CategoryIdeas

The CTA must remove the Clark Junction bottleneck to modernize the Red Line

CTA Belmont bypass rendering

A CTA rendering shows what a bypass track for Brown Line trains north of the Belmont station might look like, alongside a new residential building on Wilton Street.

Ed. note: This is a guest post from Chicagoan Jacob Peters.

“Keep the RPM Project on Track – Uncouple the [Belmont Bypass] Roller Coaster” is the tagline for a new website called “Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover”.

Capacity is constrained at the Chicago Transit Authority’s Clark Junction track interchange (at approximately 3300 N Clark Street) which means that fewer Red Line trains can run than could be run if there wasn’t this conflict. In the same way there are opportunity costs in business, there are opportunity delays that are caused by this constraint on rail capacity.

For example, if there was no conflict at Clark Junction, then five more trains an hour could pass through the Red Line subway. This would increase Red Line capacity by 25 percent during rush hour, and fewer passengers would be left waiting for a train to arrive with space for them to board.

The way the website advocates against eliminating the bottleneck is hypocritical to the tagline of “keeping the Red Purple Modernization project” on track. That project, which would completely replace all track, viaducts, and embankments north of X station, and rebuild most stations (as well as widening and extending platforms) is largely based on a future service pattern that would run more and longer trains in the busiest transit corridor of Chicago.

This capacity increase would reduce their average commutes by a few minutes. Since the trains wouldn’t have to be spread out in order to maintain gaps in service for the Brown Line trains that need to cross the Red Line at Clark Junction, average wait times between trains would drop all along the Red Line at rush hour, further reducing commute times.

Lastly, when either the Brown, Purple or Red Lines are experiencing delays, and trains get bunched together, these delays ripple through the other lines. This happens because when a queue of delayed Brown Line trains are making their way through Clark Junction, Red Line trains must be held in order to let the delayed trains through the junction in an attempt to keep things moderately on schedule. If there was a bypass of this junction for northbound Brown Line trains, then a delay on either line would not affect the other. This would result in fewer days in which your commute is delayed.

Future capacity needs and current delay reduction is what the Belmont Bypass attempts to address. There may be other ways to achieve this with other alternatives, but the bypass would be far and away the cheapest and could be implemented soonest. Unless you plan to propose alternative means of resolving these conflicts, and funding mechanisms to make them possible, you are not really advocating to keep the RPM on track. Because without untying Clark Junction there is no true modernization.

Runoff election

The RedEye published on Monday an overview of the transit platforms from the two mayoral candidates that have made it into a runoff. (Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t receive a sufficient number of votes, 50 percent +1, in the February 24 election.) Chuy Garcia released his transportation and infrastructure platform about two days before the election.

Garcia paints a beautiful transportation issues platform, but when faced with a truly transformative project he is unwilling to uphold his call for “reliable transportation”. I want to vote for him again, but if he keeps on watering down projects to a point of inefficacy then how are you going to convince anyone to expand transportation funding? How can I trust him to bring about the change is needed on other important issues if on the issue that he received a masters in, he is unwilling to apply best practices?

Emanuel and Garcia should avoid grandstanding on issues of transportation because opposing a necessary transportation investment for political reasons is to let down the electorate that you are campaigning to serve. For both traversing Ashland Avenue by transit and riding Brown, Red, and Purple Line trains through Clark Junction, there is no way to move more people reliably through these areas without infrastructure improvements. Garcia shouldn’t oppose projects without explaining his alternate plan to address the same issues and achieve similar benefits – otherwise there isn’t leadership.

Alternatives

There are few alternatives. First, you could study how to use the existing CTA land around the Belmont stop more efficiently and eliminate track conflicts. It would need to be studied whether a new northbound Brown Line track and platform just to the east and a few feet higher than the current track it shares with the Purple Line could allow for the Brown Line to get high early enough to bridge over the Red Line closer to School.

This option would spare the buildings on the commercial thoroughfare of Clark, and focus demolition on residential streets.  I am not sure if it is possible given how the Belmont station was reconstructed in 2009, but I don’t have a record of it being studied or laid out why it is not an option. Seeing as the anti-bypass group is claiming that the destruction on Clark would turn it into a “permanent under-El wasteland” I would think they would want to prove whether this is possible or not.

