Redesigning North Avenue to better serve its purpose: shopping

Shaun Jacobsen is an Uptown resident working in market research for a French company. He graduated recently from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with majors in French and sociology, and a minor in urban planning. He writes in a personal blog, Transitized, about international perspectives on local transportation issues. This article was originally published on Transitized on December 16, 2012

In December, I was walking down North Avenue (near Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street) in Lincoln Park. Something I’ve noticed before, not only when walking but also on the rare occasion where I’ve driven, is that North Avenue is a very narrow, fast street with narrow sidewalks:

Narrow sidewalk near storefronts on North Avenue. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Narrow sidewalk near storefronts on North Avenue. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

There are at least 50 stores/restaurants along/just off of North Avenue. Many of the storefronts are recessed back from the sidewalk (either to create a small plaza or because there is a parking lot). Kudos to the few stores that decided to recess their stores to create a plaza/wider walkway, as the sidewalks are very narrow and the existing street furniture (where it actually exists) doesn’t do much to make pedestrians feel safe from fast-moving traffic on North Avenue. Continue reading Redesigning North Avenue to better serve its purpose: shopping

More from Marge: Alderman Laurino talks trails, bike sharing


Margaret Laurino with constituent and Grid Chicago commenter Bob Kastigar.

Since Checkerboard City, my weekly column that runs in print in Newcity magazine, is limited to about 1,000 words, some good material from my recent interview with bike-friendly 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino wound up on the cutting room floor. She had interesting things to say about bringing bike sharing to her district, as well as plans for extending the North Branch trail 4.2 miles south south to Foster Avenue. The latter will make it possible to bike roughly 25 miles from Belmont and the Chicago River in Lakeview to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in north suburban Glencoe on an almost entirely car-free route. We’ll get you more details on that exciting project in the near future.

Are there any transit improvement projects going on in your ward?

I think that any improvements that have happened have actually already happened. One of them that I happen to be interested in because of the current ward re-map – you know we’re picking up new areas that we hadn’t had before. The one that I’m going to focus on is that Forest Glenn Metra stop where once again I want it to be a little bit more bike-friendly. I want people to once again be able to bring their bicycles to that stop and then hop on the train and go downtown. I don’t know how many people in my community are actually hopping on a bike, getting on Elston Avenue and actually going all the way downtown. I don’t think that’s happening too much. But getting to the train station on your bicycle… what do we call it, the last mile?

Exactly, yeah.

The last mile, that’s something that I want to really concentrate on. So I’m going to hopefully do that with Metra in cooperation with the city of Chicago there. And then I’d very much like to see a bike share [rental kiosks] at our universities in our ward. The one that I’m really going to push is going to be at Northeastern Illinois University because it’s a commuter college. I’d like to see a bike share [kiosk] on, say, Bryn Mawr. Then they can just rent their bikes, hop on Kimball, which isn’t a bad street for biking and get to the Brown Line at Lawrence and Kimball.

Continue reading More from Marge: Alderman Laurino talks trails, bike sharing

Metra takes another step to get wifi on trains


People ride a Metra train. Photo by Clark Maxwell. 

Metra is looking for board approval to hire Xentrans to help them find the best solution and vendor who would test wi-fi service on one route. The contract is worth $200,000.

Xentrans has previously done work with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), an agency providing bus, express bus, and light rail transit around San Jose, California. Wifi is available on all its Express coach buses (that are similar to Pace’s express routes that run on the I-55 expressway) and three light rail routes.

Xentrans doesn’t provide the infrastructure itself. According to its website, it manages projects and consults, providing “unbiased, vendor-independent, technology-agnostic consulting…for in-vehicle wireless system design and deployment”. Metra had previously solicited proposals to provide the wifi at no cost to the transit agency.

Continue reading Metra takes another step to get wifi on trains

Details on CDOT’s 150 miles of potential locations for enhanced lanes


John and Mike Amsden at a Streets for Cycling meeting at the Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square – photo by Serge Lubomudrov

Last May during the community input process for the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, Steven and I attended one of the public meetings at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park. At the open house Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) staff unveiled a map of potential locations for 110 miles of protected bike lanes and 40 miles of buffered lanes as part of a 645-mile bike network. Both of us left the meeting with the impression that CDOT was upping their goal from the 100 miles of physically separated protected lanes Rahm Emanuel had promised to install within his first term. Since then we’ve been reporting CDOT plans to install 110/40 by 2015, and we’ve never gotten feedback from CDOT that this was inaccurate.

In December, the press release for the Dearborn Street two-way protected lanes made it clear that CDOT is now referring to physically separated protected lanes as “barrier-protected” and calling buffered lanes “buffer protected,” and their current goal is to install a total of 100 miles of the two different types of lanes by the end of the mayor’s first term. In the wake of this terminology shift and apparent change in plans, I asked CDOT bikeways planner Mike Amsden for some clarification about what happened to the 150 miles of proposed lanes shown on the map.

Continue reading Details on CDOT’s 150 miles of potential locations for enhanced lanes

Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement


The Illinois Department of Transportation is ready to build many more lanes and flyovers at the Circle Interchange, shown here in a postcard from 1963. Posted by Brandon Bartoszek. 

Because of vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, slightly less driving, and the gas tax not being changed since 1993, the motor vehicle fuel tax, or “gas tax”, has failed to pay for everything that Congress has legislated that it should pay for. The Highway Trust Fund, which includes the Mass Transit Account, has received several infusions of money from the “general revenue fund” – to the tune of over $60 billion.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional think tank focused on financing, past, present, and future, has made the country take a giant step forward in considering a switch to a fee that more accurately charges usage. The report, like all GAO studies, was commissioned by the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee*.

The gas tax charges drivers based on their use of petroleum, different vehicles can go different distances on the same amount of petroleum: essentially, some pay less than others for the same use of the road. Addiitionally, the counts of how much people drive has decreased (called vehicle miles traveled, or VMT), yet our demand for funds to maintain and build new infrastructure outpaces the incoming revenues from the gas tax. Lastly, the federal gas tax hasn’t changed at all, sticking to a cool 18.4 cents per gallon (for non-diesel drivers) since 1993. “While the gas tax was equal to 17 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas when it was set at its current level in 1993, it is now only 5 percent” (Streetsblog).

Continue reading Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement

First CTA fare hike in four years begins today


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