CategoryWalking

Something new in Salt Lake City transit

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve visited my mom in Salt Lake City and there’s a new transit line to gawk at. Three years ago it was the FrontRunner North commuter line between SLC and Ogden. Two years ago it was two new light rail lines (with new Siemens S70 vehicles). Last year was FrontRunner South to Provo (where my brother lives), and this year it’s the S-Line streetcar line.

On Wednesday, on my way back to SLC from Provo, I took a bus from my brother’s office to the Provo FrontRunner station, then the FrontRunner train to Murray station, where I switched to TRAX to ride up to Central Pointe station where the streetcar line terminates. A test vehicle was stopped at the single-track platform.

I wanted to see the route, the stops it makes, the station design, and the adjacent biking and walking path so I started walking up and down and across the blocks to check it out. I ran into two train several times while UTA staff tested them and made the video above.

On Active Transportation Alliance’s transportation summit

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

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

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

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

I need a visualization tip for showing pedestrian and auto traffic in downtown Chicago

Madison Street over the Chicago River. Pedestrian traffic is very high, and very constrained, near the Metra stations.

Here’s the goal:

Show that pedestrians don’t get sufficient space or time to have a high quality pedestrian experience given that they comprise the largest mode share on streets in the Loop. The trips are highly delayed at traffic signals, pedestrian space is encroached upon because of automobile turning movements, and the sidewalks aren’t wide enough for two-way or even one-way traffic at certain times of the day. It’s possible to build our way out of pedestrian traffic…

Here’s an example data set:

On October 3, 2006, for all of the 24 hours, at 410 W Madison Street, there were 17,100 automobiles counted.

On some day in summer 2007, for 10 hours, at 350 W Madison Street, there were 43,987 pedestrians counted.

The two locations are practically the same as the bridge here prevents more pedestrians or automobiles from “slipping in”.

It’s possible to download the data sets from CDOT’s Traffic Tracker so you can see the whole city on your own map, but you’ll have to do some digging in the source code to find them.

Reverse traffic planning

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

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

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

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

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

31st Street marina is open for business, with boat slips, boat launch, and new playground

In this photo you can see the new community center and harbor master office, picnic tables, parking garage, and shade sails on the roof of the community center. 

I completely agree with Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin’s description of those colored trees: “garishly painted recycled trees that goes overboard in an attempt to create a festive atmosphere”. I would prefer to see them removed and real trees take their place. I was saddened to see mature-growth trees being removed during construction. I appreciate a lot of the new features the marina brings to Burnham Park, like the upgraded playground, a small park on the pier and a bike trail that should bypass a lot of beachgoer traffic.

These mature trees were replaced with…

…these garish trees.

The sign in the background is outdated and should be replaced. To access the trail from 31st Street you ride down the driveway and then enter the sidewalk.

This playground looks like a lot of fun. It has a climbing wall! 

I have some criticisms about the new design of how people access 31st Street from the Lakefront Trail and vice versa.

1. The distance from 31st Street to the LFT has increased from the previous design. Before there was a short hill to traverse from the street to the trail. Now one must enter the trail by sharing the driveway with automobiles, then entering a sidewalk, and then entering the trail. At this sidewalk entrance, there’s an outdated sign. It says “Yield to pedestrians in crosswalk” when state law says motorists must “stop for pedestrians in crosswalks”. I think this sign should be immediately replaced.

The crosswalk that connects the sole sidewalk leading people from 31st Street to the beach house should be here, instead of 50 feet further south as this is the quickest way to reach the beach (actually the quickest way is to walk through the grass on the left side of this photo or through the shrubs left of the photo, off screen). 

2. This crosswalk is also too far from the beach house and people will be crossing the street at the end of the lower curve where there is no crosswalk and no sign.

New intersection to access the marina parking lot and boat launch area. 

3. I’d like to know if the intersection here is timed or has a sensor. If it has a sensor, will it pick up the presence of cyclists? Regardless, this intersection is an improvement over the previous access path which couldn’t facilitate Lakefront Trail cyclists who wanted to travel westbound on 31st Street (they could use the south side sidewalk, which is inappropriate). Westbound cyclists can now share the driveway with automobiles (less than ideal) but can enter westbound 31st Street without any awkward sidewalk moves or crossing the Lake Shore Drive ramp against the light.

4. My good friend Calvin points out that the new marina doesn’t have storage for small sailboats like Lasers and Vanguards. These boats are a cheap and easy way to teach children and young adults how to sail and are more accessible to the wider population. Storage is less expensive and they can be operated alone. He says that only Montrose and Belmont have storage for these boats.

Further reading

Where else is it hard to “be a pedestrian” in Chicago?

