TagMilwaukee Avenue

Exploring Pace’s locations for mysterious Arterial Rapid Transit bus stations on Milwaukee Avenue

intersection of Touchy and Milwaukee in Niles

This is the semi-urban scene at Touhy and Milwaukee Avenue. The police station is ahead on the right. The water fountain (described below) is behind the bus on the left. There are multi-unit buildings to the left and across the street on the right. Image: Google Streetview

Update, Jan 21, 2015: Pace unveiled their plan for ART and their request to Congress to make the ART plan a project of regional significance to attract more funding.

Pace, the suburban bus operator in Chicagoland, is constructed an Arterial Rapid Transit bus route on Milwaukee Avenue from the Jefferson Park Transit Center in Chicago – a busy intermodal station where Metra and CTA buses and trains stop – to Golf Mill Mall in Niles. Both of these are major transfer hubs.

I’ve never looked into ART bus systems before but it seems to resemble what many call BRT Lite. Pace has minimal information on its website. Daniel Hertz, notable bus transit supporter, pointed me to an RFP [PDF, 10 MB] that describes the location and scope of Pace’s first (of many) ART corridors.

The RFP describes this project as one of 24 corridors outlined in its Vision 2020 document “to provide a regional network of premium transit services”. It appears that premium is relative and that bus riders will have a more comfortable and easier-to-find bus station at which to wait – bus travel time will not change.

I’ll try to paint you a picture of the built environment going north to south at the eight intermediate stops.

Dempster Street, Niles

Milwaukee has six general purpose lanes here and Dempster has six, four of which go under Milwaukee; buildings are set back far from the curb and land uses are low-density and optimized for arriving in a car

Main Street, Niles

Milwaukee has four general purpose lanes and one wide parking lane here; Main is a two-lane street; there is some residential on both streets

Oakton Street, Niles

Milwaukee and Oakton both have four general purpose lanes

Harlem Avenue, Niles

this intersection has decades-old buildings that have limited parking up front and smaller setbacks; there’s a Dunkin Donuts here with a drive-through between the building and the sidewalk (that’s novel but awful)

Touhy Avenue, Niles

This intersection may be the most urban, despite its immense size. Touhy has six lanes here meaning pedestrians must cross 100 feet of pavement in a faded, stamped-asphalt crosswalk; there’s a massive police station building on one corner, a large multi-unit building on another, a strip mall that actually has entrances onto a  sidewalk plaza instead of just in the parking lot behind it (the Subway and Starbucks here even have sidewalk cafés), and a fountain rounding out the junction – I recommend demolishing the fountain in favor of selling the land to a developer who can build more of the multi-unit buildings like the ones behind the fountain while also getting rid of the pointless cul-de-sac

Highland Avenue, Chicago

This is one block south of Devon Avenue, in Norwood Park. There’s a conventional bike lane here but the Chicago Department of Transportation has noted that there just enough cars that reducing the number of general purpose lanes from four to two – part of a road diet that would add buffered or protected bike lanes – but many residents don’t support the project so the alderman has decided against supporting it.

The land use and design is a blend of what came before it and what’s typical in Chicago: old buildings up against the sidewalk, closer-built single-family homes, some multi-unit buildings.

Austin Avenue, Chicago

Like Highland but now seeing fewer surface parking lots.

Central Avenue, Chicago

Like the rest of the junctions we’re still in motordom; four of the six “first in line” motorists seen in Google Streetview are blocking the crosswalk while waiting for the light to turn green.

About the stations

Pace has established a $6 million budget for the station construction. The station platforms will span 40 to 110 feet, a raised platform that’s 12 inches tall, a new shelter, real-time bus tracker*, a common vertical marker, a single bike rack to hold two bicycles, and associated roadway, curb, and drainage improvements.

It’s unfortunate to learn that the RFP mentions that shelters in Chicago may have to be the insufficiently designed kind JCDecaux operates for the city as part of a very long advertising contract.

Pace ART station design

Pace shows a rendering mocking up a typical station design. I’m concerned the handrail at the rear of the bus will preclude using longer buses in the future, but that would be the least of Pace’s worries.

* It appears that Pace will be using NextBus‘s real-time arrival information services (page A-6 of 14); they’re a company founded in 1996 and now owned by Cubic, which operates Ventra.

