Romanelli Is Right: Randolph Would Be a Better Bike Route Than Lake Street

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Roger Romanelli at an anti-BRT meeting. Photo: Mike Brockway

As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Streetsblog Chicago readers know Roger Romanelli as the guy who has led the charge against fast, reliable bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue with his anti-BRT group the Ashland-Western Coallition. He also made headlines for asking Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy to force a historic church across the street from Romanelli’s home to stop its decades-long tradition of early-morning bell ringing. However, there’s some method to the madness of Romanelli’s latest NIMBY crusade.

As director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, which represents the interests of West Loop industrial businesses, Romanelli is currently opposing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s plan to install buffered bike lanes on Lake Street in the West Loop. Similar to how the North Branch Works industrial council futilely fought against installing buffered lanes on Elston Avenue north of North Avenue, he’s worried that more bikes on Lake would be an inconvenience to truck drivers.

In his campaign against the Ashland BRT project, which would involve converting mixed-traffic lanes to bus-only lanes, Romanelli cleverly proposed a watered-down alternative express bus proposal with some expensive bells and whistles. That way, he could disingenuously argue that he was advocating for better bus service, not just trying to kill the city’s plan.

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Currently, there’s an eastbound buffered lane on Washington, and there are protected lanes on Lake Street west of Damen. Image: Chicago Bike Map

Romanelli is shrewdly taking the same approach with the bikeway plan by arguing that Randolph Street, a street with less truck traffic than Lake, located a block south, would be a better location for the bike route. I’m confident that he would be glad to drop the idea of a bike lane on Randolph if CDOT shelved its plan for lanes on Lake between Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue. However, he happens to be correct: Randolph actually makes a lot more sense as a bike route.

Romanelli and the RFMA recently hosted a community meeting on the subject. He noted that Washington Street, a block south of Randoph, already has an eastbound buffered bike lane from Garfield Park to Halsted Street. CDOT is currently building an eastbound protected bike lane on Washington from Wacker Drive to Michigan Avenue as part of the Loop Link BRT project, and they’ll soon be adding a westbound PBL on Randolph from Michigan to Clinton Street as part of that project.

Therefore, it would be logical to continue the westbound route on Randolph in the West Loop. Meanwhile, since Lake becomes one-way eastbound east of Wacker, Washington works better as an eastbound route into the Loop.

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Lake Street in the West Loop. Image: Google Street View

In addition, while the Randolph in the West Loop is a lively, attractive street with plenty of destinations for cyclists in the form of restaurants, bars, and music venues, elevated tracks run the entire length of Lake Street, creating a gloomy, noisy environment. Moreover, the heavy truck traffic on Lake does pose a hazard to cyclists.

And, while CDOT has already built protected bike lanes on almost the entire length of the street from Damen Avenue to the suburb of Oak Park, we’ve heard from plenty of cyclists who dislike riding in those PBLs. In addition to the reasons above, the lanes are poorly maintained, filled with garbage and broken glass in the summer and snow in the winter.

CDOT has acknowledged that one of the main motivations for installing the PBLs on Lake, identified as a bike-priority Spoke Route in the city’s bike plan, was traffic calming. It’s also likely that it would have been more difficult politically to install PBLs on parallel residential or retail streets instead, since protected lanes generally require the removal of a few parking spaces to preserve sight lines.

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Randolph Street in the West Loop. Image: Google Street View.

Between Halsted and Ogden Avenue, Randolph consists of two central westbound lanes, plus westbound and eastbound service drives, separated from the main lanes by planted medians. Romanelli has proposed using one of the three westbound lanes for the bike lane.

Even though the idea is coming from a man whose main interest is reducing bike traffic on Lake, it’s an intriguing proposal. While CDOT’s standards allow two-way, four-lane streets to be converted into two lanes plus a turn lane if there are 20,000 average daily trips or fewer, this stretch of Randolph averages only 7,100 trips per day. Therefore, it’s likely that one of the main travel lanes on Randolph could be converted to a PBL with little impact on congestion.

Alternately, a buffered bike lane could be installed on the westbound service drive. This would require converting existing perpendicular parking to diagonal spaces and, ideally, requiring drivers to back into the spots, in order to calm traffic. The timing on the existing stoplights for the service drive would also need to be adjusted to be more bike-friendly.

Unfortunately, CDOT says that bike lanes on Randolph are a non-starter for the time being. They note that the Lake Street BBLs are being included as part of a street repaving project, which reduces costs, and that they’ve discussed the project many times with local alderman Walter Burnett, who has signed off on the plan.

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The RFMA’s cutting-edge website now has a petition against the Lake Street bike lanes, and for changes to Lake.

