An Update on the Lawrence Streetscape and the Ravenswood Metra Stop

A curb bump-out and a pedestrian island makes it much easier to cross Lawrence than before, while a new bike lane encourages cycling. Photo: John Greenfield

The long-awaited Lawrence streetscape and road diet is is almost complete, and the project has already transformed a corridor that had been unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists into a much more livable street. Meanwhile, construction is also wrapping up on a new, supersized Metra station house on Lawrence.

First announced in 2010 and launched in July of 2013, the streetscape has changed the stretch of Lawrence between Western and Clark from a four-lane speedway into a much calmer street, with two mixed-traffic lanes plus a turn lane. This was formerly a “reverse bottleneck,” since it was the only section of Lawrence in the city with four lanes. The road diet has made room for wider sidewalks, which will provide space for café seating, plus non-buffered bike lanes, where there were formerly only shared-lane markings.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 6.55.01 PM
The same intersection as the above photo, Lawrence and Seeley, before the road diet. Image: Google Maps

The section from Ravenswood – where the new Metra stop is located – to Western is largely completed. Many pedestrian islands have been built. In a few locations, there are also curb bump-outs that reduce crossing distances for people traversing Lawrence. Crosswalks made of eye-catching red asphalt, stamped in a brick pattern, have been put in at all intersections.

Workers have installed old-fashioned acorn-style streetlamps, as well as standard inverted-U bike racks, according to to Brad Gregorka, an assistant to 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. Benches and trash cans will soon be added. Two Divvy bike-share stations have been returned or relocated to spots by the Metra stop and at Lawrence/Leavitt.

Rendering of a neighborhood identifier pole with “bike arcs,” by the Ravenswood Metra stop.

Colorful neighborhood identifier poles will be installed at Ravenswood later this fall. “They’re kind of funky-looking and cool,” Gregorka said. “Bike arcs” — troughs that park cycles at a 45-degree angle to the ground — will be attached to the bases of the poles, providing a handful of new parking spaces.

The additional bike parking is sorely needed. When I visited Lawrence this afternoon, there were dozens and dozen of cycles locks to racks under the Metra station and beneath an overhang at the new Mariano’s supermarket across the street. Several more were locked to handrails.

Lawrence and Wolcott. Photo: John Greenfield

The section of Lawrence from Ravenswood to Clark is slated to be repaved and restriped on the week of October 20, Gregorka said. All hardscaping will be finished within a few weeks, and the remaining landscaping will be done in the spring.

“Most responses from residents and business owners have been very positive,” Gregorka said. “People appreciate that traffic is calmer, and that it’s easier to cross the street, and they’re enjoying the new bike lanes.” He added that the reduction in mixed-traffic lanes seems to have slightly increased travel times for drivers, but most people seem to think the tradeoff is worth it.

Gregorka said the makeover is already having a positive effect on commerce. “It’s helped bring in several new businesses that are walkable, and we keep getting more interest in locations along Lawrence, partly due to the streetscape.”

The new station house. Photo: John Greenfield

The new Ravenswood Metra station house, featuring an entire block of sheltered waiting space, is scheduled to open next month, Gregorka said. It’s located on the west side of Ravenswood and serves outbound trains. The project also included the reconstruction of 11 bridges, from Balmoral to Grace, for the outbound tracks.

The second phase of construction will include a station house on the east side of Ravenswood, serving inbound trains, as well as 11 new bridges for the inbound tracks. That project is currently being designed, and will be bid out in the near future. Walsh Construction is doing the current station work, but they’ll have to bid again for the second half of the job.

Construction on Phase II should start in late 2015 or early 2016, with completion slated for 2017. “It should take less time than the west side,” Gregorka said. “There will be less retention wall work and fewer traffic disruptions. Luckily, we get a little breather before they start the next phase.”

