TagChicago

Chicago’s Lake Street ‘L’ was originally supposed to be a monorail

I bought a copy of The “L”: The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932, written by Bruce Moffat, a historian of electric trains in Chicago. Moffat currently works for the Chicago Transit Authority. (If there wasn’t a pandemic, you’d be able to request a hold on one of the 50 copies at the Chicago Public Library.)

The book is about the elevated trains that were built in Chicago, in competition with the street omnibuses (horse drawn), railways (cable cars and streetcars), and suburban trains (okay, some competition), prior to establishing the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA is a State of Illinois authority, created by the legislature, that today owns and operates all of the historic and since-built elevated, subway, and at-grade ‘L’ transit as well as buses. It acquired all of the assets of all of the ‘L’, streetcar, and bus companies that were operating when it was established in 1945.

On with the story!

Back in December 1888, the Chicago City Council approved a franchise for the Lake Street Elevated Company to build a Meigs Elevated Railway above Lake Street from Canal Street to 40th Avenue (later named Crawford and now Pulaski Road), then the western border of Chicago. A tract of land west of 40th Avenue (Pulaski Road) was incorporated into the City of Chicago four months later on April 29, 1889.

If you go to the intersection of Canal and Lake Streets today you’ll see the Union Pacific railroad tracks above, heading into and out of Ogilvie Transportation Center, a skyscraper at 444 W Lake Street, a cigar store, and a vintage loft office building.

The Meigs Elevated Railway was a steam-powered elevated monorail – meaning each track had one rail to support a train.

You may not know this: I love monorails. When my family visited Walt Disney World my favorite ride was the inter-park and world famous monorail. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Disneyland (but I don’t remember my time there), Las Vegas, Seattle, Düsseldorf airport, Wuppertal, and three in Tokyo, Japan (Chiba City, Shonan, and Haneda airport; I missed the one in Tama).

I used to be obsessed with monorails. I became a member of The Monorail Society when I was a teenager and my first eBay purchase was a Disney monorail motorized toy in March 2000. I was jealous of my friends in elementary school who had a Lego monorail, and now they regularly sell for $200. I also built a SAFEGE-style monorail out of K’NEX in high school.

Drawing of the Meigs Elevated Railway monorail.
A drawing of the Meigs Elevated Railway monorail, originally published in Scientific American, July 10, 1886. Via Wikipedia; also printed in Moffat’s book where it is sourced from Railway Age, a trade journal founded in 1856 that still exists today.

It was invented by Josiah V. Meigs in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a 227-foot long demonstration line was built in 1886 on land that is now a Fairfield Inn hotel and before that was the Genoa Packing Co. (demolished in 2013).

The Meigs Elevated Railway Wikipedia article has two photos of a plaque that was on the exterior wall of the Genoa Packing Co. The new hotel building does not have the same plaque.

The Lake Street Elevated Company organizers (seven incorporators are listed in the book) hired Morris H. Alberger to be the president. According to Moffat’s book, “Alberger had convinced his fellow directors that their railroad should use an experimental and relatively complex elevated railway system developed by Joe V. Meigs”. Alberger was also the president of the Meigs Elevated Railway Company.

Moffat discusses an eighth company organizer: Michael Cassius McDonald, “politically well connected and influential”. He was the “chief sponsor” and “promoter” of the Lake Street elevated proposal which came to be known as “Mike’s Upstairs Railroad”.

The Meigs Electric Railway – the monorail – was never built. Moffat says that the reason the monorail was never built was because it was difficult to promote and raised funds by selling shares.

Almost a year after City Council approved the MER to run over Lake Street, they “deleted the Meigs requirement” in November 1890 so that the Lake Street Elevated Company could build a traditional iron structure. The trains would also be “traditional”. (The first elevated train started running in Manhattan and the Bronx on August 26, 1878 – that was the Third Avenue Elevated – ten years prior to the Meigs monorail being approved in Chicago.)

Even before City Council “deleted” the franchise’s requirement to build a monorail, the Lake Street Elevated Company had already started building the iron structure for a train in December 1889, at Lake and Clinton Streets, where the Clinton Green Line station is now.

That’s the end of the story for the monorail, but I’ll continue talking about the Lake Street ‘L’.

The Lake Street Elevated opens!

Construction had reached “just west of Ashland Avenue” by October 1892, less than three years after the first iron girder was erected at Clinton. A year after that last construction milestone at Ashland, the tracks for service were completed to California Avenue (2800 West).

The Lake Street Elevated Company’s first service was set to begin on October 30, 1893. The opening was delayed, however, until an inauguration on Saturday, November 4, 1893, to mourn the death of Mayor Carter Harrison, who was assassinated during his fifth term. Passenger service began two days later on Monday, November 6, 1893.

Service was extended into the Loop elevated tracks in 1895.

