CategoryHistory

Chicago’s Lake Street ‘L’ was originally supposed to be a monorail

I bought a copy of The “L”: The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932, written by Bruce Moffat, a historian of electric trains in Chicago. Moffat currently works for the Chicago Transit Authority. (If there wasn’t a pandemic, you’d be able to request a hold on one of the 50 copies at the Chicago Public Library.)

The book is about the elevated trains that were built in Chicago, in competition with the street omnibuses (horse drawn), railways (cable cars and streetcars), and suburban trains (okay, some competition), prior to establishing the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA is a State of Illinois authority, created by the legislature, that today owns and operates all of the historic and since-built elevated, subway, and at-grade ‘L’ transit as well as buses. It acquired all of the assets of all of the ‘L’, streetcar, and bus companies that were operating when it was established in 1945.

On with the story!

Back in December 1888, the Chicago City Council approved a franchise for the Lake Street Elevated Company to build a Meigs Elevated Railway above Lake Street from Canal Street to 40th Avenue (later named Crawford and now Pulaski Road), then the western border of Chicago. A tract of land west of 40th Avenue (Pulaski Road) was incorporated into the City of Chicago four months later on April 29, 1889.

If you go to the intersection of Canal and Lake Streets today you’ll see the Union Pacific railroad tracks above, heading into and out of Ogilvie Transportation Center, a skyscraper at 444 W Lake Street, a cigar store, and a vintage loft office building.

The Meigs Elevated Railway was a steam-powered elevated monorail – meaning each track had one rail to support a train.

You may not know this: I love monorails. When my family visited Walt Disney World my favorite ride was the inter-park and world famous monorail. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Disneyland (but I don’t remember my time there), Las Vegas, Seattle, Düsseldorf airport, Wuppertal, and three in Tokyo, Japan (Chiba City, Shonan, and Haneda airport; I missed the one in Tama).

I used to be obsessed with monorails. I became a member of The Monorail Society when I was a teenager and my first eBay purchase was a Disney monorail motorized toy in March 2000. I was jealous of my friends in elementary school who had a Lego monorail, and now they regularly sell for $200. I also built a SAFEGE-style monorail out of K’NEX in high school.

Drawing of the Meigs Elevated Railway monorail.
A drawing of the Meigs Elevated Railway monorail, originally published in Scientific American, July 10, 1886. Via Wikipedia; also printed in Moffat’s book where it is sourced from Railway Age, a trade journal founded in 1856 that still exists today.

It was invented by Josiah V. Meigs in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a 227-foot long demonstration line was built in 1886 on land that is now a Fairfield Inn hotel and before that was the Genoa Packing Co. (demolished in 2013).

The Meigs Elevated Railway Wikipedia article has two photos of a plaque that was on the exterior wall of the Genoa Packing Co. The new hotel building does not have the same plaque.

The Lake Street Elevated Company organizers (seven incorporators are listed in the book) hired Morris H. Alberger to be the president. According to Moffat’s book, “Alberger had convinced his fellow directors that their railroad should use an experimental and relatively complex elevated railway system developed by Joe V. Meigs”. Alberger was also the president of the Meigs Elevated Railway Company.

Moffat discusses an eighth company organizer: Michael Cassius McDonald, “politically well connected and influential”. He was the “chief sponsor” and “promoter” of the Lake Street elevated proposal which came to be known as “Mike’s Upstairs Railroad”.

The Meigs Electric Railway – the monorail – was never built. Moffat says that the reason the monorail was never built was because it was difficult to promote and raised funds by selling shares.

Almost a year after City Council approved the MER to run over Lake Street, they “deleted the Meigs requirement” in November 1890 so that the Lake Street Elevated Company could build a traditional iron structure. The trains would also be “traditional”. (The first elevated train started running in Manhattan and the Bronx on August 26, 1878 – that was the Third Avenue Elevated – ten years prior to the Meigs monorail being approved in Chicago.)

Even before City Council “deleted” the franchise’s requirement to build a monorail, the Lake Street Elevated Company had already started building the iron structure for a train in December 1889, at Lake and Clinton Streets, where the Clinton Green Line station is now.

That’s the end of the story for the monorail, but I’ll continue talking about the Lake Street ‘L’.