Secondly, any alternatives analysis process [which the CTA hasn’t conducted] would include studying a subway alternative for this portion of the Red Line. In the RPM’s subway alternative there was no need for the bypass. The CTA considered a subway from Loyola station to Belmont station, but never studied each section of the potential subway separately. I truly believe that a subway with a portal at Clark Street and a portal just north of Irving Park Road would eliminate the property acquisition, station constraint, and construction phasing issues to outweigh the increased cost of going underground, without needing to consider a two-track alternative.

There was a neighborhood proposal from the 1980s for a subway between Belmont Avenue and Irving Park Road which would act somewhat as a “flyunder”, so to speak. It would include a new Wrigley Field Station that could be built to handle more than the existing constrained Addison Red Line station, including a Purple Line stop in order to match the Purple Line limited service that stops at Sheridan that’s provided on select game days.

The “flyunder” could allow the CTA to forego the large amounts of property acquisition that would be required in order to straighten out the kinks in the elevated north of Belmont, and to smooth out the curve at Sheridan. The CTA could then sell land currently under the tracks for development. In order to see if this is now feasible given the way Belmont was rebuilt, the CTA would have to study whether a bilevel tunnel from Clark Junction to Irving Park would be possible under Clark Street, and parallel to Seminary Avenue.

There is also the alternative of proposing that eliminating the realignment of the Red Line, included in the Belmont Bypass literature, would be a way to eliminate the amount of buildings affected in the scope of the bypass.  But I think that is somewhat tied into the discussion about the other two alternatives. The point is that the elevated bypass is a simple (although in the CTA’s current process, clumsy) solution to the question of how do you eliminate the Clark Junction bottleneck and the unreliability in the system that it creates.

On Active Transportation Alliance’s transportation summit

Active Transportation Alliance invited Eric Hanns and I to speak about “using data for advocacy” at their first annual transportation summit held after a member meeting two Saturdays ago. My and Eric’s talks were complementary and centered around the data tool I built and which Eric and the other volunteers in the 46th Ward participatory budgeting program used to prioritize and market infrastructure projects in Uptown.

The tool in question is the Chicago Crash Browser I made last year and improved this year to load data faster, with great help from the Smart Chicago Collaborative and several members of the OpenGov Hack Night group I cherish.

Click or tap a spot in Chicago to retrieve the number of bicyclist-car and pedestrian-car crashes within 150 feet. With this information, the PB volunteers could show the alderman how important it was for him to support bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects in the ward, and to persuade ward voters to fund these projects.

Find more information about the four other summit “breakout groups” on Active Trans’s website. Eric and I prepared a “Using Data for Advocacy: Making the Case with Compelling Facts” handout which you can download as a PDF or see on our Google Doc. I’ve conveniently listed the links from the handout below but if you want more pointed advice on where to look for specific data, or get an answer to questions you have but don’t grok the context of each of these tools, leave me a comment.

Shaming dangerous drivers, like they did in Bogotá

My friend D.D. said:

Oh, and the documentary i mentioned to you about Bogotá is on YouTube now
Cities on Speed: Bogotá Change
My favorite initiative Antanas Mockus started was he hired clowns to stand in intersections and make fun of drivers that disobeyed traffic laws

His reasoning was that Colombians care more about looking foolish than being fined.

I think something like that could work here:

Like, every day video an example of terrible driving and shame the person. Maybe follow them home, ask them what was so important that they had to risk the safety of other. Then they’ll say “well, i wanted to watch game of thrones” and look foolish.

Reverse traffic planning

Nothing revolutionary, just a clever design. It’s a t-shirt worn by Bicycle Innovation Lab co-founder Lasse Schelde in Copenhagen. I met Lasse at the Svagerløb Danish Cargo Bike Championships on August 18, 2012 (see all photos). The graphic is an upside-down pyramid. From the top it moves to the bottom with decreasing area as follows:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Utility Bicycles
  • Public Transport
  • Taxi/Transport
  • Car Sharing
  • Own Car
  • Airplane

There are many ways to interpret this graphic, but I see it as one of decreasing efficiency in moving people (disregarding nuances of population and distance).

A photo of me cycling in the team relay race on the world’s fastest cargo bike. 

Lasse and I were on the same team for the relay race. Miche and Brandon Gobel all rode his Bullitt. I started first so I wouldn’t have to carry any of the luggage (which consisted of two car tires and a wooden Carlsberg beer crate). The race was hosted on the Carlsberg brewery lot.

The local bike shop: first line of education for smart city cycling

I left this as a comment on Better Bike, a campaign for safe streets in Beverly Hills, California, on a post about cycling and mobility education, and driver’s ed.

