TagGabe Klein

The rate of change on city streets: USA versus the Netherlands

ThinkBike 2013

One of the people in this photo is Dutch. We’re on the Dearborn bike route installed downtown in 2012. The next downtown protected bike route was installed in 2015 serving a different area. However, the Dearborn bike route has become so popular that it’s size and design (t’s a narrow, two-way lane) are insufficient for the demand (who knew that bicycling in a city center would be so high in demand, especially on a protected course?) and there are no plans to build a complementary facility to improve the conditions.

My friend Mark wrote the following paragraph on his blog, BICYCLE DUTCH, relating the need to change a city and its streets to the way families change the contents of essential parts of their homes. In other words, cities and streets are like our living rooms and they must also change as we change.

Think about your living room, chances are you change it completely every 15 to 20 years. Because you need a wider sofa for the expanding family, or because you rightfully think that table has had its best years. Maybe the extra big seat for granddad is sadly not needed anymore. Of course, things can’t always be perfect: you have a budget to consider and it is not so easy to change the walls. Replacing things does give you the opportunity to correct earlier mistakes and to get the things which are more useful now. While you are at it, you can also match the colours and materials better again. Our cities are not so different from our living rooms. Just as families grow and later decrease in size again when the children leave the house, the modal share of the different types of traffic users changes over the years. These shifting modal shares warrant changes to the street design. So you may need some extra space where it was not necessary before, but if you see less and less of a certain type of traffic, its space can be reallocated to other road users.

What I really want to talk about is the rate of change in the Netherlands. I’ve visited Mark’s home in s’Hertogenbosh (Den Bosch), and we’ve walked around Utrecht.

One thing he told me, which is widely evident, is that the Netherlands is always renewing its streets. Or it has been for decades (maybe since World War II). They update street design standards regularly and streets that no longer meet these designs (or a few generations back) are updated to meet them.

Now, the two changes – updating the standards and updating the streets – don’t happen so gloriously hand in hand. Just like in the United States it takes a couple of years to come up with the right design.

The difference between our two countries is the regularity in updating the designs, and the regularity in updating streets.

I’ll lead with one example in Chicago and ask that you tell me about projects in your city that repair what’s long been a pain in the ass.

An intersection in the Wicker Park neighborhood got modern traffic signals, added crosswalk signals (there had never been any), and a stupid, sometimes dangerous little island removed. One of the four legs didn’t have a marked crosswalk. The state of Illinois chipped in most of the cost of the update – this was known at least four years before the construction actually happened.

When I wrote a blog post about the project for Grid Chicago in 2012, I found a photo from 1959 that showed the intersection in the same configuration. I also wrote in that post that the construction was delayed from 2012 to 2013. Well, it got built in 2014.

Milwaukee & Wood ca. 1959

Intersections like this – with difficult-to-see traffic signals that motorist routinely blow past, missing crosswalks, and curb ramps that aren’t accessible – persist across Chicago in the state they’ve been in for 55 or more years.

The “reconstructed bicycle route” that Mark discusses and illustrates in his blog post is known to have been updated at least once a decade. He wrote, “pictures from 1980, 1998 and 2015 show how one such T-junction was changed several times. The protected intersection went through some stages, but having learned by trial and error, the design we see now is one that fits the present ‘family’ best.”

Three books by well-known city transportation planners have all been published within months of each other. I read and reviewed Sam Schwartz’s “Street Smart”, and I’m reading Janette Sadik-Khan’s “Street Fight“. Gabe Klein’s “Startup City” is the third. All of them advocate for new designs to match the changing attitudes and needs cities have. Actually, the needs of the cities haven’t really changed, but our attitudes and policies – and the politics – around how to update cities has evolved.

I don’t know what can spur all of these seemingly minor (they’re no Belmont Flyover) infrastructural updates. I don’t think a lack of money is to blame. I think a lack of coordination, staffing, and planning ensures that outdated and unsafe designs remain on city streets.

P.S. The Netherlands “renewal” attitude isn’t limited to streets. The Dutch national railway infrastructure company “ProRail” (which is “private” but owned by the government) has been completely replacing all of the primary train stations. The Dutch have been rebuilding dikes and building flood control projects for decades, many under the common name “Delta Works”.

Here’s a photo in Nijmegen where the government was building a new, bypass canal that would ease a shipping route, create a controlled flood area, a new recreation area, but that would also displace homes.

CDOT misses the lesson on open data transparency

Publishing the wrong measurement as a PDF isn’t transparency.

