Tag: Bicycling

How to bike out to the Fox River Trolley Museum

Visiting the Fox River Trolley Museum is a fun day trip for anyone who likes Chicago train history or trolleys and streetcars generally. The FRTM is free to browse, and rides cost $5 each or pay $8 for unlimited rides (adult prices).

A Chicago Aurora and Elgin interurban electric train
Decades ago, it was possible to ride this Chicago Aurora & Elgin train all the way Batavia, Illinois, from Chicago. The CA&E’s former right of way is now the Illinois Prairie Path, the first rails-to-trails project in the United States.

The museum is not accessible to people with disabilities. It’s open Sundays from May to October and some holidays (check their calendar). The museum has two portable restrooms, but I recommend using the permanent and spacious ones in County Park.

Trip option 1, the short and direct option: Take Metra’s MD-West line to National Street and bike 15 minutes south along the Fox River Trail. The trail passes County Park, where there’s a playground, restrooms, and bike parking. Lock your bike here and walk on the gravel path from the park to the outdoor museum.

Trip option 2a, the really convenient option: Have a friend who loves planning multi-modal bike trips dig into the Metra schedules and send calendar invitations to everyone in the group so there’s great expectations as to when and where the trip starts and ends. Thank you, D.S.!

Trip option 2b, the longer one that incorporates more cycling: Take Metra’s BNSF line to Aurora Transportation Center (ATC). The BNSF line has Metra’s new bike cars on specific runs (check the schedules). This is important because it means you can bike with a larger group of people than before since your group’s size is less subject to capacity constraints for bikes on standard Metra trains – without bike cars – and unpredictable directions from Metra conductors. Additionally, on standard Metra trains, the posted bike capacity may be inaccurate if the conductors have not opened all of the coaches.

This is the bike car on Metra's BNSF line, at the Aurora Transportation Center
This is the bike car on Metra’s BNSF line, at the Aurora Transportation Center.

After disembarking at the ATC, ride to the north side of the center towards the river and use the signalized intersection to cross the high-speed road to the Fox River Trail. From here on out you’ll be following the FRT northward via its off-street and on-street sections. The trail is mostly off-street, so that’s fun, and it’s nice to have so much shade.

You can basically just bike north and follow the FRT signs but you may want to review a trail map ahead of time because it’s often possible to bike on either side of the Fox River and there are advantages to riding on one side over the other in some segments. For example, from downtown Batavia north to Fabyan Villa, I prefer the west side. At Fabyan Villa you’ll have to switch to the east side.

From Aurora, look for FRT direction signs that say “Batavia”, and then “Geneva”, and then “St. Charles”, and finally “South Elgin”. I believe the only option for cycling through downtown St. Charles is on-street, and there are some hills on its FRT street sections so be prepared or look for an alternative route.

This is as good a point as any to mention that you could shorten the bike trip by taking Metra’s UP-West line to Geneva, which is north of Aurora, and heading on downhill streets to the riverfront and crossing the pedestrian bridge underneath the Metra tracks to join the Fox River Trail on the east side to head north.

My two friends and I ate at Flagship on the Fox, an American restaurant and pub with seating indoors, on a covered patio, and outdoors. The Flagship Burger, with onion rings, avocado, bacon, and white cheddar cheese was delicious. Next door is Pollyanna Brewing Company, but which doesn’t sell food.

A lot of the FRT follows the old Aurora, Elgin and Fox River electric railway line! Can you believe that there used to be interurban trains running up and down the Fox River connecting the towns there (which I mentioned above)?

The Aurora, Elgin & Fox River Electric was an interurban offering both freight and passenger service between Yorkville and Carpenter, Illinois. Operations began as early as 1895 and closely followed the Fox River for its entire route. It underwent several mergers and names over its lifetime before eventually becoming 40 miles in length and operating two streetcar services in Aurora and Elgin.

As with most interurbans, the AE&FR was overtaken by buses and the automobile, and passenger service was discontinued in 1935. Freight service continued along portions of the route up until 1972.

AbandonedRails.com

The AE&FR ran on the Fox River’s west bank from Aurora to St. Charles, where it switched to the east bank. On approach to South Elgin, however, and due to a big bend in the Fox River, it kept going straight and found itself on the west bank again.

A bend in the Fox River moves the AE&FR interurban line from the east bank to the west bank again.
The former AE&FR bridge crossing the bend in the Fox River is now part of the Fox River Trail. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

A minute or two after crossing the bend in the Fox River on the former interurban’s bridge, you’ll encounter the southern end of the Fox River Trolley Museum’s demonstration track. Less than 10 minutes later and you’ll be arriving at County Park where I recommend parking your bike.