The contraflow bike lane at the west end of the Berteau Greenway is virtually invisible. Photo: John Greenfield

If, like me, you’ve been wondering why the contraflow bike lane on the west end of the Berteau Greenway, another of Pawar’s flagship projects, has been looking so faded, Gregorka had a good explanation. A new water main is going in under Berteau from Damen to Bell, including the one-block stretch of the greenway between Damen to Lincoln.

The city was aware of the impending water project back in late 2013, when the bike route was built, so they opted to save money by striping the contraflow lane with regular paint, rather than the more durable thermoplastic usually used for bikeways. After the main is replaced and the street is repaved, the bike lane will be restriped with thermo, Gregorka said.

  • Coolebra

    Oh, really, Steve? We’ve always had roads designed for cars and no infrastructure investment was necessary to enable the masses to travel on them at highway speeds.

    Yeah – OK, buddy.

  • Coolebra

    Apparently just a bit too complicated for some, though.

  • Coolebra

    Yes, you’re right – it does.

  • Coolebra

    You’re clearly in over your head, Steve.

    Let me lend you a dime so that you can go buy a clue: The Highway Trust Fund is insolvent.

    Yeah, going bankrupt. It is being kept afloat through transfers from non-MFT sources. Yeah, non-gas tax money.

    Even when it was flush with money, it still didn’t cover the costs of design, construction, and maintenance. Given its present fiscal health, the gap is even wider. Non-drivers paid then and they pay even more now.

    Get your facts together and come back to chat.

  • Steve Black

    Where is your proof for that statistic?

    Additionally I pay all the taxes non drivers pay in addition to gas tax thus I foot more of the cost. Thus, I should reap more of the benefit.

  • Steve Black

    No idea what you are talking about. My point was people in Chicago drive cars far more than they ride bikes. Transportation infrastructure should be built to accommodate cars not bikes. You made the claim that by this argument we should have never started building roads. My point was that is incorrect because we built roads before cars. And no one is going 70 down Lawrence so again no idea what you are talking about.

  • Steve Black

    Wow you must not be good at math. If I pay gas tax and all the other taxes non drivers pay, then I am paying for more of the road construction than non-drivers….again not complicated. And again as you said complicated for some.

  • duppie

    You statement would be true if everyone had the same family income, and therefore paid the same amount of taxes.
    But that is not the case. Income inequality is real.

  • duppie

    Here is some recommended reading for you. It’s about the history of roads and why they initially were built:

  • Hey folks, please stop bickering — it annoys other readers and floods our inboxes. Future posts along these lines will be deleted. Thanks.

  • Floyd Thursby

    The basics of modern road building predate the automobile. Example:
    “Roads in the US have been paved with materials that include asphalt/bitumen since at least 1870, when a street in front of the Newark, NJ City Hall was paved. In many cases, these early pavings were made from naturally occurring “bituminous rock”, such as at Ritchie Mines in Macfarlan in Ritchie County, West Virginia from 1852 to 1873. In 1876, asphalt-based paving was used to pave Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, in time for the celebration of the national centennial”

    Smooth, durable, inexpensive, easy to maintain roads able to take the stress of commerce and be passable in most if not all weather conditions have been desirable forever. If the automobile’s invention and popularity did anything, it accelerated the direction road building was already on.

    If in a parallel universe the transit motor bus were invented but Henry Ford died in a childhood accident so automobiles were only for the very wealthy, the roads the motor buses would ride on would be of construction we recognize.

  • Wilmer Cook

    Depends on your goal. Is your goal to provide people viable independent options that enhances their freedom or is your goal to reshape society the way you want it?

  • Jim Mitchell

    Cite, please.

  • A person’s injury or death shouldn’t be the price to pay for making a mistake. The design of a street greatly affects how we use the street – probably more than the rules that have been set in place, which ones we know, which ones we think we know, and to which ones we adhere. Lawrence has been redesigned so that what I said at the beginning of this paragraph becomes more of a reality than it previously was. It was designed to give businesses on this stretch a better front door – so they can keep their doors open.

  • Coolebra

    The question is not one of when the first car or first asphalt road was built, but rather one of the level of investment under-taken to support the levels of traffic we now have.

