Tagpedestrian

Where else is it hard to “be a pedestrian” in Chicago?

I’m researching for an article about the many places in Chicago where pedestrian facilities should be improved. This is not about the lack of pedestrian safety in Chicago, but about deliberate designs that place push buttons or street crossing out of reach for some residents. So far this is what I’ve got.

Jackson Drive to cross Lake Shore Drive. To press the crosswalk signal activation button you have to step in a big mess of mud.

Robinson Street to cross Ashland Avenue. To press the crosswalk signal activation button you have to reach over or through a fence.

Southwest corner of Kinzie Street at Clark Street. There are no ramps at this crosswalk. A short distance west of here on the south side of Kinzie Street there are also stairs to traverse.

Where are there others?

N.B. While the word “pedestrian” is based on the word for “feet” in other languages, a pedestrian is considered anyone who isn’t getting around on a bicycle or automobile and uses the sidewalk. People using wheelchairs are grouped into “pedestrians” along with those who don’t.

TransportationCamp: Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location, Session Two

Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location How can we get it? What can we do with it? How can it not be creepy?
By Eric Fischer.

My summary of the discussion

There are many existing data sources that are published or have APIs that could stand as reasonable proxies for tracking people who are walking, biking, or just ambling around the city – some of this information is given away (via Foursquare) by those who are traveling, and other information is collected in real time (buses and taxis) and after the trip (travel surveys and Flickr photos). I don’t think the group agreed on any good use for this data (knowing where people are in the city right now), nor did the group come up with ways to ensure this collection is not “creepy.”

Eric’s original question involved the location of people bicycling, but the discussion spent more time talking about pedestrians. However, some techniques in tracking and data gathering could be applied to both modes.

See final paragraph for links on “further reading” that I find relevant to this discussion.

Schedule board at TransportationCamp West on Saturday in San Francisco at Public Works SF, 161 Erie Street.

[Ideas and statements are credited where I could keep track of who said what, and if I could see your name badge.]

Eric, starting us off:
We have a lot of information about where motor vehicles (MV) are in cities.
A lot of experience of city is not about being in a MV, though.

How many bikers going through intersection that are NOT getting hurt.
Finding places where people walk and where people’ don’t.

Where do people go on foot and on bikes?
As far as I know this isn’t available

Foursquare has benefits (awards) so people are willing to give the data, but we don’t want another Please Rob Me.

In SF, there are flash mobs, sudden protests, Critical Mass

Data sources:
-buses – boarding and deboarding – you can get a flow map from this. Someone said that Seattle has this data open.
-CTPP (Census Transportation Planning Package)
-city ped count
-Eric: Where people get on/off taxis.

“CycleTracks” – sampling bias, people with iPhones
-70% of handheld devices are feature phones, not smart phones. So there’s another sampling bias.

Opt-in factor
How do you sample?

SF Planning Dept. had a little program or project ask people to plot on a map your three most common walking routes.
What is your favorite street, and where do you not like to walk?

Eric: My collection tool is Flickr. Geotags and timestamps.
flickr.com/walkingsf

Magdalena Palugh: Are there incentives for commuting by bike? There are incentives for people who vanpool.
If there is incentive, I would gladly give up my data.
Michael Schwartz (SFCTA, sp?) What is difference <> SFCTA/MTA?

-If part of this is to get at where the trouble spots are, could you have people contribute where the good/bad parts are? “This overpass really sucks.”

Tom: Can you get peds from aerial images?
-Yes, but there’re too many limitations, like shade, and tree cover. Also, aerial images may be taken at wrong time (for a while the image of Market/Castro was during festival).

Brandon Martin-Anderson: What strategies have you tried so far?
-aerial images
-Flickr/Picasa location
-Street View face blur (a lot false positives)
Anything you plot looks kind of the same.

People like to walk where other people are. For safety reasons. -Good point on real-time basis.
Eric: Not a lobbying group for peds.
Eric: Find interesting places to go.
Richard: We need exposure data.

Paris bike sharing report showed that “Cycling is faster on Wednesdays.”
Europeans more open to sharing their private details – possibly because of stricter regulation on what agencies can do with the collected data. (There was a little disagreement on this, I personally heard the opposite).

Andrew: Can we use something like Xbox Kinect to track these people?