The Lake Street Elevated opens!

Construction had reached “just west of Ashland Avenue” by October 1892, less than three years after the first iron girder was erected at Clinton. A year after that last construction milestone at Ashland, the tracks for service were completed to California Avenue (2800 West).

The Lake Street Elevated Company’s first service was set to begin on October 30, 1893. The opening was delayed, however, until an inauguration on Saturday, November 4, 1893, to mourn the death of Mayor Carter Harrison, who was assassinated during his fifth term. Passenger service began two days later on Monday, November 6, 1893.

Service was extended into the Loop elevated tracks in 1895.

Map of the Lake Street Elevated, from Market Street (now Wacker Drive) to Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.
Map of the Lake Street Elevated, from Market Street (now Wacker Drive) to Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.

Heading closer to downtown Chicago

In early 1893, the Lake Street Elevated Company wanted to run their trains down Market Street (now Wacker Drive) from Lake Street to Madison Street.

Photograph showing the elevated stub track on Market Street. The view is looking east along Lake Street at Market Street, where the elevated train would turn south.
Photograph showing the elevated stub track on Market Street. The view is looking east along Lake Street at Market Street, where the elevated train would turn south. Photo taken by a Chicago Daily News, Inc., photographer in 1908. The caption in the Explore Chicago Collections database says,

The Market Street “stub” ran past the future site of the Civic Opera Building, opened in November 1929. Operagoers and workers in the office tower of the building would have ridden the ‘L’ here until the Chicago Transit Authority

The Lake Street Elevated’s Market Street stub terminated at Madison Street. The Civic Opera Building is on the left. Image is from the CTA’s collection. Market Street was renamed Wacker Drive when the street was reconstructed as a double decker street starting in 1948.

Extending further into the Garfield Park neighborhood

Tracks were built six blocks west of California Avenue, to Homan Avenue, but the stations were incomplete. Service to the Homan station started November 24, 1893, and four blocks further west to Hamlin Avenue in January 1894.

The Homan Avenue station no longer exists. Today’s Green Line over Lake Street was rebuilt from 1994 to 1996 and the Homan station was abandoned. According to Chicago “L”.org, the CTA decided to move the station two blocks west to Central Park Drive (3600 West). It was “completely deconstructed in spring of 2000 and put into storage”. It was renovated, made accessible, and opened as the Conservatory-Central Park Drive station in June 2001.

Chicago “L”.org notes that this visitors access to the Garfield Park Conservatory, evens out stop spacing, but does not intersect a bus route which Homan Ave does. The CTA closed Hamlin station on March 18, 1956. I don’t know when it was demolished.

Onward, to Austin and Oak Park!

Back to the Lake Street elevated timeline. Serviced operated to Hamlin Avenue in 1894. The next year it was operating to 52nd Avenue (now Laramie Avenue), the western boundary of Chicago. On the other side of that boundary was the Township of Cicero. Austin, a township neighborhood, was annexed by Chicago in 1899. The Village of Oak Park eventually emerged from the township, incorporating in 1902.

Austin was location of Cicero’s town hall. The town hall building, at the Central and Lake station, is now part of the Austin Town Hall Park and Cultural Center, owned and operated by the Chicago Park District.

Austin Town Hall in Chicago, Illinois
Austin Town Hall, the former town hall of the Township of Cicero. Photo taken in 2019 by Eric Allix Rogers.

Moffat’s book describes a lot of political controversy about extending the Lake Street Elevated into Cicero, which seems fitting for the Chicago region. Passenger service to Austin Avenue (now Boulevard) started April 19, 1899.

The next month, on May 14, 1989, trains that ran east-west above Lake Street came down a ramp – to the surface – onto north-south Lombard Avenue a couple of blocks south to Randolph Street. They turned west onto Randolph Street and continued until Wisconsin Avenue/Marion Street. The tracks on Randolph Street were in the middle of the street, and owned by Suburban Railroad, an interurban railway company.

The tracks were previously owned by Chicago, Harlem & Batavia Railway. I’m including that information because I grew up there. However, the railroad never made it that far: “No effort was made to extend the railroad to that distance place, but money was spent to purchase new locomotives and passenger cars and make other improvements.”