I’m researching for an article about the many places in Chicago where pedestrian facilities should be improved. This is not about the lack of pedestrian safety in Chicago, but about deliberate designs that place push buttons or street crossing out of reach for some residents. So far this is what I’ve got.

Jackson Drive to cross Lake Shore Drive. To press the crosswalk signal activation button you have to step in a big mess of mud.

Robinson Street to cross Ashland Avenue. To press the crosswalk signal activation button you have to reach over or through a fence.

Southwest corner of Kinzie Street at Clark Street. There are no ramps at this crosswalk. A short distance west of here on the south side of Kinzie Street there are also stairs to traverse.

Where are there others?

N.B. While the word “pedestrian” is based on the word for “feet” in other languages, a pedestrian is considered anyone who isn’t getting around on a bicycle or automobile and uses the sidewalk. People using wheelchairs are grouped into “pedestrians” along with those who don’t.

Google Maps is annoying sometimes

I was looking up traffic counts on the Chicago Traffic Tracker website and saw that the Halsted Street bridge over the Chicago River just north of Chicago Avenue is missing. It’s shown as a gray line with the text “Halsted Street (planned)”.

This is not the most accurate message. The west side sidewalk is still open to foot and bicycle transportation, as I pointed out in my Grid Chicago article, The Halsted Passage. I wonder how it got in there.

I’ll report this as a problem, but I’m wary of it actually being updated to show that people on foot can still cross the river here. I’ve used Google Maps’s Map Maker tool once, and I didn’t like the experience. My correctly-made adjustment of a street was questioned and I was asked to revert my change. I refused and eventually my change was approved… because it was correct. I guess that someone used Map Maker to (incorrectly) modify the street at this part. This street segment in Map Maker should be designated something close to a “pedestrian walkway” instead of a bridge for automobile, bus, and bicycle traffic.

The Google Maps walking directions for walking from Division Street to Chicago Avenue don’t show the option of using the sidewalk, which is entirely possible (I did it again this week).

Some crash analysis based on gender/sex in Chicago

A friend sent me an article saying that in London, women were experiencing crashes more often than men while cycling (BBC article). He asked if this was true about Chicago. So I crunched the numbers. This is very low-level, initial, take it with a grain of salt analysis. It appears that that is not the case for Chicago.

It appears that men walking or cycling are involved in disproportionately more crashes with automobiles than women, but not very disproportional.

1. Men make up 72.73% of people cycling (to work, the only trip purpose for which I have data). And they experienced 75.75% of the crashes with automobiles (to where is unknown).

2. Men make up 48.45% of people walking (to work, again, the only trip purpose for which I have data). And they experienced 53.38% of the crashes with automobiles (again, to where is unknown).

This analysis also points out shortcomings in our data. Even with National Household Travel Survey I don’t think I could get very detailed (as the statistics would be too aggregated and the sample size for Chicago would be small). This data is based on two sources: motorist crash reports from 2007-2010 from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT); and American Community Survey “means of transportation to work”. The last time a household travel survey was done in Chicago was 2008 and I just acquired that data last week. I need to figure out how to connect the people and trip tables and then I can do more analysis, getting exposure data for all trips, not just work.

Pedestrian Street designation in Logan Square

This post is set up as a frequently asked questions page and will be updated as needed. Not all information may be 100% accurate – this is a major work in progress. Also, please don’t freak out about this as information is still being gathered (so far no one has, thank goodness). Photo by BWChicago. 

Update December 13, 2011: I testified this morning to the zoning hearing along with four other Logan Square neighbors (including Lynn Stevens, author of Peopling Places). The ordinance was passed. Afterward, I talked to Virginia, the McDonald’s owner, and Anita, a corporate McDonald’s construction manager. I will have more information later, but I’m busy writing an unrelated article for my main blog, Grid Chicago. I will also post my testimony from the meeting when the City Clerk’s office publishes it (assuming it gets published). Regardless of how you feel on the issues regarding this McDonald’s, this has been an educational experience for me and so many of you reading this blog, as well as many Logan Square neighbors. We and you have learned more about how the zoning processes (there are many at play here) work, how to testify at committee meetings, and what the heck a Pedestrian Street is (I’ve never heard of it before this situation).

Update February 5, 2012: The official record of the Zoning Committee doesn’t actually have verbatim my testimony (thank you to the very responsive social media team at Susana Mendoza’s Clerk’s office for the help on this). I forgot to do this earlier – here’s what I said to Chairman Solis and the other members of the committee:

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. (I am an Avondale resident.) I work as a consultant and writer on sustainable transportation advocacy and planning projects. The text amendment to modify the pedestrian street designation may negatively impact the continuity and safety in traffic of all modes along Milwaukee Avenue, which happens to be the city’s most popular bike route. I ask that prior to any further consideration of this ordinance that McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study.