National Bike/Ped Documentation Project – same format
Seattle – 4 different groups that do annual bike counts. UW bike planning studio.

Who pays for this?
-Transportation planners pay for this.
-Private development projects (from contractor).
-Universities, NSF, Google
-Community groups –

Further reading

People

Mike Fleisher – DS Solutions
Andrew – @ondrae – urbanmapping.com

Notes to self

Is Census question about commuting about time or distance of “most traveled” mode?
Splunk – data analysis tool
What is difference <> SFCTA/SFMTA?

Free online GIS tools: An introduction to GeoCommons

Read my tutorial on how I created the pedestrian map with GeoCommons. Read on for an introduction to GeoCommons and online GIS tools.

GeoCommons, like Google My Maps and Earth, is part of the “poor man’s GIS package.” It’s another tool that provides (few) of the functions that desktop GIS software offers. But it excels at making simple and somewhat complex maps.

I first used GeoCommons over a year ago. I started using it because it would convert whatever data you uploaded into another format that was probably more useful. I mentioned it in this article about converting files. For example, if you have a KML file, you can upload it and export it as a shapefile for GIS programs, or a CSV file to load into a table editor or spreadsheet application.

After creating the Chicago bike crash maps using Google Fusion Tables, I wanted to try out another map-making web application, one that provided more customization and prettier maps.

I found that web application and created a version of the bike crash maps, with several other data layers, in GeoCommons. I overlaid bike counts and bikeways so you can observe some relationships between each visual dataset. My latest map (screenshot below), created Wednesday, shows pedestrian counts in downtown Chicago overlaid with CTA and downtown Metra stations, as well as the 48 intersections with the most pedestrian collisions (from this UNC study, PDF).

Screenshot of pedestrian count map described above.

How these online GIS tools can be useful to you

I bet there’s a way you can use Google Fusion Tables and GeoCommons for your job or project. They’re extremely simple to use: they can take in data from the spreadsheets you’re already working on and turn them into themed reference maps. With mapping, you can do simple, visual analysis that doesn’t require statistical software or knowledge.

Imagine plotting your client list on a map and grouping them by age to see if perhaps your younger clients tend to live in the same neighborhoods of town, or if they’re more diverse (should you do this, keep the map private, something that you can’t do in GeoCommons – yet).

You may also find it useful if you want to create a route for your salespeople or for visiting church members at their homes. Plot all the addresses on a map, then manually filter them into different groups based on the clusters you see. With Google Fusion Tables, you can easily add a new column with the GROUP information and apply a numbered or lettered group and then re-sort.

Other things you can do in GeoCommons

  • Merge tables with geography – I uploaded two datasets: a table containing census tract IDs and demographic information for Cook County I downloaded from the American FactFinder 2; and a shapefile containing Cook County census tracts boundary information. After merging them, I could download a NEW shapefile that contained both datasets.
  • Make multi-layer maps
  • Symbolize based on frequency/rate
  • Convert data – This is by far the most useful feature. It imports “shapefiles (SHP), comma separated values (CSV), Keyhole Markup Language (KML), and GeoRSS” and exports “Shapefile, CSV, KML, GeoRSS Atom, Spatialite, and JSON” (from the GeoCommons user manual).

Read my tutorial on how I created the pedestrian map with GeoCommons.

3D experimentation to improve pedestrian environment

3D experimentation to improve pedestrian environment from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

The movies aren’t the only place where you’ll see in 3D! Go check out Clark and Deming (about 2540 N Clark Street) in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to see a special pedestrian safety marking on the pavement. They were installed on October 18, 2010.

Designed to increase nighttime visibility

Who’s involved?

  • Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Western Michigan University (WMU)

All three entities are involved in the installation of these optical illusion zig-zag markings.

Between and including years 2005 and 2009, there were at least 2 reports of injuries to people walking and at least 9 reports of collisions involving people riding bikes*. With that data in mind, I’m not sure why this location was selected for a pavement marking whose aim is to improve pedestrian safety. The data do indicate that this intersection has a lot of bicycle-related collisions, much more than I’m seeing for other intersections.

Clark and Deming

Curiously, there are no automobile traffic counts for miles in either direction on Clark Street so one cannot compare the number of collisions at the Clark and Deming intersection with other intersections in town. Out of over 1,200 count locations, Clark Street in Lincoln Park was skipped.

