A Complete Streets “heads up” for Division Street


Plan drawings show lack of bicycle accommodations. 

Last year I requested from the city plan drawings for the bridge replacement and road reconstruction at Halsted Street and the north branch canal (near Division Street). Included in the response to my FOIA request were plan drawings from the Department of Transportation’s Division of Engineering for a complementary project, the reconstruction of Division Street between Cleveland Street (east) and the railroad viaduct by the McGrath Lexus dealer (west).

So no one is caught off guard like some felt in regards to the Fullerton Avenue/Lake Shore Drive project, I wanted to give a heads up for a project that I think lacks consideration of the principles of complete streets and Chicago’s Complete Streets policy. In other words, what is proposed is not a complete street.


A bridge to Goose Island.

The Division Street plan calls for replacing the bridges on the east and west sides of Goose Island with wider ones (and presumably without “cheese grates”). It also shows slightly widened sidewalks, two lanes of traffic in each direction (there is currently striping for just one lane in each direction), left turn lanes at intersections (and a new signalized intersection at Hickory Avenue). It also lacks bike lanes. Each lane on the existing bridges is currently wide enough to host a bike lane and cyclists pass by easily during congestion (see video or scroll down). Unfortunately, the narrow bridges mean few drivers can pass through each light.

The plan drawing is probably outdated in at least two aspects: the bike lane design on northbound Halsted Street approaching Division Street is not congruent with the bike lane design indicated in the Halsted Street bridge plans. The Division Street plan shows a curb side bike lane while the Halsted Street bridge plans show a centered bike lane (the attributes of such a design I’ve already discussed). The second discrepancy is that the Division Street plan does not reflect the upcoming Elston Avenue protected bike lane, designed before November 22, 2011 (the date on the plan drawing).

One of the most frequent complaints I noticed on the bike maps at various Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 meetings was the lack of cross town connections over the expressways and river (see them below). This project represents an opportunity to address the need for a safe, comfortable route over two parts of the Chicago River. The project scope should be expanded to include Division Street west of the Kennedy Expressway in order to make cycling and walker through there a safer journey.


This graphic shows the concerns about Division Street expressed by attendees of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 open house in December 2011. Read our review of the event

Carolyn Koonce lives in Humboldt Park near Division and Rockwell and works in Old Town near Wells and Division. On a bike, that’s a straight shot of just 3 miles. But she only rode to work once last summer because she doesn’t feel safe passing under the Kennedy viaduct and over the bridges. Alternative routes (on North Avenue and Chicago Avenue) are less efficient and don’t feel any safer. The Google Maps bicycling directions feature suggests three routes for this trip, none of them a “straight shot”. The shortest is 3.4 miles and the longest is 4.4 miles.


Carolyn and her bicycle in Humboldt Park. Photo by Joshua Koonce. 

From 2005-2010 there have been 12 pedestrian and bicycle crashes near the highway and railroad viaducts. Additionally, there have been automobile-bicycle crashes at every one of the 11 intersections in this project (from Cleveland Street to Elston Avenue). The street is calling for a convenient, safe bikeway.


A map showing the 12 bike and pedestrian crashes at Division Street and Kennedy Expressway. 

What I find most interesting about the plan drawing is that it proposes a block-long bike lane from Crosby Street to Howe Street and then a half-block-long bike lane between Cambridge Avenue and Cleveland Avenue. Did you know that a bike lane existed on westbound Division Street between Wells Street and Orleans Street? It didn’t last long. Google Earth historical imagery shows it installed in 2002 and mostly disappeared by 2007. You can see remnants of it today on the ground.


A crop of the plan showing the curious block-long bike lane. 

What I wish this plan would address is the 9-lane wide and 775-feet long “intersection” (if you can call it that) at Division Street, Clybourn Avenue, Orleans Street, and Sedgwick Street where people driving and cycling have a tough time navigating and maneuvering towards their destination.

Does the street need to maintain 4 lanes for automobiles? What other options are there for Division Street? Will relieving congestion (which I presume is one of the goals of this proposal) come at the cost of keeping roads unsafe for cycling? The time to make the hard choices on how livable the city will be has come.  Complete Streets is not about ensuring conditions don’t become worse for the transportation modes called out in the policy but seeing to it that circumstances are improved.

See the full plan drawing (pdf).


Watch Cycling on Division Street between Orleans and the Kennedy on Vimeo.

22 thoughts on “A Complete Streets “heads up” for Division Street”

      1. Interestingly one our kids goes to school on Division just west of the underpasses. Division would be an ideal way to cut west to their other school with a lane but it’s too busy and I go side streets north west for my other drop-off. I then go Cortland to cross the river on to loop towards home. Interestingly there are four- five other families and teachers who ride. Wonder how many more would try with a better street design as many live off of Division less then a mile from school. 
        hope that this post gets some new thinking going.

  1. This is beyond ridiculous.  Division could handle bike lanes.  All the way to Wells would be ideal.  There *should* be improvements here, because we’ve seen the results of the current hazardous conditions.  For this bridge to be built NOW without bike accommodations of some type is unacceptable.

