CategoryStreet Design

Chicago’s ward boundaries should go down alleys instead of main streets

Dividing a small part of a business district, centered on one street, into three fiefdoms cannot be an efficient way to govern a neighborhood, aggregate resources, or provide services.

This graphic illustrates how many elected “stakeholders” – each with their own ideas – a city transportation department and its contracted engineers have to deal with to repave a street and rebuild the sidewalks.

The constituents are the same, however. They are all small business owners, and if you want to get together and advocate for change, you’ll have to make three different appointments.

Say the first elected official supports your small group’s proposal. Are they going to talk to the next door elected official and collaborate?

Naw. Not in Chicago. This is the city where a bike lane will be repaired on a street, but only up to the point where the fiefdom boundary ends, because the next official didn’t want to pay for the maintenance on their side.

I can see one situation where having three boundaries is good: Say one of the official is really good, responsive to needs, pushes for street upgrades, spends their discretionary funds in ways that you like, and attracts more businesses to locate there.

The next door official, however, isn’t as responsive or “good”, but they want those businesses to locate on their side of the street. They’ll become better, in essence, competing.

I don’t think this happens in Chicago, because you’ll tend to have officials who are about the same.

The depicted project was proposed a little over four years ago, and is now complete, it appears.

Chicago has too many traffic signals

IMG_2496

People wait at a stop light on the first major ring road in the city center of Amsterdam. Photo: Northeastern University, Boston

I was flabbergasted to learn today that there are only 5,500 signalized intersections in all of the Netherlands. I was reading Mark’s blog “Bicycle Dutch” and he interviewed a city traffic signal engineer in Den Bosch, who described how different road users are prioritized at different times based on the complex programming. (Watch the video below.)

In Chicago there are more than 3,000 signalized intersections. And I believe this is way more than we need.

I understand more than the average person how traffic moves in each place and how it “works”. There is such a thing as too many traffic signals because at some point the signals (their proximity and their programming) start causing delays and conflicts.

Saying that traffic – of all kinds, bikes, trucks, buses, delivery vans, and personal vehicles – moves better in cities in the Netherlands than in Chicago is an understatement.

Aside from their impacts on traffic (which can be good in some situations, but aggravating existing problems in other places), signals are very expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.

In Chicago, an alderman (city councilor) can use part of their $1.3 million “menu” money annual allocation to purchase a traffic signal for $300,000. That’s money that won’t be used for transportation investments that reduce the number of severe traffic crashes as well as reduce congestion like bus lanes and protected bike lanes.

Let’s review

I compared their populations (about 17 million in the Netherlands and 2.7 million in Chicago) and saw that Chicago has a lot more traffic signals per person.

On Twitter, however, I was challenged to find the number of traffic signals per mile driven, not per capita.

So, I did, and I was surprised by the result.

This assumes I collected the right statistics, and converted the driving figures correctly.

The surprise: There are more passenger miles driven (known as VMT) in the Netherlands, per capita, than in Chicago. I actually can’t even get passenger miles driving in Chicago – I can only find “all miles” driven. And that includes trips on interstates that pass through Chicago but where the driver or passengers don’t stop in Chicago.

Here’s the analysis, though.

Driving

  • According to the OECD, there were 145,400 million kilometers driven on roads, for passenger transport, excluding bus coaches, in the Netherlands in 2013 (the latest year for which data was available in the Netherlands). That’s 145.4 billion kilometers. (Source, no permalink.)
  • According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, there were 11,150,109 thousand miles for all kinds of road transport, in Chicago in 2013. That’s 11.2 billion miles, which converts to 17.9 billion kilometers. (Source)

Population

  • In 2013, the Netherlands had 16,804,430 inhabitants (they had declared reaching 17,000,000 this year), according to the OECD.
  • In 2013, the City of Chicago had 2,706,101 inhabitants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 ACS 5-year estimate.

Signals

Results!

  • The Netherlands has over 39 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.
  • Chicago has over 167 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.

