Tag: construction update

Two-flat journal 5: Costs

Updated May 3, 2021, to add more insight from Robinson Meyer (The Atlantic) as to why lumber prices are so high.

My architect and I are still working on plans, slowly but surely. Read my previous entry, Two-flat journal #4, to understand why that seems to be taking awhile.

There is something else on my mind as we work toward the goal of a gut-rehabbed two-flat: How much this whole project is going to cost.

I’ve talked to several contractors, engaged a structural engineer to specify and design the new steel beam in the basement, and obtained quotes for all new windows from four manufacturers.

One contractor happily gave me an estimate, based on incomplete plans, that was about $220,000. That price could go down with more specific plans and instructions, as the estimate had variability based on unknowns, and it doesn’t include the cost of purchasing the windows. More likely, I think the price will go up due to material costs.

How much windows might cost

All window quotes I’ve obtained include installation by the manufacturer’s selected installers, which has a benefit from some companies, mainly that the maker will guarantee the installation for a period of time.

The first floor living room window is currently double hung with a mullion and a tripartite transom window above it (with stained glass, that’s been covered on the inside). This window will become a “Chicago window” with a centered picture window flanked by casement windows.

I would share the quotes with you but I don’t think they would be very helpful at this point because I haven’t evaluated each of the quotes on the quality of the window. For example, one of the window quotes was three times higher than the next highest quote, but the maker guarantees installation for 10 years and is a higher-quality window. But what is the factor of difference in quality, is it three times? And how valuable is a 10-year installation warranty? It’s unlikely I would need to avail that benefit and the three times difference in price means I could replace all of the windows *again* two times for the same price! (Assuming prices didn’t increase between now and that future moment.)

The 15 new windows, according to the four quotes, will cost anywhere from $12,000 to $46,000. I should mention that the highest quote doesn’t include any discounts or special offers, as those will be offered once I re-engage the estimator and ask for one.

Look at windows 1.1 and 1.3, which look like bay windows. These are both Chicago windows, which have a center picture (fixed) window flanked by two operable windows (casement windows, in this case).

There are a couple of opportunities to reduce window costs. I could convert more of the casement windows to be double hung windows (which I don’t want to do as I prefer single hung windows), or I could change the window opening size. A couple of the window openings are taller than most of the window makers have in their standard window design, so an upper transom (fixed) window would be required. However, changing the window opening size may end up shifting costs to a different plan of adding bricks and adjusting walls.

Another way to reduce the window cost would be to use models that are less energy efficient, but I also don’t want to do that. I’ve insisted that every window be Energy Star certified – this is about the only certification standard that I understand, and it’s common across most window makers in the Chicago area. (There are also Passive House and Passivhaus certified windows, and companies that import higher-quality and more efficient windows from European manufacturers, but I haven’t bothered with any of those because I assume the prices will be even higher.)

Lumber and other construction materials

That lumber prices have more than doubled over prices a year ago is well known if you read real estate industry news media, or if you’ve shopped for wood at Menards to build a couple of benches for some nicer outdoor space or installed a new porch.

My gut rehab will require a lot of plywood (to replace the subfloor), “soft lumber” replacement studs, and some replacement joists.

The St. Louis Federal Reserve maintains “FRED”, an amazing website with interactive charts to explore economics statistics, including lumber. The pricing information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and their Producer Price Indexes.

The chart for the plywood price index below shows very stable pricing in fall and winter 2019-2020, and then in May 2020 prices start climbing and the index increased by 100 points to March 2021.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Producer Price Index by Commodity: Lumber and Wood Products: Plywood [WPU083], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/WPU083, April 25, 2021.

BLS has monthly detailed reports so you can find data about more than the products FRED has charts for. Let’s dig in to the March 2021 report (indexes mean that the pricing represents percentage changes based on 100% being the price when the index was established):

  • “Softwood dressed 2-inch lumber, 2 inches in nominal thickness only, not edge worked” (a.k.a. 2×4 studs) (index established June 2012):
    • March 2020: 205.1
    • March 2021: 324.1 (this means that the price has increased by 119% year over year, a more than doubling of price)
  • “Softwood plywood products: rough, sanded, and specialties” (index established December 2011):
    • March 2020: 139.0
    • March 2021: 242.9 (again, this means that the price has increased by 103.9%, doubling the price)

In addition to general demand being much higher, there are other reasons why lumber costs so much more right now, according to Robinson Meyer writing in The Atlantic last week.