What’s the timing on this? I don’t know. My friends and I took our time cycling and stopping for photos and eating. The relaxed riding nearly prevented us from being able to ride a trolley. The museum runs a trolley once an hour every hour, and we arrived a few minutes after the most recent trolley left the station. We needed to be in Elgin to ride Metra’s MD-West line back to Chicago at 15:55, and the next full ride would take so long that we would miss that train, and since it’s Sunday, it’s safe to assume that the next Metra train runs two hours later.

The volunteer staff at the museum were sympathetic to our case and created a special charter for just the three of us! The two operators and an apprentice took us on a shortened journey down the line, from Castlemuir (the home station) to a switching yard of sorts halfway down the line. The yard is where trains could be rerouted to a track that joined up with former Illinois Central tracks going east-west.

Our motley crew. Eric captioned this, “NBD just a private excursion along the Fox River in an old North Shore Line car!” Photo taken by one of the qualified train operators.

We rode the former North Shore Line car 715. This car used to run between Chicago and several cities along the North Shore, including Evanston and Willmette (where the Chicago Transit Authority’s Purple Line runs now), Skokie (where the CTA’s Yellow Line runs), and further north to Milwaukee. Check out the North Shore Line’s route map on the Northwestern University Transportation Library’s website.

Former North Shore Line car 715 at the Fox River Trolley Museum

You would have also seen car 715 running around the Chicago elevated loop, and making stops at the existing Belmont and Wilson elevated stations (although both of those have been replaced and tracks re-aligned for slightly faster service).

Once you’re done enjoying the historic trains at the FRTM, get back on the Metra and go home. Check out Elgin’s riverfront if you have to wait, and there are restaurants in downtown Elgin.

Elgin, Illinois, riverfront

Google Maps’s lies are why I made my own bike map

http://goo.gl/maps/BlIZF

Bright green lines indicate trails while darker green lines indicate bike lanes.

Because Google Maps lies about where bike facilities are. Check out the bicycling layer at 16th Street and Wood Street in Pilsen, Chicago, Illinois.

Google Maps bicycling layer legend

Google Maps bicycling layer legend

The bright green lines represent trails, but the ones in this part of Pilsen are not trails. All of the north-south “trails” you see are actually sidewalks underneath railroad viaducts. The east-west trails…well, I’m not sure what they are but they are on elevated railroad property. Don’t go up there.

I created my own bike map to deal with the inaccuracies across Google Maps. I used my local knowledge (“ground truth”) and high-quality bike facility data from the Chicago Department of Transportation.

I also used contributions to OpenStreetMap, mainly for trails. I’ve been correcting and adding new bike lane data to OSM as CDOT installs them. View this area with OpenCycleMap’s tiles, which shows only bike lanes on 18th Street.

If you’re an editor on Google’s Map Maker data editing platform, please correct these errors. I would do it except that Google doesn’t allow others to benefit from my data contributions like OpenStreetMap does, where anyone can give and take. (I also had a negative experience on Map Maker, getting myself into a tiff with an unnamed user who disagreed with my changes, based on a personal visit to the location, that were not visible on the satellite imagery because that location had outdated imagery.)

 

Illinois licenses the dumbest drivers

I took this photo to capture the sign, which I think has design problems. I didn’t know when taking it that it’d help me illustrate this story. The issue is this: From the left lane, one can make a left turn at an obtuse angle or an acute angle, but not two obtuse left turns. The same is true for the right lane: you can make an acute or obtuse right turn, but not two obtuse right turns.

On my ride home from Pequod’s Pizza tonight, I stopped at a red light in the left-most lane (there are two lanes, see photo) at Clybourn Avenue and Belmont Avenue, getting ready to turn left from northwest-bound Clybourn onto westbound Belmont.

A guy in a car behind me peaks his head out the window and asks, “Buddy could you move right a little bit?”

“I’m turning onto Belmont”, I explain, while pointing in the direction of Belmont Avenue and my specific left turn.

“So am I”, he says.

“Then according to that sign [to which I pointed], we’re both in the correct lane!”, I reply. (See photo of the sign.) I don’t remember if he said anything beyond that. I made the left turn, with he behind me, and when he passed me in the left lane (while I was cycling in the right lane) he honked.

Illinois licenses the dumbest drivers.

What is Conversation Cycling?

Mikael Colville-Anderson posted a link to this photo set called Conversation Cycling (his photo above). The concept of Conversation Cycling is simple:

Build a bikeway so two people can cycle side-by-side to have a pleasant chat. 

I want this for Chicago. When you ride with friends, how would you prefer to ride: yelling ahead in our narrow bike lanes or conversing to the side? This is sometimes possible on the Lakefront Trail, but not always: the Lakefront Trail’s maximum width is the same as the standard with for cycle tracks in Europe!

