Manor Greenway Could Become City’s Best By Cutting Cut-Through Motorists

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.
The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed its proposal to connect riverfront paths, reduce cut through traffic, and make it safer to walk and bike along streets in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. CDOT developed the plan for a “neighborhood greenway” between Horner Park and Ronan Park along the north branch of the Chicago River over the past two years, at the request of 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell, and the Transportation Action Committee she started.

I’ve been a member of the TAC since its beginning, and I know the plan well. While I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I think that Patty Wetli’s article in DNAinfo thoroughly captured the concerns people have.

The project was initiated because there’s a gap between two riverfront trails in Horner and Ronan Parks, and Ravenswood Manor residents have been complaining about cut-through traffic, motorists who roll past stop signs, and speeding, for decades. The neighborhood greenway plan includes redesigning a handful of intersections, laying down a short multi-use paths to connect the parks to the streets, and pilot what would be a pioneering traffic diverter.

Homes abut the river in Ravenswood Manor, so there is no public space along the river on which to build a trail. The neighborhood greenway  would be an on-street connection.

On the project’s south end, CDOT would build a small path in the park so people in the park could reach the start of the on-street route at the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Manor Ave. To create a safer crossing here, CDOT would build a concrete island with two waiting areas, one for people using the route, and another for people walking on the sidewalk. This way, people can cross one direction of traffic at a time. The island blocks left turns from Manor Ave. onto Montrose Ave. and left turns from Montrose Ave. to Manor Ave. would use a dedicated lane. CDOT would build a raised crosswalk across Manor Ave. to slow incoming motorists.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT
CDOT showed this rendering, looking north on Manor at Wilson, of how the traffic diverter would work. Previous proposals, presented to the TAC, used concrete to physically prevent vehicles from going straight. Image: CDOT

On the north end, CDOT proposed building a new, short trail on an extended parkway along Lawrence between Manor Ave. and the Ronan Park entrance. A traffic island that’s nearly identically to the one at Montrose would offer a safe waiting area for people to cross in two-stages. There would be another raised crosswalk here at the entry of the neighborhood greenway.

The neighborhood greenway’s on-street route would be the city’s third. The first was installed on Berteau Avenue in Lakeview in 2014, and the second, albeit without any infrastructure changes, was built on Wood Street in Wicker Park.

The best way to increase safety for people walking and biking on neighborhood greenways is to limit speed and reduce the number of cars. Manor Ave.’s speed limit is already 20 m.p.h. but residents had said it was common to see people driving faster. The neighborhood’s many families, a park and a ballet school, all mean that lots of children are crossing Manor Ave.

CDOT plans to change the shape of some of the intersections, using infrastructure to enforce this speed limit. Curb extensions at three intersections along the route would narrow the roadway, reducing drivers’ speeds and shortening the crosswalk distance.

At the five-way intersection of Manor, Mozart, and Wilson, CDOT will test for three months this fall the effects of prohibiting drivers on Manor from continuing straight by using temporary barricades.

The TAC has spent the plurality of our time discussing traffic diversions. Preventing turns would have the greatest impact, not only on reducing cut-through traffic, but could possibly increase traffic on surrounding streets, while changing how some residents might have to drive to their houses.

Carol Maher, who lives a few blocks from Horner Park and is an active member of both the TAC and the People of East Albany Park block club, attended the meeting and told Mell after, “The evening went much better than I expected and I think that was due to the great outreach and planning that went into the event.” CDOT has worked with the TAC, Ravenswood Manor Improvement Association, and the Horner Park Advisory Council up to this point.

Carol Maher, a member of PEAP and the TAC, at last week's meeting. Photo: Ted Villaire
Carol Maher, a member of PEAP and the TAC, at last week’s meeting. Photo: Ted Villaire

Maher is retired and started running errands by bike soon after the TAC began. She said that the two new entry points, at Montrose and Lawrence, will mean “greater bike access” but she’s concerned that the additional people cycling on this route will still encounter a lot of car traffic in a very narrow space. “Yes, we’ll all be going slower, but it is really, really, really tight [on Manor between Wilson and Eastwood] when there is one lane of parking and two lanes of autos and bikes.”

Dave Smith, a planner for CDOT’s bike program, knows how much some residents are skeptical or opposed to this change, and has analyzed some of the effects of a diversion, including changes in travel time for residents on some blocks.

Even though some residents may experience changes in how they navigate the neighborhood in their car, it seems that the goal of reducing traffic volumes, speed, and creating a low-stress street for residents to ride bikes on is finally in sight. The analysis showed an increase in travel time for some residents’ routes, but no change in others.

The analysis validates concerns that other streets will have an increase in traffic when people avoid Manor Ave., but the analysis was limited to a small geography and assumed drivers didn’t travel any further than Francisco Ave. or Sacramento Ave. to get around the diverter at Manor Ave.

