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Greenway Questioned for First Time After Mell Cancels Diverter Trial Early

Alderman Deb Mell
Alder. Deb Mell (33) and her assistant Jeff Sobczyk in September.

Alder. Deb Mell (33rd Ward) told a large crowd gathered in the basement of Horner Park field house that she had instructed the Chicago Department of Transportation to end the car traffic diverter trial early. CDOT started the trial on September 19 with support from Mell and the ward's Transportation Action Committee, among other community groups, in September. The trial was supposed to continue for two months until November 18. The barricades are being removed on Friday.

The public meeting tonight was for the monthly Transportation Action Committee, which I've been a member of since the first meeting in February 2014.

Two barricades at the intersection of Manor Ave. and Wilson Ave. required motorists to turn off of Manor Ave. People cycling could continue through the intersection.

CDOT is using this trial to test the effects of a diverter on distributing vehicle traffic on other streets as a solution to reducing traffic volume on a street that more cyclists will be riding down as new riverfront trail sections open up in the next two years.

IMG_9745
Looking southeast at Wilson/Manor. Barricades prevent cut-through motor vehicle traffic on Manor but allow two-way bike traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

Mell apologized to those in attendance "if [the trial] put you out of your routine" and said, "I really wanted to give it a good shot."

Mell said that when she called Mike Amsden to talk about ending it early he supported the decision because running this test was taxing their resources and that they had collected enough data to analyze.

Confusion from previous meetings about the "Manor Greenway" project details persisted. Some thought that the traffic calming components at Montrose, at Lawrence, and up and down the blocks of Manor, would have the same effect as the diverter in redistributing drivers on the streets.

Mell and her assistant Jeff Sobcyzk both replied that this was false, and that the only affect on driving they would have is to prevent left turns from Manor onto Montrose.

As Mell tried to move the TAC meeting forward to other topics, many in the audience were hung up on the details of the Greenway, which has been posted online for four months.

Twist

Three residents said that since they were just now getting involved in the Greenway project the whole planning process should start over.

Mell was shocked, and said, "this is the first I'm hearing that some of you are against the Greenway." It was truly the first time that anyone had brought up reservations or opposition to the idea of building raised crosswalks and bumpouts at different points along Manor Ave., in order to make it safer to walk and bike in the neighborhood.

CDOT had presented variations of the Greenway designs in 2015, and presented their final version in June.

Mell asked, seemingly rhetorically, "Do you want to keep Manor exactly the way it is?" You might guess that a lot of people said "yes."

Many still disagree that there are actually safety problems on the street, with some saying there are, and others saying there aren't. Mell has said that soon after she became alderman that people who live on or near Manor Ave. asked her to do something about drivers who speed, or blow stop signs.

Amsden made the point in September that every street has been modified in some way, with two-way streets going one-way, or, in one case, having a cul-de-sac added. This has likely resulted in more people using Manor Ave. over the last two decades than would otherwise.

The denial of safety problems on the street, however, is one of many tactics being uttered to undermine the basis for any changes whatsoever. Refuting the quality of the study that CDOT is conducting and hasn't yet completed, and the statistical and data collection methodologies they're using is another tack.

Elsbeth Cool, who lives in the ward and transports her two daughters by bike, started coming to TAC meetings in the summer to hear more about the project. She said that she and her daughters were almost hit by a car on Manor. "Is it when they're scraping us off the street that people begin to think we need to change the street?", she said. Cool also co-founded Chicago Family Biking.

Cool and her daughters cycling in Chicago. Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune
Cool and her daughters cycling in Chicago. Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune
Cool and her daughters cycling in Chicago. Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

What now

Mell is waiting for CDOT to finish and present their analysis in January before deciding if a car traffic diverter should be permanent, "out of respect" to the process, she said, and CDOT's and the TAC's work. The earliest CDOT would installed a permanent diverter is in 2018. CDOT will be installing the Greenway next year.

Mell said that anyone who wants to talk about the Greenway's traffic calming components should first review the plan on her website before sending her an email with their comments. She said she has read every email.

Knowing that, anyone with a personal story about how drivers have impacted their wellbeing – like Cool and her daughters – should also email Mell and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The next TAC meeting is in December, on a date to be announced.

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