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Building permits for new and changed things in 2014 is going up

New City 19-story residential tower under construction near Lincoln Park.

The building permits data that powers Licensed Chicago Contractors has 11 permit types and I analyzed five of them to show the “new stuff” activity in Chicago this year through May 26, 2014. “New stuff” is the economic indicator to show that things are getting built. It includes the permits issued for new construction, renovation and alteration, porches, easy permit process (which can include things like kitchen renovation, or a new garage), and electric wiring where the estimated project cost is greater than $1.

You can see there was a small dip between January and February but since then has been climbing. See How’s Business? for more business-based metrics of the Chicago economy.

After publishing this chart I decided I’ll include signs because that is part of the “new stuff” activity I am trying to visualize. The other five permits are for scaffolding (a job indicator but not a “new stuff” indicator), elevator equipment (these aren’t always about new or replacement projects), wrecking and demolition (these permits usually don’t include estimated costs), and permits that represent extensions and reinstatements.

I found the Milwaukee Avenue peloton this morning

You can spot at least 10 people bicycling southbound on Milwaukee Avenue through Bucktown. 

I work from home and don’t commute downtown like I believe a majority of cycle commuters do. I was bicycling towards the Wicker Park-Bucktown Chamber of Commerce office for an 8:30 AM meeting of the Special Service Area’s transportation committee. We talked about bike racks, street furniture, and the progress of Open Streets. We partnered with Active Transportation Alliance to put that on, September 16, a Sunday and the week after Open Streets on State Street.

The first raised crosswalk I’ve seen in Illinois

The raised crosswalk, a view looking northeast, from the sidewalk. 

Forest Park was a client of mine in 2012 via my work for Active Transportation Alliance; they’re a technical consultant for cities that had grants from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program. I visited the village with one of their staffers to identify great locations for bike racks (that also included advice on their existing rack inventory, and suggestions for exactly which models to buy).

We would drive around town and then stop and walk a lot. One place where we did a lot of walking was in their downtown, on Madison Street (the same Madison Street as in Chicago). I was pleasantly surprised that their signage reflected the “stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” law, replacing the now-irrelevant “yield for pedestrians in crosswalk” signs. And to top it off, they had talking and lighted signals at some of the crosswalks. I do not support any widespread installation of these: I think they help move our culture in a direction that perpetuates the low respect we have for pedestrians. I believe there are other ways to enforce driver compliance that do not require this kind of equipment.

Forest Park has installed one of those ways: it’s a raised crosswalk (also known as a speed table). It looks like a speed hump, but is much wider, has a flat top, and carries a marked crosswalk (see my article on Grid Chicago “What is an unmarked crosswalk?“). It causes drivers to slow down and has an added – subjective – benefit of intimating that the driver is entering a “protected space”, one for people on foot and that it should be respected. They bring the roadway up to the pedestrian’s level instead of dipping the sidewalk down to the driver’s level.

I don’t know of one in Chicago, but three guys are working to get several installed in a Logan Square traffic circle redesign.

Note: If you are interested in knowing exactly which models of bike racks to buy, learn more at Simple Bike Parking, or contact me directly. I may charge a fee.

The raised crosswalk as seen from a car moving westbound. 

Gaps

A map that focuses on striped bikeways in downtown Chicago.

When you look at your bikeways more abstractly, like in the graphic above, do you see deficiencies or gaps in the network? Anything glaring or odd?

It’s a simple exercise: Open up QGIS and load in the relevant geographic data for your city. For Chicago, I added the city boundary, hydrography and parks (for locational reference), and bike lanes and marked-shared lanes*. Symbolize the bikeways to stand out in a bright color. I had the Chicago Transit Authority stations overlaid, but I removed them because it minimized the “black hole of bikeways” I want to show.

What do you see?

Bigger impact map

This exercise can have more impact if it was visualized differently. You have to be familiar with downtown Chicago and the Loop to fully understand why it’s important to notice what’s missing. It’s an extremely office and job dense neighborhood. It also has one of the highest densities of students in the country; the number of people residing downtown continues to grow. If I had good data on how many workers and students there were per building, I could indicate that on the map to show just how many people are potentially affected by the lack of bicycle infrastructure that leads them to their jobs (or class) in the morning, and home in the evening. I don’t know how to account for all of the bicycling that goes through downtown just for events, like at Millennium and Grant Parks, the Cultural Center, and other theaters and venues.

*If you cannot find GIS data for your city, please let me know and I will try to help you find it. It should be available for your city as a matter of course.

