Saturday, March 26, 2016

Belmont Ashland Lincoln Workspace as it were

Then flow the traffic around the islands. Put good solid bollards in the islands of course.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Why the Loop Link is (Already) a Huge Success

Why? Dedicated lanes. These have already defined the Loop Link as a huge success. I call them the "red lanes" because they are red in color.  Of course.

(This is the Third in a series of Loop Link posts. Previous.)

I finally got the chance Wednesday March 3rd to actually ride the "Loop Link."  I call it a "Bus Priority Transitway." I call it that because the words we use have effects. Words can create expectations and those expectations can further define something as a success or a failure. There are those who have called the Loop Link "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT). I get why they call it that, but in doing so they set themselves up for ridicule.

No transit in and through the loop is rapid. The slowest parts of all the "rapid transit" el lines are in and around the loop. The red and blue subways spend much more time per mile in the loop than any other part of their rapid transit journeys. All the elevated loop lines slow down significantly through and around the loop. It is self-evident and expected. So to brand a busway that transits the loop "rapid" is not a good idea.

Yet still the Loop Link is already a huge success. Again why? You know the old joke about the crazy thing that keeps elephants away? "Why are you holding that Barbie Doll? To keep the elephants away. There are no elephants around here. See it's working."

Why are those traffic lanes painted red? To keep the cars away. There are no cars in the red lanes. See it's working.

Do you remember reading the comments section of Streetsblog or DNAinfo in articles about the upcoming Loop Link? Remember the trolls and doom-sayers saying it would be a waste of money? Remember them specifically saying that just red paint would not work to keep the cars out? Remember them saying Chicago drivers would never respect dedicated bus lanes? I certainly do. And that my friend is why the Loop Link is already a huge success.

The most important aspect of the Loop Link "Bus Priority Transitway" are its dedicated lanes. What has ruined downtown streets for our bus systems has been and continues to be car congestion. Therefore the most critical thing that the Loop Link needed to work was for its buses to get priority over the scarce geometric resource called street space. And priority means that cars do not get to go where-ever they want to go.

And it is not just my single anecdotal report either. Others have commented with surprise that cars are respecting their lower class status on the Loop Link street spaces. Listen carefully and the sounds coming from the Loop Link trolls and naysayers about cars not respecting the red lanes is crickets.

"Already?" Already a success? I say that to remind us that the Loop Link is not yet even finished. It is not finished yet and it is already demonstrating success. One could even say that it is only one quarter done. There are three major elements that remain to be installed that will contribute to further the success of the Loop Link:
  •     The Transit Center at Union Station
  •     Signal Priority
  •     Pre-Paid Boarding
Believe me folks, the naysayers have totally jumped the gun. I will be posting further on each of those elements.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

I Ride the Loop Link for the First Time

(This is the second in a series of Loop Link posts. Previous Next)

This last Wednesday (March 2) I rode the Loop Link for the first time. This post will just recount my experience without comment. In my next post I will explain why I already consider the Loop Link a huge success.

Streetsblog/Chicago had a meetup at Jak's Tavern at 901 W Jackson at 5:30pm. Wednesday is a night out on the town for me when I go speak French with my French speaking buddies at Portillos on 100 W Ontario at 7:30pm. So it was a natural for me to go a couple hours earlier and get off the Red Line at Monroe at 5:15pm and schooch over to the Loop Link station on the north side of Madison just west of State.

It really is a station and not just a bus stop with a fancy bus shelter. A small ramp takes one up a bit and there are benches to sit on, a broad canopy overhead, platform treatment warning of the edge and special signage showing where the buses go. It had the feel of an el station.

Checking the sign I could see that I had a choice of three possible buses to get to Union Station at Jackson. There were a couple of other possible buses that went off in other directions. The first bus was not one of mine but the second one was.

A queue of about eight of us boarded the bus. A couple people had minor issues with their Ventra cards. One person had a major issue. My card worked fine, even if a bit slower than el station readers. The bus left the station with the driver continuing to work with the person having the Ventra problem.

I found a perfect observation position. There was an extremely overweight man sitting in most of  the forward facing double wide disability seat.  In the rest of the seat were personal belongings. I stood in the space in front of the personal items and mostly out of the isle directly under the overhead hand rail. I had a clear view out the front windshield of the bus.

The bus ahead was at least four blocks ahead. There was a cab in the red lane and after it pulled away a car entered the red lane. Both were discharging passengers and both seemed anxious to get out of the way before the bus came. They succeeded. In the ride to Union Station there was never a time when the bus was delayed by a car in front of it. The closest to that happening was where cars were spilling out of a parking garage. But they too exhibited nervous behavior about blocking our bus. Some pulled in front of the bus to cross over the red lane with the light change but all of us made the light and they cleared the red lane.