Map of the Lake Street Elevated, from Market Street (now Wacker Drive) to Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.
Map of the Lake Street Elevated, from Market Street (now Wacker Drive) to Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.

Heading closer to downtown Chicago

In early 1893, the Lake Street Elevated Company wanted to run their trains down Market Street (now Wacker Drive) from Lake Street to Madison Street.

Photograph showing the elevated stub track on Market Street. The view is looking east along Lake Street at Market Street, where the elevated train would turn south.
Photograph showing the elevated stub track on Market Street. The view is looking east along Lake Street at Market Street, where the elevated train would turn south. Photo taken by a Chicago Daily News, Inc., photographer in 1908. The caption in the Explore Chicago Collections database says,

The Market Street “stub” ran past the future site of the Civic Opera Building, opened in November 1929. Operagoers and workers in the office tower of the building would have ridden the ‘L’ here until the Chicago Transit Authority

The Lake Street Elevated’s Market Street stub terminated at Madison Street. The Civic Opera Building is on the left. Image is from the CTA’s collection. Market Street was renamed Wacker Drive when the street was reconstructed as a double decker street starting in 1948.

Extending further into the Garfield Park neighborhood

Tracks were built six blocks west of California Avenue, to Homan Avenue, but the stations were incomplete. Service to the Homan station started November 24, 1893, and four blocks further west to Hamlin Avenue in January 1894.

The Homan Avenue station no longer exists. Today’s Green Line over Lake Street was rebuilt from 1994 to 1996 and the Homan station was abandoned. According to Chicago “L”.org, the CTA decided to move the station two blocks west to Central Park Drive (3600 West). It was “completely deconstructed in spring of 2000 and put into storage”. It was renovated, made accessible, and opened as the Conservatory-Central Park Drive station in June 2001.

Chicago “L”.org notes that this visitors access to the Garfield Park Conservatory, evens out stop spacing, but does not intersect a bus route which Homan Ave does. The CTA closed Hamlin station on March 18, 1956. I don’t know when it was demolished.

Onward, to Austin and Oak Park!

Back to the Lake Street elevated timeline. Serviced operated to Hamlin Avenue in 1894. The next year it was operating to 52nd Avenue (now Laramie Avenue), the western boundary of Chicago. On the other side of that boundary was the Township of Cicero. Austin, a township neighborhood, was annexed by Chicago in 1899. The Village of Oak Park eventually emerged from the township, incorporating in 1902.

Austin was location of Cicero’s town hall. The town hall building, at the Central and Lake station, is now part of the Austin Town Hall Park and Cultural Center, owned and operated by the Chicago Park District.

Austin Town Hall in Chicago, Illinois
Austin Town Hall, the former town hall of the Township of Cicero. Photo taken in 2019 by Eric Allix Rogers.

Moffat’s book describes a lot of political controversy about extending the Lake Street Elevated into Cicero, which seems fitting for the Chicago region. Passenger service to Austin Avenue (now Boulevard) started April 19, 1899.

The next month, on May 14, 1989, trains that ran east-west above Lake Street came down a ramp – to the surface – onto north-south Lombard Avenue a couple of blocks south to Randolph Street. They turned west onto Randolph Street and continued until Wisconsin Avenue/Marion Street. The tracks on Randolph Street were in the middle of the street, and owned by Suburban Railroad, an interurban railway company.

The tracks were previously owned by Chicago, Harlem & Batavia Railway. I’m including that information because I grew up there. However, the railroad never made it that far: “No effort was made to extend the railroad to that distance place, but money was spent to purchase new locomotives and passenger cars and make other improvements.”

Residents here had the option of taking trains into downtown Chicago on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific, which also operates the former C&NW lines as Metra’s UP-West Line. The line terminates at Ogilvie Transportation Center, which used to be called Northwestern Station, which was C&NW’s second location for their downtown terminal.

Moffat discussed these passengers’ choices, writing, “Although a ride on the nearby Chicago & Northwestern was faster, the “L’s” more frequent schedule, convenient Loop stops, and lower fare drew many riders away from the steam railroad”. The same is true today; the ‘L’ costs less than Metra but takes longer to reach the West Loop.

The story about the construction and operation of the Lake Street Elevated is almost done. I’m going to end it as soon as the train reaches the current terminus at Harlem Avenue in Oak Park.

Service to Marion Street started in late January 1901, on the street level of South Boulevard, thus ending service on Randolph Street a few blocks south. Trains started servicing the Harlem station on May 20, 1910. Remember that the reason the trains are now on South Boulevard is because Lake Street runs with a slight northwest diagonal, ends at the Chicago & Northwestern Railway embankment, and resumes a few blocks west. In 1961, the line was elevated onto C&NW’s embankment.

Even though the station is currently called “Harlem/Lake”, the station is at Harlem/South Boulevard, and Lake Street is one block north.


N.B.