There are many kinds of shared space

A guy standing in the middle of the intersection

I took this photo outside the café Memory Lane in Rotterdam because the man in the white shirt was standing in the “middle” of this intersection for a couple of minutes. Before he took this position, he was walking slowly across the intersection to the opposite corner as his car. He’s a livery driver, and he appeared to be waiting for his passenger.

This intersection is raised (the sidewalk is level with the road surface), and is uncontrolled (there are no traffic signals, stop signs, or yield signs). A bicyclist or motorist can pass through this intersection without having to stop unless someone is walking, or a bike or car is coming from their right.

This junction has no crosswalks, either. And no one honks. Especially not at the man who’s in the roadway.

Because he’s not in the roadway. He’s in a street, and streets are different. Streets are places for gathering, socializing, eating, connecting, traveling, and shopping. There was plenty of space for him to stand here, and for everyone else – including other motorists who were in their cars – to go about their business.

The rate of change on city streets: USA versus the Netherlands

ThinkBike 2013

One of the people in this photo is Dutch. We’re on the Dearborn bike route installed downtown in 2012. The next downtown protected bike route was installed in 2015 serving a different area. However, the Dearborn bike route has become so popular that it’s size and design (t’s a narrow, two-way lane) are insufficient for the demand (who knew that bicycling in a city center would be so high in demand, especially on a protected course?) and there are no plans to build a complementary facility to improve the conditions.

My friend Mark wrote the following paragraph on his blog, BICYCLE DUTCH, relating the need to change a city and its streets to the way families change the contents of essential parts of their homes. In other words, cities and streets are like our living rooms and they must also change as we change.

Think about your living room, chances are you change it completely every 15 to 20 years. Because you need a wider sofa for the expanding family, or because you rightfully think that table has had its best years. Maybe the extra big seat for granddad is sadly not needed anymore. Of course, things can’t always be perfect: you have a budget to consider and it is not so easy to change the walls. Replacing things does give you the opportunity to correct earlier mistakes and to get the things which are more useful now. While you are at it, you can also match the colours and materials better again. Our cities are not so different from our living rooms. Just as families grow and later decrease in size again when the children leave the house, the modal share of the different types of traffic users changes over the years. These shifting modal shares warrant changes to the street design. So you may need some extra space where it was not necessary before, but if you see less and less of a certain type of traffic, its space can be reallocated to other road users.

What I really want to talk about is the rate of change in the Netherlands. I’ve visited Mark’s home in s’Hertogenbosh (Den Bosch), and we’ve walked around Utrecht.

One thing he told me, which is widely evident, is that the Netherlands is always renewing its streets. Or it has been for decades (maybe since World War II). They update street design standards regularly and streets that no longer meet these designs (or a few generations back) are updated to meet them.

Now, the two changes – updating the standards and updating the streets – don’t happen so gloriously hand in hand. Just like in the United States it takes a couple of years to come up with the right design.

The difference between our two countries is the regularity in updating the designs, and the regularity in updating streets.

I’ll lead with one example in Chicago and ask that you tell me about projects in your city that repair what’s long been a pain in the ass.

An intersection in the Wicker Park neighborhood got modern traffic signals, added crosswalk signals (there had never been any), and a stupid, sometimes dangerous little island removed. One of the four legs didn’t have a marked crosswalk. The state of Illinois chipped in most of the cost of the update – this was known at least four years before the construction actually happened.

When I wrote a blog post about the project for Grid Chicago in 2012, I found a photo from 1959 that showed the intersection in the same configuration. I also wrote in that post that the construction was delayed from 2012 to 2013. Well, it got built in 2014.

Milwaukee & Wood ca. 1959

Intersections like this – with difficult-to-see traffic signals that motorist routinely blow past, missing crosswalks, and curb ramps that aren’t accessible – persist across Chicago in the state they’ve been in for 55 or more years.

The “reconstructed bicycle route” that Mark discusses and illustrates in his blog post is known to have been updated at least once a decade. He wrote, “pictures from 1980, 1998 and 2015 show how one such T-junction was changed several times. The protected intersection went through some stages, but having learned by trial and error, the design we see now is one that fits the present ‘family’ best.”

