Business Owners on Elston Won’t Fight Buffered Bike Lanes

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Biking on Elston, just west of Ashland. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s official: business owners along the Elston industrial corridor are giving up their fight against better bike lanes on the street.

In December, when Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” However, transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld wrote Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the industrial council, last month pointing out that there’s already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and 26 percent of crashes resulting in injuries involve cyclists. She also noted that ANBR would add half a mile to a bike trip downtown, and the infrastructure could cost 100 times as much as the buffered lanes.

At the end of March, CDOT project manager Mike Amsden presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, to North Branch Works, and now the council is grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes are slated for construction in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Mike Holzer with a map of the Elston corridor. Photo: Skyline

“I don’t think we want this,” Holzer told me yesterday. “The bike lanes should be in another spot. But the city wants this, and we’re not going to pick a fight. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Of course, unlike the protected bike lanes further south, the buffered lanes will be nothing but paint on the road that will have little effect on trucking operations. But Holzer said business owners still aren’t happy about the prospect of more bike traffic on Elston. “Considering that [CDOT has] decided to move forward with this, they’ve done what they can to address the companies’ issues. We don’t think this is the right location for a bike route, but they’re putting it here and we’ll deal with it the best we can.”

He acknowledged that the plans for wider travel lanes – and narrower bike lanes – are an improvement from the business owners’ perspective. “That’s a nod to the fact that the [protected bike lane] project south of North Avenue prevents wide loads from safely operating on the street.” He has said that, due to the narrower travel lanes widths by the PBLs, large crane trucks from Heneghan Wrecking, 949 North Elston, now require a police escort and flaggers when they travel on the street because they no longer fit within the lanes. “So we’re glad they’re not repeating that mistake north of North.”

While new protected bike lanes would have been more effective for sheltering cyclists, shortening pedestrian crossing distances, and calming traffic on a street where speeding is common, the buffered lanes represent a reasonable compromise.

  • Mishellie

    “I don’t think we want this,” Holzer told me yesterday. “The bike lanes should be in another spot” — aka: GET OUTTA MY YARD.

  • Anton Cermak

    I don’t think that is totally fair. His organization is a trade group that is representing a very specific focus and the installation of bike lanes would have a perceived negative impact. We can argue if his opinion is correct, but he’s certainly entitled to it. That said, the group proposed a reasonable alternative – albeit not a great one – secured a modest compromise because of it and moved on quietly from the issue. They could have kept complaining after they got some of what they wanted, but they see the need for balance on some level. All in all, a pretty fair and productive campaign.

    Now, contrast that with Roger Romanelli’s absurd and disingenuous attack on BRT. As cyclists and transit users, we’d do much better for ourselves if all the people on the other side of the issues were as reasonable as Holzer.

  • I couldn’t agree more. While biking on Elston still confounds me (I’m sorry, I just really don’t like that street), NBW took a pretty reasonable stance on the project. They proposed an alternative, voiced their concerns and moved on. The continuation of Holzer’s quote, “But the city wants this, and we’re not going to pick a fight. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” demonstrates the proper perspective.
    In the end, the existence of the bike lane will probably have near zero influence on their members’ ability to conduct business.
    I’d also contrast this situation with the folks overreacting to efforts to slow auto speeds down through road diets. As if anyone notices that 5 seconds you lost because you had to drive 10 mph slower.

  • Mishellie

    “In the end, the existence of the bike lane will probably have near zero influence on their members’ ability to conduct business.” — this is why I feel that his opinion is unreasonable. When you chose to have an opinion despite plenty of evidence to the contrary… that’s straight up unreasonable. And continuing to say “bikes shouldn’t be here but whatever they will be grumble grumble…” is not really gracefully conceding. It’s continuously complaining for no real reason. If there were logical, evidenced reasons that this lane would be an issue, I’d understand the grumbling. But now it’s just the grumbling of a grumpy sore loser. Which is silly, as he did get a compromise.

  • Mishellie

    I don’t think that coming up with an alternative that majorly inconveniences cyclists in favor of his business is really an alternative. That’s like saying… “Oh did you want some mint flavored godiva? That’s not really viable, but here’s some sugar free mint lifesavers if you want… those are pretty comparable!” Like… maybe in that they both have mint? But they’re really not comparable. “Another spot” is not viable – Elston is the street in question. Another vague spot like what? Where they won’t inconvenience him? Where cyclists don’t get to go directly to where they’re going instead of zigzagging around to make a SLIGHTLY more direct path for his trucks? Where the bike lane just simply doesn’t exist? (Hint: it’s most likely this last one.)

    It just feels very sore-loser-y to me, especially when a compromise WAS struck – it simply wasn’t the compromise that he wanted so grumblegrumble.

  • rohmen

    Well, you have to ask what you want out of your cities. If you want to design cities in a way where they are self-sufficient and reduce the need for people to travel great distances out into the sprawl in order to work and shop, then you will have to accept a certain level of industry and big-box retail within the city core.

