It’s “New Bikeways Week” at Streetsblog Chicago. First Up: Berteau

Traffic circle, no stop signs
The intersection of Berteau and Greenview sports a traffic circle and stop sign removed from Berteau.

It’s “New Bikeways Week” here on Streetsblog, and John and I will be writing up the many new neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and refreshed bike lanes installed this summer and fall. First up: the Berteau neighborhood greenway.

Construction on the Berteau Avenue neighborhood greenway, which began in late August, is now complete. This is the city’s first finished neighborhood greenway – a treatment that reduces speeding and improves biking conditions without adding physical protection for cyclists. In addition to eliminating some stop signs and adding sharrows and a short stretch of contraflow bike lane where Berteau is one-way for motor vehicles, the project built out a number of traffic-calming measures.

Two weeks ago, landscaping crews installed plants inside new curb extensions, which double as bioswales that reduce sewer overflows when it rains. Bioswales retain water and let it filter into the ground, which helps diminish the sewer system overflows that despoil Lake Michigan. The city will be using more of these in its recently announced $50 million investment in green stormwater infrastructure.

These curb extensions have a safety purpose, too, as they narrow the “neck” of the roadway at intersections, causing drivers to take turns slower and pay closer attention to people in crosswalks.

Curb extension at Ashland
Curb extensions mean tighter, slower turns.

Another notable feature is the small traffic circle at Greenview, where the stop sign on Berteau was eliminated. This is a great, bike-friendly street safety enhancement, and it would be good to see more stop signs removed in tandem with traffic calming measures on other neighborhood greenway projects. The curb extensions coupled with 20 mph speed limit means traffic will be calmed to the point that stop signs, which don’t always improve safety, aren’t needed. This also makes biking more appealing by eliminating points where cyclists have to stop and re-start their momentum.

Berteau could still use more intersections with no traffic control devices. In less than a mile, there are nine stop signs and two traffic signals, whereas the Going Street neighborhood greenway in Portland has four stop signs or traffic signals along a three-mile route.

Sharrows placement
The sharrow under the railroad bridge is in a different position than the foreground door-zone sharrow, making a weaving path.

Another aspect that could be improved: The sharrows under the Ravenswood Metra viaduct are so close to the curb that anybody bicycling in a path that uses the sharrows as a guide will leave the line of traffic and re-enter, a weaving movement that is discouraged by the Chicago Bike Map and general bicycling-in-traffic education. Other sharrows are placed in the door zone instead of the middle of the lane.

When this project was in the planning phase, it called for more robust interventions, like diverters to reduce automobile through traffic. Local residents objected, however, and the diverters didn’t make the cut. Hopefully this project will show Chicagoans that neighborhood greenways work well, and future projects will take some more ambitious steps.

Updated to correct say that only a stop sign on Berteau were removed from the intersection with Greenview and to add a photo of green pavement.

Clark Street pedestrian and concrete turning island
Pedestrian and bike island on Clark Street, which some bicyclists say narrows the travel lane too much.
Green pavement at Ashland
Green pavement at Ashland advises drivers on where to position their cars before making a left turn onto southbound Ashland. ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/sets/72157636801217295/with/10422860204/##More photos##.
  • Adam Herstein

    The westernmost contraflow lanes are too narrow – you’re basically entirely in the door zone. The design of the road doesn’t slow cars down at all, and without lane diverters (the median on Clark is designed in a way to still allow left turns onto Berteau) it’s not really a neighborhood greenway. Just a regular residential street with some extra paint and a few wider curbs. CDOT half-assed this one, and it shows.

  • Anonymous

    I think you summed it up nicely. An improvement but it missed a few opportunities. I find the Eastern part (roughly UP-N tracks to Clark) pretty pleasant, but I only really ride it WB. Further West, I am less impressed, because the design is more conventional

  • Anonymous

    I like the median on Clark. It provides a safe left turn lane, protected by the median island. I can wait there until I see a gap in SB traffic.

    Not sure what you would expect from this Greenway.

  • Anonymous

    “the Going Street neighborhood greenway in Portland”

    Not really a fair comparison (tho I realize you were using it mainly for controlled intersections)–PDX mandates that cars must move from the street every 24 hours–that is, every car has to have a private parking place somewhere. Chicago could do that, too, but not without allowing lots of the non-accessory parking which you (mainly rightly) hate.

    And, on the controlled intersection thing, for a 3 mile stretch in Chicago, anywhere, you’re going to get 5 (or 7, depending how you count) minimum, bc of 1/2 mile cross-streets, and mostly somewhat more than that. Berteau is a little absurd, at least for now, but I think that the double stop at the two Wolcotts may come out (or be reduced to 1) after the Metra construction is completed

    Also, I’m pretty sure there are ‘only’ 6 stop signs (since the removal of the el & Greenview stop signs; not counting Clark), along with the 2 signals (not counting Lincoln). What is possible to do, overall safety-wise, with Paulina and Hermitage depends a lot on what CPS does with the former Courtenay building.

