September 2020 Coffee & Discussion Minutes
Topic: Active Transportation and Slow Streets in and around Chicago
Introductions and Zoom Overview
- NCH2 strives to connect people who are interested in sharing knowledge and practice related to the health benefits of spending time in nature
Open streets concept
- Trying to improve access to walking and biking, any road users other than cars o Movement picked up across the country during the pandemic as we see increasing demand for outside time.
Active Transportation & Slow Streets in Chicago – Julia Gerasimenko
- Julia is the Advocacy Manager at Active Transport Alliance, a member-based nonprofit that focuses on transit, walking, and biking issues in Chicago
- Mission is to advocate for walking, bicycling, and public transit to create healthy, sustainable and equitable communities
- Mobility during COVID-19
- Adjusted priorities during the pandemic to focus on public health, essential travel trips, and racial equity
- Conducted listening sessions with community stakeholders and elected officials across the region to learn about diverse transportation needs
Links to COVID-19 mobility listening tour:
- South Suburbs: https://activetrans.org/blog/mobility-in-the-time-of-covid-19-in-the-south-suburbs
- North and West Suburbs: https://activetrans.org/blog/mobility-in-the-time-of-covid-19-in-the-north-and-west-suburbs
- Chicago’s South Side: https://activetrans.org/blog/mobility-challenges-in-the-time-of-covid-19-on-chicagos-south-side
- Chicago’s West Side: https://activetrans.org/blog/transportation-issues-on-the-citys-west-side-during-covid-19
- Chicago’s SW Side: https://activetrans.org/blog/transportation-issues-on-the-citys-southwest-side-during-covid-19
- Chicago’s North Side: https://activetrans.org/blog/mobility-in-the-time-of-covid-19-on-chicagos-north-side
Created guiding questions for municipalities to consider when thinking of safe transportation during COVID, including:
- Is closing a street a priority right now?
- How can the full community be engaged in the decision at this time?
- Community engagement during the pandemic may be difficult, but engaging the people you seek to help is key before proceeding
- Who would benefit from a street closure and who would bear the burden? Are there alternative solutions that will result in a more equitable outcome?
- Are there resources and bandwidth for this? Does your community have past experience shutting down streets?
- Can it be implemented safely? How will you evaluate the impacts?
COVID-19 Mobility Recommendations
- Broaden public input and center high-need communities
- Plan around business districts
- Develop neighborhood toolkit that showcases design options and possibilities
- Incorporate transit elements, and leverage existing programs & resources
- Shared Streets in Chicago
- First shared street opened in late May, designed specifically for social distancing
- Haven’t been any crowding issues, have been some issues with cars using roads as through streets
- Very important to reach out to local officials, both to make it happen and to help gather community input
- Chicago Department of Transportation COVID mobility –survey and info about Chicago’s Shared Streets: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/covid-mobility.html
- Federal action alert to fund CTA, Pace, and Metra: https://activetrans.org/blog/tell-congress-to-keep-chicago-transit-moving
- Chicago action alert to build more bus lanes, provide masks for all transit riders, and fund walking/biking infrastructure: https://activetrans.org/blog/advancing-bus-and-bike-lanes-through-chicagos-budget
Bike Walk Oak Park: Advocating for Slow Streets and Beyond – Jenna Holzberg
- Jenna is with Bike Walk Oak Park
- Volunteer advocacy group of Oak Park residents who work toward the fair and safe use of friendly streets by all our neighbors who walk, roll, ride and drive
- Affiliated with Active Transportation Alliance through their Bike Walk Every Town program.
- Launched in 2018 w/ roughly 10 volunteers and supporters, now have 500-600 supporters
- BWOP’s Current Goal
- Funding and implementation of the Oak Park Greenways Plan
- The Greenways Plan is a network of streets that
- Prioritize bicycle and pedestrian travel w/ infrastructure that calms and reduces vehicle traffic
- Creates an attractive, safe and comfortable environment for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities to get around town
- The Oak Park Greenways Plan was approved by the Village Board of Trustees in 2015 but has yet to be funded
- What are Slow Streets?
