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Comments on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane

After reading about the new protected bike lane on Kinzie Street, people are speaking up.

From Chicargobike:

I have to admit that this doesn’t seem to be a location that fulfills any of the criteria I just mentioned – it seems instead to be directed at people who already are bicycle commuters to the Loop, largely young, fit adults. I don’t think they are the people who can benefit from a track and it should be placed elsewhere.

Excerpted from Protected bike lanes get a wobbly start.

From Duppie:

While the safety improvements will become clear in the crash statistics, there are a lot of things that can make a bikelane good or bad from a user perspective. They should have a formal evaluation process after 6 months or a year to see what works what and what doesn’t.

Excerpted from their comments on The Chainlink.

From anonymous:

I’m a big fan of protected bike lanes, but starting this lane at Milwaukee/DesPlaines just seems like a remarkably bad idea to me.  The problem is that there’s a very steep downhill decline between Desplaines and Clinton.   That means you constantly have lots of bikes traveling at very different speeds, and this lane is going to trap them in a small space designed for slower speeds.   Right now, this works fine because the cyclists spread out all over the right lane (because of the downhill speeds, taking over the lane is no problem).

Excerpted from Saturday’s post on Steven Can Plan.

From BlueFairline:

Your photos remind me of another problem with this specific location, as you often have a Blommer truck parked on the westbound side with a large hose running between the truck and a nozzle on the side of the building. This hose will have to run across the protected bike lane. You’re going to have to have bicyclists either jump between the dividers into the traffic lane to go left of the truck, or stop and lift their bikes over the hose. Any advice on which option is the more reasonable for bicyclists?

From their comment on Chicagoist. Find more naysaying on this Chicagoist article.

What are your thoughts on the location, protected bike lanes, or bicycling in Chicago?

A group of people riding their bikes wait at the light at Division and Milwaukee, going southbound.

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.

Improvements in store for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection

Updated May 2, 2011, with additional comments and concerns.

The City of Chicago plans to make major changes to the intersection of Damen-Elston-Fullerton. They revealed a lot of these changes and invited the public to learn more and make comments on the current proposal at an open house event Wednesday, April 27, 2011, at the Wicker Park-Bucktown library.

What is now actually three, closely-spaced intersections with six legs (two of them skewed), will become three, distantly-spaced intersections at right angles.

Why is this being done?

  • The closely-spaced intersections “encourage poor decision making.”
  • Small radii makes it difficult for trucks to make turns.
  • The island and closely-spaced intersections makes for limited queue capacity which blocks the other legs.
  • There are a lot of crashes, over 400 in a 3-year period. That’s over 7 per week.

So what’s the solution?

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation, and project consultant Benesch came up with 4 alternatives.

  • Enhanced “no build” – no improvements, but modernize signals didn’t address safety or delay. [In infrastructure project planning, there’s always a “no build” alternative to which the other alternatives are compared.]
  • Fullerton tunnel, or underpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same conditions outlined under “why.” Additionally, there are many utilities under the intersection that would all need to be relocated. It would take 3 years to build. For the length of the tunnel, surface traffic on Fullerton could only make right-in, right-out turns.
  • Overpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same dismal conditions. This has the same turn restrictions as the underpass – this and its imposing aesthetics could impact economic development (the presentation didn’t say whether the project designers expected this to be positive or negative).
  • And there’s the “preferred alternative.” It has wider sidewalks, larger turn radii, and “safer bike accommodations.” Delays would improve from up to 7 minutes to under 30 seconds.

Other benefits of the preferred alternative include:

  • Access to properties is preserved.
  • Simpler intersections means fewer conflicting movements.
  • A “new bike lane” (I disagree with calling it new – the project is preserving the existing bike lane, bringing it into the new route of Elston Avenue, or whatever the new street will be called).
  • Supports future economic development by having simpler traffic.

What’s the timeline?

  • 2011 – Finalize phase 1 engineering. Seek approval from IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Start the design process.
  • 2012 – While continuing work on the design, begin acquiring right of way.
  • 2013 – Finish design, and bid out project.
  • 2014 – Award project and begin construction.