  • Going north on Clark at those ped islands is a nuisance now; I used to think it was OK but it’s just barely wide enough for a driver and person on a bike, but not safely. The safest way to go is to skip the red light safely at Southport to get ahead of the drivers. Otherwise I’m honked at and just wait. One case where a leading bike signal would work.

    The greenway itself is nice, though. I’ve used it a few times. Although I think the bumpouts aren’t big enough to make a difference at many spots.

  • I’d be curious to watch that ‘traffic circle’ — there was one like it with a somewhat smaller radius at the top of my block in Austin and it got driven over A LOT. This is a tonier more upscale neighborhood, but I’d still want a couple knee-high bollards incorporated into the design somehow (one at each corner?) to prevent repeated damage to plantings and signage like happened on my old street.

    I wonder if the traffic circle is designed as a bioswale too?

  • Adam Herstein

    I expected the city to not half-ass it. As it currently stands, Berteau only offers a margined increase in safety, while not featuring ANY methods to discourage car traffic. The city basically caved to auto interests and didn’t make the street any less convenient for people driving cars. I still got honked at and passed too closely when I rode it.

  • Name

    I also like that turn lane, except: it’s too difficult to get *to* the left turn lane from Clark, unless you’re holding up NB motor vehicle traffic. I end up waiting at the right-side curb for all north-bound traffic to clear – which could be a lot since it’s right after the stoplight.

  • Randy Neufeld

    Berteau and Greenview has retained the stop signs for Greenview. You can see one in your picture.

  • Name

    I have yet to see a NB driver honor the traffic circle. The motorists I have witnessed have *all* driven on the left side of the circle to turn onto WB Berteau. One of these days one will smash an EB person on a bicycle.
    The circle should have been made wide enough to force the whole round-about thing. Maybe at least one of those round-arrow things might help…

  • I meant to say the stop sign for Berteau traffic was removed. Edited.

  • I watched someone do that tonight. I don’t think this is something worth trying to stop or enforce because the turning movement is so slow that there’s time to see, decide, and react if necessary when turning to the left of the traffic circle, or turning to the right of the traffic circle to go left.

  • I don’t think so. Bioswales are generally easily identified as landscaping with cuts in the curb to accept more water. Their purpose is that they can filter more water than their surface area will collect and they’re connected to earth. I doubt that traffic circles are dug in such a way to connect the plants to earth.

  • Anonymous

    That is one maneuver I don’t get. Why does every cyclist try to get ahead of the cars? They will overtake you a hundred yards North anyhow, but now they are moving at a much higher speed.

    Usually there is only a handful of cars waiting at the Southport light to turn left on Clark. Let them pass you. The intersection is plenty spacious for that. It doesn’t slow me down. The cars move ahead and I have a clear road for a while, at least until Clark gets the green light again.

    And I never, ever, get honked at at that intersection…

  • I suppose it depends on the context. Sometimes there’s a lot of traffic and sometimes there isn’t. It was worse over the summer. But it is better when you catch the end of the light, as you said, there’s less cars on what is a pretty narrow street.

  • When you get ahead of drivers you remind them that you’re still there. At least that’s why I do it.

  • I think it’s a fair comparison. I excluded counting the stop sign at eastbound Berteau at Clark (which is for cyclists only) and the traffic signal at Lincoln.

  • Anonymous

    Sure, but this is about my personal safety, not about bicyclist rights.
    Running a red light, only to be passed at 30mph or more ten seconds later, or let them pass and remove two potential conflict points?
    I know which one I choose every day of the week…

  • Peter Debelak

    I don’t understand this bikeway at all. It’s likely slower than Montrose, doesn’t go over the river, and (assuming you are travelling East) lets you out on Clark with no stoplight. I understand that it is safer, but it also needs to be useful for travel.

  • Rich S

    I try to get ahead of cars because the mouth of most intersections is narrow, especially when there are parallel parked cars. My experience is that drivers either sit on your ass and then aggressively pass or just aggressively squeeze through. Only occasionally do drivers wait patiently and give appropriate space in those situations.

    Getting through the mouth of an intersection and into a bike lane that usually doesn’t start until 10-15 feet in is safest in my opinion. It allows me to be in the bike lane before cars go through the intersection.

  • Anonymous

    Portland’s NE Going Neighborhood Greenway, Vancouver to 72nd, has 11 stops and one signal along it’s 4 miles of project length.

  • tooter turtle

    “Pedestrian and bike island on Clark Street, which some bicyclists say narrows the travel lane too much.”

    Apparently at least one driver also found the travel lane too narrow. The sign with reflectors on the south end of the island, visible in the photo, has now been run over and completely flattened.

  • Anonymous

    Where are the 9 stop signs? Even counting Clark, it’s only 7, as I see ’em.