    Zoning heavy industry and big-box retail into a specific and distinct area, which is what they’ve largely done on the Elston corridor, makes a lot of sense. While some people would be willing to live in a mixed-use development that included a target, for example, few would want to live next to a cement mixing plant, a wrecking company or a steel fabricator.

    Accepting the above as true, it’s not surprising when industry and big-box retailers that have been steered to a very specific section of the city bulk at ideas that may significantly impact their businesses. They’re not just making the impacts up, as evidence by the fact that a business which has operated in the city for decades (heneghan wrecking) now has to have a police escort to get some of its trucks out of its facilities.

    There’s not much industry left on the North side, so the little that remains asking for some give and take regarding the creation of bicycle infrastructure in a given area isn’t the most offensive thing in my mind.

  • BlueFairlane

    On the other hand, continuing to grump about the guy after the deal is struck feels very sore winnery to me. The guy simply won’t roll over quietly and concede my side’s superiority so grumblegrumble.

  • Mishellie

    Not really. That’s like the reverse racism argument: it isn’t real. Cyclists are the minority here.

  • Anton Cermak

    They are a trade group. It is their mission to fight for conditions that they believe are best conducive to industrial use, just as Active Trans fights for conditions they believe to be best for walking, biking and transit. Anyone expecting an industrial coalition to offer up wholesale support on a project that puts a major freight route on a road diet needs to massively adjust their expectations about the priorities of others outside the bicycling community.

    Credit the City for sticking firmly to their vision and respect the fact that Holzer has enough vision to be willing to compromise after his good-faith proposal was not taken up by the CDOT.

  • Mishellie

    There is no give. We can’t have PBLs essentially anywhere because parking and because trucks and because businesses. Milwaukee? Same story. Biggest bike street in the city (outside of maybe Dearborn), but it’s pretty terrifying to ride. So people started taking Elston. Also scary, but a little more available space. But we shouldn’t be there either! Surprise. No matter where cyclists go, the answer is “go somewhere else because xyz”… when in reality, xyz is really “because I think you’re inconvenient” and not based on any rational argument. There are 0 spaces in the city that cyclists can use without it being a begrudging use. You even see people bitching and moaning about cyclists on the lakefront trail… they’re too fast/too slow/don’t leave room for beachgoers to walk the multi use trail.

  • Fred

    People bike to big box stores too. I have been to more than one Target and Home Depot in they city on a bicycle. All stores, no matter the size (Ok, maybe not Costco) benefit from increased accessibility like bike lanes.

  • Mishellie

    That’s what I’m saying: I don’t think it was a good faith proposal.

    City: We would like to build a bike path past your building.
    Company: You know… I think that wouldn’t be great for trucking. I’ll tell you what, let’s compromise. You put the bike lane elsewhere, and I’ll continue trucking as is.
    City: I tell you what. We’ll make it slightly less nice for the bikes and make everything slightly easier for you.
    Company: I guess. I still think they should just be somewhere NOT here… but whatever as long as I don’t have to do anything differently I suppose.

    Do we see how that’s NOT a compromise?

  • rohmen

    Sorry, but I think there is a pretty substantial and logical difference between a business owner on Milwaukee bemoaning the loss of parking due to bike infrastructure, and a business owner that engages in heavy industry in a specifically industrial-zoned corridor, which business will require utilizing trucks that bicycles in reality shouldn’t even be around in the first place, noting the hardships they will likely face if a PBL is placed through the middle of that zoned industrial corridor.

  • rohmen

    Agreed, and I think many, if not all, of those stores unfortunately could have been designed in a way to be much more pedestrian friendly–like the Home Depot in Lakeview.

    They weren’t designed that way, however, and now trying to shoehorn PBLs into an area where unsafe truck and bicycle interactions are likely to occur on a daily basis doesn’t make sense in my mind–especially where alternative routes exist for cyclists.

  • Kevin M

    If Mike Holzer gracefully concedes, Mike Holzer is looking for a new job. NBW isn’t paying him to be a nice guy.

    It may not be the friendliest resolution to this matter, but we *all* have bigger fish to fry than to pick this apart any longer.

  • Adam Herstein

    Buffered bike lanes are not bike infrastructure. Protected cycle tracks should be the minimum considered for a street with the capacity of Elston. We’re heading towards a failure similar to the dismal condition of the Clybourn buffered bike lanes.

  • Cameron Puetz

    He didn’t want a slightly more direct path, he wanted a path. Most of these businesses are on Elston. Trucks delivering to them have to drive on Elston.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The original proposal would have been more than a slight inconvenience for Heneghan. A 90 ton truck crane is 11 ft wide. Telling a company that they can no longer move their equipment on the road in front of their storage yard is a major change. They countered with a proposal that wasn’t good for cyclists and then compromised with a plan that was close to the original plan, but addressed their core concern. Making it slightly less nice for bikes and but still possible for Heneghan to use their storage yard is a compromise.

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