Crossing the line

Metro briefs for today. (Whew, am I sick of food trucks, although I appreciate Jef Nickerson for saying what’s on my mind: “I’m not saying Food Trucks should be banned, far from it. What I would like to see is, the city thinking about ways to encourage other forms of street food, be they micro-storefronts, push carts, Food Trucks, or something else.”)

1. Chris Leinberger tries to make nice with Joel Kotkin by pointing out that the latter is stuck in the old city vs. suburb dichotomy, hung up on municipal boundaries. This is still necessary that many years after David Rusk‘s “elastic cities” hypothesis? And for a writer based in the southwest, with its highly elastic cities? I’m more inclined to chalk it up to willful ignorance.

(Since I grew up in an “elastic” city with a regional school district, all of which consisted principally of low-density sprawl that overran and embedded a few country towns, I’ve always thought this distinction was a complete canard. Of course “auto-dependent sprawl” and “walkable urbanism” can both exist in either city, suburb, town, or country. Duh.)

2. Delhi is following Singapore and writing traffic tickets based on photo evidence of infractions posted to Facebook. I typically would support measures to improve the ubiquity of traffic law enforcement, particularly as regards public safety, but this raises serious concerns about due process. I wonder how much supporting evidence would be necessary to verify that such photos haven’t been doctored: untampered EXIF data? GPS tracks showing that the car was at that location?

3. “Chicago taxpayers [will] cry” over the $11 billion that the Morgan Stanley joint venture [JV] will make over the term of the parking meter lease, according to Bloomberg’s Darrell Preston. (The JV also admits that the amount it spent on new meters amounts to a mere $40M.) Interesting that the JV is issuing what amounts to parking-meter revenue bonds — except priced as corporate bonds, not as tax-exempt municipal debt. (I’ve been saying all this time that an easier and more cost-effective way to tap into the future revenue stream would be for the city to jack the rates and issue revenue bonds. The primary reason for not doing this is that it would add debt to the city’s books, thereby lowering its credit rating — and that the proceeds from municipal bonds are subject to greater City Council scrutiny under Illinois law than the proceeds from a PPP. Well, the city got a downgrade anyways.)

Meanwhile, of course, San Francisco — which pioneered parking meter revenue bonds back in 1994 — has just launched SFpark, its municipally run advanced market-pricing scheme. The startup costs are underwritten via a loan from the MPO, interestingly, to be paid back with the enhanced revenues. And guess what else? The city still retains the flexibility to do cool things with its public space, like curbside bike parking. Imagine that!

4. An interesting participation exercise from the Next American City, sponsored by IBM’s Smarter Cities ad campaign: The Next American City Challenge on Tumblr.

5. Speaking of Tumblr, TakeMeWithYou is a WPB Make Believe project that used the “community disposable camera” model of storytelling. This was suggested as one idea for our WPB plan outreach process; glad to see that it came up with some fun results.

6. Great article by Fred Mayer on the Twin Cities (and Madison) bike economy, which he estimates at over $300M in revenues annually. One might think that the bike industry should prove to have a particularly lucrative local multiplier effect: it’s relatively light on capital and heavy on labor, and generates positive local externalities — quite unlike driving, which sucks money out of other sectors of the economy and sends almost all of its capital costs out of the local economy.

7. Park51, or the Cordoba Initiative, is obviously a local zoning matter — and as such, national Republicans have zero say. Perhaps that’s why they’re fast falling into line to “stand against the Ground Zero mosque,” since it’s completely painless: it will undoubtedly happen, and they can look like they’re doing something (paying lip service to the insane base) without actually affecting any real change. Yet watching this is frightening: for government to step in and “stop” Park51 wouldn’t just prohibit the free exercise of religion (1st Amendment) but also deprive the rightful landowners their property (5th Amendment). That this self-described “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd can show off that much contempt for personal freedoms just makes it all the more obvious that such “freedoms” only apply to their selfish selves.

8. Tom Philpott over at Grist notes that even most rural farms, much less urban farms, don’t make money. It frustrates me that so many people are so hopelessly naïve about farming’s poor economics: after the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars paving over farmland because it’s uneconomical, suddenly now farming will be profitable enough to underwrite demolition and infrastructure work to undo it all? This goes double for architects who concoct schemes featuring purpose-built “vertical ag” megastructures for agriculture (the very definition of a “factory farm”), or those positing urban farms as the solution for just about everything urban-decline related.