Since 2018, a one-two punch of environmental harms worsened by climate change has devastated the lumber industry in Canada, the largest lumber exporter to the United States. A catastrophic and multi-decade outbreak of bark-eating beetles, followed by a series of historic wildfire seasons, have led to lasting economic damage in British Columbia, a crucial lumber-providing province. Americans have, in effect, made a mad dash for lumber at the exact moment Canada is least able to supply it.

[snipped]

“There are people who say, ‘Climate change isn’t affecting me,’” Janice Cooke, a forest-industry veteran and biology professor at the University of Alberta, told me. “But they’re going to go to the hardware store and say, ‘Holy cow, the price of lumber has gone up.’”

[snipped]

It has lost 2.5 billion board feet of annual production capacity since 2019, enough to shift prices in a North American market of 70 billion annual board feet, Jalbert said.

Read Robinson’s full article to see how the bark-eating beetles overwhelmed the forests of British Columbia and the northern forest belt in Canada and why their rampage is fueled by climate change.


The same contractor, when they checked in with me recently, said that the prices of other construction materials had gone up, too.

In the same Producer Price Index report, it looks like wood doors and door frames went up 29.2% from March 2020 to March 2021; metal windows are up 7.1%, double hung wood windows are up 6.8% and wood casement windows are up 5.1%; wood moldings are up 16.9%.

I didn’t see any notable price increases in plumbing materials or kitchen cabinets – all were close to inflation. The PPI doesn’t have vinyl window products, or I don’t know under which category it falls.

The bollards are in – ’nuff said

Update June 15, 2011: The Chicago Bicycle Program has uploaded 22 photos and videos today. Here’s a video of workers painting the bike box at southbound Milwaukee. Also, I’ve been wrong about a bike-friendly bridge treatment on Kinzie – I don’t have evidence to support this assertion. We’ll see what happens.

Protected bike lane? Yep.

It should be 100x more clear now that cars are not allowed here. But I’m sure we’ll still seem some goof in the bike lane at least once in the next few days.

Crews installed the base, getting ready to install the pole.

And the bridge has bollards as well! No more double-driving on the bridge. Now it’s time for the new bike lane bridge deck!

Brandon Souba took the photos. Thank you so much.

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.

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.

Chicago is the First City when it comes to permeable paving

The New York Times wrote on Sunday about the Pilsen pollution fighting bike lanes I’m really gung-ho about. They didn’t provide any new information, failing to even mention their location. But they did publish an excellent 3D graphic showing how it works! (The article’s main focus is how Chicago is predicted to become hotter and wetter, “more like Baton Rouge”, and how city planners, geniuses all, are working on this problem.)

First, here’s a photo of what the bike and parking lanes look like now, both made with a topper created by Italcementi that removes nitrous oxides from the air:

Then take a look at this diagram showing the streetscape design on Blue Island between Wood and Ashland (still under construction).

Hat tip to The Car Whisperer – “Chicago may stop paving streets altogether in ten years”.

Improvements in store for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection

Updated May 2, 2011, with additional comments and concerns.

The City of Chicago plans to make major changes to the intersection of Damen-Elston-Fullerton. They revealed a lot of these changes and invited the public to learn more and make comments on the current proposal at an open house event Wednesday, April 27, 2011, at the Wicker Park-Bucktown library.

What is now actually three, closely-spaced intersections with six legs (two of them skewed), will become three, distantly-spaced intersections at right angles.

Why is this being done?

  • The closely-spaced intersections “encourage poor decision making.”
  • Small radii makes it difficult for trucks to make turns.
  • The island and closely-spaced intersections makes for limited queue capacity which blocks the other legs.
  • There are a lot of crashes, over 400 in a 3-year period. That’s over 7 per week.

So what’s the solution?

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation, and project consultant Benesch came up with 4 alternatives.