Some disjointed thoughts about bike commuting rates and how we get them

  1. In November 2010, I wrote that Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have a higher percentage of workers (16 and older) commuting to work by bicycle.
  2. Yesterday, I updated an article about how the frequency of women in Chicago bicycling to work is decreasing.
  3. Today, I started updating the November Minnesota article to include the 2007-2009 3-year estimates from the American Community Survey (which shows that bicycling to work is growing faster in Minneapolis than Chicago). View the rudimentary spreadsheet. Bottom line: MPLS jumped from 3.55% bike mode share to 4.14% and Chicago only went from 1.04% to 1.13% (but again, only counting employed people!). Can we get some recession job statistics?
  4. Unemployment rate in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI MSA is 6.5%; Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA is 9.0%. See the table on Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But now I must pause and look at what I’m analyzing.

Someone pointed out in the comments on Chicago bicycling (and working) women that the sample size is low and the margin of error high meaning it’s hard to make accurate interpretations of the change in ridership from year to year. He suggested increasing the sample size.

Add this to the fact that the Census Bureau only collects data on trips to WORK and not everywhere else that people go daily. In this recession, fewer people are working. In fact, perhaps women lost their jobs more frequently than men. That could perhaps explain the drop in women bicycling to work. To increase the number of women bicycling to work, perhaps we just need to find more jobs for women. See points 3 and 4 above for evidence on the number of people who bicycle for transportation that we’re not counting.

After thinking these things over, my point is that gauging a city’s ridership based on Census Bureau home to work data is insufficient.

If these Phoenix bike riders aren’t going to work, they aren’t being counted.

To move from a bicycle subculture to a bicycle culture, we’ll need to know when we get there. We need a better picture on who is riding and for what purpose. CMAP rarely performs their household transportation survey (which gathers data on all trips on all modes and in many counties) and when they do, they don’t single out cities. In essence, Chicago doesn’t know where or why people are riding their bicycles (except for the limited and noisy information the Census or American Community Survey provides) – we have no good data!

Both New York City, New York, and Portland, Oregon, methodically perform bicycle counts annually. Both cities also count ridership on their bridges: Portland has at least 5 to count, NYC has over 10 (also called a screenline count). They can report how many people are riding bikes on the street, blind to their trip purpose and destination. It’s easy to note changes in ridership when you count all trips over work trips.

Let’s make garbage pickup more efficient, says Fioretti

Chicago Tonight, on WTTW channel 11, compared Chicago and Los Angeles with respect to garbage pickup. Recycling is also discussed. It aired on December 17, 2009, but the problem remains today: less than half of Chicago households have “curbside recycling”, recycling rates remain low, and garbage collection costs a lot of money. Will the new Chicago mayor address these issues?

Jay Shevsky says, “Garbage collection is one of the keys to staying in office.” Switch to Alderman Bernard Stone (50th ward, 10th term): “An alderman is judged mostly by his garbage collection. You can pass all the legislation in the world, but if you’re not a good housekeeper, you’re not going to get re-elected.”

Watch the video on WTTW’s website.

To Bernard, Ward-based garbage pickup, a superintendent (making $70k – $113k per year) and a refuse coordinator (making $51k to $86k per year) constitute a “personal touch” which “saves money in the long run.”

“There’s absolutely no reason why any Chicagoan needs to call the alderman in order to get a new garbage can.” – Laurence J. Msall, president of the Chicago Civic Federation.

A city worker picks up garbage on Michigan Avenue in Chicago in December 2010. Photo by John W. Iwanski.

Matt Smith, spokesperson for the Department of Streets and Sanitation (and still today), says that the recycling pickup is routed regionally to be most efficient, but about changing the Ward system for garbage pickup to a grid or regional system, he said you have to analyze that to see if it would be the right change. No word on if they have made such an analysis. “Sure we want to do it as efficiently as possible… but you want to ensure that any changes you do are gonna benefit you, they’re gonna be the most effective.”

Los Angeles uses 1 worker per truck – the driver. They pull up the truck next to the garbage bin and a robotic arm grabs the garbage bin and dumps it on the top. In Chicago, there is 1 driver and two laborers. Our other differences include:

  • Los Angeles is larger: 600 square miles versus Chicago’s 470
  • Los Angeles has more households: 750,000 versus Chicago’s 600,000
  • Los Angeles picks up more garbage: 1.4 million tons versus Chicago’s 1.1 millon
  • And they do it all with fewer trucks: Los Angeles uses 224 while Chicago uses 350 trucks

Host Phil Ponce closes the TV segment by mentioning that Alderman Fioretti said he will introduce a resolution in 2010 to examine switching to a grid system. I don’t know if he did this or not (neither the 2nd Ward or City Clerk’s websites are ideal news or document repositories).

