TagUrban Planning

The faces of Midwest urban innovation

From the UPPSA-sponsored Urban Innovation Symposium at University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday, February 4, 2011. See all 22 photos.

Informatics in health care

Dr. Annette L. Valenta
Professor
Biomedical and Health Information Sciences, UIC

Deconstruction and reusing building materials to reduce waste

Elise Zelechowski
Deputy Executive Director
Delta Institute

Let nature handle our waste water systems instead of circumventing it

James Patchett
President and Founder
Conservation Design Forum

Community-driven planning – sometimes you can excuse the City’s input

Marcia Canton Campbell
Director of Center for Resilient Cities in Milwaukee

Break out of the organization chart, let innovation rise from anywhere

Aaron Renn
Urban issues blogger

Mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle’s view on sustainable transportation

Active Transportation Alliance executive director Ron Burke wrote a blog on Friday (January 14, 2011) about his meeting with mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle (the current Chicago City Clerk).

Despite those caveats, he talked about his fondness for bicycling, its importance to the city and how his son is an avid cyclist. He also talked about one of the reasons he opposes the city’s parking meter contract, and has joined a lawsuit to overturn it: It’s because it limits the city’s ability to take away parking spaces for building bike lanes and sidewalks, and slowing traffic. We [Active Trans] share these concerns! [emphasis mine]

This meshes with a report Active Transportation Alliance released in June 2009 but recalled parts of the report five months later. But the message that report gave us remains true today and Miguel del Valle is repeating it. Margo O’Hare wrote announcing the report:

This limits any potential projects that use streets with metered spaces: bus rapid transit, bicycle lanes, street festivals, sidewalk expansion, streetscaping, pedestrian bulb-outs, loading zones, rush hour parking control, mid-block crossing, and temporary open spaces. The City’s ability to use streets in fresh, people-centric ways is now dictated, controlled and limited by the arrangements and penalties within the parking meters lease.

In November 2009, the Chicago Reader reported how the Active Transportation Alliance was going to release a new version of the report. Mick Dumke wrote:

Yet Monday night the Active Transportation Alliance inducted Mayor Daley into its “hall of fame,” and the group will soon release a new version of the report—screened beforehand by city officials—that will recant many of the criticisms it made in June.

Said Rob Sadowsky, “On behalf of the Active Transportation Alliance, I would like to simply state that we should not have published this report. I am embarrassed that it not only contains factual errors, but that it also paints an incorrect interpretation of the lease’s overall goals.” Regardless of any errors or misinterpretations, the original report’s essence will prove to be correct and foretelling: The City lost control over its own streets, the most basic and widely used element of neighborhoods and our  transportation system.

I look forward to voting for a mayoral candidate who opposes Mayor Richard M. Daley’s parking meter “lockout” with Morgan Stanley and other investors.

Along with the parking meter lease came the removal of approximately 30,000 high-quality bike parking spaces.

I’ve written a few times about the mayoral election, including the two forums I’ve been to (one at UIC about the economy and higher education, and the second about public school systems at the Chicago Teachers Union).

ThinkBike – The opening ceremony

Cross-posted to Amsterdamize.

The Netherlands seems to have it all when it comes to people riding bikes: safety, facilities, normality, sensibility. But I’ve already written about that (and here, too), and since you’re reading this on Amsterdamized, you would have seen that in the 1,000+ photos Marc has published on Amsterdamize. The Netherlands hasn’t always had expertise about making it safe and easy for people of all ages to ride bikes. There was a period of time when bike use declined dramatically as the popularity of driving rose. In the three decades since the central and civic governments started acting to change this scenario, the country has learned a lot about what works.

Hans Voerknecht’s presentation shows bicycle use dropping (red line) from 1960-1975 and rising from 1975 to now.

The City of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan promotes two goals that echo the sentiments of almost all North American cities and the Netherlands:

  1. Increase the number of people riding bikes
  2. Decrease the number of injuries and fatalities.

People riding home from work on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Before stopping in Chicago, ThinkBike paid a visit to Toronto, Canada.

Regardless of what the press release claims as the role of the ThinkBike workshop, it seems to me an opportunity for the Netherlands government to share its expertise on achieving these goals (and possibly drum up some business or economic partnerships for the country). For more on bicycling conditions in the Netherlands, I urge you to read John Pucher’s excellent paper, “Making Cycling Irresistible” (PDF). The country’s four representatives (think tank, private consultancy, and municipal planning) also want to promote imaginative and innovative solutions for Chicago bicycling.

This post is about the “opening ceremony” on Thursday morning, which was open to the public. I took great notes during this part!