    Would we have 220,000 cars per day on I-290 if the infrastructure was limited to gravel, mud, and that asphalt/bitumen road in front of the Newark, NJ, City Hall was built? Not likely, of course – we had to build the infrastructure to enable the automobile to proliferate, even at a time when it was not the default transportation mode of the masses.

    Thus, and this gets back to the story, in order to grow bike ridership we need to invest in the infrastructure to enable folks to choose to ride, even if it means redesigning roadways.

  • Floyd Thursby

    If you return to roads to dirt, gravel, and bricks we will not be able to have the level of transit, city services, and commerce required to support today’s urban population or larger desired population levels. You will be able to support a mid 19th century population level. When it rains significantly the streets will turn to muck. When it snows plowing will be difficult to impossible. The surfaces will turn to ice. They will be impassable to almost if not all bicyclists.

    This is why bicyclists started the good roads movement. Going back to horrible road surfaces can only speak to a hate of the automobile blinding a person. I think that will backfire. 4WD and 4×4 automobiles will handle these conditions better than most bicyclists.

    Without the automobile you might not have I290, but city streets would still need to support bicycling, city services, buses, and commerce. Even I-290 may have still been built as a defense project for military trucks and commercial use. Trucks and buses being the heaviest vehicles are the ones that determine the road’s materials and thicknesses, not passenger cars. In older cities most streets are the same width they were before the automobile was invented.

    Infrastructure only attracts those who like bicycling. If the culture as a whole does not like bicycling it will not start because infrastructure was built. They must lose the option of driving to change.

  • Coolebra

    The point remains, Floyd: We must make bike investments to maximize bike riding potential.

    We can’t look at an arterial and say, “Look, it has pavement and someone can ride on it with a bike.” The mere presence of a ride-able surface is not a sufficient pre-requisite. The infrastructure must be designed to accommodate safe, comfortable riding for all riders – not just the bold riders.

    There are bike riders that will ride. It is not a question of losing the ability to drive before they resort to riding a bike. It is a matter of providing safe infrastructure to allow folks to exercise their preference.

    If the image below comes through, you’ll see a picture of Humboldt Park during a special event. People could have driven there; however, they *chose* not to, even though there isn’t great biking infrastructure.

    What if we actually had decent bike infrastructure?

  • Floyd Thursby

    You over look the necessity of good roads. The roads must be able to support buses, trucks, and city services. People need food, toilet paper, and tons and tons of other goods arriving daily to have a functioning city. Good roads were created before automobiles for bicycles and commerce. Even if you carve new rail lines and yards into the city you will still need good roads to get the goods from the rail yards to the stores.

    You cannot make a human work to get where he is going when he has the option not to work unless he enjoys working. I have biked to events in Chicago for a long time. It does not look like that. More now than in the past, but not like that. It must have been a bicycling event or something monumentally large which is why you do not say what the event was. I clearly see the seat of a 40 year old Schwinn bicycle. No seat looks that good if used often for even a few years. Clearly a special event where someone pulled the old bike out of the garage. I tried to find out what the event was. Google shows this photo on foreign funny picture websites. But because of the classic Schwinn I will take your word for it being Chicago.

    Most people will choose to drive or use transit because it is less effort. It also protects them from the weather. You will not get more than a very tiny percentage of people to bike year around as their primary transportation here. Even in the summer it will not be large. Build it and they don’t come because they have no desire to. This is not a biking culture. Only by having no other choice but to walk will they bike in large numbers. Then it does not matter if built or not.

  • Coolebra

    No, I haven’t overlooked the necessity of good roads. I’ve simply indicated that we need bike infrastructure – we need to share space.

    In the case of the subject article, the road is still there, for example, yet it was improved to make biking more tenable.

    As for the event: It’s an actual picture and, yes, it was like that. As I said, it’s Humboldt Park in Chicago and the event was Riot Fest – I was there, but didn’t bike. I walked.

  • Floyd Thursby

    *sigh* I would not have replied if that is all you had indicated. Pretending good roads were developed for automobiles does no one any good.