Residents here had the option of taking trains into downtown Chicago on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific, which also operates the former C&NW lines as Metra’s UP-West Line. The line terminates at Ogilvie Transportation Center, which used to be called Northwestern Station, which was C&NW’s second location for their downtown terminal.

Moffat discussed these passengers’ choices, writing, “Although a ride on the nearby Chicago & Northwestern was faster, the “L’s” more frequent schedule, convenient Loop stops, and lower fare drew many riders away from the steam railroad”. The same is true today; the ‘L’ costs less than Metra but takes longer to reach the West Loop.

The story about the construction and operation of the Lake Street Elevated is almost done. I’m going to end it as soon as the train reaches the current terminus at Harlem Avenue in Oak Park.

Service to Marion Street started in late January 1901, on the street level of South Boulevard, thus ending service on Randolph Street a few blocks south. Trains started servicing the Harlem station on May 20, 1910. Remember that the reason the trains are now on South Boulevard is because Lake Street runs with a slight northwest diagonal, ends at the Chicago & Northwestern Railway embankment, and resumes a few blocks west. In 1961, the line was elevated onto C&NW’s embankment.

Even though the station is currently called “Harlem/Lake”, the station is at Harlem/South Boulevard, and Lake Street is one block north.


N.B.

Meigs’s railway was mentioned in an op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday, February 23, 1992, as the newspapers’s architecture critic, Robert Campbell, and Peter Vanderwarker, an architectural historian, lamented the towering car infrastructure proposed in the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also known as “Big Dig”, the most expensive highway construction in the country), as well as the darkening effect of the elevated trains. It’s really quite an essay.

The op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine, 2/23/1992

But competition was vicious. Arson and vandalism hampered Meigs, as did his insistence on old-fashioned steam power instead of electricity. Nothing besides the Cambridge test line was ever built. The Meigs monorail made its last run in 1894. Conventional elevated trains, modeled on those of Manhattan and far more massive than Meigs’, soon darkened Boston’s streets.

[snipped]

By the end of this decade, the view will have changed radically. A dramatic Babel of steel and concrete, perhaps resembling a great sports stadium, will rise like a gray mountain in the middle distance at the left of the photo. The introverted automobile will have won its long battle for supremacy over the sociable train.

“MEIGS ELEVATED RAILWAY – Changing TRACKS”, By Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker

Meigs Field, a former airport in downtown Chicago that existed between 1948 and 2003, was named after Merrill C. Meigs, a pilot and former head of the Chicago Aero Commission. He believed that Chicago needed a third airport, within 10 minutes of downtown. The airport was built and named after Meigs in 1949. I haven’t found a relationship between the two Meigs.

Is it possible for us to “greenline” neighborhoods?

(I don’t mean extending the Green Line to its original terminal, to provide more transportation options in Woodlawn.)

Maps have been used to devalue neighborhoods and to excuse disinvestment. There should be maps, and narratives, to “greenline” – raise up – Chicago neighborhoods.

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation “residential lending security” maps marked areas based on prejudicial characteristics and some objective traits of neighborhoods to assess the home mortgage lending risk. (View the Cook County maps.) The red and yellow areas have suffered almost continuously since the 1930s, and it could be based on the marking of these neighborhoods as red or yellow (there is some debate about the maps’ real effects).

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and its local consultants (brokers and appraisers, mostly) outlined areas and labeled them according to objective and subjective & prejudicial criteria in the 1930s. Each area is accompanied by a data sheet and narrative description. The image is a screenshot of the maps as hosted and presented on Chicago Cityscape.

The idea of “greenlining”

I might be thinking myopically, but what would happen if we marked *every* neighborhood in green, and talked about their strengths, and any historical and current disinvestment – actions that contribute to people’s distressed conditions today?

One aspect of this is a form of affirmative marketing – advertising yourself, telling your own story, in a more positive way than others have heard about you in the past.

In 1940, one area on the Far West Side of Chicago, in the Austin community area, was described as “Definitely Declining”, a “C” grade, like this:

This area is bounded on the north by Lake St., on the south by Columbus Park, and on the west by the neighboring village of Oak Park. The terrain is flat and the area is about 100% built up. There is heavy traffic along Lake St., Washington Blvd. Madison St., Austin Ave. (the western boundary) and Central Ave. (the eastern boundary).