Previous write ups on ThinkBike from friends:

Before the four representatives got up to speak, there were introductions:

  • Geoffrey Baer, documentarian and from WTTW channel 11, introduced us to the two-day workshop. He told attendees that in Chicago there were once 88 bicycle manufacturers (Schwinn was founded here). There was once a mayor that ran on the platform that he was “not the champion cyclist, but the cyclist’s champion.” The mayor-to-be rode his bike 100 miles on the campaign trail.
  • Luann Hamilton*, Deputy Commissioner at Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), talked about how she got into bicycle planning in Chicago that I doubt many people had known. She started at CDOT as a transportation planner. For the first five years of being on the job, there was not a word or mention about bikes. But then she got a “blue note” from the mayor’s office asking about bike racks, specifically in front of the Board of Trade building. Now, many years later, CDOT has installed over 12,000 bike racks, more than any other American city.
  • Hans Heinsbroek, Consul General in Chicago, wanted to ensure everyone knew that the Dutch didn’t invent the bicycle, but a German named Karl Drais who created the velocipede. “The Dutch are merely responsible for putting the bicycle to vast use. [The Netherlands] is the birthplace and utopia of cycling.” More tidbits from Hans. Unflattering to the Dutch, Hans broke the ice by saying, “As you know, Dutch is not a language but a throat disease.” In any case, the Dutch know English very well.

Now it’s time for the Dutch experts to tell us about the good stuff.

Arjen Jaarsma, Balancia

Arjen talked little about bicycling. Instead he talked about eco-cities and sustainability. Because of this, I’ve moved my summary of his presentation to a different post.

Hans Voerknecht

Two parts of the Dutch bicycling philosophy are joy and safety. Hans wants us to think bigger than 1-2% ridership (expressed in portion of workers commuting by bike). The Bike 2015 Plan has a goal of 5%. Currently, Chicago has a 1.15% rate (workers 16 and older riding their bikes to work) according to the 2009 American Community Survey – slightly above the nation’s rate of 1%. In the whole of the Netherlands, the bike to work rate is 27%. We should aim for 10%.

Joy

How does joy fit in? “I’ve been driving. I don’t feel free siting in a cage in a traffic jam.” People of all ages bike in the Netherlands. Girls aged 12-16 cycle 7 kilometers daily! (The United States only tracks cycling rates to work for people 16 and older.) “My father is 83 years old; he’s not allowed to drive but he rides his bike.” [Read more about 8-80 criteria]

Safety

Perceived safety is secondary to joy in the Netherlands. (I would say if not already first priority in America, it should be. We can work on joy simultaneously.) How does one make a situation where riding a bike is perceived as a safe thing to do? (Please comment if you don’t understand these – as a transportation planner, this is firsthand knowledge for me.)

  • There cannot be a large speed difference between adjacent road users.
  • There must be forgiving situations.
  • There must be recognizable infrastructure.
  • There must be a legal system that protects vulnerable users. Drivers are 100% liable for collisions with children on bikes (because children cannot help but to behave unexpectedly and the driver should always be aware of this). For other collisions, drivers are at least 50% liable.
  • There must be continuation of the bikeway through the intersection.
  • Use color!

The bike lane continues through the intersection (denoted by white squares) while intersecting drivers must yield (denoted by shark teeth – the triangles). Photo by Daniel Sparing.

Hans explained the three road types in the country and how bicycle riders are accommodated.

  • Highway – No bikes are allowed here. This is like our interstate system, which has limited and controlled access. Bikes are almost always banned on these roads, but some states, like California, allow people to bike on interstates when no substitute road is available.
  • Distributor – On these roads, there are separated lanes. There are many ways to implement this. In the extreme, bike lanes appear to be American-style off-street trails 20 feet away from the main roadway. Or the bike lane occupies the same roadway as the main lanes but is somehow separated or segregated.
  • Access – These roads have mixed traffic, but people riding bikes always have priority. Think permanent traffic calming or the ultimate “complete street.” This may include the woonerf and the “bicycle street” (car drivers are not allowed to overtake bike riders).

Bike lane adjacent to, but separated from, a distributor road.

A woonerf, or shared space. Many “traffic calming” devices prioritize people on foot and on the bicycle. Photo by Joel Mann.

Hans also talked about transit, but I’ve moved that to the end of this article because the final speaker, Ruud, also talked about transit. Continue reading

Can we use location-based services to make urban planning “rise”?

Facebook launched a feature called Places that allows its users to “check in” to Places and to see where their friends are. People can also see where the most popular venue is at any given time (provided they have friends there).

SeeClickFix has mobile apps (and a website) that enables users (in participating locales) to report issues (like graffiti and potholes) in their neighborhoods.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones overlay the virtual world (of yellow pages and restaurant reviews) on the physical world depending on where you point your phone’s camera.

Is there something (an app, a concept, a teaching) that we can develop that uses these apps or the same technology to raise awareness of “urban planning” in all of our cities’ citizens? Such a scheme would attempt to educate and involve more people into the city’s social, cultural and built environments, the urban fabric (buzzword alert!), as well as the history of their surroundings.

Possible scenarios

1. While riding the train through a neighborhood, the new location-based service that encompasses everything about urban planning might aggregate information relevant to the location and activity. Perhaps the application would display to the user information about the history of this particular elevated train’s construction on this branch as well as pull up information on upcoming schedule changes. Lastly, the transit operator may ask the user to take a survey about this particular trip, looking for information on how the user accessed the station (via bike, walking, car, or bus?).

