New CDOT campaign aims to make Chicago safer for pedestrians

Three thousand pedestrians are hit by motor vehicles in Chicago annually, resulting in around 30 deaths a year. Seven to eight Chicago pedestrians suffer a traffic-related injury every day.

These are the grim statistics that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is hoping to change with a new pedestrian safety campaign. The new campaign is part of CDOT’s “Zero in Ten” goal, a plan to eliminate all pedestrian fatalities in the city within 10 years.

Zero in Ten first appeared in the city’s 2012 Pedestrian Plan.

Active Trans helped develop the campaign images (pictured here) that will appear on CTA buses, bus shelters and elsewhere on city streets reminding people driving and biking to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Another part of the campaign is a sting operation by the Chicago Police Department.

The first pedestrian safety enforcement sting took place July 1 and is profiled in this piece from the Chicago Tribune and this one from Streetsblog Chicago.

Off-duty, undercover police officers posed as pedestrians and attempted to cross Clark Street at Germania Place on the Near North Side, close to the Latin School of Chicago. Drivers who did not stop for the pedestrians received tickets.

State law mandates that drivers must stop for pedestrians in all crosswalks. The law, which Active Trans played a key role in passing in 2010, carries penalties from $50 to $500 for failure to stop. 

The Chicago Police Department will carry out 60 similar stings this year close to schools, senior housing facilities and retail areas, many of which are also locations where pedestrian crashes recently occurred.

At a press conference on July 1 at the site of the Clark Street sting operation, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld and Active Trans Executive Director Ron Burke both spoke about the need to protect pedestrians in Chicago.

“Every life lost is one too many, and we must make every effort to reduce pedestrian fatalities,” Scheinfeld said.

The next phase of Chicago’s bike lane revolution

Back in 2010-11 when Active Trans asked Chicago mayoral candidates to support a 100-mile network of protected bike lanes by 2015, many scoffed. That may fly in Europe, we were told, but this is Chicago. Cars are king and cyclists are lucky to get a white stripe between themselves and cars.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel loved the idea and so did his Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner, Gabe Klein. Within 30 days of Emanuel’s inauguration, the city’s first protected bike lane was installed on Kinzie St.

Many more projects have followed, and Chicago is leading the nation on advanced bike infrastructure:

  • Chicago has roughly 50 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes currently and expects to add another 40 miles this year.
  • Kinzie St. and the southern section of Milwaukee Ave. are among the busiest bike routes in the nation.
  • The Dearborn St. two-way protected bike lane in the Loop was recently named the nation’s best.
  • The state of Illinois recently agreed to allow protected bike lanes on some state-owned routes in Chicago, including a stretch of Clybourn Ave.

According to data collected from the Green Lanes Project, since 2011 Chicago has built nearly twice as many miles of barrier-protected bike lanes than any American city including New York, Portland and San Francisco.

But 100 miles by 2015? Well, that’s proven to be a very ambitious goal the city won’t meet. The city is counting protected and buffered bike lanes towards meeting a 100 mile goal for “advanced” bike lanes, which will be a huge accomplishment and way ahead of other cities.

We love buffered lanes, too, but remain committed to at least 100 miles of protected lanes as part of a comprehensive network.

Support from the mayor and aldermen has been crucial for these projects and is directly linked to strong grassroots support across the city. Through our on-the-ground mobilizing efforts, 12,000 Active Trans members and supporters signed petitions, turned out to public meetings, and made their voices heard in local media.

Of course, those of us who ride bikes know that coasting on your momentum will only take you so far. So with one year to go before the next round of municipal elections, now is a good time to take stock of where we are and where we want to go:

Design and maintenance of barrier protected lanes.
These lanes are the safest and most popular design for average Chicagoans who are not yet “confident” cyclists. It’s our favorite design on streets where it works. Sweeping, snow removal and standing water are areas for improvement (while keeping in mind that this past winter has been one of worst recorded winters for snow and ice accumulation).

