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Railway standards may help homeless people find greenway shelter

An obscure standard set by railway engineers may be contributing to the number of homeless people choosing the Midtown Greenway.

The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association recommends practices for railroad infrastructure.

Those practices require a crash barrier to deflect any derailed cars away from bridge piers, according to Jack Yuzna, who works in design area of the city’s Public Works Department.

Although the bridged portion of the greenway hasn’t been an active railroad for years, bridges that were rehabbed in the latter portion of those years fell under those standards. That meant that a vertical wall was installed that forms a base for the piers (see above).

Homeless folks seem to prefer that design because it gives them more privacy and better weather shelter. But it can be difficult moving around behind the wall because there’s typically a steep slope to the base of the wall from the abutment above.

In contrast, bridges that haven’t been rebuilt or were rebuilt after the rail use ceased feature double sets of four open pillars (see below) that give more exposure to wind, rain and the eyes of passersby. They're less likely to be used for overnight sleeping.

One problem, Yuzna said, is that in colder weather homeless bridge residents sometimes start fires against the walls, which can cause concrete to delaminate.

Three robberies hit cyclists on Midtown Greenway

Patrols on the Midtown Greenway are being beefed up and extra precautions are being urged after a string of three late-night robberies of cyclists on the Midtown Greenway that represent the most concentrated attacks there since early 2012.

Police said that cyclists were robbed at or shortly after 11 p.m. on the greenway on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. All of the attacks took place in the 12 blocks between Chicago and Cedar avenues, and involved two or three attackers.

In two of the three cases, police said, assailants knocked the victims off their bicycles. A stun gun was used in one assault, and a revolver and homemade knife were used in another. The robbers took backpacks, cellphones and money.

The Midtown Greenway Coalition, which runs a trail watch of unarmed volunteers, said it is considering extending the hours of that patrol. The coalition previously has advised late-night bikers to consider joining another cyclist when riding late at night.

Soren Jensen, the coalition’s executive director, said the attackers appear to be using the 18th Avenue ramp to the greenway for access. He said that police have indicated that they’ll step up car and bike patrols, and the coalition is looking into hiring off-duty police.

He advised bicyclists who spot groups of people under bridges not to try and power through them but to turn around and call 911.

“We are very concerned,” Jensen said, but added that the concentrated location and timing might aid in apprehension. “We’re hoping that police can catch these guys and put a stop to it,” he said. Police asked anyone with information about the attacks to call Sgt. Ker Yang at 612-673-3856.

The most concentrated previous series of attacks posted on the coalition’s safety log was four during a 75-day period between November 2011 and February 2012.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

(Trail watch riders patroled the Midtown Greenway in 2013.)

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