Tagcritique

Living in a smart city

What does living in a smart city look like?

It might look like this.

When a city can gather data on every aspect of it’s citizens activities, what should we do with it? What products, services and environments should we develop?

Many private and public sector organisations are rushing us towards a future state where every cup of coffee, cell phone, taxi, bus, street and building will be self-aware and communicating with us and each other. Rather than asking when is this future coming, I’d like to ask what will we do once it’s here.

That’s the description of a class taught by George Aye at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I visited the class twice to hear and watch their presentation on minimizing disruptions caused by traffic crashes at a specific intersection, but whose new system elements can be transferred to other intersections in the city. When I came back the second time, the students had figured out a way to animate the intersection using a projector and mirror (which you see at the end of the video).

A static shot of the animation on the 3D paperboard and mixed material model.

The intersection in question is “The Crotch”, or the center of Wicker Park, at Milwaukee-North-Damen. The goal was to imagine how smart processes, policies, and technologies can be used to minimize the disruption of crashes at this intersection and others like it. The first phase of the students’ plan is about preventing crashes and the second phase is about speeding up the investigation. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the class blog, which documents, through narrative, photos and video, the students’ progress.

Some of their proposal for Milwaukee Avenue in this area included:

  • Barring private automobiles at certain times to give more room to more efficient modes, like buses and bicycles
  • During the ban period, allow taxis and possibly car-sharing cars
  • At all times of the day, deliveries (like beer) would be scheduled in advanced to better use existing and consolidated loading zones; when trucks use loading zones, they aren’t blocking traffic
  • Implement a Barnes dance (pedestrian scramble) at The Crotch to accommodate existing pedestrian crossing behaviors and speed up crossing times of what are now two-leg crossings (like walking north or south on west side of Damen Avenue, which requires a crossing distance of about 180 feet on two segments while the crosswalk signal cycle may not let you do consecutively; a direct crossing is only 72 feet)

View the full Living in a smart city photoset

Introducing Grocery Store Bike Parking Ratings

This article is part of a series (it seems) of grocery stores with poor bike parking – it first started with my local Dominick’s. I started an inventory and rating system for Chicago. I welcome your contribution. If you want to start a page for your town, I can help you with that.

After seeing the photos of the wacky bike parking situation at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods on Ding Ding Let’s Ride, I had to take a trip there myself!

By my count, I find that with 3 wave racks (of 2 sizes) and 3 grill racks, there are 27 bike parking spaces. You can debate me and possibly find 4 more.

Surely you can fit more, just like you can fit 4 bikes on a 2-space Chicago u-rack.However, the racks are installed so closer together to make this area quite a pain to find a space. And if you have a long wheelbase cargo bike (bakfiets, Madsen, or Yuba Mundo), GOOD LUCK!

The only space available for a longtail cargo bike like my Yuba Mundo is in a car parking space next to a hybrid Chevy Tahoe illegally parked in a handicapped parking space.

Photo showing too-close placement of the two kinds of racks. Notice that some bikes hang into the curb – it was the only way to use that bike rack. Other spaces might not have been opened when these people arrived.

But officially, for planning purposes, the Chicago Department of Transportation considers that rack as only fitting 2. This area could easily be sheltered. I think it’s something the store should look into. It provides sheltered car parking, which costs proportionally more than sheltered bike racks!

In the future, I expect better from Whole Foods.

For now, Target takes home the cake for providing consistently “good” bike parking. (Great’s the best a store can achieve.) So far, the rating system isn’t fully formed or automated. It’s a work in progress!

Sidenote: Access to Whole Foods via bicycle really sucks. There’s a 5-way intersection controlled by stop signs; then there’s the old railroad track and potholes. It might be better if you come in from the south, but then you have more RR track to deal with.

Photo montage showing how to access Whole Foods from Sheffield by bicycle.

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?