The project is estimated to cost $32 million, with funds coming from the TIF Bank, grants from the FHWA, and the City’s own capital improvement funds.

Comment on the design until May 13 by emailing Bridget Stalla, the project manager who works for the City of Chicago. All emails to her about this project will go on the public record.

So what are my comments?

Lack of bike lanes

Currently there’s no striped bike lane for .26 miles on Damen Avenue between where it ends at the I-90/I-94 highway and railroad viaducts to where it ends on the hill to the bridge over the Chicago River.

The project does not add this bike lane, which I feel is much needed for the cyclists who deal with the congestion and tight spaces. I talked to Bridget and Colin Coad, a staffer at Benesch about this. Both admitted that a bike lane in this location was considered. It wasn’t in the current design because Damen Avenue must have two lanes northbound to keep the queue capacity and keep delays down. An animation showed the difference in delays between the existing and proposed intersection configuration. The delay reduction in the new configuration was very noticeable. This doesn’t preclude installing a bike lane.

An attendee asked Ryan Thady, who was explaining the animation, if Benesch had done analysis on a single northbound travel lane south of Fullerton Avenue on Damen Avenue. He answered, “No. If there’s one lane, there’s an increased delay.”

Colin said that a bike lane has always been under consideration and will be again under consideration. Bridget says she realizes there’s a need to reevaluate the bikes on Damen Avenue situation. “We need the two lanes to really make this thing work like it’s supposed to. We will look at extending the bike lane on Damen north of Fullerton [from the bridge approach to the intersection of Damen and Elston].”

I’m confused about “making this thing work like it’s supposed to.” After hearing this, I felt that I don’t know if it’s clear to me what this thing is supposed to do. I thought it was about improving safety and reducing delays. By having a bike lane, bicyclists’ safety will be improved and their delays will also be reduced.

Some bicyclists may be involved in collisions with motor vehicles here because they move against signals. The same is probably true for drivers who get into collisions: frustration and impatience and simply not knowing when you’ll have a turn may lead road users at this intersection to proceed when it’s not safe to do so (and against the signal). The project designers said that this intersection “encourages poor decision making.” With dedicated space, in the form of a bike lane, as well as simpler design and an expectation of when it will be one’s turn to go, bicyclists and drivers alike will better comply with intersection controls.

The plan does nothing to add bike lanes through the Elston or Damen intersections. The Damen bike lane currently ends 700 feet before the intersection. The Elston bike lane ends 400 feet before the intersection. That funny business needs to stop and we need bike lanes in Chicago that go THROUGH intersections, much like you see in New York City (example photo 1 and photo 2.

Complete Streets

My final comment, a quick one, is that the project made no mention of reduced travel times for those who ride the Fullerton or Damen Avenue buses through this intersection. We still have a long ways to go in accommodating, and caring about, our sustainable transportation modes.

Bicycle crashes are also not mentioned in the documentation, while motor vehicle crashes with pedestrians are. There were more crashes with bicyclists than with pedestrians in the 3-year period of 2007-2009 (12 versus 4). Bicycle counts have not yet been taken at this location; they should be conducted as soon as possible.

Complete Streets in Illinois needs to stop being a policy without any teeth and put into regular practice. Enough with just “considering” all transportation modes; we need to “provision” them.

Roundabout

Was a roundabout considered at this location? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Guide to Roundabouts (PDF) lists criteria on where to use roundabouts, including these which describe the intersections in question:

  • Large traffic signal delays
  • Heavy left turning traffic
  • More than four legs or unusual geometry
  • History of crashes involving crossing traffic
  • Traffic growth expected to be high and future traffic patterns uncertain or changeable [because Elston is a diagonal and near shopping, traffic volume will not change]
  • History of right angle crashes [this is true because of the confusing signal phases]

While three roundabouts may not be necessary, one should be considered at least for the Elston-Fullerton intersection, which has the most space available for such a facility.

Curve and wide road of New Elston Avenue

On “New Elston Avenue,” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway. Thank you to A. Lottes for pointing out the curve to me.