I don’t think cycling classes in Chicago are well-publicized. If someone asked me about them, I would just say, “Go see the Active Transportation Alliance website”. But I don’t actually know if that information is on there.

Occasionally the REI in Chicago holds free informational classes, but can someone sign up for a smart city cycling class there? Or anywhere?

In addition to the all of the things that the smart city cycling class you describe in the post offers the students who sign up (a self-selection bias to mobility and cycling education), bike shops are a place where people can receive education on how to ride safely, assertively, and defensively on urban roads. The bike shop salesperson or mechanic is the last person one sees and listens to before they put their new wheels on the asphalt.

I’ll add that bike dealers can do a lot of other things that make cycling more convenient for people:

  • Register bikes, at the sale point, with the police so if a bike is found the owner’s contact information is in the database
  • Teach people the ABC Quick Check, or whatever’s in vogue.
  • Invite the purchaser to ask questions at the sale time, and ask them to come back any time to ask questions. Create a relationship with the purchaser and set a tone that there are no bad questions.

I believe there are bike shops that do these things (I haven’t purchased a bike myself in a while, nor do I feel I need this education), but I feel that not enough do. I think that if bike dealers were educating customers I would be witnessing fewer hairy maneuvers on the road, and bikes in better condition (like tires with air).

This is next to impossible when so many bikes are purchased from department stores.

Note: Bike dealers in Chicago are required by ordinance to submit sale information to the Commissioner of Police: “Every person engaged in the business of buying or selling new or second hand bicycles shall make a report to the commissioner of police of every bicycle purchased or sold by such dealer, giving the name and address of the person from whom purchased or to whom sold, a description of such bicycle by name or make, the frame number thereof, and the registration number, if any, found thereon.” 9-120-080.

It doesn’t say when or how often. And it says “frame number”, which I don’t understand as this doesn’t identify the bike uniquely. A different ordinance requires bicycle purchasers to register themselves the serial number.

The air we breathe… is disgusting

Read the companion article on Grid Chicago

My friend Bill Vassilakis, and his partner Jeff Munie, won the 2011 Design Makes Change competition, The Air We Breathe.

This happened in June. I showed up in the evening during 2nd Fridays in Pilsen for the opening gallery, at 1915 S Halsted, to see Bill and Jeff’s competition entry. I had no idea at the time that they had won. I was impressed by the “Community Voicebox.”

What is the Community Voicebox?

From the project overview (PDF):

The “Voice Box” project claims that local environmental health issues are not solely a result of point source emissions, but a combination of political, economic and environmental issues, which combine to create overall inequalities in environmental health and morbidity.

The Voice Box project is focused around a mobile community forum where information is recorded and exchanged. The local knowledge of the community would be recorded and shared with others in the community, the general public and decision makers via a real time online outlet. This online website will serve as the ‘voice’ of the community and as a record of local knowledge. The Voice Box would be a built upon a mobile trailer with a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces, which open to create an inviting area for residents to relax, respond and exchange.

Two major components of Community Voicebox are the four-wheel, pedal-powered vehicle (acquired in July). The second part is recording audio and video and sharing it on their website. Bill and Jeff were able to purchase these things with a grant from the competition.

What are the environmental health issues?

In as few words as possible, ancient coal power plants in Chicago, namely Fisk and Crawford generating stations, owned by Midwest Generation. I’ve written before about these major pollution sources on Steven Can Plan where I cited a 2002 Harvard study (PDF) that found the power plants combined caused 41 premature deaths per year.

Did anyone else think that smokestacks created clouds?

Digging deeper into the Community Voicebox concept

I wrote about the Community Voicebox quadricycle on Grid Chicago – here I talk to Bill about the community and environmental aspects of the project.

How did you find out about The Air We Breathe (TAWB) competition?

Posters around town (at school, the library, restaurants, etc)

What made you decide to enter the competition?

The quality of air in Pilsen has been a topic of conversation among my friends and roommates as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood (about 5 years).  I was excited to hear about The Air We Breathe competition as a chance to bring everyday quality of life issues into focus in front of anyone walking down Halsted Street.

Did you have your idea for the entry (Community Voicebox) before or after knowing about the competition?

Although we developed our proposal specifically for the contest, we included elements we are familiar with and interested in.  We wanted it to be pedal powered, to directly engage the neighborhood and to present the community’s situation to the world via the internet.

Why did you create the Community Voicebox? What do you want to accomplish with the final product?