Meigs’s railway was mentioned in an op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday, February 23, 1992, as the newspapers’s architecture critic, Robert Campbell, and Peter Vanderwarker, an architectural historian, lamented the towering car infrastructure proposed in the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also known as “Big Dig”, the most expensive highway construction in the country), as well as the darkening effect of the elevated trains. It’s really quite an essay.

The op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine, 2/23/1992

But competition was vicious. Arson and vandalism hampered Meigs, as did his insistence on old-fashioned steam power instead of electricity. Nothing besides the Cambridge test line was ever built. The Meigs monorail made its last run in 1894. Conventional elevated trains, modeled on those of Manhattan and far more massive than Meigs’, soon darkened Boston’s streets.

[snipped]

By the end of this decade, the view will have changed radically. A dramatic Babel of steel and concrete, perhaps resembling a great sports stadium, will rise like a gray mountain in the middle distance at the left of the photo. The introverted automobile will have won its long battle for supremacy over the sociable train.

“MEIGS ELEVATED RAILWAY – Changing TRACKS”, By Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker

Meigs Field, a former airport in downtown Chicago that existed between 1948 and 2003, was named after Merrill C. Meigs, a pilot and former head of the Chicago Aero Commission. He believed that Chicago needed a third airport, within 10 minutes of downtown. The airport was built and named after Meigs in 1949. I haven’t found a relationship between the two Meigs.

Cities that have transit fare deals (capping) have fairer fares

“Fare capping” is a jargon term for a fare policy that any transit agency can implement to save their riders money, make fares fairer, and potentially increase ridership. Another term is “deal”, as these policies net riders a break in the fares.

Fare capping ensures that riders who pay for rides with a transit card* will never pay more than the cost of one or more daily and multi-day passes that the transit agency includes in its fare capping policy.

Example 1: Consider a tourist or infrequent visitor to the city. The tourist will use transit to get around and when they arrive at a ticket vending machine, they’re given the option to get a smart card and load with “e-purse” (cash to pay as they ride) or get a smart card and load it with a pass for one or more days. In Chicago, there are 1-day, 3-day, 7-day, and 30-day options, for $10, $20, $28, and $105.

Just like anyone else, the tourist doesn’t want to pay more than they have to so they try to estimate the number of trips they’ll take today to see if the number of rides will cost more than $10 (the price of a 1-day pass). That sounds like a complicated thought exercise and one with a high likelihood of being wrong at the end of the day!

In a fare capping system, the tourist won’t have to choose! They obtain the transit smart card, load it with $5 cash, and perhaps connect it to an app or connect it to an auto-load functionality. The tourist rides buses and the ‘L’ and as soon as they ride $10 worth in the service day, their transit smart card automatically starts granting them free rides – their transit card has just been granted a 1-day pass!

By eliminating the need to choose between fare products, the tourist is more comfortable riding transit as much as they need to today because they know that they’ll never be charged more than $10.

Example 2: Consider someone who doesn’t earn very much and uses transit to get to work two times a day, five days a week, 20 days a month. At $2.50 per ride, that works out to $100, which is less than the cost of a 30-day pass in Chicago (which is $105, and an oddity, but I won’t address that). This person also sometimes takes additional rides after work and on the weekend to run errands, so their monthly rides will end up costing more than $105, the price of a 30-day pass.

It would make the most financial sense for this worker to get a 30-day pass. But when you don’t earn much, it’s hard to come up with or part with $105 at one time.

In a fare capping system, the person doesn’t have to worry about putting up $105 at this very moment. They would be able to ride transit as much as they want to in a 30-day period knowing that they will pay $2.50 per ride each day, but never more than $105 in a 30-day period. They don’t need to have $105 right now to be able to save money in the long run.

A Miami-Dade Transit Agency poster indicate fare capping (without calling it fare capping, because that’s a wonky phrase).