The Chicago Department of Transportation released the first progress report to its Chicago Forward Action Agenda in October, two and a half years after the plan – the first of its kind – was published. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading it and putting off a review. Why? It’s been a difficult to compare the original and update documents. The update is extremely light on specifics and details for the many goals in the Action Agenda, which should have organizational (like record keeping and efficiency improvements) and public impacts (like figuring out which intersections have the most crashes). I’ll publish my in-depth review this week.

Aside from missing specifics and details, the update presents information differently and is missing status updates for the three to five “performance measures” in each chapter. It was difficult to understand CDOT’s reporter progress without holding the original and update side-by-side. I think listing the original action item, the progress symbol, and then a status update would have been an easier way to read the document.

The update measures some action items differently than originally called for, and the way pothole repair was presented, a problem for people bicycling and driving, caught my analytical eye.

CDOT states a pothole-filling performance measure of the percentage, which it desires to be increased, “patched or fixed within 72 hours of being reported” but the average, according to the website Chicago Potholes, which tracks the city’s open data, is 101 days*. The update doesn’t necessarily explain why, writing “the 72 hour goal for filling potholes is not always feasible due to asphalt plant schedules” and nothing related to the performance measure.

As originally written, the only way to note the performance would be to list the percentage of potholes filled within the goal time, at the beginning and in the update. This performance measure has a complementary action item – an online dashboard – which could have provided the answer, but didn’t.

CDOT published that dashboard this summer as a series of six PDF files that update daily and you can hardly call it useful.

Publishing PDF files in the day and age of open government data – popular with President Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel – is unacceptable. Even if they are accessible – meaning you can copy/paste the text – they are poor outlets for data given the nationally-renowned civic innovation changes that Emanuel has succeeded in establishing.

There’s another problem: the dashboard file for pothole tracking doesn’t track the time it takes to close a pothole request, nor the number of pothole requests that are patched within 72 hours. It simply tells the number completed yesterday, the year to date, and the number of unpatched requests. (I’ve posted the pothole-tracking file to Scribd because the dashboard [PDF] doesn’t work in Safari; I also notified city staff to this problem which they acknowledged over three weeks ago.)

The “Chicago Works For You” website reports a different metric, that of the number of requests made each day, distributed by ward.

I discussed the proposed dashboard with former commissioner Gabe Klein over two years ago. He said he wanted to create a dashboard of projects “we’re working on that’s updated once a week.” Given Klein’s high professional accessibility to myself, John Greenfield and other reporters, I’ll give him and CDOT a pass for not doing this. But Klein also said, “I’m really big on transparency and good communication. When I left [Washington,] D.C. our [Freedom of Information Act Requests] were dramatically lowered.”

I’ll consider the pothole performance measure and action item “in need of major progress.”

* For stats geeks, the median is 86 and standard deviation is ±84.

#protip: Businesses must tell their customers that a Divvy station is out front

I bet you want a Divvy station in front of your business. 

Gabe Klein, commissioner of transportation in Chicago, said on WBEZ on Monday that (paraphrased) “business owners are calling us to say ‘we’d like to buy a Divvy station to put in front of our restaurant’“.

Excellent.

Regarding my headline, I’m talking about telling customers on websites that, in addition to “where to park” and “which highway to take to access our location”, the website needs to give more diverse transportation directions. It should say how to get here by bike, and where the nearest Divvy station is.

When I worked at CDOT – I left before Klein arrived – I had the responsibility of increasing the number of visitors to the Chicago Bicycle Program’s website. I developed a set of strategies including making the content more searchable, adding more content, diversifying content types (like uploading photos staff took to Flickr), but also by increasing the number of inbound links. To satisfy that strategy I listed organizations where biking should be encouraged, like train stations and museums. I contacted many museums individually and asked them to include “bike here!” text on the webpage that otherwise told people to drive on I-290 and exit some place. I gave them sample text and even mentioned where the nearest city-installed bike racks were.

Several museum websites were updated as a result of this effort, but now I cannot find the evidence on Shedd, Field, or Adler websites.

Heck, forget the web. When your customers call, forget the assumption that most people drive and just start giving them directions as if they’re going to arrive in this order of transportation modes:

  1. Walking
  2. Biking
  3. Transit
  4. Scooting
  5. Running
  6. Taxi
  7. Ride sharing
  8. Pedicab
  9. Driving

Every mode requires different directions because people move about the city differently. Here’s an example: I’m giving directions to someone who’s going to drive from my house in Avondale to our friend’s house in the same neighborhood about five blocks away. I tell them, well turn here and there, and then drive through the alley to cross over this one-way street in the “wrong” direction… and “wait, those are directions on how to bike there. With all the one-way streets in my neighborhood, I honestly don’t know a good way to drive there, so ask Siri.”

