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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

How far can a protected bike lane go in the 1st Ward

Now’s the time to start imagining a future Chicago that has a protected bike lane on the busiest and most crash-prone street for bicycling in Chicago. And 1st Ward Alderman, Joe Moreno, seems to have gotten the wheels turning.

This is what a cycle track or protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue between California Avenue and Division Street might look like; the whole stretch is in the 1st Ward. If I had the skills, I would photoshop in some bollards or Jersey barriers making it look similar to this lane in Brooklyn.

Actually, this is what it would look like. Thank you Nate Lynch for creating it. 

The overarching challenge of creating such a facility, which would make bicycling through a bit safer by eliminating most doorings, is dealing with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC (CPM). If you’ve been living out of the country or under a rock, it’s the company owned by a bank or two and leased Chicago’s on-street parking spaces and revenue collection system (the city still gets to collect the fines). CPM essentially owns the space. And if we want to do something with that space, we either have to buy it back through an annual fee or trade them equivalent performing (expectedly) spaces elsewhere that aren’t currently controlled by parking meters.

When asked about this problem on April 20, 2011, at the Boiler Room in Logan Square, Alderman Moreno said, “Fuck, em.” John Greenfield has the full story:

“Six years ago Chicago was ahead of Seville in terms of biking,” says Moreno. “Now Seville has physically separated bike lanes and a bike-sharing system, and they’ve closed down their center city to cars. It’s so easy to bike there, everybody’s doing it: old people on adult tricycles, young men in suits and women in heels.”

“What I meant was, this is 2011. I’ve talked to Rahm Emanuel and he’s on board with moving forward in a bold direction, so I’m not going to stop,” Moreno told [John]. The alderman says he might be willing to swap LAZ’s lost parking spaces for a high-density garage on Milwaukee. “I say to them, if you want to be part of the solution, great. If not, feel free to sue the city.”

Please send your support to Alderman Moreno.

As a first location for a protected bike lane under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 100 days plan, I don’t support choosing Milwaukee. It will take too long to get paint and bollards on the ground here while Grand, Clybourn, or Blue Island Avenues pose fewer barriers.

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…”

It’s official: U.S. DOT takes away Wisconsin’s high-speed rail money

UPDATE 12-13-10: Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic explains that the governors-elect of Wisconsin and Ohio have caused Florida to receive all the necessary funding to build its Tampa to Orlando link, but also which barriers might still stand in the way. Also check out the comments on that page to read about the backlash in Wisconsin and Ohio because of the lost opportunities.

And gives some to Illinois!

Transportation Nation has the press release from the United States Department of Transportation (secretary Ray LaHood) describing who will get $1.195 billion in ARRA funding for high-speed rail projects.

A tinny portion will stay in Wisconsin to support the Hiawatha line, a key route between Milwaukee and Chicago with growing ridership. Illinois began using its ARRA grants to build new track on the Chicago-St. Louis right.

San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, and DOT secretary Ray LaHood, attend the groundbreaking of the Transbay Transit Center, expected to be the peninsula terminus of the California High-Speed Rail network. Read more about the first segment of that project. Photo taken in August 2010.

Who else gets some of that? These states:

California: up to $624 million
Florida: up to $342.3 million
Washington State: up to $161.5 million
Illinois: up to $42.3 million
New York: up to $7.3 million
Maine: up to $3.3 million
Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million
Missouri up to $2.2 million
Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line
Oregon: up to $1.6 million
North Carolina: up to $1.5 million
Iowa: up to $309,080
Indiana: up to $364,980

Invigorating Bridgeport

I recently started a blog called Bridgeport. About three weeks ago.

My intent is to use it as a platform on which to promote local businesses. I didn’t know what to write about it until a journalism student at Columbia College asked me some questions about me and the blog for a class assignment.

A chic Chicagoan rides by Bricks Realty, a local Bridgeport business on Morgan Street.

How long have you lived in Bridgeport and how do you like it?

I’ve lived in Bridgeport for 2.5 years in December 2010. I like it less than I liked living Pilsen because I’m a little further away to where I went to school and where I used to work. I also like the obvious Pilsen identity and numerous taquerias (I’ve documented my visits to 24 taquerias to judge their burritos).

When did you start the blog?

I started the blog on October 6th, but the first entry didn’t appear until the next day. I work in the middle of the night often.

Why did you decide to start blogging about Bridgeport?

I started blogging about Bridgeport because I feel that we have a lot of great local businesses that don’t get the same attention that businesses in the Loop, Lincoln Park, or Wicker Park receive. The level of awareness Chicagoans have for businesses and attractions in Bridgeport seems very low. I think people will come to Bridgeport to enjoy one neat place they read about, and then leave. There are diverse products and services available in Bridgeport – there’s more than just a restaurant known for its brunch and organic food.