- A temporary initiative, due to COVID, responding to an increase in cyclists and pedestrians on streets and sidewalks
- A network of streets for non-motorized traffic to travel safely
- Located on low-traffic, slow speed streets; streets that have already been identified as ideal for biking and pedestrian use
- Use light infrastructure interventions to limit through-traffic
- Signs and traffic cones
- Pilot was launched in early August, will run through mid-October 2020
- Greenways to Slow Streets…to Greenways
- BWOP views Slow Streets as an opportunity for tactical urbanism where the Village can test out Greenways concepts before committing further funding
- Slow Streets will demonstrate to the Village that there is a desire and a need for a network of safe streets that prioritize cyclists and pedestrians. Lessons learned from Slow Streets will inform future bike and pedestrian infrastructure initiatives
- How to Successfully Advocate for Bike/Pedestrian Improvements
- Join Active Transportation Alliance Bike Walk Every Town
- Learn how your local government works
- Who are the decision makers? What is the funding process? When are pubic meetings?
- Have social media presence
- Cultivate a group of reliable volunteers who can help “do the work” o Partner with local businesses, associations and organizations
- Develop consistent messaging and a plan for your advocacy projects and initiatives
Questions & Discussion
Question: In Andersonville we a shared street and also several café street closures. The café streets are not pedestrian friendly, you have to walk through crowded seating or waiters and people waiting to be seated. Is there a perception problem between the two types of streets do you think?
Answer: Shared Streets & Café Streets were announced under one umbrella called “Our Streets”. There are certainly differences between the two, Shared Streets focus on keeping things moving, not meant to be a congregating space. Café streets are the opposite. The mayor recently released an ordinance requiring people to wear masks while waiting for tables and ordering. At the end of the day, it shows people that these spaces can be reclaimed from parking and through-traffic to pedestrian and safe use, though there is definitely some confusion because the two were put under the same category.
Question: How did the Greenways Plan and the Slow Streets plan get community input, especially emphasizing diverse representation from the community?
Answer: I wasn’t around for the drafting of the Greenways Plan, but the report is a 200 page document that goes into their methodology. There were public meetings, surveys, all very intentional to ensure that the voice of the community was incorporated into the drafting of the Greenways Plan. Oak Park’s Bike Share program got eliminated by the Village Board, and that in and of itself is an example of inequity. A bike share program allows for more transit options in a community for people who don’t have access to a car.
Question: How does one go about community engagement for projects like this?
Answer: Chicago is an incredibly well-organized city. We partner with local organizations that already have trust and established connections within their community. We rely on our community-based partner organizations for getting feedback and public perception. It’s really been all about partnerships for us in terms of engagement, because that trust is a huge piece. This is also tactical work. Some communities rely on word-of-mouth, some areas have a strong social media connection, learning the tactics to reach local community members is important as well
Question: How are the new electric scooters fitting into slow streets?
Answer: The City of Chicago just put out the first months’ worth of data on the scooter pilot, but I don’t believe they mention shared streets. They did say there are still issues with folks riding on sidewalks, but that just shows that people don’t feel safe in the street.
Jenna: My understanding is that this program is meant to build out more options for transit that are not cars, building out the bike-share program. Like Julia said, if people are using these scooters on sidewalks, it shows that the streets don’t feel safe and we need to expand these Shared Streets. One participant voices concern about infrastructure quality and access to transportation in her community, municipalities don’t seem to care or actually help with these barriers.
Teresa: Is there a "walkability" assessment done before streets are selected?
Julia: Yes! If you are interested in doing a walkability assessment in your community, please reach out. We have a toolkit, and know of other groups that provide them as well, I am happy to connect you.
- NCH2 is an entirely volunteer-based organization, we are always happy to help folks organize on a project or connect with others. Please reach out to us either by contacting Terry directly, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Another thing volunteers can do is organize a coffee hour! We do these presentations every other month. We have a plan for November, but would love to hear suggestions for January or early February.