CDOT fast to build new bikeways, but needs to rectify existing ones

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A properly installed sharrow, 11 feet from the curb. 

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An improperly installed sharrow, 9 feet from the curb, that hasn’t been rectified in over a year. 

A year ago I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation about some mistakes that were made in the installation of new bikeways. They replied October 25, 2011, with a description on how but not when they would be fixed. A year has passed and the fixes aren’t in. The first issue is “shared lane markings” (better known as “sharrows”) that were installed too close to parked cars after a construction project. The second issue is the case of bike lane signs far from any bike lane. Additionally, there are new (but longstanding) issues that are in need of resolution.

Sharrows too close

In the 2011 Chicago Bike Map, printed by CDOT, “marked shared lanes” are “usually established on streets with lots of traffic that are too narrow for bike lanes”. They consist of “special pavement markings [to] direct bicyclists to ride outside the ‘Door Zone'”. (The 2012 Chicago Bike Map omits these statements but they remain on the city’s bike map website and are printed in the federal manual of traffic control, MUTCD.) Continue reading CDOT fast to build new bikeways, but needs to rectify existing ones

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Green parking or greenwashing: can a downtown garage be eco-friendly?

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

Every time I pedal downtown via the Kinzie Street protected bike lane I’m confronted by an oxymoron. At 60 West Kinzie stands an attractive, boxy structure covered with loosely arrayed rectangles of greenish glass, glittering in the sun. Piet Mondrian-inspired yellow panels accent the roofline and southwest corner, where they form a backdrop for twelve white corkscrew wind turbines arrayed in two columns. It’s the Greenway Self-Park, billed as “Chicago’s first earth friendly parking garage.” Its logo features a VW Bug with leaves blowing out of the tailpipes rather than noxious fumes.

Everyone agrees there are too many cars in downtown Chicago, so what could have possibly been sustainable about building this eleven-story garage, which accommodates 715 more of them? It opened in 2010, occupying valuable River North real estate, only a stone’s throw from several transit stations. There’s certainly nothing green about making it easy for, say, a guy from Naperville to drive solo to work every day in his Lexus, instead of taking Metra commuter rail.

Trying to keep an open mind, I check out the list of sustainable practices on the website, greenwayselfpark.com. It says the garage was constructed from “local and sustainable” building materials. The turbines were intended to generate enough electricity to light the building’s exterior. The building’s open-air layout eliminates the need for a ventilation system, which saves energy. A “daylighting” system causes the garage’s indoor lights to dim when there’s sufficient sunlight. Zipcar and I-GO car-sharing services rent spaces in the building, and there are six charging stations for electric cars, plus another six reserved spaces for hybrid vehicles. And, the website says, the garage has a green roof with rainwater cisterns for irrigation.

Continue reading Green parking or greenwashing: can a downtown garage be eco-friendly?

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Parking space party: celebrating Chicago’s first permanent parklets

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The Lakeview “People Spot.”

A new city initiative is taking land that’s currently dead space, or used only for parking cars, and turning it into public space that could energize neighborhood business strips. On Friday the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) officially launched its “Make Way for People” program to transform surplus asphalt into seating areas and lively plazas, unveiling a new parklet in the parking lane in front of Heritage Bicycles, 2959 N. Lincoln Avenue.

The $25,000 installation, which CDOT is calling a “People Spot”, was paid for by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce via Special Service Area (SSA) #27. (An SSA is a designated district where additional services, programs and projects are funded by an additional property tax.) The parklet, which will be removed in the fall and re-installed in the spring, will be maintained by the bike shop/café, but non-customers are welcome to use the space as well. Due to the city’s contract with LAZ Parking, removing the two metered parking spaces in front of Heritage for the parklet required creating two new metered spots elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Last week a new People Spot also debuted in Andersonville at the T-shaped intersection of Clark Street and Farragut Avenue. It was funded by SSA #22, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and a Kickstarter campaign. for a total of about $20,000. Two more parklets are proposed for the neighborhood, and an on-street bike parking corral is slated to open this fall in front of Hopleaf, a tavern at 5148 N. Clark, where it’s sorely needed. Another pair of People Spots funded by SSA #47 / Quad Communities Development Corporation should open in Bronzeville next week, at 47th and Champlain Avenue, and at 47th and Greenwood Avenue.

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The Andersonville parklet.

In addition to the parking lane seating areas, CDOT plans to convert cul-de sacs, dead-end streets and other excess pavement into public spaces called “People Streets.” Underutilized existing public plazas, malls and triangles will become “People Plazas” with better maintenance and new event programming, possibly bankrolled by private sponsorship. “People Alleys” will be alleyways used for seating, artwalks and other events.

Here’s a partial transcript of CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein’s remarks at the celebration:

People Spots are a new use of our public space. It’s fun and good for business. It’s a way to enhance our public space and activate it, make it more inviting and also to create space for people to hang out, read or have a nonalcoholic drink where there might not be enough public space. And in this case we’re using two parking spaces, which we’ve offset with two parking spaces somewhere else. [“In my ward,” chimed in 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, who attended along with 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack – the parklet is located in Waguespack’s district.]

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Klein, Waguespack and Tunney.

[Klein thanked the aldermen, the city’s law department (which drafted the ordinance that permitted the new land use), Lakeview Chamber of Commerce director Heather Way and Heritage owner Michael Salvatore.]

