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Peter Taylor points out a route on the Southeast Side

Last Wednesday I put my bicycle on the Red Line, rode down to 95th Street and pedaled over to the Woodson Library, 9525 S. Halsted in Longwood Manor, for the second of three public meetings for the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. Read Steven’s recap of the previous week’s session at the Garfield Park Conservatory here.

The last meeting of the series takes place this evening from 6-8 pm at the Sulzer Library, 4455 N. Lincoln Lincoln Square. If you can’t make it, there are also webinars you can attend online on Friday and Monday from noon to 1 pm.

Chicago Bike Coordinator Ben Gomberg, Steven’s and my old boss at CDOT’s Bicycle Program, kicked off the South Side meeting with a summary of the purpose of the Streets for Cycling input sessions:

This meeting is very simple. The city wants to establish more streets for more people to bike. We already have a network of bike lanes but we have to do a lot more. One way to do that is to stay at City Hall on the 5th floor, in front of a computer and figure out what those streets should be. That’s the wrong way. A better way is to come out tonight and ask people that live, work and bike in the community to tell us what you think are good streets for biking and what you think are bad streets for biking. Where are those secret connections that we don’t know about?

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Ben Gomberg

Next the project leaders, Mike Amsden from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Mark de la Vergne from Sam Schwartz Engineering, gave a presentation about the bike plan that was very similar to their talk at Garfield Park. One additional piece of info I gleaned was that the city’s first neighborhood greenway (bike boulevard), slated for Berteau Avenue, is tentatively planned to run from Lincoln to Clark. Here’s a Google map of the location.

After riding this route last week, I have a few questions about this choice of location, as well as CDOT’s proposal for the next major segment of protected and buffered bike lanes, a 4.1-mile route along the West Side boulevards. After tonight’s session at the Sulzer Library I should be able to provide some more info on these projects.

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After the presentation the floor was opened to comments and questions from the audience members, who voiced their desires for better bicycle parking, more access for bikes on trains, bikeway design that minimizes conflicts with buses, and good maintenance of the protected lanes. Active Transportation Alliance board president and Blue Island mom Jane Healy commented her eight-year-old daughter is usually afraid to ride on city streets unless she’s on a trail-a-bike. However, the girl felt comfortable riding the Kinzie Street solo, suggesting that protected lanes may in fact be the key to getting nervous would-be cyclists to take the plunge. “She got on that lane and she was like, woo-hoo!” Healy said.

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Healy, right, discusses South Side bike issues with other attendees

Afterwards, the attendees were invited to mark up large maps sections in the lobby with markers and stickers to indicate their favorite South Side bike routes. I buttonholed a few participants to get their take on the bike plan.

Roland Hayes, who helps manage Active Trans’ Bike the Drive event, says he’s glad to see more attention paid to bicycling south of Madison Street. “Some of us feel the South Side is kind of underutilized,” he said. “It gives us cyclists a good feeling that somebody’s thinking about us. You can never have too many safe places to ride.” He would like to see major South Side thoroughfares like Stony Island Avenue made bicycle-friendly. “Chicago is supposed to be one of America’s most bike-friendly cities buy in reality it’s still a work in progress,” he said.

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Roland Hayes and project consultant John Wirtz

Susan Oyevides helps organize the annual Pullman Labor Day Bike Ride tour of environmental, architectural and labor history hot spots. “I would like to see my neighbors in Roseland being more comfortable accessing Pullman by bike,” she said. She would like to see a protected bike lane on Cottage Grove Avenue from 115th to 95th.

Larry Unruh, a Beverly resident and member of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, said he’s a little skeptical that the South Side can be made bike-friendly. “I don’t feel as optimistic and hopeful as people on the North Side because bicyclists are kind of rare here.” He said the city should be cautious about removing travel lanes to make room for bike lanes on South Side streets that see little bike traffic. He says this was the case with Vincennes Avenue, where a bike lane was striped, removed during the Dan Ryan reconstruction and never replaced. “If you spend money to build the bike lane and reduce car capacity and there are no bikes in the bike lane, that’s bad PR.”

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Larry Unruh, right

Peter Taylor, a Roseland resident who’s a co-leader of the Far South Side advisory group, says they’ve been getting been getting a good turnout for meetings of the group. “All these people are pretty savvy cyclists but they don’t like the barriers and situations that are just dangerous,” he said. “Things like railroad viaducts, where you get down there and there’s a pinch point, it’s dark and there’s potholes and broken glass. We do have the Major Taylor Trail in our area, which is a hidden gem.”

Khari B. (no last name given), a self-described “Discopoet” from Washington Heights, said he heard about the bike plan through his involvement with Red, Bike and Green, a California-based group that promotes bicycling in African-American communities, which recently started a chapter in Chicago. He’d like to see a protected lane on Halsted. “It’s one of the longest streets in town and if there was a bike lane you could ride all the way downtown on it from here,” he said. “This meeting was pretty productive, so I hope something positive comes out of this plan.”

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  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    I was very disappointed with Larry Unruh’s quote about Vincennes.  While I certainly get his point, he’s one of the stronger, more confident riders offering input about routes, and I don’t think he fully appreciates how much of a difference protected lanes could make in attracting more cyclists.

    Many of the far south side routes that need the most improvement to become bike friendly present a “chicken or the egg” dilemma.  These routes (Vincennes, 130th St., 103rd St. between Cottage Grove and Torrence, and others) get very few riders now because traffic conditions can be so hazardous to cyclists that only the strongest, most confident cyclists will ride there.  The biggest issue is speeding.  Each of these streets has wide lanes and is underused most of the time. 

    Few additional riders are likely to come unless we get significant improvements.  For the long term, these locations may need raised curbs or other barriers more substantial than plastic bollards. 

    If cyclists perceive these routes as safe enough for them, they’ll come, and they’ll bring friends.  We may not see a lot of change at first, but if we get safer conditions, we will see more cyclists. 

    • John Greenfield

      Thanks for the feedback Ann. Larry, please feel free to comment here to provide more info about your position.

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