Will 47th Ward residents learn to love the bike boulevard?


47th Ward staffer Bill Higgins

A few weeks ago I contacted Mike Amsden, lead planner for the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Streets for Cycling initiative, to ask why CDOT chose Berteau Avenue (4200 N.), from Lincoln to Clark, to be the city’s first “neighborhood greenway” (AKA bike boulevard.) One of the main reasons he mentioned is that the project lies entirely within one ward, the 47th, and there’s enthusiastic support from local alderman Ameya Pawar. Amsden also told me he’s also gotten positive feedback from folks along Berteau who want to see cut-through traffic reduced. “We’ve heard from a few nearby residents who are really excited about it,” he said. Here’s a map of the location.

Last week at a block club meeting about the proposed greenway at a Ravenswood church, I learned firsthand how important it is that the project is slated for only a short stretch of roadway (.9 miles) and has strong aldermanic backing, because it’s turning out to be more controversial than I expected. There were over 50 people in attendance and many of the attendees said they’re afraid that the project will create chaos for drivers.


As 47th Ward transportation planner Bill Higgins, CDOT bike planner David Smith and Active Transportation Alliance bikeways campaign coordinator John Lankford explained at the start of the meeting, bike boulevards are fairly common in West Coast Cities like Portland, Oregon, and Berkeley, California. Speeding and cut-through traffic is discouraged on these streets through the use of speed bumps, traffic circles, pavement markings and/or traffic diverters – bump-outs, cul-de-sacs and other structures which prevent cars from driving down the entire length of the street or making certain turns. Meanwhile, contraflow bicycle lanes allow bikes to travel in both directions on one-way sections, and the traffic diverters have cut-outs that permit cyclists to continue unhindered.


Traffic diverter on a bike boulevard in Vancouver, British Columbia – photo by Dylan Passmore

Higgins outlined preliminary ideas for the Berteau greenway project, including some possible locations for traffic diverters, adding that the city is hoping to build the greenway in June or July of 2012. He stressed that the project is designed to make the street safer and more pleasant for all users, not just cyclists, and especially for people who live on Berteau.

But at last fall’s Active Trans anniversary gala, former executive director Randy Neufeld gave a speech that predicted the strong reaction that the city’s plans for protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways were likely to elicit from Chicagoans whose streets would be radically altered. He asked his audience to see things from the perspective of the locals, using the metaphor of strangers coming in to rehab your kitchen. “You’d ask, ‘Why is this happening, what are you going to do and how much is it going to cost?’ And then [the rehabbers] would say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll like the new kitchen, they have nice kitchens just like this in Europe.’ The point I’m trying to make is that change is very hard.”

Just as Neufeld predicted,  when the floor was opened to questions and comments from audience members at last week’s meeting, many of the residents sounded worried about the possibility of having to change their commuting patterns due to traffic diverters.


A man who was one of the first to speak said, “I want to thank you for a great presentation. I think your goals are very admirable: greening the neighborhood and making it friendlier. It will improve the neighborhood, with tweaks of course.”

“I have one concern but it’s very key,” he said. “You’re talking about prohibiting a southbound turn onto Ashland from Berteau. I’m from the neighborhood on the east side of Ashland. All of us on the east side of Ashland need some way of going to the city on Ashland. So what we do now, from both the north and south sides of our neighborhood, we go to Berteau, we go west towards Ashland and we turn left. Without that ability we’re going to have to go to Montrose or Irving Park. Those are terrible corners and it’s going to be a snarl, and what’s going to happen, I believe, is that it’s going to divert all the traffic up and down Greenview (1500 W.) so it’s going to defeat the purpose.” Audience members murmured in agreement.

David Smith responded, “The treatments that we’re talking about are preliminary ideas. We presented them to the ward’s transportation committee last week and that was an issue that they also brought up, making a left turn onto Ashland. You would basically be diverted down Greenview to Belle Plaine (4100 N.) where you would have to make a left turn onto Ashland, but there’s no signal. That’s definitely the kind of issue we need to hear about. [To clarify: Smith is acknowledging that it would be problematic to force drivers to turn left onto Ashland from Belle Plaine, so this may prevent the city from installing a diverter that would stop drivers from turning from Berteau onto Ashland.]

“I’d like to add that we’ve done a lot of traffic analysis on the corridor,” Smith said. “We’ve collected speed data and turning movements, and we’ve done 24-hour counts and peak hour counts, so it’s not like we’re just throwing diverters in to make everyone’s life difficult.”

