Tagcomplete streets

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. 

Tucson’s neighborhood friendly ordinances

I’m moving to Tucson so I can bike on Dutch-style separated bike paths.*

My Grid Chicago writing partner John Greenfield visited Tucson, Arizona, earlier this month. His post about their bicycle facilities is on our site today. I published two posts about my visit in 2010, first Tucson has every kind of bikeway and Rialto theater in downtown Tucson.

In John’s post, he describes that the proliferation of bikeways (of all kinds!) are in part due to a city ordinance that requires they be installed in all road projects. Think Complete Streets but where you actually have to make one instead of just “considering” making one, which is what happens here.

I started digging into the city code to find the ordinance and its exact language. I haven’t found it yet, but I did find this:

Chapter 15, Section 13 is about going to the voters to approve or reject the city’s involvement in any project to construct “freeway, parkway or other controlled-access highway” or “grade-separated interchange”. So, in a regular or special election, the city must ask voters whether or not the city should be involved in building big roads, on a project by project basis.

Imagine that. What if the voters of Chicago could reject the destruction of their neighborhoods because of expressway construction for the Dan Ryan, Eisenhower, and Kennedy? Well, first of all, would people approve or reject those projects?

“(e) If the voters reject the proposed project, the mayor and council shall request that the state department of transportation not include the proposed project in the state highway system.”

An approval for a project is valid for five years. If no construction happens in that time, then the project approval has lapsed and the voters must be asked again. I’m sure many people (especially the people proposing the project) would find this law an enormous barrier to “progress”, but it ensures some level of public participation.

* Just kidding.

Chicago mayoral candidate scorecard: Transportation

There are six candidates who want to be Chicago’s next mayor. What are their views on transportation?

EI = Environmental Illinois, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. Note that ALL candidates answered YES to all of EI’s questions asking about if they support certain green and sustainable transportation initiatives. I provide links to the answers of the candidates who had additional comments (Del Valle, Emanuel, Walls).

Candidate View Plan
Carol Mosely Braun Wants to double transit ridership and bicycling usage. Link. No plan at this time
Gery Chico Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation, including transit. No plan at this time.
Miguel Del Valle Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation, including transit. Complete streets. View plan details: One

View answers to EI questionnaire.

Rahm Emanuel Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation (think walking and biking), including transit, freight, and high-speed rail. Complete streets. View plan details: One, Two

View answers to EI questionnaire.

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins Unknown at this time No plan at this time
William “Dock” Walls Unknown at this time No plan at this time

View answers to EI questionnaire.

This post will be updated as more becomes known. If you have information, share in the comments below or email me.

Three of the six candidates pose for a photo after the community and environment forum downtown sponsored by Friends of the Parks.

More transportation analysis:

I should note that contrary to the belief of many Chicagoans (and perpetuated by the implications of at least one candidate), the Chicago Transit Authority is a quasi-governmental agency (or “municipal corporation”) created by the Illinois state legislature. A detailed description from Chicago-L.org:

The governing body of the CTA is the Chicago Transit Board consisting of seven members, of which four are appointed by the mayor of Chicago and three by the governor of Illinois. Each’s appointment must be approved by the other. Each board member serves a seven year term, staggered to minimize abrupt changes in policy. The board chooses a General Manager (changed to “Executive Director” in 1976 and now called “President” since March 1992) to oversee day-to-day operations. The first board took their oath of office September 1, 1945, with the first Executive Director, Walter J. McCarter, taking office in 1947.

The board, at least since Frank Kreusi, has always hired the president that Mayor Richard M. Daley chose, although it is not the mayor’s responsibility.

Bridges of Portland

Like Chicago, Portland has many moveable bridges that connect major parts of the city. In Chicago, you have to cross the Chicago River from the west or north to get into the central business district (or loop). For Portland, you’ve got to cross the Willamette River from the humongous east side to the west side and central business district.

But that’s where the similarities stop. While Chicago has twenty bikeable bridges* from Lake Shore Drive on the east to Roosevelt Road on the south, they are each 200-500 feet long and bicyclists ride amongst normal traffic (except for northbound Lake Shore Drive). To ride on the bridges in Portland, bicyclists ride on bike-specific facilities across five bridges, all over 1,000 feet long.

There is only one lane for people riding bikes.

From north to south:

  • Broadway – Sidewalk with one-way bike traffic and two-way pedestrian traffic in each direction.
  • Steel Bridge – Narrow sidewalk on the lower level with tw0-way bike and pedestrian traffic.
  • Burnside – Bike lane, one in each direction.
  • Morrison – 15-foot wide path for bicyclists and pedestrians, in both directions. The City of Portland has construction details on this new path.
  • Hawthorne – Sidewalk with one-way bike traffic and two-way pedestrian traffic in each direction.

It’s great that people riding bikes are accommodated but all of these bridges are excellent examples of “afterthought planning.” There are tens of thousands of people riding bikes across the bridges each day in very close quarters (see this video I made of people riding and walking on the Hawthorne Bridge). Expensive changes are being made now (or have recently been constructed) to accommodate the high volumes of bikes on the bridges.

Complete streets policies are being adopted across the country that attempt to address our past experience with transportation infrastructure construction: bikes will be accommodate throughout all aspects of planning, design, and construction to ensure people riding across these bridges on bikes don’t have to tread carefully between joggers and high curb next to automobiles and buses traveling at 30 MPH.

The Burnside bridge has a typical bike lane.

The Columbia River Crossing (a highway bridge replacement project between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington) will be a failure for residents from the day it opens if it does not include facilities that allow for comfortable and convenient biking.

I didn’t appreciate the riding environment on any of the bridges** except for the Burnside bridge. This one seems most like the twenty Chicago bridges I have the choice of riding on each day on my commute to work – they look and act like typical streets. While bike-specific facilities like those on the five Portland bridges are not necessary, taking care to make cycling across bridges convenient and comfortable is a priority.

There’s only one path on the Steel Bridge and its on the lower level. You should probably only use this bridge recreationally because it doesn’t connect well into the street grid at either end.

*Only two of these twenty bridges have bike-specific facilities. Wells has a bike lane and a treatment to make cycling safer on the open-grate metal bridge. The Lakefront Trail traverses the Lake Shore Drive bridge.

*I did not ride on the Morrison bridge during my trip in April 2010.

© 2019 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