Cities with fare capping

11 cities, last updated September 12, 2019

  1. London is first in the list because they were first with fare capping – It was pretty cool back in 2014 when my Anglophile friend told me to borrow his Oyster card and just tap away and ride transit all day, because I would never pay more than the cost of a 1-day pass.
    • London also has weekly capping, but this doesn’t include the Underground or Overground (buses and trams only). The week also starts on Monday and ends on Sunday.
  2. Miami is the most recent place to have fare capping, which @erik_griswold spotted on a poster. Daily capping only.
  3. St. Louis now has a transit smart card, and has daily capping.
  4. Sydney’s Opal card offers daily capping, weekly capping, and Sunday deal.
    • On Sundays, people can ride on metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail services all day Sunday for the price of one ride, $2.80 AUD (about $1.89 as of August 22, 2019).
    • Another deal the Opal card offers users: Ride 8 times in a week, and all subsequent rides are 50% off.
  5. Indianapolis’s IndyGo transit agency has daily capping, and weekly capping.
  6. San Jose-based transit agency Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has daily capping which they call “Day Pass Accumulator”.
  7. Oakland-East Bay’s AC Transit has daily capping, but they don’t use those words. The website says that a day pass is applied to the Clipper transit smart card when a third trip is taken in a day.
  8. Portland, Oregon: TriMet, C-TRAN, and Portland Streetcar seem to have the most flexible payment options for their fare capping policy: Riders with a Hop transit smart card get daily capping and monthly capping. People who pay with Google Pay and Apple Pay can also get daily and weekly capping; people who pay with Samsung Pay or a contactless credit card can get daily capping.
  9. Victoria (Australian state) has daily capping on metropolitan Melbourne routes and regional routes when using the myki card.
  10. Houston, Texas: METRO has daily capping that kicks in after “Q” fare card holder takes three trips.
  11. The Ride in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has daily, weekly, and monthly capping – this is the policy to beat.
St. Louis’s MyGatewayCard has daily capping.

* Notes

A transit card is only necessary for transit systems that store the values and passes on a card. The Chicago Transit Authority and its vendor, Cubic, created Ventra, an account-based system that stores values and passes on an account in the cloud, and is expressed through the Ventra card, compatible smartphones, and compatible smartwatches. Fares to pay for rides Metra, a commuter rail company that participates in Ventra, can be purchased using the Ventra account’s stored value. Metra doesn’t accept taps from a Ventra card.

360° spherical photos of Chicago from 300 feet in the air

This rad app called Hangar 360 captures a spherical photo from 300 feet in the air. If you look at them on your phone the picture takes advantage of your phone’s sensors and the image moves as your phone moves.

Click on the linked location to view the spherical photo.

Plazas at 150 N Riverside and River Point (444 W Lake St)

Wolf Point – this launch site can no longer be used because it became an active construction site for the second of three skyscrapers a couple of days ago.

Providence St. Mel and downtown Chicago

Garfield Park – one of the city’s grand parks and part of the boulevard system, or “Emerald Necklace” that connects the Northwest Side boulevards to the West Side parks of Humboldt Park and Garfield Park to the South Side parks of Douglas Park, Washington Park, and Jackson Park.

Former Ickes housing site and its relation to downtown

Ickes redevelopment site and National Teachers Academy – this site used to have over 1,000 residences owned by the Chicago Housing Authority and is going to be redeveloped into just under 1,000 units for a mixed-income community.

Smokestacks at a former incinerator in Humboldt Park

West Side incinerator – these two smokestacks remain from one of the city’s four trash incinerators, and are the subject of an upcoming story from City Bureau.

A Green Line train zooms by industrial and residential areas on the West Side

Another short aerial video I shot this month in Chicago’s West Garfield Park community area. This part of the neighborhood has a lot of industrial uses, but which abut residential, both of which are conspicuous in the 20 second clip.

Equipment is a DJI Mavic Pro.

Anti-traffic safety is now a political platform

Three of the five men running for Mayor of Chicago have pledged to eliminate enforcing red light running with cameras. Many aldermen have done the same. The Chicago Tribune has factually pointed out that Mayors Daley and Emanuel have mismanaged the red light camera program, with the bulk of it falling upon staff in the Daley administration. (The only part of the program under Emanuel that could be considered mismanagement was changing the business rules to issue tickets when the yellow light was recorded as 2.90 to 2.99 seconds long; Emanuel’s administration changed the rule back and has implemented many other changes following the inspector general’s report.)

Red light cameras lead to an increase in rear-end crashes but decrease the more severe angle (T-bone) crashes, which the Chicago Tribune “sorta” pointed out when it looked at frequencies but not injury costs.

Current 2nd ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy’ Garcia, William “Dock” Walls, and Willie Wilson all have decided that neither the facts nor safety for people inside and outside of multi-ton machines are important. They are supporting the right to endanger others by respecting the inconvenience of not always being prepared to stop at a traffic signal.

Fioretti has said he will introduce soon an ordinance to remove red light cameras by April, but I haven’t found it in the legislation database.

Even though Streetsblog Chicago is no longer publishing, John Greenfield is hustling to get us both working again. In the meantime I intend to cover parts of the election, which takes place February 24, with assistance.

Developing a method to score Divvy station connectivity

A Divvy station at Halsted/Roscoe in Boystown, covered in snow after the system was shutdown for the first time to protect workers and members. Photo by Adam Herstein.

In researching for a new Streetsblog Chicago article I’m writing about Divvy, Chicago’s bike-share system, I wanted to know which stations (really, neighborhoods) had the best connectivity. They are nodes in a network and the bike-share network’s quality is based on how well (a measure of time) and how many ways one can move from node to node.

