Dickens Greenway NIMBYs Are More Worried About Being Hit by Cyclists Than Drivers

People riding bikes on Dickens Avenue last night. Photo: John Greenfield
People riding bikes on Dickens Avenue last night. Photo: John Greenfield

Last year drivers killed 121 people on Chicago streets. 41 of the victims were pedestrians and five of them were cyclists.

In contrast, there is no record of a bicyclist fatally striking anyone in Chicago, ever.

But yesterday evening Lincoln Park residents acted as if the city’s proposal to add traffic calming devices and bike lanes to Dickens Avenue, which would slow down people driving multi-ton vehicles, but encourage more people pedaling multi-pound bicycles to use the street, represents a major safety threat. Think about that for a minute.

To be honest, I had expected the community meeting on the Dickens neighborhood greenway proposal was going to be a short, lightly attended, uncontroversial hearing. After all, these quiet side-street bikeways are commonplace nowadays, with about 15 miles installed or currently under construction citywide. The greenways benefit all road users, as well as residents along the streets, by discouraging speeding by motorists, shortening pedestrian crossing distances, and creating low-stress, family-friendly bike routes.

Yes, the Dickens proposal includes a contraflow bike lane to allow for legal eastbound cycling on a street that’s already a good westbound route. These “wrong-way” bikeways were somewhat controversial when they first debuted in Chicago several years ago, but nowadays they’re all over the North and Northwest sides, on streets like Berteau, Glenwood, Albion, Juneway, and Wood. And the Chicago Department of Transportation says that crash rates have stayed the same or decreased on streets where they’ve been installed.

But comments from many of the dozens of attendees suggested they’re afraid that increasing the amount of cycling on Dickens would put them and their children in mortal danger. In reality the traffic-calming infrastructure would almost certainly result in a net safety improvement.

The Dickens Greenway proposal. Image: CDOT
The Dickens Greenway proposal. Image: CDOT

Early in the meeting, held at St. James Lutheran Church, CDOT planner Dave Smith outlined the project, which would be mostly funded by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant. He noted that while Dickens is a block north of busy Armitage Avenue, which has bike lanes, “for a lot of people, that’s just not comfortable enough” for cycling.

In addition to the contraflow lanes, the Dickens proposal calls for lowering the speed limit from 30 mph to 20, and adding pedestrian bumpouts to shorten crossing distances, bike-friendly speed humps, and/or raised crosswalks. Schools along the route, which runs between Clybourn and Stockton avenues, would get special attention. CDOT hopes to finalize the design and engineering by summer or fall of this year, but construction wouldn’t start until late 2020 or early 2021 due to the federal funding process.

The original format for the meeting, scheduled to last only an hour, called for Dave Smith and local alderman Michele Smith (no relation) to field just a few questions from the audience before attendees were directed to check out display boards and talk with other CDOT reps. But there was an onslaught of negative feedback from neighbors which extended the Q & A session for the better part of an hour.

A few practical concerns were raised, such as questions of how adding sidewalk bumpouts would affect drainage, and how the bike lanes would coexist with drop-off and pickup times at St. James School. Smith responded that the sidewalk extensions could possibly include plantings or bioswales that would help manage storm water, and said CDOT is coordinating the project with the school and other local stakeholders.

But most of the comments reflected the misconception that making Dickens a more attractive place for cycling by slowing down motorized traffic and adding contraflow lanes would make things more, not less, dangerous for residents. “As a homeowner on Dickens, I know how bicyclists operate on this street — they go so fast.” said one woman. One man actually argued that people move to Dickens to get away from bike traffic, drawing a round of applause from other attendees.

“How many bicyclists have killed or hurt pedestrians compared to drivers?” shot back another attendee.

IMG_6724
The crowd at last night’s meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

Alderman Smith told the crowd that she has been asking the city for a safer alternative to Armitage, which connects to Cortland Street and on to the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, for seven years. “As a cyclist I’m terrified to ride on Armitage.”

Some of the neighbors raised the specter of “fixie kids” riding down Dickens, especially if the Bloomingdale is extended east across the Chicago River as part of the nearby Lincoln Yards development. Coming from residents of one Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods, statements that a new bikeway could attract a negative element from less wealthy neighborhoods to the west such as Humboldt Park and Logan Square, where fixed-gear cycles are popular with youth, carried a hint of classism.

Others said they were worried about directing cyclists to ride across the the southern edge of Oz Park on an existing path, which isn’t a totally invalid concern. “It’s hard for me to imagine how this is going to make Oz Park safer,” said one senior. “You can put up all the signage you want and it’s not going to work.” One solution would be to add some “LOOK” pavement markings to alert pedestrians crossing the path to the presence of bike traffic, or perhaps install flexible posts or bollards on the edges of the path to raise awareness.

Dave Smith noted that the presence of the park is part of what makes Dickens a good candidate for a greenway, because it serves as a barrier to prevent drivers from using Dickens as a continuous cut-through route, making it a safer street for biking.

A map of Dickens showing driver/pedestrian (red) and driver/cyclist (blue) crashes from 8/11/15 to 5/31/19. The presence of Oz Park, which discourages cut-through traffic by drivers, helps explain the relatively low crash rate compared to busier nearby streets. Map: Steven Vance
A map of Dickens showing driver/pedestrian (red) and driver/cyclist (blue) crashes from 8/11/15 to 5/31/19. The presence of Oz Park, which discourages cut-through traffic by drivers, helps explain the relatively low crash rate compared to busier nearby streets. Map: Steven Vance

While somewhere around a dozen bikes bikes were parked outside the church, supporters of the plan were less vocal, but a few did speak up. “I’m super-excited about anything that has the word ‘green’ in the name,” said one woman. “The more people who are on bikes, the less who will be in cars.”