At the next station I remembered that I had forgotten to notice if we were creeping into the stations because of the infamous mirror concerns.  I had not noticed such behavior when the bus had arrived. At the third station the bus did seem to creep into the station but really it could have been a typical slow bus stop approach.

While riding I engaged a rider about his experience with the Loop Link. "Was all this stuff worth it," I asked. Using the words "stuff" and "worth" may have been too leading. "Stuff" is something of not much value, and "worth it" suggests that I might think that it wasn't. And indeed he answered that he felt it was a waste of money.  He was anxious about making his train at 5:41. (It was close but he probably missed it.) I pointed out that we were often pulling forward into spaces that would have been filled by cars. He did say that it was a lot better than it had been  during construction.

Just after stopping to discharge passengers going to Ogilvie Station there was a truck at the corner blocking our lane. Our lane was no longer painted red at that point and we had to cross over to the other side of the street any way to turn onto Clinton. So it was not actually a problem.

On Clinton again the were no cars in the red lane. But there were some private buses in the lane to our left that encroached a foot or so into our lane such that we could not pass them. Our lane on Clinto struck me as being too narrow. At some point there was a red light without any cross traffic that we waited on. As we approached Union Station one of the private buses discharged passengers in the red lane in front of us. That delayed us.

At Jackson I got off the bus and walked the four blocks to Jak's.

In the next installment of my series on the Loop Link I will discuss why I think it is already a huge success. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Loop Link - A Bus Priorty Transitway

(First of a series. Next -> I Ride the Loop Link)
I finally got to see the Washington Street segment of the Loop Link for myself. I was hugely impressed and underwhelmed at the same time. I observed a major but easily fixed flaw that I will discuss. The flaw is in this picture here, but let me say some generic stuff first.

A problem for me and I bet for many is that somewhere along the line the expectations for the CTA's Loop Link had gotten way overblown. Probably anyone using the acronym BRT contributed to overblown expectations. Since the buck stops at the CTA on this kind of issue then they get credit for the blame. They created at least one web address,,  where they present the Loop Link, and it uses the letters BRT, so they can take some direct blame as well.

As has been emphasized by many, likely the CTA as well, it does a disservice to associate Loop Link with BRT. Were I the CTA I would have called it something like a Bus Priority Transitway. I would have reminded people and journalists especially that at best it is a test track for several of the features that can be found in BRT. Yes it has stations and yes it has some dedicated lane-age. But do not call it BRT.

As a test track it is great! The CTA will learn a lot from it. The whole mirror issue is just one small and minor example. The big educations will come with pre-paid boarding and signal-priority. The best way to learn is to fail. The State Street Mall provided lessons by failure for those willing to learn. There has been a lot of internet discussions of just how pre-paid boarding can fail. We can theorize all we want, but the CTA can actually try and fail and learn and even succeed with pre-payment.

Now since I know so much I will point out an actual design failure. It is one that I have heard about but not seen myself. I suggested calling it a Bus Priority Transitway for a reason. Whenever a design decision must be made the decision should prioritize buses over all other traffic when there are potential conflicts. That is the rational for the red painted dedicated for buses only lane-age. The failure I have heard about concerns the special dedicated right turn lanes for cars. These include points of shared lane-age between buses and cars so cars can cross the bus lane to get to the right turn lane.

They become a point of failure when right turning cars back up into the bus lane and prevent buses from advancing. That is what I have heard. When I observed the design I immediately realized the major short-sighted short-coming in the design: the shared lane portion. The design is a contradiction that contravenes the goal of bus priority. It grants equality for cars with regards to buses in that space rather than prioritizing buses over cars.

The contradiction becomes a major failing flaw at the very time when buses need priority most, during times of car congestion. The goal of a Bus Priority Transitway is to allow buses to continue to function when the street itself fails because of car congestion.

What should have been done? Instead of granting cars shared use, the cars should have been provided a crossover point with specific instructions to not ever block the bus lane. On the right of the picture below is an example of how it should have been designed (imho).

The design error is a result of car centric mindsets. Street designers default to optimal car design. Even when trying for optimal bus design, as seen here. Ask yourself why, when the street fails because of congestion, it is buses that must take it on the chin and not cars here. Why when the turn lane fills up are buses the vehicles that become inconvenienced rather than the cause of the congestion, the cars?

When the turn lane fills, then the excess cars should stop and back up in the right hand car lane rather than entering and filling the bus lane. Clear signage should indicate that cars are not to block the bus lane. Clear street markings should indicate where cars may cross but not stop in nor block the bus only lane. It should become habit for cars to stop and block traffic in their lane rather than blocking the bus lane.