Three books by well-known city transportation planners have all been published within months of each other. I read and reviewed Sam Schwartz’s “Street Smart”, and I’m reading Janette Sadik-Khan’s “Street Fight“. Gabe Klein’s “Startup City” is the third. All of them advocate for new designs to match the changing attitudes and needs cities have. Actually, the needs of the cities haven’t really changed, but our attitudes and policies – and the politics – around how to update cities has evolved.

I don’t know what can spur all of these seemingly minor (they’re no Belmont Flyover) infrastructural updates. I don’t think a lack of money is to blame. I think a lack of coordination, staffing, and planning ensures that outdated and unsafe designs remain on city streets.

P.S. The Netherlands “renewal” attitude isn’t limited to streets. The Dutch national railway infrastructure company “ProRail” (which is “private” but owned by the government) has been completely replacing all of the primary train stations. The Dutch have been rebuilding dikes and building flood control projects for decades, many under the common name “Delta Works”.

Here’s a photo in Nijmegen where the government was building a new, bypass canal that would ease a shipping route, create a controlled flood area, a new recreation area, but that would also displace homes.

#Space4Cycling: Chicago needs intuitive bike lanes and other street markings

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

In this case at Milwaukee and Green, space was made and well-marked for cycling but no space was outlined for driving. The driver of the black car must pull up this far to see beyond the parked silver car. In the Netherlands they’ve come up with a solution that would work here: shift the green bike lane toward the crosswalk so that the motorist crosses the crosswalk and bike lane at the same time and has space to wait to turn left between the bike lane and the travel lane.

What does an intuitive bike lane or other street marking mean?

It means that the street user can reasonably (yeah) guess, and guess right, what they’re supposed to do.

For bicyclists in Chicago, the lack of bike lane markings that continue to the edge of an intersection (often demarcated at the stop bar) creates an unintuitive bike lane design.

At intersections, an intuitive bike lane design would mean that the bicyclist and the motorist know where and how to position their vehicles in respect to the other, even if there isn’t a car there yet, or there’s not a bike there yet. Many intersections in Chicago that have protected bike lanes do this; especially the ones with separate signal phases. And these intersections work really well for bicyclists: they stand safely away from motorists, and motorists don’t attempt to occupy these spaces.

Inverted sharrow

The “sharrow before and after the intersection because the city dropped the bike lane” is the most common “didn’t make space for cycling” problem. There was plenty of space to make for cycling here, and nearly every other “sharrow…” situation: it’s along the curb and it’s subsidized, curbside parking for drivers.

But currently at dozens, if not hundreds, of Chicago intersections where the bike lane drops before the intersection, you’ll see bicyclists behave and maneuver in several ways, none of which are accommodated by the street’s design.

Some people will bike between two lanes of cars to the front of the line, and when they get there, lacking a bike box or advanced stop line, they’ll stand with their bike in the area between the crosswalk and the stop bar. If the first car is over the stop bar, then people will usually stand with their bike on the crosswalk.

Riding north on Damen towards Fullerton-Elston

The sharrow painted on the pavement, and an accompanying sign saying, “shared lane – yield to bikes” are unintuitive because no one can occupy the same space at the same time, and the symbols don’t communicate who gets first right to a specific part of the road space. In the end, though, in a situation like this, I’ve never seen someone wait back this far on their bike, and many will consider riding on the sidewalk to get to the front. When they get there, though, they won’t find any #space4cycling.

Others will bike between a lane of cars and the curb to get to the front of the line.

New buffered bike lane on Halsted just ends

This is another version of the “sharrow before and after the intersection because the city dropped the bike lane”. Why’d they drop it in this instance? To make space for Halsted Street drivers turning right, and to push more drivers northward through its intersection with Clybourn Avenue.

Others will wait to the side of drivers, and other still will wait behind a line of cars, putting themselves at a major time disadvantage as the people who biked up to the front. Not to mention they’ll choke on more fumes.

