TagCities

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Where would you ride

Infrastructure and street design is the most influencing factor in how we behave and maneuver our vehicles (bicycles included, even if Illinois doesn’t think so and California does) in the roadway.

I’m taking a non-scientific poll.

1. Given the lane configuration in the photo below, and the dearth of vehicles in any lane you see, where would you ride your bicycle, and why?

2. Now take a look at this photo mockup of a protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue through the 1st Ward in Wicker Park. Where would you ride your bicycle, and why?

Which facility would you prefer to ride your bicycle in?

1, or 2?

Read more about cycle tracks/protected bike lanes on Steven Can Plan.

Maureen and I are very similar

I don’t know Maureen, and she doesn’t know me, but Streetsblog contributor, and #bikeNYC portrait photographer Dmitry Gudkov, wrote about “why Maureen rides.”

I wrote about why I ride in a submission to Urban Velo magazine last December for its segment, “I Love Riding in the City.” I had a pretty lame answer to, “Why do you love riding in the city?” saying “It’s a lot easier than riding in the suburbs.”

I read Maureen’s response to why cycling is her favorite form of transport in New York.

“I like to keep moving; I don’t ever want to wait, if I can help it. But more than anything I love that the bike lets me be physical in the city.” Her favorite time to ride is late at night, with the solitary journeys giving her a sense of the city she wouldn’t have otherwise. “When I’m biking home from my studio at 1 or 2 in the morning along the empty bike path, I feel like this is my park. This piece of the city belongs to me.”

And now I want to expand my response:

I can’t stand waiting! That’s what you have to do when you drive a car or take public transit. You wait for the traffic in front of you to move, or you wait for the bus or train! (I admit that the Chicago Transit Authority’s Bus and Train Trackers allow you to wait less if you plan your trip well.) By riding a bicycle, you only have to wait for the light to change!

Then this past weekend I was remarking to my friend Francesco that I prefer riding through Chicago in the middle of the night because less traffic makes the street quieter, less congested, and less polluted. This stretch of the street belongs to me.

Me riding home late at night after a concert seeing Pantha du Prince at Empty Bottle in West Town.

Barriers to getting going on a bike

Open thread:

Gas prices are still predicted to rise and possibly meet 2008 levels. That means more people will be biking and making more trips by bike than by car.

What are the barriers to sustained (read, will be back next year) biking in the city?

  1. Obtaining a bike?
  2. Knowing how to get places?
  3. Knowing other people who bike?
  4. What do you think?

Photo of Annie in Palo Alto, California, by Richard Masoner.

Europe trip recap: List of cities I visited

All links lead to a photo or photoset of that city. More links will be added as I upload more photos. Cities are in the order I traveled through Europe, over 18 days.

All blogs about this trip are under the tag, Europe trip.

A bike “jam” – everyone in the photo is performing a “Copenhagen left” or box turn.

The Schwebebahn is the world’s oldest operating monorail that operates daily in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Wuppertal, Germany.

What are you thankful for about your city?

Aaron asks on Urbanophile, “What are you thankful for about your city?” His own answer was

I won’t pick just one city, but I’m thankful that across America, no matter how thriving or struggling the city, it always seem there are people passionately making it a better place. From Austin and Chicago to Detroit and Braddock and Buffalo, there’s a passionate generation of urbanist out there fighting the fight for their city. I shudder to think where we’d be without them. This gives me hope that more places that we think that are struggling are going to ultimately make a turnaround.

My answer

This is not really about my city, Chicago, but about all cities of a similar density: I appreciate that it does not take 25 minutes of driving to get to a store (of any type) or my friend’s house. In 25 minutes, I can ride my bike to 15 full-service grocery stores and 10 friends’ houses. And I can do it safely because the roads are narrow which helps keep traffic speeds are low.

The nearest Dominick’s finally installed a bike rack after having been without one since its opening over a decade ago and its renovation two years ago.

This is in contrast to where I spent Thanksgiving, in Mesa, Arizona. The road that connects my family’s house to the bank I needed to visit is 90 feet wide, having a speed limit of 45 MPH but a design limit of at least 60 MPH.

Trying out new GIS software

I want to draw 50 and 120 feet buffers around the points of store entrances to show where bike parking should and shouldn’t be installed. I want to follow this example:

walgreens with bike parking buffers

Aerial photo of a Tucson, Arizona, Walgreens showing the location of existing bike parking and two buffers (50 and 120 feet) where proposed city rules would allow bike parking. I advocate for ratifying the 50 feet rule, which I’ve discussed on this blog and elsewhere many times.

I want to do this easily and accurately, so I will use GIS software to create a “buffer.” I use QGIS occasionally, but I want to try out other Mac-friendly applications. I’m getting my orthoimagery (geometrically corrected aerial photography) from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) using a web protocol called Web Map Server. I’m trying:

  • Cartographica, $495, with free trial license.
  • uDig, completely free software. UPDATE: I have had NO success getting any data to load from a WMS connection into uDig. I would like to understand why. Cartographica can obtain some of the WMS-stored data I want, although it messes up often.