Metra 35th St. station surely won’t win any design awards

UPDATE 04-07-11: The station opened on April 3, 2011. Blair Kamin explains why it doesn’t look as good as originally designed:

It didn’t have to be this way. The Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill came up with a promising design for the station, one that justified the demolition of a Mies-designed brick hut that reportedly served as the entrance to an underground testing facility for explosives during the Cold War.

But then, things went seriously off the rails.

This new Metra commuter/regional rail station at 35th Street and Wentworth/Federal won’t win any design awards. Neither will the Lovana S. “Lou” Jones/Bronzeville Station stand out for having such a generic design.

The station under construction as of October 3, 2010.

Artist’s renderings of the station and street-level plaza, looking northwest. Left photo from Metra’s website and right photo from Singh & Associates’s website.

The amount of visible concrete used in the stairs and ramps construction (one complete set on either side of the tracks) is fitting if you consider the station’s surroundings: a 12-lane highway (the Dan Ryan, I90/94), thousands of surface auto parking spaces to the west (for the White Sox stadium), and an empty lot.

But what if we looked for design inspiration from the east?

Imagine a station shelter modeled after the sound mitigation “tube” over the Illinois Institute of Technology McCormick-Tribune Campus Center a few blocks away at State Street designed by Rem Koolhaas.

Photos above taken by Steven Crane.

Throw in some curves like the Canary Wharf stations on the Jubilee and Docklands Light Railway lines.

Photo of the Canary Wharf Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station by stephenk1977.

Photo of the Canary Wharf Jubilee Underground Line station by Payton Chung.

Companies involved:

Open letter to Blair Kamin about Safeway and Dominick’s

Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic wrote about the new LEED-certified Dominick’s* (Safeway) grocery store in Lincoln Square at Lincoln and Berwyn. This store features copious bike parking of a decent quality and design (see photo below).

In February 2009, I wrote a letter to the General Manager at their 3145 S Ashland store (read my letter). Someone at the company promptly made a request to the City of Chicago in March 2009 for a bike rack. The request was denied because the store is too far away from the nearest public right-of-way.

The following is my letter to Blair Kamin, John Hilkevitch (Tribune transportation writer), and the CEO of Safeway, Steve Burd.

Dear Blair,

I would like your help in getting better accommodations for bike riders at a local Dominick’s.

I read your article about the new, LEED-certified Dominick’s in Lincoln Square with copious bike parking available. (This should help with the potential auto parking issues you identified by encouraging people to bike to the store.)

The Dominick’s nearest me, at 3145 S Ashland, underwent major renovation in 2008 and 2009. People who ride their bicycles to the store (myself included) locked them to the shopping cart guard rails that were removed during renovation.

Bike parking was not included in this renovation.

LEED certification shouldn’t be the only impetus for installing bike parking. Currently it only gains the development 1 point and more than 40 are needed (more for Bronze, Gold, Silver, or Platinum). Installing bike parking should be an economic decision.

A single bike rack (holding two bikes) will cost less than $300 and require no maintenance for at least 5 years (some bike racks installed by the City are over 10 years old and look/work fine). A car parking space costs $1,000 per year to maintain.

We currently lock to garbage bins in a sheltered area near the store entrance. I ask that Dominick’s install real bike parking here in 2010. If they do, I’ll then ask them to work on the bike parking situations at their other stores (like the store at 1340 S Canal).

Thank you for your attention to bicycle infrastructure matters in Chicago.

Steven Vance
http://www.stevevance.net

P.S. The Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland also has the unfortunate situation of being in a strip mall far away from any public roads. This precludes the City from installing bike racks; the nearest public space is more than 50 feet away.

Jewel…you’re up next!

The bike parking area at the new Dominick’s grocery store in Lincoln Square. Sure beats locking to a garbage bin at the Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland in Bridgeport. That store underwent renovation in 2008 and 2009.

What bike parking at 3145 S Ashland looks like.

*The store is not yet LEED certified. Blair reports it’s expected to receive a Silver rating.

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