    Berteau doesn’t compare favorably to Going in large part bc Berteau traverses a denser neighborhood, and has much worse intersection sight lines bc of 24-hour parked cars (illegal in PDX, bc, in part, more off street parking is *required* in the area along the route) and generally lesser setbacks and the presence of a massive railroad embankment (which is 1/3 of the stop signs) and is a narrower ROW. None of which is ‘fixable’, certainly on initial rollout.

  • Anonymous

    The traffic circle at Wolcott and Cornelia (?? About there) gets driven over all the time, too.

    You’ll get no bollards on these calming circles in Chicago, bc the CFD would have a fit about ‘making it impossible for a ladder truck to get around it’.

  • Actually, Lamon and Ferdinand, but I’m sure it happens a lot. :->

  • Anonymous

    the sign should be an object marker (black and yellow barber pole pattern) and set back from the end, about halfway between the end and the pedestrian area. The top of the sign should be about 4 ft above the curb. The black pole means the diamond floats in mid-air at night time. What’s an intoxicated driver to think?

  • Anonymous

    Oh, wasn’t clear–?? was meant to indicate I couldn’t recall if at Cornelia or a block north or south.

    I meant that there is another traffic circle in a similar-to-this “tonier more upscale” location that gets driven over a ton, so it’s not likely to be different from your local experience here, either.

  • Anonymous

    “I expected the city to not half-ass it”

    What, exactly, does the city *not* half-ass, aside from patronage and assorted honest graft?

  • Anonymous

    “The city basically caved to auto interests and didn’t make the street any less convenient for people driving cars”

    It’s easy to say they caved to auto interests. This is one project that had a lot of community input. This extensive community input was one cause for the one year delay in implementation.

    Where you part of the community input process to speak up for the bicycle interests?

  • I’ll have to double check. This is what I counted when I biked on it in summer 2012.

  • Such cynicism! Patronage issues and cost overruns aside, just about everybody likes how Millennium Park turned out. And even the most jaded commentator would have trouble finding fault with how the Red Line rehab was executed.

  • Anonymous

    The original plan for Millenium Park was decidedly half-assed. That was only bailed out by private involvement and selling the parking garage underneath it, in a deal similar to the parking-meter fiasco. And it is still part and parcel with the Park Grill giveaway, too. That said, yes, the final result is pretty nice–but nice enough to justify the cost? Give me $600 million and some prime city-controlled land, and I could do something pretty spectacular too.

    The Red Line–haven’t we learned that we can’t judge an el rehab within the first few weeks? Are we forgetting that the last major rehab of the Blue Line (long time ago now) used decidedly substandard rail ties that necessitated replacement much much sooner than planned? And that the Brown Line has had to have substantial work done on all the stations bc of mis-speced materials? Too soon to judge.

  • Anonymous

    ps: “Patronage issues and cost overruns aside”

    …other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

  • Anonymous

    “everybody likes how Millennium Park turned out”

    How you liking that extra, hidden $30 million in borrowing, John? Great stuff there!! Congrats, again, Mayor Daley–no one mortgage the future better than you!

  • I think a good rule of thumb is that if the Reader’s Ben Joravsky is happy with the way a Richard M. Daley or Rahm Emanuel project turned out, the result, if not the process, must be good. He’s their biggest critic.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s what I can find by Ben on Millennium Park:

    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/central-loop-tif-inspector-general-report/Content?oid=2099355

    Sure, he likes the park, but it’s inextricably intertwined with what it cost.

    Would the Berteau Greenway have been better had it cost 4 times as much as originally budgeted? Sure hope so. Could it have been better *in the ways people here want it to be better* for no additional $$, while remaining in compliance with city labor laws? That’s far from certain.

  • Anonymous

    In which he says:

    “I’ll give him credit for one thing—Millennium Park. I love that park. Good job, Mr. Mayor, even though you went way over budget to build it. It’s only money, right?”

    Like I said–inextricably intertwined with the cost.

    From the link-text that was ‘i love that park’:

    “Though it finished in a blaze of glory, Millennium Park needs to be remembered as an object lesson in how not to do such a project. When the mayor announced in March 1998 what was then called Lakefront Gardens, it was basically a $66 million parking garage built over the old Illinois Central railroad tracks and topped with a fairly simple park that included a new outdoor concert space. Daley said that it would all be finished by the summer of 2000 and that the $150 million cost, minus $30 million to be raised from private donors, would be covered by revenues from the new garage.”

  • It’s been a huge cultural and economic benefit for Chicago that it didn’t wind up just being a relatively cheap, low-key park and concert space, but instead a large amount of additional private donations were raised for more amenities.

  • Anonymous

    John:

    I agree. Chicago is much the better for having the Millennium Park that we got.

    But acting like it was always going to be so, rather than partly a happy accident, and that the *City* was principally responsible for making it so, and that the end result is great enough that we can ignore the costs (which include the near giveaway of another city-owned parking asset) while they are still being discovered, is, as the former mayor once said “silly, silly, silly, silly, silly”.

  • tooter turtle

    Had a moronic driver tell me tonight that I should be using the eastbound bike lane to go west. Drivers are largely dumber than a sack of hammers.

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