    I have not read this book. Just recently learned of it. But it sounds like it should contain the information I have learned about early good roads and more:

  • Coolebra

    There’s a gulf of difference between what you are characterizing “good roads” and the scale of road building that has taken place since our first roads were created.

    Yes, the roads we now have – and continue to build and expand – are to serve ever-increasing automobile traffic, or so the traffic modeling suggests.

    We need to make sure that our “good roads” for cars are also “good roads” for other users. In the 21st century, a road focused on serving only one user, the automobile driver, is no longer a “good road” – it’s an artifact.

  • Steve Black

    Another thing, we don’t know at all if pedestrian fatalities have decreased as a result of the new Lawrence. However, what we do know is that as more and more bike lanes have been added in Chicago, more and more bikers are dying in Chicago:

  • Jim Mitchell

    Steve, the article you link to cites numbers for cyclist fatalities throughout the State of Illinois, not just Chicago. Cyclist fatalities in Chicago were between 5 and 7 per year from 2001 through 2011, with one dip to 3 deaths in 2007

    See here at p. 13 for 2005-2010 statistics:

    And here (for 2011 statistic):

    And see here for statistics prior to 2005:

    Interestingly, while the number of deaths has remained fairly static, as the Sun Times article points out, the number of crashes involving bicycles has gone up since 2001; but then, so has the number of cyclists.

  • Floyd Thursby

    “good roads” is an old fashioned term for smooth paved/sealed roads. To use the term in a ridiculing manner undermines whatever it is you have to say because it demonstrates either ignorance of the topic (history of roads) or disdain for it.

    Roads expanded as the population did and as technology allowed. There are 310 million or more people in USA now. More people means more traffic of one sort or another. It is no surprise there has been expansion of the roads.

    However I don’t see your complaint of excessive road building being valid for NE Illinois as we are generally living within the confines of a 19th century road system. Yes, the roads are paved now. Yes there are residential streets and homes where farmers’ fields used to be. Yes some roads have widened over time, yes interstates were added, however it is largely the system as it existed in the 19th century. You can see that from maps and old aerial photographs going back to the 1930s. Even the dreaded suburbs are built around 19th century layouts. See and you can overlay the modern map on aerial photographs in the 20th century and topographical maps dating back into the 19th.

    Your complaint of ‘serving one user’ is bizarre in context of this exchange. I have shown you how paved roads were developed prior to the automobile, how they are required for buses, commercial, and government vehicles, how the major road layout existed prior to the automobile (locally), and thus why we would have much the same roads we do now automobile or not. Even the traffic signal was invented before the automobile. Did the automobile in the hands of the masses accelerate improvements? Most assuredly, but that does not mean without it people would not have continued what they were already doing.

    Without the automobile build outs between the main roads would look quite different, I grant you that, but our main roads would have been paved and widened as their usage grew with population. These roads would be much the same.

    Does the most popular road conveyance have an undo influence on the details and particulars of road design? striping, conventions of use, and so forth? Perhaps, probably, but that is another topic and beyond the scope of what I wish to discuss at present. The roads would still be paved and wide where needed or desired. Wide roads existed in the 19th century BTW.

    In any case your idea that roads were developed for automobiles does no one any good. If roads had been developed for automobiles they would look very very different instead of recognizable to a 19th century time traveler.

  • Coolebra

    The roads would not be the same had we the foresight to *continue* to build them with other modes in mind. Rather, we eliminated consideration of other modes and created metrics for success focused on only one mode: The car.

    The original purpose and intent for “good roads” was lost not long after conceptualized. It was rapidly corrupted. In a perverted twist, roads that were better (than dirt or gravel) for many users became roads (and later highways) suitable for only one user: the automobile driver. Public policy, public investment, and the metrics used to measure success all advanced that myopic goal.

    But for our blind ambition to build-out the most expansive road network on the planet for cars, and only cars, we would not have the automobile traffic we have today. People would be able to access everyday living needs and employment without car ownership being a virtual necessity.

