State of Independence: The protected lane will change to a buffered lane

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The city has placed barricades in the protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard to discourage cycling in them until they are converted to buffered lanes. 

View more photos of the Independence Boulevard bike lanes here.

In December Red Bike and Green’s Eboni Senai Hawkins notified me that residents of Lawndale, an underserved community on Chicago’s West Side, were “up in arms” about the new protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard. This roughly mile-long stretch connects the Garfield Park green space with Douglas Boulevard and is part of a new 4.5-mile network of protected and buffered lanes leading from the park to Little Village. I interviewed Hawkins for her perspective on the situation.

Hawkins, a Lawndale resident, told me the locals had a number of complaints. After the new lanes, which move the parking lane from the curb to the left of the bike lane, were striped but not yet signed, dozens of motorists who parked curbside were ticketed. Those tickets, and all subsequent tickets were eventually dismissed. Independence is home to several churches and the pastors felt that the new lanes made it difficult for members of their congregations to park.

Although the lanes are designed to reduce speeding and shorten pedestrian crossing distances on the wide boulevard by narrowing the travel lanes, drivers said they felt uncomfortable parking in the new “floating” parking lanes. They said the new configuration made them feel more exposed to the still-speeding traffic as they exited their cars. They found the new street configuration, which incorporates sections of protected as well buffered lanes, to be confusing. And they objected to the removal of some parking spaces as part of the design.

Residents complained to 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler. Although Chandler had signed off on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) plans for the lanes a year earlier, at a couple of recent community meetings the alderman blasted the new design and asked CDOT to bring back curbside parking. The department has agreed to use paint to convert the protected lanes to buffered lanes later this winter at an estimated cost in the low $10,000s, according to deputy commissioner Scott Kubly.

Continue reading State of Independence: The protected lane will change to a buffered lane

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Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

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The Wabash Avenue bike lanes, now classified as “buffer-protected.” Photo by John Lankford.

2012 was a banner year for bike lanes in Chicago. According to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bikeways Tracker, by the end of the year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had completed or was in the process of building a total of 12.5 miles of protected bike lanes and 14.5 miles of buffered bike lanes. When Rahm Emanuel took office in last year our city had no protected or buffered bike lanes, but nineteen months later we’re now the national leader in providing enhanced on-street bikeways. That’s a huge achievement.

One issue that has come up is CDOT’s recent adoption of the terms “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes to refer to what the department formerly called “protected” and “buffered” lanes. This change in terminology also seems to indicate a shift in goals.

Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Report, released in May of that year, announced the bold objective of building one hundred miles of protected bike lanes within the mayor’s first term. The document defined “protected lanes” as “separated from traveling cars and sit[ting] between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic.” As Grid Chicago readers know, buffered lanes are instead located to the left of the parking lane, with additional dead space striped on one or both sides of the bike lane to distance the bike lane from motorized traffic and/or opening car doors.

However, in recent months CDOT staff began using the new terminology, which redefines “protected lanes” to include buffered lanes. The press release for the terrific new two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn Street confirmed that the agency is now counting “buffer-protected” lanes towards the hundred-mile target. This means that instead of building one-hundred miles of physically separated lens by 2015, the new goal is to build a total of one hundred miles of “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes.

I certainly don’t blame CDOT for changing their target. Building one hundred miles of physically separated lanes, plus dozens of additional miles of buffered lanes, within four years always seemed a bit unrealistic. It took a Herculean effort by the department’s small bike program staff to install the current number of protected lanes, often working far more than a nine-to five schedule. And I for one would be delighted if Chicago reaches, say, sixty-five miles of protected lanes and thirty-five miles of buffered lanes by 2015. It would make a huge difference in the city’s bike-ability.

The question is, would it have made more sense for CDOT to simply acknowledge the shift to a more realistic goal, rather than redefining buffered lanes as “protected” lanes just so that the city will be able to claim they met the hundred-mile goal? Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly graciously took time out on last Saturday to share his perspective on the issue with me.

Continue reading Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

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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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Bringing a bit of Copenhagen to Chicago: two north side aldermen discuss their recent trip to the cycling mecca

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48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly, 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, and Active Transportation Alliance staff member Lee Crandell stand in front of a crowd of over 60 local residents to discuss a recent aldermanic trip to Copenhagen.

Earlier this year, three Chicago alderman along with two staff members from the Department of Transportation traveled to Copenhagen to learn about the city’s cycling infrastructure. Last Thursday, two of the alderman who took part in that trip – Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward and Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward – held an event at the Swedish American Museum in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood to discuss their experience. They were joined by CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly, one of two CDOT staff members whom accompanied the aldermen to Copenhagen. The other was Bicycle Program Coordinator Ben Gomberg.

Scott Kubly began the presentation by discussing the history of Copenhagen’s cycling movement and describing some of the infrastructure elements that have allowed cycling to become so successful in the city. Kubly said that his biggest takeaway from the trip was that the city wasn’t always a bike utopia.

“If you go back as recently as the 1970s, it was very much a car-culture,” Kubly said. “They were building freeways. There was a time when all of this fantastic public space that we saw was dominated by parked cars. They’ve spent the last 30 to 40 years incrementally improving their infrastructure.” Continue reading Bringing a bit of Copenhagen to Chicago: two north side aldermen discuss their recent trip to the cycling mecca

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Open Streets, closed coffers: City Hall takes a pass on Chicago’s ciclovia.

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Open Streets director Julia Kim at last year’s Open Streets on State Street. Photo courtesy of Active Trans.

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

Note: I wrote this piece early last week, a few days before Open Streets in the Loop took place on Saturday. As predicted, it was a wonderful event, with even more fun stuff going on than last year. As always, it was thrilling to see a street that’s normally clogged with motor vehicles turned over to positive human interaction. Next Sunday’s Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown, on bustling Milwaukee Avenue through bike-crazy neighborhoods, should be even better. It takes place on Milwaukee from Ashland to Western Avenues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. See Steven’s thoughts on the downtown event below my article.

Last year I wrote a Newcity cover story with the subtitle, “Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?” For this year at least, the answer was no.

Since 2005 I’ve been chronicling the Active Transportation Alliance’s valiant efforts to stage ciclovías, Latin-American-style events that shut down streets to cars traffic, encouraging healthy recreation, community and commerce. It’s hard to believe I still have to report on the relative lack of support from the city, especially since Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein have generally been terrific on sustainable transportation issues.

Continue reading Open Streets, closed coffers: City Hall takes a pass on Chicago’s ciclovia.

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WGN radio host talks to CDOT’s Scott Kubly about bike sharing

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Scott Kubly from the Chicago Department of Transportation talks about speed camera enforcement.

Jonathon Brandmeier, weekday morning host on WGN 720AM, talked to Scott Kubly on Friday, April 27, about bike sharing in Chicago. Kubly oversees the Bicycle Program’s implementation of the bike sharing program, among other projects, for the Department of  Transportation (CDOT).

Download the MP3 or listen to it in a Flash player on WGN’s website. Continue reading WGN radio host talks to CDOT’s Scott Kubly about bike sharing

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