The City of Chicago should implement filtered permeability immediately at Green Street and Milwaukee Avenue

This is not a bikeable block

The multiple threats to bicyclists, to pedestrians, and to motorists, are pervasive in the depicted scene. There is low visibility for turning motorists which in turn causes them to encroach on the right of way of other street users, including other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

This single image shows everything that is inefficient and dangerous to bicyclists and motorists about the intersection between north-south Green Street and diagonal Milwaukee Avenue in River West. Motorists should be physically blocked from entering or exiting Green Street at this point because of the danger inherent in the current intersection design. The block of Green Street south of Milwaukee Avenue is so insignificant to the driving network that no other design intervention should be implemented.

The situation depicted in this photograph demonstrates why the City should implement filtered permeability and close this entrance of the Green Street/Milwaukee Avenue intersection to motor vehicle movement. While motorists would be barred from entering or exiting Green Street here bicyclists would still have access to Green Street as part of the low-stress bicycling network of which Green Street is a part, between Milwaukee and Van Buren Street in Greektown.

I first wrote about this problematic intersection in June on Streetsblog Chicago and it remains an issue. One of the two motor vehicles ahead is blocking part of the bike lane while the second threatens to enter it. The bus on the left prevents the bicyclist in the bike lane from maneuvering around either vehicle. The photo below shows the situation from a different angle, that of the motorist wanting to turn left.

The vehicle operator on the left – a bus driver, in this case – has stopped the vehicle because they can occupy the intersection with the vehicle, or leave it open. Essentially, the bus driver has stopped to “let” the motorists on Green Street proceed across Milwaukee and further north into Green Street or turn left onto Milwaukee. Their movements would, again, put the bicyclist in danger, and put themselves and other motorists in danger because they are making nearly-blind turns into faster moving traffic.

The threats to the motorist are as limitless as the ones to the bicyclist (although the bicyclist will experience much greater injury if the threat is realized). As the motorist is paying attention to other motor vehicle traffic the bicyclist is coming down this bike lane – yep, I took the photograph – and is additionally obscured by the line of parked cars on the bicyclist’s right, and is in the shadow of the bus and the buildings. It’s like there’s a perfect storm of blind spots.

The quickest way to implement a system of filtered permeability and raise the significance and safety of the Green Street and intersecting Milwaukee Avenue blocks within the low-stress bicycling network would be to install a series of large planter boxes that prevent motorists from entering or exiting Green Street but allow bicyclists to filter through the planters.

And skip any traffic impact study. Not a single parking space will be lost or be made inaccessible with the implementation. A traffic study is not an experiment, but has practically been a foreboding document that has only ever said “things will be different”. (A good plenty of them have also suggested adding multiple $300,000 traffic signals.)

I read on Streetsblog USA recently about Pittsburgh’s new protected bike lanes:

“Instead of asking people to judge the unknown, the city’s leaders built something new and have proceded to let the public vet the idea once it’s already on the ground.”

Chicago maintains a Silver bike-friendly commenting ranking, yet my initial analysis shows that our metrics are below average among other Silver communities after which I’m led to believe we’re undeserving of the medal. Safety is a citizen’s number one concern when considering to use a bicycle for transportation and it will take an expansion of the low-stress bicycling network – currently not a priority – to deserve the current ranking or achieve anything higher.

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

This photograph depicts a nearly identical situation but from the perspective of the motorist on Green Street approaching Milwaukee Avenue. Two bicyclists have taken two routes around the motorist blocking the bike lane with their vehicle.

The Chicago Way: Potholes that definitely no longer exist

311 report for a pothole

Screenshot of the 311 service tracker that tells me that the photograph I submitted contains no image of potholes.

The Chicago Way is as much about the process as it is about the result. This story involves what happens when you can’t provide accurate information about a street inspection in the tracking system that has been built, effectively making a group of potholes disappear.

I submitted a pothole report via the Chicago open 311 system – assigning it service request #13-00420100 – on April 12, 2013 for 1653 N Milwaukee Avenue near Red Hen Bakery and Athletico. Three days later the inspection found no potholes and the request was closed.

The website or the Chicago 311 system seemingly could not provide a better answer. Certainly dismissing the existence of potholes is the wrong response. There’s no hope for the future in this response. Maybe there’s a plan to resurface this block. This could be the opportunity to inform a concerned citizen. Instead, the response told me I’m wrong.

