Dearborn Street’s celebrity status skyrockets

Active Transportation Alliance posted a 1:50 video showing before and after conditions

The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane looks to be the biggest deal, nationally, in bicycle infrastructure since the City of Chicago built the Kinzie Street cycle track three weeks after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. If it had an account on Twitter, it’d be competing with Justin Bieber.

Here’s a collection of “chatter” about the project from within the short 90 hours it’s been open.

“More than just bike benefits”

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) produced their own 1:50 video interviewing Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein about the economic benefits of building bicycle infrastructure and showing scenes from the press conference and of people bicycling in the Dearborn Street bike lane.

“Back to the Future moment”

Architecture “observer” Lynn Becker reviewed how this new piece of infrastructure fits into the history and culture of Chicago, then and now. The following are unconnected excerpts.

On Friday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein dedicated the city’s most ambitious commitment yet to the ideal of taking biking beyond the recreational to make it an integral part of Chicago’s transportation system.

It was a Back to the Future moment, as Chicago rose the crest of the first major bike boom back in the 1890’s, when the introduction of the affordable safety bicycle set sales soaring.  It also created a new industry, with Chicago at its center.

The Trib’s John Kass, as part of his ongoing battle against the 21st Century, rails against “elitist politically coddled bicyclists” by indulging his usual habit of seeing everything in Chicago he doesn’t like as a Rahm Emanuel plot, raising spectres of traffic tickets and tolls for bikers.

It’s like having to learn a new language, relearning how we “read” the city as we move through it.  No doubt about it, it’s a bold initiative, and a real gamble.  It not only serves a constituency, but aims to shape behaviour.

Read on for Becker’s full commentary and a video of Klein and Emanuel’s speeches. Continue reading Dearborn Street’s celebrity status skyrockets

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Moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it

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Drive? Drive! Photo by Dan O’Neill. 

I’m not going to try to make sense of the pending Chicago Transit Authority fare increases, why they’re necessary, or of Rahm’s insensitive remarks on Monday that he clarified yesterday. There are already great responses on these matters:

You will have to figure out for yourself if it’s still worth it to buy single or multi-day passes. Need a primer on what’s proposed to change? Check out the CTA’s FAQ (.pdf). The fare increases will be voted on by the CTA board on December 18, 2012, at 2:30 PM, and the increases would take effect January 14, 2013.

I’m going to try and inspire you to take action and give you some tools that may help lessen the impact on your household’s finances. Here are 12 ideas.

1. Illinois legislators control the CTA so you have to tell them how you feel about fare increases and transportation subsidy policies. They decide how much financial assistance transit agencies will get. Tell them which way you tend to vote. You can find their contact info on the Riders for Better Transit website.

2. There are pre-tax benefits available at supportive workplaces. Money is removed from your paycheck to purchase a cash transit card or a monthly pass before taxes are calculated. You can save hundreds of dollars per year. This applies to Metra and Pace riders, too. You cannot get this benefit individually: your employer most offer it. If they don’t, give your boss or HR manager this information. Learn more at LessTaxingCommute.com.

If you get pushback, educate your coworkers or contact Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Riders for Better Transit to see if they can help you reach out to company executives.

3. The mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois appoint four and three members to the CTA board, respectively. Direct your attention to those two.

4. The budget recommendations for the following budget year (2013) are created by CTA president Forrest Claypool and his staff and then presented to the appointed board members for their approval. If I kept better track of the board’s activity I could tell you if they’ve ever told the CTA president to revise the budget recommendations. You can speak to the board at two public meetings in December: Continue reading Moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it

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Grid Shots: Under the ‘L’

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Marisa Novara at the Metropolitan Planning Council suggested today’s Grid Shots theme after seeing this beautiful garden underneath the Pink Line elevated structure at 19th Street just west of Paulina Street in Pilsen.

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Every year at a specific date and time, the sunset aligns with the Chicago street grid, allowing for some dramatic shots of the sun. Here’s the sun as it reaches the horizon seen under the ‘L’ tracks on “Chicagohenge”, September 24, 2012. Photo by Dubi Kaufmann.

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A car is driven in this dramatic nighttime shot of the Lake Street ‘L’. Photo by Gabriel Michael.

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Wells Street is carried under the ‘L’ starting just south of Hubbard Street and continuing to Van Buren Street. Taking a photo northward at Wacker Drive is popular. Here’s the same view by another photographer. Photo by Drew Baker.

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The CTA Red Line descends from the elevated structure just south of Armitage Avenue, where it shared a viaduct with the Brown and Purple Lines. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Add your photos to our Flickr group for consideration for future Grid Shots posts. View past Grid Shots post. See what themes are coming soon.

