The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Learning from past successes, city planning edition

Engineer Jeff Speck is dismayed that his home town, Lowell, Mass., is planning to replace an unattractive and un-walkable street with an equally-un-walkable design:

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across an article earlier this month about the city’s plans for its southern gateway, the Lord Overpass. This site is particularly important to Lowell, being an area of major redevelopment as well as the key link from the train station (at right in the image below) to downtown (beyond the canal to the left). This collection of streets—a squared traffic circle floating above a highway—is due for reconstruction, and the city came up with the smart idea of putting the depressed highway back up at grade to create more of an urban boulevard condition.

So, let’s zoom in and describe what we see:

  • Four lanes dedicated to motion straight through, just like the now-submerged highway;
  • Three lanes dedicated to turning motions, two of which swoop around the edges in great curves;
  • Two dedicated bus lanes, each about 17 feet wide, curb-to-curb. (A bus is 8 1/2 feet wide, so perhaps the goal is to squeeze two past each other?);
  • Bike lanes that are partly protected, partly unprotected, and partly merged into the bus lanes;
  • A collection of treeless concrete wedges, medians, and “pork chops” directing the flow of vehicles;
  • No parallel parking on either the main road or any of the roads intersecting it; and
  • Green swales lining the streets, resulting in set-back properties to the one side and open space to the other. (Note that the open space at the bottom of the drawing is too shallow to put a building on.)

The engineering drawings are horrifying. As Speck says, to the engineering firm Lowell hired, everything looks like a nail.

Reading list

Here we go:

It's also a nice day outside, so Parker will probably get two hours of walks in.

Haven't escaped my notice today

I've been running around all day and only have a couple of minutes to list some things I've read on my phone while running around. All day.

There were a few other things in there, but these were the ones I paid most attention to.


Next time I'll take the El

I drove to a vendor site today because Google Maps told me it would take 18 minutes. (It took 21.) Then I drove around in expanding circles for almost 45 minutes trying to find a parking space, which I finally did almost a kilometer away.

I really hate finding out after the fact that the slower form of transportation would have been faster.

Reading list for this evening

In between four rehearsals and two performances this week (Monday through Sunday), I'm taking tonight off. So while I have a minute or two between helping new developers understand some old code, I'm jotting down this list of things that looked particularly appealing when they came up on RSS feeds:

OK, the new devs are testing something...and more on that later.

New El cars coming in 2019—built in Chicago

The Chicago Transit Authority has concluded a deal worth up to $1.4 bn for 850 new rail cars:

The CTA’s board Wednesday approved the largest single purchase of rapid transit cars in Chicago history, giving the contract to a Chinese rail manufacturer that has promised to build a final assembly plant on the city’s Far South Side.

CTA officials said riders will see several major improvements when the prototype 7000-series cars arrive in late 2019. There will be full-width on-board LED screens capable of giving both of automated time and stop information, and real-time transit information in the event of delays or reroutes.

When the 7000-series cars are delivered in 2024, CTA will have the newest fleet of rapid transit cars in the nation, according to Bonds. He said the average age of a CTA ‘L’ car will be 13 years. By comparison, Boston has an average fleet age of 27 years, Washington, D.C. averages 25 years, New York averages 22 years and San Francisco averages 18 years.

The first prototypes should roll onto CTA tracks in October 2019.

Too many things to read during lunch

A medium-length list this time:

And this brings me to lunch.

How Evanston got rid of cars (mostly)

Politico has a long-form article describing Evanston's efforts to rid its downtown of cars:

With stops for Chicago Transit Authority buses and its “L” rail line, Metra suburban rail’s Union Pacific North line and the Pace suburban bus, Evanston always had great transit bones. For much of its history it had also been a relatively prosperous North Shore city, its growth initially spurred by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as Chicagoans fled its chaotic density, and in the 20th century, its share of once-famous industrial names, from Rust-Oleum Corp. to Shure, the audio products company, to Bell & Howell, then best known for its film cameras and projectors.

The answer to the suburb’s economic woes, as it turned out, lay in embracing Lerner’s theory that “city is not the problem, city is solution.” Beginning in 1986, a new plan for Evanston embraced the idea of a “24/7” downtown, pouring resources into increasing the density of its downtown—a density that also meant decreasing residents’ reliance on automobiles. As a compact city, Evanston couldn’t compete with the vast sprawling parking spots of the Old Orchard Mall. It had to build a different sort of appeal.

Evanston’s approach mixed investments in mass transit—including building a new downtown transportation center—and relaxing its zoning restrictions along two designated corridors, Main and Central Streets, to permit increased residential density. “Nobody wanted a 20-story building in their downtown,” recalls Aiello-Fantus, the former assistant city manager. “There was this perception that we’re just a little town and having something 20 stories changes that character.”

I'm glad Evanston's planning is getting national press. I love the place, which is why I lived there for many years (and may do again). For many years before then, my mom lived along the Main Street corridor mentioned in the article—and then moved up to Central Street later on. And, of course, I was just there a couple weeks ago.

Interesting aside: 116 years ago today, the village of Austin ceased to exist as it was absorbed into the City of Chicago by legislative fiat. The city might have swallowed Evanston as well. How Evanston avoided that is a story in itself.