“Hardscaping” on protected lanes.
In order to make quick progress and demonstrate “proof of concept,” all on a shoestring budget, Chicago has used basic plastic bollards, parked cars and white lines for its protected bike lanes. The next generation of lanes can use permanent and more attractive ways to separate traffic wherever possible, like curbs, landscaped medians or raised bike lanes.

Buffered vs. protected bike lanes.
More than half of the city’s first 100 miles of advanced bike lanes are currently expected to be buffered bike lanes. With enough community support, some of these can be built as barrier-protected instead. In addition, buffered lanes can be enhanced with “bots dots,” reflectors or some other raised delineator in the left-side buffer zone that still allows cars and bikes to pass.

Closing gaps to create a connected network of low-stress routes.
Bike lanes are only useful if they connect people to where they want to go. Luckily, Chicago’s Streets for Cycling 2020 plan lays out a robust 645 mile network generated directly from community input. Filling in gaps and key links in our network will be essential to making biking an easy way for people to complete everyday trips.

Adding more Neighborhood Greenways on less-busy side streets.
In 2013, Chicago saw its first Neighborhood Greenway installed on Berteau Ave. with a second slated for Leland Ave. in Uptown this year. Neighborhood Greenways take advantage of Chicago’s strong street grid system by optimizing low-traffic residential side streets for people riding bikes. Expanding these types of facilities will help create a more comfortable riding experience and make cycling a more attractive alternative for more people.

As we have already witnessed, these improvements will be challenged by some local elected officials and community members who are unwilling to make some of the tradeoffs required, like rearranging street parking or reconfiguring lanes on a street.

It’s our job to respond to this challenge. Now is not the time to back down. We must redouble our efforts and continue to find new and creative ways to build support among our neighbors and leaders. And we can’t do it alone. Join the movement to create an even better bike network in Chicago by signing up for updates and alerts.

Milwaukee Ave. Complete Streets project: There’s nothing to fear about narrower roads

On Wednesday July 2, 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will host an open house to discuss alternative visions for a Complete Streets project on Milwaukee Ave. between Lawrence and Elston. 


Does this street look complete?  Milwaukee Ave. near Central Ave.
(Photo: Google Maps Streetview)

At an initial public meeting in January, the alderman and city said they were seeking to make improvements for people driving, walking, using transit and riding bikes.

With over 900 reported crashes between 2008 and 2012, including a single car crash that claimed two lives just days after the initial meeting, the project is first and foremost about making the street safer for everyone and avoiding preventable injuries and fatalities.

Of the serious injuries that resulted from these crashes, 40 percent were among people walking or riding bikes — the most vulnerable users of the road.

Numbers like these are simply unacceptable.

So what can be done?

Some of the possible elements to mitigate the problems and enhance the street for everyone include: improved crosswalks and pedestrian refuges, consolidated travel lanes to reduce speeding and weaving, improved bus service and shelters and new protected bike lanes.

All of these could be accomplished while still maintaining sufficient capacity to move the same amount of traffic Milwaukee Ave. sees on the average day.

Seems like an easy call, doesn’t it? We have the technology, we can rebuild it. Just fix the road.

But not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of narrowing the street and adding more accommodations for people walking, riding bikes and taking public transit.

One local group has been vocally opposed to some of the proposed elements of the Milwaukee Ave. Complete Street Project, particularly consolidating travel lanes and adding curb-side protected bike lanes.

The group claims it has gathered over 5,000 signatures on a petition by telling folks the project will cause congestion, create a negative climate for local businesses and block the road for emergency vehicles.

However, thousands of projects that involve narrowing or consolidating lanes have been installed throughout the country, including many right here in Chicago, all without leading to the nightmare scenarios envisioned by opponents of this project (see CDOT photo to right of before/after recent project on Wabash in the South Loop.)

So let's set aside hypothetical negatives and focus on the facts.