Talking about Divvy data with WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift

Audio from 3-4 PM segment. Skip to ~30 minutes in to hear the data portion of the show. 

WBEZ Afternoon Shift host Charlie Meyerson had me on the show Monday to talk with him, Gabe Klein, and some fellows at Data Science for Social Good (DSSG, a University of Chicago-based program) about the trends that Divvy bike sharing data is showing. Here are trends I mentioned or was prepared to mention:

* 31 stations installed since Friday, July 19 (10 days since Monday, July 29), 28 stations installed since I wrote my post on Streetsblog Chicago about 67 memberships per day, so I predict that the daily rate of new annual members has increased.

* Membership enrollment is still concerning to me: From July 22 (when I wrote my post about enrollment rate) to yesterday (Sunday, July 28), membership enrollment rate dropped to 61 memberships per day, even as all these new neighborhood stations emerged. This brings the post-launch average to 66 from 67.

* If you look at Top 10 starting and ending stations, there’s about 90% crossover, meaning the Top 10 starting stations for trips are basically the same as the Top 10 ending stations. There’re slight changes on the weekend, with Lincoln Park (the park) and the Lincoln Park Zoo getting into the Top 10. (See table below.)

* During the week, Union and Ogilvie Metra stations get into the Top 10, and disappear from the Top 10 on the weekend. This may suggest that commuters, not tourists, are making these trips. But people make tourism trips from the suburbs on weekdays as well.

* Trips by member type: 71% are taken by 24 hour pass holders. This is down from 75 to 73, so this means that the share of trips taken by annual member holders is increasing. This is because of two things happening: some people who bought a 24-hour pass to test the system have converted to being an annual member, and others who waited for a station to come to their neighborhood have bought a membership. I’m just hoping that membership enrollment picks up to reach the high rate of installations.

I’m personally interested in the route data. I’m interested in who’s biking where and when. This is information we’ve not collected well in the past. My Streetsblog Chicago partner John Greenfield wrote about other data trends Scott Kubly discussed at last week’s Complete Streets Symposium.

Dock surfing during a Divvy social ride last Thursday. Photo by Jane Healy.

[table id=9 /]

Download this data

Divvy data from May 29 to July 28 (.xls): includes member enrollment, number of trips taken by annual and 24-hour pass holders, and top 10 starting and ending stations.

If you’re looking to contribute your expertise to the “Divvy data project” (okay, such a thing doesn’t really exist), then check out the Divvy Data Document I started after discussing Divvy data at a July OpenGov Hack Night.

This is not an acceptable way for transit operators to deal with slow bus traffic

The bus operator of a 36/Broadway bus drives illegally in the bike and parking lanes on Clark Street between Goethe and Schiller Streets in Old Town on October 30, 2012, at 17:24. I’ve already reported it to the Chicago Transit Authority’s [email protected] email address. Although the run number isn’t visible in the photo, you can see the bus number in my other photo. Couple that with the time and location and you can find the driver.

There are two better ways, but it’s a kind of Catch-22:

  1. Reduce the number of cars on the road by providing fast transit that attracts more passengers who used to drive cars.
  2. Provide fast transit that attracts more passengers who used to drive cars, by reducing the number of cars.

This pisses me off. Driving in the bike lane and parking lane, to bypass automobile traffic congestion, is not how to speed up bus traffic. Gabe Klein talked a lot about CDOT’s partnership with CTA in my interview with him (see below). I kept bugging him in the interview about CDOT can actually speed up CTA. He didn’t say anything that was meaningful or systemic, though. Sure he mentioned the Jeffery Jump and other BRT projects, but how do you speed up 100+ bus lines in the city and get more people on transit? You reduce the number of cars. That’s the only way. Or build more grade separated transit, which is extremely costly.

There are many ways to reduce the number of trips by car. I already told you one, in the Catch 22 above. But you can also improve the bicycling infrastructure. Except it’s useless if it keeps getting driven and parked in.

Vance: What about CDOT’s ability to manage congestion? That greatly affects the CTA’s ability to run buses reliably for over 1 million trips per day. Aside from signal optimization and upgrades around the city, including Transit Signal Priority, the plan doesn’t mention goals to change road congestion (like decreasing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips). Can you address this?

Klein: For one thing, we don’t have full control over the parking meters. In my prior life I was really working with the parking system to upgrade it, and to use that as a congestion pricing mechanism. However, the private entity that manages the parking. They’ve upped the prices, but it’s not dynamic (which I think is optimal) but we’re interested in working witht he company to give a better customer service experience with parkers. Like giving better information. If they knew about the parking and traffic situation downtown, they might use another mode.

