CategoryPortland

Chicago’s first protected bike lane!

UPDATE 04-28-11: I’ve written new articles about this subject. The first is “Put the first cycle track somewhere else.” Then there’s my list of proposed protected bike lane locations.

Chicago just got its first two-way protected bike lane! And all because of a construction detour for the next 17 months!

I’m sort of joking, but sort of not.

This detour from the Lakefront Trail onto a street for 100 feet should give Chicagoans a taste for what a protected bike lane looks like, until April 2012. You can see it’s quite simple to build: shift traffic over, install K-rail concrete barriers, paint a dividing line. But what’s simple to build is not always simple to implement.

But how can we get a real one constructed?

It’s not for lack of demand. But it could be that our demand for a safer bike lane is not well known.

The Chicago Bicycle Program has “proposed” a buffered bike lane on Wells Street (by merely displaying a rendering of it on the backside of a “public meeting” handout). They have no released any further information about this. It would most likely be paid for with Alderman Reilly’s Menu Program funding. (Each alderman gets $1.3 million annually to spend at their discretion and he spent some of it on new bike lanes on Grand Avenue and Illinois Street.)

Contact the Alderman to let him know you want to be able to bike more safely on Wells Street into downtown. And make sure he and the entire Department of Transportation (CDOT; contact Commissioner Bobby Ware) know that people who ride bikes want to be involved in its design; when it comes to informing the public, CDOT has a lot of room for improvement. They could do this by being more timely in providing project updates, like the status of awarding contracts or starting construction on streetscape projects (the website lists the names and locations, but no other information). A major project missing is the Lawrence Avenue streetscape and road diet between Ashland and Western.

Other streets in Chicago are ripe for protected bike lane similar treatment. Can you suggest some places? I’ll keep a list here where we can debate the pros and cons of each location. Through an educated and data-supported campaign, we can advocate for the best locations at which protected bike lanes should be installed.

The new two-way protected bike lane in Chicago on a Lake Shore Drive offramp. More photos.

The Sands Street bikeway becomes protected as you ride closer to the Manhattan Bridge ramp. More photos of biking in New York City.

Protected bike lanes are all the rage in New York City. They have several miles of buffer and barrier separated bike lanes. Portland, Oregon, also has a diversity of protected bikeways. Minneapolis has several miles of off-street trails going to and through neighborhoods (which is why they’re key to the overall network).

Keeping score: Portland, one million and Chicago, zero

UPDATE 10-15-10: There’s good news. The Chicago situation is nearly resolved.

Up the score for Portland and bicycling by another gazillion points and keep Chicago at zero.

New Seasons Market grocery store (think Whole Foods lite) opened a new store Wednesday in Portland. On a bike boulevard. With 50 bike parking spaces (almost used up on the first day). Grocery delivery by bike. Free air and patch kit. You can even borrow a cart to tow stuff home. (By the way, the store provides only 36 auto parking spaces, on its roof – where it belongs.)

What do we have in Chicago?

A Dominick’s (part of Safeway companies) grocery store that refuses to install a single bike parking space, even after major renovation in 2008-2009. Don’t worry though – I’m on the case! I just mailed my letter to Safeway CEO Steve Burd in Pleasanton, California, yesterday. (Read about my recent struggle getting bike parking installed here.)

And Dominick’s, when you do get around to installing it, please don’t pick this piece of garbage.

Abysmal bike rack selection at Dominick’s near Roosevelt and Canal in Chicago, Illinois – notice how the bike can’t be properly locked here. Don’t repeat this mistake. Learn what’s best when it comes to bike parking.

Thanks to BikePortland and Tucson Velo for the story.

Philadelphia Water Department moves away from Deep Tunnel-style water management

West North points out that instead of spending $8 billion to build new sewage holding tanks throughout the city, the Philadelphia Water Department plans to conver impervious surfaces to pervious, natural surfaces. The American Society of Landscape Architects has more information on The Dirt:

The green infrastructure proposal would turn 1/3 of the city’s impervious asphalt surface, or 4,000 acres, into absorptive green spaces. The goal is to move from grey to green infrastructure. Grey infrastructure includes “man-made single purpose systems.” Green infrastructure is defined as “man-made structures that mimic natural systems.” As an example, networks of man-made wetlands, restored flood plains, or infiltration basins would all qualify as green infrastructure. The benefits of such systems include: evaporation, transpiration, enhanced water quality, reduced erosion / sedimentation, and restoration. Some grey / green infrastructure feature integrated systems that create hybrid detention ponds or holding tanks, which are designed to slow water’s release into stormwater management systems.

