Tackling the hard stuff


Ever hear the phrase, “low hanging fruit“? It is the most annoying phrase in planning circles, and it abounds in all industries. It means to accomplish the easy stuff first. And I think it presumes that when the easy stuff is accomplished, then the hard stuff will be attempted next. Right?

That. Rarely. Happens.

The City of Chicago settled a lawsuit in 2007 that required it to spend a $50 million over 5 years (2007-2011) in “new money” (not previously budgeted to repair sidewalks) to fix curb ramps at crosswalks to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It turns out that what’s accessible to people with disabilities really makes things accessible to everyone. In each construction season, Loop workers saw many curb ramps change in a matter of days. And it happened all around the city.

The photo above shows the southwest curb ramps of Kinzie Street and Clark Street. There is a step on the north side and a curb on the east side. There are no ramps here. Based on the curb height and the slopes of the two streets, this installation seems atypical than the majority that were modified.

Thus, the $50 million has covered a lot of the low hanging fruit, but it’s time to fix the “high hanging fruit”. I don’t know if there’s an opposite or a next level. I searched for it online (“opposite of low hanging fruit”) and found “meat in the sky”.

P.S. I’d say the City has a good history of bungling “meat in the sky” projects. Like congestion parking pricing in 2008 and 2009. Or foregoing the power of parking pricing to manage congestion and raise revenue simultaneously by cheating itself, via a contract in the vendor’s favor, the parking meter deal, in 2009. These both would have given Chicago real command over its streets, reducing congestion and increasing the quality of bus transit. And the parking meter deal, as we quickly found out, make it harder to create protected bike lanes.

P.P.S. If there’s any indication of the apathetic attitude towards accessibility on the part of construction workers, who must follow Illinois construction standards, and city inspectors (do they still exist?), who must enforce the laws, this is it:


The sidewalk has been removed, there’s no sign, no barrier, no detour for people walking. Everyone I witnessed walked through the dirt-filled construction zone to get to the other side. It was either that or turn around and cross the street.

16 thoughts on “Tackling the hard stuff”

  1. Those high curbs along Kinzie have given me problems on more than one occasion.  The worst was when I was trying to get down the street with a stack of boxes on a hand truck.  I find it mind boggling that so many of those still have not been modified. 

    The second sidewalk picture is a perfect illustration of your point about apathy.  At times, the lack of consideration shown by construction companies towards pedestrians rises to the level of outright hostility.  When Block 37 was under construction, I considered the combined efforts of the construction workers and traffic aides to be equivalent to a huge, perpetually raised middle finger aimed at peds and cyclsts.

    1. I wonder if it bothers walking messengers or package deliverers. 

      Now that you mention Block 37 and construction problems, I need to add this post to the list of posts about construction barriers. 

      1.  Block 37 cost hundreds of millions of dollars and subtracted one ADA-compliant Loop L-stop. That project was a disaster for access.

        1. From the CTA website:
          “Today, over 60% of CTA’s stations are accessible by ADA-compliant elevators or ramps.”

          I don’t know what the rate is for other large cities. I wonder if there’s an organization that keeps track of this. 

  2. the street part of that picture was due to sewer work (they’ve been at it on Belmont between Lake Shore and Halsted for months now).  not sure why the driveway got folded into it

    1. I saw that. Here goes nothing. 
      Service Request number: 12-00337103.

      “I’d like to report a sidewalk that is not ADA compliant”. 
      “One moment please”.
      “The address is the corner of Kinzie and Clark, SW corner”. This is taking a long time. I said it was not accessible to people with disabilities. 

      5 minutes. 

      1. You are doing good work. I didn’t know we could report non-ADA compliant construction by 311. If I see something, I’ll do the same thing.

        1. I have no idea what will happen. The settlement description I linked to said that one could call 311 and that the city would come out and fix it. 

          The page also describes the court proceedings before the settlement and that the City tried to get out of the lawsuit by promising that it would only install ADA-compliant ramps in the future. The page then tells how the City failed to do just that in two streetscape projects, one on Fullerton Avenue and one on Chicago Avenue. 

          It’s a good read.

  3. We construction workers are not apathetic. We are thankful to have the work to do. Most of us do a far more courteous job of providing temporary access or detouring signage than your pictures above demonstrate on this particular location.

    1. It’s probably the case that most construction projects follow detour standards. Now that I’m thinking about this again, it might be the case that the standards aren’t congruent with Complete Streets policies, that the standards don’t actually call for bike-specific signage or re-routing. And while Complete Streets policies call for accommodating people on transit and bikes, and pedestrians, I don’t expect construction crews to know about Complete Streets policies. 

      I need to look up what the detour standards are. Also, this is not the only location. See also:https://gridchicago.com/2011/making-construction-areas-and-detours-bike-friendly/

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