    Good roads? They started with an ideal that was soon corrupted.

    Now, we need to examine investments that can actually make roads good again. Examples like the Lawrence bike infrastructure constitute steps in the right direction.

    I think that some day we can once again have good roads, not just a lot of pavement for cars.

  • Floyd Thursby

    Continue to build with other modes in mind? Roads were just roads.
    Roads were general, no modes were considered. Even street cars had to
    share. Corrupted? You are making this up. I have never ever seen the
    term used that way. It has always been used to refer to smooth, sealed
    roads. It is an archaic term of which has no alternative modern usage
    that I am aware of.

    The history is not as you say it is. The
    roads were not made for cars. Only limited access highways were designed
    for cars. Regular streets today show the influence of the most popular
    conveyance, but they are still largely of 19th century (and earlier)
    design. The system of roads (other than limited access highways) follows pre-auto layouts if the area was well settled before the automobile. Roads designed only for cars would be very very different. The proposals were very very different.

    I have never been not able to bicycle some place I wanted or needed to go. Of course I have never lived in a suburb that has entire county between it and the city. Maybe it is different there. But I have biked into town from campsites outside of town in rural areas and things like that.

    Here are some of the designs that never happened:

    Notice how the bicycle has no place on regular roads in that future. That future never happened. The regular roads do not look like that or any other car only proposal from the 20th century.

  • Coolebra

    Well, Floyd, are you saying that the push for good roads wasn’t made in response to needs other than the automobile?

    Were carriages/coaches considered?

    Was cleaning-up after horses considered?

    Did folks that ride bikes ask for improved surfaces?

    Yeah, the push for “good roads” was based on a multimodal perspective. Good roads weren’t “just roads” built with no users in mind – they were roads built with multiple users in-mind.

    That’s the point: Good roads are designed for and serve multiple users.

    We no longer build good roads.

    The example highlighted in this news item coverage is an attempt to get road-building back on the right track.

    Multiple users, multiple needs, shared space: Not design, construction, and operation to serve only one user.

  • Floyd Thursby

    Why are you changing the meaning of the term? The term means smooth paved/sealed roads. It does not mean what you are redefining. I sense you do not wish to have an honest technical discussion. Instead you wish to play a semantic game where you re-define terms to suit your desires. It is annoying. I have no desire to play this game with you or anyone.

    Smooth paved/sealed roads were pushed for primarily by bicyclists. With some exception the roads were as roads were at the time and still are, for general use. These bicyclists became motorists. They were the same people. I have already told you the history. The automobile did not exist when movement for smooth paved began.

    Roads today are not built for one user. They look nothing like car-only roads were to be. They look like roads always did other than details, influence of the most commonly used conveyence. The most commonly used mode will always have influence on the details but the design has not changed. Even politics only changes details for minority users. Look at your PBL roads. What is the difference? Paint. The road is the same design, you’ve changed the paint. Remove the paint and you have a 19th century road. Now people want to add walls, levels, and curbs to divide the road. This will make roads more like the auto-only roads once desired. Where other users are removed from the road, cast aside, under or over the road. This is what you want? These make roads that are for cars only. Other users are restricted to side paths.

  • Coolebra

    “Roads today are not built for one user.”

    Level of Service, a primary gauge of the effectiveness of a road investment, is focused on one outcome: More cars moving faster. There’s no people, no transit, no bikes, and no pedestrians in the measure, but for incidental use of the road built for cars.

    Throwing some crosswalk paint across four lanes of traffic doesn’t modify the underlying issues that roads are built for only one class of user: automobile drivers.

    Again, the Lawrence project is a necessary effort to revisit the design and function of roads we have, in fact, built for only one class of user.

  • Floyd Thursby

    But that’s what most bike lanes are, throwing on some paint. It just uses paint to say ‘this area for bicycles only’, the road is the same road it has always been.