High schools, grammar schools, and churches are convenient. Residents shop at fine shopping center in Oak Park. There are also numerouss small stores along Lake St., and along Madison St. There are many large apartment buildings along the boulevards above mentioned, and these are largely occupied by Hebrew tenants. As a whole the area would probably be 20-25% Jewish.

Some of this migration is coming from Lawndale and from the southwest side of Chicago. Land values are quite high due to the fact that the area is zoned for apartment buildings. This penalizes single family occupancy because of high taxes based on exclusive land values, which are from $60-80 a front foot, altho one authority estimates them at $100 a front foot. An example of this is shown where HOLC had a house on Mason St. exposed for sale over a (over) period of two years at prices beginning at $6,000 and going down to $4,500. it was finally sold for $3,800. The land alone is taxed based on a valuation exceeding that amount. This area is favored by good transportation and by proximity to a good Catholic Church and parochial school.

There are a few scattered two flats in which units rent for about $55. Columbus Park on the south affords exceptional recreational advantages. The Hawthorne Building & Loan, Bell Savings Building & Loan, and Prairie State Bank have loaned in this area, without the FHA insurance provision. The amounts are stated to be up to 50% and in some cases 60%, of current appraisals.

Age, slow infiltration, and rather indifferent maintenance have been considered in grading this area “C”.

Infiltration is a coded reference to people of color, and Jews.

My questions about how to “greenline” a neighborhood

  1. How would you describe this part of Austin today to stand up for the neighborhood and its residents, the actions taken against them over decades, and work to repair these?
  2. How do you change the mindset of investors (both small and large, local and far) to see the advantages in every neighborhood rather than rely on money metrics?
  3. What other kinds of data can investors use in their pro formas to find the positive outlook?
  4. What would these areas look like today if they received the same level of investment (per square mile, per student, per resident, per road mile) as green and blue areas? How great was the level of disinvestment from 1940-2018?

In the midst of writing this, Paola Aguirre pointed me to another kind of greenlining that’s been proposed in St. Louis. A new anti-segregation report from For the Sake of All recommended a “Greenlining Fund” that would pay to cover the gap between what the bank is appraising a house for and what the sales price is for a house, so that more renters and Black families can buy a house in their neighborhoods.

That “greenlining” is a more direct response to the outcome of redlining: It was harder to get a mortgage in a red area. My idea of greenlining is to come up with ways to say to convince people who have a hard time believing there are qualities worth investing in that there they are people and places worth investing in.


The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond digitized the HOLC maps and published them on their Mapping Inequality website as well as provided the GIS data under a Creative Commons license.

Where do those weird Chicago place labels on certain maps come from?

Andrew Huff pointed out some archaic neighborhood names he saw on a map that was generated using Carto. The company’s map “tiles” use free and open source data from OpenStreetMap, “the Wikipedia of maps”.

I’m going to tell you where these names come from!

I had a similar question as Andrew several years ago. (Note: I’m a very active OpenStreetMap editor, and I add/change/delete things from the map multiple times a week.)

First, we have to find that place name in the OpenStreetMap database, after which we can discover its provenance. The best way to do this is to search Nominatim, the “debugging search engine” for OSM.

I searched for “Summerdale” because that sounds unique. The fourth result is the right match, so go ahead and open that place name’s details page.

That details page still doesn’t tell us what we need to know, but there’s a link called that starts with “node” that leads deeper into the OSM database.

On the page “Node: Summerdale (153430485)” there are a bunch of “tags” that describe this place’s record in the OSM database. Some of those tags start with “gnis”, which is an abbreviation for “GeoNames Information System”, commonly shortened to GeoNames.

GNIS is managed by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which is part of the United States Department of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (commonly known as USGS).

We can use the GNIS Feature Search site to look up Summerdale by name or ID. (Using name is easier, and I recommend narrowing it to the state of Illinois.)

There are four results for “Summerdale” in Illinois, and two are in Cook County, and one of these is a church, and the other a “populated place”. We want the populated place result.

Here’s where our journey ends, because this result page tells the citation of how “Summerdale” got to be in a United States federal government database of place names.

