CategoryShopping

Destination streets are rarely the best places to bike

This family took to riding on the sidewalk of Division Street instead of in the bike lane. They’re riding the stylish workhorse WorkCycles Fr8. Once I saw them riding the blue one, I had to get a different color. 

My friend Calvin Brown, a circumstantial urban planner, is always giving me Jane Jacobs-style observations about how citizens use their cities.

“Destination streets are the ones I avoid biking on because there’s so much car traffic there. Traffic must be balanced between streets that are good for biking and ones that aren’t currently good.”

In other words, because it’s a destination street (a place where there are a lot of retail outlets, venues, points of interest) it induces a lot of car traffic. Lots of car traffic discourages people from riding bikes, and makes it difficult for those who already are.

To me, a great example of this is Division Street. There’s a bike lane there from Ashland to California Avenues, and has tons (tons!) of restaurants and some night clubs. Yet that causes a lot of taxi traffic, people driving their own cars, looking for parking, jutting into the bike lane to see why traffic is going slow or backed up (um, because there are ton of cars!), and valet and delivery drivers blocking the bike lane.

It’s exactly this traffic, though, that keeps these places vibrant, desirable, and healthy (from an economic standpoint). The solution for bicycling is easy: swap the car parking with the bike lane so that bicycling isn’t affected by a majority of the aforementioned traffic maneuvers.

Calvin’s “destination streets” examples were Grand Avenue and Chicago Avenue. Neither has bike lanes, and both have 2 travel lanes in each direction. Grand has destinations from Racine Avenue to Ashland Avenue and Chicago has destinations from Ada Street to Western Avenue. I’d wager that if you narrowed those roadways by installing a protected bike lane you’d get slower traffic and higher business receipts.

Chicago Avenue at Hoyne Avenue is a particularly stupid part of Chicago Avenue: The Chicago Department of Transportation installed a pedestrian refuge island here. After several years and at least 4 replaced signs due to collisions of automobiles with it, the design hasn’t been modified. The island in and of itself did not change the speed of those who drive here, as the roadway’s width remained static.

What downtown means

Not the guy from the story. 

I was “downtown” photographing situations that make it hard to walk (hard to be a pedestrian) on Sunday, November 13, 2011. While waiting for the light at LaSalle and Adams, a man wearing a Bears jersey in the front passenger seat of a taxicab asked me if I had pizza in my Yuba Mundo’s Go-Getter bag.

“No”, I said, adding, “It has my backpack in there”.

“It’s a very large bag”, he replied.

Realizing that he was sober and that we could hold a conversation, I explained, “It holds a lot of groceries”.

“Oh, you live downtown”, he ascertained.

Not quite. “I live a few miles outside of downtown”.

The light turned green and the driver moved on, but the guy left me with, “Have a nice day”. I said, “You, too”.

After I got home and was looking through my photos and recounted this story, I  realized that to him, “downtown” meant the entire City of Chicago. To me, downtown meant the Loop community area and some surrounding blocks. I might define “downtown” as a place bounded by Kennedy, Division, Lake Michigan, and Roosevelt. But to this suburban football fan, downtown is that big place that one has to travel a ways to get to. I remembered that I had the same understanding of downtown when I lived in Batavia, Illinois, a suburb 40 miles west of Chicago. You can access it by driving on I-290 and I-88, or by taking the Metra UP-West line to Geneva.

There’s at least one other assumption I can make from this conversation: If I shop for and carry groceries on a bicycle, I must live in Chicago; people in the suburbs are never seen shopping for and carrying groceries on a bicycle.

Another photo from my photo mission on Sunday. It’s Roosevelt University’s vertical campus building on Wabash and Van Buren. 

Readers Ask: Choosing a GPS-enabled camera

Readers Ask. Once or twice a month, a blog reader asks me a question about GIS, software, or schools. I’ll be relaying my responses and answers in this new column. This is the first entry.

Question

On Oct 29, 2010, J wrote:

I see from your blog that you use the Sony  DSC-HX5V camera to record the locations/photos, and that you also use ESRI software.  I am just about to buy that same camera for my work, and have been looking for information about if it is easy (or not) to upload the info in Arcinfo/ESRI software.  Would you mind letting me know?

Thanks,

J

I used an external GPS logger to create the map of my bicycle trip around New York City.

Response

Hi J,

I have no experience with using the GPS in the camera. I believed that reception would be poor, especially in urban areas, like where I live – Chicago. I use an external GPS logger (in the same list as the camera) and external antenna. When I get back from a trip, I use software to link the GPS tracks with the photos. The software embeds the coordinates into the JPEG metadata.

I also have no experience using GPS with ArcInfo. I know that ArcExplorer Desktop allows you to import GPX (GPS XML files) but I don’t know what you can do with them in the program. I tried, but failed. I use Windows inside Parallels for Mac, so not everything works 100% of the time.

I did load a GPX file from my external GPS logger into QGIS using the GpsTools plugin. I can export a shapefile from it to work in ArcGIS just fine.

I looked at your organization’s website and it seems you work in the open country. I think you’ll have better GPS tracking results out there with the camera than I do in Chicago. Even with the external antenna, the results in Chicago can be weird – it seems the signals bounce off skyscrapers and trick the GPS receiver into thinking it’s in Lake Michigan.

