Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Loop Link - A Bus Priorty Transitway

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.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Social Work Cops Instead of Gun Cops

Police work is actually pretty safe, especially compared to a lot of ordinary well paid trades work. Mining and farming are, of course, more dangerous, as is taxi driving. The police do have though a well organized and effective public relations media machine. And that machine ensures that every police death is well publicized.

That machine has been especially needed these last twenty years as police work has become safer and police deaths have declined and indeed their reason for being, crime, itself has declined. While sometimes police forces may have been allowed to stagnate, the idea of actual reductions based on lessening needs has absolutely not been allowed to circulate.

Most people are not aware of the decline of crime in the U.S. Back when there was a lot of crime, much of it was not reported. Dog bites man stuff. But as crime and killing declined the reality shifted. Now its increasing rarity made each instance more newsworthy. So even as crime declined its media reportage stayed the same. So much so that one of Chuy Garcia's campaign suggestions was to increase police "man"-power.

At a time when in communities of color police were recognized as the problem and not a solution, the "progressive" candidate, Chuy Garcia showed a serious lack of sophistication.

When he said that I thought, "what we need are not more police but more social workers." Think that's nuts. Well talk to a gang-unit police commander and you will find that a lot of their work is done on the internet on social media.

Hiring police social workers also holds to potential to fix the racist over-reliance on violent force as a policing tool. Since cop culture requires adoption of a common cynical racist mind-set that punishes whistle-blowing and tattle-telling it would be necessary to start out social work cops in their own segregated units. In their own cars and without guns a brand new culture would become ingrained. When strong enough to stand on their own, these social work cops would then begin spending time cruising the neighborhood with gun-cops. Eventually the gun-cops would work with the social work cops, but without guns. After a shooting a gun-cop would not be put behind a desk, rather they would be sent out sans-gun with a social work cop.

It's a pretty simple thing to do. It costs no more. It's just not the way things are done.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Congressional Ukraine Arms Vote

348 to 48 as a loss looks bad. Could be worse, could be raining as Young Frankenstein says. There were also 36 non-voting on the "Lets make more war in the Ukraine" bill. Folks, you need to get the message. Russia is capitalist now. It has billionaires of its own. So get over the U.S.A. is #1 crap and start treating other countries as equals.

As you can see the only intelligent representative in Illinois is good ole Jan Schakowsky. Even Wisconsin does better.

Here's the vote: (Bold is "Democrat" but not necessarily much else.)

WI1Ryan (WI)Y

IL2Kelly (IL)Y





IL7Davis, DannyNV






IL13Davis, RodneyY

IN5Brooks (IN)Y


IL16Kinzinger (IL)Y
IN7Carson (IN)Y


IN9Young (IN)Y

Monday, March 02, 2015

Red-Line Aggression

Mary Mitchell recounts in the Chicago Sun-Times an experience on the Brown Line of aggressive behavior towards her and her having to resort to using the Red Call Button to summon the operator.  (

I agree with Mary Mitchell. It is extremely important that CTA users stand up for each other. When a wolf enters your train car you can act like a sheep or you can act like a cat. But the last thing you want to act like is a mouse.

One should immediately take notice of loud aggressive behavior. I'm not suggesting that you jump up and become a hero, but you need to be ready to back up any hero that does emerge. Mary was a hero here and did exactly the right thing. Hitting the call button can take courage. No one wants to be the cause of everyone else being delayed. But aggressive disturbance needs to be nipped in the bud or like graffiti it grows like cancer.

I'm a 68 yo man. At ten pm one night two weeks ago on the red line between Fullerton and my exit at Granville I had the opportunity to face three aggressive young women. They had hounded an older man and forced him to seek respite by going to the next car through the connecting doors. He was too incapable to succeed. So he found himself cowered across from me as they hounded him.

When I suggested that the young women back off they screamed at me to mind my own business. I told them that whenever someone on a train was making others uncomfortable that it became everyone's business. They screamed at me to shut up. They called me names. Very intense and unpleasant.

But this was not a dangerous situation. They were young women, tough yes, and with gang-like (I hesitate to use that proto-racist phrase) association amongst them. But they were not physically assaulting the old-man and their aggression toward me was only verbal. The fact that it did go on so long was an indication of its lack of real danger.

However it is clear that several other people were paying attention. Everyone else stayed out of it, yes. But I suspect that my stepping into it would have garnered me some back-up if it had escalated.
But here's where it actually gets more interesting. A young women sitting near me with her head buried in her headphones turned out to actually be paying attention. At some point she removed her head phones and asked if I had ever been groped.
See, the reason they were hounding the old man was because they were accusing him of improper sexually motivated behavior.

Truth presented in an Instant court-room drama is impossible to discern. But I am willing to hope that the hounding punishment meted out by the young women was commensurate with the severity of his alleged groping.