Also part of this February 2012 update is to answer the question on why I didn’t post this to my other blog, Grid Chicago, where it would get more attention. The reason was twofold: I didn’t have all the information I needed to make a quality post worthy of publishing there; and that I didn’t have my purpose in covering this (and fighting it) fully explained. I am currently working on an article that will be published on Grid Chicago. This is more than a business dealings or zoning process issue: it is a transportation issue and zoning, land use, and how and where we build stuff directly affects how we get to places. Transportation and land use also have well-documented links to individual and societal health.

I’d like to thank all the other blogs that have linked to this page, and furthered the discussion:

Someone is testifying on this issue and no one is paying attention to them. 

What is going on?

Alderman Rey Colón proposes an ordinance to strip “Pedestrian Street” designations from two segments of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Here’s the proposed ordinance and the hearing notice. The hearing is on December 13, 2011, in City Hall at 121 N LaSalle Street at 10 AM.

Why does he want to do that?

It has do to with the McDonald’s at 2707 N Milwaukee Avenue, at the corner of Sawyer Avenue. Here’s what is proposed:

  1. The McDonald’s building will be demolished.
  2. A new McDonald’s building will be constructed.
  3. The new McDonald’s building will have two service lanes in their drive through, to facilitate better “drive-thruing” (and possibly increasing traffic on the streets with additional customers). You would enter from Milwaukee and exit onto Sawyer.
  4. The position/width/geometry of the curb cuts/driveways will change, necessitating the P-Street de-designation.

The alderman’s email describes a lot (although it says this is a renovation). Apparently to construct the new building, as designed, the P-Street designation needs to be lifted so McDonald’s can be issued permits build their new drive-thru, driveways, and curb cuts. However, as the existing building is being destroyed and a new structure is being built, the new structure must comply with zoning (this applies to all properties in Chicago that are new). The curb cuts and driveways already exist: a new building could hypothetically be built in the same footprint without needed any kind of change.

In essence, the new McDonald’s building, as designed, cannot be built without removing (whether temporarily or permanently) the P-Street designation as the P-Street designation disallows new curb cuts, driveways, and buildings with drive-thrus. However, if the existing building is only being renovated, and the curb cuts are neither changing in their size or location, then it’s in my and others’ opinions that no “special permission” is necessary. But, it’s made been made known to me by the email and by the Alderman’s staff that the McDonald’s owners cannot receive permits to do construction without the P-Street designation being lifted.

What is a Pedestrian Street?

Zoning code: “The regulations of this section are intended to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago’s best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts. The regulations are intended to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort [emphasis added].” Read the rest in the Municipal Code of Chicago.

Peopling Places: See examples of retail areas that conform to a P-Street designation and examples of non-conforming uses – they’re not pretty.

What is the Logan Square Pedestrian Street?

A P-Street designation starts at the six-way intersection of Diversey, Kimball, and Milwaukee Avenues. The southeast leg moves down Milwaukee Avenue to Kedzie Avenue. See this map that shows the southeast leg and the parts that are proposed to be stripped.


View Proposed ordinance to strip Pedestrian Street designation in a larger map

Where are there other Pedestrian Streets in Chicago?

Map on GeoCommons, current as of December 21, 2011. Municipal Code of Chicago lists all of them in a table.

What’s the problem?

  • Driveways and curb cuts are not conducive to pedestrian friendly retail environments. New ones are not allowed
  • The current use is non-conforming. It was implemented prior to the P-Street designation so it was “grandfathered” in.
  • It’s not clear if the removal of the P-Street designation is temporary (although the alderman said in an email to Bike Walk Logan Square members that it is), and if so, when it will be reinstated. It’s also not clear if anything else will be approved while the P-Street designation is lifted.

What does the zoning code say about non-conforming uses?

17-15-0403-A: Unless otherwise expressly stated in this Zoning Ordinance, nonconforming developments may be altered or enlarged as long as the alteration or enlargement does not increase the extent of nonconformity [emphasis added]. A building addition to an existing nonconforming development that projects further into a required setback or further above the permitted maximum height is an example of increasing the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically extend existing building walls that are nonconforming with regard to front or side setback requirements will also be considered to increase the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically or horizontally extend an existing building wall that is nonconforming with regard to rear yard open space or rear setback requirements will not be considered to increase the degree of nonconformity, provided that the original building was constructed before the effective dates specified in Sec. 17-1-0200 and provided such upper-story addition is set back at least 30 feet from the rear property line.

But since the building is completely new, then the new building must comply with all current zoning ordinances, including the P-Street designation. But since the alderman proposes to lift the P-Street designation, it won’t be complying with the P-Street section of the zoning code that disallows new curb cuts and driveways. Keep in mind that there are already curb cuts and driveways for the existing McDonald’s building. If the new building fit into the same footprint, a change in the driveways and curb cuts would not be needed.

