A great day in Chicago: protected lanes open in the heart of the Loop

Array

See more of John’s photos from the ribbon cutting and inaugural bike ride, as well as Steven’s photos from the event.

This afternoon when Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened the new two-way protected bicycle lanes on Dearborn Street, it was the exclamation point to a memorable year of bike improvements. Dozens of advocates gathered at the south end of the 1.2-mile greenway for the event, which also celebrated Chicago’s reaching a total of thirty miles of protected and buffered lanes citywide, plus the release of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

The “game-changing” lanes on Dearborn, running the length of the Loop central business district, create a car-free route that even novice cyclists will feel comfortable on. They also make a statement that the city is serious about getting more Chicagoans on bikes. Building the lanes involved converting one of the three car travel lanes on the northbound street, which has the additional benefits of reducing speeding and shortening pedestrian crossing distances. Car parking was moved to the right side of the bike lanes, providing protection from moving vehicles, and dedicated bike stoplights, a first in Chicago, guide southbound cyclists and prevent conflicts between cycles and left-turning autos.

Continue reading A great day in Chicago: protected lanes open in the heart of the Loop

flattr this!

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

Array

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

flattr this!

Open 311 technology now implemented in Chicago with apps to help speed up reporting

Array

Are you ready to start reporting street problems using your smartphone? Install one of the apps listed below. 

The City of Chicago launched its public Open 311 application interface in October allowing residents to quickly make a report, online or with a smartphone, bypassing the lengthy process of calling. App developers are now able to build programs that interact with the City of Chicago’s 311 database, created in 1997, via the Open 311 application interface to provide a faster and richer user experience. While such a process could have been established years ago, we’re happy to have it in Chicago now.

Currently only 14 service request types are available (see list below), which were said to be among the most commonly requested services. The application interface (known to programmers as “API”) was developed in part by Code for America fellows who researched the 311 implementation here and interviewed myriad users (alderman, city employees, operators, neighbors) in February and were coding all the way up until the last week of October. The undertaking has led to a great outcome, shaking up the tedious process of asking for a city service.

Rob Brackett, one of the four Code for America fellows to work on this project in Chicago, came to a recent Hack Night event at 1871, a tech hub at the Merchandise Mart, to showcase the city’s and fellows’ progress (slideshow). Two city staffers – Kevin Hauswirth (social media director in the Mayor’s Office) and Ryan Briones (IT director at the Department of Innovation and Technology, DoIT) – attended to join the discussion with civic coders and designers about the future of 311 and the Open 311 API. We – the public, really – were invited to contribute our own code updates for the city’s Open 311 website on the social coding website called GitHub.

Array

My service request as submitted to the city’s new 311 website (it currently accepts 14 service types).  Continue reading Open 311 technology now implemented in Chicago with apps to help speed up reporting

flattr this!

CDOT cuts ribbon on greenest street in America

Array

Looking east along Cermak Road at the Benito Juarez Community Academy along the “greenest street in America”. 

Okay, we first need to discuss the hyperbole in the headline. “Greenest street in America”. Really? At a press conference on Tuesday, October 9, in front of the Benito Juarez Community Academy, politicians and city staff described the features and collective effort to get to this point. I talked to David Leopold, project manager for the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to understand how Cermak Road and Blue Island Avenue in the Pilsen neighborhood could be considered the greenest street in America.

Watch the press conference on Vimeo.

My first question, “What’s the second greenest street in America?” He replied, “We don’t admit that there is one”.

All kidding aside, it really is, he explained. CDOT has been experimenting with sustainable landscaping, construction, and pavement techniques for more than half a decade. Its green alley program is probably the most well-known. It also operates the sustainable backyards program. Another project is the permable pavement parking lot at Desplaines and Polk Streets at the new location for Maxwell Street Market. Next to the parking lot is a bioswale (landscaping that naturally absorbs water, keeping it from our sewers that combine waste water and runoff) with underground monitoring tools.

In 2009, to start off the project, CDOT installed monitoring tools along Cermak Road, before visible construction began. Then came a bioswale at the high school (1450 W Cermak Road), smog-fighting bike and parking lanes on Blue Island Avenue, and multiple bioswales along both streets to divert runoff from the sewers. To cap it off, information kiosks with street lighting powered by wind turbines and solar panels were added as well as new sidewalks and crosswalks.

Back to it being the greenest street in America, Leopold said that they couldn’t find any other street that used as many sustainable techniques in a single project. The leaders in sustainable street design are in the Pacific Northwest (Portland and Seattle, specifically), but those were more focused on plantings and water diversion while Cermak/Blue Island has transportation elements as well.

Array

After the ribbon cutting. View all photos from before, during, and after construction.

Updated October 14 to add links and refine narrative. 

flattr this!

New Wilson Red Line train station offers more flexibility, better looks, and a long wait

Array

The Gerber Building, at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Broadway, will be restored to original architectural heritage. 