Then, when the light turns green, motorists behave differently. Some will follow behind the first bicyclist, while others will try to pass but closely because they’re essentially sharing a lane side-by-side – this exerts a lot of mental stress on the bicyclist.

Where the city has built space that’s absolutely not to be shared (meaning it’s for the exclusive use by people bicycling), then the designs are substandard because they still allow or seem open to driving. Otherwise, though, space for cycling that’s “part time” is only usable space for those holding the most power and not for the people riding bikes who need it.

frankling at washington bike lane (composite image)

In this new design that built a “protected intersection” for bicyclists going north on Franklin and east on Washington Street, the bike space is still a drivable area. (Top photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz; bottom photo by Skip Montanaro)

These deficiencies in Chicago’s bike lane network are often the result of failing to make, or make well, space for cycling from space used for parking or turn lanes.

Bicycling on the Dearborn Street bike lane

Three years after the City of Chicago built the novel and well-used two-way cycle track on one-way Dearborn, this situation north of the track still exists. And somehow they expect drivers on a 4-lane road to travel at 20 MPH.

This is 2015 and we continue to “not make space for cycling” despite every policy that calls for making bicycling in Chicago safe and convenient so that more people will do it. It’s just that in the unwritten policies it says that you can implement that policy if it doesn’t impede driving*.

* The City of Chicago has built many road diets (a reduction in the number of travel lanes) in the last four years, and some before that. A few of these have worked well for bicyclists, like on 55th and Vincennes where they built protected and buffered bike lanes, respectively (and Dearborn through the Loop).

I put road diets in a note after “impede driving” because they’re only done where they also won’t make local traffic more congested on that street or an intersecting streets.

On the face of it, that’s exactly what many people believe they’ll do because a road diet removes or converts lanes and that’s seen as the same as reducing car capacity which will shift that car traffic to other streets. That pretty much doesn’t happen and the city only implements road diets on streets that have MORE capacity than is used.

I grew up in the suburbs and it shows in early drawings

Vanceville 3 of 13

This panel has the light rail station next to an office complex that had the United Airlines headquarters and the office for “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region”.

I lived in suburbs until I was 22. The suburbs of Houston, of San Francisco, and of Chicago.

And from when I was 11 years old to about 15 years old I drew a municipality called “Vanceville” (and “Vancin” at one point) on 13 adjoining panels, each a standard size grade school poster. I started in fifth grade, within a couple of months of moving to Batavia, Illinois.

The first panel was drawn on the backside of a poster that displayed my study for class that counted cars on my street categorized by their manufacturer.

The suburban pattern of development was all I knew – and it really shows. I didn’t make it into the respective city centers that often, and when I did it was mostly by car. I think I drew the ultimate suburb of NIMBYs.

I don’t support this kind of development. Back then I thought I was designing the best city. I had no idea that what I was drawing wasn’t a sustainable way to develop places where people live.

You can see how four panels adjoin.

You can see how four panels adjoin.

I mean, just look at all the massive parking lots I drew. I seriously thought that that was how cities should be designed. I didn’t know that they paved over natural areas and caused dirty water to run off into the river I drew.

There are no multi-unit buildings. In fact, each single-family house is built on a huge lot. I gave each house a big garage, writing explicitly “2 + 1” and “2 + 1/2”.

I drew townhomes, a denser housing style than single-family, because I had a few friends who lived in them. This panel has my house in the lower-left corner.

Sidewalks are rare, but they become more prevalent in later design phases. You can forget bike lanes, but you may be lucky and find a bike path, again, in a later design phase. Those phases are also distinguished by smoother lines, fewer stray markings, and a lighter touch of the pencil.

People have to drive to the parks. Strip malls abound. Many of the shops are named for real businesses in Batavia.

Oh, wait, I drew in light rail tracks and stations. But I didn’t draw them because I knew or thought transit was a good thing. None of the places I lived had it. I drew the light rail because I loved trains.

Vanceville was so oriented to driving that some of the road lanes had “ATM” imprinted where a right-turn arrow would be, to signify that there was an upcoming turn off for a bank drive-through, with two lanes that had only ATMs. Even “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region” was connected to a 5-level car park.