  • Enhanced “no build” – no improvements, but modernize signals didn’t address safety or delay. [In infrastructure project planning, there’s always a “no build” alternative to which the other alternatives are compared.]
  • Fullerton tunnel, or underpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same conditions outlined under “why.” Additionally, there are many utilities under the intersection that would all need to be relocated. It would take 3 years to build. For the length of the tunnel, surface traffic on Fullerton could only make right-in, right-out turns.
  • Overpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same dismal conditions. This has the same turn restrictions as the underpass – this and its imposing aesthetics could impact economic development (the presentation didn’t say whether the project designers expected this to be positive or negative).
  • And there’s the “preferred alternative.” It has wider sidewalks, larger turn radii, and “safer bike accommodations.” Delays would improve from up to 7 minutes to under 30 seconds.

Other benefits of the preferred alternative include:

  • Access to properties is preserved.
  • Simpler intersections means fewer conflicting movements.
  • A “new bike lane” (I disagree with calling it new – the project is preserving the existing bike lane, bringing it into the new route of Elston Avenue, or whatever the new street will be called).
  • Supports future economic development by having simpler traffic.

What’s the timeline?

  • 2011 – Finalize phase 1 engineering. Seek approval from IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Start the design process.
  • 2012 – While continuing work on the design, begin acquiring right of way.
  • 2013 – Finish design, and bid out project.
  • 2014 – Award project and begin construction.

The project is estimated to cost $32 million, with funds coming from the TIF Bank, grants from the FHWA, and the City’s own capital improvement funds.

Comment on the design until May 13 by emailing Bridget Stalla, the project manager who works for the City of Chicago. All emails to her about this project will go on the public record.

So what are my comments?

Lack of bike lanes

Currently there’s no striped bike lane for .26 miles on Damen Avenue between where it ends at the I-90/I-94 highway and railroad viaducts to where it ends on the hill to the bridge over the Chicago River.

The project does not add this bike lane, which I feel is much needed for the cyclists who deal with the congestion and tight spaces. I talked to Bridget and Colin Coad, a staffer at Benesch about this. Both admitted that a bike lane in this location was considered. It wasn’t in the current design because Damen Avenue must have two lanes northbound to keep the queue capacity and keep delays down. An animation showed the difference in delays between the existing and proposed intersection configuration. The delay reduction in the new configuration was very noticeable. This doesn’t preclude installing a bike lane.

An attendee asked Ryan Thady, who was explaining the animation, if Benesch had done analysis on a single northbound travel lane south of Fullerton Avenue on Damen Avenue. He answered, “No. If there’s one lane, there’s an increased delay.”

Colin said that a bike lane has always been under consideration and will be again under consideration. Bridget says she realizes there’s a need to reevaluate the bikes on Damen Avenue situation. “We need the two lanes to really make this thing work like it’s supposed to. We will look at extending the bike lane on Damen north of Fullerton [from the bridge approach to the intersection of Damen and Elston].”

I’m confused about “making this thing work like it’s supposed to.” After hearing this, I felt that I don’t know if it’s clear to me what this thing is supposed to do. I thought it was about improving safety and reducing delays. By having a bike lane, bicyclists’ safety will be improved and their delays will also be reduced.

Some bicyclists may be involved in collisions with motor vehicles here because they move against signals. The same is probably true for drivers who get into collisions: frustration and impatience and simply not knowing when you’ll have a turn may lead road users at this intersection to proceed when it’s not safe to do so (and against the signal). The project designers said that this intersection “encourages poor decision making.” With dedicated space, in the form of a bike lane, as well as simpler design and an expectation of when it will be one’s turn to go, bicyclists and drivers alike will better comply with intersection controls.

The plan does nothing to add bike lanes through the Elston or Damen intersections. The Damen bike lane currently ends 700 feet before the intersection. The Elston bike lane ends 400 feet before the intersection. That funny business needs to stop and we need bike lanes in Chicago that go THROUGH intersections, much like you see in New York City (example photo 1 and photo 2.

Complete Streets

My final comment, a quick one, is that the project made no mention of reduced travel times for those who ride the Fullerton or Damen Avenue buses through this intersection. We still have a long ways to go in accommodating, and caring about, our sustainable transportation modes.