For instance, last year’s Re-Burbia competition finalists included exactly two approaches that comprehensively evolving suburbs through individual initiative. The rest of the schemes were a collection of inflexible (and therefore inherently unsustainable) megastructures (the sort of megalomaniacal thinking that got us into this mess of cloverleafs, malls, and McMansions), one-off tech gizmo wonder panaceas, or land-use transformations that betray a complete misunderstanding of economics (farms and wetlands are great, but they just don’t pay the rent).

As Alex Steffen (via Allison Arieff in Good) points out (and as SF Streetsblog commenters echo), it’s a folly to think that any vacant land (even in stagnant cities) should automatically be best thought of as agriculture, particularly permanently; in many cases, such land could best enhance regional sustainability (and the regional economy) if used to enhance walkability instead with more housing, retail, or workplaces. The difference between zero and ten food miles is nothing like the difference between ten and 2,000. Eliminating the first 99.5% of the food miles is easy and necessary, so let’s not obsess over the last 0.4%.

(And really, this has nothing to do with the orchard. Honest: that necessarily has to be open space of some kind.)

9. “[C]limatologists have long theorized that in a warming world, the added heat would cause more record highs and fewer record lows. The statistics suggest that is exactly what is happening. In the United States these days, about two record highs are being set for every record low, telltale evidence that amid all the random variation of weather, the trend is toward a warmer climate.” Justin Gillis [NYT]

Less serious:

10. Oh, how I’ve giggled at the now-repaired-again Milshire Ho sign. (Backup photo.) For the longest time, I just assumed it read “Wilshire.”

11. Oh, and while we’re in Logan Square, my friends’ HGTV makeover aired in June. Check this page for when it’ll re-run.

12. Not metro at all, but a recent party joke was about a theme band called “Ayn Rand Sex Scene.” Given her newfound popularity…

Orchard (2)

As Lynn mentions, a public meeting regarding the proposal to build an orchard on Logan Square will take place on Tuesday evening at Logan Square Kitchen. She also points out that DPD (or whoever they are now) says they have an open mind about the proposal.

Again, I welcome the idea of an orchard on a different site, in an area where a quiet garden would be a net benefit to the neighbors. I would even welcome a (temporary) vegetable or flower garden at this site, until the community has a clearer vision for this parcel. (A playlot? An outdoor flea market, for the yard-sale crowd taking over Logan? A graffiti gallery? Who knows?) However, creating an orchard here is a pretty permanent move, and its impact on the neighborhood for the next few decades should be very carefully considered — particularly the opportunity costs of fencing off a good chunk of public space within a growing retail area, where the neighbors (shops, mostly) would derive greater benefit from people than from trees.

I’ve been told that CROP is the only group that’s come forward with a promise to clean/maintain the site (over what time period, I don’t know). In the absence of an SSA or other funding mechanism, the Chamber is unable to step into that role should the site be developed into a public park or plaza. Yet CROP has yet to conclusively demonstrate that they have sufficient organizational capacity in spite of their brief history and narrow funding base. At the very least, as a neighbor I need assurances that CROP has the capacity to keep vagrants and vermin away from the site — and this video doesn’t exactly show off a well-tended garden. By that very low standard of care, the existing informal parking lot at least doesn’t damage the immediate neighborhood and provides a convenience to the neighboring shops. It also doesn’t present much of an opportunity cost, since it could be ripped up tomorrow.

Quick: 31 July

A couple of recent thoughts:

1. “Chicago’s transit system–the country’s second largest with an average 1.8 million riders every weekday–faces some of the nation’s most dire challenges. It has more than $7 billion in unfunded maintenance needs. On parts of the system, for example, trains engineered to speed along at 70 mph now must slow to a 15 mph crawl because the fragile rails can’t handle faster speeds. ‘They’re going at the speed of a horse and buggy because the rails are literally eroding and coming loose from the ties,’ says Ben Forman, research director for MassINC, a nonpartisan, Boston-based public policy think tank. ‘When transit breaks down as it has in Chicago, cities lose a big part of their core.’ ” [Zach Patton in Governing]