There are just so many roads. I drew what appear to be interchanges between two “connector” roads within a residential neighborhood! That same panel seems to have as much asphalt as any other surface, be it developed or grass or water.

I’m not surprised this is the kind of city I drew.

If I still drew, the outcome would be completely different. It would probably look like a mix of Rotterdam, Madrid, and Houten.

What else do you see in the drawings? View the full album.

Vanceville 5 of 13

I drew these at a time when I was also obsessed with spy stories, which explains the CIA building.

Transportation infrastructure is for more than transportation’s sake

Transportation infrastructure should be designed for more than carrying people through places. It also needs to be about carrying people to places, because transportation is for moving people as much for commerce as it is for being social.

The Dutch consider “social safety” when designing and redesigning streets (they’re constantly upgrading streets, roads, and entire neighborhoods to standards that seem to be frequently updated).

Mark Waagenbuur posted a new video this week showing a new tunnel under Amsterdam Centraal, the main train station in Amsterdam, and he highlighted several of its social safety features.

The screen grab I embedded above – and posted on Twitter where it got a lot of shares and likes – shows an aspect that’s common across all cycling facilities in built-up areas: it’s wide enough to ride side by side with your friend, mother, or lover, with still enough room on your left for people to pass you in the same lane.

Another aspect of this tunnel is that it has sound-absorbing panels. Often tunnels have a disturbing echo that inhibit comfortable communication – my new home office has an echo and it makes it hard to have conversations on the phone here because I hear an annoying feedback. The communication is important to be able to hear people cycling with you, but also to hear what other people are doing.

The tunnel has a final feature that supports social safety: clear, wide, and open sight lines. Not just from end to end, but also to the sides. It’s hard to hide around the corner because the breadth of vision is so wide that you would see someone lurking in the corner.

For Chicagoans who use one of the many old tunnels under Lake Shore Drive connecting the “mainland” to the nation’s most popular trail along Lake Michigan, the feeling of claustrophobia and invisibility of what’s around the bend is too common. New tunnels, which I prefer to bridges because you go downhill first, should be a priority when the State of Illinois rebuilds Lake Shore Drive north of Grand Avenue in the next decade. This is what those tunnels look like; sometimes they have mirrors.

We can sell ads on the Lakefront Trail underpasses, but they're still shitty to walk through

Why the next downtown Chicago cycle track shouldn’t be two-way

Divvying in a suit and a skirt

Riding south, in the gutter pan, on Dearborn’s two-way cycle track.

 

There are many problems inherent to having a two-way cycle track (or protected bike lane) on a one-way street in a busy urban center. I’ll list them here to convince you that the next time the Chicago Department of Transportation proposes a two-way cycle track on a one-way street you should heavily question it (except in one circumstance I’ll outline in the discussion).

In two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets…

0. It’s less safe than one-way cycle tracks on one or both sides of a street. (See OECD passage below.)

1. It’s hard to pass same-direction cyclists. A cyclist who wishes to pass someone going in the same direction must watch for oncoming traffic, increasing the danger of passing if they miscalculated when they should go and reducing the opportunities to do so. It also presents a hazard for all cyclists, who have to watch out for oncoming cyclists who are passing a same-direction cyclist!

2. It’s unlikely there will be space to offer turn lanes. Busy cycle tracks need turn lanes, to separate cyclists who are going to slow and turn or stop before turning (in the case of pedestrians crossing), and those who are going straight. A turn lane could be accommodated if the cycle track can widen at intersections, but in practice it seems to be easier to split the cycle track into turn and through lanes.

3. It costs more. Opposite direction cyclists can’t use existing traffic signals and must have costly traffic signals with bike symbols (which also cost a lot to program). The need to have a yellow center line also means a two-way cycle track requires more paint.

Erik pointed out in the comments how this isn’t right. I mostly agree, but then I changed my mind on how important this is: The appropriate and best design for a bicycle facility shouldn’t have its quality compromised because of cost.