And, like Portland, Philadelphia is accomplishing more than just better stormwater management.

…the city is calling for a triple-bottom line approach, aiming for: more green spaces, improved public health, and more green jobs. [The Dirt]

Portland is building “Green Streets” that combine bicycle facilities with green infrastructure like bioswales inside curb extensions. This plan did not arise perhaps as altruistically as Philly’s (actually with a little controversy), but more as a way to build bicycle facilities with bioswale funding.

Meanwhile, the Deep Tunnel system in Chicago continues to expand. But it’s not all bad. The City of Chicago will showcase green infrastructure in a new streetscape in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Bikes and streetcar tracks

UPDATE 12-11-10: Someone recently searched for rubber in tracks and I wanted to provide some additional resources on the topic of protecting people who ride bikes from the dangers of open streetcar tracks. It is possible, in some situations, to fill the track flangeway (where the wheel goes) with rubber that the train depresses as it rolls over but people riding bikes ride over a level surface. Resource one input from people around the world, and two, a column in The Oregonian newspaper of Portland.

UPDATE 12-14-10: BikePortland has a story about an activism and advocacy group (AROW) that will demand better accommodations for bicycling around new streetcar tracks in Portland, Oregon.

UPDATE 08-13-13: Zurich, Switzerland, will be testing a flangeway filler on their tram tracks. I believe this will be the first transit system to test the rubber fill. 

Bicycle riders in Seattle are suing the City of Seattle for not providing enough warnings about streetcar tracks in the South Lake Union neighborhood. They allege the City installed warning signs only after several bike-track crashes.

Photo: A sign on Stewart Street in Seattle, Washington, advises bicycle riders to use EXTREME CAUTION when crossing the streetcar tracks. These signs are coming under question in a lawsuit this week.

Mixing bicycles and transit is one of the most sensible matches of transportation modes. The Federal Transit Administration has been promoting a positive union since at least 1999 (see the booklet they produced). The publication includes case studies and good examples of integration, including a story about how King County Metro (the primary bus operator in Seattle) installed bike racks on its buses in 1993, following the footsteps of Phoenix.

Photo: A resident rides their bike on the street while a Portland Streetcar rolls by.

So how is it now, 17 years later, we’re still deliberating how streetcars, light rails, and bicycles can safely share the road? Why this is a problem:

  • People are getting hurt. Concerns about personal safety demotivate people to ride their bikes.
  • The Federal government is funding many new streetcar projects across the country, including in Tucson, Arizona, two hours south of Phoenix, which has its own light rail system.
  • Bicycle riders have been navigating tram and streetcar tracks in Europe for 100 years. What knowledge can European riders and planners share with us?

Photo: A rubber-filled flangeway in the gap between rail and deck on the Cherry Avenue Bridge in Chicago, Illinois. This bridge serves a 1-car train a few times a week.

Could a rubber-filled flangeway be used on a medium-frequency streetcar line?

Keep Portland weird!

Co-opting Austin’s marketing strategy, Portland also wants you to keep it weird (read the history of this slogan). If you haven’t yet, please peruse my 54 (so far!) photos I’ve uploaded from my trip to Portland, Oregon, in April this year.

A wall in Chinatown (yeah, Portland has a Chinatown) invites citizens and visitors alike.

Bicycling in Portland is so prevalent, you’ll see entire families on the streets riding their bikes to the park, to school, or shopping.

Check out Portland’s unique transportation facilities and improvements in my photoset, “Transportation in Portland.”

Bridges of Portland

Like Chicago, Portland has many moveable bridges that connect major parts of the city. In Chicago, you have to cross the Chicago River from the west or north to get into the central business district (or loop). For Portland, you’ve got to cross the Willamette River from the humongous east side to the west side and central business district.

