TagRTA

Wayfinding signs at Van Buren Street Metra station are incomplete

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

“B” marks a new bus boarding area near the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station.

The Regional Transportation Authority has spent $2 million to improve wayfinding between CTA, Metra, and Pace train stations and bus stops in a needed effort to connect newbies and long-time residents to their next transfer.

Some of the signs need to show better information, though. The RTA installed signs at the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station at Michigan Avenue that create “bus loading groups,” similar to bus bays at suburban park & rides.

It works like this: you come across the nearest bus stop – I happened upon boarding area B – hoping to find the route you need. Instead, though, that route stops at boarding area A. The sign at boarding area B points you in the direction of A and from where you stand you can see a sign that identifies A.

RTA’s signs have two issues. First, they don’t tell you that boarding area C is across the street – unless you inspect the small map – and instead point you in the direction of A (from B). If you walk in the direction of the arrow from boarding area B you will not run into boarding area C or a sign that tells you where to cross the street in order to access C.

The first issue creates the second problem: by reading and relying upon the sign’s text you can’t know at which boarding area, A or C, you should board a bus route that stops at both boarding areas. (Those who also study the maps on another side of the sign will have better luck.) That’s because the same route operates in both directions and if you’re not familiar with the route, you won’t know which direction takes you towards your destination.

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

Both boarding areas A and C will get you on the 3, 4, J14, and 26, but only the map on the other side tells you which direction they go. Also, while the arrow points in the direction of boarding areas A and C, only the map tells you that A is across the street.

The fix seems an easy one. First, point the arrows on A and B across the street instead of north or south towards B or A, and add an intermediary sign along the walking path that communicates that “boarding area C is across the street.” Then, update the signs to indicate which direction the bus routes are going so that travelers are assured they need to visit C across the street for King Drive buses going towards Bronzeville or A for King Drive buses going toward Streeterville.

The RTA has installed other signage in this program at 95th and Western (CTA & Pace), Joliet Union Station (Metra & Pace), and Davis Station in Evanston (CTA, Metra, & Pace).

“My” new bike racks have appeared at CTA and Metra stations

I received some exciting news last week in the form of a photo a friend posted to Twitter. He took it at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Loyola Red Line station and it features a double deck bike rack from Dero.

Photo by Erik Swedlund.

Erik didn’t know this, but that bike rack was installed there because of a project I worked on at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in 2009. The working title was something like “bike parking RTA ICE grant”. That means an Innovation, Coordination, and Enhancement grant from the Regional Transportation Authority. It was also known as round 2 of transit bike parking. You might know round 1 as the project that put hard-to-use double deck bike racks at four CTA stations: Midway Orange (well used), Sox-35th Red (mostly well used), Damen Blue (not used), and Jefferson Park Blue (mostly well used) – all opened in 2008. Round 1 was paid for by CMAQ funding CDOT received in 2003.

The scope of my involvement was limited to finding stations “at which sheltered, high-capacity bike parking will be used most effectively”. Looking back, that should probably have said, “will be most used”. What does “used most effectively” even mean? The scope did not include deciding what the bike parking area would look like, or how many spaces there would be. That was up to an engineer who was managing the overall grant and project – I just recommended stations.

Summary of my methodology

I developed my own method (after researching the method for round 1 selections, and other methods) to select several train stations geographically distributed around the city where bike parking would be most used. I developed a spreadsheet and inputted the station attributes my method required. The formula then ranked the stations. The outcome I wanted was essentially a number that represented the likelihood of people cycling to that station. I tweaked the formula many times based on what rankings it came up with and whether or not the top ranked stations fit expectations I came up with for a station that would have a lot of people cycling there (access mode data didn’t exist at all for CTA stations, and was old for most Metra stations).

For example, if my formula ranked Pulaski Orange very high, did that station fit the expectations of a station that attracted a lot of CTA passengers to arrive by bicycle?

