1. Get your January facet
  2. Add your 2007 facet
  3. Select the collision type of “REAR END” facet
  4. Choose to include all the reports where injury is greater than 1 (click “include” next to each number higher than 1)

After we do this, we can quickly create a map using another Google tool, Fusion Tables.

Make a map

  1. Click Export… and select “Comma-separated value.” The file will download. (Make sure your latitude and longitude columns are called latitude and longitude instead of XCOORD and YCOORD or sometimes Fusion Tables will choke on the location and try to geocode your records, which is redundant.)
  2. Go to Google Fusion Tables and click New Table>Import Table and select your file.
  3. Give the new table a descriptive title, like “January 2007 rear end crashes with more than 1 injury”
  4. In the table view, click Visualize>Map.
  5. BAM!

I completed all the tasks on this page in under 5 minutes and then spent 5 more minutes writing this blog. “The power of Google.”

Be specific. Be, be specific.

Update September 5, 2011: I gave a short speech to Moving Design participants about language and word choice, a kind of follow up to this article, as a “policy insight of the day.”

When speaking or presenting, be as specific as possible. The following are examples specific to the course of transportation discussions.

“Car traffic banned from this road.” Are you also banning trucks and SUVs?

“Vehicles will be rerouted.” Does this include those riding bicycles? Here’s an example of a current detour that only mentions cars, buses, and trucks. Which route should someone riding a bicycle take? Sometimes state and local laws will classify a bicycle as a vehicle, but then exclude it in specific passages – it’s weird. Better just call out specific vehicles, be they of the motorized or human-powered variety.

“Cars are aggressive to bikes.” Cars and bikes don’t operate themselves.

“We plan to narrow the road to calm traffic.” Are you going to narrow the road, or narrow certain lanes and reassign portions of the road to different uses, like a protected bike lane, or wider sidewalk? Then give the measurement of lanes, the sidewalk, and the curb face-to-curb face width. Consider that “street” is not a synonym for “road.” Road often represents what’s between the curbs, and the pavement, while street includes the road as well as the sidewalk. Street is a bit more abstract as well, sometimes meaning the activity that occurs on or around roads (like “street life”).

“Ignorant drivers…” Or do they lack specific education and relevant information?

This bikeway in Bremen, Germany, uses both color and pavement design to delineate space for people bicycling (like me) and people walking.

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