Another attendee from southeast Ravenswood was upset about the possibility of not being able to cross Ashland on Berteau and said he feels that traffic calming on Berteau is unnecessary. “I understand it’s a noble goal, but you’re inconveniencing a lot of neighborhoods and we feel like this is being rushed through. I would probably come out and be completely opposed to the plan, any of this plan, because all the examples you show [from other cities] are busy streets. Berteau’s not a busy street. Berteau doesn’t need markings.”

Higgins responded, “I’ve gotten at least one call about traffic issues from every single block along this project, people asking for speed humps, people saying, ‘I’m standing out here and people are blowing through stop signs.’ And that’s a major concern for both the alderman and me. If you look at the streets where there have been major traffic problems Berteau is one of them.”


Berteau and Damen – photo by Suzanne Nathan

A woman who said she has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years commented, “When I look at this proposal your reasons sound really legitimate. You want to do some bicycle lanes and I think that really sounds good and you want to do some reduced traffic, which really sounds good. But what you’re forgetting about is the people living in the neighborhood. And for us it’s going to create havoc and unnecessary confusion and problems and an inability to get in and out of our neighborhoods. So I’m asking you to rethink what you’re doing.”

A bit later in the meeting Smith said, “At this point I would just recommend, try not to get caught up in every single turning movement. I know there are a lot of one-way streets in the neighborhood. So before we put in a traffic diverter we’re going to analyze to see where that puts you and how you will get in and out of the neighborhood. For instance, one thing that came up at the transportation committee meeting was that it’s difficult to make a left turn onto Irving Park from Ravenswood because there’s no signal. These are the kind of things that we want to hear from you guys and that we want to incorporate into this design so that you’re not forced into uncomfortable situations.”


Berteau at Ashland – photo by Steven

Near the end of the meeting another female resident argued that the project would inconvenience families in cars for the sake of a small minority of bicyclists. “I’m all for greenways,” she said. “But I’m a mom. I carpool and I drive a lot. I can’t get on a bike and take my kids to school [The crowd erupted in laughter] and take them to basketball practice and camp and soccer. I can’t do that. This will affect families. This isn’t about single people with backpacks getting on their bikes.”

“I think this project, the way it seems to be going, is wrongheaded,” she continued. “I think you need a lot of input and you need a lot of modifications, to make this work. Don’t think that because you’re going to make this a greenway that all of the sudden all of us in that area are going to be on our bikes. We’re not.”


Contraflow bike lane on Chicago’s Ardmore Avenue – photo by Alison Fayre

After the meeting, as I grabbed my helmet and sheepishly walked back to my bicycle, I overheard a few snippets of conversation from people alarmed about the possible changes, including the phrase, “We’ve got to save Berteau.” It’s clear that in order to build the greenway without a major revolt, Pawar’s office, CDOT and Active Trans will have to be very sensitive to the needs of nearby residents and make sure constituents feel that there has been an adequate community input process.

A few days after the contentious meeting, Pawar sent out a letter to residents reiterating the reasoning behind the greenway proposal and outlining the public input plan:

· We will hold meetings with block clubs, community groups and interested neighbors and solicit feedback on various design and traffic calming elements.
· After receiving feedback, plans will be adapted and/or changed to reflect community input.
· Design changes will be reviewed by transportation planners and our office.
· Final design will be presented to the community in the form of community meetings and our website.
· Alderman Pawar will make a decision based on the community input.

I predict that the city will succeed in persuading 47th Ward residents that the Berteau greenway is a good idea and the project will be completed this summer. It’s possible that traffic diverters will wind up being politically unfeasible, but simply calming the traffic and adding contraflow bike lanes would be a big improvement. With or without the diverters, in the end I think that Berteau residents will learn to love their safer, quieter, more walkable, bikeable street.

CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein’s eulogy for Apple’s Steven Jobs, also delivered at the Active Trans gala, seems fitting here. “He was able to give people what they hadn’t even envisioned that they needed yet,” Klein said. “And then once they had it they couldn’t live without it.”

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

59 thoughts on “Will 47th Ward residents learn to love the bike boulevard?”

  1. Just get it done… people want to speed on Berteau…don’t empathize with that.  I wish this would include Berteau from Lincoln to Rockwell (river).  More homeowners up here that support his.  Time the ward invests in its Western boarder

  2. I  predict that the city will succeed in persuading 47th Ward residents that the Berteau greenway is a good idea and the project will be completed this summer. 