Bicycle crashes are also not mentioned in the documentation, while motor vehicle crashes with pedestrians are. There were more crashes with bicyclists than with pedestrians in the 3-year period of 2007-2009 (12 versus 4). Bicycle counts have not yet been taken at this location; they should be conducted as soon as possible.

Complete Streets in Illinois needs to stop being a policy without any teeth and put into regular practice. Enough with just “considering” all transportation modes; we need to “provision” them.

Roundabout

Was a roundabout considered at this location? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Guide to Roundabouts (PDF) lists criteria on where to use roundabouts, including these which describe the intersections in question:

  • Large traffic signal delays
  • Heavy left turning traffic
  • More than four legs or unusual geometry
  • History of crashes involving crossing traffic
  • Traffic growth expected to be high and future traffic patterns uncertain or changeable [because Elston is a diagonal and near shopping, traffic volume will not change]
  • History of right angle crashes [this is true because of the confusing signal phases]

While three roundabouts may not be necessary, one should be considered at least for the Elston-Fullerton intersection, which has the most space available for such a facility.

Curve and wide road of New Elston Avenue

On “New Elston Avenue,” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway. Thank you to A. Lottes for pointing out the curve to me.

Removing the  center island

Some commenters on The Expired Meter have suggested removing the tinny center island (as well as removing the second stop bar and signal every road user passes over) and converting it to a simple six-way intersection like Lincoln-Ashland-Belmont. While doing so may reduce delays or the number of crashes, it would probably fail to do both. I think it should be a considered alternative.

Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection

The plan does not address the westbound queue backups that start at the Fullerton intersection with the I-90/I-94 highway ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp. This intersection is outside the project area but pivotal in its success at reducing delays, at least with the “remaining,” new intersection at Damen.

More information

The end of the presentation said that all exhibit materials would be on the City’s website, but I didn’t find all the poster boards, so here are most of them in my Flickr photoset. I assume they would be posted here.

Photos

A visualization of the crash history (only automobiles and pedestrian types included) at the intersection.

Bird’s eye view of preferred alternative.

Construction update: Pilsen streetscape improvement

The most popular posts on Steven Can Plan are Chicago infrastructure construction updates.

In October 2009 I told you about the Cermak/Blue Island Streetscape project from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The article was called, “Pollution fighting bike lane coming to Pilsen.” I was kind of skeptical at first, but never mentioned this to anyone.

I’m happy to say it’s a reality and you can see the world’s first (I think) bike lane made of permeable pavers that have an ingredient that reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide in the nearby air. On Tuesday I was riding to Bridgeport via south Halsted Street and saw the construction on Cermak Street. I rode west to check it out. Then I saw work happening on Blue Island Avenue and had to check it out. These’re the results!

The construction situation at the northwest corner of Halsted and Cermak, where new sidewalks will be built.

Some vaulted sidewalks are being filled in.

The pollution fighting bike lane! Not complete: it needs signage and striping so you may see people parking in the future bike lane. The top inch of the permeable pavers has TX Aria from Italcementi.

Sox-35th Metra station opened on Sunday

I had been giving construction updates on the new Metra station on 35th Street in Bronzeville/Bridgeport but I missed that the opening day was Sunday! I caught these photos in my Flickr contacts page, by Eric Pancer. Blair Kamin explains why it looks so bad.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill came up with a promising design for the station, one that justified the demolition of a Mies-designed brick hut that reportedly served as the entrance to an underground testing facility for explosives during the Cold War.

But then, things went seriously off the rails.

See all of his photos in the set.

Metra will have a different schedule on game days. From their press release:

Metra will increase its service on game days to accommodate White Sox fans. For weekday afternoon games, an extra outbound train will leave the station after the final out. For weekday evening games, Train 531 (departing LaSalle St. at 11:15 p.m.) will have more cars, and an extra outbound all-stop train will operate about 30 minutes after the last out. For weekend games, an inbound extra train will arrive at the station about an hour before the first pitch, and an outbound extra will operate about 30 minutes after the final out.

If you ride the Rock Island District line, you must check out the new schedule (PDF).