2. My friend Brandon Souba created a proof-of-concept app called Handshake that tells you about nearby app users with similar interests. But this hardly raises civic or urban awareness. Maybe non-profit organizations who need volunteers could create profiles in Handshake and when you’re near a staff member or the headquarters, your phone alerts you to a possible volunteer opportunity.

3. What are your ideas?

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.

Randy Neufeld’s 10 ideas for bicycling in Chicago

UPDATE: Download the presentation as a PowerPoint or PDF.

This past weekend, David Byrne visited Chicago to speak alongside Luann Hamilton, Jacky Grimshaw, and Randy Neufeld. Randy Neufeld served as the Executive Director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, now the Active Transportation Alliance. He is now a board member of Active Trans and the director of the SRAM Cycling Fund.

At the “Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around: A Special Urban Sustainability Forum with David Byrne,” Randy gives Chicago 10 ideas to make bicycling great. What follows is my paraphrasing of the presentation.

“We need to make the streets more inviting to a broader spectrum.” 8 and 80. The criteria for urban cycling infrastructure should be whether it is suitable for 8 year olds and 80 year olds.

10 Ideas for Bicycling in Chicago from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

  1. Open Streets – “What if Bike The Drive were every weekend?”
  2. Slow Down – 30KPH (under 18 MPH) zone.
  3. Cycle Tracks – The basic bike lane has been widened, parked cars moved to the left, and a buffer has been painted.
  4. Bike Boulevards – Lightly traveleed streets without bike lanes to make it easier to take the side streets across town.
  5. Bike Parking – Chicago is the best with on-street bike racks. Need covered off-street bike parking. Bike parking starts at home. “There’s free public auto parking on the street in front of my house, why not free public bike parking on the street in front of my house?”
  6. New Public Space – Follow New York City’s example. Build a Parklet like in San Francisco.
  7. Wayfinding – Not impressed with Google Maps’ bicycling directions. Active Transportation Alliance Chicagoland Bike Map.
  8. Better Bikes – “In Chicago, one could live without a suspension fork, and fewer than 21 gears. For $370, you’re going to wish they included lights, fenders, a kickstand, and a rack to carry your beach bag. In civilized places, bikes come fully equipped.
  9. Public Bikes – “Maybe you don’t need your own bike.”
  10. Get Going! – Take action, get involved. Take something you’ve seen today and make it happen. Put fenders and a basket on your own bike, and go shopping! [I’m not sure if number 10 is an idea but really the conclusion to encourage people to further inspect ideas 1 through 9.]

Randy used, with my permission, several photos from my Flickr photostream. You can see those again now – perhaps you’ll want to use them in your presentation about bicycling and Chicago!

Bikes and streetcar tracks

UPDATE 12-11-10: Someone recently searched for rubber in tracks and I wanted to provide some additional resources on the topic of protecting people who ride bikes from the dangers of open streetcar tracks. It is possible, in some situations, to fill the track flangeway (where the wheel goes) with rubber that the train depresses as it rolls over but people riding bikes ride over a level surface. Resource one input from people around the world, and two, a column in The Oregonian newspaper of Portland.

UPDATE 12-14-10: BikePortland has a story about an activism and advocacy group (AROW) that will demand better accommodations for bicycling around new streetcar tracks in Portland, Oregon.

UPDATE 08-13-13: Zurich, Switzerland, will be testing a flangeway filler on their tram tracks. I believe this will be the first transit system to test the rubber fill. 

Bicycle riders in Seattle are suing the City of Seattle for not providing enough warnings about streetcar tracks in the South Lake Union neighborhood. They allege the City installed warning signs only after several bike-track crashes.

Photo: A sign on Stewart Street in Seattle, Washington, advises bicycle riders to use EXTREME CAUTION when crossing the streetcar tracks. These signs are coming under question in a lawsuit this week.

Mixing bicycles and transit is one of the most sensible matches of transportation modes. The Federal Transit Administration has been promoting a positive union since at least 1999 (see the booklet they produced). The publication includes case studies and good examples of integration, including a story about how King County Metro (the primary bus operator in Seattle) installed bike racks on its buses in 1993, following the footsteps of Phoenix.

Photo: A resident rides their bike on the street while a Portland Streetcar rolls by.

So how is it now, 17 years later, we’re still deliberating how streetcars, light rails, and bicycles can safely share the road? Why this is a problem:

  • People are getting hurt. Concerns about personal safety demotivate people to ride their bikes.
  • The Federal government is funding many new streetcar projects across the country, including in Tucson, Arizona, two hours south of Phoenix, which has its own light rail system.
  • Bicycle riders have been navigating tram and streetcar tracks in Europe for 100 years. What knowledge can European riders and planners share with us?

Photo: A rubber-filled flangeway in the gap between rail and deck on the Cherry Avenue Bridge in Chicago, Illinois. This bridge serves a 1-car train a few times a week.

Could a rubber-filled flangeway be used on a medium-frequency streetcar line?

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