    I really hope so.  Leavitt/Bell could be similarly beneficial location for a greenway in my neighborhood, and I fear that it could meet similar resistance.

    1. From http://chicago47.org/events/269/berteau-greenway-meeting/:
      Berteau Greenway Meeting
      August 16, Thursday 6:00 PM – 7:30 PMWelles Park Gym, 2333 W. Sunnyside AvenueChicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and 47th Ward staff will present final concepts for the proposed Berteau Neighborhood Greenway. The goal of this project is to improve safety on Berteau, between Lincoln and Clark, and create a roadway that is more comfortable for all modes of transportation. The concepts being presented will reflect public input gathered at previous community meetings. All are welcome to attend in the community meeting room at the Welles Park Gymnasium . There will be a short presentation beginning at 6:20 followed by an open house to review the draft plans.More information on the project is available on our website at:http://chicago47.org/projects/neighborhood-greenways/. Contact Bill Higgins with any questions or comments at: Bill@Chicago47.org

  3. “Don’t think that because you’re going to make this a greenway that all of the sudden all of us in that area are going to be on our bikes. We’re not.”
    It really pains me to hear people who live in as walkable/bikeable an area as Lincoln Square/North Center talk this way.

    1. Yes, when the crowd started laughing at the ridiculous idea of transporting one’s children by bicycle, I thought of the dozen or two families I know in Logan Square that regularly bike commute with their kids via box bikes, bike trailers and trail-a-bikes.

      1.  We do not have children and use public transport whenever possible.  That being said I don’t understand the highhandedness of inconveniencing people in order to force them onto the public transport system.  If you like to ride a bike and transport your family that way — great, that is to be commended.  But please don’t try to force your lifestyle on others.

        1. Thanks for the feedback. It might be more accurate to say that the motoring lifestyle has been forced on Americans and Chicagoans. For example, if I want to help reduce congestion, improve air quality and save the planet by choosing the bus over driving, why should I get stuck in a traffic jam caused mostly by single-occupant vehicles? Bus rapid transit solves this problem.

    2. Sounds like the meeting might have benefitted from having some more champions. It also sounds like the concept wasn’t introduced clearly enough, which is unfortunate since it’s already being called a “neighborhood greenway” from the get-go.

      Maybe something like a video of how such a street works could convince the residents that “hey, this actually won’t change how you live very much at all, and it’s a big and positive investment in your street.”

      Someone in my neighborhood also loves to berate cyclists with the same “families can’t bike, ha ha, seniors can’t bike” arguments. First of all, that’s not true; second, no one ever said that 100% of people will be bike anyways; and third, all of us — including children and those of us who don’t have kids, both voices which are marginalized by that line of reasoning — deserve safe ways of getting around.

  4. Sounds like standard NIMBYism to me: “What a great idea—for all those OTHER people in all those OTHER places. Not here, not us; we don’t need it, we don’t want it. Think of the children!”

    1.  My take of the sentiment from reading this recap is more like “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most people are not plugged in to what is happening at CDOT or downtown and the idea of a construction project to fix a problem that many residents don’t believe exists is suspicious. I think everybody in this process has good motives, it’s just that the lack of ambition in this project has left it’s planners with another problem, the problem of selling a nominal improvement against the strong forces of inertia. Is life good if you live on Berteau in this neighborhood? Probably. So why mess with it?

      1.  Makes sense, although the alderman’s office says they’ve been receiving plenty of complaints about traffic on Berteau. Also see the Gabe Klein quote at the end of the post. 

  5.  “Berteau’s not a busy street. Berteau doesn’t need markings.”

    I find it hilarious that what looked like low-hanging fruit to CDOT looks like non-existent fruit to the residents who turned out for this meeting. Berteau is ALREADY a neighborhood greenway to anybody who isn’t an urban planner. Just look at that canopy of trees!

    1. Well, neighborhood greenways / bike boulevards are normally created on leafy residential streets that should be quiet, relaxing streets with few cars that don’t belong to local residents, but aren’t this way because other drivers use them as shortcuts. The question is: is there actually a problem with excessive cut-through traffic on Berteau? The alderman’s office says they’ve been getting multiple complaints about too many people driving on Berteau, driving too fast and not obeying stop signs.

  6. Kids are the most important constituency for bike infrastructure.  It’s so rewarding for them and their parents when they can safely move around by themselves rather than be shuttled all the time — I say this as an older brother.  I find it totally bizarre that a mom, of all people, wouldn’t see this.