Don’t vote for this guy

Will the next Chicago mayor be the same kind of urban planner like Richard M. Daley was? Will they build new parks and libraries at the same time they sell off infrastructure at a fraction of its value or abuse Tax Increment Financing funds?

I attended the UIC mayoral candidate forum on Wednesday to find this out. There was some talk about creating an open and transparent government (Patricia Watkins), with budgets that a 5th grader could read and spending denoted for each Ward or Community Area (I really like these ideas).

One candidate, Fredrick White, wants to support the building of a water bottling plant that would bottle water with “CHICAGO” on the label and have it sold in local stores and restaurants in order to create jobs (I don’t like this idea at all).

Fredrick K. White is probably telling the audience to visit his website.

I liked Miguel del Valle’s responses to the question about paying for higher education and ensuring the University of Illinois is funded. He recommended better integrating the community colleges and supporting the 3+1 program, where the final year of a bachelor’s program is completed at a university.

At least two candidates want to create technology parks, one even saying he wants Chicago to become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. Another said Chicago can become the hotbed for nanotechnology development (William Walls).

Whatever was said, it wasn’t said by Fenton Patterson. I can’t recall anything he said. When responding to questions, he swaggered to the front of the stage, pulled his jacket back, stooped his head down, mumbled something that didn’t answer any question that was asked. His demeanor looked like that of a detective on [insert name of cop TV show here] ready to grill a perpetrator.

This forum was the first step in weeding out bad candidates like Fenton Patterson.

More of my work on the Chicago elections:

UIC hosts Chicago election season’s first forum

I’m following the race for 11th ward alderman as well as for mayor of Chicago – the election is going to get wild. It’s mild right now, though.

On Wednesday, the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a forum in Student Center East (750 S Halsted) featuring 10 candidates for mayor. Out of the 20 candidates registered with the Board of Elections, 10 didn’t come. Noticeably absent were Rahm Emanuel, Carol Mosely-Braun, and Gerry Chico.

We’ve got some weirdos running for mayor of Chicago.

I’ll be uploading some video footage I recorded but I also tweeted a few times during the forum. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

  1. Ryan Graves says Rahm Emanuel gets corporate donations for favors, “not because they like the guy.”
  2. Some attendees upset at Ryan Graves use of word illegal aliens. They muttered they prefer undocumented. Same thing or not?
  3. Ryan Graves needs a better answer on higher education. Hu gave an excellent response.
  4. Ryan Graves actually knows what TIFs are for. #UIC mayoral candidate forum.
  5. Chicago’s 77 community areas from the 1950s still going strong today at #UIC mayoral candidate forum.
  6. Frederick K White wants to make a Chicago water bottling plant. #UIC mayoral
  7. #UIC mayoral candidate forum going well. Too many single issue platforms though.

I wrote so many times about Ryan Graves because I’m excited that he’s running. He’s 27 years old and I admire his efforts so far. I think that as long as he remains sane during the campaigning, he will be a good person to consider for mayor in the coming decades.

I wish that was me with the Apple iPad, live-tweeting the event.

How many people ride bikes in Minneapolis and St. Paul compared to Chicago?

I applied for a job on Tuesday in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (Twin Cities).

I had heard that more people, as a percentage of all commuters, commute by bike in Minneapolis and St. Paul than in Chicago and many other cities. If you’ve been reading Steven can plan for a while, you know that I visited Minneapolis in September 2009 and rented a bike for 24 hours.

I used the American FactFinder to get the details. And now I know what I heard is true.

Chicago Minneapolis St. Paul
Workers over 16 1,230,809 190,814 131,798
Ride bikes to work 12,755 6,770 1,567
Bike mode share 1.04% 3.55% 1.19%

Permalink to data results. Data from the 2006-2008 3-year American Community Survey estimates, table B08301.

Knowing these figures led me to question the nothing that Chicago is a bicycle-friendly city. If it’s so friendly to riding a bicycle, how come there aren’t more people riding their bikes to work?

One of my ideas: There are many trails criss-crossing Hennepin and Ramsey Counties that go to and through major neighborhoods and employment centers. These are essentially bike highways without the threat of a automobiles.

Non-auto construction projects in Chicago

There are 17 construction projects listed here and none are about automobiles. Additionally, there is information about 2 studies for bus rapid transit-like projects.

Download all of these into Google Earth with this KML file.

A couple of these projects are being held up by the current Illinois roadway construction workers’ strike. UPDATE: Apparently a deal has been reached to end the strike.

