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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Take a ride on the Dearborn Street cycle track

In case you haven’t been able to bike in the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane in the 48 hours it’s been open, here’s a 5 minute ride-through video, in the northbound lane from Madison Street to Kinzie Street. View on Vimeo. The song is “Tokyo Street” by airtone.

In this video you’ll get a feel for how the new intersection signals work, see the turn boxes at some intersections, and notice a lot of pedestrians! The video has been sped up by 40%.

See all articles about this groundbreaking project. See more articles with videos.


Alessandro Panella, a local student, joins the inaugural ride on Friday, December 14.

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Bicycle Film Festival starts off with a bang on Friday with free viewing

Watch the video interview on Vimeo, it’s 2 minutes long. 

We interviewed Terry Bloom the other day at his gym about the Bicycle Film Festival that starts tomorrow, a locally-produced event with international cachet that celebrates films about bikes but also the bicycles and the people who ride them. We wanted to know what will be different in 2012’s festival over 2011′.

First off, there are three new and different venues, starting with a free showing at the Claudia Cassidy Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center downtown. Donations will be accepted and seats are first come, first served, but if you join one of the three rides departing at 17:30h, “you will get a seat”, Terry guaranteed. Saturday’s screenings move to the Viaduct Theater, at the Belmont and Western Avenue viaduct in Roscoe Village, while Sunday’s films will be projected at the renovated Logan Theater in Logan Square.

See the full screening schedule, venue details, and ticket information (event page on Facebook). All other events are free. Continue reading Bicycle Film Festival starts off with a bang on Friday with free viewing

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Illinois high-speed rail project hits a milestone at 111 miles per hour


A Lincoln Service Amtrak train passes Joliet, Illinois. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined United States Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood (who’s from Peoria) and Senator Dick Durbin on a special Amtrak train in Joliet on their way to Normal. They met to ride on a rebuilt stretch of track which carried their train at a top speed of 111 miles per hour (MPH).

The high-speed portion is between Dwight and Pontiac, Illinois, according to the LaHood’s blog, Fast Lane. The map below highlights the cities in this article along the route of the Lincoln Service Amtrak route to St. Louis, Missouri. NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes. “Amtrak says that by 2015, 75% of the route between Chicago and St. Louis will be high speed”.

Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and Federal Railroad Administrator Szabo celebrate reaching 111 MPH (visible in the lower-left corner of the TV). Photo by Harvey Tillis

LaHood said on the train, “Four years ago, we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it comes to high-speed rail”. Grid Chicago readers know that Illinois secured over $2 billion in federal grants through President Obama’s ARRA stimulus program to build new tracks, buy new trains, and study a possible new double-track alignment for the Lincoln Service route. Governor Quinn claimed that 111 MPH is the fastest train speed outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in America’s history; however, the Pioneer Zephyr ran from Denver to Chicago and hit a top speed of 112 MPH. The train is on display at the Museum of Science & Industry. The Northeast Corridor is fully electric and has routes that stop at Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.; Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, hits 150 MPH for a short distance.

View this map in a new browser window. Red markers indicate Amtrak stations; larger red markers highlight major stations on the Lincoln Service route from Chicago Union Station to St. Louis, Missouri. Map created using TileMill and freely available GIS shapefiles. 

Amtrak’s state-subsidized routes in Illinois have seen year-over-year ridership increases. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak. Lincoln Service trains have seen speeds improving since last year when significant lengths of brand-new track was laid. Cutting subsidies would likely slow the ridership increases which are based on Americans’ desire for additional and reliable transportation options; passenger rail provides an alternative to high gas prices.

Representative John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, whose state rejected high-speed rail funding from Washington, supports the profitable Amtrak routes (some in the NEC).

While recognizing the need for a central entity to coordinate routes nationwide, Mr. Mica said the government has no place handling Amtrak’s day-to-day operations. But he acknowledged that some less profitable routes can’t get by without some subsidies.

“I’m for the privatization, and if we can end them, we can,” he said.

The next time Representative Mica goes back to the office, concerned about the profitability of transportation routes, he should check the balance sheets for the nation’s non-tolled highways: 100% of them will be in the red.


Normal, Illinois, constructed and opened a new intermodal Amtrak station this year (in a multi-use building), along with some streetscape improvements in its downtown. Uptown Station, as it’s known, has Illinois’s second-highest ridership, after Chicago Union Station. Photo by Dan Kuchta. 

Watch the video on NBC5’s website.

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CDOT cuts ribbon on greenest street in America


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.


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

Updated October 14 to add links and refine narrative. 

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


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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