4. It interferes with decades of intuition gained from crossing one-way streets. Most pedestrians around the world are used to monitoring a single direction of traffic on a one-way street.

5. They’re anti-social. Two-way cycle tracks are narrower than one-way cycle tracks because the city street engineers likely have the same space to work whether they allow one- or two-way cycling. This means you can’t cycle and chat next to a friend.

6. They require that someone has to ride in the gutter. When two-way cycle tracks are built curbside on existing roadways, one direction of cyclists will always have to ride in the gutter, a slanted area of the road filled with water and debris. We could eliminate this by building raised cycle tracks with a new drainage system (either drain into the roadway, or into new grates).

7. There’s less room to avoid obstacles. If there’s a rock, pothole, or upraised manhole cover in your path, you go around it. But if there’s someone coming in the other direction you’ll just have to hit it and take the beating.

8. They don’t provide cyclists access to both sides of a street that has destinations on both sides. This is a conditional item, and moot if the options are a two-way cycle track on one-side or a one-way cycle track on one side. A cycle track on each side of a one-way street will provide bicycle access to destinations on both sides.

Keep reading for a deeper discussion on the situations where a two-way cycle track could be good.

Note: A two-way cycle track is scheduled to be installed on the left (east) side of southbound Clinton Street as part of CDOT and CTA’s Loop Link bus lanes project.

There may be a place for two-way cycle tracks

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a review of international best practices for growing cycling and keeping cyclists safe (hat tip to Copenhagenize). The authors concluded (page 177):

  • “Bi-directional cycle tracks along roads invariably lead to non-conventional maneuvers at junctions and where such tracks terminate. These situations entail a significant risk of crashes. Two-directional cycle tracks along roads generally should be avoided, unless the advantages are very clear or the space constraints for two unidirectional cycle tracks insurmountable.” [Grand Avenue is under discussion right now and I would say that the street has a lot of excess space. It has a “pair” on Illinois Street, with similar excesses.]
  • Opposite direction cycling on streets where cyclists don’t need linear protection from motor vehicles (because of lower volumes or traffic speeds; like Chicago’s side streets) is a very different ballgame.

None of this is to say that having two single direction cycle tracks, on each side of a one-way street is bad. They’re better than having a two-way cycle track because cyclists would then have a bigger, direct network of good places to ride and reach destinations.

A two-way cycle track to access bike parking at a train station. It wouldn’t make sense here, in a car-free environment, to have a one-way cycle tracks on either side of something in the middle (there wouldn’t be a something in the middle). Photo: Jennifer Judge and Ben Russell

The Dutch have installed many (probably hundreds of) miles of two-way cycle tracks, but they are more akin to our two-way off-street multi-use trails as they’re only mildly aligned with streets, or they’re used in very particular situations – for example, to carry a busy segment of the cycle network on one side of a large road to a bridge on the other – and not in dense, tight, uniformly dimensioned urban street grids that dominate American cities and are rarer in Dutch cities.

Quite often the Dutch will build a two-way cycle track on each side of the street to accommodate their cycle route networks, avoid a busy junction or train station area, work in harmony with intersections that prioritize tram and bus traffic but that can still keep certain directions of cyclists moving without any delay, or to provide access to both sides of a busy retail area. Learn more about the geometry and engineering of two-way cycle track design on Peter Furth’s website.

Speaking of networks, two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets must be integrated into a bicycle route/path network differently. This isn’t to say it cannot be done, but it takes a different and more complicated approach because of the nature of the other streets that would have to be modified to “receive” bicyclists turning off of the two-way cycle track. It has so far not been implemented well in Chicago.

Furth’s website describes the advantages of a two-way cycle track as listed in the Dutch street design manual called CROW. They are convincing! Yet Dearborn Street in Chicago, the first urban two-way cycle track on a one-way street in a big American city, doesn’t fit those criteria. And neither does building two-way cycle tracks on other one-way streets in the central business district.