I read Institute for Transportation Development Policy’s (ITDP) report “The Bike-Share Planning Guide” [PDF] says that one station every 300 meters (984 feet) “should be the basis to ensure mostly uniform coverage”. They also say there should be 10 to 16 stations per square kilometer of the coverage area, which has a more qualitative definition. It’s really up to the system designer, but the report says “the coverage area must be large enough to contain a significant set of users’ origins and destinations”. If you make it too small it won’t meaningfully connect places and “the system will have a lower chance of success because its convenience will be compromised”. (I was inspired to research this after reading coverage of the report in Next City by Nancy Scola.)

Since I don’t yet know the coverage area – I lack the city’s planning guide and geodata – I’ll use two datasets to see if Chicago meets the 300 meters/984 feet standard.

Dataset 1

The first dataset I created was a distance matrix in QGIS that measured the straight-line distance between each station and its eight nearest stations. This means I would cover a station in all directions, N, S, E, W, and NW, NE, SE, and SW. Download first dataset, distance matrix.

Each dataset offers multiple ways to gauge connectivity. The first dataset, using a straight-line distance method, gives me mean, standard deviation, maximum value, and minimum value. I sorted the dataset by mean. A station with the lowest mean has the greatest number of nearby stations; in other words, most of its nearby stations are closer to it than the next station in the list.

Sorting the first dataset by lowest mean gives these top five best-connected stations:

  1. Canal St & Monroe St, a block north of Union Station (191), mean of 903.96 feet among nearest 8 stations
  2. Clinton St & Madison St, outside Presidential Towers and across from Northwestern Train Station (77), 964.19 feet
  3. Canal St & Madison St, outside Northwestern Train Station (174), 972.40
  4. Canal St & Adams St, north side of Union Station’s Great Hall (192), 982.02
  5. State St & Randolph St, outside Walgreens and across from Block 37 (44), 1,04.19

The least-connected stations are:

  1. Prairie Ave & Garfield Blvd (204), where the nearest station is 4,521 feet away (straight-line distance), or 8.8x greater than the best-connected station, and the mean of the nearest 8 stations is 6,366.82 feet (straight-line distance)
  2. California Ave & 21st St (348), 6,255.32
  3. Kedzie Ave & Milwaukee Ave (260), 5,575.30
  4. Ellis Ave & 58th St (328), 5,198.72
  5. Shore Drive & 55th St (247), 5,168.26

Dataset 2

The second dataset I manipulated is based on Alex Soble’s DivvyBrags Chrome extension that uses a distance matrix created by Nick Bennett (here’s the file) that estimates the bicycle route distance between each station and every other station. This means 88,341 rows! Download second dataset, distance by bike – I loaded it into MySQL to use its maths function, but you could probably use python or R.

The two datasets had some overlap (in bold), but only when finding the stations with the lowest connectivity. In the second dataset, using the estimated bicycle route distance, ranking by the number of stations within 2.5 miles, or the distance one can bike in 30 minutes (the fee-free period) at 12 MPH average, the following are the top five best-connected stations:

  1. Ogden Ave & Chicago Ave, 133 stations within 2.5 miles
  2. Green St & Milwaukee Ave, 131
  3. Desplaines St & Kinzie St, 129
  4. (tied) Larrabee St & Kingsbury St and Carpenter St & Huron St, 128
  5. (tied) Clinton St & Lake St and Green St & Randolph St, 125

Notice that none of these stations overlap with the best-connected stations and none are downtown. And the least-connected stations (these stations have the fewest nearby stations) are:

  1. Shore Drive & 55th St, 11 stations within 2.5 miles
  2. (tied) Ellis Ave & 58th St and Lake Park Ave & 56th St, 12
  3. (tied) Kimbark Ave & 53rd St and Blackstone Ave & Hyde Park Blvd and Woodlawn Ave & 55th St, 13
  4. Prairie Ave & Garfield Blvd, 14
  5. Cottage Grove Ave & 51st St, 15

This, the second dataset, gives you a lot more options on devising a complex or weighted scoring system. For example, you could weight certain factors slightly higher than the number of stations accessible within 2.5 miles. Or you could multiply or divide some factors to obtain a different score.

I tried another method on the second dataset – ranking by average instead of nearby station quantity – and came up with a completely different “highest connectivity” list. Stations that appeared in the least-connected stations list showed up as having the lowest average distance from that station to every other station that was 2.5 miles or closer. Here’s that list:

  1. Kimbark Ave & 53rd St – 13 stations within 2.5 miles, 1,961.46 meters average distance to those 13 stations
    Blackstone Ave & Hyde Park Blvd – 13 stations, 2,009.31 meters average
    Woodlawn Ave & 55th St – 13 stations, 2,027.54 meters average
  2. Cottage Grove Ave & 51st St – 15 stations, 2,087.73 meters average
  3. State St & Kinzie St – 101 stations, 2,181.64 meters average
  4. Clark St & Randolph St – 111 stations, 2,195.10 meters average
  5. State St & Wacker Dr – 97 stations, 2,207.10 meters average

Back to 300 meters

The original question was to see if there’s a Divvy station every 300 meters (or 500 meters in outlying areas and areas of lower demand). Nope. Only 34 of 300 stations, 11.3%, have a nearby station no more than 300 meters away. 183 stations have a nearby station no further than 500 meters – 61.0%. (You can duplicate these findings by looking at the second dataset.)