Knowledge is power, and there’s way we can get the information out there.

We did have to prioritize what we want to do in two years. We’re a small DOT. We’ve a lot of work on our plate, but we don’t have a lot of resources.
800 people, includes front line workforce. With consultants, it’s over 1,000.

Even though we don’t run CTA, we work seamlessly with them. I feel comfortable doing transit stuff, especially on BRT. We’ve gotten $150,000 from Rockefeller to work on “soft costs”

BRT can help relieve congestion. It moves considerably and it can be an alternative to driving.

Carrot and stick, you see cordon pricing, parking pricing, parking info (seen in Europe).

We’re trying to use a lot of carrot. Give people a lot of options. So the SOV isn’t the default on every trip. I can walk my kid with me to the grocery store and not get run over. It’s about firing a lot of different cylinders.

Part of this interview was published in Grid Chicago in May 2012 about the Chicago Forward Action Agenda.

Chicago’s first protected bike lane to go in on Kinzie Street

Updated June 5, 2011: New information obtained from the alderman’s email newsletter; new design suggestions added based on comments. Please read the discussion in the comments below or the discussion on The Chainlink.

Tony Arnold of WBEZ reported Saturday morning, seemingly based on Alderman Reilly’s latest newsletter (see below for excerpt), that Kinzie Street will be the location of the city’s first protected bike lane.

OLD: He didn’t mention the extents but I bet on the west end it will be at Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street (see photos of this intersection below), where thousands of bicyclists per day come downtown from Milwaukee; on the east end it would be either Wells Street (a one-way, southbound street), which has a treated metal grate bridge and bike lane, or State Street (a two-way street), where the bridge is completely covered in concrete. To Wells Street is 0.53 miles, and to State Street is 0.84 miles, using the measurement tool on Google Maps.

NEW: The extent is from Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street to Wells Street, a distance of 0.53 miles.

I’m excited that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) chose a good location, even though I don’t think this location meets either of my two criteria: that it attract new people to bicycling for everyday trips and that it reduce the number of crashes. It will do both, but only because that is intrinsic of this kind of infrastructure. The kind of bikeway will have more effect on this than the location. People who will use this protected bike lane are already cycling on Kinzie Street and there’re very few crashes here (there were 6 in 2007-2009).

So what makes Kinzie Street in River North a good location?

  • People will be riding and using it from Day 1. It’s a place where people are already riding. After a month, and after a year (heck, after three years), no one will be able to complain of its lack of use. For detractors, this is a main point used to advocate for bikeway removals.
  • There are low barriers to implementation: there’s a very supportive Alderman, the road is wide, and low automobile traffic (this is my observation; there’re no traffic counts recorded on the City’s website).

While I’m sure that CDOT planners and engineers have been working at a furious pace since May 16th to get this new bikeway designed and ready to install, I have a couple suggestions I hope they will consider slipping into the project plan to make it even better:

Intersection design

Problem 1: Improve the intersection at Milwaukee, Desplaines, and Kinzie. Going southbound on Milwaukee at this intersection, you are presented with two lanes. One that is “left turn only” and has a left turn signal, and one wide lane that is for “straight”. But there are three directions to go. One can turn right onto Desplaines, turn left onto Desplaines, or go straight with a slight left into Kinzie. In which lane do you position yourself and which signal do you follow? Actually, which signal to follow is easier because there’s a green right-turn light, and a regular through light. It’s really the lane and positioning that matters.

Possible Solution: This could be made more clear with a bike-only left turn lane (like this one at Milwaukee/Canal/Clinton) with a bike signal head (not sure if a bike-only phase in the signal cycle will be necessary).

Problem 2: Drivers in the right-most northbound lane on Desplaines may try to turn right into Kinzie and this will cause conflicting movements with bicyclists entering Kinzie from Milwaukee.

Possible Solution: Ban right turns on red at this corner (but probably all corners) and enforce the ban.

Slippery bridge

Problem: The bridge over the Chicago River has an open metal grate deck – these are very dangerous for bicycling, especially when wet.

Possible Solution: Treat them. Use concrete infill, non-slip metal plates, or non-slip fiberglass plates.

New route signage

Problem: The signed bike route signage is too late for bicyclists to base their turn decision on. The sign is at the intersection (see photo) and those who want to turn left towards Wells Street will then have to make a box turn instead of being able to make a left turn from the left turn lane.