You wouldn’t have to reject the proposal for another two-way cycle track on a one-way street, though, if there was a single, thoughtful design plan – the evolution of a network proposal like Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan – for all of the streets and intersections involved attached with dedicated funds for the appropriate infrastructure redesigns. However, three years after the Dearborn cycle track was installed, it still doesn’t bicycle facilities connecting it to the Kinzie cycle track. There, a network plan and a design plan failed to materialize.

A local example of a complicated and deficient intersection design is that cyclists going northbound on Dearborn Street (a northbound, one-way street with a two-way cycle track) and want to turn east onto two-way Kinzie Street (which has no bicycle facilities) have no way to do so without putting themselves and others at risk or burden.

Here’s how I would make that turn: if the Dearborn light is green, come to a complete stop in the intersection and wait for the Dearborn light to turn red and the Kinzie light to turn green – ignore that I’m blocking northbound cycle traffic. If the Dearborn light is red, signal to cyclists behind you that you’re turning right, and then watch for Kinzie traffic, turn right, and merge into it. Neither situation is preferable.

It’s imperative to redesign intersections when adding cycle tracks, and two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets require a more intensive and complex design but add little to no benefit over having a single, one-way cycle track, or one-way cycle tracks on either side of the street.

This slide from an APBP webinar briefly lists why a two-way cycle track may be better than a one-way cycle track.

This slide from an APBP webinar briefly lists why a two-way cycle track may be better than a one-way cycle track.

P.S. I laughed when I saw these three reasons [PDF] supporting a two-way cycle track over a one-way cycle track, because all of them are the same labels I’ve used to denote the disadvantages of using a two-way cycle track.

  1. Space limitations. Advantage: You don’t have enough room to put in two, appropriate-sized one-way cycle tracks, so you build a two-way cycle track. Disadvantage: Each cyclist now has personal space limitations.
  2. Wrong-way bicyclists. Advantage: You provide a space for people who choose to cycle the wrong way. Disadvantage: A two-way cycle track is less an accommodation for this rider, and more an admission that your cycle network doesn’t accommodate the rider.
  3. Difficult street crossings. Advantage: I don’t think there are any! Disadvantage: Start reading from the top of this post.

Here’s how to fix the right-hook problem at Kinzie and Jefferson

Kinzie runs east-west, side to side in this Google Street View image. The ideal viewing angle between a motorist and bicyclist is 90 degrees, which is possible for the eastbound cyclist (from right to left) and the northbound motorist (pictured, in the white car). The eastbound motorist turning onto southbound Jefferson has an acute view angle to the cyclist and motorists typically believe they can make the right turn before it could possible harm the cyclist. Making the street one-way would mitigate this right-hook problem.

Kinzie runs east-west, side to side in this Google Street View image. The ideal viewing angle between a motorist and bicyclist is 90 degrees, which is possible for the eastbound cyclist (from right to left) and the northbound motorist (pictured, in the white car). The eastbound motorist turning onto southbound Jefferson has an acute view angle to the cyclist and motorists typically believe they can make the right turn before it could possible harm the cyclist. Making the street one-way would mitigate this right-hook problem.

Make Jefferson Street a one-way street going northbound so no more motorists will turn right onto southbound Jefferson and right-hook bicyclists going east on Kinzie Street.

It’s that simple. It should have been done four years ago when the Kinzie Street protected bike lane was created from a road diet (4 to 2 conversion). Instead, I get reports like this one. In fact, this exact scenario has played out several times since the lane’s inception, including with a truck in the first weeks after the lane opened.

I was traveling eastbound in the bike lane on Kinzie Street. A car was traveling in the same direction, but did not yield to me as it turned in front of me. I had my attention on the car in advance in case it did something like this, so I had sufficient time to slow down and avoid running into it as it turned to the right in front of me.

I’m glad this person was experienced enough to avoid the crash, but we can’t expect that bicyclists and motorists have the right experience when traveling within the city.

A two-way Jefferson isn’t necessary to provide access to the parking behind the residential building here because access can be gained from Canal (a two-way street) and the two-way driveway leading from Canal.