Bike lanes in the United States, when they’re available and not being parked in, are not even wide enough for one person to ride without danger of being doored. It’s not surprising this is the case. In addition to how we prioritize the movement of automobiles and the placement of parking before pedaling, the national minimum width for a bike lane is 4 feet (without gutter), or 5 feet when next to parked cars or with a gutter.

I gathered some hard evidence: My handlebars are 28 inches wide. The door of my roommate’s car is 32 inches wide. 28+32 = 60 inches, or 5 feet. And that’s without a buffer. Essentially, bike lanes as we’ve built them are not compatible with the rest of the street.

Two Department of Revenue workers cycle side by side, meeting the edges of the bike lane, on Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park. Photo by Mike Travis. 

Door zone bike lanes are not unique to any American city. Illustration by Gary Kavanagh. 

A group cycles on Damen Avenue in and out of the bike lane. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

Cycle mapping

A screenshot of Critical Map: Milano. 

What are the sites that will let you either draw or upload a bike route to share with others?

And what are the sites or mobile apps that give you cycle routing?

A screenshot of Bike Share Map: London, UK.

And other bike-related maps?

I’m just simply researching and collecting links to cycling-related map mashups and apps.

Rambling about automobile crash data and cellphone distraction

How often do bicyclists get involved with crashes because of cellphone distraction? See the table below. And how many crashes are caused by the bicyclist being distracted by a cellphone? We won’t and don’t know. 

The Chicago City Council will vote tomorrow on ordinance 02011-7146 to add a new section in Chapter 9 of the Municipal Code of Chicago: “9-52-110 Use of communication devices while operating a bicycle.”

In a Chicago Sun-Times article today, Matthew Tobias, the Chicago Police Department’s deputy chief of Area 3 patrol, reported on the number of citations that the department has issued to drivers in violation of the cellphone ban: “from 2,577 administrative violations in 2008 to 10,920 in 2009 and 19,701 last year” (known as “citations issued” in the table below).

I looked at the crash data to see how many crashes were coded as having been caused by “Distraction – operating an electronic communication device (cell phone, texting, etc)”.

Out of 274,488 recorded crashes in 2008, 2009, and 2010, there were 331 crashes which had a Cause 1 or Cause 2 of “Distraction – operating an electronic communication device (cell phone, texting, etc)”. The table below compares the rates of crashes to the rates of citations issued and the number of crashes that the police noted were caused by cellphone distraction. It also shows the number of these “cellphone distraction” crashes that involved bicyclists and pedestrians.

Year Citations issued Automobile crashes Cellphone distraction crashes % of cellphone distraction crashes Involved with bicyclists? Involved with pedestrians? National VMT (billions)*
2008 2577 111,701 91 0.081 3 10 2973.47
2009 10920 81,982 130 0.159 1 7 2979.39
2010 19701 80,805 110 0.136 6 8 2999.97

Maybe this data shows that the increased enforcement is causing fewer crashes?
However data for cyclists’ involvement in crashes and their cellphone use WON’T BE recorded unless there’s a rule change as the cause is only recorded for the vehicle involved in the crash, and bicycles are devices, not vehicles.

None involved fatalities.

*Yep, that’s 2 thousand billion. Read it like this, 2 trillion 973 billion and 470 million. VMT data from Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Are protected bike lanes going in the right places?

Bike crash map of Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago

Common bike-car crash locations in West Town. The bottom blue circle identifies Ogden/Milwaukee, where there is a yellow trap for northbound, left-turning motorists (from Milwaukee to Ogden) that makes them run into southbound bicyclists who have a green light.

My contribution to a discussion on The Chainlink, Are protected bike lanes going in the right places?

Kelvin, Milwaukee/Ogden/Chicago is the intersection along Milwaukee Avenue with the highest number of bicycle crashes. I created this table and map to show them, using data from 2007-2009.

The blue rings on the map are called, in GIS parlance, “buffers” and are circles used to select things (in this case, bike crashes) within a certain distance of the circle center. In this map I used 50 feet radius buffers (100 feet diameter). While this distance encompasses the intersection from center to all four curbs, it doesn’t encompass the crashes that happened just outside the buffer that were still most likely influenced by the intersection (like drivers’ turning movements).

I am working on a project with three friends to create a better map and “crash browser”. I mentioned it in the last story on Grid Chicago in this post. For this project, we are using 200 feet radius (400 feet diameter) buffers to ensure we encompass the entire intersection and the area in which it still has an effect. This also grabs the bike lane “pinch points”, places where a bike lane doesn’t start until 100-200 feet beyond the intersection.

I am also concerned with the strategy and approach CDOT is using to choose locations. It’s not transparent; at MBAC, CDOT said they were choosing locations “without controversy and that could be implemented quickly”.

Read more about Kinzie Street, Chicago’s first protected bike lane, and my other thoughts on protected bike lanes