First CTA fare hike in four years begins today

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A Blue Line train towards O’Hare approaches the UIC-Halsted station. CTA has added more runs to the O’Hare branch, in its “plan to reduce crowding” (more commonly called “decrowding plan”), which are short-turned at UIC-Halsted station. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

The 55% of Chicago Transit Authority passengers who use passes will see an increase in their per-trip fare when they buy new passes or reload a Chicago Card Plus today. This is the first fare increase since January 2009. (See the full schedule of fares on CTA’s website.)

My friend Ryan Lakes, an architect, bike polo player, and West Town Bikes volunteer in Humboldt Park, strongly recommended I watch “Taken For A Ride“, a documentary about the systematic dismantling of rail transit in tens of cities nationwide, and the conversion of those routes to diesel buses manufactured by General Motors. I strongly recommend it, too. It was released in 1996, but watching it today shows me how transit history repeats itself.

Continue reading First CTA fare hike in four years begins today

Does aldermanic prerogative undermine Chicago’s Pedestrian Street ordinance?

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Ed. note: This post was written by Steven Vance and Christopher Gagnon, a Logan Square resident.

“So who is the amazing architect who designed the new McDonalds…with a utility door facing Milwaukee Ave.?  Is there some sort of safety reason for an ugly utility door being placed at that spot, in the front of the restaurant??”

Good question. This message, posted December 6 to the Logan Square Yahoo! Group, a neighborhood online discussion board, can be read as more than a criticism of the architecture of the newly rebuilt McDonald’s at 2707 N Milwaukee Avenue, as it recalls a controversial decision – and some unfinished business – for Logan Square pedestrians.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, a quick primer:

Chicago’s City Council established the “Pedestrian Streets” (“P-Streets”) ordinance to “preserve and enhance the character of…pedestrian oriented shopping districts…[and] to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort,” and this designation was applied, among other locations citywide, to Milwaukee Avenue between Kedzie and Sawyer.

When the owners of the McDonald’s located within this area decided to build a new store at their existing location, they turned to Alderman Colón for relief from restrictions imposed by the P-Street designation that would have prohibited their drive-thru operation.  In November 2011, Alderman Colón introduced a controversial ordinance (adopted June 2012) removing the area from the list of P-Streets so McDonald’s owners could obtain the necessary permits for the curb cuts and drive-thru.

Continue reading Does aldermanic prerogative undermine Chicago’s Pedestrian Street ordinance?

Merchandise mart: Wicker Park’s Transit Tees shop celebrates the CTA

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I’m surprised it took me so long to actually visit Transit Tees, 1371 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park, since I pedal by the store regularly, and much of the transportation-themed gear they sell is right up my alley. Founded by Tim Gillengerten, the business has been selling t-shirts featuring CTA- and bicycle-inspired designs at local street festivals for years. This fall they opened the brick-and-mortar store, packed with shirts, wall art, mugs, neckties, messenger bags, jewelry and even stuffed pigeons. Almost all of the products are designed and manufactured by the company, with much of the work being done in the back of the store. Tim told me about the history of the the business, talked about some of his bestsellers and explained why he thinks mass transit-themed schwag is an idea whose time has arrived.

How long has the store been open?

We’ve been open at the retail location here since November 15, so it’s about two months.

And did Transit Tees exist as a business before that?

It did. We evolved it and refocused it as transportation-focused so we sort of shed all of our other product lines and now we’re mostly focusing on subway, bicycle, any form of transportation, planes, walking, and also Chicago and the Midwest, Great Lakes region.

Continue reading Merchandise mart: Wicker Park’s Transit Tees shop celebrates the CTA

What is regional transit? RTA undertaking its own strategic plan update process

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It’s rare to see CTA and Metra signs in the same place. The LaSalle Intermodal Transfer Center at LaSalle Street and Congress Parkway is a great step in making transit work “regionally”: it connects Rock Island District trains and multiple bus routes. It provides weak signage directing riders to the Jackson Blue Line station one block away. Photo by Anne Alt. 

“The Regional Transportation Authority values input of how to better the regional transit system. The RTA is conducting a survey to help gather ideas to inform the strategic planning process.” This quote is from its website promoting the process.