2. Dig up the Deep Tunnel? The Philadelphia Water Department, faced with the prospect of an $8 billion bill to deal with combined sewer overflow, has instead presented the EPA with a $1.6 billion green infrastructure plan that seeks to effectively de-pave 1/3 of the city’s impervious surface. Shades of Growing Water here… [h/t Feather O’Connor Houstoun in the same issue of Governing]

3. I’m know it’s so very trendy, but I really don’t understand the fascination with littering Chicago with food trucks. I’ve found them quite annoying in NY and LA:
– they don’t pay rent for the valuable public space they take up
– they unfairly compete with fixed-premise restaurants, particularly since Chicago suffers from many miles of empty storefronts
– they only go to trendy areas which already have lots of shops and foot traffic, thereby merely overcrowding existing transient hotspots and potentially preventing new areas from emerging
– they leave clouds of diesel fumes and noise in their wake, since they run generators even when idling
– they generate mountains of trash in said areas’ already-overflowing trashcans, since there’s no capacity for onboard dishwashing and few sidewalk recycling bins
– they’d be yet more unwieldy vehicles careening through the streets, killing people in crashes.

I certainly don’t dispute the overall goals to have broadly available, inexpensive food and easing the way for entrepreneurs to open foodservice businesses. However, these goals frankly have nothing to do with adding more smelly trucks to already choked streets. Seems like we’d be better off making it easier for people to open small restaurants — perhaps through establishing public markets, or “hawker centres” as Singapore’s government (which counts getting rid of itinerant food vendors as a key public health victory) insists on calling them.

4. A recent conversation turned to imagining the office drama at the planning department in West Hollywood, “America’s First Gay City”: the setting almost seems worthy of a TV series on a gay cable channel. Perhaps a workplace sitcom riffing on “Parks and Rec,” with hilariously micromanaging interior decorators staffing the design review commission, or a drama combining the personal dramatics of [well, just about any gay drama] with a noirish view of (lightly fictionalized) viciously seamy municipal politics. Unlike popularizations of planning like SimCity, this would expose planning not as a bland technocracy, but as a bunch of jealous hacks playing out their inter-personal political dramas across a bigger stage.

Anyhow, the thought reoccured to me upon finding that the vice-chair of WeHo’s transportation commission is perhaps better known as the former author of Boi from Troy, a blog combining Log Cabin Republican political views with a passion for local college football(ers). Actually, I’m pretty sure that WeHo is a pretty well governed place, and its fussy attention is evident in some pretty thoughtful streetscapes — but it’s still funny to imagine.

5. Where in today’s Republican Party are honest-to-god “fiscal conservatives” like Peter Peterson and David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett? What I see on Capitol Hill now is a group of nihilist zombies, holding even the smallest of bills hostage as fiscal death (most notably the recent $34B unemployment extension) while simultaneously seeking to blast a 100X bigger hole in the budget with their sacreder-than-Jeebus tax cuts. These people can’t be serious, and yet they are.

Bartlett: “Republicans have a completely indefensible position on taxes. In their view, deficits cannot arise from tax cuts. No matter how much taxes are cut, no matter how low revenues go as a share of GDP, tax cuts are never a cause of deficits; they result ONLY AND EXCLUSIVELY from spending—and never from spending put in place by Republicans, such as Medicare Part D, TARP, two unfunded wars, bridges to nowhere, etc—but ONLY from Democratic efforts to stimulate growth, help the unemployed, provide health insurance for those without it, etc. The monumental hypocrisy of the Republican Party is something amazing to behold.”

No open space in my backyard (2)

An open letter sent to CROP, regarding a proposed orchard nearby. BTW, the title refers to another fight over what to do with another backyard I had.

I live [south of Logan Square, near the] city-owned vacant parcel that has been identified as “future community open space.” I recently heard about a plan being advanced to develop that parcel as a fruit orchard, rather than the market plaza promised by the Logan Square Open Space Plan. This proposal puzzles and concerns me, since this location strikes me as a particularly poor location for agriculture.

I have spent my career advocating for smart neighborhood and city planning, including longtime volunteer service on local planning in the West Town and Logan Square community areas. I also spent years as a community gardener at Greenhouse Garden in Ukrainian Village, which houses a number of espaliered heirloom fruit trees.