The Chicago Transit Authority held an open house-style meeting on Thursday at Truman College (1145 W Wilson Avenue) in view of its subject, the Wilson Red Line train station (read last week’s article). The CTA’s plans, estimated to cost $203 million dollars, give the rebuilt station three entrances: the main entrance will be on the south side of Wilson Avenue; an auxiliary entrance will be on the north side of Wilson Avenue to the west of the Gerber Building (which hosts an entrance from Broadway currently); there will be an auxiliary entrance on Sunnyside Avenue with direct access to Target and Aldi stores.

CTA’s director of communications and media relations, Brian Steele, summarized the project:

The Wilson station will become a main transit hub along our north side corridor but also a community amenity. This is the the first new transfer station since Library in 1997 which will provide new flexible trip choices and a better transportation option in a vibrant community.

Array

Rendering of new Gerber Building.

One example of new trip choice is that commuters who are heading downtown in the morning starting from a Red Line station south of Howard can transfer to the Purple Line Express at Wilson instead of Belmont and potentially have a shorter trip. The ability to transfer at a station several stops from Belmont and Howard can help redistribute passengers amongst crowded Red Line trains and less crowded, but faster, Purple Line Express trains.

Array

Neighbors talk to CTA staff and view information display boards. 

Many website comments (here and other places) dealt with the local environment’s nature of having crime, drug deals, and people urinating. I asked Alderman James Cappleman (46th ward) at the open house to talk about some of these neighborhood issues.

He first noted that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conducted a study about the station and environs, for the second time, which says that the addition of a new station (upgrade, renovation, new, it doesn’t make a difference), doesn’t by itself make a difference (here’s background information). Cappleman said it’s necessary to protect the affordable housing stock, and work with neighbors, police, schools, community groups, social services organizations, and police (he said it twice for emphasis), to reduce crime and poverty in the area.

He specifically mentioned that the arrest rate for drug abuse is over 10 times the city average, and that in the Census tract containing the train station, over 50% of households are considered to be below the poverty line (which changes often based on the nation’s changing incomes). The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Cappleman explained, considers a “healthy community” to be one with 25% or fewer households below the poverty line. He ended with, “When that study’s released, we’ll start discussing how to deal with that [the relationship of the station to crime and perception of crime]”.

Joseph Musco attended the meeting, too, looking for insight and answers to the changing costs of the project, where they’re being spent, and their sources. He noted that the estimated cost of the project increased from $135 million in November 2011 to $203 million now. Don Gismandi, capital grants manager, was standing next to the funding sources chart and informed me that in the past year CTA has continued its engineering studies which resulted in more accurate cost estimates.

I asked CTA for a breakdown of costs, which they could not provide, as “project components as project plans have not yet been finalized” and “details on how much each project components will cost will also depend on the contractor selected following the competitive bid process, which is not expected to take place until early 2013″.

Array

Funding sources chart.

Here are other attributes of the project:

  • Construction will last 33 months during which the CTA will operate a neighborhood business campaign in the same style as the one it ran during the Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project. The station will remain open.
  • The Gerber Building will be restored and CTA, along with its real estate manager Jones Lang LaSalle, will seek the right developer to build out the space.
  • The viaduct that carries Track 4 will be removed; 4 tracks will be constructed.
  • All track and the track structure will be replaced with a concrete aerial viaduct, much like the viaduct at Belmont and Fullerton stations. This provides a smoother ride and is quieter for the neighborhood.
  • For accessibility, there will be an elevator at the main entrance and ramps at the Sunnyside Avenue auxiliary entrance.
  • View all photos for this story
  • View the display boards (.pdf)

Take Action

For more information, visit the CTA’s website. The CTA invites comments about the project:

Updated October 12 to correct quotes and paraphrasing of Alderman Cappleman. Added link to display boards. Added cost estimate quote from CTA. 

flattr this!

Community planning meets technology and the web at Metropolitan Planning Council discussion

Array

Ted Nguyen who works for the Orange County Transportation Authority, but was representing himself, said, “My version of E=MC2 is ‘Everybody is a media company times 2.” Photos by Ryan Griffin-Stegink. 

The Metropolitan Planning Council hosted a roundtable presentation and discussion on technology’s role in community planning. You can watch the video recording below. The speakers represented a diverse range of occupations:

  • Frank Hebbert, director of Civic Works at OpenPlans, a technology urban planning non-profit based in New York City
  • Ted Nguyen, manager of public communications at Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA)
  • Ben Fried, editor in chief of Streetsblog, which is part of OpenPlans
  • Thomas Coleman, mobile app developer for Parsons Brinckerhoff, Chicago office

John recorded some key quotes from the speakers:

Frank: “It’s tempting to say that [online] tools make it easier to do community planning, but they don’t make it trivial. They make it easier to add your voice and become more deeply engaged.” Continue reading Community planning meets technology and the web at Metropolitan Planning Council discussion

flattr this!