Possible Solution: Install two signs, one before and one after the railroad viaduct which is north of this intersection along Milwaukee. The signs should say reach Wells Street via the Kinzie Cycle Track and position yourself in the left turn bike lane.

Bridge gap

Problem: The bridge seam on Desplaines at the south end of the intersection is extremely wide and deep. While not part of Kinzie, this problem could be fixed in the same project.

Possible Solution: Without reconstructing the bridge seam, I’m not aware of what can be done.

One more idea

Install a bike box at the intersection at westbound Kinzie at the top of the hill.

Where thousands of bicyclists will probably start their journey on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane.

I took this photo to try to demonstrate the confusion of where to position one’s self at the edge of the intersection if you want to travel “straight” into Kinzie Street (with a slight left). Do you put yourself in the left turn lane, or just to the right of the left turn lane?

This is history in the making – for Chicago only, of course. (These cities already have protected bike lanes.) Keep your eyes peeled for subsequent construction.

Excerpt about the lane from Alderman Reilly’s newsletter

Construction of the Kinzie cycle track is proposed to begin next week, and is expected to be completed by Chicago’s Bike to Work Day on June 17th. The Kinzie cycle track will introduce features that have not been seen to date with Chicago bike lanes, including:

  • flexible posts (delineators) to separate the bike lane from motor vehicle traffic;
  • pavement markings through intersections to indicate cyclist travel;
  • special pavement markings and signage; and
  • parking shifted off curb to provide additional buffer between cyclists and traffic. [It would be nice to know

Is this the sign of things to come for the CTA?

The Mayor of Chicago has considerable influence over the Chicago Transit Authority. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel let Chicagoans know on Tuesday, April 19, 2011, partially how he intends to wield that influence. This post is a look into the recent announcements regarding transit in Chicago.

1. Forrest Claypool “appointed” as CTA president*

During the press conference, Rahm had some choice words and expended a little of his still-growing political capital:

He shares my belief that (the CTA) is our most critical piece of infrastructure. Forrest has the experience to capitalize on the CTA’s strengths and the creative mind to guide its future.

He didn’t mention our roads, highways, or airports. While Mayor Daley may have shirked finding the best funding solutions for the Chicago Transit Authority, saying it’s the state legislature’s responsibility, Rahm and his choice for president staking a bigger role in leading the CTA. Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2011

2. Gabe Klein at CDOT

The Chicago Department of Transportation supports the CTA in many respects. It owns the downtown subways and subway stations. It can renovate or build stations for the CTA. For example, CDOT is currently renovating the Grand/State Red Line station and building the completely new Morgan/Lake Green/Pink Line station. Gabe is a very transit-friendly DOT commissioner. In Washington, D.C., he helped launch a streetcar project to supplement the city’s bus and subway networks.

Robert Thomson, or “Dr. Gridlock” from the Washington Post, defended Klein from a letter writer with a windshield perspective on traveling within the city:

Klein was trying to restore an old balance that would allow everyone to move around more easily. “People think about having to move X number of cars,” he said. “We’ve tried to think about how we’re moving people. . . . We want to provide people with attractive choices.” Washington Post, December 11, 2010 (just days after Gabe announced his resignation)

3. Ray LaHood and the Red Line Extension

Rahm says he’s gung ho about extending the Red Line from 95th to 130th, a project that will cost over $1.2 billion. The plans are waiting for funding. On his campaign website, Rahm expressed his interest in the project: “Rahm will make it a major priority of his administration” and mentioning how he would leverage every available funding opportunity to get it built.

During his visit on Thursday to Chicago, reporters asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about funding this project. As I expected, he offered no clear answer:

LaHood made no commitment to fulfill Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s stated plan to line up federal funding in his first year in office to extend the south branch of the CTA Red Line from its current terminus at 95th Street another 5.5 miles to 130th Street. [LaHood said he] would invite incoming CTA President Forrest Claypool and Gabe Klein, whom Emanuel selected to head the Chicago Department of Transportation, to Washington to lay out their project priorities and present cost estimates for the work. Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2011

Currently, the CTA has not applied for funding for this project so Ray couldn’t provide any different answer.

See all of my 500+ Chicago Transit Authority photos.

*It should be noted that the Transit Act requires the board to choose the president, not the Mayor of Chicago. From (70 ILCS 3605/27) (from Ch. 111 2/3, par. 327): “The Board may appoint an Executive Director [president] who shall be a person of recognized ability and experience in the operation of transportation systems to hold office during the pleasure of the Board. The Executive Director shall have management of the properties and business of the Authority and the employees thereof, subject to the general control of the Board…”

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