Lastly, I do recommend the camera for its low-light capabilities, iSweep panorama mode, and 1080i60 HD movie mode.

Steve – contact me

Introducing Grocery Store Bike Parking Ratings

This article is part of a series (it seems) of grocery stores with poor bike parking – it first started with my local Dominick’s. I started an inventory and rating system for Chicago. I welcome your contribution. If you want to start a page for your town, I can help you with that.

After seeing the photos of the wacky bike parking situation at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods on Ding Ding Let’s Ride, I had to take a trip there myself!

By my count, I find that with 3 wave racks (of 2 sizes) and 3 grill racks, there are 27 bike parking spaces. You can debate me and possibly find 4 more.

Surely you can fit more, just like you can fit 4 bikes on a 2-space Chicago u-rack.However, the racks are installed so closer together to make this area quite a pain to find a space. And if you have a long wheelbase cargo bike (bakfiets, Madsen, or Yuba Mundo), GOOD LUCK!

The only space available for a longtail cargo bike like my Yuba Mundo is in a car parking space next to a hybrid Chevy Tahoe illegally parked in a handicapped parking space.

Photo showing too-close placement of the two kinds of racks. Notice that some bikes hang into the curb – it was the only way to use that bike rack. Other spaces might not have been opened when these people arrived.

But officially, for planning purposes, the Chicago Department of Transportation considers that rack as only fitting 2. This area could easily be sheltered. I think it’s something the store should look into. It provides sheltered car parking, which costs proportionally more than sheltered bike racks!

In the future, I expect better from Whole Foods.

For now, Target takes home the cake for providing consistently “good” bike parking. (Great’s the best a store can achieve.) So far, the rating system isn’t fully formed or automated. It’s a work in progress!

Sidenote: Access to Whole Foods via bicycle really sucks. There’s a 5-way intersection controlled by stop signs; then there’s the old railroad track and potholes. It might be better if you come in from the south, but then you have more RR track to deal with.

Photo montage showing how to access Whole Foods from Sheffield by bicycle.

Keeping score: Portland, one million and Chicago, zero

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

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

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

What do we have in Chicago?

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

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

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

Thanks to BikePortland and Tucson Velo for the story.

Chicago’s big box saga continues

The Chicago big box saga is a tale of who gets to build where, how big, and how much wage it pays. It can be extended to include debates on store design.

While big box stores were built here before the first Wal-Mart in Chicago, the saga begins with that megastore. The City Council passed a “living wage” ordinance (also called the big box wage ordinance) that required stores with over 90,000 square feet and $1 billion in revenue to pay their employees a minimum of $10 per hour, and an additional $3 per hour in fringe benefits. The Mayor vetoed the ordinance. Wal-Mart built its store in the Austin neighborhood and paid their normal wage (in 2010 it seems to be $8.75). It won’t be until 2011 (at the earliest) that the second Wal-Mart will open in Pullman.

An urban-friendly Best Buy in the same complex as a senior citizen assisted living center.

Meanwhile, Target opens new Chicago stores in McKinley Park and West Rogers Park (on Peterson Avenue), both in 2006. Best Buy opened stores on Elston Avenue, Belmont Avenue, Clark Street, Roosevelt Road, and Michigan Avenue. Kohl’s, a discount department store, opened a store alongside Best Buy on Elston (to the tune of 130,000 square feet, on par with Wal-Mart) in 2005. Home Depot and Menards have also opened stores since the big box ordinance veto in 2006 seemingly without a hitch.

This month, Target proposed to a group of residents and the 2nd Ward Alderman, Robert Fioretti, a new store at Jackson and Aberdeen in the West Loop. Many residents were disappointed by the store design. At least one resident didn’t understand the need for a store with the South Loop store on Roosevelt so close.

How the saga can end

The prevailing wages at big box stores in Chicago should be researched. The current research about Wal-Mart and big box stores’ tax revenue contributions should be validated by additional studies. There are several universities up to this task, and mine, the University of Illinois at Chicago, has released multiple studies – here’s one about localized job creation and elimination.

With solid background information, alderman and city agencies, as well as residents, can potentially make better informed and more effective decisions about the future of large-scale retailing in Chicago.

More of this please (Home Depot hardware store in dense neighborhood)…

…And less of these.

Lastly, the City Council and Zoning and Planning departments should set design standards for this style of shopping to ensure urban friendly and transit oriented developments. Home Depot and Target should be lauded for their stores on Halsted Street in Lincoln Park (more info), and on Roosevelt Road in South Loop, respectively*. However, each has since built their typical suburban monstrosities in other neighborhoods, that neither recognize that some customers would like to arrive by car (instead by transit or bike), nor consider the environment (minimum-size parking lots make a large contribution to the city’s current problems managing stormwater runoff). Future Wal-Marts should promote sustainable design.

First and second photos by Payton Chung. Third photo by PonderInc.

*While the Target in McKinley Park (Chicago) is LEED Certified, the South Loop store probably has an annual lower carbon footprint because of all the visitors who arrive by transit and bike. The South Loop store is near a major train station and several bus routes (at least five). The McKinley store is on a highway and two bus routes.

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