Removing the  center island

Some commenters on The Expired Meter have suggested removing the tinny center island (as well as removing the second stop bar and signal every road user passes over) and converting it to a simple six-way intersection like Lincoln-Ashland-Belmont. While doing so may reduce delays or the number of crashes, it would probably fail to do both. I think it should be a considered alternative.

Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection

The plan does not address the westbound queue backups that start at the Fullerton intersection with the I-90/I-94 highway ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp. This intersection is outside the project area but pivotal in its success at reducing delays, at least with the “remaining,” new intersection at Damen.

More information

The end of the presentation said that all exhibit materials would be on the City’s website, but I didn’t find all the poster boards, so here are most of them in my Flickr photoset. I assume they would be posted here.

Photos

A visualization of the crash history (only automobiles and pedestrian types included) at the intersection.

Bird’s eye view of preferred alternative.

Best comment ever from someone who probably drives a car

Whet Moser mentioned recently in the Chicago Magazine blog that he’s more afraid of spiteful comments from readers than new data that may show there’s a huge number of dooring bike crashes going on in Illinois.

Whenever an article about some modest improvement in the lives of bicyclists is published, in this case news that the state of Illinois is going to start tracking when bicycle accidents involve doorings, the comments section will inevitably be filled with vitriol, and I can’t help but read it. There’s no other public forum in which people wish death on their fellow citizens like the comments to a story about biking. And I find it grimly fascinating, like a moral gapers block.

In line with a story that aired Thursday night about doorings and this new rule about collecting data, WTTW channel 11 (Chicago’s PBS affiliate) started a discussion thread title, “Should drivers be more courteous and mindful of bikers?” I think WTTW has a wildly different audience than those who read the Chicago Tribune online. And the comments, so far, reflect this.

A fairly respectful (and unidentified) commenter suggested a great idea that may have a positive impact on visibility of bicyclists:

Perhaps bikers should be required to have a daytime running lamp on the front of their bikes so that they are more visible in a motorist’s side mirror?

I often ride my bike with my headlight on. This is not a half-bad idea!

Outfitting Chicago bicyclists with bike lights in Wicker Park.

October Chicago roundup

As much as I try to write about national or international news and events, I can’t keep the Chicago in me suppressed.

Pedestrian safety at Grant Park

Award winning Chicago Tribune writer, Blair Kamin, takes up a cause leading to construction (he won a journalism award from ASCE Wednesday night – not his first engineering award). In 2009, after the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago opened, along with Renzo Piano’s bridge over Monroe, people started jaywalking more frequently. Blair pointed out how the bridge made the walk across Monroe too distant and inconvenient (agreed) and how the crest of the small hill on Monroe made it so car drivers (naturally driving fast on a four lane street) would not see pedestrians crossing here. CDOT spokesperson Brian Steele said they would investigate it and come up with some options. Eventually some signs and curb cuts were installed, but that wasn’t good enough.

Jaywalkers, they! Photo taken before pedestrian safety measures installed. By Andrew Ciscel.

Now, Blair reports, CDOT has installed a pedestrian refuge island and push button-activated flashing lights. Even still, it’s not the best. Blair is advocating for a clear and simple sign that says, according to new state law, “Stop for pedestrians.”

Here’s to hoping that Blair will take up some new causes, like bicycling perhaps. I wrote to him asking him to help me with the Dominick’s bike parking issue, but a well-worded email and letter to the CEO solved that. But I support Blair’s continued case for this street, including making this block car-free. It carries 13,500 cars per day, while Jackson Boulevard to the south carries 7,900. I think the surrounding streets can absorb the additional traffic while some of it will just disappear.

Chicago skyline on pause

Medill reports that there are now 2,500 vacant condos and apartments (rental condos) downtown. (Does that seem like a lot to you?) The Chicago Spire is the “big deal” building that’s not going to happen.

All that remains is a very large (and deep) hole. Photo by Duane Rapp.

Getting into real estate

I’m loving Curbed Chicago. It’s all about real estate, but it’s not just about transactions or what’s for sale. They post a lot of good links about neighborhood drama and events, and even link back to Steven can plan.