  7. All they need to do is enforce the stop signs and crosswalks that are already in existence.  Adding a greenway on Berteau is nothing but an unnecessary inconvenience for folks who live in the neighborhood and use it as a local city thoroughfare (as it was designed and intended, imagine that).

    1.  It is a lot harder and more expensive to enforce specific stop signs and speed limits. Chicago police do not think of themselves as traffic cops. To pay someone to sit at a troublesome stop sign 24/7 or at one or two points along the cut-through with a radar gun is cost prohibitive. Creating some bulb-outs and counterflow bikelanes may cost at first, but it will improve the street the way nothing else could (aside from banning cars all together).

      1.  Who said anything about posting someone there 24/7?  Random enforcement (or, to be more accurate, ANY enforcement) of the stop signs would help — without any impact on residents who want to use this for its intended purpose, access. By the way, banning cars altogether would likely drive down prices due to the lack of access to those who might want or need to drive their cars to the location (eg handicapped residents, elderly, etc). 

  8. I drive in Chicago, and when I think about the “cut through” streets in my neighborhood, they are the streets I use all the time — the roads that are bigger and faster than the one-way residential streets with tons of stop signs.  These are the most efficient ways to drive in and out of the neighborhood.  The proposed changes wouldn’t do anything for me because the reduction in cars would be canceled out by the speed bumps and prohibited turns — a fast way out of the neighborhood would become a slow and cumbersome route.  I can appreciate the argument that the benefits outweigh the costs — that I should be willing to take a longer route out of the neighborhood because greenways promote cycling and safety — but I would never see this as something that benefits drivers.  I can only see drivers supporting this if 1) the alderman convinces people that it’s worth it for drivers to be inconvenienced (time that probably only adds up to a few minutes per day?  they could calculate it) because the greenway has benefits that are worth it, or 2) because “think of the children” who might be hit by fast cars.  But you’re not going to persuade drivers that the greenway benefits them directly — I would honestly hate if they did this to my neighborhood, even though I might reluctantly support it because I support some of the goals (reducing emissions).  The aldermen needs to persuade drivers that they should be willing to take a slower, more cumbersome route for the greater good — he’s never going to convince them that this somehow makes life better for drivers.

    1. I think for this to succeed, the city is going to have to convince the people who live near Berteau that they would gain more than they would lose if the greenway is installed. The benefits for Berteau residents? A safer, quieter, more pleasant street. The drawbacks? If there are diverters they’d have to alter their commuting routes a bit, but they wouldn’t be asked to do anything unsafe or unduly inconvenient. If there are no diverters they wouldn’t even have to change their routes, just slow down for any added speed bumps, traffic circles, etc. Once they figure this out, I’m pretty sure the opposition will die down.

    2. I think you point to the problem here: People only define themselves as drivers and look at how it impacts them as drivers. The reality is that most people use various transport mode at various times.

      Find a way to have them look at it that way, and they may become amenable to the idea of greenway and the improved safety it provides them.

      Alderman Pawar is onto this line of reasoning as evidenced by his email linked in the article. Take the focus away from bicyclists and focus instead on the improved (public) safety that it will provide for all residents.

      I definitely plan to use Pawar’s reasoning in the discussions that will take place in my ward over the next few months as my ward develops a new masterplan.

      1. And when people are not transporting themselves, they are at home, at work, at church, or at school. And they are witnessing the dangerous behaviors of those people who are currently transporting themselves (on all modes). So people should think of themselves as neighbors who must deal with those who are driving or cycling and how they want *the others* to transport themselves (most likely in a safe and courteous way). 

      2. If someone walks & drives but never bikes, though, it’s pretty reasonable to look at proposals as a “driver.” When I’m a pedestrian, I can already cross streets when I want, even busy streets, because cars have to stop at lights and signs. “Safety” just isn’t persuasive to me because I don’t feel unsafe.  Maybe if I lived directly on the cut-through street and had kids who played there, though, I’d feel differently.

  9. This concept would, in fact, ONLY be applied to “residential streets with tons of stop signs,” not to “cut through” streets as you’ve defined them.

    1. I think “cut through” means that it’s a “cut through” for someone else, but not one’s self (i.e. the person who lives on this street). 

      When I went to this street and neighborhood to grab some photos, I had an awful experience trying to get out and back to where I came from. The one-way road network/design is confusing and disadvantageous to the least injurious traffic mode (bicycling). 

    2. I was thinking of Pratt in Rogers Park as an example.  It’s residential, and there are stop signs, but it’s wide and two-ways so it’s an efficient street because you can drive the speed limit, pass people who are turning or parking, pass bikes, etc. It’s much faster than taking the one-way narrow streets.

