TagBloomingdale Trail

See beyond the Bloomingdale Trail’s west end

The wonderful Bloomingdale Trail ends at Ridgeway Avenue because any further and you would be bicycling on or next to active passenger and freight railroads.

Even if you walk up to the solstice viewing area at the terminal, which is slightly elevated above the trail level, you can’t get a good view of Chicago’s west side.

Just over the fence is the Pacific Junction where three Metra Lines here (NCS, MD-W, and UP-NW) and Amtrak run. Ten years ago, Canadian Pacific serviced industrial clients along the Bloomingdale Line branch from the junction.

Also in this video are three schools, the former Magid Glove Factory, and the Hermosa community area.

I filmed this on Friday with a DJI Mavic Pro.

Welcome back, Bloomingdale Trail

Back to transportation service, that is.

Before it was the Bloomingdale Trail – associated parks comprising The 606 – it was the Bloomingdale Line, an elevated railroad route along Bloomingdale Avenue to serve industrial customers in Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park.

It was abandoned in the early 2000s. I don’t know when the last customer received a delivery via the line. It reopened to use for transportation on June 6, 2015, or 6/06. Now that same embankment transports pedestrians and bicyclists, in addition to providing new recreational and public space.

I’ve ridden and walked on it four times now since the opening and there are people all over the place on it. I tweeted as much last night.

On Monday, two days after opening, I filmed this 14-minute video of the entire west-to-east length and condensed it to 4 minutes.

Bicycling west to east on the Bloomingdale Trail from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

The solution to its crowding problem (I guess one of those “good problems to have”) is more. More car-free spaces. More low-stress transportation spaces. Space for walking, and space for cycling. Which we currently don’t have on the ground.

NIMBYs can’t have it all: Student instructor at West Town Bikes supports wheel-friendly park

Lebster, far left, three students at West Town Bikes, and executive director Alex Wilson, head to Open Streets on State Street. 

Update August 27:  Lebster was interviewed by RedEye reporter Leonor Vivanco today.

Lebster Pabon, an instructor at West Town Bikes in Humboldt Park (it used to be in West Town!), attended an important Chicago Park District board meeting yesterday and brought one of his high school students and that student’s mother. They spoke up to support what would be the city’s first wheel-friendly park, where people can skate, bike, and… which would be new to Chicago… use wheelchairs in the park. Neighbors of the Bloomingdale Trail were in attendance to oppose the park.

Lebster called me to say that another attendee spoke up to say he would like to bring his grandchildren to such a park, and that a board member added he has to take his kids out of Chicago to use bikes in a park like this. Lebster mentioned that since it’s at the end of the Bloomingdale Trail it would be very accessible: ride up Rockwell from West Town Bikes, a low-traffic “side street”, hop on the Bloomingdale Trail, and ride 10 minutes over to Walsh Park. When asked if the park would attract people from other suburbs, Lebster said it would attract people from around the country because it could host events.

Finally, a Chicago Park District board member asked if bikers and skaters coexist. Lebster told me he said, “Yes, the culture is very disciplined in skate parks”. I’ve witnessed it myself and I didn’t expect it, imagining that teenagers are unruly. Rules aren’t needed, though, as each person has learned to take a turn in the park and then respect the time and talent of the other skate park users.

This is a very special and unique moment for young Chicagoans who are active outside as this proposed park would be the first to accommodate bicycles and wheelchairs. The Chicago Park District’s first core value is “Children first”. The website says, “Our most important task is to bring children and families into our parks and give them great reasons to stay and play for a lifetime”. Lebster’s contributions to the meetings, and the conversations around the park, were integral to that value and the District’s mission.

About West Town Bikes

West Town Bikes and I have a good history. I came into contact with the organization in 2006, the year I moved to Chicago. I joined a scavenger hunt in October that ended at the shop. I met a lot of people there that have shaped my bicycle advocacy future, including Kevin Monahan, who put John Greenfield and I together after which we started Grid Chicago, Jim Freeman, Kevin Conway, Gin Kilgore, and countless other people. West Town Bikes is also the host and a sponsor of my annual Cargo Bike Roll Call events.

Residents are gathering on Wednesday to voice opposition to wheel-friendly park along Bloomingdale Trail

Walsh Park rendering, from a September 2012 public meeting.

