Legalize It! Glenwood Route Will Make Contra-Flow Biking Safe & Predictable

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Rendering of the contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood.

Once in while, the Chicago Department of Transportation has a bikeway idea that’s so good, I wish that I’d thought of it first. Such is the case with the proposed Glenwood Avenue Neighborhood Route. This neighborhood greenway would run for 0.75 miles on Glenwood between Ridge and Carmen, and on Carmen for 0.25 miles between Glenwood and the Broadway buffered bike lanes. The project is expected to cost no more than $75,000, and CDOT hopes to install it later this summer.

The greenway would greatly improve the southbound route options from Rogers Park and northern Edgewater to Andersonville and Uptown. Currently, northbound cyclists can access Glenwood from Clark or Broadway via Argyle, just north of St. Boniface Cemetery.

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The project area.

Glenwood is a serene, leafy residential street that leads all the way to Rogers Park, providing a great alternative to the high-speed, four-lane stretches of Broadway north of Foster, and Clark north of the Andersonville retail district. The later stretch is designated as a recommended route on the Chicago Bike Map, but it really shouldn’t be, since speeding is common there.

However, southbound cyclists can’t legally make the whole trip on Glenwood because the street is one-way northbound between Ridge and Foster. I generally deal with this by heading west on Edgewater Avenue, located just south of Glenwood/Ridge, and continuing south on Clark along Andersonville business strip. That’s a reasonably bikeable stretch of Clark, but it’s probably a bit too hectic and stressful for less confident riders and families.

Many cyclists are already currently choosing to ride against traffic on Glenwood. Census data shows that four to seven percent of residents along the corridor bike to work, which is several times higher than the city average. CDOT counted up to 40 bicyclists an hour on the corridor during peak hours, representing 25 percent of traffic, with more than half of the cyclists riding against traffic.

Perhaps partly because drivers aren’t expecting southbound bike traffic on the northbound stretch of Glenwood, six bicyclists were injured in crashes there between 2009 and 2013. Half of them were under age 18.

CDOT plans to legalize southbound bike riding on the northbound segment of Glenwood by adding a contra-flow bike lane. The lane will be painted green near intersections to give motorists an additional heads-up, and shared-lane marking will be added for northbound bike traffic. Carmen, which is already two-way, will get shared lane markings in both directions. Stop signs and stop bars, and possibly bike traffic signals, will be installed for southbound cyclists.

The narrower travel lane for cars on northbound Glenwood will help calm traffic, and bike-friendly sinusoidal speed humps may be added as well. High visibility, zebra-striped crosswalks will be added, and other crosswalks will be refreshed. No parking will be eliminated. Therefore, the greenway is really a win for everyone involved: bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and neighboring residents.

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Osterman and Amsden. Photo: John Greenfield

Unfortunately, not everyone present at a community meeting last night at Edgewater Baptist Church saw it that way. After 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman and CDOT’s Mike Amsden gave a presentation on the proposal, the floor was opened to comments. A number of drivers said they fear that encouraging contra-flow bike traffic will lead to more crashes and argued that the project is a waste of money. “I have a problem spending $75,000 catering to someone who’s breaking the law,” said one man.

Osterman and Amsden pointed out that making the already-prevalent southbound bike traffic legal and predictable, the greenway will improve safety. They noted that contra-flow bike lanes have already been put in nearby on Albion, Berteau, and Ardmore, with few or no bike crashes – none of them serious — reported at any of these locations since installation. A neighborhood greenway with a contra-flow lane was also installed last year on Wood Street in Ukrainian Village and Wicker Park.

Another naysayer gave a perfect-storm rant against complete streets project, decrying the Broadway road diet, speed humps and traffic circles, which he called “suicide circles.” (“They’re only suicidal if you don’t slow down,” noted a fellow attendee.) He groused that non-drivers don’t pay their fair share of infrastructure costs (correct, they pay more than their fair share.) “It comes from my tax money, and what do I get for it? I’m going to get bicycle lanes in front of my house now?”

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Most of the crowd seemed to support the project. Photo: John Greenfield

However, judging from applause, the majority of the crowd supported the greenway. Annie Feldmeier Adams, who lives just west of Glenwood, said that she also owns a car and pays taxes, but usually gets around by bike. She said that when she moved to the neighborhood ten years ago, she noticed a lot of contra-flow bike traffic. “I couldn’t figure it out and it was driving me nuts,” she said. Then she realized that these cyclists were simply trying to avoid dangerous conditions on the main streets. She told Osterman and Amsden, “You guys are just trying to correct what is already happening, and I really appreciate it.”

A young boy told the crowd that he bikes south to school everyday via Glenwood. “It’s nuts at Ridge,” he said, noting that he currently has to ride southeast on the Ridge sidewalk, and then head south on Wayne, the next side street east of Glenwood. “The speed humps are a good idea too,” he added. “Especially during the summer, people fly down the street.”

Kyle Smith, who lives near Hollywood and the lake, says he’s tried all kinds of routes to get to his job in Wicker Park and has determined that riding the wrong way on Glenwood for a stretch is his safest option. “I hate it and the drivers hate it,” he acknowledged, but said he’s noticed several other cyclists who also do this on a daily basis. “Legalizing the route that people are already taking is nothing but a good idea.”

