CDOT Is Asking South and West Siders Where Bike Lanes Should Be Prioritized

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Kids ride in one of the Franklin Boulevard protected bike lanes in the Garfield Park neighborhood. Photo: CDOT

In the past, residents and aldermen in wealthier wards have been more vocal about pushing for bike infrastructure than their South and West Side counterparts. That’s one reason why there’s currently a higher density of bike lanes downtown and on the North and Northwest Sides. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation says they want to help level the playing field with a new bike lane planning process that focuses on underserved neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, with an emphasis on in-depth public input.

Mike Amsden, CDOT’s assistant director of transportation planning, outlined the plan at lat week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting. Amsden said the department has already tried to install bike lanes in a more equitable way as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of building 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes in his first term. He noted that 60 percent of the lane mileage installed since Emanuel took office in 2011 has gone to South and West Side communities.

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The Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 network.

“We really wanted to start to build a backbone of a network in areas of the city where historically we didn’t have a lot of bike infrastructure,” Amsden said. “By no means are we there yet, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve gotten to the point where the 100-mile goal is met, so now we need to figure out where do we go now.”

In 2012, after an extensive community input process, CDOT published the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which outlines a 645-mile network of proposed lanes, paths, and neighborhood greenways. When deciding on which of these routes to build first, CDOT doesn’t just want to concentrate on the parts of the city where cyclists and aldermen are already requesting more infrastructure, Amsden said. That’s why the department is piloting an approach that involves proactively asking South and West Side leaders and residents where they believe bike lanes are needed sooner than later.

“We may look at a map and think a connection to a major park is the most important thing, but we don’t live in these communities,” Amsden said. “We need to talk to people in the neighborhoods to really understand what is most important,” he said. This includes residents who don’t currently ride bikes.

By consulting with average residents, not just cycling advocates, the department can help build support for new infrastructure, Amsden said. “People are starting to realize the benefits of bicycling for health, accessing jobs, and saving money,” Amsden said. “We want people to know why bicycling is important so that, even if they don’t ride, they understand why someone might want to ride a bike in their community.”

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The West Side Project area.

The West Side pilot will cover the area roughly bounded by North Avenue, Roosevelt Road, the western city limits, and Humboldt and Garfield parks, including the Austin, Garfield Park, and Humboldt Park communities. “We’ve done a lot of east-west connections there, but we’re really lacking in north-south connections,” Amsden said. Better bikeways in the area will compliment the expansion of Divvy bike-share into these neighborhoods and Oak Park, slated for next year.

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The South Side project area.

The South Side project will include the area roughly bounded 87th Street, the southern city limits, the Major Taylor Trail, Lake Michigan, and the Indiana state line. Amsden noted that this district has many existing or planned bike amenities, including the Major Taylor Trail, the Burnham Greenway, the South Chicago Velodrome, and Big Marsh bike park, and the nearby city of Hammond, Indiana, has been doing “a lot of really cool work with trails.” However, the area lacks good bike connections between these facilities.

The pilot, which will hopefully develop into a model that can be used citywide, involves a two-prong strategy. First, CDOT will do a technical analysis of bike routes in the 2020 Plan, looking at destinations, crash history, and socioeconomic indicators such as income, childhood obesity, and car ownership, which suggest the areas that could benefit the most from better bike access. After crunching the numbers, they’ll identify possible priority routes. Amsden said the department should complete this process this fall and provide an update at the December MBAC meeting.

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This chart shows how CDOT will be weight different aspects of proposed bikeways as part of its technical analysis.

The second prong is a full community input process. CDOT has already been in talks with three aldermen in each of the two pilot areas, as well as the Active Transportation Alliance, and local advocates. With help from the ward offices, the department is currently putting together community advisory groups, including economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, health centers, and block clubs. “We want people who really know what’s happening in these parts of the city,” Amsden said.

Once CDOT has first drafts of the priority routes list, they’ll run them by the advisory groups later this year or early next year, so that the networks can be tweaked as necessary. In the late winter or early spring, the department will hold public hearings where citizens can provide further input on the routes. The advisory groups will help spread the word about the meetings.