This message is for everyone who likes using parks designed for skating, BMX, Razor scooters, and doing tricks with wheelchairs. They’re typically called skate parks, but they’re not just for skateboards and inline skates anymore. The 606 should have (if not shut down by these people) a “wheel friendly park” at Walsh Park, at the eastern terminus of the Bloomingdale Trail, a constituent feature, at about 1800 N Ashland. Some neighbors will be gathering at the next Chicago Park District board meeting on Wednesday to voice their opposition. They have a petition.

Someone forwarded me their letter to people in the neighborhood (and to staff working on the Bloomingdale Trail project), pasted below, doesn’t describe their basis of opposition. It must be all those 5-year-old girls on push scooters, and 10-year old boys learning to ride a skateboard.

Can you spread this to a wider community of people who use skate parks? The Trust For Public Land, in charge of fundraising, describes the feature in Walsh Park as a “wheel friendly” zone, agnostic to the equipment (bikes, skateboards, and wheelchairs will be allowed).

—–

Hello Bloomingdale Trail Neighbors,

The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners is having a meeting on August 14th. My husband John will sign up to put our opposition to a skateboard park on the agenda. He would also like to present the Board with our signed petitions. Anyone with signed petition sheets please let me know so that we can work out a way to collect them. Anyone who has yet to sign the petition please let us know that as well so we can arrange to get your John Hancock.  (John’s email is [email protected] )

If you are able to attend, please join us.  The more supporters the better!  I’ll let you know what time slot John gets.  [text removed.]  He is a great spokesperson for us.  Please pick up a copy of the Red Eye on Monday to read an extensive article about Bloomingdale Trail.  John was interviewed for the article [excerpted below].  Ananda Breslof is also scheduled to appear before the Board regarding the Dog Friendly Area of the Park.  She needs all the supporters she can get as well.

LOCATION:
Board of Commissioners, Chicago Park District, 541 N. Fairbanks Court, 7th Floor, Chicago  60611

This is what the Park District sent out:

The Public Participation portion of the Board’s regularly scheduled committee meetings will commence at 10:30 a.m.; and  at 4:00 p.m. for the Board’s regularly scheduled Board meetings. Any individual interested in making a presentation must register with the Office of Secretary in person between 9:00 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. on the day of the Board committee meeting; and between 2:30 P.M. and 3:30 P.M. on the day of the Board meeting. Individuals may also sign-up to speak via the Park District’s web site beginning at approximately 7:00 P.M. the Friday before the board meeting and ending at 5:00 P.M. the Tuesday before the board meeting.

Please pass this along to anyone I may have missed who would be interested in this important decision.

Here’s to a safe and well thought out 606 Project.

Judie Knoerle
[address redacted]
[phone number redacted]
John Knoerle
[phone number redacted]

—–

Interview with John Knoerle about the wheel-friendly zone in Walsh Park, published in the RedEye on August 11, 2013

JOHN KNOERLE

Author of the American Spy Trilogy, a series of World War II-era novels, but his housing situation may be more dramatic

When Knoerle first moved off the 606 with his wife, Judie, in 1999, freight trains were still traveling the trail.

Now Knoerle’s neighboring Walsh Park may feature a concrete skateboard space.

“It’s going to be insane,” Knoerle said. “We’ve been blessed to have a very quiet block here, and that’s going to change.”

Though he believes the project will increase his property value, and he enjoys occasionally walking the trail, he has concerns that crime and traffic will increase.

Beth White, the Chicago-area office director for the Trust for Public Land, said the concrete space in Walsh Park won’t just be for skateboarders, but rather a “wheel-friendly space” that can be used for concerts and plays. People in wheelchairs will be able to utilize it as well.

“It’s going to be a far safer space and actually a more quiet space than what is there now,” White said.

Knoerle said in recent years, trailgoers have thrown rocks at car windows and tagged walls of homes adjacent to the 606. Knoerle said he’s asked for an increase in bike patrols of the area. A Chicago police spokesman said the trail sees very little crime and police regularly patrol the area.

Knoerle’s now worried that the proposed changes would significantly increase the amount of traffic to his block. Knoerle said he’s gathering petition signatures so the Trust could rethink the skate park for Walsh Park, which is expected to be the largest of the five access parks. “It will be like living along the bike trail on the beach,” Knoerle said. “It doesn’t seem a pleasant prospect.”