In the DNAinfo article, Wetli quoted TAC member Jake Peters as saying “he was on board with the diversion solely as a test.” He explained to me that the data CDOT collects before, during, and after the test “will guide us towards what the real problem is,” instead of having to rely on “conjecture and personal anecdotes.”

He said that a good outcome is where “traffic counts show decreased total traffic traveling through the neighborhood, and a balancing of traffic levels across multiple neighborhood streets.” Peters said he questions if traffic on Manor is the cause of problems people express, or a symptom of situations nearby, like how it disrupts the grid, or that there’s a network of one-way streets. Peters said the volume of drivers isn’t so much the problem. “The only thing that has to leave is speed.”

The transportation department’s proposal for traffic calming has a higher chance of success this time. I’ve been attending meetings since the beginning and I’ve perceived Mell and her staff, including previous chief of staff Dana Fritz and current project manager Jeff Sobczyk, have a greater respect for sustainable transportation than what I understand about much of the rest of the City Council.

There’s time between now and when CDOT is able to obtain federal funding for the project to fix minor details. One example is that the width of the island opening should be wide enough for people cycling together to wait for a clearing in traffic side-by-side, while a third person passes in the opposite direction. CDOT should also angle the edge of the curb ramps so cyclists can make a smooth, not right-angle, turn into the park trails.

Mell is collecting feedback via a private new email address, manorgreenway@gmail.com, and CDOT via cdotbikes@cityofchicago.org. Mell posted CDOT’s presentation. There will also be a TAC meeting on Thursday, June 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Horner Park Fieldhouse, second floor conference room.

  • In the spirit of positivity, this is a very enjoyable read:

    http://www.greaterrockwell.org/History/DawsonNeighborhoodHistory.html

  • Excellent point.

  • JacobEPeters

    You have assumed many things in your above post, and it is frankly not worth the time to systematically correct your myriad assumptions. But I want to clarify one thing. I too have decades of familiarity in usage of these streets, but our anecdotes carry large assumptions & biases. Which brings us back to the rational behind a test.

  • Or a bike lane, especially if curb-protected, to visually narrow the street.

  • JacobEPeters

    I think that 2 way traffic, and a curb protected bike lane is more than the 30′ or less widths that we’re dealing with on any north/south Manor streets. But I love the idea of a curb protected bike lane to connect the two trails.

    Especially since the only way that an off street path could connect them would be along the river. Which would get expensive quick due to the amount of property owners that must be dealt with, the 4 underbridge connections that would either be susceptible to flooding or require complete reconstruction of all 4 bridges.

  • See, I agree that the testing is good. But not all tests are created equal, and I’m underwhelmed by the test as described.

    You’re also assuming I’m against this plan, which is not the case. I love biking the north branch of the river, and I think in general Chicago is doing a great job to make it more accessible. So I want this to be successful.

    We may both be making assumptions, but you’re the one pushing to make changes that may result in the law of unintended consequences coming into play. I’m just asking questions based on the plan.

    I’ve got more than a little experience when it comes to looking at traffic patterns, accidents, congestion, commuting behavior, etc. I also note that city agencies don’t always coordinate well, it’s a big city.

    That’s why I’m wondering where the CPD and CTA are in this conversation. The DNA Info story title “Whose streets are these anyway?” is appropriate. They’re everyone’s, right? Please tell me you aren’t cut from the DIBs mold of Chicagoan.

    So one more question – we calm the street and encourage more pedestrian and bike traffic from the south to the north side of Montrose.

    Sounds great with my cyclist and pedestrian hats on. But how does that impact traffic flow on Montrose, which in turn impacts traffic flow on California, given that all California traffic must go either east or west?

    I’ll re-read the plan later, but you may want to keep your mind open to the possibility I know a few things on the subject. I’ve spent the better part of 20 years working at the Field Museum and trying to improve non-vehicular connectivity with the public transportation hubs and LFT, and co-founded Bike Walk Logan Square. Believe it or not, I’m not only on your side, I’ve been walking the talk for a long, long time.

    https://www.fieldmuseum.org/science/conservation/greener-field/greener-field-alternative-transportation

    https://bikewalklogansquare.com/

  • I meant on Sacramento.

  • JacobEPeters

    I am very familiar with who you are Carter. I have been talking the talk for my entire life. I will be involved with advocacy alongside Bike Walk Logan Square now that I am not longer within the jurisdictions of the past 2 TACs that I have been involved in from their beginning.

    The changes involved in the actual greenway (as opposed to the diverter test) are necessary safety improvements for pedestrians & cyclists accessing parks. Reread the plan, see that there are 2 different projects being proposed, and that one of them is merely safety improvements that are not based on assumptions. The other one is not a proposal for making a permanent change, but a test to be executed during the time of year that has generated the worst case scenario thus far in terms of traffic volumes.

    I despise DIBs (despite it not affecting me since I do not own a car currently), and the entire idea behind my quote of “all traffic is cut through traffic” is to acknowledge that there is no such thing as cut through traffic since everyone has a right to use our public streets.