Now it is possible that the problem is no where nearly as bad as I imagine. Maybe it only happens once or twice a day. Or even only once a week.

But hey, this is a test track, right? It is a space to try things out and fail and learn and succeed.

(By the way, isn't that a neat optical illusion? It appears that the street on the right is not parallel to the one on the left.)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Culture of Respect for Pedestrians

Streetsblog national pointed me to a zoom able Mapping 10 Years of Fatal Traffic Accidents.

I looked at Edgewater, of course. It was not as bad as I was prepared for. It was certainly better than our neighbors in Rogers Park and the Devon international market corridor. Before I discuss those I want to highlight something that jumped out at me: the upscale north shore.

From Wilmette to Highland Park the only traffic fatalities are on the Edens Expressway. This is so odd to me that I wondered if there had been some deliberate data manipulation. I hope not. Because otherwise it suggests that traffic fatalities are strongly influenced by wealth. That would be good because wealth is a socially determined reality.

Now lets look at Rogers Park and Edgewater:

For me what stands out is the preponderance of pedestrian deaths in Edgewater. Granville, Broadway and Sheridan deaths in the middle of an area devoid of automobile deaths jumps out.

Rogers Park is worse. Way too many pedestrian deaths are clustered there.

We all know that Sheridan Road and Broadway constitute a corridor designed to feed Lake Shore Drive. This map makes stark the reality of that corridor's traversing a natural pedestrian environment. I think it is evident that those two streets especially are over built for cars and under built for pedestrians.

The other natural pedestrian street, the Devon international market corridor is even more tragically stark. I really hope the recent street scaping changes on that street improve its deadly history.

For further contrast lets look at Evanston.

Excluding the western panhandle of Evanston there was only one pedestrian traffic fatality there in the last 10 years.

Evanston in the last few years has been especially aggressive at asserting pedestrian rights. Sheridan road through Evanston has three or four signed crossings that appear to be stop signs until you take the time to read them. In the latest iteration of those signs they have provided red flags for pedestrians to clutch in their hands to wave down approaching cars to demand that they take notice and stop.

It's a cultural education that is working.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Edgewater Needs Way More Divvy

"A new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials [PDF] adds credence to the theory that station density is a key factor in whether a bike-share system will flourish or flop." 

Edgewater, already slighted by the first Divvy roll-out, will be seriously under serviced with the 2015 Divvy expansion. In high density areas bike sharing experts recommend a station every quarter mile, two blocks.

Five Divvy stations on Broadway between Devon and Argyle are not enough. Three in Andersonville, Edgewater's pedestrian paradise are not enough. If they were not sticking one at the ridiculous corner of Ridge and Clark/Ashland it would be a square mile of Divvy desert.

Blue Existing, Red 2015 Expansion - Click to go to source.
And here is the corker: along the population dense highrise filled Sheridan Road in Edgewater, not one single Divvy station! Not one.

This is a problem for Alderman Harry Osterman. For many people, Harry, is turning out to be a disappointment. But there is plenty of room for blame all around in Edgewater. As a community it experienced a sea-change in the 2000s and the Bordelais, that's French for Edgewaterians, have still not gotten their footing.

The sea change is from a struggling neighborhood with empty storefronts, slum landlords and a crime strip to a gentrifying lakefront ward; from Dominicks to Whole Foods as it were. The old Edgewater had the Edgewater Community Council (ECC) that united the community and helped prevent the downward slide that Rogers Park experienced. ECC is gone. In an epic crash it went from owning its own building to nothing. To a not even existing nothing. As if the sea change washed it away.

Is an ECC needed now? Its old job was fighting slumlords. What would be its new job? Delivering a swift kick in the butt of the Alderman would be a start. Harry needs leaders to follow because he isn't one. And I get that. The fastest way out of office is to stick your neck out. No, Harry needs a community demanding things at his back. No sense blaming him.

So what would a new ECC, with a new name, have as a mission for the new gleaming Edgewater? Urbanity, that's what. Urbanity, because Edgewater is one of the densest residential neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. Thirty story buildings line Sheridan Road the entire length of Edgewater. Four-Plus-Ones and larger line both sides of the two street Kenmore-Winthrop corridor. Broadway is a mixed bag but has a lot of dense residential buildings. And then except for Lakewood-Balmoral and Edgewater Glen the rest of Edgewater is mostly six-flats and three-flats.

These are some of the best urban-densisty tracts in Chicago. With an actual over-abundance of el-stops and walkability scores in the 90's Edgewater is an epitome of city dwelling.