  • Aaron Greicius

    Great news! I wonder if something similar could be done for N Ravenswood between Winnemac and Berteau: that is, the (mostly northbound) N Ravenswood that lies to the east of the Metra tracks.

  • planetshwoop

    This is good news. I wish there were more E/W routes this far north.

  • duppie

    There is already a great southbound route between Winnemac and Berteau. It is on Wolcott, a short block west of the tracks. It’ more residential then Ravenswood and has traffic control devices on each intersection.
    Give it a try!

  • duppie

    The old man rant was epic! His biggest error in his rant (and there were many) was the held the alderman responsible for something that happened when Harry was a little kid.

    I agree with the comment one man made: There appeared to be a generational divide. older people were largely against it, while younger people were largely in favor. And so it becomes a question of whether we want to continue the current approach or whether we want to build a neighborhood for future generations.

  • Aaron Greicius

    Wolcott is terrific, and is in fact my route for my return commute. Still, I notice a fair amount of against-traffic riders on Ravenswood, and adding a southbound lane in that one section would provide an uninterrupted route from Peterson Avenue down to Addison Ave, where riders could then continue on to Lincoln.

  • duppie

    The difference between your situation and Glenwood is that there is no safe and legal alternative on Glenwood. These bikewayscost political goodwill besides hard dollars. I’d say we preserve that goodwill for situations that would really benefit from it. Ravenswood, with a safe and legal alternative, is not one of thise situations.

  • David P.

    Thanks for mentioning that – I always use Damen between Winnemac and Wilson, and Wolcott never occurred to me.

  • tooter turtle

    “I have a problem spending $75,000 catering to someone who’s breaking the law,” said one man.

    I think our experience with red light and speed cameras shows that pretty much every street used by drivers serves many who are breaking the law. To cater to law-breaking drivers, the solution was to remove cameras and reduce the enforcement effort…

  • Kevin M

    Sympathizing for a moment….

    …these older community members likely feel threatened some how. Perhaps they are concerned about some perceived infringement on their most commonly relied upon mode of transportation, their car, by a mode that they believe they will never use, the bicycle.

  • duppie

    From the weekly update from the alderman:

    “On Wednesday evening, I held a very positive community meeting with representatives from CDOT about the proposed “Bikeway” project along Glenwood Avenue from Ridge to Foster. About 80 people came out to discuss the plan and give us their feedback. Over the next month, I’ll be working with CDOT to fine-tune the plan and will hold another community meeting in July. If you were unable to attend the meeting and have questions or would like to provide feedback, please contact us at harry@48thward.org or 773-784-5277″

    Seems like Harry thinks it went well…

  • Anne A

    Wolcott is a very pleasant alternative to all the traffic on Damen.

  • Anne A

    I think Wolcott is perfectly reasonable as a southbound partner to Ravenswood.

  • If the render is accurate, they could save 30% of their budget by striping a single dashed yellow line. Theres no need for a double yellow.

  • Just wondering — Wayne is one-way south. Why not use Wayne?

  • Tyler Doerschuk

    I would like to see the presentation Alderman Osterman and Mr. Amsden presented.

    There are always misunderstandings of how funding is secured for road and infrastructure improvements (I should say “road diet”). If that was addressed correctly, that would cease the “bikers don’t pay tax” argument.

  • duppie

    The money for this project comes from the alderman’s menu money. That is $1.5M annually to be spent at the alderman’s discretion. Osterman typically spend it on road paving and safety improvements like streetlights. With a small amount going to projects like this.

  • duppie

    You have to take a left on Ridge. Not a good proposition for less experienced riders to which this project is targeted.

  • RobJ00

    This is too long of a stretch for a contra-flow bike lane. Glenwood intercects with 11 streets and several alleys between Ridge and Foster– that’s too many opportunities for drivers to be confused by a one way street that isn’t really a one way street. I fear this will give cyclists a false sense of security since they’re in a protected bike lane, where as motorists will be confused, in particular when turning onto Glenwood. I attended the community meeting and was impressed by the generally healthy and respectful discussion. I was less impressed by the city’s presentation, and I don’t think this will solve the problem of accidents but rather make it worse.

  • duppie

    1. It is not a protected bike lane that is proposed.
    2. This concept has been used in various other streets in the city. Preliminary data showed a decrease in crashes involving bicyclists.
    3. Signage would alert drivers and bicyclists on cross streets to look for bi-directional bike traffic.

  • Thank you CDOT for this. I regularly ride up to the north shore and back from the City, and there is no safe way to get from Sheridan/Rogers Park to the rest of the City through this area. I had always avoided riding against traffic on Glenwood and taken more dangerous arterials (Broadway, Ashland) to get south. If you didn’t know Glenwood became one-way at Ridge you would be forced to ride on Ridge, which is not safe. Bravo on this one.

  • Sympathy aside, the ‘older’ generation gave us the current automobile-only culture/urban design we find ourselves living in. We know there are problems, so lets find a new way.