More from Marge: Alderman Laurino talks trails, bike sharing

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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

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Highlights from December’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting

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Bicycle signals on Dearborn Street at Madison Street were turned on as of Wednesday. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz. 

Meeting minutes for the September 2012 can be downloaded (.pdf); read our recap of it.

Streets for Cycling Plan 2020

Download now (.pdf).

A few months late, the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 will be released today, including a Bicycle Facilities Guide designed for all Chicagoans that shows the new facility types being installed on Chicago roadways and how to use them (no matter your transportation mode).

Bike sharing

The current focus is on finalizing the contract with Alta Bicycle Share. Chicago Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg said they would finish selecting the sites for bike sharing stations in January or February. Gomberg mentioned that Alderman Pawar is using menu funds to purchase 5 stations for the 47th Ward; Bill Higgins, a transportation planner in Pawar’s office, said that the “shortening” of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) 11-Lincoln bus route (eliminating it from a 3 mile stretch between Western/Lawrence and Fullerton Avenues) was a basis for buying the stations. Alderman Moreno is also using menu funds to purchase 2 stations for the 1st Ward. DePaul University, Gomberg said, was interested in purchasing 3 stations.

No mention was made of the investigation by the Chicago Inspector General. Jane Healy, an activist from Blue Island, Illinois, and a board member for Active Transportation Alliance, asked if there was a timeline. Luann Hamilton, Deputy Commissioner of Project Development at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), replied that there wasn’t one.

The cost of purchasing an additional station (there will be 300 purchased by the City in the first year an additional 100 kiosks in the following year) is $56,000, which includes 19 docks and 15 bicycles; there’s a discount if you buy more than one. CDOT will not be charging an operating fee to those entities who purchase kiosks, a policy in place at the Washington, D.C.-centered Capital Bikeshare program.

CDOT is looking for an organization to sponsor the bike sharing program. Citibank paid $41 million for the naming rights in New York City: “Citibike”.  Continue reading Highlights from December’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting

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Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?

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B-Cycle, a small-scale bike share system that launched here in 2010. Photo by Michael Malecki.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]

There’s a common misconception that transportation biking is only for privileged white folks. Recently Tribune columnist John Kass expressed this attitude when he dismissed cyclists as “the One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” but in reality people from all walks of life use bikes to get around. Many of these folks are the so-called “invisible riders,” low-income individuals who ride, not because they’re looking to get exercise or save the planet, but because they need cheap, efficient transportation.

Chicago’s new bike-sharing system, slated to launch next spring and grow to 4,000 vehicles by the end of the year, is a great opportunity to broaden the demographics of cycling here to include more residents from underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. By providing cycles for short-term use, to be ridden from one automated rental kiosk to another, it will function as a second public transportation system and remove some of the major obstacles to cycling: the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will first install rental kiosks in the Loop and nearby neighborhoods, but coverage will eventually expand to serve an area generally bounded by Devon Street, California Avenue, 63rd Street and Lake Michigan. The roughly 400 kiosks will be located at transit stations, retail and employment centers, schools, hospitals and other convenient places. Citizens can suggest locations at Share.ChicagoBikes.org.

Continue reading Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?

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Chicago bike sharing suggestion map is now live, public meetings coming soon

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The Chicago Department of Transportation has made public its bike sharing station suggestion map, where you can click on a location on the map to say “this is a good place for a bike sharing station”, up-vote others’ suggestions, and see the most popular suggested locations.

Go suggest a good location now.

As of this writing, there are 116 locations suggested (and 123 additional votes for those locations), many (or most) of which were made during testing periods. Additionally, the map doesn’t show the ~150 locations that Bicycle Program Coordinator Ben Gomberg said at the September Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting were already selected (the majority of which he said were at train stations). I expect there will be 1,000 suggestions within two weeks, so get crackin’.

There are five meetings on three days coming up later this month (you can see them in our calendar).

At the meetings in late October and early November, representatives from CDOT and Alta, the bicycle provider and operator, will discuss the new program and answer questions. Attendees can suggest locations to install bike stations in the proposed service area.

Monday, October 29
11:30h – 13h
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S Michigan Avenue

15 – 17h
Pop‐up meeting at Union Station

18:30 – 20h
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S Michigan Avenue

Tuesday, October 30
18:30 – 20h
Lincoln Belmont Public Library
1659 W Melrose Street

Tuesday, November 7
18:30 – 20h
Charles Hayes Center
4859 S Wabash Avenue

Tracking the rate of submissions

24 hours and 22 minutes later, on 10-17-12 at 20:50, there are now over four times as many station suggestion locations (477) and 1,963 additional votes for those locations. The most popular location is somewhere around the Polish Triangle, at Milwaukee/Ashland/Division, with 33 votes. The second most popular locations is the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station, with 28 votes (I submitted this one).

49 hours and 20 minutes after we first collected the suggestions, on 10-18-12 at 21:48, there are 578 suggested locations (an increase of only 21%) with 3,076 votes for those locations (only 5 locations lack non-submitter support, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). First place remains the same, while the Western CTA Brown Line station is tied with the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station.