But that’s where the similarities stop. While Chicago has twenty bikeable bridges* from Lake Shore Drive on the east to Roosevelt Road on the south, they are each 200-500 feet long and bicyclists ride amongst normal traffic (except for northbound Lake Shore Drive). To ride on the bridges in Portland, bicyclists ride on bike-specific facilities across five bridges, all over 1,000 feet long.

There is only one lane for people riding bikes.

From north to south:

  • Broadway – Sidewalk with one-way bike traffic and two-way pedestrian traffic in each direction.
  • Steel Bridge – Narrow sidewalk on the lower level with tw0-way bike and pedestrian traffic.
  • Burnside – Bike lane, one in each direction.
  • Morrison – 15-foot wide path for bicyclists and pedestrians, in both directions. The City of Portland has construction details on this new path.
  • Hawthorne – Sidewalk with one-way bike traffic and two-way pedestrian traffic in each direction.

It’s great that people riding bikes are accommodated but all of these bridges are excellent examples of “afterthought planning.” There are tens of thousands of people riding bikes across the bridges each day in very close quarters (see this video I made of people riding and walking on the Hawthorne Bridge). Expensive changes are being made now (or have recently been constructed) to accommodate the high volumes of bikes on the bridges.

Complete streets policies are being adopted across the country that attempt to address our past experience with transportation infrastructure construction: bikes will be accommodate throughout all aspects of planning, design, and construction to ensure people riding across these bridges on bikes don’t have to tread carefully between joggers and high curb next to automobiles and buses traveling at 30 MPH.

The Burnside bridge has a typical bike lane.

The Columbia River Crossing (a highway bridge replacement project between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington) will be a failure for residents from the day it opens if it does not include facilities that allow for comfortable and convenient biking.

I didn’t appreciate the riding environment on any of the bridges** except for the Burnside bridge. This one seems most like the twenty Chicago bridges I have the choice of riding on each day on my commute to work – they look and act like typical streets. While bike-specific facilities like those on the five Portland bridges are not necessary, taking care to make cycling across bridges convenient and comfortable is a priority.

There’s only one path on the Steel Bridge and its on the lower level. You should probably only use this bridge recreationally because it doesn’t connect well into the street grid at either end.

*Only two of these twenty bridges have bike-specific facilities. Wells has a bike lane and a treatment to make cycling safer on the open-grate metal bridge. The Lakefront Trail traverses the Lake Shore Drive bridge.

*I did not ride on the Morrison bridge during my trip in April 2010.

A diversity of transportation

Portland is a great city to visit to see a large variety of small-scale transportation, including facilities and accommodations for non-motorized and human-powered transportation, or out of the ordinary modes like an aerial tramway (also called a cable car). The photos are from my trip to the Pacific Northwest in April 2010.

You pay to go up. It’s free to come down.

Portland also has traditional transportation modes like streetcars and light rail.

What to see and ride in Portland (I rode or saw each of these):

  • TriMet MAX (Metropolitan Area Express)
  • Portland Streetcar
  • Portland Aerial Tram
  • Bikeways, including bike lanes, marked shared lanes, bike boulevards (now called neighborhood greenways), and cycletracks
  • Bike parking
  • Lift and moveable bridges – the Steel Bridge carries light rail, railroad, automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists; the Hawthorne is the most popular bridge for bicyclists. I made sure to cross over the Broadway, Hawthorne, Steel, and Burnside bridges. I missed crossing on the Morrison bridge. I guess I will have to take another trip!
  • Bus – This is standard fare, nothing unique about it in Portland compared to other cities.

Bicycles make up 21% of all traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge. See the rest of my “Transportation in Portland” photos.

Taking the train

A bunch of people asked me how much I paid for my train ticket between Portland and Seattle. I paid $29, one way, 310 miles, for a comfy ride. Every seat pair has a power port, ample leg room, and tons of luggage space. The train left on time. I didn’t pass through security, and I didn’t have to turn off any electronic device.

The last time I took an Amtrak train was in the 1990s, from Minneapolis to Chicago. That was during the time Amtrak and United Airlines had a partnership where you could easily book a trip that involved a plane in one direction and a train in the return direction. Interestingly, I took a coach bus to Minneapolis just last September for a trip to try out their bicycling infrastructure.

The Amtrak Cascades trainsets from Talgo feature remarkable branding and livery. Find more photos.

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