  10. Just a short distance north, on Sunnyside, there’s a short 2-block section between Beacon and  Magnolia that’s a real bike boulevard.  How did that ever come about?

    Why quit on the west end at Lincoln?  Keep going west all the way to the river, then build a footbridge over the river right into Horner Park!

      1. Bob’s talking about the pedestrianized blocks near Truman College. While I’d like to see more pedestrianized blocks (Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square is an example of a successful one), Sunnyside doesn’t seem to to function very well. A friend who lived nearby told me that what little use the plaza got was largely negative. however, neighbors did organize “positive loitering” events where community member met up at designated times in the plaza to discourage criminal activity.

  11. I know they don’t want to get mired in details, but I could totally see many of the parents of Ravenswood, Courtenay, and the Lutheran School flipping out.

    1. Go talk to them about it, ask them what kind of neighborhood they want to live in. Ask if their ideal street includes slow traffic and safe cycling and walking. 

  12. Why weren’t all of the residents of this area advised?  Why wasn’t anything posted on the Alderman’s email  news letter.  The secrecy about this proposal makes it seem-dare I say- SHADY.  Given that we have the 2 block flower box on Irving Park Road it is impossible to access this neighborhood from the west.  Preventing access from the east would make the area unreachable.  Forcing residents to drive on Irving or Montrose to access even simple services along Lincoln Ave is untenable.  Especially during Cub season.  Not to mention limited access for the many churches and schools in area.    

    1. “Secrecy” would be installing the changes without asking first. There is exactly one school and zero churches on Berteau, which is hardly “many” by my definition.

      I’m disappointed to see that the schools’ parents don’t see the benefits for the safety of the children at their schools, but instead are only concerned about a few seconds at their own convenience. That’s a seriously misplaced priority: car crashes are the #1 killer of American children, killing almost three times as many American kids every year as cancer.

      1. Payton – Ravenswood is on paulina between montrose and collum.  There are other trip generators that may be a block or so off that will have impacted drivers.

    2. I don’t think anyone’s keeping any secrets. The planning process is ongoing and will take several more weeks. It’s been in the Alderman’s email newsletter three weeks in a row (including this week). And you’ve read about it here and on EveryBlock, for several weeks. 

      What questions do you have aren’t being answered?

      From this week’s email newsletter:”CDOT Traffic Engineers are working on developing a number of designs based on the public input we have received so far.  Meetings with the community groups around Berteau between Lincoln and Clark are being scheduled for late March/early April. After further public involvement with these residents, an open public meeting will be held before final approval.”

  13. I feel bad for Pawar, and any Alderman that tries to do this. He is going to receive so many negative phonecalls and visits from the likes of these folks. It’s enough to get discouraged and pull the project. The residents of the 47th ward that want to see this happen, as well as folks across the city really need to keep the positive vibe flowing to Pawar. I think I will sit down and pen a letter of gratitude myself.

  14. I agree with many of the posters here.  I have found a real lack of transparency both from the Mayor’s admistration and the 47th Ward Alderman’s office about transportation projects.  Instead of getting input from the communities early in the process, they present us with fully baked plans.  The Alderman is already talking about calming traffic on Lawrence, which will put pressure on other east-west streets, and then he is surprised that people are worried about Berteau.  Very few streets go through the metra tracks.  Blocking off one of them is going to impact us.  Why is this so difficult?

    The granddaddy of all of these projects for southeast, and the one about which I have heard very little, is the possible BRT on Ashland.  They are talking about removing a lane on the street, not letting people park their cars overnight on the street, and drastically increasing bus traffic (and the associated pollution).  I dozens spoken with people on Greenview, Ashland, Paulina, and Hermitage, and every single one of them opposes this project.  But the Alderman does not really communicate with the residents, he seems to be talking with the enviros and Gabe Klein.  He occasionally talks to “block clubs,” but most of the us are not in block clubs. Take a look his recent interview on transportation issues.  He really does not get it.  To make it clear: many of us moved here to avoid the traffic conjestion that we faced in Lincoln Park and other neighborhoods; we do not want more conjested streets, even if they are prettier. 

