On the Road With Julie: NACTO part 2

Posted on November 7, 2017 · Posted in General

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read the first part of this series.  If not, you can find it here.  Let’s continue with more A-HA Moments, shall we?

A-HA Moment #3: It can be done on state roads

The bike tour I took on Wednesday afternoon was “City/State DOT Coordination: Chicago’s Clybourn Ave Protected Bike Lane Project.”  This part of the description was intruiguing: “Chicago DOT and Illinois DOT staff will discuss how the two departments collaborated to implement the first protected bike lane in Illinois on a state jurisdiction roadway. Hear how they overcame historical disagreements on bicycle lane design in urban environments…”  

The City of Chicago didn’t want this state roadway to impede with their goal of bike lane connectivity. Both the City and the State had to take a deep breath and squash any concerns/trust issues/territorial issues they had with each other to get this done. They also relied on each other’s strengths: the State relied on the design expertise that the City had and the State found creative ways to work within the environmental review process and other systems to cut the timetable for project down from years to months.  (Chicago Rahm Emanual says that he is not a very patient guy.)  The sidewalks are not in great shape, but they deliberately left them off the project for now in the interest of keeping the scope of work consistent with what the State can maintain.  

When Nebraskans think about state roads, the mental picture often involves a rural highway. However, state highways serve as main street in many small towns (think Highway 2) and as urban streets in our larger cities (Maple Street that runs through the Benson neighborhood in Omaha or West Maple Road in west Omaha, for instance).  The type of creative problem solving and collaboration displayed on the Clybourn Ave project here is what we need in Nebraska.

Speaking of creative problem solving at the state DOT level:

A-HA Moment #4: Lessons from the Top

This actually should have been listed as #1, because it happened right off the bat on my first day at the conference. I sat down at a table for the opening session and introduced myself to the guy next to me. His name badge got my attention:

“What is a Practical Solutions Engineer?” I asked.  As Andrew gave me a snapshot of his job, it occured to me, “This is one of the many reasons why Washington is the #1 on the Bike Friendly State rankings.’  A quick google search lead me to this:

The key words there: innovation, community engagement, collaboration.  We’ve seen progress on community engagement and collaboration with NDOT as of late, and we hope to see it continue.  We’d love to see NDOT embrace the innovative NACTO design elements, too.

AHA #4: Right-Sizing Streets DOES make everything better.

My final mobile walk/workshop was in Hyde Park, a better known as President Obama’s neighborhood on the south side, near the University of Chicago.  Our first stop was at the current headquarters of the Obama Foundation to learn about the plans for the Obama Presidential Center, which will be in Jackson Park. (Not even President Obama is immune from parking structure push back in his neighborhood.)

The big moment of A-HA came at the corner of 55th & Kimbark Ave.  55th street had long been a barrier to north/south travel for University students and residents. The street has been recently reconfigured to make it safer for all users, including the aforementioned A-HA moment 10 foot lanes, buffered bike lanes and painted crosswalks, optimized traffic signals and left turn lanes.


Note that there is a fire station on the far corner. Clearly this road had to be able to accomodate emergency vehicles. Also note the cut out in the center island for people walking to wait if needed.  It is safe enough for people to cross without any lights. 










This is not exactly a sleepy residential street – it carries over 13,000 cars per day.  Skeptics predicted CARMAGGEDON! but the opposite actually happened:

ADT (# of cars per day) up slightly
Bicycle traffic up 117%
Travel time up 30 seconds
Cars driving over 30mph decreased from 24% to 5%


In fact, as our group stood there gawking at the design and frantically jotting down all of this amazing data, we had to keep moving to avoid blocking the sidewalk for all of  the people  out walking and biking.      <– This photo is representative of what we saw: several parents out with small children that had crossed 55th Street to enter Nichols Park.

This street reminded me of south 24th in Omaha, which is currently being redesigned.  Hopefully the outcome will be as successful as this project in Hyde Park.

BONUS A-HA moment from this walkshop:

“We know that 30mph is the safest in this type of urban environment. If traffic is regularly going over, we know we aren’t designing it right.”

This is a great thought to end on. YOU GET WHAT YOU DESIGN FOR.  Chicago is doing a great job of finding innovative ways to make their streets safer for all users without sacrificing car traffic. It can be done on urban streets, state roads in urban areas and in neighborhoods.  It’s time to learn from those around us and do things better in Nebraska.