Not really stopping for pedestrians

*Data from the Illinois Department of Transportation Safety Data Mart (which was taken down in 2015 or 2016)

October Chicago roundup

As much as I try to write about national or international news and events, I can’t keep the Chicago in me suppressed.

Pedestrian safety at Grant Park

Award winning Chicago Tribune writer, Blair Kamin, takes up a cause leading to construction (he won a journalism award from ASCE Wednesday night – not his first engineering award). In 2009, after the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago opened, along with Renzo Piano’s bridge over Monroe, people started jaywalking more frequently. Blair pointed out how the bridge made the walk across Monroe too distant and inconvenient (agreed) and how the crest of the small hill on Monroe made it so car drivers (naturally driving fast on a four lane street) would not see pedestrians crossing here. CDOT spokesperson Brian Steele said they would investigate it and come up with some options. Eventually some signs and curb cuts were installed, but that wasn’t good enough.

Jaywalkers, they! Photo taken before pedestrian safety measures installed. By Andrew Ciscel.

Now, Blair reports, CDOT has installed a pedestrian refuge island and push button-activated flashing lights. Even still, it’s not the best. Blair is advocating for a clear and simple sign that says, according to new state law, “Stop for pedestrians.”

Here’s to hoping that Blair will take up some new causes, like bicycling perhaps. I wrote to him asking him to help me with the Dominick’s bike parking issue, but a well-worded email and letter to the CEO solved that. But I support Blair’s continued case for this street, including making this block car-free. It carries 13,500 cars per day, while Jackson Boulevard to the south carries 7,900. I think the surrounding streets can absorb the additional traffic while some of it will just disappear.

Chicago skyline on pause

Medill reports that there are now 2,500 vacant condos and apartments (rental condos) downtown. (Does that seem like a lot to you?) The Chicago Spire is the “big deal” building that’s not going to happen.

All that remains is a very large (and deep) hole. Photo by Duane Rapp.

Getting into real estate

I’m loving Curbed Chicago. It’s all about real estate, but it’s not just about transactions or what’s for sale. They post a lot of good links about neighborhood drama and events, and even link back to Steven can plan.

I’m not a “real estate person” but I didn’t know how exciting it can be. And real estate has EVERYTHING to do with transportation. The existing of buildings and the need to go from one to another causes transportation. A UIC professor told the class, “Nowhere does transportation happen for transportation’s sake.” – Professor Joe DiJohn.

And I’ve been dealing with property owners to arrange for the installation of bike parking. The zoning code requires bike parking at new developments but only when car parking is required. I want to change that.

This one house, facing Lawndale Avenue, seems to be one of the only occupied structures in this stalled subdivision in West Elsdon. Photo by Eric Rogers.

Apple adding Genius Bar capacity to Chicago

Speaking of new developments… The “Apple Store Lincoln Park” opens on Saturday, October 23, 2010, at 10 AM. In the most congested shopping district of Chicago I can think of – it truly sucks to bike on North Avenue through here, but people do it. (North Michigan Avenue is only pedestrian congested – car and bus traffic actually does move most of the time.) There’s no Apple Store parking garage, but I imagine they could have secured the always empty spaces in the parking garage connected to the Borders across the street. Even so, I don’t believe the zoning code would then require bike parking.

Looking east at the Apple Store, with a wall around it, showing the Borders. The often empty parking lot is behind Borders. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz.

I’m hoping that Apple says, “there’s one more thing,” and provides well-designed bike racks (by Jonathan Ive, fingers crossed!) in the new plaza they built between the store and the CTA Red Line station they paid to have renovated.

Non-auto construction projects in Chicago

There are 17 construction projects listed here and none are about automobiles. Additionally, there is information about 2 studies for bus rapid transit-like projects.

Download all of these into Google Earth with this KML file.

A couple of these projects are being held up by the current Illinois roadway construction workers’ strike. UPDATE: Apparently a deal has been reached to end the strike.

