Tagbridge

Construction update: Halsted bridge over North Branch Canal

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) contractor*, Walsh Construction (search for them on the City’s contracts website), is hard at work removing the existing bridge on Halsted Street between Goose Island and Division Street (about 1150 N Halsted).

The two-lane bridge with dangerous open metal grate deck will soon be replaced with one that has 4 shared lanes, 2 bike lanes and made with a concrete deck. CDOT has not released any information explaining the widening or how the street north or south of the bridge will be aligned. This is disconcerting as street width and street design are the major factors that determine traffic speed. While the road surface will be improved, especially for those bicycling, the added street width may influence an increase in automobile speeds negating any perceived improvement in safety.

As of Monday, January 24, 2011, parts of both spans of the moveable bridge have been removed and crews were actively removing additional parts of the deck and overhead cross pieces.

Using a torch to remove the cross pieces.

Removing the deck.

The official detour does not invite people bicycling to go any certain way. If people bicycling take the car route, they will be guided onto a narrowed lane over another part of the North Branch Canal on Chicago Avenue (lanes were realigned from two to three – two eastbound, one westbound).

Idea to improve the detour

As the detour exists now over the Chicago Avenue bridge (between Halsted and Kingsbury), there are three narrow shared lanes (two eastbound, one westbound) on an open metal grate bridge. When dry, the bridge is slippery. When wet, the likelihood of falling while bicycling over it increases. I propose that an official detour be created for people bicycling on this route to go on the sidewalk as near to the bridge span as possible. On the eastside of the bridge sidewalks are stairs – build a ramp over each staircase. Allow people to ride their bikes on the sidewalk but install signage to ask them to dismount and yield when people walking are present. For those biking north in the detour (onto Kingsbury), a bike box will be provided at northbound Kingsbury before it crosses Chicago Avenue (so people riding bikes can position themselves in front of the queuing cars). See the graphic below:

*Walsh has had at least $292,639,510.94 in contracts awarded in 2007-2010 and is one of the Illinois’s largest construction companies.

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

A diversity of transportation

Portland is a great city to visit to see a large variety of small-scale transportation, including facilities and accommodations for non-motorized and human-powered transportation, or out of the ordinary modes like an aerial tramway (also called a cable car). The photos are from my trip to the Pacific Northwest in April 2010.

You pay to go up. It’s free to come down.

Portland also has traditional transportation modes like streetcars and light rail.

What to see and ride in Portland (I rode or saw each of these):

  • TriMet MAX (Metropolitan Area Express)
  • Portland Streetcar
  • Portland Aerial Tram
  • Bikeways, including bike lanes, marked shared lanes, bike boulevards (now called neighborhood greenways), and cycletracks
  • Bike parking
  • Lift and moveable bridges – the Steel Bridge carries light rail, railroad, automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists; the Hawthorne is the most popular bridge for bicyclists. I made sure to cross over the Broadway, Hawthorne, Steel, and Burnside bridges. I missed crossing on the Morrison bridge. I guess I will have to take another trip!
  • Bus – This is standard fare, nothing unique about it in Portland compared to other cities.

Bicycles make up 21% of all traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge. See the rest of my “Transportation in Portland” photos.

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