    You want physical separation, with physical barriers like walls or curbs or grade, correct? This puts other users off to the side, above, or below. This leaves the main portion of road only for cars. It is much like the vision from the 1930s-1950s where peds and bicyclists were separated and the road was only for automobiles (and maybe trucks/buses). Only at intersections is there mixing in modern separation. Further advance the concept at intersections and you have the sort of vision that we used to see with motorama type things.

    The road of tomorrow (1939, Ford Motor Company), automobiles separated from pedestrians:

    Cars and other users separated per GM’s vision of a future city in 1939:

    Even GM’s exhibit at the 1939 worlds’ fair demonstrated how to separate users:

  • duppie

    At some point separating users makes sense. In the Netherlands the rule is if the max speed of automobiles on a road is over 30mph, then separation is preferred.
    Most suburban highways in the Netherlands nowadays have separate bike and pedestrian paths.

    But below that speed it appears that a lot effort is put in designing roads that prevent cars from exceeding the speed limit.

    It appears that Lawrence follows that principle too. Speed limit is 30 mph, so they designed it such that speeding becomes a hard(er) thing to do. Painting bikelanes, and thereby visually making the lane narrower for drivers is one tool that can achieve that..

    On a well designed road with speed limits at 30 mph or lower, you don’t need physically separated bikelanes per se. The problem is that many roads with a 30mph speed limit allow for speeding because of their auto-focused design.

  • Floyd Thursby

    If the idea makes sense somewhere or not is not my point. I am not endorsing it nor objecting to it in this exchange. My aim is to correctly place the idea of physical separation where it belongs in a historical context.

  • Coolebra

    38 degree morning.

    Yes, we need more and better bike infrastructure.

    You should also note that bikes solve the last mile problem for many, making transit more viable than without them.

  • Guest

    Doesn’t look like picture posted above . . . “38 degree morning . . .”

  • Coolebra

    The historical context simply used separation as a means to prioritize auto travel.

    We’re talking about shared space, and separated space where necessary, accompanied by a change in design philosophy — flipping the now-customary hierarchy on its head.

    Cars last, not first, in urbanized areas.

  • duppie

    I rode by there last Thursday. There are no bus stops by the Wendy’s. The 4 bus stops nearest all have a space for the bus to pull over to the right, out of traffic.

  • Steve Black

    Wrong, check the bust stop next to the Sears. The bust has no where to pull over and stops in the middle of the street.

  • troll e troll

    No such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.


Lincoln Square Merchants Who Fear Road Diet Already Benefit From One

Business owners in Lincoln Square are whining that the upcoming Lawrence Avenue streetscape, which involves removing travel lanes, will cause traffic jams and hurt sales. The irony is, they’re currently reaping the benefits of a longstanding road diet on Lincoln Avenue. The new project will transform Lawrence between Clark Street and Western Avenue from it’s […]

The 2014 Chicago Streetsies

[Most of these entries also appeared in Newcity magazine’s Best of Chicago issue.] Best local universities to visit for that pedestrian-friendly, old-world feel Loyola University and The University of Chicago Nearly all Medieval-era cities in Europe, and countless other old cities around the world, are known for their pedestrian streets – markets and residential areas […]

Road Diet Curbs Lawrence Avenue’s Dangerous Mile

The one mile of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western avenues, through the Ravenswood neighborhood, went on a road diet this year. The diet slimmed Lawrence from four to two travel lanes, and used the extra space to create room for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extensive landscaping. The streetscape project right-sized this stretch of […]

PBLs Off the Table in Jeff Park, But Milwaukee Still Needs a Road Diet

The Chicago Department of Transportation has proposed three possible street reconfigurations for Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. Unfortunately, the one that CDOT originally said would have had the greatest safety benefit for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers is now off the table. The scenario where the current five-lane speedway would have been converted to two travel […]

Eyes on the Street: Monumental Bike Parking on Lawrence Avenue

I spent about five years in the early 2000s coordinating bicycle rack installations for the Chicago Department of Transportation. One of the main takeaways from that very enjoyable job was that, when it comes to bike parking, form really does follow function. Although designers are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel by building a better bike […]