Concluding thoughts

ITDP’s bike-share planning guide says that “residential population density is often used as a proxy to identify those places where there will be greater demand”. Job density and the cluster of amenities should also be used, but for the purposes of my analysis, residential density is an easy datum to grab.

It appears that stations in Woodlawn, Washington Park, and Hyde Park west of the Metra Electric line fare the worst in station connectivity. The 60637 ZIP code (representing those neighborhoods) contains half of the least-connected stations and has a residential density of 10,468.9 people per square mile while 60642, containing 3 of the 7 best-connected stations, has a residential density of 11,025.3 people per square mile. There’s a small difference in density but an enormous difference in station connectivity.

However, I haven’t looked at the number of stations per square mile (again, I don’t know the originally planned coverage area), nor the rise or drop in residential density in adjacent ZIP codes.

There are myriad other factors to consider, as well, including – according to ITDP’s report – current bike mode share, transit and bikeway networks, and major attractions. It recommends using these to create a “demand profile”.

Station density is important for user convenience, “to ensure users can bike and park anywhere” in the coverage area, and to increase market penetration (the number of people who will use the bike-share system). When Divvy and the Chicago Department of Transportation add 175 stations this year – some for infill and others to expand the coverage area – they should explore the areas around and between the stations that were ranked with the lowest connectivity to decrease the average distance to its nearby stations and to increase the number of stations within 2.5 miles (the 12 MPH average, 30-minute riding distance).

N.B. I was going to make a map, but I didn’t feel like spending more time combining the datasets (I needed to get the geographic data from one dataset to the other in order to create a symbolized map). 

Why do speeding crashes in Chicago lead to worse injuries?

Don’t git behind me. Photo by Richard Masoner. 

A discussion about Chicagoans’ proclivity for tailgating (on a post about speed cameras) prompted me to look at the prevalence of this in causing crashes. I looked at the three-year period of 2010-2012 first, mainly so the numbers wouldn’t be so large, and left this information in a comment. But considering the prerequisites* for a crash to be reported in this dataset, and my desire to compare two multi-year periods, I switched my analysis to the single four-year period 2009-2012.

2009-2012

Total crashes: 318,193. Total fatalities: 554 people.

Tailgating crashes

62,080 crashes, 19.53% of all crash types

Tailgating crashes, injuries breakdown:

  • Killed: .0012 (this represents the number of deaths per crash). 75 people died in these crashes, representing 13.54% of all deaths.
  • Incapacitating injuries: 8.53% (the average distribution of people’s injuries in all tailgating crashes)
  • Non-Incapacitating: 46.32%
  • Possible injury: 45.15%

The share of all crash types that are tailgating has increased steadily from 18.11% in 2009 to 20.79% in 2012.

Speeding crashes

10,339 crashes, 3.24% of all crash types

Speeding injuries:

  • Killed: .0118 (this represents the number of deaths per crash). 122 people died in these crashes, representing 22.02% of all deaths.
  • Incapacitating injuries: 15.55% (the average distribution of people’s injuries in all speeding crashes)
  • Non-Incapacitating: 51.95%
  • Possible injury: 32.50%

The share of all crash types that are tailgating has decreased slightly from 3.72% in 2009 to 3.02% in 2012. While speeding leads to fewer crashes, it leads to a greater incidence of death and serious injury. The probability of a speeding crash leading to at least one death seems to stay steady through the period while the probability of seeing a person with an incapacitating injury versus a different kind of injury varies more, but not so much in a range that overlaps the rates for tailgating crashes.

A future comparison at injuries should look at the top crash causes for death and serious injury.

N/A and Unable to determine crashes

237,729 crashes, 74.71% of all crash types

N/A and unable to determine injuries:

  • Killed: .0013 (this represents the number of deaths per crash). 305 people died in these crashes, representing 55.05% of all deaths.
  • Incapacitating injuries: 9.38% (the average distribution of people’s injuries in all N/A crashes)
  • Non-Incapacitating: 48.26%
  • Possible injury: 42.35%

Notes

Updated December 4, 2013

I updated the wording on how to interpret these numbers. For example, previously for “killed” there was a percentage saying this number represented the amount of crashes that had at least one death. This wasn’t accurate: the same number represents a rate of deaths per crash of that type. Injury percentages represent the distribution of injury types experienced by all the people injured in crashes of that type.