I was talking to the mayor yesterday and we were talking about a host of different topics including the Make Way for People program, and he said something that I found inspiring. We were talking about this and we were talking about the Open Streets event that’s going to happen in the next month or so and he said, “When you think of all these different things that we’re doing with public space, what it’s really all about is celebrating Chicago.” And I think what he meant is that Chicago is known for its public space, its architecture, for its arts and its creativity, and this celebrates all of those things. And Chicago should be leading the country in utilizing its public space in the smartest ways possible.

[Klein thanked CDOT staffers Janet Attarian and Gerardo Garcia, who managed the parklet project. He then defined People Streets, People Plazas and People Alleys and mentioned that the city wants to turn a Loop alley, Couch Place, as public space.]

Next year we envision a much larger, more formal rollout of the program, again with People Spots, plazas, alleys and so on. And so we want to hear from the public, what they like, and their ideas. We’d like to hear from the SSAs. The SSA is extremely important for the funding, managing the construction, and also making sure that they’re maintained afterwards. So this is a true public/private partnership and we’re very excited about it.

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Afterwards I asked Klein about the issue of the parking contract, which requires the city to compensate LAZ for any loss of revenue due to the removal of metered parking spaces, limiting the amount of space available for People Spots and other novel uses of the public way, like protected bike lanes

Great project. You guys did a great job of getting around the problem with the parking meters on this. But it seems like the parking meter contract has really hampered your ability to do creative projects like this citywide. Is anything being done to reverse the contract so that you can do more innovative projects like this in other parts of the city?

It’s funny you bring that up. I was joking with David Spielfogel, who’s the head of policy and strategy for the mayor, this morning on Twitter about all of the obstacles that we come up against in our jobs and I used the quote, “Persistence always overcomes resistance.” There’s always a way to do things if you’re creative. So what’s wonderful about this project is the incredible partnership between all these people that you see out here and the public in general. If we all put our minds together we can get something done.

With the parking meter issue in particular, there is unregulated space, we just have to find it. So we looked around here and we found some space that wasn’t metered. The beauty of it is that will become a permanent space that will produce revenue all year [while parking revenue will only be lost in front of Heritage for half the year] and we can bank it, so that next year we’re covered as well.

But are there any efforts to overturn the parking meter contract that you can tell us about?

You know I don’t actually manage that, and not that I know of.

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How do I really feel about driving?

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Photo by Mia Park

In 2003 Eric Paul Erickson interviewed me for the Chicago Tribune about my thoughts on bike advocacy and activism. At the time I said, “I think 10 years from now it just won’t make a lot of sense to own a car here.”

Unlike in, say, New York City, certainly Manhattan, car ownership was fairly practical in Chicago back then and it still is today. Although there are plenty of hassles involved, parking is still relatively plentiful, city fees are affordable and gas is currently less than $4 a gallon. Was my prediction unrealistic?

Continue reading How do I really feel about driving?

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USPS responds to our letter

Last week Grid Chicago received a letter from the United States Postal Service (USPS) in response to our correspondence with them where we advised them of the illegality of parking in bike lanes. I attached photos of two separate USPS vehicles parked in the Kinzie Street protected bike lane sent to me by a Grid Chicago reader.

Then, today, I received a copy of a letter 42nd Ward Alderman Reilly wrote to USPS. As you can tell, he was a bit more stern in asking the organization to respond, saying:

USPS employees have repeatedly been witnessed parking in dedicated bicycle lanes- posing a risk to cyclists who utilize these busy lanes.

Please report back to my office the steps that the USPS will take to address this serious public safety concern.

Our original article on the matter has been the most popular since we began, with over 1,600 views. Please send in your photos of USPS and other delivery vehicles parked in the Kinzie Street bike lane. Our first and only protected bike lane should be that, a protected bike lane, and not another strip of asphalt for people to park in.

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Let us know if USPS is still blocking the bike lane.

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Future plans for Logan Square now stymied by new parking ordinance

Update: If you want to know what residents think, avoid the comments section on the Tribune article and head straight to the discussion on EveryBlock. Added Reverend Stein’s letter to the editor (scroll to end) on August 12, 2011. 

Alderman Colón (35th Ward) told Moving Design participants last Wednesday that his office fields more calls about parking than gangs or drugs.

The City Council acts faster on parking issues than the others: the importance of parking manifested in March and June 2011 when the City Council passed two ordinances to turn certain stretches of travel lanes on the Logan Square boulevard network into legal and unmetered parking spaces.

Was there backdoor dealing?

News of the street transformation came to light this week, thanks to Jon Hilkevitch at the Chicago Tribune. Passed without any public review, “[residents] fear the move led by 35th Ward Ald. Rey Colon to establish free parking along parts of Logan, Kedzie and Humboldt boulevards, where open parkways foster a feeling of airiness, will make the grand roads seem like parking lots. Logan Square, some residents warn, could become too much of a good thing, like crowded and always bustling Lincoln Park.”

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The map shows the four distinct stretches of boulevards in Logan Square that now offer many hours of free parking each week. Created with QGIS and Adobe Illustrator using data from the City of ChicagoContinue reading Future plans for Logan Square now stymied by new parking ordinance

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