AARP (yes, that AARP) developed a great factsheet recently that dispels many of the most commonly believed myths about "rightsizing" roads. (AARP and others often use the term "road diet" to describe these types of projects, but no one likes going on a diet, so we prefer using other ways of describing these projects.)

Let’s take a look at a few of the big myths AARP includes in its list:

  • Narrowing the street will cause congestion and divert traffic. According to the Federal Highway Administration, properly designed lane consolidations don’t divert traffic. In fact, there are many examples of traffic increasing after construction. By maintaining a center turn lane, space remains for turning or other stopped vehicles to get out of the way of through traffic, thus avoiding back-ups.
     
  • Local business will suffer if we consolidate lanes. By reducing traffic speeds, businesses are more likely to be seen. By encouraging more walking and biking, these projects also attract customers that tend to spend more per month than drivers.
     
  • Emergency vehicles will be impeded if there is only one lane in each direction. A good design can ensure emergency vehicles and first responders are able to quickly respond to any incident. Center turn lanes provide space for ambulances, fire trucks or police to safely pass any traffic that may be on the street.

Besides not creating problems, consolidating and narrowing lanes can solve quite a few. By reducing traffic speeds and dangerous behavior like weaving, fewer lanes can boost safety while maintaining a more consistent and smooth traffic flow.

Chicago sees a lot of "hurry up and wait" driving, where people put the pedal to the metal at a green light, only to arrive at the next red light to wait longer.

By slowing down between lights, the same average speed can be maintained while reducing the hazard speeding brings to everyone on the street.

As a bonus, the additional space created by consolidating lanes can be re-purposed for things like protected or buffered bike lanes. Everybody wins!

Be sure to join us and other supporters of safer and better streets at the July 2 Milwaukee Ave. Complete Street Project open house. You can download and read the AARP factsheet on road diets here.

Belding Elementary: where support for biking starts at the top

This blog post is part of our series chronicling our work with Healthy CPS. Read more about the project here.

In Chicago, a number of schools participating in the Healthy CPS Safe Routes to School initiative have been models for promoting bike use throughout the school year.

One of those schools is Belding Elementary, serving the Mayfair and Old Irving Park neighborhoods on the Northwest Side of Chicago.

As is the case with many successful Safe Routes to School programs, the support started at the top. Principal Heather Yutzy worked hard promoting encouragement events and asking parents to teach kids about safe bicycling through the school’s monthly newsletter.

The school community was also asked to participate in Walking Wednesdays, where students and staff are encouraged to travel to school on foot.

One of the highlights of the year was Wellness Week, held in May. This included a Bike to School Day event, which received support from a Whole Foods grocery store, and a bicycle rodeo facilitated by Active Trans.

The rodeo (pictured above) included a brief safety presentation and allowed children an opportunity to practice safe bicycling skills. Volunteers from a Target store were in attendance to assist with the rodeo, attended by some 85 students and many of their parents.

The event also showcased the school’s newly designated bicycle storage facility, which was piloted last winter by a few ardent student cyclists. Students from the school's safety patrol open and close the storage area. Sometimes, simply designating a place where children can safely leave their bicycles can encourage more biking to school.

Nice work, Belding!

Contact us at education@activetrans.org for resources and technical assistance on encouraging riding to school.

On Wed., July 2, a chance to make Milwaukee Ave. safer on NW Side

This is where we make change happen on our streets.

You may recall earlier this year 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and the Chicago Department of Transportation shared plans for potential safety improvements and other enhancements to Milwaukee Ave. between Lawrence and Elston, a corridor that has seen more than 900 crashes in recent years, including several fatalities.

Now, after gathering community input for several months, CDOT and Ald. Arena are hosting a public open house meeting to share several alternative visions for the corridor and collect your feedback.

The first round of public meetings received a lot of attention for how contentious they were, with local groups organizing both in support of and against some of the proposals. This is an opportunity for us to show decision makers that we care about safe, livable streets.

If you live, work, visit or travel on this part of Milwaukee Ave. and care about safer and better streets for walking, biking and driving, you deserve a say in the future of this project.