Reliability

Analyzing crash causes is not very reliable as 45.60% of the reported crashes in 2012 had “N/A” or “unable to determine” listed as the primary cause! The third and fourth most frequently ascribed causes were the two tailgating codes (described below). There are some crashes that had the one of these two causes in the secondary cause field but I haven’t calculated that.

Cause code descriptions

Each crash has two cause codes. For tailgating crashes I searched for reports where “failing to reduce speed to avoid crash” or “following too closely” in either the primary or secondary cause field (it’s possible that a report had both of these causes ascribed). For speeding crashes I searched for “speed excessive for conditions” or “exceeding speed limit” in either the primary or secondary cause fields.

Prerequisites

This data excludes crashes where there was no injury or no property damage greater than $500 (2005 to 2008) and $1,500 (2009 to 2012). You cannot compare the two datasets when you want to see a share of all crashes because the number of “all crashes” will be underreported in the second dataset.

Queries

These are some of the MySQL queries I used to get the data out of my own crash database (I’m figuring out ways to make it public, using a shared login). “Cause 1 code” indicates the primary cause of the crash according to the police officer’s judgement. “Cause 2 code” indicates the secondary cause of the crash according to the police officer’s judgement.

1. Crash cause reliability: SELECt count(casenumber), sum(`Total killed`), `Cause2`, `Cause 2 code` FROM `CrashExtract_Chicago` WHERE year = 12 GROUP BY `Cause 2 code`  ORDER BY cast(`Cause 2 code` as signed)

2. Speeding crashes: SELECT count(casenumber), sum(`Total killed`), sum(`totalInjuries`), sum(`A injuries`), sum(`B injuries`), sum(`C injuries`) FROM `CrashExtract_Chicago` WHERE (`Cause 1 code` = 1 OR `Cause 1 code` = 27 OR `Cause 2 code` = 1 or `Cause 2 code` = 27) AND year > 8

3. Tailgating crashes: SELECT count(casenumber), sum(`Total killed`), sum(`totalInjuries`), sum(`A injuries`), sum(`B injuries`), sum(`C injuries`) FROM `CrashExtract_Chicago` WHERE (`Cause 1 code` = 3 OR `Cause 1 code` = 28 OR `Cause 2 code` = 3 or `Cause 2 code` = 28) AND year > 8

4. N/A and Unable to determine crashes: SELECT count(casenumber), sum(`Total killed`), sum(`totalInjuries`), sum(`A injuries`), sum(`B injuries`), sum(`C injuries`) FROM `CrashExtract_Chicago` WHERE (`Cause 1 code` = 18 OR `Cause 1 code` = 99) AND year > 8

Stop locking your bike at the Clybourn Metra station overnight

Existing bike parking at the Clybourn Metra station

This is a resolution.

WHEREAS, I love GIS.

WHEREAS, I was reading this blog post on the Azavea company blog about bike theft prediction and trends in Philadelphia.

WHEREAS, I analyzed bike theft location in Chicago in 2012 and the Clybourn Metra station emerged as the most frequent Metra theft location.

WHEREAS, I searched the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry for “clybourn” and several thefts have been reported to the registry in 2013.

WHEREAS, I believe the Chicago Police Department still doesn’t allow searching of their database for bike thefts thus leaving the CSBR as the premier source of data.

WHEREAS, I am watching this show called The Bletchley Circle wherein a group of four fictional women who cracked codes in World War II are solving a murder mystery in 1950s London.

BE IT RESOLVED that you should not leave your bicycle parked at the Clybourn Metra station overnight as it is a terrible place to leave a bicycle parked. Why? No one is around most of the time to socially secure your bicycle.

New bike parking at the Clybourn Metra station

This is a great place to get your bike stolen. In the dark. Overnight. With no one around to see it happen. 

What Complete Streets means to DOTs: the case of widening Harrison Street

What Harrison Street looks like in 2013, replete with additional lanes and no “bicycle ways”. 

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation completed a project in 2012 to rebuild the Congress Parkway bridge over the Chicago River and build a new interchange with Lower Wacker Drive. It also rebuilt the intersections of Harrison/Wacker and Harrison/Wells.

Harrison prior to the project had two striped travel lanes (four effective travel lanes) but now has six travel lanes (including two new turn lanes). Bicycle accommodations were not made and people who want to walk across the street at Wacker and Wells must now encounter a variety of pedestrian unfriendly elements:  they must use actuated signals (waiting for a long time), cross long distances or two roadways to reach the other side, avoid drivers in the right-turn channelized lane, and wait in expressway interchange-style islands. Additionally, Wells Street was widened and all corner radii were enlarged to speed automobile traffic and presumably to better accommodate large trucks.

