Gimme shelter: pedestrian improvements to Congress Parkway


New crosswalk with pedestrian refuge island at Congress and Dearborn.

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

Folks who walked to the Printers Row Lit Fest last weekend were a little less likely be killed by cars than in previous years. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently wrapping up the $18 million Congress Parkway Reconstruction Project, from Wells Street to Michigan Avenue. The rehab has already brought a slew of pedestrian safety improvements, including new pedestrian refuge islands, making it safer, easier and more pleasant to walk across and along the massive street that forms the southern boundary of the Loop.

Construction on Congress began in October 2010 and the road reopened to traffic on May 15, just in time for the NATO summit. CDOT expects the final tasks, including finishing planter medians and installing decorative trellises and lighting, will be done by June 30.

Congress has long been an iconic Chicago street, but it has also been a major barrier to foot traffic. Originally called Tyler Street after tenth U.S. President John Tyler, the name was changed to honor the U.S. Congress after Tyler became unpopular because he joined the Confederacy during the Civil War. The road originates as a freeway at the Circle Interchange, the junction of the Dan Ryan, Eisenhower and Kennedy Expressways, and then continues east to become an eight-lane surface road at Wells Street, dumping high-speed traffic into the street grid.

Continue reading Gimme shelter: pedestrian improvements to Congress Parkway

Does the City of Chicago do enough to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe?


“Biker Boy” by Alice Dubois. Alice’s paintings are on display this month at Charmers Cafe, 1500 W. Jarvis, and the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington.

[Ed. note: This article was contributed by Carly Syms, a grad student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The piece also appears on the Medill Reports website. Carly completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. She eventually wants to get into sports journalism.]

Chicagoans are speaking out about the city’s active transportation initiatives amidst growing research that shows walking and biking to work can result in extensive health benefits.

One of the biggest improvement projects under way is the Bike 2015 Plan, which the city says is meant to “make bicycling an integral part of daily life in Chicago,” and for many residents, that begins with safety.

John Greenfield, co-founder of, a blog dedicated to local transportation concerns, said that while many of the city’s initiatives have yielded positive results, there’s still room for improvement.

“Too much car traffic is one of the main obstacles to safe, pleasant conditions for walking, biking and transit use,” Greenfield said. “I’d like to see policymakers doing more to discourage driving and fund healthier modes.”

Continue reading Does the City of Chicago do enough to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe?

How LaSalle Street Metra station maintains hard-to-find reputation


A new intermodal link at Congress Parkway and Financial Place, leading passengers up to Metra platforms, as viewed from the northwest.

If there were a contest for “best hidden train station in the Loop,” the dubious winner would be Metra’s LaSalle Street station. Have you ever tried and failed to find this station, or had to give extremely detailed directions to help someone else find it? If your answer is “yes,” you’ve got lots of company.

So why is it such a mystery?

Much of the signage directing “potential” passengers is small, placed in mid-block locations far out of visual range from adjacent intersections, and doesn’t follow the design standards of Metra signs. The station itself is tucked and hidden behind the Chicago Board Options Exchange; the platforms are also above ground with a single point of entry. This aerial view gives you a point of reference. Continue reading How LaSalle Street Metra station maintains hard-to-find reputation