  • JacobEPeters

    I don’t know what good a Sacramento protected bike lane would do in terms of connecting to the river trail from Horner to Clark Park.

  • It’s not meant to — it’s meant to (follow up the thread) visually narrow Sacramento so that, after one side of parking is removed, cars in the two-way traffic don’t try to hoon down at 50mph just because the street ‘looks’ wide.

  • JacobEPeters

    but a protected bike lane that provides no connection within the bike network seems like it isn’t the best way to visually narrow Sacramento as opposed to some other street.

  • I get & agree with your sentiment, I just don’t think that phrase communicates what you want it to. In person I am sure this is a non-issue, but if it raises flags for me I feel confident in saying it’s going to stir up a hornet’s nest with the automobile-dependent. Just my experience.

    I re-read the plan, and it doesn’t really address the questions I have about the larger impact, this is a project that substantially impacts far more people than just those living in Ravenswood Manor. I commend you guys for the safety improvements, but I also share the belief that by not envisioning how streets could be widened via parking reductions you’re selling yourself short in terms of possibilities and solutions. And that accident data is important as well.

    I’ll send my questions to the CDOT address per the presentation, I have to bug Mike about a vanishing bus shelter on Columbus anyway.

  • planetshwoop

    I’m late to the party here, but agree with pretty much everything Elliott said. You really do have to look at the whole network.

    A few points I didn’t see mentioned elsewhere in the conversation:
    – yes, it’s a gap in the bike path, and should be addressed, but my goodness we really don’t need a lot more N-S paths. There are oodles of them. Getting E-W in this area is a real problem for cyclists and all of the “official” routes are dangerous. While there are quiet streets, the signage is non-existent. So closing this gap helps a little, but it does zero for the reasonable biking streets going E-W between Addison and Lawrence. It even makes it more dangerous since more cars are pushed onto Wilson.

    – Thus I believe traffic on Wilson needs to be examined with “data” just as much as Manor does, as it feels much more dangerous as a through-route, and I think this makes it worse to get across.

    – I think this is going to get worse before it gets better. The apartments on Sacramento at Lawrence are being rehabbed, and will could have some higher rates of car ownership amongst occupants; Summit also has a for sale sign in its parking lot, and I think the likelihood of that spot remaining manufacturing is small.

  • We’ve talked about getting the Kedzie bus restored.

    We’re not about to start a 5-year campaign to get the CTA to find several hundred thousand dollars to restore a bus. We’re not like those organizations in Chinatown and Little Village that are already well-organized and have money to do advocacy work.

  • How do you think CDOT should change the test they’re planning for Manor/Wilson?

  • How about committing to a series of tests that also experiment with increased traffic enforcement (so let’s hear CPD’s assessment of how serious of a problem Manor traffic actually is, and during what hours, and what they’d propose), tries alternative viable paths for north bound California traffic from Montrose to Lawrence, and at bare minimum expands the impact studies to include Kedzie and Western.

    This area is challenging, we all agree. But pacifying Manor Ave residents is not what should be driving the proverbial bus here. Everyone dislikes traffic on their street, but we live in Chicago, not a gated community or a suburb within a city, so throw parking lane removals on the table and let CDOT be more creative. Also not sure I see the river route crossing in terms of how it links with the in-progress bike/ped bridge connecting Clark, California and Horner Parks. Testing should also account for how that is going to slow down traffic flow on Montrose, which in turn ripples to that northbound California traffic.

    Basically, I think this whole process needs more input from/to be integrated with CTA and CPD (police and parks).

  • This doesn’t “pacify Manor Ave residents”. For the most part I don’t think many of them like CDOT’s idea to test the diverter.

    This brings peace to the street, making it easier for people to walk and bike to, within, and through the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood.

  • That seems a bit at odds with how this was presented, but regardless of my concerns I hope it works as intended. I do specifically think cutting off a major route to Swedish for those of SW of here needs to be addressed, and I am still wondering why a recreational path trumps the massively unsafe and dismal state of affairs that are the highway underpasses and in general the east-west routes across the highways/rivers on the NW side. How many people have to actually die before these are taken seriously? Accident data should be setting priorities here IMO.

  • I also agree that crash data should be setting priorities.
    But the city often works on a “take what it can get” (from funding sources, and political support from the alder) project basis.

    For example, three alders cover the Belmont/Western overpass project and not one of them has expressed concern over CDOT’s plan to widen Belmont and continue to exclude bike infrastructure from the intersection.

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The Chicago Department of Transportation’s proposal for a neighborhood greenway on Manor Avenue is endorsed by 33rd Ward alder Deb Mell and the ward’s Transportation Action Committee (I am a member of the TAC). But the initiative is facing fierce opposition from some Ravenswood Manor neighbors who object to plans for traffic diverters at Manor and […]