TagTransportation

Too much talking, not enough documenting

I took this photo for several reasons: to show a sidewalk reconstruction project that forces people to walk in the street; to show that people bicycling will advance from where I took this photo to the location across Grand Avenue to get a “head start” on cycling across Halsted Street to Milwaukee Avenue. 

Or doing.

I talk to a lot of people about cycling in Chicago and they’ve good stories to share. Stories about positive experiences they’ve had, about negative experiences, or of problems they’ve seen others encounter. I always encourage people to do something about this experience. My advice almost always involves them documenting it in some way; things like reporting a bike crash to the police, even afterwards, or taking a photo of a major pothole. I might suggest they write down their thoughts to share privately with close friends. Or it might be as simple as calling 311 to report an abandoned bike.*

There are lots of things that we want to change. Keeping track of what they are can help focus energy on making that change happen. (That’s why I carry my camera with me at all times outside my home.) One way I’ve started to document and share is by writing about the good and “needs improvement” parts of Chicago transportation on my new blog, Grid Chicago.

If you cycle in Chicago, I implore you to attend the Streets for Cycling planning meetings – the first one is December 10th – so you can express your concerns and desires. There are one hundred other ways to be involved in supporting a change in Chicago, and I might be able to link you one you’re interested in.

Note: The CTA has started several online efforts to collect feedback from and communicate with customers, but they’ve always collected feedback through their email address, [email protected], where they always respond. These new efforts are Facebook, Budget Ideas, and Twitter.

Let’s do this for bike crashes: I guess I’ll start a bike crash documentation project right now (January 5, 2012). Write up a report and share me a link, or leave a comment on one of these pages:

Another person bicycles across Grand Avenue to get that head start. 

*These are all things I do, but I encourage everyone to think creatively and do what interests them.

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Take a look at Day 7 construction on Kinzie Street

This must be the fastest project ever accomplished by city government – or at least this City’s government. The funding source makes a huge difference: The city is using its own money, using “mini capital project” funding that was budgeted but not yet allocated. If the city was using grant money from the state or federal governments, a four-week turnaround time for a protected bike lane would not be possible.

The pace continues at breakneck speed!

On Tuesday, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews were working on both the eastbound and westbound directions on the west side of the Kinzie Street bridge.

Crews work on the eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge. It does not appear there’s a buffer here (guide lines painted before the stripes aren’t seen).

Painting stripes on eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge.

CDOT workers inspect the stripes at the stop bar and crosswalk at eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street. It appears the stop bar is further from the crosswalk than at most intersections in Chicago.

photo of bike lane

Photo of workers (from StreetPrint?) applying green paint to a bike box and left turn lane on southbound Milwaukee at Desplaines/Kinzie. Photo by Thomas Gonzales.

Collecting the wrong information doesn’t help us plan well

The Illinois Traffic Crash Report (see scan below) has a field in the upper left titled “PEDV” which means “Pedalcyclist or pedestrian visibility.”

The possible entries for this field are the following codes*:

  1. No contrasting clothing
  2. Contrasting clothing
  3. Reflective material
  4. Other light source used

For my crash report, the police officer noted “1 – No contrasting clothing.” I don’t remember what I was wearing that night, so I can’t dispute that. I didn’t have lighting required by state law. I don’t know if the police officer would mark “4 – Other light source used” if I did. I’m not aware of what kind of guidance the report or data dictionary offers the police officer filling out the report; how is “contrasting clothing” defined?

Wearing contrasting clothing is not required by law. Using a headlight while bicycling at “nighttime” is. The light will be more effective than any kind of clothing in increasing the visibility of the bicyclist.

The crash report should note the bicyclist’s compliance with state law, not whether or not their clothing choice may have been a contributing factor in the crash (which the presence of this code on the report implies). I took the photo below last night when I was wearing a black jacket and gray jeans. It doesn’t appear very contrasting – but I was in compliant with state and city laws about lighting at night.