Streetscapes

  • Blue Island/Cermak – I wrote about this project at length in October 2009. Construction should begin as soon as the strike is resolved. CONSTRUCTION UPDATE, 10-21-10: Bioswale, or creek, is mostly complete at Benito Juarez Community Academy (BJCA). Plaza with permeable pavers, and sheltered bike parking also complete. Photos here.
  • Congress Parkway – Full details and renderings from CDOT (PDF). Project should begin in 2010 and will narrow lanes, reduce number of lanes, straighten lanes (no more mid-intersection lane shifts), widen sidewalks, and improve crosswalks. Will add a lot of landscaping and unique and decorative lighting.
  • PROPOSED: Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western. Reduce the number of travel lanes from four to three, adding bike lanes and a center turn lane. Project limits include the rebuilt Ravenswood Metra station at 1800 W Lawrence. More details on Center Square Journal. Construction wouldn’t begin until 2011.

Transit

  • Morgan/Lake Green and Pink Line CTA station (new) – Details and renderings from CDOT (PDF) – Overview from Chicago Transit Authority – Tons of bike parking included at the beginning, how it should be. Construction should start this year. To better serve the West Loop area, where more people are moving to, but also has lots of existing businesses.
  • State/Grand Red Line CTA station renovation – Construction should finish this year.
  • 35th/Federal Rock Island Metra station (new) – Construction started in 2010.
  • LaSalle/Congress Intermodal Center – To improve connection between buses and the LaSalle Metra station. Mentioned in the Congress Parkway streetscape presentation (PDF).
  • Wilson Red Line CTA station renovation – Down the street from a new Target store that opens this weekend and hundreds of brand new housing units in the Wilson Yard development. Will use TIF funds from the Wilson Yard district. Overview on CTA Tattler.
  • Ravenswood Metra Station – A popular station on the Union Pacific-North line (to Kenosha). Will add longer and sheltered platform and become accessible. Details with Chicago Square Journal.
  • FLOATING: New Green Line CTA station at 18th or Cermak. Roosevelt station serves three lines. South Loop neighborhood fast growing. The new station would improve transit access to McCormick Place (at least if built at Cermak). Follow the Chicago Journal for more news on this topic.

morgan cta station rendering

Rendering from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing context-sensitive design. See the full presentation (PDF) for architectural influences.

Bridges

  • Halsted Street over North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Replaces 99-year old moveable span with fixed span. No information on how it will accommodate the Halsted Street bike lane. Construction to begin in 2010 (PDF). CDOT project number 74062.
  • Navy Pier Flyover – Elevated section of the Lakefront Trail to bypass current bottleneck where the Lakefront Trail currently enters the Lake Shore Drive bridge over the Chicago River and DuSable park. Details from CDOT presentation on July 15, 2010.
  • PROPOSED: 35th Street pedestrian bridge over Metra/Illinois Central tracks and Lake Shore Drive to lakefront and Lakefront Trail. Bridge will be self-anchored suspension, like the new Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Overview on Burnham Centennial (drawing says 2007).

Rendering of the Navy Pier Flyover as it travels over the Lakepoint Tower condominiums as seen at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Other

  • Various CREATE projects. All CREATE projects involve railroads in some way and most projects will construct grade separations. I’ve written about CREATE.
  • The Chicago Park District opened a new beach at Oakwood/41st Street this year. The grand opening for the beach house happened this past Saturday.
  • The Chicago Park District is currently building a harbor and marina immediately south of the 31st Street beach. The Public Building Commission of Chicago has the details and renderings. AECOM, the architect of record, produced these concept drawings (PDF). It appears how bike riders currently navigate the intersection at the entrance to the beach will change to be a little more normal and not force bike riders on the sidewalk. It’s unclear how many new parking spaces are being created along the lakefront – the fewer the better. The concept plan shows a new parking lot on the west side of the railroad tracks, a design I wholly support.
  • FLOATING: Luann Hamilton mentioned at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June that CDOT was thinking about a buffered bike lane on Wells Street.

31st street harbor concept rendering

Rendering of the 31st Street harbor concept plan. As seen in the contractor’s presentation to the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Related

Although not construction projects, two additional proposals merit your attention. The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority each received grants this month to study and develop two corridors with bus rapid transit-like features. CDOT’s plan is to develop a priority bus lanes for up to seven routes between the Metra stations and Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue (the Miracle Mile). Thank you to Kevin Z for the update.

CTA’s grant money is to fund the development of a speedy bus service from the southeast side to the West Loop via the north-south Jeffrey Avenue.

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