On 10-22-12 at 12:14, there are 826 suggestions and 5,759 votes for those locations (only 2 locations lack non-submitter support, 1, 2). The Polish Triangle location keeps its first place crown, now with 85 votes. Logan Square Blue and Western Brown CTA stations are no longer tied: Logan Square is 1 vote ahead!

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Highlights from this week’s Mayor’s Bike Advisory Council meeting

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CDOT staff front row, l-r: Share the Road Coordinator Carlin Thomas, Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton, Bike Coordinator Ben Gomberg, Commissioner Gabe Klein.

Wednesday Steven and I attended the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting at City Hall, a great opportunity for citizens to get updates on Chicago’s bike projects and network with planners and advocates. Currently the meetings are geared towards “stakeholders,” staff from various city departments, the park district, CTA, the Active Transportation Alliance and other nonprofits, but the general public is welcome to attend and ask questions at the end of the meeting. To get on the mailing list for MBAC meeting announcements contact Carlin Thomas at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org, or sign up on this webpage. Here are a few news items from the meeting.

Bike Share

Although the bike sharing program failed to launch this year, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bike coordinator Ben Gomberg said things are on track for a spring 2013 debut. The project was awarded a total of $22 million in federal funding, which will pay for a system with 4,000 bikes and 400 rental kiosks (in two implementation phases). Gomberg said the current challenge is to find the required twenty percent local match of $5.5 million. CDOT has secured enough funding from Tax Increment Financing dollars and aldermanic menu money to cover the local match for the first year of operations. Gomberg joked that if anyone at meeting had a friend with a few extra million to donate, the city would gladly name the bike share system after the benefactor.

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Bike share in Berlin.

Asked exactly when the system will launch next year, CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein said, “As soon as possible, as soon as the sun is shining and it’s 55, 60 degrees.” Gomberg added, “Let’s just say there’s an optimist and a pessimist in this room.” A potential speed bump is that Bike Chicago (a Grid Chicago sponsor) is contesting the contract, claiming that Alta Bike Share was given an unfair advantage in the bidding process. The case is currently under investigation by the city’s Office of Inspector General.

In October the city will hold three public meetings across the city to introduce the program and ask for suggestions for the kiosk locations. Initially the boundaries of the service area will be Montrose Avenue, Damen Avenue, 43rd Street and Lake Michigan; in time the borders will expand, and hopefully most of the city will someday get bike share. CDOT has already identified about 150 locations for kiosks, mostly at CTA and Metra stations, but the city will also be creating a “crowdsourcing” website to solicit suggestions for locations, Gomberg said. When New York City did this they received over 8,000 recommendations.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

The CTA’s Chris Ziemann and Joe Iaccobucci gave an update on local efforts to create bus-priority corridors, including the impact on cycling. They compared the project to their agency’s work to eliminate slow zones on the ‘L’, suggesting that BRT routes on wide streets with high bus ridership will function like efficient rail lines. Construction of new bus facilities along Jeffrey Boulevard started last month and operations may start by the end of the year. Ziemann and Iaccobucci acknowledged that Jeffrey will “by no means” be true BRT, since its bus-only lanes will only exist on a portion of the route and only during rush hours. But they said the dedicated lanes plus other firsts like bus-priority traffic signals and a queue jump, will pave the way for more ambitious BRT projects.

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CTA rendering of a potential BRT lane configuration on Ashland.

The CTA is currently studying 21-mile corridors on Western and Ashland Avenues as potential locations for more robust bus-priority routes. And the agency plans to complete design work for the Central Loop BRT from Union Station to Navy Pier by 2013, with construction happening in 2014. The project would include dedicated bus lanes, a new off-street bus terminal near the railroad station, level bus loading platforms, and protected bike lanes on Washington and Randolph streets.

Download the CTA’s BRT slideshow.

Protected bike lane maintenance

CDOT bikeways project manager Mike Amsden said the department is aware that removal of debris and snow from protected lanes will be a growing issue as the network expands. He showed a slide of broken glass in the new lanes on Elston Avenue. “We are working our tails off to figure out how to do this the best we can,” he said. Amsden added the city is looking into the possibility of purchasing a compact street cleaner especially for use on the bike lanes. Some of the amusingly named models they’re considering include the Madvac CN100, the Green Machine, the Elgin Broom Badger and the Nitehawk 200 Osprey, which sounds like a vehicle David Hasselhoff might drive. The city is also considering applying – no joke – a mixture of salt and beet juice to the protected lanes prior to snowfall to prevent accumulation. I assume this technique was pioneered in Denmark, where they eat beets with everything.

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The Nitehawk 200 Osprey: a lone crusader in a dangerous world of bike lane debris.