If maintaining Jefferson as a two-way street is imperative, then we can make some really intense infrastructure – intense by Chicago standards – and create a neckdown and raised intersection so that only one direction of traffic can cross the bike lane at any time. If there’s a northbound motorist waiting to turn onto Kinzie from Jefferson, and there’s a motorist on Kinzie wanting to turn onto Jefferson, then the Kinzie motorist would wait for the Jefferson motorist to turn.

The raised intersection is an additional traffic calming measure that also improves pedestrian accessibility.

What sucks about the state of infrastructure in the United States is the lack of understanding and knowledge about atypical designs (limited and rare examples of practical applications across the country) and this leads to deficient implementations of designs proven to work millions of times a day elsewhere.

The person who submitted this Close Call suggested more signs or a flashing overhead light. Yet those are tools that don’t actually require the motorist (or the bicyclist) to react in any way, whereas a piece of infrastructure – concrete, asphalt, and their topography – does more than just remind or encourage.

I would go so far as to suggest a policy that sets a target reduction in signage in the city, because eliminated signage must be replaced by the appropriate infrastructure. The best example? We have a law in Chicago where, if there’s a sign saying so, you cannot park a car within 20 feet of a crosswalk.

Get rid of the sign – they’re so ugly – and the need to pay attention to it by building a bumpout with a bioswale. Not only have you enforced the “no parking” regulation now until the concrete crumbles, and given pedestrians a shorter walk across the roadway, you also add stormwater infrastructure that reduces the burden on our combined sewer system.

Streetsblog Chicago deserves to come back

John and Steven dining at a restaurant table

John and I at Taqueria La Zacatecana in Avondale, where we first hashed out the details of what would become Grid Chicago that later transitioned into Streetsblog Chicago.

I haven’t talked about this here, but two months ago this weekend I got the message that Streetsblog Chicago wouldn’t continue because we didn’t raise enough money in the last fundraising round.

I didn’t talk about it here because I was busy with dealing with shutting that down, working with my partner John Greenfield to come up with a transition plan (to resurrect the site) and because I have myriad side projects that quickly and easily captured my newly-available attention. I eased right into developing those more and into involving myself in new jobs on a freelance basis.

Our readers dutifully expressed their support for my and John’s work at Streetsblog Chicago – providing an alternative voice for transportation and land use policy discussion.

The most heartening and unexpected expressions have come from the very agencies on which we report and criticize.

Our reporting was thoughtful and necessary they said, even though, and this has been unanimous, they sometimes disagreed with our perspective.

I believe their appreciation of our work has always been there but there was never a good moment, or a necessity, for them to make it known.

It’s heartening to know that our writing – advocating for safer streets, funding allocation that promoted efficient and active transportation, converting street space from moving cars quickly to moving people – was making its way in the corridors of the bureaucracies and street managers and place makers and bus operators.

I think what we did with Streetsblog Chicago was necessary, too, and I waited and worked to make it happen since 2007. I bided my time with this blog until meeting editor-in-chief Ben Fried in 2010. The conditions weren’t right then, and a friend at a 2011 Star Trek watching party (don’t ask) in Logan Square put me and John together after which we made the next best thing: Grid Chicago.

I want to keep writing Streetsblog Chicago and we need your help. John and I are raising $75,000 to resume publishing at very-close-to-before rate of five to seven original posts per week. Donate now.

We’ve already raised $36,905 and the Chicago Community Trust will give us $25,000 when we reach $50,000. The catch is that we must get there by April 8. Otherwise we’ll return all of the donations.

Since the January 8 hiatus we held a fundraiser in the pedway, which Moxie founder Daniel Ronan organized. We’ll be holding another fundraiser in Revolution Brewing’s taproom on Kedzie on Wednesday, March 26, at our donor appreciation party: Everyone is welcome but those who donate $100 on or before the party will get John’s book “Bars Across America” and their first round on the house.

I’m also putting together a tour of developments around Chicago near transit stations that have taken advantage of a city ordinance reducing their parking minimum. Save the date, Saturday, April 4.

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