Walsh Park’s final rendering, from a June 2013 public meeting. 

Pervasive Divvy station maps offer big opportunity to show people around Chicago, but need major changes

A man looks at one of the first five stations installed, at State and Randolph (but the board says State and Lake). 

Navigation maps on Divvy bike sharing stations will be placed at 400 locations around the city. A map this pervasive, to be read and interpreted by hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors to Chicago (including people who will never use Divvy), should have a design that communicates good routes to ride, and important places like train stations, nearby Divvy stations, points of interest, and where to find places to eat or be entertained.

The design of the maps on the station boards needs to be improved. The first issue I noticed in June is that streets and alleys are given equal significance in their symbology, possibly confusing people on which route to take. The map should strip alleys, offering room for more info on the map, like useful destinations. It may be easier for some to locate the Art Institute of Chicago as a labeled, light-gray block instead of trying to locate its address on the map (nigh impossible). When one locates the destination, one can more easily locate the nearest Divvy station.

The map at North/Clybourn’s station (actually on Dayton Street) covers a large portion of the map with the “you are here” label and lacks the connection between North Avenue and Goose Island. 

I’ve noticed that the “you are here” labels cover up train station markers/labels, and the loop elevated tracks are missing (a common reference point for Chicago). It takes a moment to realize that the white text is labeling the CTA stations and not the nearby Divvy stations. It’s unclear where “you are here” points to, until you realize that it’s at the center of the blue 5-minute walking circle. Dearborn Street is symbolized as a bike lane, but not labeled as a street. Clark Street and State Street are doubly wide, but the meaning of that is unknown. The legend is useful to distinguish bike lane types but is placed far from the map, at the bottom of the board.

Here are other areas where the boards and maps should be redesigned:

  1. The “service area” map has low utility in its current form as it’s not labeled with streets, points of interest, or a time or distance scale. It appears as a reduced-boundary blob of Chicago. It could be improved if it communicated “this is where you can go if you take Divvy” and label streets, train stations, and points of interest at the edge of the service area. 
  2. The 5-minute bike ride map is nearly identical to the 5-minute walk map, but smaller. The 5-minute walk map should be made larger and integrate the now-eliminated 5-minute bike ride map.
  3. Much of the text is unnecessarily large. The CTA station labels are so large in comparison to the streets that it’s not clear where on the block the stations are located. CTA stations are labeled but the train routes aren’t always shown (Loop stops are just gray); it’s not even clear that they’re CTA stops.
  4. The purpose of the blue circle isn’t labeled or clear: the larger map, titled “5 minute walk”, shows a large map but there’s a blue circle – is the blue circle or the square map the 5-minute edge? The connection between the title and the blue circle could be tightened by using the same color for the text and the circle or by wrapping the text around the circle path.
  5. The map, which is likely to serve as a neighborhood “get around” and discovery map for tourists, and even locals, lacks basic info: there are absolutely no destinations marked, no museums, parks, etc.
  6. The bike lane symbology doesn’t match the Chicago Bike Map, which uses blue, purple, orange, and red to denote different bike lane types, and hasn’t used green for at least seven years. The use of green makes them look like narrow parks.
  7. The map designers should consider placing the city’s cardinal grid numbering system to enable readers to find an address.
  8. North/Clybourn’s Divvy station map lacks a bikeable connection from North Avenue to Goose Island via the Cherry Avenue multi-modal bridge. The maps should be reviewed for street network accuracy by people who live and ride nearby.

Photo shows the original board and map at the Milwaukee/Wood/Wolcott station, which has since moved. The station on this map marked at Marshfield/North was moved to Wood/North this week. 

There are many opportunities for the map to change because they will have to be updated when stations are moved, for both the moved station and the handful of station boards that include the moved station. At least four boards needed to be updated when the station at Milwaukee/Wood/Wolcott moved from Milwaukee Avenue (next to Walgreens) to Wood Street (across from the Beachwood). The maps for Citibike in New York City don’t share these design flaws.

The Citibike station boards and maps were designed by Pentagram, a well-known design firm, with whom the city has a longstanding relationship, designing the new wayfinding signs for neighborhoods, the “LOOK” anti-dooring decal for taxi windows, and the bus station maps. One of the key differences between the Citibike and Divvy maps is the text label size, the symbol label size, and the presence of building outlines (that other huge group of things that defines a city, contrasting the roads-only view on the Divvy map).