Now is the time to come out and show your support! I hope to see you there.

What: Milwaukee Ave. Complete Street Project Open House
When: Wednesday, July 2 from 5 pm – 8 pm
Where: Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. 

July 8 Open House: What’s your vision for North Lake Shore Drive?

Chicago residents will be given an opportunity to help shape the future of North Lake Shore Drive at a public meeting on July 8 hosted by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

The purpose of the meeting is to present the latest information about the planning process and obtain feedback from the public.

What: North Lake Shore Drive Public Meeting
Who: Illinois Department of Transportation and Chicago Department of Transportation 
When: Tuesday, July 8, 2014: 1pm – 7pm
Where: The Drake Hotel – Gold Coast Ballroom (140 E. Walton Place)
RSVP today!

 

The Active Transportation Alliance was part of a coalition of 15 regional organizations that released a civic platform last year urging Chicagoans to support a bold vision for the project built upon principles of safety, mobility, connectivity, livability and sustainability.

This meeting kicks off the second round of public meetings after the project team reviewed more than 300 public comments from the first round last year.

The team also released a draft Purpose and Need Statement in May, which laid out their initial vision for the focus of the project. Hundreds of Active Trans supporters responded to the draft asking for greater visibility in the document for alternative transportation options, like bicycling and public transit.

Now it’s time to carry our vision to the July 8 meeting!

Active Trans continues to advocate for a design that meets the needs of everyone who uses the lakefront and move away from the slow shift of Lake Shore Drive towards a superhighway that serves as an ever-widening barrier between Chicago and its lakefront.

Following are three of our top priorities:

1) Mobility – Separate transit from automobile traffic with bus-only lanes and other public transportation enhancements, such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), so transit capacity reaches levels more appropriate for the high population density along the lakefront.

2) Safety – Add a separate bike facility for higher speed traffic to improve safety and convenience for both recreation Lakefront Trail users and for bike commuters.

3) Connectivity – Increase lakefront access points and redesign roadway connections and intersections to provide a more seamless park experience between the neighborhoods and the lakefront.

Join us at the public meeting on July 8th as we push for these and other critical priorities.

Click here to RSVP. An RSVP is not required to attend but we encourage you to let us know if you're planning to go so we can monitor turnout and keep you informed.

Sign pledge to "roll together"

As the number of cyclists on Chicago’s roads continues to climb, it’s crucial that motorists and cyclists treat one another with respect and courtesy.

Enter Active Trans’ new campaign, a joint effort with the nation’s largest motor organization, AAA, with help from national bicycling advocacy organization PeopleforBikes. The campaign tagline, “Two Wheels Four Wheels -- We All Roll Together,” highlights the need for cooperation in order to make roads safe for all users.

The campaign includes ads (right) that will be displayed on social media and at various events, as well as safety tip cards distributed with every Chicago tow provided by AAA tow trucks. Supporters can also sign an online pledge to share the road and post ads with the campaign’s tagline to social media sites.

Adapting to bike lanes and greater numbers of people biking on the roads will doubtless be an adjustment for many motorists. The campaign provides them with tips for sharing the road safely. For example, motorists should allow cyclists at least three feet of clearance and they should check mirrors and blind spots before turning or opening car doors.

Equally, the campaign offers people biking advice on sharing the road with motorists. For instance, be visible and ride predictably.

Visit www.activetrans.org/rolltogether to sign on to the campaign, download the shareable campaign ads and read more tips for driving and cycling responsibly.

Creating Safe Routes to Chicago schools

For the past year, the Active Transportation Alliance has been working with Chicago Public Schools and its Office of Student Health and Wellness to promote walking and biking to and from school as part of the Healthy CPS initiative. You can read more about the project in this NewCity article: Paving the Way for Safe Routes to School.

This summer we plan to post regular stories on Active Trans' work on this project, highlighting various ways schools in Chicago are working to integrate active transportation into their school wellness activities. Here's the first article in the series. 