What do you blog about?

So far I haven’t blogged about much. I’ve posted a couple events, like a store sale at Blue City Cycles, or an open house at Bubbly Dynamics where the public is invited to meet local craftspeople and see their work. I went to that open house and met all the craftspeople to introduce them to the blog. I plan to feature them in a future entry.

Do you run any other blogs?

I write often in another blog about urban planning and Chicago. It has a silly name, Steven can plan, but once you launch, you don’t really have an opportunity to change the name without confusing readers. (I just counted the words, 70,826 of ’em!)

What is your background in (ie major/job)?

I graduated from UIC with a master’s degree in urban planning this past May. I worked at the Chicago Department of Transportation for almost 3 years ending in September this year. I’m looking for new work, but I also just love blogging and taking photos.

Chicago and Illinois construction updates, October 2010 edition

This post will be updated as I receive more information and shoot more photos. Please contribute your own updates and news.

  • High-speed rail in Illinois – Yes, America is building some “high-speed” rail (for the second time). The first leg of track replacement is from Springfield to Alton (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis). I am really interested in renting a car and driving down here to see it for myself.
  • 31st Street harbor/marina – Originally introduced on my blog in July and again in August. The Chicago Park District is developing a full marina, including a boat ramp and restaurant.
  • Sustainable streetscape in Pilsen – A water feature and bioswale was recently installed at Benito Juarez Community Academy on Cermak Road. I’ve been told it’s especially fantastic during the rain, as the water is collected from the roof, pours down a spout into a small creek.
  • 35th Street Metra station – Originally introduced on my blog in July. The line will help my roommate get to his old neighborhood faster. Oh, it will improve access to the White Sox stadium, hopefully helping to reduce idling and congestion on the Dan Ryan expressway and our neighborhood roads that get backed up during baseball games.

31st Street Beach and harbor construction.

Do you have construction updates for your city or state?

High-speed rail under construction in Illinois

UPDATE: The City of Carlinville Facebook page provides consistent and timely updates on the railroad crossing closures while the Union Pacific track is upgraded. The City posted photos, too.

If you weren’t specifically seeking out information on high-speed rail (HSR) construction, and you weren’t searching for “track renewal train” and other obscure keywords, you wouldn’t actually know about the status of HSR.

But that’s why you follow my blog – I’ll keep you updated.

Right now, crews are working 10 hour days, working 10 days on, and 5 days off* in Carlinville, Plainview (photo), and Alton, Illinois, to remove existing track and wooden ties and replacing them with concrete ties and continuously welded rail (CWR).

The proof is in the videos, taken only four days ago in Carlinville (map) on October 1, 2010. Watch more videos from PSQLead.

The Harsco Track Technologies Track Renewal Train 909 (TRT-909) does the following:

  • Picks up and carries out of the way old rail
  • Removes old wooden ties with a robot arm
  • Digs up ballast
  • Places new concrete ties
  • Drops in new rail and heats it so it can be “continuously welded”
  • Clamps new rail to new ties

What the beast looks like from afar. Photo of Union Pacific’s TRT-909 in Aldine, Texas, by Matthew Holman.

Thankfully Illinois doesn’t have a growing anti-rail political force like Ohio, California, Florida, or Wisconsin. All of these states have Republican candidates running for governor who say they will stop the train in its tracks. Read more about this unfortunate situation in The New York Times.

*This information comes from a secondary source. I hope to get in touch with someone who knows more about the work.

The truth about Wal-Mart’s contribution to the tax roll

I recently wrote about how Wal-Mart plans to expand its reach in Chicago in a big way (30 new stores big). Politicians around the country consistently like to be heard saying how one way the store(s) will benefit the city is the additional tax revenue the city will see from property and sales tax contributions. Here are selected quotes from Chicagoans:

On Tuesday, [Chicago Mayor] Daley noted that a Wal-Mart expansion would pave the way for sales tax windfall for the cash-starved city budget.

In suburban Cook County, about 20 percent to 30 percent of all sales tax revenue comes from Wal-Marts, Daley said.

Chicago Sun-Times, June 15, 2010

“Everyone realizes we need the tax revenue,” [Alderman Anthony] Beale [9th Ward] said.

Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 2010

Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, a pro-union alderman, lamented Wal-Mart’s domination of the nation’s retail market and its tendency to sell foreign-made products, but voted for Pullman Park because of the need for jobs and additional tax revenue.

Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2010

Comparatively, Wal-Mart brings in little property tax revenue on a per acre basis, according to a study from Sarasota County (Florida) and Public Interest Projects and posted by Citiwire. I’ve summarized their findings:

  • Single-family home: $8,200 per acre
  • Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club: $150.00-$200.00 per acre
  • Southgate Mall: $22,000 per acre
  • High-rise mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota: $800,000

That last one’s the kicker! From the Citiwire article, “‘It takes a lot of WalMarts to equal the contribution of that one mixed-use building,’ [Peter] Katz noted.” Read the full story for more examples and for more discussion on how this specific breakdown of costs and benefits is only one way to look at fiscal and retail impact.