Streetscapes

  • Blue Island/Cermak – I wrote about this project at length in October 2009. Construction should begin as soon as the strike is resolved. CONSTRUCTION UPDATE, 10-21-10: Bioswale, or creek, is mostly complete at Benito Juarez Community Academy (BJCA). Plaza with permeable pavers, and sheltered bike parking also complete. Photos here.
  • Congress Parkway – Full details and renderings from CDOT (PDF). Project should begin in 2010 and will narrow lanes, reduce number of lanes, straighten lanes (no more mid-intersection lane shifts), widen sidewalks, and improve crosswalks. Will add a lot of landscaping and unique and decorative lighting.
  • PROPOSED: Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western. Reduce the number of travel lanes from four to three, adding bike lanes and a center turn lane. Project limits include the rebuilt Ravenswood Metra station at 1800 W Lawrence. More details on Center Square Journal. Construction wouldn’t begin until 2011.

Transit

  • Morgan/Lake Green and Pink Line CTA station (new) – Details and renderings from CDOT (PDF) – Overview from Chicago Transit Authority – Tons of bike parking included at the beginning, how it should be. Construction should start this year. To better serve the West Loop area, where more people are moving to, but also has lots of existing businesses.
  • State/Grand Red Line CTA station renovation – Construction should finish this year.
  • 35th/Federal Rock Island Metra station (new) – Construction started in 2010.
  • LaSalle/Congress Intermodal Center – To improve connection between buses and the LaSalle Metra station. Mentioned in the Congress Parkway streetscape presentation (PDF).
  • Wilson Red Line CTA station renovation – Down the street from a new Target store that opens this weekend and hundreds of brand new housing units in the Wilson Yard development. Will use TIF funds from the Wilson Yard district. Overview on CTA Tattler.
  • Ravenswood Metra Station – A popular station on the Union Pacific-North line (to Kenosha). Will add longer and sheltered platform and become accessible. Details with Chicago Square Journal.
  • FLOATING: New Green Line CTA station at 18th or Cermak. Roosevelt station serves three lines. South Loop neighborhood fast growing. The new station would improve transit access to McCormick Place (at least if built at Cermak). Follow the Chicago Journal for more news on this topic.

morgan cta station rendering

Rendering from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing context-sensitive design. See the full presentation (PDF) for architectural influences.

Bridges

  • Halsted Street over North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Replaces 99-year old moveable span with fixed span. No information on how it will accommodate the Halsted Street bike lane. Construction to begin in 2010 (PDF). CDOT project number 74062.
  • Navy Pier Flyover – Elevated section of the Lakefront Trail to bypass current bottleneck where the Lakefront Trail currently enters the Lake Shore Drive bridge over the Chicago River and DuSable park. Details from CDOT presentation on July 15, 2010.
  • PROPOSED: 35th Street pedestrian bridge over Metra/Illinois Central tracks and Lake Shore Drive to lakefront and Lakefront Trail. Bridge will be self-anchored suspension, like the new Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Overview on Burnham Centennial (drawing says 2007).

Rendering of the Navy Pier Flyover as it travels over the Lakepoint Tower condominiums as seen at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Other

  • Various CREATE projects. All CREATE projects involve railroads in some way and most projects will construct grade separations. I’ve written about CREATE.
  • The Chicago Park District opened a new beach at Oakwood/41st Street this year. The grand opening for the beach house happened this past Saturday.
  • The Chicago Park District is currently building a harbor and marina immediately south of the 31st Street beach. The Public Building Commission of Chicago has the details and renderings. AECOM, the architect of record, produced these concept drawings (PDF). It appears how bike riders currently navigate the intersection at the entrance to the beach will change to be a little more normal and not force bike riders on the sidewalk. It’s unclear how many new parking spaces are being created along the lakefront – the fewer the better. The concept plan shows a new parking lot on the west side of the railroad tracks, a design I wholly support.
  • FLOATING: Luann Hamilton mentioned at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June that CDOT was thinking about a buffered bike lane on Wells Street.

31st street harbor concept rendering

Rendering of the 31st Street harbor concept plan. As seen in the contractor’s presentation to the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Related

Although not construction projects, two additional proposals merit your attention. The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority each received grants this month to study and develop two corridors with bus rapid transit-like features. CDOT’s plan is to develop a priority bus lanes for up to seven routes between the Metra stations and Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue (the Miracle Mile). Thank you to Kevin Z for the update.

CTA’s grant money is to fund the development of a speedy bus service from the southeast side to the West Loop via the north-south Jeffrey Avenue.

