TOD doesn’t have to be fancy

Developers and real estate workers like buzz words. They’re a great way to grab attention. But a development doesn’t need “TOD,” “near trains,” or “transit friendly” written on marketing materials, or subsidies and tax breaks from the municipality, to pass as Transit Oriented Development.

A photo of the Los Angeles Gold Line light rail passing the Mission Meridian “transit oriented development” (above, top) and marketing materials for the project (above, bottom).

Sometimes you just need a stairway and a sidewalk.

Townhomes on Carey Trail (view in map) in Wood Dale, Illinois, have easy access to the Wood Dale Metra station on the Milwaukee District West line. Look at the map to see how the neighboring developments fare in access to the station.

Finding geographic information about Chicago and elsewhere

The City of Chicago’s GIS division of the Department of Information and Technology as well as the Zoning Department provide copious data on boundaries, crime, zoning, etc… And I’m not talking about a library of PDF files. You can’t analyze or manipulate or calculate using PDF – I’m talking about data sets, shapefiles, or aerial photographs.

You can start here on the GIS website.

 The Chicago Police produce the CLEARMAP website. And even the Bicycle Program throws down with bikeways and bike parking data. Check out Wicker Park’s Center for Neighborhood Technology and its urban data visualization websites, like their Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

List sources for your city’s data in the comments. Milwaukee has its own Spatial Decision Support System called COMPASS. Here’s Maricopa County’s (Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe) ArcServer-based online GIS website.

Check to see if EveryBlock has started data mining your city. They began their news collection and repackaging efforts in Chicago, naturally 🙂 They are the first organization to find a new way to present Chicago’s bike rack installation info.

UPDATE: The community at OpenStreetMap has a huge list of datasets available for cities and places around the world.

Bike shops’ social responsibility

Bike shops have a responsibility to teach their customers safe cycling.

This is because the bike shop salesperson has the customer’s attention, and it’s when the customer will be most receptive to tips, advice, and training. The bike shop salesperson, in many cases, will be the first and last person the customer talks to about biking. Lastly, it’s because the bike shop is a community center with a wealth of knowledge and experience – all of which should be shared.

The customer’s family is probably not a good resource and websites and friends can only teach them so much. But a bike shop salesperson has two advantages over other friends, family, and the internet: the customer’s time and trust.

Each bike shop should take it upon themselves to teach each new customer how to ride safely and legally on the street, the local laws regarding its operating and accessories (buy some lights, please!), etiquette for multi-use paths (like Chicago’s Lakefront Trail), and proper locking techniques.

  1. All bikers will, at some point, have to ride on the street in mixed traffic.
  2. It’s unreasonable to expect cyclists to know the laws applicable to cycling when they’ve had very little experience cycling and when there are no widespread institutions that teach cycling.
  3. Multi-use paths are fountains of rage and dangerous commingling. 
  4. The cyclist will be in a situation that requires them to secure their bicycle.

No matter how adamant the customer is that they won’t be riding in the street, they will. The sidewalk is illegal territory in so many communities, and isn’t safe for the cyclist themselves or the pedestrians they might run over. On sidewalks or on multi-use paths, they will have to cross streets with automobile traffic. It’s a little different than being a pedestrian and crossing these streets because you are operating relatively heavy equipment and you move at a different speed. Eventually, this cyclist will graduate from scaredy-cat to coffeehouse comfortable, biking to a café down the street. Talking one on one about these things, using diagrams from a brochure will influence the new cyclist that safe cycling matters – for themselves and those with whom they’ll interact. Then show them how to read a map.

Bicycle laws are not handed to 16-year olds in high school (actually, they most likely are, but who reads that?). That might have been 10 years ago, and they won’t remember that a front headlight but only a rear reflector are required for post-dusk riding. Or that red lights are for all street users (and really dangerous to disobey). Don’t forget that some bicyclists were taught to ride against traffic, facing cars down on the wrong side of the street.