My clothes may blend into the night, by my blinking light surely doesn’t.

Collecting information on lighting law compliance could help cities and police better plan education and enforcement initiatives. It can give us information on crashes that we wouldn’t otherwise have, like how many crashes involved cyclists who didn’t have the required lights. Or where a lot of crashes occur even though a high percentage of cyclists involved there had sufficient lighting.

Illinois cyclists had a big win with the inclusion of doorings in state-provided crash reports. I think the next change should be to record information on compliance with lighting laws. If you need a good light, try this one from Planet Bike.

*This information comes from the “2004-present person codes” data dictionary from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Recap for the June 2011 MBAC meeting

Updated June 15, 2011: Added section on snow removal for the Kinzie Street bike lane. Updated October 16, 2011, to add quotes protected bike lane planning. 

Every three months, staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation and Chicago Bicycle Program come to Room 1103 in City Hall to tell the bicycle community at large what they’re up to – it’s the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council. Other organizations get an opportunity to speak as well (especially Active Transportation Alliance) but a majority of the time is dedicated to the divisions of the Bicycle Program (namely bikeways, bike parking, and education).

Wednesday’s meeting was the only one I’ve been to where I felt that CDOT was doing something new, different, and interesting. And I’ve been to many, all as an employee of CDOT – at least 10 meetings since 2007. A LOT of new information was imparted at this meeting.

Thanks to Jim Limber, you can watch the meetings live. Or watch the recordings: Part 1, Part 2.


Here’s my MBAC recap, originally written for the weekly Chainlink newsletter:

Streets for cycling and protected bike lanes

Ben Gomberg introduced Mark de Lavergne of Sam Schwartz Engineering who will be leading the new Streets for Cycling planning process that will include 3-6 public meetings across the city to talk about future locations of Chicago’s bikeway network. The plan will include a toolbox of ideas and implementations adapted from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The report will be completed by Bike To Work Day 2012.

The first 25 miles of protected bike lane locations has apparently already been assessed and will be done right away, without waiting for the plan to be completed. The starting place for these protected bike lanes is getting people in and out of downtown.

Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg said that the location of 25 miles had already been assessed. Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton said,

We’re being asked to be creative and come up with new information quickly by the new mayor, but we already did some planning before the new mayor. Our starting place: How to get in and out of downtown.

People interested in providing their ideas before the public planning process begins can send them to Mike Amsden. [email protected]

Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign

Adolfo Hernandez from Active Transportation Alliance announced the Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign, to be led by John Lankford (not present). Here’s a paraphrasing of what he said: “There will be a fight early on about bikeways. The people in this room love these things. Businesses to be supportive of this, our local alderman. This isn’t on every alderman’s radar. As cycling advocates, we need to talk to our neighbors, businesses, churches, and schools. As part of the campaign for 100 miles, we are going to meet with people to do some organizing, spreading messages, building support, before the backlash. People are going to be upset, not going to like it.”

Kinzie Street snow removal

When a meeting attendee asked how snow would be dealt with on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton mentioned that new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein built similar lanes in Washington, D.C., where it also snows, and will bring his experience in this to Chicago. 

Poor bicycling conditions on Vincennes

Anne Alt showed in a slideshow and described the reasons why Vincennes Avenue is a great bike route (even if bike lanes were removed and never reinstalled) but it has a lot of problems. She highlighted problems, especially at the train viaduct at 83rd and Parnell. Luann said that CDOT would help Anne identify the responsible railroad as a first step to getting the nearly invisible potholes under the viaduct repaired.

She posted her narratives and photos on The Chainlink.

I took a lot more notes so if you have any questions about something else that was said or wasn’t said, let me know and I’ll update it. I picked these as the most interesting and important parts of the meeting. One more thing: The Bicycle Program officially announced the on-street bike parking in Wicker Park, which I discussed a couple weeks ago.