Witness appeal

In London and Greater London (but not the City of London), when the Metropolitan Police want the public’s help in their investigations of incidents and crimes, including traffic collisions, they erect “Witness Appeal Signs” near the scene.

“We are appealing for witnesses.” Singapore also uses these signs.

It seems in 2009, though, the Metropolitan Police banned the use of the signs except for traffic collisions. Some research indicated that the public perceived that, due to the presence of the signs, crime in the neighborhood was increasing. The Daily Mail article quoted one officer to say:

“They were placed where the crimes actually happened, so were very much targeted at people who might have seen something. Now that source of information has been cut off…”

The signs are placed and designed in such a way to be seen by people walking, biking, and driving near the scene of the incident.

How effective is this small sign posted on a pole compared to a bright Witness Appeal Sign in London?

I suggest that American police departments, Chicago’s included, look into installing similar signs for the most severe traffic collisions, starting with a bilingual “witness appeal sign” for the hit & run crash in Pilsen that killed Martha Gonzalez.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., is where laws and funding decisions are made that affect our daily lives. We would be smart to pay attention to news that comes from here.

Photo by Jonathan Maus of BikePortland.org. “Gary Fisher telling US DOT Sec. Ray LaHood (and I paraphrase), ‘Look at this turnout… look at all these people here supporting bikes!’ “

Yesterday, Ray LaHood (Secretary of the Department of Transportation), fresh from his “tabletop speech” at the National Bike Summit, announced a big change in federal transportation funding and project selection policy.

The United States DOT says in “Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations” that the recommended actions were created based on already existing law and regulations.

I hope this policy change has the authority of your mom telling you not to eat cookies because she made them for a neighbor – and if you do get a couple, you’ll see the consequences in the form of a wooden spoon.

Why should we be “Collecting data on walking and biking trips”? Well, we might get the wooden spoon if we don’t, but “Communities that routinely collect walking and bicycling data are able to track trends and prioritize investments to ensure the success of new facilities.”

The document does remind readers that the Secretary (or more likely, his designee, a project reviewer) “has the authority to withhold approval for projects that would negatively impact pedestrians and bicyclists under certain circumstances.”

Found via Active Transportation Alliance. More photos.

The snow debate: Who should clear sidewalks?

A couple of days ago (I think it was Friday night, December 18, 2009), a storm dumped several feet of snow in the northeast United States, covering New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The storm was so eventful that Metro (Washington, D.C.) stored many of its trains in the subway tunnels to avoid getting them covered in heavy snow, and applied “heater tape” to the third rails to keep them from getting new ice after two passes from plows and deicing trains. [This information comes from the linked Metro press release on December 19, 2009.]

Now Streetsblog NYC is hosting the debate about snow removal from sidewalks. Why doesn’t anyone do it, and who should do it? Images of unplowed sidewalks and pedestrians walking in clean and clear streets bring up issues about priorities in street design and maintenance.

Many municipalities have ordinances requiring the property owner to remove snow from the sidewalk (Chicago even specifies a time frame in which the work must be completed; at my last apartment, I shoveled the snow from the sidewalk and porches for a deduction in rent). Many people report how these laws pass through the winter without enforcement.

My bike waits for me on unplowed sidewalk in front of my school. I live in Chicago, Illinois, not the east coast.

A plow removes snow from a bike lane in Copenhagen, Denmark. Is this something we can bring to our bike lanes and sidewalks in the United States?

Street safety is also a user issue

Street safety is based in part on the right infrastructure design, but also user behavior.

Keep off the tracks. Sometimes a train seems to appear out of nowhere (this seems to be especially true for motorists). I hope Operation Lifesaver is still being taught in schools. I remember someone coming to my school to talk about train safety.

I think trains to many Americans are still a new concept. To best understand what I mean, read the newspaper articles in the two months following any new light rail opening in the United States. There’s a collision every week. Unlike Europe, we ripped out all of our streetcars, light rail, and trams, and we’re still in the beginning stages of returning to rail.

Bicycling and buses: Their large size and unwieldy maneuvering can make it harder to predict movements. Don’t play leapfrog and wait for the bus operator to make the first move (video) – the second move is now yours and safer.

Recognize stop bars, crosswalks, signals. The stop bar isn’t at the bicyclist’s position for a very good reason.

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