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Here are a few responses to your comments. The Berteau greenway plan is far from fully baked. If you look at the community input plan for this project, there are several steps to go before the design is finalized and plenty of opportunity for neighbors to weigh in. The Lawrence streetscape will not put much additional pressure on other east-west streets since almost all of Lawrence already only has two travel lanes – this project just puts this one-mile stretch in line with the rest of the street. Obviously, increasing bus use does not increase pollution but rather reduces it, since one bus can replace about 60 cars.  Ultimately, projects like neighborhood greenways, road diets and bus rapid transit are going to make your life easier as a driver since they will encourage more people to use transit, walk and bike instead of driving, which means less traffic congestion. They will also make they neighborhood more enjoyable for you as a resident because the streets will be safer, quieter and more vibrant, and you’ll have cleaner air to breathe, and you’ll also have higher property values. After these projects are implemented, I think you’ll be happier than ever that you moved to the neighborhood.

      1. John:

        Thanks for your quick response. I guess my only concern with what you are saying that that it is all theoretical.  You say that buses will eliminate 60 cars from the street, but that is only if they are full 100% of the time.  You say that conjestion will be reduced, but this is only true if people give up their cars.  East Ravenswood is full of two-career families with young children, and I think that it is going to be hard to get them out of their cars.  (People who work until 5 every evening and have to pick their kids up at daycare at 6 are not going move to a slower transportation mode.) More buses on Ashland could reduce traffic on some streets, but still drastically decrease air-quality on streets east of Ashland, like Greenview.  Public transportation may be “green” overall, but diesel buses create a tremendous amount of localized pollution.  (I am in the environmental industry; I know this is true).

        I guess my problem ultimately is that our traffic policy is being created by amatuers.  Gabe Klein and the Alderman have limited experience in traffic planning, and it shows.  They jump on anything that seems new, innovative, and green.  There needs to be more study and analysis before they jump.  The fact that no one understood the traffic problems that would be created at Ashland and Berteau is an embarrassment. 

        1. To clarify, I said buses *can* replace about sixty cars. I don’t expect every bus is always going to be full, but if having dedicated bus lanes allows the buses to travel as fast or faster than cars, a lot more people are going to choose the bus over driving. There wouldn’t necessarily be a higher number of buses, but even if there were, dozens or hundreds of fewer cars on the road would more than make up for a few extra buses, improving the air quality on streets like Greenview. Of course, I definitely support the move away from diesel buses to cleaner fuel sources.

          I agree that there are plenty of residents like the last lady quoted in the article, who can’t or won’t stop using driving as their main transportation mode. But I think there are many other folks in the area who would be very interested in replacing some of their car trips with walking, biking and transit, if those modes became safer, faster and/or more pleasant, which will be the case once the road diet, greenway and BRT are implemented.

          Actually, Klein has a pretty impressive transportation resume. Check out this article I wrote about him for background on what he accomplished in Washington, D.C. and what he’s gotten done here so far: : https://gridchicago.com/2011/how-did-chicagos-progressive-transportation-czar-gabe-klein-get-that-way/

          I agree that the idea of not allowing turns onto Ashland from Berteau was unfeasible, but the greenway plan is going to be heavily vetted by the community and I’m sure that any diverters that would cause unreasonable hassles for drivers will be removed. But for many decades our transportation system has been planned by traffic engineers with plenty of experience in trying to move cars quickly around around the city, resulting in too many autos on the road, poor air quality, too much land devoted to parking lots, sprawl, 40,000 traffic deaths a year, obesity and so on. I believe that guys like Klein and Pawar are on the right side of history, shifting the focus from moving cars around the city fast to moving people around the city in safe, healthy, sustainable ways.

          1. John:

            Thanks again for your quick responses.  I am not really sure where you live, but I still think that you are talking in generalities.  People in Southeast Ravenswood / Graceland West already have great access to public transportation.  Both the Brown Line and the Metra are in walking distance, and the Clark Bus is convienent too.  People who can use public transportation already do.  To convince me that an Ashland BRT is going to take any Ravenswood residents out of their cars, you are going to have to show me more evidence.  This is what is really lacking here. 

            In the end, you may be right that Klein and Pawar will be on the right side of history.  And I also may be right in thinking that ill-thought-out transportation plans will be their downfall. Mayors have been kicked out of office over snow plowing; you can imagine what would happen if changes on Ashland slowed down hundreds of residents daily commutes. 

            I agree with your comments about sprawl; it is the most significant problem created in the 20th century.  But the solution to sprawl is making our cities more livable, and creating daily, grinding traffic problems is going to drive a lot of families out to the suburbs.

            I am not saying that any of these projects are bad ideas — my only advice is to slow down, study things more, and understand how people’s lives will be impacted. 