CDOT also notes that bikes already account for up to ten percent of traffic on Lake during rush hours, a number that will likely increase as the West Loop’s development boom continues. Moreover, the Lake BBLs will require no reduction in travel lane width, and the paint-only buffered lanes won’t present an obstacle to truckers.

On the other hand, CDOT says, there would be a number of issues with installing a bike lane on Randolph at this time. It’s a state-jurisdiction roadway, so approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation would be required. IDOT previously blocked the city from installing PBLs on state roads, although the state recently piloted curb-protected lanes on Clybourn Avenue in River North.

To use a service drive on Randolph for the bike lane, loading zones, taxi stands, and valet stands would have to be heavily enforced to ensure no business is double parking, CDOT said. Several of the intersections on this stretch don’t have stoplights or stop signs which makes it difficult and confusing to cross north-south streets while riding in the service lanes, CDOT added.

However, the department said, putting bike lanes on Lake does not preclude installing them on Randolph in the future. Ideally, the lanes would be considered for Randolph as part of a major roadway reconstruction project, rather than a simple striping project, they said.

Therefore, Romanelli probably isn’t going to win his battle to get the planned Lake Street lanes relocated to Randolph. Personally, I’d rather ride on Randolph with no bike lanes than Lake Street with buffered lanes. However, since plenty of cyclists are already choosing to ride on Lake, there’s no downside to improving safety there right now by adding the buffered lanes. Hopefully, we can also add protected lanes on Randolph in the future and get the best of both worlds.

  • kastigar

    “…CDOT’s standards allow two-way, four-lane streets to be converted into
    two lanes plus a turn lane if there are 20,000 average daily trips or
    fewer…”

    Using this standard, it would be an excellent idea to apply it to Pulaski Road, between Peterson south – to Foster, or even farther south.

    Pulaski is currently being closed for re-paving (which isn’t necessary). Pulaski is commercial and North Park Village between Peterson south to Bryn Mawr, and cemeteries on both sides going south.

    Except that this is more traffic, this same change could be made to Foster Avenue, both east and west of Pulaski as well.

  • Handclaps

    Your attacks on Romanelli (eg “broken clock”) even while agreeing with him are utterly juvenile and only discredit you, not him. Furthermore, this continued conspiracy theory (which you treat as fact) about Romanelli engaging in some Machiavellian plot with the BRT is just plain bizarre.

    Maybe, just maybe, Romanelli is not a “NIMBY” or whatever reductive label you’d like give him, and instead is genuinely interested in SENSIBLE transportation solutions. Why don’t you focus on the ideas instead of Romanelli.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Half of the pictures and approximately one third of the text of this article were attacks on Romanelli that had little to do with the issue of bike lanes on Lake or Randolph. The whole article comes off as very pretty and undermines John’s creditability by shifting the debate from the issues to what seems like a very personal vendetta against Romanelli.

  • If a guy who writes the head of the Chicago Police Department because he doesn’t like the local church bells isn’t a NIMBY, I don’t know what is. But, point taken, perhaps I should tone down the Romanelli ridicule in future articles, even though he is such an easy target.

    There’s nothing cloak-and-dagger about Romanelli’s efforts to kill the city’s Ashland BRT plan — that’s basically his stated goal. We’ve done plenty of analysis on SBC about why his Modern Express Bus proposal isn’t a viable alternative for fast reliable bus service on Ashland: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/08/29/why-the-anti-bus-rapid-transit-arguments-dont-make-sense/

  • Two of the five images refer to Romanelli / the RFMA. Only the first four paragraphs of this 18-graf article are critical of Romanelli — the rest of the piece acknowledges that he’s correct that Randolph is a better choice for a bike route than Lake.

    The back story about Romanelli proposing an alternative to Ashland BRT is relevant here, because he’s doing the same thing with Lake Street. He doesn’t like the city’s plan, so he’s proposing an alternative.

    In both cases, I’m confident that Romanelli is a lot less interested in improving conditions for sustainable transportation than ensuring that motorists aren’t inconvenienced.

  • Randolph/Fulton Market Assoc.

    I call on everyone who reads this mean-spirited blog to stop reading it. Greenfield is misinformed and shameful with his sad, ruthless personal attacks on me. Here are facts which Greenfield avoids always as
    he viciously attacks me:

    -For seven years, the Randolph/Fulton Market Association as a non-profit agency led the westside campaign to construct the CTA Morgan St. Station. We won. It has revolutionized our city and brought thousands of new jobs and millions in new investment to the Fulton Market-West Loop. We also led the call for a Madison St. Express Bus that was installed but discontinued in 2010. Greenfield completely ignores RFMA’s record here, as well as my 25-year career working for non-profits in Chicago with a special emphasis on improving public transportation. Instead, Greenfield attacks me viciously and calls me “pro-vehicle” all the time. For Greenfield’s knowledge, some vehicles are still used in our society to bring goods and food to our people.