A close-up view of a Citibike map. Photo by Oran Viriyincy. 

N.B. More trips are currently taken by tourists and people with 24-hour memberships than people with annual memberships. I question the bikeway symbology and suggest that the streets have three symbols: one representing a bike lane (of any kind), one representing sharrows (because they are legally different from bike lanes) and one representing a street with no marked bikeways. The current bikeway symbology may not be understandable by many visitors (or even understood by locals because of differing definitions) and show a jumble of green hues whose meanings are not clear or even useful. It’s not currently possible to take a route on a bicycle that uses only protected bike lanes, or uses protected bike lanes and buffered bike lanes, so the utility of this map as a route building tool is weak. One wastes their time looking at this map in the attempt to construct a route which uses the darkest green-hued streets.

I also recommend that the board and map designers give Divvy CycleFinder app messaging greater prominence. I believe that a majority of users will be searching app stores for appropriate apps. When you search for Divvy, you’ll find eight apps, including my own Chicago Bike Guide.

Updated 22:43 to clarify my critique and make more specific suggestions for changes. 

Dutch biking is better than all other kinds

Yonah Freemark, famous person behind The Transport Politic and now a semi-famous person at Metropolitan Planning Council (shut down the Illiana, Yonah!), needed a ride from the Damen Blue Line station for a special Vancetour of the Bloomingdale Trail. The Dutch way of biking is extremely social, both because of the way bicycles are built and the way the infrastructure is built. That style is rare in America, and even downright anti-social and hostile in many places. For starters, there’s not enough room to ride side-by-side (in Chicago it’s illegal outside of too-narrow bike lanes).

The WorkCycles Fr8, my main bicycle, is built like a tank. Some may call it the Mercedes G-Class SUV of bicycles. I called it a Cadillac to some guy outside City Hall – referring to how comfortably it rides – and he said “They suck, it’s a Mercedes.” (He was German and I don’t think either of us knew any Dutch car manufacturers.)

Thank you, Ryan Lakes, for the photos.

Beautiful renderings of what Bloomingdale Trail will look like in a decade

The easiest place to get on the Bloomingdale Trail now will remain the easiest place. This access point will have three entry points, two of them are ramps. 

I say a decade because that’s how long it will take for all the plants and landscaping on the Bloomingdale Trail elevated park to look like how it appears in these fancy renderings by Michael Van Walkenburg & Associates.

Western Trailhead at Ridgeway Avenue pops up 10 feet above the trail level, over 20 feet above ground level. 

See all the photos from the meeting last Monday. Read my high praise for the project and the planning process on Grid Chicago.

Using Google Fusion Tables to create individual Chicago Ward maps

I wanted to create a map of the 35th Ward boundaries using Google My Maps for a story on Grid Chicago. I planned to create this by taking the Chicago Wards boundary shapefile and exporting just the 35th Ward using QGIS into a KML file. I ran into many problems and ended up using Google Fusion Tables as the final solution.

The problems

First, QGIS creates invalid KML files. Google Earth will tell you this. I opened the KML file in a text editor and removed the offending parts (Google Earth mildly tells you what these are; you can use this validator to get more information).

Second, Google My Maps would not import the KML file. I tried a different browser and a different KML file; a friend ran into the same issue. I reported this problem to Google.

The solution

I uploaded to Google Fusion Tables a KML file containing all wards. I did this instead of uploading the single Ward because, like a database, I can filter values in the column, selecting only the row I want with “ward=35”.

After applying the filter, the map will show the boundary for just that ward. I grab the HTML code for an embeddable map and voila, the article now displays an interactive map of the 35th Ward.

Whenever I want to create a map for a different ward, I go back to this Fusion Table, make a new filter and copy the new HTML code.

A screenshot of the embedded map, showing just 1 of 50 wards, in the Grid Chicago article. 

Elsewhere

I had the same problems with QGIS exporting and uploading the KML files to My Maps the other day when I was creating maps for the abandoned railroads for Monday’s Grid Chicago article. Not thinking about Fusion Tables, I drew on the map with my mouse the lines.

Screenshot of the map of abandoned railroads. 

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