I’m not a “real estate person” but I didn’t know how exciting it can be. And real estate has EVERYTHING to do with transportation. The existing of buildings and the need to go from one to another causes transportation. A UIC professor told the class, “Nowhere does transportation happen for transportation’s sake.” – Professor Joe DiJohn.

And I’ve been dealing with property owners to arrange for the installation of bike parking. The zoning code requires bike parking at new developments but only when car parking is required. I want to change that.

This one house, facing Lawndale Avenue, seems to be one of the only occupied structures in this stalled subdivision in West Elsdon. Photo by Eric Rogers.

Apple adding Genius Bar capacity to Chicago

Speaking of new developments… The “Apple Store Lincoln Park” opens on Saturday, October 23, 2010, at 10 AM. In the most congested shopping district of Chicago I can think of – it truly sucks to bike on North Avenue through here, but people do it. (North Michigan Avenue is only pedestrian congested – car and bus traffic actually does move most of the time.) There’s no Apple Store parking garage, but I imagine they could have secured the always empty spaces in the parking garage connected to the Borders across the street. Even so, I don’t believe the zoning code would then require bike parking.

Looking east at the Apple Store, with a wall around it, showing the Borders. The often empty parking lot is behind Borders. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz.

I’m hoping that Apple says, “there’s one more thing,” and provides well-designed bike racks (by Jonathan Ive, fingers crossed!) in the new plaza they built between the store and the CTA Red Line station they paid to have renovated.

Verifying LEED certification and eco-friendly features

Read more commentary on LEED certification.

If a building claims it has environmentally friendly features (is that the same as eco-friendly?) but hasn’t applied for and received LEED certification, should we still call it “green”?

I’m talking specifically about Emerald, a two-tower (mid-height) condominium development on Green Street in Chicago’s Greektown/West Loop neighborhood. I watched its construction from beginning to end because I passed it daily on my commute to work.

The development’s sales website claims that because it sits on Green Street, it’s “naturally eco-friendly.” The website says the building has “bamboo flooring, low-VOC paint and beautiful fabrics made from recycled fiber. Even our marketing materials utilize recycled paper manufactured with windpower and printed with soy inks.”

These scaffold panels are advertising office space in a new tower that has since been built on this site. The one on the right reads “Reflect the social conscience of your organization.” Photo by Payton Chung.

Additionally, it has a 4-pipe HVAC system versus an “inferior” 2-pipe system, and high efficiency windows.

But I looked in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Certified Project Directory and didn’t find a project named “Emerald.” Let’s assume my search and the results are correct and Emerald does NOT have LEED certification. Are the claims on the website accurate? How can we trust that the paint truly has less volatile organic compounds?

If it was LEED certified would we trust it more then?

The building advertised in the photo above, 300 N LaSalle, received two certifications: Silver in Commercial Interior, and Gold in Core & Shell. The advertisement’s claims have some verification, but how trustworthy? My photo.

I’m not a LEED AP (Accredited Professional), but I understand that LEED certification requires thorough documentation. After a review of your application and submittals (essentially an audit), the USGBC makes its determination. I don’t believe anyone representing the USGBC inspects the building.

We then have to question why the Emerald developers didn’t seek LEED certification. Or did they?

Rep. Mica of Florida is confused about how best to support high-speed rail

From Associated Press writer Joan Lowy’s article, “White House doles out $8 billion for fast trains,”

Rep. John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the House transportation committee, complained that the Midwest lines awarded grants will achieve top speeds of only 110 mph and were “selected more for political reasons than for high-speed service.”

No, John, the Midwest was selected because it had a comprehensive plan with a regional approach, and with all Midwest states on board a collaborative effort to make Chicago the hub of an expansive network of fast trains that go to many, desirable destinations.

The Midwest was also selected because many of the Amtrak routes showed increased ridership over the past three years (2006-2009), and the ones that received a higher state subsidy or targeted improvements (with funding from the states) that reduced travel time and increased reliability showed an especially high increase in ridership.

And excuse me, Florida received a lot of money for a high-speed train between Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.

View more of my articles on this expanding topic.

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