So what's missing? What would a new ECC fight for? What future would a new ECC be dragging and kicking a screaming Alderman Harry Osterman into?

Actually again Harry is not a bad wizard of Oz. The pedestrian street scape on Argyle is likely to be amazing. The bike lanes down Broadway south of Foster are great. But I'm not sure those were Harry initiatives. I think he was a follower, yes loyal, on those. Broadway, Sheridan and Ridge is the bull whose horns need grabbing. Harry is not up to it. The Edgewater community is not up to it at the moment. But there are many many small things that can be pursued that will prepare the ground for the big horn grabbing.

And we are back to Divvy. Considering Edgewater's density not nearly enough are to be installed. Yes there could be more in the works. So lets discuss why Divvy is so important to Edgewater's future and where the missing stations should be located. Broadway as a commercial district has always struggled. The reason is simple, way too many way too fast cars. It's hard to cross and hard to sit next to. And there is too much off-street parking. Too much off-street parking means that there are too few available store fronts for a vibrant Andersonville style business district. Also the too-wide Broadway means that it's hard for an across the street synergy to develop between businesses.

To repeat:

Five Divvy stations on Broadway between Devon and Argyle are not enough. Three in Andersonville, Edgewater's pedestrian paradise are not enough. If they were not sticking one at the ridiculous corner of Ridge and Clark/Ashland it would be a square mile of Divvy desert.

And again the corker: along the population dense highrise filled Sheridan Road in Edgewater, not one single Divvy station! Not one.

What Divvy can do is bring closer the distances between Clark, Broadway and Sheridan Road businesses with their respective residents. The Millennials that are attracted to the car-free potential of Sheridan Road and the Corridor with the el nearby are missing only the easy access of Broadway up and down and then over to Andersonville. Divvy is made for Edgewater. Walking out of your apartment, on your way finding a Divvy and speeding your trip to one or several stores along Broadway and over to Andersonville would be the bee's knees for the car-free crowd. And it's not a chicken/egg thing either. The further bike lane improvements can come later. The ease of east-west travel is already there and the corridor's easy north-south as well as Glenwood's north-south are ready made for bikes.

I've covered a lot more than Divvy here. And I've still left stuff out. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is occurring and will continue to occur, for instance. All these areas of urban design and planning need to be addressed by a new ECC. A new ECC ready to lead a ready to follow Alderman Harry Osterman.


A new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials [PDF] adds credence to the theory that station density is a key factor in whether a bike-share system will flourish or flop.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Red-Line Aggression Redux

OK another Red-line story. This time with a happy ending.

Got on train at Granville headed downtown. Middle car as it is not rush hour and that car will be closest to the exit at Grand. A few minutes in and loud music erupts. A standing tattooed Hispanicy dude (let the stereotyping begin) is talking to a couple of sitting whitish dudes. I can't tell if he is telling them that loud music is not allowed or not, but it sort-of looks like it. Except I can't believe he would be the type. He leaves them and swaggers to the other end of the car. It's his music. He may be drunk. He sits briefly and as we travel he is back up and wandering the car. He makes no attempt to steer clear of women in the car. He is not exactly aggressive but he clearly is into getting too close. Not touching mind you, just getting closer than he needs to get.

This continues until Belmont. Near Belmont he lights up a small cigar/cigarette thing. Several people, myself included move to the other end of the car to get away from the smoke. He swaggers back to our end. Now our end empties as people move to the other end. I start staring at him. He ignores me. No way do I want to start something with this guy who is way younger and tougher than me. But I feel it's important to begin to call out his behavior. If he asks why I may be staring at him I plan to back down. But back down as passively aggressively as I can get away with. He begans a slow saunter back to the other end of the car.

"You need to put that thing out or get off of the car." A young black woman takes the lead. Every insurrection needs a leader. But every leader needs people at their back. "I'm with her," I say. Now it's two against one and we have a chance. Still tough odds, and old (but fit) white guy and a young woman of color. We are at Fullerton. The doors are open but he is not making a move to exit.

Next to me I hear a beep and then a young white woman is at the call button to the train operator. "A guy is smoking on the car."

"No smoking is allowed on the train," comes the authoritative reply from loud speaker.

The guy is floored. He can't believe that he has been successfully called out. He leaves the car. He's become out-numbered three to one and things will clearly become worse if he dares move against a woman and/or an old guy.

Not every asshole on the el can be thwarted. But it is important to assess one's fellow passengers. Some of us are prepared to come together when the conditions allow it. It is asking too much to expect most of us to step up and be the hero leader. But we especially need to be ready to stand with the hero leader when they do step up.