Gin and I rode on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane together right after the meeting. Notice how wide it is! I’ve said it before: bikes are social. I’d already written over this a few times prior to the meeting, but I wanted to ride with someone else to see that experience. There’s normally not enough room in the bike lanes to ride next to someone, but here there is. I’m very excited about the opportunities this kind of facility opens up.

Chicago catches up to NYC in one 3-day project

What were Mayor Daley and the previous Transportation commissioners waiting for when it came installing modern and then-innovative bikeway facilities?

Why have Rahm Emanuel, Gabe Klein, and the Chicago Bicycle Program installed every modern and previously-innovative bikeway treatment under the sun in just three days? The project’s not over, but a lot has happened since Monday.

On Day 3 of construction of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, CDOT builds (photos from the Bicycle Program’s Flickr photostream):

Bike-only left turn on southbound Milwaukee to Kinzie (perfect)

Through-intersection bike lane using European-style “yield squares” (okay, they’re actually called elephant’s feet)*

Same yield squares (elephant’s feet) at driveways.

Very wide!

New signage telling turning drivers to stop for people walking across the street and riding their bikes.

*I always forget that Chicago created its first through-intersection bike lane at Sheridan and Ardmore, at the north terminus of the Lakefront Trail, to get bicyclists onto the on-street bike lane network.

Stony Island cycle track still on, but conflicting reports

Update June 9, 2011: At Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC), Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton reiterated that the Stony Island project was still on and that the long timeline to complete (2014) will be largely because of design reviews and other considerations required when using state and federal funding. She also mentioned that the Chicago Tribune printed a correction in its Wednesday morning paper

The Chicago Tribune wrote about the Kinzie Street protected bike lane on Monday and may have implied at the end of the article that the Stony Island cycle track project, which has earmarked federal funding through the Illinois Transportation Enhancements Program, was canceled (“dropped from consideration”).

On second read, this probably means it was no longer being considered the location for the city’s first protected bike lane. News reports and interviews with city officials put the completion and opening of this protected bike lane in 2014, at the end of Rahm’s first term.

Conflicting reports

In February, Chicago Tribune transportation reporter John Hilkevitch quoted CDOT spokesperson, Brian Steele, saying, “There is already a lot of bicycling on the route, and we envision the cycle track as being a good connection to Jackson Park, the lakefront and the larger bike network in the city.”

Then yesterday, in June, the same reporter wrote, “But the location, chosen mainly because Stony Island has abundant lane capacity, was dropped from consideration because too few bicyclists use the corridor, officials said.” [NBC Chicago reported the same today alongside their video of today’s press conference.]

How many people ride their bikes on Stony Island? What is CDOT’s criteria for choosing protected bike lane locations?

Still on the drawing board

A person rides their bicycle on what will soon be the buffer between the bike lane and parking lane. Flexible delineators, also known as soft-hit bollards, will demarcate the zones.

Bike box, another first on Kinzie Street

Update June 7, 2011: CDOT and Mayor Emanuel acknowledge the project with a Tuesday morning press conference. Here’s the press release (that doesn’t reveal anything we don’t already know) and photos from the event. NBC Chicago has video from the press conference (2:27).

A bike box is a well-marked area where bicyclists can queue at signalized intersections ahead of cars, a way to get ahead and make bicyclists more visible to drivers. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) installed one Tuesday morning, on Day 2 of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane project (read about Day 1). I asked a CDOT worker if it will be painted green or another color and they replied it would probably would. It appears that the design for the project is still being done while construction proceeds. I expect a section of the next block will be worked on tomorrow.

See a bike box in Portland.

More new information about this project

CDOT was also grinding out pavement markings on Kinzie Street in front of Jewel-Osco, where the CDOT worker explained a left-turn lane would be created for westbound travelers (matching the left-turn lane in the eastbound direction next to the bike box).

The uphill bike lane will not be protected. Chicagoist commenter BlueFairline pointed out a conflict with trucks delivering goods via hose to the Blommer chocolate factory. The truck needs to be curbside. Today confirmed how this would work out.