In October 2012, the Chicago Board of Education adopted a new Local School Wellness Policy to promote healthier school environments. One aspect of the policy was for schools to create Wellness Teams, a group of staff, parents and/or students who focus on implementing the Wellness Policy and promoting general wellness and physical activity in the school.

School Wellness Teams have been great partners for Active Trans during the Healthy CPS project. They provide the perfect place to gain feedback and to ensure the sustainability of a Safe Routes to School program long-term.

At Funston Elementary School at 2010 N. Central Park Ave. in Logan Square, Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) — an Active Trans partner — helped the school form its Wellness Team. Using AFHK’s “Game On!” framework (which includes components to promote walking and biking to and from school), Funston's Wellness Team has worked to promote wellness throughout the school.

As part of the Healthy CPS project, Active Trans met with the Wellness Team this spring to launch its Safe Routes to School initiative. The Wellness Team helped conduct travel tallies, which showed that a majority of students — 61 percent — already walk to the school.

The Wellness Team was also able to obtain nearly 150 parent surveys, which detail parental attitudes and concerns, and helped coordinate a parent meeting to garner direct feedback (see photos). Results will be used to create recommendations for ways to increase the number of students who walk and bike to school and to improve walking and biking conditions.

Moving forward, the Wellness Team at Funston will continue to be a central partner for Active Trans in implementing recommendations and making biking and walking safer and easier for students and community residents alike.

Visit www.activetrans.org/education or e-mail education@activetrans.org to connect more with Active Trans’ School and Education work.

PlayStreets events coming to Chicago again this summer

Active Transportation Alliance, in partnership with World Sport Chicago and LISC Chicago, is happy to once again be assisting in organizing PlayStreets events in Chicago this summer.

PlayStreets are reoccurring community events that close a street to car traffic and open it up for games and activities for local families. 

A program of the Chicago Department of Public Health, PlayStreets is an initiative to help foster more physical activity for children in underserved neighborhoods

Now through Labor Day, more than 150 PlayStreets events will be happening across the city.

Active Trans will be partnering with 10 community-based organizations to organize and implement events across the city’s South Side.

Gads Hill, a community-based family resource center serving the low-income population of the city's Lower West Side, will help produce events on the North and West Sides.

In addition to physical activity, events are designed to bring residents closer together and build community and be a part of making streets safer and neighborhoods more vibrant.

We’re excited to once again be a part of the PlayStreets initiative, and we encourage you to keep your eye out for PlayStreets events across the city this summer.

Read more about PlayStreets in this press release by the Office of the Mayor.

Help improve the Clybourn Metra station!

Wish you had a better Metra station at Clybourn? Your transit station doesn’t have to be difficult to get to on foot or by bike, and there’s no reason you should feel unsafe or uncomfortable as you wait for your train.

To help you bring change to your community, the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Active Transportation Alliance to make use of an easy-to-use tool that helps community members evaluate local transit stations and advocate for improved passenger amenities and better stations overall. Join us at the workshop!

What: Complete Station Assessment of Clybourn Metra Station on the Union Pacific/North Line
When: Wednesday, June 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Clybourn Metra Station, 2001 North Ashland Ave.

Please RSVP to the meeting and receive a reminder email as the date gets closer. Questions? Please email Kyle Whitehead or call him at 312-427-3325 Ext. 392.  

What is a Complete Stations Assessment?
Transit riders often become accustomed to the routine of their commute and resign themselves to navigating outdated or inadequate infrastructure.

A Complete Stations Assessment is an evaluation tool to identify missing amenities or places for improvement for any CTA or Metra transit station -- whether it’s missing a shelter or has problems with unclear signage, handicap accessibility or broken fare mechanisms.

This tool is designed to empower community members to rethink their transit stations, suggest improvements and attract the attention of important stakeholders to implement improvements.

The photo above shows a recent Complete Stations Assessment underway at the Addison Blue Line station.  

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