CDOT’s Mike Amsden and 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns
I’m always happy to pay a visit to my old stomping ground of Hyde Park-Kenwood. So Monday afternoon I took advantage of a nice southbound wind and pedaled down the lakefront to Kenwood Academy for a 4th Ward community meeting hosted by Alderman Will Burns. At the assembly Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bike planner Mike Amsden gave a presentation about the CDOT’s plans to install protected bike lanes and buffered bike lanes on the Near South Side. The new facilities would be part of the city’s Streets for Cycling plan to install 100 miles of protected lanes and some 150 miles of other innovative bikeways over the next few years.
Here’s a map of the proposed locations in or near the 4th Ward. As Amsden outlined at the meeting, these streets would be undergoing “road diets,” removing and/or narrowing car travel lanes to make room for the new bike lanes. Additional benefits would include discouraging speeding and other reckless driving behavior, as well as reduced crossing distances for pedestrians.
CDOT handout showing plans for King Drive and Ellsworth Drive
CDOT would convert King Drive (400 E.) between 26th and 35th from eight (!) travel lanes with a grass median and conventional bike lanes to six travel lanes with protected bike lanes (PBLs). From 35th to 51st, King has service drives; the four travel lanes in the center of the roadway would be changed to two travel lanes plus a turn lane (AKA a “4 to 3 conversion”) plus PBLs.
South of 55th, cyclists could pick up Ellsworth Drive, a slightly curving road through Washington Park that roughly parallels King. Ellsworth, which currently has two wide travel lanes, would be getting buffered bike lanes (BBLs). These are laid out like conventional bike lanes with the addition of a foot or two of striped pavement on either side of the lane to distance cyclists from moving traffic and opening car doors.
Plans for 31st Street and 55th Street
31st Street from Wells (200 W.) to the Lakefront would be converted from two wide travel lanes to narrower lanes with PBLs. 55th Street from Cottage Grove (800 E.) to Dorchester (1400 E.), which currently has four wide travel lanes, would undergo a 4 to 3 conversion and gain PBLs.
East of Dorchester 55th Street splits to form a moat around I.M. Pei’s twin University Park condominium towers, nicknamed “Monoxide Manor” due to their location, and the north and south segments of 55th here have insufficient width for PBLs. Instead, BBLs will be striped from Dorchester to Lake Park (1600 E.) Minus a ½-mile gap through Washington Park, 55th Street lanes would combine with previously announced PBLs on Garfield Boulevard (5500 S.) from King to Halsted (800 W.) to form an almost completely protected 3-mile east-west bike route between Lake Park and Halsted.
55th Street forms a moat around “Monoxide Manor” – photo by Amy Arch
Amsden explained that CDOT traffic counts show that all of these roadways currently have more travel lanes and/or lane width than needed to accommodate their traffic volume, and this encourages motorists to drive dangerously. While studies show that road diets work well on streets that serve under 20,000 cars a day, actually improving traffic flow in many cases, 55th Street currently serves only 13,500 cars a day and King Drive only carries 9,000 to 11,500 cars per day.
Due to the lack of congestion on these roadways, the agency found that 54% of cars on King are speeding, and 15% or motorists are driving over 40 MPH. If a car strikes a pedestrian or cyclist at that speed, the crash will probably be fatal. “So this project really is about making safer roadways,” Amsden told the audience.
After his presentation, the floor was opened to questions and comments from audience members. A woman from the Washington Park Advisory Council expressed concerns that reducing King to two travel lanes north of the park would cause rush-hour traffic jams. Amsden responded that CDOT’s research shows that the current numbers of cars on the road will be accommodated after the road diet. “The good thing about what we’re doing is these are pilot projects,” he said. “Afterwards if things aren’t working out the way we intended and things are dramatically different, they can be changed.”
“I think the [protected] bike lane on King Drive is a great idea,” said one man. “Right now King Drive is terrifying not just to bike on but to drive on. I’ll admit that when I’m on King I speed like crazy because it’s easy and it’s not enforced. Everyone does.”
Howard Zar, co-leader of the South Side community advisory group for Streets for Cycling, commented on the need for better pothole maintenance in bike lanes.
“I’m in favor of congestion and I’m in favor of anything you can do to narrow the roadways,” commented another women. “I’ve been a North Sider for all my life and I’ve been down here for four months and I’ve never felt so unsafe, as a pedestrian, a cyclist and a driver. I’m scared.” Alderman Burns, sharing the stage with Amsden, quipped that he’s always felt more nervous driving up north than he did on the South Side.
“A couple times you mentioned that this project is a high priority for the city,” another man said to Amsden. “How did this get to be a high priority?”
“The reason this is a priority is there are so many benefits to it,” Amsden responded. “There are so many benefits to getting people out of their cars that want to get out of their cars. It’s not just bicycling. It’s really about reducing crashes, improving health and improving the economic viability of our cities. We need a balance of people walking, riding their bikes and taking transit, as well as driving. We need to start improving sustainability and our streets need to become more vibrant. This is one way of doing that.”
View Proposed Near South PBLs and buffered lanes in a larger map
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