Has anyone seen the building plans?

Not that I know of. I asked the Alderman’s office to see them and they are going to ask the property owners if I can. I feel that by seeing the plans I will have a much better understanding of the situation.

Have you talked to Alderman Colón?

No. I spoke with someone from his office, Monday, December 13, She was able to answer a couple questions, but needed to talk to others about my additional questions.

Other thoughts

If McDonald’s already has a curb cut, then replacing it with a new curb cut should not require the removal of a pedestrian street designation, especially parts of one that don’t have such a designation, and parts of one that should not be affected by this curb cut. (see non-conforming uses above)

Answered questions

Q: What is the estimated length of this “temporary” time period? And is there a chance that other things will change for other areas of that block while the P-Street designation is lifted?

A: If/when the permits are issued, then the Alderman can/will create an ordinance to reintroduce the P-Street designation for the affected segments (see the embedded map above).

Outstanding questions

Is it possible to approve the drive-thru without lifting the P-Street designation, as long as it doesn’t increase the extents of the nonconformity?

Is the proposed ordinance misspelled? It says to strip the P-Street designation from Kedzie to Central Avenue; it should probably read Central Park Avenue. Or, in another reading, perhaps it’s meant to convey that the ped designation is reclassified to be defined as from Logan to Kedzie (that’s a bizarre, needless distinction) and from Sawyer to Central Park., leaving out from Kedzie to Sawyer.

How come it just says “to reclassify pedestrian streets [then describes segments]” but doesn’t say what the new classification would be? Is it assumed that the new classification is just that it acquires the opposite classification (that being “no longer a pedestrian street”)?

Is the McD effort the ONLY effort that taking place? (Or are there other changes that might take place while the P-Street designation is lifted?)

What is involved in the McD effort? (Is it truly to “maintain” what is it currently? Or if there are changes being made to the parking lot, access, etc, what are they?)

Can the P-Street designation be lifted for a smaller portion of that block…so that it stretches only the length of the McD property area? (To play devil’s advocate, perhaps because of the way that designation works, it must be done “enforced” full block at a time?)

Why lift that small segment on the west side of Milwaukee between Sawyer and Sawyer (which is written wrong, mixing up east/west or north/south)? Why doesn’t it continue south to Kedzie on the west side of Milwaukee? Or alternatively, why lift the designation on the west side of Milwaukee at all? The southern point where Sawyer crosses Milwaukee is still in the middle of the McDonald’s properties, so it wouldn’t fully cover that development even if the west side of the street was relevant.

When I update articles, I always write when I updated it and a summary of changes I made. I will not be doing that for this article as the changes are being made fast and I may change a lot. 

Rambling about automobile crash data and cellphone distraction

How often do bicyclists get involved with crashes because of cellphone distraction? See the table below. And how many crashes are caused by the bicyclist being distracted by a cellphone? We won’t and don’t know. 

The Chicago City Council will vote tomorrow on ordinance 02011-7146 to add a new section in Chapter 9 of the Municipal Code of Chicago: “9-52-110 Use of communication devices while operating a bicycle.”

In a Chicago Sun-Times article today, Matthew Tobias, the Chicago Police Department’s deputy chief of Area 3 patrol, reported on the number of citations that the department has issued to drivers in violation of the cellphone ban: “from 2,577 administrative violations in 2008 to 10,920 in 2009 and 19,701 last year” (known as “citations issued” in the table below).

I looked at the crash data to see how many crashes were coded as having been caused by “Distraction – operating an electronic communication device (cell phone, texting, etc)”.

Out of 274,488 recorded crashes in 2008, 2009, and 2010, there were 331 crashes which had a Cause 1 or Cause 2 of “Distraction – operating an electronic communication device (cell phone, texting, etc)”. The table below compares the rates of crashes to the rates of citations issued and the number of crashes that the police noted were caused by cellphone distraction. It also shows the number of these “cellphone distraction” crashes that involved bicyclists and pedestrians.

Year Citations issued Automobile crashes Cellphone distraction crashes % of cellphone distraction crashes Involved with bicyclists? Involved with pedestrians? National VMT (billions)*
2008 2577 111,701 91 0.081 3 10 2973.47
2009 10920 81,982 130 0.159 1 7 2979.39
2010 19701 80,805 110 0.136 6 8 2999.97

Maybe this data shows that the increased enforcement is causing fewer crashes?
However data for cyclists’ involvement in crashes and their cellphone use WON’T BE recorded unless there’s a rule change as the cause is only recorded for the vehicle involved in the crash, and bicycles are devices, not vehicles.

None involved fatalities.

*Yep, that’s 2 thousand billion. Read it like this, 2 trillion 973 billion and 470 million. VMT data from Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

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