    1. I agree. I want to see some “alternatives analysis” for this project. Maybe IDOT involvement is not such a bad thing (because it means there has to be public meetings and they have a stronger complete streets law than Chicago’s policy, and it forces another review of the whole thing). But actually, I’m wondering, IDOT might have to be involved because this project involves a river crossing.

  2. Interesting.  Looks like the eastern bridge over the North Branch Channel will be a tied arch like the new Halsted bridge, while the western bridge over the North Branch itself will be cable-stayed with masts on one side.

    The lack of bike lanes sucks, but I’m glad CDOT is committed to replacing distinctive bascule bridges with new designs that are equally distinctive.

    1. You can tell this from the drawing? Hmm, I’ve got to take another look. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I can see that, but it looks like the western bridge has masts on two sides. The south side of the western bridge, though, has another block by the southern mast. Do you know what that is?

      1.  I’m not sure what the box near the south mast is.  My initial thought is that it’s some kind of signal box, or maybe even a life preserver case like on the bridge houses in the Loop.

    2. Distinctive design is a waste, however, when there is no maintenance of the distinctive features. For example, the “engineering marvel” on Damen north of Fullerton that spans the river is embarrassing, what with all the peeling paint and broken uplights. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s an exception.

      1. Pretty much any bridge design will require paint.  I don’t see how CDOT’s alleged lack of maintenance is a reason to choose one design over another.

        The lights are a different matter… if CDOT wants architectural lighting on the bridges, they should be mounted in a secure location (not on the bridge deck).

  3. Have you fired off a comment to Gabe Klein yet? I feel that with his very public stance on roadway design and Emanuel’s 100miles of bike lane push that this could be swayed into a redesign.

    1. I’ve fired plenty of comments to Gabe Klein and other city officials and alderman on a variety of issues (even going so far as to mailing them letters). I want people who bike to take a bigger role in getting complete (and safer) streets in Chicago. I’ve not mentioned this to Commissioner Klein or anyone else yet.
      Do this by:
      1. Becoming a member of Active Transportation Alliance
      2. Supporting their Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign
      3. Contact your own alderman and the aldermen whose wards cover this project to demand better accommodations for transit and people cycling

  4. Steven, In your accompanying facebook post you mention that we need to demand a complete street there. How would we go about it? What folks can we contact to get complete streets considered?

  5. Ugh, how frustrating. I actually live right where your video starts and the handful of times I tried to meet up with friends in Wicker Park/Bucktown/Ukranian Village last summer on my bike, it felt like such a death trap in so many places (Clybourn intersection, both bridges, under the expressway) I swore off it. Thanks for the info.

  6. I feel a few of you are (slightly) misunderstanding the concept of complete streets. It does not REQUIRE bike lanes. Complete streets requires that all forms of transportation (vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc) must simply be considered in the design and accommodated. It is POSSIBLE (although I agree unlikely) that CDOT has in fact considered all forms of transportation and this is the design that they believe best accommodates all those forms. I (like everyone I am sure) would like to hear their complete streets justification for the proposed design.

    Regardless of the actually complete streets requirements, it certainly looks like more could be done. There appears to be more than enough ROW to accommodate bike lanes on both sides of the street (51′ minimum roadway required). I am also really perplexed as to why the short block has a bike lane and nothing more. CDOT is extremely notorious for putting things back the way they are with little thought for the future. Resurfacing projects are a perfect example of this. Resurfacing projects are perfect opportunities to reconsider the existing pavement stripping to determine if it could be improved. In many cases, bike lanes can be added and pedestrian crossings can be improved without any reconstruction needed. CDOT misses this boat frequently (but not all the time). 

    I understand your disappointment with the “intersection” of Division/Clybourn/Orleans /Sedgwick, but if the limits of the project do not extend to this intersection how are they supposed to fix it? 

    Also, can you confirm that the entirety of the project is reconstruction (all the pavement removed, aggregate removed/replaced/repaired, then new pavement, usually with 100% new curb) or just a resurfacing (only the top 2″ of asphalt removed and replaced, spot curb repairs)? Did you receive typical sections with the design documents?

    This is a very large project, and if it is indeed a reconstruction would cause quite the disturbance. This would likely (but not certainly) mean meetings with adjacent business owners and others impacted. You could get your way into this meeting, but likely all the design considerations would be complete at that time. If you want the design to be changed you need to contact CDOT now.

    1. I don’t believe that *complete streets* requires any specific treatment. I feel that Division Street, as proposed, does not consider all forms of transportation. If they were considered and this is the best design (as you suggest may be the case), then I, too, would like to see their complete streets justification. In fact, the city’s policy should be made a law and such justification should be required for all projects. I believe the Cook County Complete Streets ordinance, recently passed in fall 2011, includes such a provision.
      The Illinois Complete Streets law (not a policy!) requires a bicycle and pedestrian way.
      I have received some additional information about this project from CDOT and I will update this article with that soon. I did not receive a “typical cross-section” drawing.
      I discussed the Division/Clybourn/Orleans/Sedgwick “intersection” to show that the problems of Division Street don’t end with this project’s scope and the effects of one project don’t stop at the project’s limits.

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