Once the plans are finalized, CDOT can identify bike lanes to build in the near future. “One benefit of this process is, if we do a project in 2016 and it looks like it’s on an island, people will understand why the project is happening, and what’s coming next,” Amsden said.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Huh. First I read about Democrats showing some spine on walking and biking infrastructure, now you tell me CDOT is listening to ordinary residents in neighborhoods, on the South and West sides no less, before making its plans.

    I’m going to step out at dawn tomorrow and see what direction the sun is rising in.

  • Rampage

    Money would be better spent on the north side and lakefront where usage rates are higher and population is vastly more dense

  • JacobEPeters

    The usage rates may be higher because of better existing conditions for cycling. Equity is about trying to spread those conditions further not solely reinforcing existing trends.

  • Alex Brideau III

    It’s nice to see kids using a protected bike lane, but I looked a little closer at the CDOT photo and some parts of the image just look … off (e.g. some of the shadows appear odd and why are so many of the cyclists riding among the bollards?). Are we sure the image hasn’t been photoshopped or altered in some way? If so, I’d be interested to see how it differs from the original.

  • “population is vastly more dense”
    Indeed.

  • There are already far too many city services and pieces of infrastructure where white city employees decided unilaterally that the north side and lakefront (coincidentally — almost entirely white areas) were the only places that “needed” it.

    There’s a lot more to the city than just a strip up the lake, eff you very much, and an awful lot of residents who deserve just as good an access to what their property taxes pay for.

    There are already considerably more transportational cyclists, numerically, in the west-and-south regions, so if you look at cyclist-per-square-mile density it’s a slam dunk.

  • They’re riding among the bollards to ride abreast and keep an eye on their kids, this is common during Kidical Mass and other similar peloton events. If you look at the rider in the black puffy coat towards the top of the image (visually ‘between’ the red coat and the orange coat) you’ll see that they’re banking to go around the bollard.

  • The photo is from a celebration of the Franklin Boulevard protected bike lanes organized by CDOT and 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett so, yeah, it’s not a typical scene on Franklin. But I don’t believe the image has been significantly doctored.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I think what caught my eye was the bikes in the foreground, specifically the quite unusual artifacts seen amongst their wheels and the shadows created by their wheels. And something about the shadows of their wheels seems odd; not all the shadows align correctly and some of the shadows have multiple colors.

    I dunno. Maybe there was some debris on the road and someone attempted to edit it out. Just makes the image look funny to me. Oh well.

  • Rampage

    “eff you very much,” that must feel empowering to write!

    “Deserve just as good an access to what their property taxes pay for.” I guarantee you north siders pay more in property taxes by a long shot. They get minimal police protection while officers get moved to the SOUTH and WEST sides. The least the city can do is throw a few more bike lanes to people who actually use it.

    City services are about maximizing usage per dollar.

    ps your last paragraph makes no sense

  • kastigar

    It’s great to increase the number of bike lane, the CDOT needs to ensure that all bike lanes, new and old, are maintained. There are many streets where the bike lanes were installed and are now fading and for the most part, no longer marked or stripped as bike lanes.

    Making new bike lanes gets the newspaper and Streetblog coverage, but maintaining the existing bike lanes doesn’t make the news or get much attention. It doesn’t bring headlines and kudos to the CDOT.

  • Looks pretty ordinary to me — very harsh side light, like a winter/late fall afternoon or morning.

  • Don’t worry, faded bike lanes get Streetsblog coverage too: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/09/09/will-disappearing-bike-lanes-be-a-problem-with-this-years-installations/

    On a positive note, CDOT recently restriped the Desplaines PBL, which deteriorated quickly because it was installed too late in the season.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Yeah, but some of the tire shadows just don’t exactly match up. It’s tough to put my finger on it, but I can tell some work has been done. But when all is said and done, I’m sure it’s totally benign … just jumps out at me; that’s all. :-)

  • madopal

    I ride from Portage Park to Hyde Park, and I’ve been wondering why the south side in many areas has better bike lanes than the NW side.

    As I was riding King Dr. and Drexel, it hit me. It’s low hanging fruit. Many of the south side neighborhoods have large boulevards and roads that don’t have the traffic of the north side ones. No one minded adding a bike lane to King Dr. or Drexel. Try doing that on Irving Park or Cicero and you’d have a riot.

    Sucks that those areas don’t have the density, but at least they have the infrastructure/roads to support it. Definitely nicer to ride a boulevard with lanes than a thin side street with constant cars annoyed that you’re even there.