Those customers who might be telling the shop salesperson that they won’t be riding in the street probably think they’re only going to ride on the multi-use path. These customers need trail etiquette stressed to them. They need to know when it’s safe to pass, what to say to those they’ll pass, the right speed to travel, and when to stop or slow down. The trail is not a speeding zone; rollerbladers, children, strollermoms, teams in training, walkers, and in some places even horses and their riders, will all be groups with whom the cyclist must interact and take care of – this mix is fun to watch and be around, but path users must pay attention to each other. 

Real locking techniques may be one of the most useful things you can teach any cyclist. They won’t be cyclists if they can’t keep their bike! The City of Chicago offers a guide on theft prevention and proper locking, two unique but related concepts. You shouldn’t do one without the other, because they enhance the overall “theft-proof-ness” of a bike. The salesperson can spend five minutes demonstrating to the customer cross-locking, and then having the customer practice. They can also quiz the customer on appropriate locking locations. What structures are secure and which ones aren’t? Why or why not?

Preface this lesson to the customer that “in 20 minutes, you can become a bicycling expert!” The bike shop-customer bond will strengthen and you’ll have proved to them your service is necessary and appreciable. Because you took the time to show a customer how much you care about them, their new bike, and the sport or utility of bicycling, they’ll spread the word and come back.

Chicago Commercial Club and the Metropolis 2020 report

The Chicago Metropolis 2020 is a report released in 1999 by the Commercial Club of Chicago that speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of Chicago and the region. There is empirical research involved to create the report and it recommends specific changes that community and political leaders and business executives can take to improve the myriad situations of living for all metropolitan citizens.

In the Executive Summary, one reads about what physical, environmental and social elements constitute the city and its inequalities. Part 4 is the abstract on Land Use and Housing.

In the beginning of this section, one reads about the facts that most Chicagoans already know: public housing is a center of “joblessness, social isolation, and family and community dysfunction…”

One remedy or suggestion for positive change included in this section of the executive summary is one that involves business owners and employers. I’m glad to see that the Commercial Club members did not exclude themselves from solving some of the region’s problems. However, their involvement, as proposed by the report, remains quite weak.

It says that businesses, “in collaboration with local governments, consider these approaches” and “should coordinate” [italics mine] housing programs that are employer supported. That is very weak language and doesn’t exactly commit any business member of the Commercial Club to move forward with programs that will get their employees in housing subsidized by the companies themselves. If anything, local governments should ask the employers for some backup in rare moments.

Nowhere in the land use and housing section of the report’s summary is any responsibility left solely in the hands of business owners and corporations. That’s disappointing.

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Response to “Gentrification” by Tostah4

The following was originally posted here by a classmate of mine:

Another place of gentrification is areas North of IIT on State and 18th and further south. I see condos being built up across the streets from public housing buildings, on my way to ROTC on the train. I have a feeling sooner or later, those public housing buildings will be demolished and built over with luxury condos. The residents of the public housing will be forced to live elsewhere.

This is what I wrote as a response to someone who is concerned about public housing in Chicago, but could also act as an extension of the blog post:

To better understand what is happening with public housing across the city and what will happen to the public housing on State St. near IIT, you should read about the CHA’s “Plan For Transformation.”

Obviously, the design and plan for the older, high-rise housing didn’t work out too well: the landscaped plazas, parks, and playgrounds eventually were not cared for. It’s partially a result of the residents not taking ownership of where they live – for a few reasons, one being that they have no monetary investment or stake in the housing itself. It’s not “theirs.”

This kind of housing only served to attract drugs and gangs. The CHA feels that this old method of public housing will be corrected with a somewhat experimental method for public housing that brings in people from other class and income levels in the hopes that, what critics say, “the values of the middle class will rub off on the poor.” But instead, it brings diversity to the neighborhood and diversity is always a good thing.

I’d also like to point out that new condos being built is not the only evidence of gentrification. It’s a major, concrete identification method, and it’s a part of gentrification that happens quickly, but before the developers chose that lot to build a condo, the area was recognized as a place that could support housing ownership by middle-class residents and therefore building a condo here is a good idea and financially feasible for them. The appearance of condos is just one step in the process of gentrification, and in Chicago, at least, happens later in the game but is also the step that finally announces to visitors and residents that, “Hey, this neighborhood is (has been) experiencing gentrification.

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