When I participated in the Logan Square Open Space Plan public outreach process, the conversation about this parcel centered around creating a space filled with human activity. That makes sense given that this is one of Logan Square’s busiest corners, with thriving businesses opening up all around. Pedestrian-oriented retail districts like this need a critical mass of activity to thrive, and that activity should be reinforced whenever possible. That the retail is growing despite nearby parking lots, blank walls, empty storefronts, and high-speed thoroughfares is heartening, but we cannot take further growth for granted. A market plaza would bring more people and more commerce to this corner, helping all of the nearby businesses thrive…

An orchard, closed and gated to the public for all but a few days each year (I know from experience that otherwise fruit and/or trees would be lost to theft or vandalism), would do nothing to reinforce this hub of activity. Creating a “walled garden” (lasting at least several, if not a hundred, years) at the key junction of the Logan-Milwaukee business district will freeze this budding area’s growth and prevent it from coalescing into something greater. In addition, I know from having dug in my own yard that the soil underneath this site does not lend itself to trees: construction of the subway portal and trench required extensive excavation which was backfilled with gravel aggregate, which lurks just a foot beneath the ground.

Scores of vacant lots exist elsewhere in Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and Garfield Park, including high-visibility sites along the boulevard system or near the future Bloomingdale Trail. In fact, the Logan Square Open Space Plan identified several lots that would be ideal for community gardens, provided a group (like yours) was willing to step up and organize management of the site. Many of these would make for suitable locations for quiet agricultural uses, reinforcing the areas’ quiet residential or industrial character.

I wish your organization luck on finding a great site for your worthy project.

Quick links

  • Recently attended a presentation about the Sustainable Sites Initiative and I-LAST, two new attempts at green rating schemes developed largely by (respectively) ASLA and Illinois highway engineers. Ultimately, I’m certainly glad to see that other groups are paying attention to the need for sustainable practices, and appreciate the challenges that many areas face in taking just the first step in that direction. However, I can’t help but feel that these efforts will result in unfortunate greenwashing, at the expense of more rigorous systems like LEED-ND. SSI awards more points for native plant use than for infill and transit-oriented locations; I-LAST allows project managers to skip over sustainable practices (even basics like complying with local comp plans or doing perfunctory public involvement) that “aren’t applicable” without even trying. FHWA is rumored to be creating its own sustainability rating scheme; let’s hope that it not only sets a rigorous standard but also can make or break a project’s funding decisions.
  • “Farmers in Northern Illinois who only a few years ago were making plans to move their operations Downstate or closer to Iowa now have a rare opportunity to reclaim land sold to developers, at a fraction of the price the homebuilders paid… With a resumption of exurban homebuilding years away, corn and soybean farms will continue to dot the outer fringes of metro Chicago, making the woes of homebuilders and banks a source of opportunity for local farmers who want to bulk up and cheering critics of suburban sprawl.” [Steve Daniels in Crain’s]
  • “Holiday Inn… commissioned less than a dozen of these circular high-rise hotels in the 1960s.” [Jefferson City, Missouri – Landmarks] Strange, I could have sworn there were more — or maybe they just figure prominently in my memory, owing to what’s now the Clarion Hotel in downtown Raleigh.
  • Alan Durning notes in “the parable of the electric bike” that a transformative electric vehicle boom has been underway — only it involves bicycles in China, not cars in the USA. (Indeed, you really have to be careful to look both ways when crossing either road or footpath in China, since electric bikes will quickly and silently whip out of nowhere.) Citing Chi-Jen Yang at Duke, he notes that this phenomenon was a market reaction to a policy stick: a crackdown on motorcycle pollution displaced demand over to e-bikes. Systems don’t change, markets don’t adapt to gentle pressure. New inventions for urban mobility won’t change the way we get around overnight, unless there are equally huge changes in how we build the places we get around. (He also makes a good point that we cyclists shouldn’t turn up our noses at e-bikes in our quest to human-power everything; we’re just falling for the same “our vehicles, ourselves” trap that makes drivers thumb their noses at cyclists.)

Remembering an inspiration

Jan Metzger, my neighbor and colleague on the WPB commission, died yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Gin and Michael have shared some of their thoughts on their blog.

I’m proud that we, as commissioners of WPB, created a lasting legacy. We walked into a deeply divided room — which she walked out of as chair! She had faith in planning, urging me along to get the planning process rolling even while other commissioners were skeptical of the whole idea. When it came time to do the major public involvement for our then-in-process WPB plan, I almost felt afraid that whatever we came up with wouldn’t pass muster with her. After all, her passion for community engagement is legendary, and admittedly I sometimes prefer no-muss technocracy to the oft-dirty business of democracy. Yet her experience with leavening planning guided our successful approach.