Fast forward to now and the situation has devolved. Potholes have gotten a little bigger and they’ve spread as if the street is diseased. What also sucks is that this problem will probably persist for at least another year from my report (unit April 2015) because the hot asphalt plants are going to shutdown soon.

This reminds me of that Chicago maxim: “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” Or Metra, that the trains would be on time if they didn’t have to stop to pick up passengers.

#TheChicagoWay

Potholes on Milwaukee Avenue - I reported them over a year ago

The potholes as of August 2014.

Updating street life on Milwaukee Avenue

Photo of the new on-street bike parking corral at Revolution Brewing (2323 N Milwaukee Avenue) in Logan Square, less than 10 hours after being installed. 

First, Revolution Brewing now has 20 (or more) new bike parking spaces in what used to hold about two cars. Kudos to that awesome restaurant and brewery for working through the arduous process with the Chicago Department of Transportation and Alderman Moreno (who likely helped with the transfer of the metered car parking spaces). CDOT’s Scott Kubly admitted to having a bad process for businesses who want to install their own bike parking.

Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA had issues after the first round of bike racks we* installed in 2011. We donated the bike racks to the city for them to install at mutually agreeable locations at which they marked the spot for the contractor. We wanted to repeat the process in 2012 and bought the racks but they couldn’t be installed because CDOT, accepting the racks as donations in 2011 said that that wasn’t the right process and couldn’t do it again. So they had to figure out a new process. The racks were manufactured and delivered in 2012 to CDOT but weren’t installed until April 2013. Before the fix came in April 2013, we were going to have to go through the most basic process of buying a permit for each one (for $50) and then pay to have them installed ourselves.

The fix was great for the SSA, and I’m glad CDOT was able to make it happen: they got IDOT to amend the existing bike parking contract to allow the contractor to install non-city-paid-for bike racks. (This was the issue for the 2011 racks.)

Second, I’m proposing that private automobile traffic be banned on Milwaukee Avenue from Paulina Avenue to Damen Avenue. It would be better for the residents, and the businesses, and would encourage more cycling in the neighborhood, as well as surrounding neighborhoods having residents who would bike on Milwaukee Avenue if it was safer (there’s a big dooring and general crash issue). I reference the single, car-free block on Nørrebrogade in Nørrebro, Copenhagen, Denmark. One single block (plus bikeway and pedestrian-way improvements on the other blocks) and car traffic goes down but bus and bike traffic go up.

What Milwaukee Avenue looks like every afternoon. 

What Milwaukee Avenue could look like every afternoon. 

* I volunteer on the transportation committee, since about May 2011.

I found the Milwaukee Avenue peloton this morning

You can spot at least 10 people bicycling southbound on Milwaukee Avenue through Bucktown. 

I work from home and don’t commute downtown like I believe a majority of cycle commuters do. I was bicycling towards the Wicker Park-Bucktown Chamber of Commerce office for an 8:30 AM meeting of the Special Service Area’s transportation committee. We talked about bike racks, street furniture, and the progress of Open Streets. We partnered with Active Transportation Alliance to put that on, September 16, a Sunday and the week after Open Streets on State Street.

Logan Square McDonald’s crash map

This is part of a series of articles on the issue of lifting the pedestrian street designation on a part of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square so that the McDonald’s franchise owner can demolish the building, build a new building, and build a double order point (“tandem”) drive through. Read the first post

At the hearing on December 13, 2011, Alderman Reilly asked if there was evidence of injuries or crashes due to the drive through. No one brought this data to the hearing. I cannot directly attribute the crashes to the existence of the drive through (unless I had the original crash reports), the drive through probably generates traffic that would not be there without the drive through, and it causes people to have to turn across a lane of traffic, either to enter the driveway on Milwaukee, or when exiting the driveway onto Sawyer, or when turning onto Milwaukee from Sawyer. I am looking for studies that research the impacts of drive throughs at fast food restaurants and pharmacies.

37 people were involved in 13 crashes within 100 feet of the center of the McDonald’s driveway from 2007-2010. Seven people were injured, one was a pedestrian. Double the search radius to 200 feet and we see 87 people involved in 35 crashes. Now, four pedestrians and cyclist were injured in addition to the 10 drivers and passengers injured.