Lastly, the CDOT worker could not confirm if there will be a bike-only left-turn lane on southbound Milwaukee at Kinzie Street, as I suggested earlier.

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.

Carnage culture needs to change

Updated June 5, 2011, to add new names.

If you ever read the comments under articles about a bicycle crash on a Chicago newspaper website, you’ll find the most hateful and misspelled vitriol about how bikers are horrible people and need to get off the road.

But bicycling poses no threat to public safety. Doing it actually enhances public safety and health. A recent study found that even though bicyclists inhale more pollution than people walking or driving, their lung capacity and health was such that they could “deal with it” better than people walking or driving. And if more people rode bicycles, there’d be fewer on-road injuries.

These are the people who need to get off the road:

Carlos Estrada, 42, of the 3600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, Berwyn, Illinois

A west suburban man was arrested on suspicion of DUI early Wednesday [June 1, 2011] — hours before he was to be sentenced for another DUI and more than 25 years after his license was revoked.

“Mr. Estrada has not had a valid driver’s license since September of 1985 and has been arrested several times in the past for driving while license suspended or revoked,” [Riverside Police Tom Chief] Weitzel said.

Chicago Sun-Times

Sandra Uher, 54, of Elgin, Illinois

A 54-year-old Elgin woman faces a little extra trouble with the law now, after she showed up drunk to her trial for her sixth DUI charge. The judge revoked bail and sent Sandra Uher to Cermak Hospital, part of the Cook County Jail. She could see six to 30 years in prison.

Daily Herald, via Chicagoist

Ryan LeVin, 36

On parole in Illinois, “A ‘millionaire playboy’ who killed two British tourists in Florida [Craig Elford, 39, and Kenneth Watkinson, 48] when his $150,000 Porsche jumped the curb will not go to jail, despite the fact that he fled the scene and lied to police officers about who was behind the wheel during the accident. Instead, he will pay cash restitution to the victims’ family, settling a civil suit on the condition that he not go to prison.”

Ryan LeVin, 36, will spend two years under house arrest in his parents’ oceanside condominium. LeVin initially denied driving the speeding car and pinned the blame on a friend. Illinois will seek to have his parole revoked and sent back to prison.

1st paragraph from Boing Boing, 2nd paragraph from Chicago Tribune

Kazimierz Karasek, 59 of Prospect Heights, Illinois

The driver of a semi truck who injured three dozen commuters when he turned into the path of a Metra train Friday [May 13, 2011] had accumulated more than 50 traffic citations since 1986 but hadn’t lost his license.

None of the infractions, including a 2000 drunken-driving arrest, triggered the suspension of the commercial driver’s license of driver Kazimierz Karasek, who was killed in the fiery wreck in Mount Prospect.

Chicago Tribune – They also have a map of the crash at Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road showing the string of events.

One of Kazimierz Karasek’s citations including driving the wrong way on a divided highway! There are hundreds of other people driving cars and trucks without licenses, on suspended licenses, and without the required insurance. That’s in addition to the hundreds of people who were not required to take driver’s education (in Illinois, people 18 and older are not required to take a formal driver’s education course). I am saying there are many bad drivers and many with poor or no education on how to drive legally and safely.

Yet we continue to let the drivers we know to be terrible at driving continue to drive and harass our cities and citizens. Those who take surface trains are not immune.

A Union Pacific locomotive tows the UP-Northwest Metra train damaged by Kazimierz Karasek’s stupidity, his truck, and its cement slab cargo. Janelle has more crash photos.

Chicagoland is not the only place where we witness this carnage and traffic injustices. Streetsblog NYC today reports that an “unlicensed, speeding, hit-and-run driver who killed an elderly Staten Island couple in 2009 has been sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail.” Nice, right?

Will this couple make it across Western Avenue safely? Photo by Joshua Koonce. In related news, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council will start the public planning process for the Chicago Pedestrian Plan. Find a list of meetings.

P.S.: Who still freaking drives around closed railroad gates?

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