In August we published an article from two guest contributors about Metra and its own strategic plan update process. One critique was that Metra was doing this independently of the other “service boards” (Chicago Transit Authority and Pace) and its parent organization, RTA. You can provide your input on their strategic planning process with an online survey through January 25, 2013.

I reached out to RTA to understand why, again, there is an organization doing this planning process alone.

In a nutshell, there are separate (coordinated, not independent) strategic planning processes that are undertaken by the individual agencies because transit aims to strike a balance between addressing long-term, regional concerns and more near-term, local needs.

The scope of Service Board strategic planning initiatives usually encompasses operating and service provision issues—issues for which the service boards are experts. For example, this might include developing or revising service planning standards—at what level of demand should we increase service or build an infill station? Does the agency have enough reliable vehicles in its fleet to provide the desired levels of service envisioned for the next 2-3 years? These are the nature of issues for which the service boards have the most experience and local knowledge by which to develop plans and policies.

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How far does your expressway avoidance take you?

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Showing undesirable pedestrian and sidewalk conditions under the Kennedy Expressway on Belmont Avenue at Kedzie Avenue. There is a bus stop here, on a portion of the sidewalk that narrows to about 2 feet. It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I realized that there is no bus route on Kedzie Avenue making this bus stop’s location quite ridiculous. There are bus stops in both directions on Belmont Avenue that are actually near businesses and residences. Explore on Google Street View.

I shop for groceries mostly at Aldi. The one nearest my house is 3,725 feet by walking (about 0.71 miles), the Avondale Aldi. The next closest store is 11,102 feet away (about 2.1 miles), the Lincoln Square Aldi, and the third closest is 11,599 feet away (about 2.2 miles), the Wicker Park Aldi. I live at Belmont and California, in Avondale.

I shop at the third closest one the most often. The Wicker Park Aldi is at Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street. The reasons I shop here instead of the other two, considering that it’s two-thirds closer to home, are based on two travel factors: trip chaining (the practice of attaching multiple trips into the same one so one leaves the house less often), and trip quality (the characteristics that make the trip interesting, not interesting, safe, and unsafe). A trip, as counted by transportation planners like myself, is movement from one address to another.

For example, the Chicago Transit Authority counts trips taken on its buses and trains as “boardings”, each time a passenger pays for the bus or passes an ‘L’ station turnstile. When people change routes on the same platform or station, this additional trip isn’t counted because there’s no mechanism to do so. A person who takes a bus to an ‘L’ station is counted twice in CTA’s reports (note 1).

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State of Independence: The protected lane will change to a buffered lane

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The city has placed barricades in the protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard to discourage cycling in them until they are converted to buffered lanes. 

View more photos of the Independence Boulevard bike lanes here.

In December Red Bike and Green’s Eboni Senai Hawkins notified me that residents of Lawndale, an underserved community on Chicago’s West Side, were “up in arms” about the new protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard. This roughly mile-long stretch connects the Garfield Park green space with Douglas Boulevard and is part of a new 4.5-mile network of protected and buffered lanes leading from the park to Little Village. I interviewed Hawkins for her perspective on the situation.

Hawkins, a Lawndale resident, told me the locals had a number of complaints. After the new lanes, which move the parking lane from the curb to the left of the bike lane, were striped but not yet signed, dozens of motorists who parked curbside were ticketed. Those tickets, and all subsequent tickets were eventually dismissed. Independence is home to several churches and the pastors felt that the new lanes made it difficult for members of their congregations to park.

Although the lanes are designed to reduce speeding and shorten pedestrian crossing distances on the wide boulevard by narrowing the travel lanes, drivers said they felt uncomfortable parking in the new “floating” parking lanes. They said the new configuration made them feel more exposed to the still-speeding traffic as they exited their cars. They found the new street configuration, which incorporates sections of protected as well buffered lanes, to be confusing. And they objected to the removal of some parking spaces as part of the design.

Residents complained to 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler. Although Chandler had signed off on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) plans for the lanes a year earlier, at a couple of recent community meetings the alderman blasted the new design and asked CDOT to bring back curbside parking. The department has agreed to use paint to convert the protected lanes to buffered lanes later this winter at an estimated cost in the low $10,000s, according to deputy commissioner Scott Kubly.

Continue reading State of Independence: The protected lane will change to a buffered lane