          2. You agree with the basic premise that we need to make our cities more livable, yet all initiatives discussed so far (BRT on Ashland, road-diet on Lawrence, a greenway on Berteau) do get the cold shoulder from you. I’d be interested to hear your ideas on how to make this city more livable.

            Also I’d like to challenge you on your comment  about the lack of transparency in transportation projects. The current administration is a breath of fresh air compared to the old one. See Pawars commitment to talk to all residents and use that input to make changes as one example. Another example would be the Bloomingdale trail on the West side: Still in the early stages of development, it already went thru numerous rounds of community input. And this input has already had a noticable impact on the design.

          3. The Bloomingdale Trail planning process (with its design charrettes, many public meetings, accessible staff members, and strong relations with community groups) is rare in Chicago. I’ve never seen or heard of any project planning process achieve this level of interaction with residents. Will this be repeated for other projects? I highly doubt it. The only other agency that has shown its competency and intentions in this area is the Chicago Transit Authority. They have public meetings for all projects and use their website to have a great impact on spreading information about the project both before and after the meeting. 

            I’d like to see CTA and Bloomingdale Trail level of public information dissemination with all transportation projects. I consider how the New York City Department of Transportation conducts planning processes: When they craft a proposal for a street, they schedule a meeting with the appropriate Community Boards (something we lack here) and present it to the board and to the audience. Many times the NYCDOT must return to the same Community Board a few months later with a revised proposal. The Community Board (some with 50 members) then votes whether or not to support the proposal. The NYCDOT prefers to have their support. 

  15. One other thing — you really cannot get reliable input on this project by asking people who live on Berteau how they feel about it.  Of course they want a bike greenway.  I am sure that people who live on Irving Park would want a bike greenway too.  But, certain streets have been planned for certain purposes.  Irving Park is a major throughfare, and Berteau, like it or not, is a secondary artery.  It goes through Ravenswood; it has stoplights.  It was INTENDED as a neighborhood transportation route.  I get a little annoyed when the Alderman talks about eliminating cut-through traffic on streets like Berteau.  If we force all of the traffic onto the arterial streets, it will cause more conjestion and pollution.  It seems like some residents want to create a system of suburban cul-de-sacs.  We all know what a traffic nightmare this creates in the suburbs.  It will be even worse in a higher density area like Ravenswood. 

    1. Having not seen the presentation, but being a daily bike or car user of Berteau, I could see how this could work.  Especially if they make Collum a two way street.  Those are more narrow streets, but they will get the job done of getting the cars routed east and west.  In the end after an awkward transition we will all change our habbits and I am sure that some people will grumble but we will make do.  

  16. As a resident, I sent the following to Bill Higgins:

    I first tried an internet search on “bicycle greenway”.  Immediately, I got thoroughly confused and came away with the (mistaken) impression that the project would ban auto traffic.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who will have this experience.
    I think a dedicated area on the alderman’s website (or stand alone website) containing basic information on what greenways are, how they work, any and all powerpoint presentations/plan documents,  expected usage statistics, good links, schedule of community meetings, etc would be very, very helpful to Ward residents who are forming opinions, especially those who are unable to attend meetings in person.   
    I’d also love to know if the concepts of seasonality and flexibility to quickly revert to the historic usage are being considered by planners.  It seems clear to me that expected winter use will likely be much, much lower than in other seasons.  Can a project be considered that can “gear up” for bikes in peak times and “gear down” in winter months?
    Of even more importance to me is that Berteau has been used by motorists to escape congestion on Irving Park and Montrose for many decades and removing this pressure “safety valve”, especially the stretch between Ravenswood and Lincoln Avenue, may make westbound traffic on Irving and Montrose as they approach their respective intersections with Lincoln even more awful than it is now.  This use of Berteau to let off steam is nothing new and removing the option to use it may please a few folks on those blocks but may also gum up a lot of traffic that impacts other residents in the immediate area.  The problem just gets pushed to another area.  Cubs traffic on Irving and the regular, seemingly never ending, roadwork on both Irving and Montrose are factors that need to be taken into consideration too.  They are never going away. 
    I live near the corner of Bell and Berteau. My family and I aren’t cyclists but are huge walkers, so we invite and encourage efforts to calm traffic on Berteau and elsewhere.  That being said, we are also drivers (and in my wife’s case she, like many others, is all too frequently shuttling kids around.)
    My personal thinking is that a very “light” hand (dedicated lanes and traffic calming) should be a guiding principle with this project, rather than trying to incorporate all the bells and whistles possible on the first go-around.  I think seasonality should be incorporated as well as the ability to revert in an emergency or if a large project impacts the area. 