Bike Parking

Chris Gagnon, my successor as the city’s bike parking manager, is moving on after five years in the position and almost a decade at the bike program. Gagnon’s productive tour of duty saw the installation of some 3,000 bike racks and the city’s first on-street parking corrals. He reported that new corrals recently debuted in Andersonville next to the existing “People Spot” parklet, 5228 N. Clark Street, and in front of the Hopleaf bar, 5148 N. Clark. There will be a “Party in the People Spot” celebration of the new green space and racks this Friday from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at the parklet. Gagnon added that the city’s first year-round on-street parking corral is coming to Café Jumping Bean in Pilsen at 1439 W. 18th Street.

One community member asked if CDOT could create a document or brochure that he could give to businesses that are interested in installing a bike rack they purchase. Commissioner Klein mentioned how in Washington, D.C., there was a program called Bike Brand Your Biz and said that the department will have a guide done by December on how a developer can get a bike rack.

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New on-street bike corral by the Andersonville People Spot. Photo courtesy of the Andersonville Development Corporation.

Aldermanic Bike Camps

Charlie Short, manager of Chicago’s Bicycling Ambassador program, reported on the four bike-safety camps inspired by visits by aldermen Ameya Pawar (47th), Pat Dowell (3rd), Harry Osterman (48th) and Danny Solis (25th) to bike-friendly European countries. Bikes Belong, a national advocacy group, donated Schwinn BMX bikes to the eighty campers. “My hands were like claws for days after building those eighty bikes on the Friday before the camps started,” Short joked. Many of the campers had never spent much time out of their own neighborhoods but after receiving training in proper riding and maintenance techniques, they took pedal-powered field trips to destinations like major parks and a tour of Wrigley Field. “Now the kids are like, ‘Wow, bikes are freedom, they’re transportation,” said Klein. “We want to have maybe 500 kids in the program next year.”

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Pat Dowell and 3rd Ward bike campers.

MBAC community representatives

Gresham resident Demond Drummer, Mike Tomas from Garfield Park and Lincoln Park resident Michelle Stenzel are serving as stakeholder representatives for the South, West and North sides of the city, respectively. They said there’s a need for more outreach to educate the public about what the new protected and buffered bike lanes are and how to use them. “I live off of Halsted and 79th,” Drummer said. “When I woke up one morning and there was a new buffered lane on Halsted, I knew what it was. But other people see it as, ‘Oh, I’ve got a narrower lane to drive in, with a lot of paint on the side.”

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Front row: Drummer, Stenzel and Tomas.

Klein said the city will be using a number of strategies to get the word out about the incoming bike network. The Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan for 645 miles of bikeways is currently under review and which should be officially released next month. CDOT also has about $1 million set aside to create a “transportation demand management” (TDM) program this spring, which will help Chicagoans in up to three different communities find alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips, including cycling, possibly launching in the spring. In addition, the agency is creating a new website and blog to promote sustainable transportation options, similar to Washington, D.C.’s colorful goDCgo.com. “By December we’ll have something nice to present to you,” Klein promised.

Updated September 20 to add information about bike parking for businesses and the CTA’s BRT slideshow. 

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Pier pressure: is there an alternative to the $45 million Navy Pier Flyover?

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Congestion on the Lakefront Trail at the Lake Shore Drive south bridge house leads to frustrating experiences, especially for those on wheels. 

The section of the Lakefront Trail between Randolph Street and Ohio Street Beach cannot comfortably handle the traffic present in the many congested areas around the Lake Shore Drive bridge, Navy Pier, and Jane Addams Memorial Park. The narrow width, awkward curves, and blind spots make for highly dissatisfied trail users, that includes the gamut of Chicagoans and visitors, using Segways, four-wheel pedal cars, skates, strollers, bicycles, wheelchairs, or their own feet. There’s not enough room for the number of people who pass through here. This section of the trail is used by individuals on work and social trips, as well as groups meandering from park to park along Lake Michigan. The City plans to build an elevated structure, called the Navy Pier Flyover, to bypass the congestion, but at an extreme cost. We propose a different project to meet the same goals of comfortable passage on the path with a much smaller price tag.

The main problem areas are at the north and south ends of the Lake Shore Drive bridge, on the sidewalk between the bridge and Grand Avenue, at the blind spot where the trail meets Grand at the corner of Lakepoint Tower’s parking garage, and in the congested area inside Jane Addams Memorial Park and Ohio Street Beach. The Navy Pier Flyover is a planned structure on the Lakefront Trail that will “fly over” these trouble spots. The Lakefront Trail path as it currently exists will remain open for those who don’t want to use the flyover. Additionally, an “off ramp” will be built from the overpass to Navy Pier alongside the Ogden Slip – this part is superfluous to addressing path congestion, but may be useful for some path users. The project does not sufficiently address congestion at Ohio Street Beach.

The Navy Pier Flyover is going to cost a jaw-dropping $45 million. To put this in perspective, in 2008 the Portland, Oregon, Bureau of Transportation estimated the entire replacement cost of its then 300-mile bike network at about $60 million. We propose an alternative solution to combat the same problems at a much lower cost, and with a far quicker construction time.

Continue reading Pier pressure: is there an alternative to the $45 million Navy Pier Flyover?

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