That is how IDOT interprets its “complete streets” law (which took effect on July 1, 2007) and how CDOT interprets its “complete streets” policy (decreed by Mayor Daley in 2006). The full text of the Illinois law, known as Public Act 095-0665, is below:

AN ACT concerning roads.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois,
represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The Illinois Highway Code is amended by adding
Section 4-220 as follows:

(605 ILCS 5/4-220 new)
Sec. 4-220. Bicycle and pedestrian ways.
(a) Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be given full
consideration in the planning and development of
transportation facilities, including the incorporation of such
ways into State plans and programs.
(b) In or within one mile of an urban area, bicycle and
pedestrian ways shall be established in conjunction with the
construction, reconstruction, or other change of any State
transportation facility except:
(1) in pavement resurfacing projects that do not widen
the existing traveled way or do not provide stabilized
shoulders; or
(2) where approved by the Secretary of Transportation
based upon documented safety issues, excessive cost or
absence of need.
(c) Bicycle and pedestrian ways may be included in pavement
resurfacing projects when local support is evident or bicycling
and walking accommodations can be added within the overall
scope of the original roadwork.
(d) The Department shall establish design and construction
standards for bicycle and pedestrian ways. Beginning July 1,
2007, this Section shall apply to planning and training
purposes only. Beginning July 1, 2008, this Section shall apply
to construction projects.

Section 99. Effective date. This Act takes effect July 1,
2007.

Here is the case: a “bicycle way” should have been incorporated into the Harrison/Congress/Wells modification.

Here is the evidence:

  1. The project location is a transportation facility in the State
  2. The project location is in or within one mile of an urban area.
  3. The project widened an existing traveled way, from 52 feet (two marked travel lanes, four effective travel lanes) to approximately 64 feet (six marked travel lanes).
  4. Local support for bicycle and pedestrian ways is evident; see the “Streets for Cycling Plan 2020” planning process and the addition of a concrete deck (to reduce bicycling slippage) on the sides of the Harrison Street bridge over the Chicago River approaching the project location.
  5. The project was constructed after July 1, 2008.

The missing piece of evidence, though, is whether or not the Secretary of Transportation, based upon documented safety issues, excessive cost or absence of need, made an exception for this project.

The Chicago “complete streets” policy is less specific than the Illinois “complete streets” law, printed below:

The safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight, and motor vehicle drivers shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project so that even the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and persons with disabilities – can travel safely within the public right of way.

One of the examples CDOT gives on how this policy can be implemented is “Reclaim street space for other uses through the use of ‘road diets’ e.g., convert 4-lane roadway to 3-lane roadway with marked bike lanes” – they accomplished the opposite on Harrison Street.

In a 2010 traffic count, 16,800 cars were counted here, an amount handled by roads with fewer lanes and less than the amount in CDOT’s guidelines for implementing road diets and narrowing a road from 4 lanes to 2, yet in 2012, the agencies increased capacity.

Before: An aerial view from November 7, 2007. Image from Google Earth’s historical imagery feature. These two images represent the same zoom and area so you can compare the land changes from before to after the infrastructure modification. 

After: An aerial view from April 4, 2013. Image from Google Earth. Notice the additional lanes, roadway width, land taken south of Harrison Street, and the widened intersection at Wells with increased curb radius. 

TV shows can’t fool me with their inaccurate train portrayals

I have an idea. I have a TV show that takes place in New York City. I need to film a scene on the subway. So I use the closest subway… Los Angeles Metro.

Oh, and I’ll place “NYC Subway” signs on the walls (replete with graffiti).

No one will see the red stripes all over the place indicating this is the Red Line.

When you live in those cities, or you’re just enough of a railfan to see the difference, it becomes annoying and makes you despise the TV show you like.

On this particular show, they show footage actually taken in New York City to show the subway entrance. Some stock footage I guess.

That show was “Don’t Trust the B**** in Apt. 23“. The other filmed product that got it all wrong was “The Bourne Legacy”. It partially takes place in some bastardization of Chicago. In this movie, which stars Jeremy Renner instead of Matt Damon, the director depicted the Chicago ‘L’ while showing footage of a New York City elevated train. How could one tell? Nowhere in Chicago are there two parallel tracks, with one above the other. Nor are the elevated tracks that high above the street, nor do they use curved elevated columns. This happens about 50 minutes in. Immediately before this fake scene is shown, you’ll see aerial footage of the real Chicago ‘L’. This lasts for 4 seconds.

Real Chicago ‘L’.

Stand-in Chicago ‘L’. 

I don’t want to call this “disingenuous” (but I think it is) and TV show producers aren’t required to film exactly where they portray; these “stand ins” are probably for budgetary reasons. I don’t think it harms a city’s brand or image. I just get annoyed: the show becomes less believable. Maybe I know too much about cities.

Film crews get tax breaks in lots of cities and states in the United States and Canada. If I were the city’s film office manager, or the city’s lobbyist or brand manager, I’d want it to be portrayed accurately.

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