From that rocky beginning, WPB now has lots of momentum behind numerous aspects of our plan, regardless of the personnel (commissioners, aldermen). Soon I’ll be proud to fulfill my last promise to Jan: to have one of our volunteers go to her favorite city, New Orleans, to accept an award for excellence in public involvement.

A little fine print to boost tourism

Buried within the super-fine-print fare rules for any United Airlines domestic airfare purchase is this condition:

“STOPOVERS WITHIN CONTIGUOUS U.S.A. 2 STOPOVERS PERMITTED – 1 IN EACH DIRECTION IN DEN AT USD 55.81 EACH. NOTE – NOT VALID ON NONSTOP ROUTINGS OR ROUTINGS THAT DO NOT HAVE DEN AS AN INTERMEDIATE POINT.”

This essentially allows anyone traveling cross-country to visit Denver for $60 ($55.81+taxes); here’s how it works in real life. It’s there because Denver mayor John Hickenlooper asked for it — he figured that if some of the millions of passengers who connect through DEN annually might want to spend a few days in town. And I know that I’ve booked several of these stopovers, and paid a premium to United for that privilege.

I mention this since, well, United Airlines owes the city of Chicago more than a few favors — we, or rather our TIF districts, have just been so darn generous to them lately. Sure, I know that Mayor Daley would like to cash in those favors to get the O’Hare Modernization Program (and its scads of jobs) done. Yet here’s an easy ask: just add “OR ORD” twice into the above phrase, and a few of the 30 million United passengers who flow through ORD every year might find themselves heading into town to spend cash at Chicago’s amazing restaurants, hotels, and shops. (And since airlines are highly competitive, American and Southwest just might be compelled to match — doubling the potential audience.) I know that friends of mine “wish” they could easily stop by and go out for a drink in town rather than wait around ORD, but right now it isn’t possible without “breaking the fare.” Just adding ten letters could fix that. (Of course, it’d be even better if it could also apply to international itineraries.)

As for advertising such a program, Chicago-based Orbitz might be able to find a way to target the intended audience (i.e., people searching for flights that might connect through Chicago) right at the moment of purchase. The city also ultimately controls a lot of advertising opportunities at the airports themselves — that is, until the airports are privatized.

Crosswalk? Bah.

1. Who are the real scofflaws? In 15 min. observing a clearly marked zebra crosswalk at Milwaukee & Sawyer this afternoon, 92% of drivers refused to yield to pedestrians who had the right of way.

The average pedestrian was threatened by 7 motorist-criminals before she was able to exercise her lawful right to cross the street. Why should a pedestrian even bother crossing legally (and not just jaywalk) if drivers won’t let her cross in any case?

2. “Dangerous by Design” calculates that our local governments don’t particularly care, either; per-capita annual federal spending on active transportation in our region is a paltry $0.75, right down there with Houston, Detroit, and San Bernandino. If we matched #1 Providence at a mere $4 per capita, that’d be over $31M a year in additional investment annually.

Findings (23 Nov)

Oh, all right, this’ll be another miscellany post.

1. I was reading Sunday’s Frank Rich column on Sarah Palin while walking down Lincoln Avenue — the sadly silenced “German Broadway.” The fiercely nativist, “politically incorrect,” anti-intellectual, non-reality-based far right certainly deserves the moniker “New Know Nothings

Back in 1855, Chicago’s immigrants electorally vanquished the old Know-Nothings after the Lager Beer Riot. With that, the right-wing elite lost power over the city for centuries — over the right to drink beer. Which of today’s wedge issues is a sure loser for today’s right? Bear in mind that nationally, they ended up winning (and then losing) the war over beer.

2. I ran my new address through the magic new TIF Search. Even though the Fullerton/Milwaukee TIF was only authorized in 2000, it already takes over 2/3 of my tax bill. pie chart

3. Monée Fields-White has a cool profile in Crain’s this week about the Bensidoun public-market operation that’s coming to the C&NW concourse.

4. Hint from Tom Vanderbilt:

One recent study conducted by officials at the Paris Metro—which looked at “missed connection” ads placed by urbanites looking for love in the city—found that the Metro “is without doubt the foremost producer of urban tales about falling in love.” The seats closest to the door, it seemed, offered the best opportunities for falling in love with the proper stranger.