Hauser, Philip M. and Evelyn M. Kitigawa, editors. Local Community Fact Book for Chicago 1950. Chicago, Illinois : University of Chicago, 1953. p18

You can find that book in the Newberry library. Request it on their computer and a librarian will fetch and bring it to you. I did that in 2015.

Uptown community area page in the 1950 Local Community Fact Book

Here’s what that book looks like, and you can see “Summerdale” mentioned at the end of the third paragraph on the page for the Uptown community area (which is an official place with a permanent boundary):

During the 1870’s and 1880’s, Uptown was still predominantly open country. The area east of Clark Street, from Montrose to devon, was a farming community. At each of the station that had been opened on the Chicago and Milwaukee line –at Argyle, Berwyn, Bryn Mawr and Devon Avenues–there were a few frame residences. West of Clark Street, a substantial portion of the land was swampy. Scattered settlements, chiefly the frame cottages of railroad employees, appeared along the Northwestern railroad tracks. An important factor in the growth of this area was the opening of the Ravenswood station at Wilson Avenue. The opening of another station on this line at Foster Avenue, eventually gave his to the settlement of Summerdale.

I haven’t answered Andrew’s other question, on why Lincoln Square or Uptown, official community areas with permanent boundaries, don’t show on Carto’s map.

That’s because no one has imported these boundaries or these place names into OpenStreetMap. You can do it, and here’s how.

Big Marsh Bike Park is the coolest new city park

Big Marsh Bike Park opening day from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

Rahm Emanuel has opened a lot of cool new parks – Maggie Daley, Northerly Island, 606, and Grant Park Skate Park – since he became mayor. (Making arguments that the parking lot south of Soldier Field can’t be anything but a parking lot pretty lame.)

This morning Emanuel cut the ribbon on the Big Marsh Bike Park, first announced in July 2014. It’s still known as Park 564, until the Chicago Park District board adopts a new name.

It’s located at 11599 S. Stony Island Ave. in the South Deering community area in an area already known as Big Marsh. I mapped the park into OpenStreetMap based on a map from the architect, Hitchcock Design Group*.

I've traced an architect's map of the park into OpenStreetMap.

I’ve traced an architect’s map of the park into OpenStreetMap.

The single-track trails, terrain park, and pump track, are free and open to the public every day from dawn until dusk. It resembles the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder Colorado, which I visited in 2014.

Big Marsh was listed in the city’s Habitat Directory in 2005, noting, “Big Marsh is the largest individual wetland in the Calumet Open Space Reserve with approximately 90 acres of open water. Hiking and biking trails and canoe launch are ideas for this area in the future. As of this writing, the site is undeveloped.”

A map of the Big Marsh wetland in 2005 in the City of Chicago's Habitat Directory.

A map of the Big Marsh wetland in 2005 in the City of Chicago’s Habitat Directory. The bike park is mainly in the cleared space east of the #2 on the map.

The area is also part of the the State of Illinois’s Millennium Reserve program, a group of projects to restore natural areas, create new economic development opportunities in the area, and build more recreational sites.

There is no bike infrastructure to access the site, and many roads leading to the site are in bad condition, or have high-speed car traffic. There is a large car parking lot at the site.

* If you would like to help me map the bike park into OpenStreetMap, you can load the architect’s map of the site into JOSM using this WMS tile layer.

Panorama of the bike park, and the landfill to its south

A rider on the terrain park small trail

History of Chicago streets

New bridge as seen from Division Street bridge

A new bridge over Halsted Street, opened in 2012 spanning the North Branch Channel on the west and north sides of Goose Island.

I found this document listing what appears to be all Chicago streets, their locations (relative to the Chicago grid whose origin is State/Madison), previous names, and namesakes. I doubt it’s hard to find, but I wasn’t looking for it. In fact, I was searching with queries people used before they came across Licensed Chicago Contractors.

“where is 435 w hobbie st chicago ill” was the specific query and I found Chicago Streets on the first page of results hosted on the Chicago History Museum’s website. (You’ll notice the hosting domain name has the acronym for the museum’s previous name, Chicago Historical Society.)