If the same tax revenues were true for Chicago or Cook County (and I can’t say it is or isn’t), then the city planners and aldermen should be seeking developers to build high-rise mixed-use projects. Right.

But the issue Chicago and other cities have is that Wal-Mart is one of the most willing developers – they will build where no one else will. They have capital that no one else has. They have the resources to sway the population. It’s more politically difficult to resist such a willing partner like Wal-Mart than it is to seek relationships with developers who have the resources to create more beneficial mixed-use projects in the neighborhoods Wal-Mart seems to prefer.

Wal-Mart moves in, in a big way

Every Chicagoan should know by now that Wal-Mart, who currently only has a single store in the city limits, plans to open about thirty new stores (the City Council approved the construction of a Supercenter in the Pullman community area on the far south side*). Wal-Mart announced they want to open “dozens of new stores” in the next five years in various sizes ranging from 8,000 square feet (think Walgreens) to 20,000 square feet (think Apple Store Michigan Avenue) to the typical 200,000 square feet Supercenter.

This is big news for Chicagoans, and residents of New York City (there are no Wal-Marts in NYC). Not only will they be able to buy Coca-Cola for 20 cents a can, they won’t be able to shop at existing stores – because many of them will close. For now, the Chicago Tribune is keeping tabs on the developing story.

People in Chicago protest a new Wal-Mart. Disclaimer: This photo is from 2005, before the first Chicago Wal-Mart opened in 2006. However, in 2010, prior to the City Council vote, there were rallies protesting and showing support for new Wal-Mart stores. Photo by Andrey Smagin.

While they report on the recorded impacts of incoming Wal-Mart stores on new markets, I hope they answer the questions surrounding the confusion over the alleged negotiations between Wal-Mart executives and Chicago labor unions (representing construction and service employees). The unions say they got Wal-Mart to agree to a minimum wage of $8.75 while Wal-Mart says it’s just a matter of internal policy to adjust wages for the market.

Wal-Mart has funded a possibly influential campaign to get Chicagoans to support their new proposed new stores. Part of the campaign included ads on buses and putting signs and t-shirts on youths in the street, saying “Jobs or else.” If you want a Wal-Mart in Chicago, the company urges you to contact your alderman. Photo by Ira of Being Totally Sweet in Chicago.

So what are those impacts?

Wal-Mart can afford to be bold, and its impact is readily seen. Median sales decrease 40 percent at similar high-volume stores when a Wal-Mart enters the market, 17 percent at supermarkets and about 6 percent at drugstores, according to a study published in June 2009 by researchers at multiple universities and led by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Drugstores like Deerfield-based [Illinois] Walgreens are the least impacted, according to the study, and are generally able to stay afloat by increasing their assortment size.

Supermarkets, the study found, can survive by doing their best to differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart, rather than attempting to compete.

Ideas about marketing and additional discussion of impacts is written on page two of the article. This light investigation from the Tribune comes after a recently released study from the University of Illinois at Chicago (my alma mater). Here’s the synopsis from that study about the sole Chicago Wal-Mart in the Austin (west side) neighborhood:

The study found that stores near Wal-Mart were more likely to go out of business, eliminating the equivalent of about 300 full-time jobs — about as many as Wal-Mart initially added to the area.

Read the full press release on the UIC News site or download the study (PDF).

*UPDATE: Where is the Pullman community area? It’s northwest of Lake Calumet and home to the former Pullman Palace Car Company’s factory and company town (see detailed street map of the Pullman community area). There are four commuter rail stations on the Metra Electric line within walking distance of the new shopping center. The development, called Pullman Park, will be located at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Expressway (I-94). It includes shopping, a school, and housing, among other uses. The CTA #111/111th Street bus will run near Pullman Park.

High-speed rail wrap-up

So let’s recap the week of high-speed rail announcements.

On Wednesday (1/27), President Obama in his State of the Union speech talks about how $8 billion in funding for high-speed intercity passenger rail (HSR) will be a major jobs creator.

Photo: Tri-Rail is a commuter rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. In five years, a high-speed train will whisk travelers between Tampa and Orlando. The hope is that a second link between Orlando and Miami will come afterwards.

The next day, in Tampa, Florida, he announced the winners of the $8 billion dollars of funding. Actually, the White House Press Office “leaked” the press releases the night before.

So what did I do for “high-speed rail week”?

I wrote a few articles and created a couple summaries:

If you want to read some more opinions about this part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (or stimulus), check out these articles I’ve selected:

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