5. I keep meaning to finish off an essay on the parking privatization deal. One of these days…

Off-Milwaukee: a bike route

Everybody loves Milwaukee Avenue — perhaps a little too much so. It’s the city’s busiest on-street bicycle route, with a bicyclist passing through Milwaukee, North, and Damen every six seconds during rush hour. 2009 counts indicate over 3000 a day (about 22% of all vehicles) at its southern end, a number that’s boomed in recent years. Besides all these bikes, it moves 15,000 cars and buses a day, and 70,000 passengers ride alongside on the O’Hare Blue Line.

It’s certainly the most direct route between the northwest side and downtown, but sometimes we cyclists want a route that involves less door zone and more trees. So, after years of living in Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park-Bucktown, and Logan Square, here’s one set of lightly trafficked routes which get me to and from downtown with minimum fuss (and often with stoplights as it crosses arterials). It’s 36% longer than a straight shot down Milwaukee from Logan Square to Wells/Monroe (22.7km vs 16.7km) and takes about 10 minutes longer.

route map

[A zoomable, turn-by-turn route can be found at Bikely.]

The route takes advantage of a few streets around Logan Square that were platted around Milwaukee’s diagonal axis, evidently before the gridiron was enforced. It also runs along the grid through scenic Ukrainian Village and the Kinzie-Carroll-Fulton industrial corridor on the near west side. For those times when a stop on the north side is necessary, I’ve found Kingsbury and Larrabee-Geneva to be good routes.

How can these streets become even better for bikes and for their residents? One approach, popular on the West Coast (and in the WPB plan!), is called the bicycle boulevard — radically traffic-calmed side streets that are optimized for bicyclists moving at a steady 10-15 MPH. They’re the mainstay of the bikeway networks in cities like Berkeley, Portland, and Vancouver, and take full advantage of the fact that Western cities have extensive street grids with good connectivity. Although they’re a key element of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan, none have been implemented yet here. When they are, there’s plenty of guidance out there, like this new Bicycle Boulevard Guidebook. Local residents get calmer traffic with fewer inconveniences, cyclists get faster and better routes, and everyone wins with more safety — similar interventions in Europe have resulted in 50% reductions in injuries.

A few of the elements found along bicycle boulevards:

chicane
Traffic calming features like chicanes (twisting the path of vehicle traffic, often using planting or curbside parking) and low speed humps.

Bicycle boulevard entrance
Cut-out sleeves and other curb features allowing bikes to go two ways on a street, but restricting car traffic to one-way or altogether. (This simple feature, already implemented by Dearborn Park in the South Loop after years of effort, could make a lot of the new culs-de-sac around town much easier on bikes.)

stop
Bicycle-friendly traffic signals give cyclists and pedestrians a protected way to continue where the bike boulevard crosses arterial streets. In some cities, like Brookline, Mass. and Davis, Calif., these are embedded sensors in the street; in other cities, like Vancouver (shown above), they’re pushbuttons by the road.

This still leaves the question of how to further improve Milwaukee Avenue for the thousands of cyclists who use it every day. After investing millions into the city’s busiest bike route, the Lakefront Path, some more attention should be paid to the city’s busiest inland bike route. Many incremental, and relatively cheap, improvements would improve bikeability on this street — improving safety for all users and further encouraging cycling’s amazing growth. A few relatively low-cost but high-impact ideas:
1. Perhaps there are enough cyclists — roughly half of peak-hour traffic, by some accounts — to justify creating timing the green lights so that bikes and other traffic at 12MPH gets a “green wave.” This has also been done in Denmark, downtown Portland, and San Francisco. I can never seem to hit the green lights in sequence, regardless of my speed; enhanced signal timing could speed the trip from Logan Square to Wicker Park by 25%. The “wave” improves safety by moving cyclists through intersections, which is where where conflicts and crashes occur, and by improving compliance with the law. (The usual argument against, particularly for CMAQ funds, is that the air quality benefits of encouraging bicycling rarely cancels out the AQ impacts of stopping cars/trucks, but perhaps we’ve reached a level of cycling where the balance has tipped into the bikes’ favor.)