Download the data in this map. View a larger map

This was my testimony at the zoning committee hearing (this may not be verbatim, but it’s really close):

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. I work as a consultant and writer on sustainable transportation advocacy and planning projects. The text amendment to modify the pedestrian street designation may negatively impact the continuity and safety in traffic of all modes along Milwaukee Avenue, which happens to be the city’s most popular bike route.

I ask that McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study before this matter is discussed further.

Lynn, a Logan Square neighbor, describes more of what happened at the hearing, as well as the next step at the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Here’s a map of all pedestrian streets in Chicago. View larger map.

Download a KML file of all the pedestrian streets. Download the shapefile of all the pedestrian streets. Thank you to Azad Amir-Ghassemi and Bill Vassilakis for their help in digitizing the table of pedestrian streets in the zoning code.

Update January 10, 2013

Driving danger

Crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation show several crashes along Milwaukee Avenue from 2005 to 2011. If this location hadn’t been removed from the P-Street ordinance, McDonald’s would have been required to install both the drive-thru’s entrance and exit on Sawyer, where there is markedly less traffic than on Milwaukee (or not build them at all). This project has not only allowed a documented hazard to persist (despite the P-Street designation), but perhaps to be worsened.

From 2005-2011, there were 3 bike-automobile crashes and 5 pedestrian-automobile crashes within 200 feet of the drive-thru entrance, which includes the intersection of Sawyer and Milwaukee (where many people will drive back onto Milwaukee from the drive-thru exit). There were 82 car-car crashes in the same period. At a nearby intersection, Milwaukee/Dawson, an intersection with a similar retail makeup and traffic count, shows about half the number of crashes.

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.

Initial intersection crash analysis for Milwaukee Avenue

Slightly upgraded Chicago Crash Browser

This screenshot from the Chicago Crash Browser map shows the location of bike-car collisions at Ogden/Milwaukee, an intersection that exemplifies the yellow trap problem the city hasn’t remedied.

List of the most crash-prone intersections on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Using data from 2007-2009, when reported to the Chicago Police Department. Dooring data not included on the bike crash map. I used QGIS to draw a 50-feet buffer around the point where the intersection center lines meet.

Intersecting street (class 4*) Bike crashes
Chicago Avenue (see Ogden below) 12 (17)
California Avenue 9
Halsted Street & Grand Avenue 7
Damen Avenue & North Avenue 6
Western Avenue 6
Ogden Avenue (see Chicago above) 5 (17)
Ashland Avenue 5
Diversey Avenue 5
Fullerton Avenue 5
Elston Avenue 5
Augusta Boulevard (not class 4) 5

Combine the six-way (with center triangle) intersection of Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago, and you see 17 crashes. Add the 6 just outside the 50-feet buffer and you get 23 crashes. Compare this to the six-way (without center triangle) at Halsted, Milwaukee, Grand, where there’s only 7 crashes.

What about the two intersections causes such a difference in crashes? Let’s look at some data:

Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago Halsted, Milwaukee, Grand
Automobile traffic Approx 58,000 cars per day Approx 50,000 cars per day.
Bicycle traffic Not counted, but probably fewer than 3,100 bikes More than 3,100 bikes per day*
Bus traffic Two bus routes Three bus routes
Intersection style Island; three signal cycles No island; one signal cycle

*Notes

Traffic counts are assumed estimates. Counts are taken on a single day, either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Bike counts at Halsted/Milwaukee/Grand were actually taken on Milwaukee several hundred feet northwest of the intersection so DO NOT include people biking on Halsted or Grand! This means that more than 3,100 people are biking through the intersection each day.

Intersection style tells us which kind of six-way intersection it is. At island styles you’ll find a concrete traffic island separating the three streets. You’ll also find three signal cycles because there are actually three intersections instead of one, making it a 12-way intersection. Also at these intersections you’ll see confusing instructional signage like, “OBEY YOUR SIGNAL ONLY” and “ONCOMING TRAFFIC HAS LONGER GREEN.”