After coming up with a “top 30” of geographically diverse CTA and Metra stations, my boss and I rented an I-GO car to visit 15 of them to record measurements of physically available space, take photographs, and discuss things like how people might access the station with their bicycles (it wasn’t always clear, and many stations turned out to have sufficient bike parking for the amount of people who cycled there).

To make this project respect geography, and to do it as simply as possible, I divided the stations into north and south categories, separated by Madison Street. Stations in the south category were compared only with fellow south stations. I don’t know if this was an appropriate to consider geographic equity, but I had limited time and resources to develop a method and complete this project. In other words, I did the best I could and I think I did a pretty good job. Hopefully time will tell and I can learn from successes and mistakes with this project. That it’s actually being constructed makes me very happy.

Considering the stations

Lots of u-racks at the 55th-56th-57th Metra station in Hyde Park. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

I recommended that bike racks for the 55th-56th-57th Street station be installed at 57th Street because it has more space than the other entrances. Here’s what else I said about the space:

North side of 57th St, east of station house

This space is very large like Space C, but it’s extremely grungy and dank. The restaurant in the station house is currently storing its garbage bins here. The space receives natural light all day because of a gap in the viaduct. There’s an attendant at this station house on weekdays from 6 AM to 2:30 PM, but this person has NO view of the space. 57th St is one-way east of Lake Park Ave, and two-way west of Lake Park Ave.

Sheltered, except for gap in the viaduct roof.

I’m happy to report that the situation has been improved over the description in my “station profile”: the sidewalk concrete was replaced, and the walls and pylons were cleaned and painted white. The restaurant’s garbage bins were moved east in the open air (not under the viaduct). Another change was at Loyola Red Line station: I recommended they be installed in one of two outdoor locations but the bike racks were installed inside the station house.

The other tier 1 locations in my recommendation were Western Orange Line and 95th Red Line (both CTA). Howard Red Line was a tier 2 station (and is built), along with Ravenswood Metra and Logan Square Blue Line. I found out later that the Howard Red Line station also received some double deck racks. Ravenswood station is being completely replaced soon so I understand why that didn’t get any new bike parking as part of this project. I don’t know why Logan Square Blue Line didn’t receive any, if Howard did. It might be that there wasn’t enough money in the $375,000 grant, or that someone has other plans for the CTA station.

A sixth station was part of the project, but not part of my recommendations. The Clybourn Metra station (2001 N Ashland, serving both the UP-North and UP-Northwest lines) was already in planning and design phases and was included in the RTA ICE grant round 2 project to complete the funding arrangement. The bike parking area at Clybourn was to be paid for by Chicago TIF funds; combining the TIF funds with the RTA ICE grant would provide the local match the RTA ICE grant needed (requiring a local match is typical).

See more photos and information on Grid Chicago.

Do people really know the cost of driving?

Billboard over the Kennedy Expressway advertising Metra and that it’s “easy come, easy go”.

Updated 11:50 AM: I was mistaken about the vote timing: the Metra board will vote on the fare increase plan on November 11, 2011, not October 14, 2011.

I’m having a wonderful time reading the minutes from Metra’s September 2011 board meeting. This is when Metra staff made their first fare increase proposals. They made a second proposal at the October board meeting – this is available for public comment. These minutes are not yet available.

Here’s Lynnette Ciavarella, Senior Division Director Capital and Strategic Planning, talking about how Metra is cheaper than driving, in the same discussion she had with the board about how Metra fares have not been keeping up with inflation:

She [Lynnette Ciavarella] concluded that it is well known that commuter rail fares are much lower compared to the cost of driving downtown everyday. In previous meetings, staff has used a Drive Less/ Live More calculator. Staff has modified this calculation to be much more conservative. The drive cost now is calculated at traveling 22 days per month, averaging 25 mpg, at $3.95 per gallon, and an average cost of parking downtown at $18.00. The Metra fares no longer include a parking component, so under this approach, a Metra customer living 20-25 miles from downtown under the estimated proposed fare scenario could potential save over $5,000 per year.

I disagree that it’s well known that taking the train to work downtown is cheaper than driving. It does not advertise this; I don’t believe any Chicago transit agency publicizes this fact.