2. At particularly complex intersections, a Leading Pedestrian Interval could dramatically improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. An LPI gives pedestrians a three-second head start over cars at an intersection (often used by bikes, but this could also be explicit), giving peds clear priority over turning vehicles. It’s like a mini-scramble signal, and it’s incredibly effective: a test in St. Petersburg, Fla. found conflicts diminished by 95%. The six-corner intersections have lots of turning movements and thus many conflicts; they’re also perhaps not best for scrambles, since few pedestrians would wait through the entire cycle to cross the street.

3. Speaking of turns, I would suggest that the protected left-turn signal phases (which I generally dislike: there’s no right to a left turn!) follow, not lead, the green phases. (Here’s another argument for it.) In other words, the left-arrow-green should come after the green light — which is, after all, usually when people sneak a left anyways (after getting stranded in the middle of the intersection by the “left turn trap“). Also, too often it seems that the drivers waiting in the left turn lane get distracted and don’t make their turns until their protected signal phase is almost over, which wastes precious signal time for everyone; this should be less of a problem with a trailing signal phase. Apparently, this is called “lag-lag (permissive-protected) left-turn phasing” in the traffic engineering literature, and I should probably ask a few engineers about it.

The above three signaling improvements could easily be accomplished within the scope of the upcoming Milwaukee Avenue reconstruction program, or even before. Perhaps they could together be called “Greenlight Milwaukee.”

4. I was going to write something about how more radical bike lane designs could revolutionize the way the street works and looks. Rue Rachel across Montréal’s Plateau, fits a bidirectional cycletrack, two-way traffic, and parallel parking into a ROW that could easily fit inside Milwaukee Avenue with ~10′ to spare, and these streets in NYC have protected bike lanes in streets with even less space and higher traffic volumes to work with. However, such approaches are impossible until the parking-meter contract ends; there’s no way to add much new bike space (or bus space, or pedestrian space) without subtracting at least some parking spaces. Oh well. File this one for the 2083 file.

In the meantime, the WPB plan offers up schemes for reclaiming excess road space at key intersections, which would slow down car traffic and make pedestrian crossings shorter and safer.

5. A while ago, I thought I saw a schematic plan for Logan Square which showed narrower roads, fewer crossings, and tighter curb radii, but I can’t seem to find it. It’s crazy that crossing the square requires crossing 20 lanes of 50MPH traffic at six different lights. There’s no reason whatsoever for the two-lane roads approaching the square to become four or six lanes through the square; the excess pavement could be returned as green space. In the future, the urban-fabric wounds left by the subway tunnel (the space over the portal, the principal subway entrance and the huge blank wall behind it, the underutilized former terminal [now Banco Popular and its parking lot], and the bus terminal) can be healed with new buildings or public amenities.

(All photos mine.)

On 47th

One of the more funny-if-it-weren’t-sad local tales of planning gone awry* is the “47th Street Blues District,” so christened in a strange economic development effort by former Ald. Dorothy Tillman and her odd version of an edifice complex. (Sometimes, it seemed more like a de-edifice complex, given the countless vacant lots in her ward.) 47th was the celebrated commercial artery of Bronzeville once upon a time, the retail cornerstone of “The Stroll” boulevardier circuit. This Trib article by Antonio Olivo gives some background about the grand plans for a street that’s not even a ghost of its old self, and how those plans are adjusting under a new, reality-based alderman. Here was a street which could have been a great case study for an incremental, historic preservation-based and transit-oriented approach to revitalization — these buildings tell great stories — but which fell victim to venal local politics which sucked away key resources (buildings, businesses, money, time), and now has that much further to go.

A few key foibles along the way:
1. Neighborhood historian Timuel Black insists that 47th was a street for jazz, not blues, so the entire premise rested on pretty thin ice.
2. The only remaining viable business from the street’s heyday as an entertainment destination, the Palm Tavern, was unceremoniously shuttered by eminent domain in 2001 and subsequently demolished using promised TIF funds — and replaced with nothing.
3. Now, we find out from Tom Corfman in Crain’s that the much-heralded, expensive, and strangely quiet cultural center which was to be the centerpiece around which the district would grow (pretty much from scratch, seeing as half the urban fabric thereabouts has disappeared) is not just in violation of its city grant terms, but in foreclosure as well.
4. And lest anyone forget, the Rosenwald Garden Apartments will soon face another long winter of abandonment and decay.

* even in a city where the feds launch investigations with names like “Crooked Code.”