These intersections are more likely to have a “yellow trap” – Ogden/Milwaukee definitely has this problem. The yellow trap occurs at that intersections when northbound, left-turning motorists (from Milwaukee to Ogden) get a red light but they still need to vacate the intersection. Thinking that oncoming traffic has a red light but are just being jerks and blowing the red light (when in fact they still have a green for 5-10 more seconds) they turn and sometimes hit the southbound traffic. The City of Chicago acknowledged this problem, for bicyclists especially, in summer 2013 but as of November 2014 the issue remains.

Here’s a more lengthy description of one of the problems here as well as an extremely simple solution: install a left-turn arrow for northbound Milwaukee Avenue. The entire intersection is within Alderman Burnett’s Ward 27.

Source and method

I can’t yet tell you how I obtained this data or created the map. I’m still working out the specifics in my procedures log. It involved some manual work at the end because in the resulting table that counted the number of crashes per intersection, every intersection was repeated, but the street names were in opposite columns.

Crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Street data from the City of Chicago. Intersection data created with fTools in QGIS. To save time in this initial analysis, I only considered Milwaukee Avenue intersections with streets in the City of Chicago centerline file with a labeled CLASS of 1, 2, or 3.

Measuring gas prices and bicycling trips

From the Chicago Tribune: Gas prices continued to rise Monday, driven higher for nearly two weeks straight by the turmoil in Libya, with analysts expecting prices to keep climbing.

Active Transportation Alliance asks, “How can we make the gas price bubble permanent?” -Essentially the same topic I write about below.

I was thinking ever since I first read in the Chicago newspapers that gas will hit $4 per gallon this year (it already has in the City) that there’s a relationship between the price of gas and the number of people on bicycling or the number of trips people make on their bicycles.

As the price of gas rises, so does the number of people out bicycling on the streets. As the price of gas falls, bicycling declines as well.

Chart from GasBuddy.com showing average gas prices in Chicago for the past 3 years.

The data available to us doesn’t necessarily support this hypothesis, but the data available* is nearly worthless. Gas prices were over $4 per gallon in 2008. That was when Chicago started seeing tons of people on the street on their bicycles. The local Fox News affiliate interviewed Mike Amsden, a city planner at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), about the bike counts (first in five years) in a news segment about the influence of $4.65 and a “major peak, almost 350% in pedal pushers this year.”

Several newspapers published articles about the palpable increase in cycling, including a Time Out issue called “Bike Love” with messenger Jeff Perkins on the cover and interviewing 7 local cyclists inside. All of them published “how to get out and ride”-type articles. But despite the many new riders on the street in 2008, few came back the next year!

This graphic describes my point about gas prices up, bike trips up; gas prices down, bike trips down (but perhaps ending at a rate a little higher than where it started).

2009 came and the gas prices dropped – the modern heyday of Chicago cycling was gone. 2008 saw the highest numbers at 2 of 3 locations also counted in 2003, although the difference in study months makes the comparison suspect. I hope that 2011 is the start of annual and accurate counts of bicycling in Chicago.

But it’s reasonable to expect that some of the new people riding their bikes instead of taking expensive car trips will stick with it the following year, even as gas prices decline. Let’s keep these riders bicycling year after year, encouraging more to stay on the bike path than would normally otherwise with strategies like more urban-appropriate infrastructure (separated and protected bike lanes; secure bike parking at workplaces and train stations; traffic calming/slower traffic) as well as enforcement of laws that protect cyclists.

Let’s concentrate less on the “insane”  numbers of people cycling on Milwaukee Avenue at Ohio Street (3,121 bikes on September 15, 2009) and more on how to raise the number of people cycling on our other streets. Milwaukee Avenue doesn’t need anymore attention (except for its intersections). Getting people off Milwaukee and safely and efficiently onto east-west and north-south routes should be the priority. -Photo shows Halsted/Grand/Milwaukee, just 300 feet southeast of the Ohio count location.

*Available data

The American Community Survey (ACS) 3-year estimate for 2006-2008 tells us that 1.0% of working Chicagoans 16+ took their bikes to work (nevermind the tinny sample size that makes this data near worthless – it’s the only thing we have*). The 3-year estimate before (2005-2007) says 0.9% took their bikes to work. Not much of a peak or increase! For 2007-2009, the data shows 1.1% cycled to work.

Also ignore the fact that the ACS only asks about the mode you spent the most distance on. It does not collect data on multi-mode trips. So if you bike 3 miles to the train and the train is 30 miles to your destination, the ACS would only record “public transportation.”

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