Metra has cryptic messages on its billboards: “Easy come, easy go” and “The way to really fly” neither describe what Metra is and where it goes nor the benefits of using it. These billboards are often placed on train viaducts over the highway so people driving in traffic jams can see them.

The message they should be sending is right there in the meeting minutes: “Take Metra downtown instead of driving and save $5,000 each year”. Complement that text with a link to a new website that helps interested drivers find a station near their home and a schedule; sign them up for a local parking lot wait list or tell them how to ride their bike to the station on a good route and lock up properly when they arrive.

The Drive Less Live More website, operated by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), has a maps page that links users to CTA station maps, a PDF of an RTA system map, a broken link to a Metra system map, and links only to an Illinois bike map, not the Chicago bike map. This doesn’t make it easy to switch to transit! The Metra homepage does have a “station finder”.

Study: American Public Transportation Association (APTA), March 2011 –  $11,889 annually in Chicago.

Board meeting minutes

Some lessons learned in bike parking placement at train stations

Flickr user Jeramey posted the photo below showing empty bike racks inside the Damen Blue Line station in Wicker Park, Chicago. He took it on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, when the high temperature was 82°F – good riding weather.

He linked to a photo taken in July 2009 showing the full bike racks inside the Sox-35th Red Line station in Bridgeport/Bronzeville. It’s hot in July as well.

Both bike racks were installed in the same project in 2009. Two other stations received high-capacity bike racks: Jefferson Park Blue Line, and Midway Orange Line.

Jeramey’s implied question is, “Why are people using Sox-35th bike racks, but not Damen bike racks?” I have some hypotheses.

Damen Blue Line station bike racks

1.  The number of physical barriers someone with a bicycle must cross to access this space is too high. First there’re the narrow doors to the station house; second is the gate that must be unlocked by the station attendant (but is often found unlocked);third is the stairs; fourth is the high frequency of passengers in the staircase and first landing that the passenger with a bicycle must navigate through.

2. The lack of knowledge about this parking space’s existence. While there are small signs pointing towards these bike racks, they are easily ignored. Additionally, people riding bikes in Chicago tend not to look for signs as bike parking is almost always in view of the final destination (this is one of the rules of successful bike parking).

3. There is often available bike parking outside the station house. If the racks outside are available, those are more convenient. See hypothesis 1.

4. The station is too close to downtown, the destination of a majority of people bicycling to work. Instead of biking to the train station, they ride directly to work without riding the CTA. This map shows where people who bike to work call home and where they work. To test this hypothesis, I think some usage counts should be taken on multiple days per season. Expected results: In colder weather, people would combine modes and ride to the station and then to work. In warmer weather, they would only ride their bicycle.

Sox-35th Red Line station

Now let’s look at the Sox-35th Red Line station bike racks in the same categories.

1. No barriers. The station is newer, has wide doors, no stairs, and a wheelchair turnstile that people with bikes can use.

2. No need for signage or direction. As soon as one enters the station, the bike racks are visible.

3. They’re the only bike racks available. You can’t park securely outside the station house.

4. The route between Sox-35th and the center of Chicago is not as bike friendly as that between Damen and downtown. Milwaukee Avenue offers a direct connection between Damen and downtown, a critical mass of other people bicycling, and bike lanes for a majority of the length. State Street is the most direct to downtown from Sox-35th, but lacks bike facilities (not even a wide outer lane; King Drive has a bike lane but only goes so far as Cermak Road), or other people bicycling.

In future installations of bike parking like these two, we should look at the difficulty of accessing the bike rack as well as considering who will use them and what trips they may take (will people bike past the station to their destination?). Additionally, planners should count the number of bicycles parked at the stations before and after new parking fixtures are installed to better understand how and when it’s used.

Disclaimer: I was involved in 2009 and 2010 in selecting four CTA and Metra stations for the second round of Bike To Transit. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) awarded CDOT a $375,000 grant as part of its Innovation Coordination Enhancement program.

© 2019 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