    1. What websites did you find? I will link you the ones I recommend at the end of this comment. Portland, Seattle, and cities in the California Bay Area (Davis, Palo Alto, Berkeley), are the leaders in this kind of bikeway. 

      “I think a dedicated area on the alderman’s website (or stand alone website) containing basic information on what greenways are, how they work, any and all powerpoint presentations/plan documents,  expected usage statistics, good links, schedule of community meetings, etc would be very, very helpful to Ward residents who are forming opinions, especially those who are unable to attend meetings in person.”

      I could not agree with you more about this website. Speaking as the former webmaster of the Chicago Bicycle Program’s standalone website and the Bike Program’s section on the CDOT website, I tried hard to make sure the website was easy to use (I created a new design, added searching, brought period-relevant pages to the front) and have the information people were looking for. 

      To see some great bike boulevards in action, check out the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s website:

      Here’s one in Seattle:

      Your and other readers’ comments about making traffic changes in one area affecting how traffic works in another area is very pertinent to the discussion about Berteau Avenue, but also about the city in general. Currently, the city has no plan on how to address transportation needs, citywide and holistically. While I believe transportation planners and engineers will attempt to keep traffic impacts within the project boundaries, the lack of any neighborhood-wide and citywide priorities on how transportation systems will work will inhibit that work. 

    2. This is an excellent letter.   I actually kind of like the Berteau greenway idea.  What disturbs me, though, is the Alderman’s seeming willingness to pander to residents who complain about traffic problems.  Your concerns about changes to Berteau affecting Irving and Montrose are valid, and something that he and CDOT need to understand before they proceed.  As importantly, though, everyone (even Berteau residents) need to acknowledge that streets do not belong only to the people who live along them.  Streets are a public asset, and they need to be managed in a way that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.  In some cases, that may be as a greenway, but, in some cases, streets need to stay as they are. We cannot start putting “traffic calming” measures on every street in the ward.  I don’t know what the right solution is here (and I know that the City doesn’t either), but I sincerely hope that the Alderman will pause and think next time a resident calls to complain about traffic on a City street (imagine that!). 

      1. You gave me an idea. I think it would be a good exercise for a short document (less than 5 pages) that describes current knowledge on how transportation systems work and how best to make our travels safer. 

        It would also describe how to identify unsafe situations, and different ways to fix them. With this knowledge and toolkit, residents could better equip themselves to converse with the alderman and city staff about what residents’ needs are, and good ways to address them. 

        I’ve read about community groups in some cities who get radar guns and measure the traffic speeds on their streets. The problem with this is, once identified, does the city and police department have a way to respond? (i.e. increased enforcement and design interventions)

        1. I think that this is a great idea.  Sometimes, I feel like the City focuses on all the wrong safety issues.  As an example, one of the worst pedestrian hazards in the area is cars barrelling out of alleys and onto sidewalks.  I have never seen a single near hit at a stopsign in twenty years in the ward, but I have seen a lot of close calls and some actual accidents at alley exits.  One of the worst alleys in my experience is the one between Paulina and Ashland.  I think it is so bad because so many large apartment buildings on on the alley and neither cars or pedestrians can see around them.  The City, however, has not really focused on this problem.  In fact they have made it worse.  A few years ago, they put speedbumps on Paulina, and now everyone uses the Ashland/Paulina alley as a street.  It seemed to me like City planning at its finest — put in some traffic bumps to quiet some NIMBYs and create and real, significant risk. 

          The new Alderman needs to understand that every attempt at “traffic calming” will create more traffic in alleyways.  The alleyways in Southeast Ravenswood are so wide that they can easily be used as streets.   

    3. I think the idea of a dedicated area on the 47th Ward website for updates on the greenway is a terrific one. The more information that’s out there, the better residents will be able to make an informed decision about whether to support the project. I encourage you and your neighbors to lobby Bill and Ameya to post as much info as possible about the project and the upcoming community meetings.

      1. As it stands now, there is no mention of Berteau Avenue neighborhood greenway/bike boulevard on the Alderman’s website. The website also lacks a search function. However, this is not particular to him or any single alderman. The variety of quality, design, and availability of information differs greatly from Alderman to Alderman. This is something all Alderman should work on, but could be an issue they tackle together and create a common platform for their websites.

  17. Can’t wait to see Berteau transformed with all the bells and whistles.  I just hope the project gets expanded west to the river.  

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