CDOT Tries a Bike Lane Saturation Strategy in Edgewater

The Glenwood Greenway. Photo: John Greenfield
The Glenwood Greenway. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago currently has about 250 miles of bike lanes, but in many cases they’re installed piecemeal, with a mile or so installed here and there, wherever the city happens to be doing a street repaving project. This means that many parts of town, especially on the South and West sides, lack a coherent bike network. Even some of the more bike-friendly neighborhoods, where lanes and paths do link up to some extent, have major gaps in the network that mean there isn’t always an intuitive or comfortable route to take you where you need to go.

In recent years the Chicago Department of Transportation has started to address this issue by seeking more community input about where new bike lanes should be installed. There were many public hearings all over the city prior to the publication of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. More recently CDOT held a series of public meetings on the South and West sides to ask residents which routes from the plan should be prioritized for bikeway installation. This process resulted in plans for new lanes on Cottage Grove and Stony Island, for example.

In the past I’ve wondered before how it would work out if CDOT focused on creating a cohesive bike network in one particular community. Now we’re getting a chance to see that idea put in action with the Edgewater Neighborhood Bikeway Network project within the 48th Ward. This district is an ideal laboratory for the experiment, because it’s the smallest, densest ward in the city. This means that its $1.3 million annual infrastructure budget is spread over a relatively small area, and a few miles of new bikeways could make a big difference in connectivity.

The project’s study area includes parts of Edgewater, Uptown and Andersonville, an area roughly bounded by Clark, Argyle, Devon, and Lake Michigan. “The development of this network will provide the study area’s 75,000-plus residents and visitors from throughout the city with a comprehensive network of streets designed for people biking,” according to the project’s mission statement. “As the planning process moves forward, recommended projects may extend beyond this study area to increase the usefulness of the network.”

A map of existing and potential bikeways in the project area. Image: CDOT
A map of existing and potential bikeways in the project area. Image: CDOT

The stated goals of the project include developing a well-connected, “8-to-80” bike network that’s comfortable for people of all ages, establishing bike connections to important community destinations, improving biking conditions on both commercial and residential streets, and increasing the number of bike trips within the community. A kick-off meeting was held on June 24 at the Broadway Armory, where residents provided feedback on streets the best and worst streets for biking, locations where there are opportunities for improvement, and key local destinations.

At the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting two weeks ago, CDOT planner Mike Amsden provided an update on the Edgewater project. “We’re doing it a little bit differently,” he said. “Edgewater’s very small and there are a lot of supportive community groups.” He noted that CDOT has done some bike projects in the area recently, including the popular Glenwood Greenway.

“There’s a strong demand to really create a connected network,” Amsden said. “What we’ve seen downtown is that when you build a connected network, a lot more people start riding. So we’re working in Edgewater, in a very small area, trying to develop this network quickly, putting in a full-build network, using a combination of local and federal money.” He added that CDOT is working with bike-friendly alderman Harry Osterman, local community groups, businesses, Special Service Areas, health organizations and other stakeholders on the project.

Existing bikeways (blue) within the project area and new stretches of bikeways on Ardmore and Argyle (red) that will be installed this fall. Image: CDOT
Existing bikeways (blue) within the project area and new stretches of bikeways on Ardmore and Argyle (red) that will be installed this fall. Image: CDOT

Pointing to the above map of existing bikeways, Amsden said, “These blue lines show what’s there today. How do we start filling in some of these gaps?” The two short red lines on this map show Ardmore and Argyle, which will be getting improvements this fall: A one-block extension of the existing contraflow bike lane on Ardmore to Winthrop, and the city’s first true advisory bike lanes on Argyle from Sheridan to Marine. (The city recently piloted a slightly different approach, “dashed bike lanes” on Milwaukee in Wicker Park.) “But what we’re looking to going forward is how do we identify these bigger projects that will require more time, more outreach, more funding and complex designs.”

In addition to the June community meeting, a community bike ride was held in late July to look at current conditions and identify potential new bikeway streets. CDOT will be meeting privately this fall with the alderman’s office and select stakeholders to narrow down the potential bikeway network. This winter, there will be another community meeting to finalize the routes, and then the department will hopefully start the design process for three or four miles of new bike lanes, Amsden said. If all goes well CDOT will stripe the lanes in 2019.

It will be interesting to see how this focused and community-driven approach works out in the 48th Ward. It would be great if CDOT also tried this strategy in the near future in other wards, especially less traditionally bike-friendly areas on the South and West sides where new bikeways would be especially beneficial.

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