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

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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

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Upcoming events: Two technology and planning roundtables at Metropolitan Planning Council

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Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), speaking at the value capture event. Photo by Ryan Griffin-Stegink of MPC. 

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) hosts roundtables each month about different planning topics. Many are centered on economic or transportation initiatives. Two in October will focus on technology. The first, on Tuesday, October 9, is “Plugging in to Placemaking: Technology’s Role in Community Planning”, and the second, on Thursday, October 11, is “State-of-the-Smart: Maximizing Capacity with Intelligent Transportation Systems”.

For these events, MPC brings in guest speakers from around the country to share their expertise with an audience of professional workers, scholars, and community organizers. I’ve been to several and written about one of them: replacing the gas tax with distance-based charging. They are good for staying abreast of current events, academic work, and best practices. Students will find them a good networking opportunity and a break from university-oriented programming.

Both events are at 140 S Dearborn, Suite 1400, and will be live streamed for free. They have a fee of $15 for MPC donors, $30 for everyone else.

Plugging in to Placemaking: Technology’s Role in Community Planning

October 9, 2012, 12–1:30 pm

Imagine a busy Dad who spends his days at the office and his evenings shuttling kids to practices and play dates. Or a businesswoman whose work frequently takes her out of town. Consider the night student, the small business owner, the shift worker: These are just a few of people who have something to contribute to local community decisions, but rarely have the time to attend traditional public meetings. Read more. Register here. Watch live stream on YouTube.

State-of-the-Smart: Maximizing Capacity with Intelligent Transportation Systems

October 11, 2012, 12–1:30 pm

Improving transportation infrastructure means more than building roads and bridges. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) use technology to maximize the capacity of existing infrastructure to improve traffic flow, decrease delays, and give riders up-to-the-minute system information for a relatively low cost. The Chicago region has several examples of ITS, such as the Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train trackers and the Illinois Tollway’s I-PASS electronic tolling system. Still, there is tremendous room for growth. This roundtable will showcase how cities around the world are proving the real potential of ITS by implementing such technologies as congestion pricing, variable priced parking, and smartphone apps. Read moreRegister here. Watch live stream on YouTube.

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How would you change the expressways in Chicago?

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The Bronzeville Gateway that’s hidden or shrouded on its north side by the Stevenson Expresway. Photo by Curtis Locke. 

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) asked an unusual question on its Facebook page on Friday:

The Chicago area has a lot of expressways. In recent years, more new expressways have been built. If you were given as much money as you needed and were given the green light to implement any plans for the expressway system, what would you do?

Yesterday I was reading an article on Streets.MN, a land use and transportation blog, about removing urban highways in the Twin Cities (Minnapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota):

If the Twin Cities were to rid themselves of one highway, what one would it be? Or, what segment of one highway could be removed?

It noted that highways around the country have been removed over the past couple of decades, including the conversion of two elevated highways in San Francisco to boulevards (each was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989). It also linked to this list of 10 highway removal projects that may happen in the near future.

Then also on Friday, Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) president John Norquist (whom we interviewed in November 2011) presented a paper with Caitlin Ghoshal (also from CNU) titled “Freeways Without Futures: Possibilities for Urban Freeway Removal in Chicago“.

This white paper examines factors that make Chicago’s I-55/Lake Shore Drive and Ohio Street candidates for urban freeway removal.

A 15-minute video of Norquist’s presentation at the Transport Chicago conference. 

I went back to the interview to find out what he had said about I-55 – Stevenson Expressway – and Ohio Street feeder ramp on the Kennedy Expressway:

The city collects no money from the Stevenson [whereas it collects taxes from retail-filled streets], and the buildings that are along it are depressed in value because it’s there. If the Stevenson east of I-94 was converted to a street more like Congress, a boulevard that connects to the street grid, that would add a lot of value to the city.

[…]

That’s until you get to Ohio, where the traffic engineers had their way and rammed a grade-separated highway all the way up to Orleans, which suppresses the property value all along it until you get to Orleans. So anything like [turning the Stevenson east of I-94 into a boulevard] will create the kind of urban complexity that people like.

I liked that idea so I responded with a brief answer on the MPC’s Facebook page:

We would replace the I-55/Lake Shore Drive connection with a boulevard so that the northern entrance to Bronzeville at King Drive is no longer in the shadow of a monstrous viaduct.

We would also convert the Ohio Street feeder ramp that connects the Kennedy to River North and points beyond with a similar boulevard so that traffic is calmer.

How would you respond to MPC’s original question about changing expressways in Chicago?

Updated June 4, 2012, at 16:55 to embed the video of Norquist’s freeways presentation from June 1, 2012. 

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