    -Over 1,300 Chicagoans signed the Ashland-Western Coalition’s
    petition to prevent the $200 million Ashland BRT and gain modernize express bus service on Ashland and Western Avenues including RFMA. We lobbied the Mayor to change his mind and he did. Now, CTA is installing express
    service on both Ashland and Western Avenues. This victory for Chicago was
    won by a CITYWIDE COALITION, and I was one of many volunteers. Throughout our campaign, Greenfield demonized me repeatedly. Disgusting.

    -It is the Randolph/Fulton Market Association – – for which
    I am their spokesperson – – that wants a Randolph St. Bicycle Lane and Lake St. Improvements instead of a Lake St. Bicycle Lane. This is the community
    talking, not me. Instead, Greenfield tries to skewer me personally with more juvenile and outrageous behavior.

    -And with respect to my PERSONAL REQUEST for St. Helen’s Church in UK Village to stop ringing its bell 50 times EVERYDAY at 6am and instead ring it at 8am per standard city noise ordinance, Greenfield demonizes me again, another sickening personal attack.

    Chicago needs a NEW TRANSPORTATION BLOG. Those wanting to form a new transportation blog without personal, reprehensible acrimony should email me at the Randolph/Fulton Market Association via
    http://www.rfmachicago.org. Thank you.

  • Hi Roger,

    Thanks for chiming in. I don’t have time to write a full response at the moment, but will do so tomorrow.

    In the meantime, there already is a local blog that’s aligned with your transportation goals: http://theexpiredmeter.com/

    Cheers,

    John Greenfield

  • Handclaps

    Why even continue to write negatively about Romanelli at all though? Forget about the fact that you’re just plain wrong about most of it, all it does is discredit you and show your complete lack of professionalism. And in these comments you’re STILL making it about Roger, and making all sorts of presumptions about him and what his motives are. Do you seriously not see how this makes you look terrible? Stick with what you know – the topics – and leave Romanelli alone already.

  • Handclaps

    Roger, you are an intelligent, sensible person – thanks for all you’re doing! Don’t let childish behavior slow you down.

  • cjlane

    “doesn’t like the local church bells isn’t a NIMBY”

    If they are ringing it 50 times at 6 am, every day, I wouldn’t like it, either, tho I’d probably hassle the alderman, rather than the police commissioner.

  • This is a tradition that has been going on for decades, and Romanelli chose to move across the street from the church. The situation reminds me of how Lincoln Park’s longtime rock club Lounge Ax was shut down after a new neighbor moved in and started making nightly noise complaints to the police.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The story about the church bells is irrelevant to which street is better suited for a bike lane. Bringing up the church bells, or adding your opinions on RFMA’s website design, shifts the focus from bike lane design to your personal opinion of Romanelli. These irrelevant asides are at best distractions, but often come off as childish attacks on someone you happen to disagree with.

  • I disagree — it’s a pattern of behavior.

    Waiting for Handclaps to “like” your comment. You guys are a mutual admiration society!

  • cjlane

    Oh, so the fact that it’s been that way for decades means it shouldn’t change? Thought you were an advocate for changing the status quo, John?

  • LowSeason

    OMFG THIS ISN’T ABOUT ROGER ROMANELLI!!!!!! STOP JUST STOP!!!! This is literally like dealing with a child!!!!! You are delusional and obsessive!!!!

  • cjlane

    “neighborhood gadfly Joe Lake dropped the F-bomb, and said the Catholic Church has been ringing bells at 6 a.m. “since the Middle Ages.””

    There are other things that the Catholic Church has been doing since the middle ages. They’re “traditions” that some modern people find objectionable in one way or another. I suppose that anyone who objects to *those* things is a NIMBY, too?

  • 1976boy

    I don’t have any personal association with anyone in this debate and I read this and other blogs regularly. There was nothing that I would describe as an “attack” on Romanelli. The writer is plainly critical of his positions and his actions now and in the past, but that’s the price of free speech in our country. Maybe step back and take a breath.

  • neroden

    This was polite ribbing from the loyal opposition, Mr. Romanelli. You don’t know what a vicious, ruthless attack sounds like. Perhaps you should read some of Streetsblog’s pieces about police and DA victim-blaming “responses” to motorists running people over, if you want to know what a vicious attack actually sounds like.

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