Halsted Street, which I often tell people is my favorite street because it goes through so many neighborhoods (with lots of gaps and railroads in between), was named after “two New York brothers William and Caleb who helped to develop the west end of the Loop.” William Butler Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago, named it.

Halsted Street was previously known as Egyptian Road from 1830 to 1837.

Halsted from Chicago Streets document

A screenshot of Halsted Street in the document.

What modernism should we preserve?

Ed. note: This post is written by Ryan Lakes, friend and architect

Goldberg’s Marina City towers are a couple of my favorite buildings in Chicago, but all of the discussion about preserving Prentice Women’s Hospital – designed by Bertrand Goldberg – has left me conflicted. The following is my response to the video above that was originally posted on Black Spectacles.

When we figure out how to easily move old, significant buildings that are no longer wanted by their owners and occupants, to museum-cities made up of the old masterpieces that have since fallen out of use or favor, then we will have the luxury to preserve them like books, paintings and sculptures. To me, large buildings are more like trees than art. Occasionally the great old fall to make way for the young. There is no moving them. And as time passes, individual systems age and decay, and evolution leads to new, often more efficient ways to compete for space and resources.

Prentice Women’s Hospital is slated for destruction by its owner, Northwestern University. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

Contemporary architecture has a new set of more complex criteria to respond to than what was included in original modernism’s scope. With form ever following function, in modernism, as functions change, so too shall the forms. Is modern architecture able to do so? How do fans of modernist buildings plan to preserve them as fuel prices rise and the desire for energy efficient buildings increases?  What else besides their structure is not obsolete? Let’s not forget that the time of modernism was when most thought our resources were unlimited, that it was better to leave our lights on 24 hrs a day to save bulbs, and that it was better to employ machines to fabricate our buildings rather than our neighborhood craftsmen.

Photo of Zurich Esposito at protest to save Prentice by David Schalliol. 

Chicago’s first protected bike lane to go in on Kinzie Street

Updated June 5, 2011: New information obtained from the alderman’s email newsletter; new design suggestions added based on comments. Please read the discussion in the comments below or the discussion on The Chainlink.

Tony Arnold of WBEZ reported Saturday morning, seemingly based on Alderman Reilly’s latest newsletter (see below for excerpt), that Kinzie Street will be the location of the city’s first protected bike lane.

OLD: He didn’t mention the extents but I bet on the west end it will be at Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street (see photos of this intersection below), where thousands of bicyclists per day come downtown from Milwaukee; on the east end it would be either Wells Street (a one-way, southbound street), which has a treated metal grate bridge and bike lane, or State Street (a two-way street), where the bridge is completely covered in concrete. To Wells Street is 0.53 miles, and to State Street is 0.84 miles, using the measurement tool on Google Maps.

NEW: The extent is from Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street to Wells Street, a distance of 0.53 miles.

I’m excited that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) chose a good location, even though I don’t think this location meets either of my two criteria: that it attract new people to bicycling for everyday trips and that it reduce the number of crashes. It will do both, but only because that is intrinsic of this kind of infrastructure. The kind of bikeway will have more effect on this than the location. People who will use this protected bike lane are already cycling on Kinzie Street and there’re very few crashes here (there were 6 in 2007-2009).

So what makes Kinzie Street in River North a good location?

  • People will be riding and using it from Day 1. It’s a place where people are already riding. After a month, and after a year (heck, after three years), no one will be able to complain of its lack of use. For detractors, this is a main point used to advocate for bikeway removals.
  • There are low barriers to implementation: there’s a very supportive Alderman, the road is wide, and low automobile traffic (this is my observation; there’re no traffic counts recorded on the City’s website).

While I’m sure that CDOT planners and engineers have been working at a furious pace since May 16th to get this new bikeway designed and ready to install, I have a couple suggestions I hope they will consider slipping into the project plan to make it even better:

Intersection design

Problem 1: Improve the intersection at Milwaukee, Desplaines, and Kinzie. Going southbound on Milwaukee at this intersection, you are presented with two lanes. One that is “left turn only” and has a left turn signal, and one wide lane that is for “straight”. But there are three directions to go. One can turn right onto Desplaines, turn left onto Desplaines, or go straight with a slight left into Kinzie. In which lane do you position yourself and which signal do you follow? Actually, which signal to follow is easier because there’s a green right-turn light, and a regular through light. It’s really the lane and positioning that matters.

