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?
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.
At Ogden Avenue, where the bike lane ended but continues 1.5 years later.
One of the first protected bike lanes to be installed was Jackson Boulevard, back in 2011. Although the Jackson ptoected lane was originally slated to extend from Western Avenue to Halsted Street (1.5 miles), with some buffered bike lanes within that section, construction stopped at Ogden Avenue while the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) finished design negotiations with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The state transportation department has jurisdiction over the segment from Ogden Avenue to the end of Jackson at Lake Shore Drive (Route 66), and IDOT wanted more info about the proposed lane from CDOT.
More than 1.5 years after the original bike lane installation on Jackson, the missing segment got its buffered, instead of protected, bike lane in December.
The segment between Ashland Avenue and Laflin Street, an historic district, is too narrow to have a bike lane without removing a travel lane so CDOT installed shared lane markings instead. If more people start riding bikes at the intersection of Jackson and Ashland, I foresee many conflicts at two points: drivers must turn left from the left-most lane across the bike lane path or from the bike lane itself; drivers and bicyclists going through will meet each other on the opposite side of Ashland as they head straight to the middle of the same lane on Jackson.
As is often the case in Chicago, some drivers are using the new buffered lane on Jackson as a parking lane.
Where people riding bikes need a dedicated lane most on Jackson is east of Halsted, approaching Union Station, past the Chicago River, and towards the Financial District, State Street, and Wabash Avenue. Aside from the addition of new bike-friendly concrete infill on each side of the metal grate bridge, there are no plans to extend the Jackson bikeway east of Desplaines Street (the first street east of Halsted). The one-block extension to Desplaines Street, which has some semblance of a protected or buffered bike lane where it meets Jackson, is listed in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 as a “Crosstown Bike Route” to be installed between May 2013 and May 2014.
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.
Laurino walks home from the opening of the Sauganash Trail in 2008. Image courtesy of 39th Ward.
[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
As “mini mayors,” Chicago aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use “menu money” discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, as when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone put the kibosh on a bike bridge over the North Shore Channel in West Rogers Park.
39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino’s Far Northwest Side district includes parts of the Albany Park, North Park, Sauganash, Mayfair, Independence Park and Old Irving Park neighborhoods. The chairman of the City Council’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, she’s probably best known to cyclists as the sponsor of a new ordinance that bans texting and talking on cell phones while cycling. But she’s actually one of City Hall’s outspoken advocates for sustainable transportation.
As part of our ongoing project to interview all fifty of Chicago’s aldermen about sustainable transportation issues in their districts, I recently caught up with Laurino at her ward service office, 4404 West Lawrence, to get her views on walking, biking and transit issues in her ward and citywide.
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.