I’m having success with neither – both are having issues downloading or maintaining a connection to the USGS orthoimagery. In one case, Cartographica trims the Bing Maps imagery to match the extent of my other objects (the buffer). In another case, it won’t even download the USGS imagery (and gives no indication that anything is happening). uDig hasn’t been able to download anything so far – I hope it’s asking for the current extent, instead of all data because it’s taking a looong time to do anything (so long that I just quit in the  middle of it).

This screenshot shows how to add new WMS connections to Cartographica.

UPDATE: I did it! I successfully used Cartographica (and the integrated Bing Maps) to create this drawing that shows the current (abysmal) bike parking at a Chicago Home Depot outside the 50 feet line.

What is your goal for your city?

I have two favorite photo categories from Amsterdamize’s photostream*: the first is people riding side saddle as passengers on someone else’s bike and “borrowing” someone else’s energy. It’s borrowing because they’ll eventually return the favor, to the original lender, or to a friend of their own.

The second, and the one that is more important, is photos of older people riding bikes.

These photos, and the older folks’ running errands on their bikes, help make cycling look like the most normal and sensible thing that anyone could be doing right now. And that’s what my goal is for my city.

*Amsterdamize is Marc van Woudenberg, an Amsterdammer (you know, from The Netherlands?).

I think I finally figured out the purpose of making plans

No, not plans with friends for dinner at Ian’s Pizza in Wrigleyville (which was great last night, by the way).

I graduated in May 2010 and I’m just now figuring out why we should make plans. What did I come up with?

Plans are to give a basis for the future so that the future is shaped from what people collectively need and want. They keep you on track so you focus on what’s most important and not the things that will derail the path to the plan’s stated goals.

(You can quote me on that. But I wouldn’t rely on that statement to stay the same – it’s still a work in progress.)

For example, you go out and survey the bike parking situation at all transit stations in your city. You collect data on how many bike parking spaces are available, how many bikes are present (both on bike racks and other objects), and bike rack type.

You then gather information like ridership, access mode, and surrounding residential density. From this you can list the stations in order of which ones need attention now, which ones need attention later, and which ones won’t need attention. Talking to people who work at the stations, who use the stations, and others will help you fine tune the ranking.

That’s the plan. The plan might also include narratives about the rationale for having high quality, sheltered, upgraded, or copious bike parking at transit stations (hit up the Federal Transit Administration for that).

Then the plan sits. Two years later, someone reads the plan and decides to apply for funding to build bike parking shelters at the transit stations in most need.

What stations are those? Oh, the plan tells us.

Bad and great bike parking

How can you tell the bad and good of bike parking?

By inspecting a few examples! Check out my photos and descriptions of good and bad bike racks and parking spaces. I took all photos of bike parking in Chicago, Illinois, except where otherwise noted. I’m the expert because I’ve installed hundreds of bike racks for my employer, where I also developed an innovative web application, and I’ve locked up to to so many bike racks over the past four years I’ve lived here.

Good

Bike parking is best installed within view of a business entrance, and within 50 feet. If the bike parking is too far away, bicyclists tend to lock their bike to the closest object which isn’t as suitable as a heavy duty U-rack. The U-rack is a great bike rack: it supports the bicycle at two points (no kickstand or juggling necessary) and and users can lock the wheels and frame easily; square tube is best. See the action at Kuma’s Corner, in Chicago, Illinois.

Near the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, bicycle riders will spot these decorative, but still useful, bike racks in front of a large office building. The post and ring style can still accommodate locking the front wheel and frame. Users should use a second cable or lock to grab that rear wheel.

Indoor bike parking is always the best! This surface-mounted U-racks (arranged in a parallel series on rails) and the wall-mounted bike rack provide multiple options at the Skokie Yellow Line station in Skokie, Illinois. When installing wall-mounted bike racks, always install surface-mounted bike racks because some bicycle riders cannot lift their bikes.

See plenty more examples on my Flickr. UPDATE: Check out John Luton’s collection, Bicycle parking 101.

Bad

It’s hard to tell, but this round-tube wave rack is installed too close to the curb at the base of this wall, preventing a bicycle rider from using a U-lock to grab the bike rack, front wheel and frame. Most bike rack types should be installed at least 3 feet from any obstructing object.

The grill rack (typically seen at elementary and middle schools) is the worst bike rack available. Bicycles fall over. The design prevents users from locking their frame and front wheel to the bike rack. The tubes for locking have a very narrow diameter and thickness. This photo shows the odd ways people use the grill rack – thankfully, everyone locked their bicycles correctly, but not according to the bike rack’s design!

A garbage bin is not a good place to lock a bicycle. The bicycle will likely be in the way of pedestrians or people who want to throw away garbage. Also, as you can see in the photo, bicycle riders can only lock the frame to the garbage bin. This particular location is a strip mall in Chicago, Illinois, that does not provide any bike parking for the thousands of customers each day (a small portion of which would like to ride their bicycles).

There might be more examples of bad bike parking than good. See more photos here. UPDATE: Check out John Luton’s collection, Bicycle parking 101.

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