Possible Solution: This could be made more clear with a bike-only left turn lane (like this one at Milwaukee/Canal/Clinton) with a bike signal head (not sure if a bike-only phase in the signal cycle will be necessary).

Problem 2: Drivers in the right-most northbound lane on Desplaines may try to turn right into Kinzie and this will cause conflicting movements with bicyclists entering Kinzie from Milwaukee.

Possible Solution: Ban right turns on red at this corner (but probably all corners) and enforce the ban.

Slippery bridge

Problem: The bridge over the Chicago River has an open metal grate deck – these are very dangerous for bicycling, especially when wet.

Possible Solution: Treat them. Use concrete infill, non-slip metal plates, or non-slip fiberglass plates.

New route signage

Problem: The signed bike route signage is too late for bicyclists to base their turn decision on. The sign is at the intersection (see photo) and those who want to turn left towards Wells Street will then have to make a box turn instead of being able to make a left turn from the left turn lane.

Possible Solution: Install two signs, one before and one after the railroad viaduct which is north of this intersection along Milwaukee. The signs should say reach Wells Street via the Kinzie Cycle Track and position yourself in the left turn bike lane.

Bridge gap

Problem: The bridge seam on Desplaines at the south end of the intersection is extremely wide and deep. While not part of Kinzie, this problem could be fixed in the same project.

Possible Solution: Without reconstructing the bridge seam, I’m not aware of what can be done.

One more idea

Install a bike box at the intersection at westbound Kinzie at the top of the hill.

Where thousands of bicyclists will probably start their journey on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane.

I took this photo to try to demonstrate the confusion of where to position one’s self at the edge of the intersection if you want to travel “straight” into Kinzie Street (with a slight left). Do you put yourself in the left turn lane, or just to the right of the left turn lane?

This is history in the making – for Chicago only, of course. (These cities already have protected bike lanes.) Keep your eyes peeled for subsequent construction.

Excerpt about the lane from Alderman Reilly’s newsletter

Construction of the Kinzie cycle track is proposed to begin next week, and is expected to be completed by Chicago’s Bike to Work Day on June 17th. The Kinzie cycle track will introduce features that have not been seen to date with Chicago bike lanes, including:

  • flexible posts (delineators) to separate the bike lane from motor vehicle traffic;
  • pavement markings through intersections to indicate cyclist travel;
  • special pavement markings and signage; and
  • parking shifted off curb to provide additional buffer between cyclists and traffic. [It would be nice to know

There used to be homes here

This is a testament to the destructive power of urban highways, be they tunneled, trenched, or elevated.

While biking through Chicago’s west side on Monday along the Congress branch of the Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line, my friend Tony remarked subtly on the “neighborhood” that lines the Eisenhower expressway (you call them highways or freeways):

There used to be homes on the other side of the street.

Indeed, there were homes across from the homes, like a typical neighborhood in any city. Or something useful and interesting for the neighborhood across the street that wasn’t 12 lanes of fast-moving automobiles and a rapid transit line, with all the noise, pollution, and crashes that comes with it.

Let’s not ever let this happen again; no more highways through neighborhoods.

The Joseph Stalin locomotive

Last night in my final class of Transportation Management my teacher pointed out the wallpaper photo on the computer we used to give slideshow presentations. The train is notable because of its nickname, “Little Joe.”

The amazing Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois, has a Little Joe the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend converted to Standard Gauge (4 feet, 8.5 inches). The unit is operational.

Long story short: General Electric (GE) built twenty electric locomotives to fulfill an order the Soviet Union made in 1946. The Cold War “happened” and GE couldn’t ship them out. The engines were built for a 5-foot gauge track. Two American railroads (Milwaukee Road and South Shore) and a Brasilian railroad bought up the stock.

Little Joe is named after Joseph Stalin, Generalissimo of the Soviet Union at the time.

The Wikipedia entry on the Little Joe locomotive doesn’t mention the relationship, but High Iron Illustrations, an aviation and railfan art store, confirms my teacher’s story. The Illinois Railway Museum has more on its history, after the jump. Continue reading

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