We created the voicebox because we wanted to bring the issue to everyone in the community, regardless of whether or not it is a priority for them, and document what they have to say about it.  Ultimately, we hope to use this documentation of the community’s various experiences and perspectives to inform local policy and to serve as a conduit for sharing solutions with other places that are similarly situated, in terms of environmental health issues.

Can you describe how and when the Community Voicebox is being built? (think logistics, materials, partners, designs, etc…)

We’re designing the Voicebox to be as adaptable as possible so that when we turn it over to student organizations or community groups, it can be modified to serve as many purposes as possible.  That said, the primary goal we hope to accomplish is to create a fun, comfortable space in which to offer an opportunity for anyone and everyone to tell their stories through whatever means they wish. This will happen on and around a four-wheel pedal car.

Aside from education, awareness, and exchanging information with the community, do you think Community Voicebox will help bring about a more visible and tangible change when it comes to pollution in Chicago?

Absolutely!  At minimum I hope that making the Voicebox a visible presence at Pilsen’s many community events (as big as Fiesta Del Sol and small as block parties on Miller Street) will help keep air quality on the local policy agenda.  The ideal outcome would be the a leveling of the playing field, in terms of environmental health.  Residents of Pilsen are exposed to levels of pollution that would never be tolerated in any other parts of the city. Basically we want to foster dialogue between the many communities of the neighborhood about pressing local issues.  Environmental health seems like a good place to start.

The Community Voicebox will be interviewing residents, and recording stories, in these parks and neighborhoods in the Lower West Side. 

A page from the project overview document showing a sample of the project’s research materials, mostly centered around the evidence of pollution in the Pilsen and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Life at the speed of rail

Brandon Souba and I entered a design competition held by the Van Alen Institute.

The winners were announced publicly today and guess what, we were one of the 10 finalists! Here’re the other winners and their work.

Chicago photographer Drew Bly was instrumental in this as he provided the wonderful film portraits of people around which we created profiles of potential high-speed train passengers.

Mariane

Each person has a different transportation need and the profile describes how high-speed rail will fulfill that need. This is the purpose of the competition:

Life at the Speed of Rail seeks the visions of the architectural design community, planners, graphic designers, artists—anyone who wants to contribute to the discussion surrounding high-speed rail.

Life at the Speed of Rail calls for participants to produce projects and scenarios that engage high-speed rail at all scales — architectural, metropolitan, regional, national. Participants may decide to tackle one or more of these scales and produce projects that reimagine the high-speed train itself, the section of the railway line, the design of crossings and intersections, the form and program of railway terminals, the graphic identity of the high-speed rail network, and so on.

A selection of entries will form the foundation of an image library — a resource for print and online media seeking better ways of illustrating and analyzing infrastructure needs.

View our entire project in a slideshow.

Oscar

Erica

Jordan

Juliette

Daniel


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.

Make up a slogan, win this hat

Erin of Kozie Prery, a Chicago craftster, has generously donated a custom-made cycling cap to the winning reader of Steven Can Plan.

This hat is mine and you can’t have it. You will get to choose from one that’s already made (for sale on her Etsy Shop) or have one created with a style and color you choose. I wore my hat all winter (from January to May 2011, pretty much) and I liked its warmth and softness. It’s also very small and I can stuff it into my jacket or back pants pocket. Erin’s hats are made of reclaimed textiles (she calls them “upcycled”).

How do you win?

Come up with a catchy or clever slogan that you think will attract people to ride their bikes more often, or, for those who don’t currently ride, encourage them to start riding a bike!

Tips:

  • Consider why you ride a bike
  • Think of why people don’t currently ride a bike
  • Make a list of the places people ride bikes
  • What kinds of trips do people make are more convenient by bike than by other modes?

Imagine your slogan on billboards, postcards, flyers, t-shirts, etc…

In February I came up with the postcard below featuring my sister and a quote I made up.

“A bike, think about it” comes from Mikael of Copenhagenize.

Rules after the jump.

Continue reading

A smarter marathon

What if you could use your smartphone to identify runners in a marathon, get their stats and home country, know why they’re running and donate to their cause?

It’s another idea from the geniuses at the School of the Art Institute’s “Living in a Smart City” class with professor George Aye.

Other ideas in this project included using a new kind of tracking method that pings your spectating family and friends about your current or upcoming location so they can more easily find you. Or grouping runners into “pods” at the end so runners can meet their parties at the end of the race, saving time and eliminating the need to get to a phone.

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