In light of the predominantly negative response, Alderman Smith promised to hold additional community meetings before moving forward with the project. But she noted that with tens of thousands of new residents moving to the area as part of the Lincoln Yards plan, it’s going to be important promote cycling, because traffic is going to come to a standstill if all of them are primarily getting around by car. “We do know that the 606 is someday going to come across the river, and they’re also planning a bike path along the river,” she said. “That’s maybe the only positive thing I’ll say about Lincoln Yards.”

You can send Alderman Smith feedback on the project via her director of communications: Rocio@ward43.org. We’ll also keep you updated on future meetings.

  • Jeremy

    It was alarming how ill-prepared CDOT was. To go into a meeting like this with no data and no video of dangerous driving behavior is just lazy. I have no idea why they thought promoting this as a great bike amenity, instead of focusing on slowing down drivers, would make people approve of the proposal.

  • bikechigrrl

    really want to yell at my computer as I read this. Did anyone answer the question about bicycles killing pedestrians? #smh

  • Tooscrapps

    CDOT addressed it and confirmed that zero pedestrians have been killed by cyclists.

  • Michelle Stenzel

    I thought that the primary concerns would be about bicyclists “salmoning” toward a car driver, or concerns about loss of parking, but I was surprised at the number of attendees whose main issue was basically that they wanted fewer or no bicyclists on Dickens, not more, because bicyclists allegedly go too fast, and they allegedly don’t stop for stop signs. Dave Smith reiterated that the experienced and fearless bicyclists will likely remain on Armitage because it’s faster. Alderman Smith countered the complaints with supportive statements about the importance of making streets safe for all modes of transportation, including bicycling.

    In the end, what is being proposed is extremely modest: landscaped pedestrian bumpouts at some intersections; possible raised crosswalks; traffic calming (but bike friendly) speed bumps; the addition of a posted 20 mph speed limit; 2 mm of paint on the street for bicyclists; and permission to legally bike east and west. That’s it. I believe that if some of the attendees would make an effort to go see a nearby existing greenway, they would understand how relatively small the changes are, and how a project like this would have the effect of increasing the quiet, orderly and attractive nature of the street.

    If you support the proposed project – especially if you live close by, although all support is great – you can drop a line to Alderman Michele Smith via her director of communications: Rocio@ward43.org

  • Tooscrapps

    I thought the same thing. While so much of the design is just intuitive, you need hard data to prove the naysayers wrong. They will not accept anything else and probably still will be skeptical. One woman cited a study about NYC undercounting bike collisions from 10 years ago but never bothered to check if Chicago reports collisions where cyclists are involved (they do).

    CDOT’s point about Armitage being a good route really blew up in their faces too (it sucks). Instead calling people who use (and may continue to use) Armitage “fast riders”, they need to refer to them as “confident riders”. CDOT would also be wise to focus on how adding bike treatments help calm motor traffic, aid in ped safety, and make cyclist behavior more orderly and predictable.

    Hoo boy, the guy who could fathom how he was going to push his stroller around with the new design really opened my eyes just how much some people will not accept change. I’m paraphrasing here but he said something like “Bike lanes for those 8 to 80?! My kids aren’t even 3!”

  • Jeremy

    The person who yelled that question was behind me, so I didn’t see who said it, but I suspect it was asked ironically. As if to prove that cyclists aren’t the danger people believe they are. We read this blog, so we are aware how narrowing a road by painting a bike lane can reduce driver speed, but most people won’t intuitively recognize that.

    People see drivers look at their phone or drive 30 mph often. I bet the people that were at the meeting aren’t 100% attentive, courteous drivers. Periodically seeing a cyclist on a fixie ride 15 mph and ignore a stop sign is going to stand out. How many squirrels do you see in a day? If you see a stray dog, you will probably notice.

  • Jeremy

    The CDOT point about how bicycle friendly speed humps allow riders to go over one handed without spilling their coffee didn’t help the cause.

  • TonyAB

    Seriously? I’m sorry i wasn’t there. I was just introduced to Dickens as an Armitage alternative by my partner, and guess what, she’s right, it is much better, calmer, safer. Some part of the Armitage bike lane west of Sheffield is always blocked, and the L station is an obvious choke-point.

  • outerloop

    “Dickens Greenway NIMBYs Are More Worried About Being Hit by Cyclists Than Drivers…
    Last year drivers killed 121 people on Chicago streets. 41 of the victims were pedestrians and five of them were cyclists.”
    By stating that bikes don’t kill people like cars do in response to the title that residents are weary of being hit by bikers is a way of belittling our opponents and not addressing the concern (getting hit, not death). Talking down about opponents and avoiding the issue they raised will not win them to our side.

  • Jacob Wilson

    Nothing will win these people over. They’re rich, stubborn, entitled, out of touch dinosaurs from another era.

    They deserve little more than ridicule.

  • outerloop

    Jacob Wilson- your insults and prejudice undermine the good work bike advocates are doing.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yep, I thought that was a funny line, but not a good choice for the situation.

  • Carter O’Brien

    “As a cyclist I’m terrified to ride on Armitage.”

    So where are the police in this conversation? Because at minimum, the alderman is acknowledging a public health/safety crisis exists due to reckless and lawbreaking motorist behavior.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I don’t have a lot of patience with people complaining about how terrified they’ve been by near-misses with people on bikes, while they tend to take near-misses with people in cars, an exponentially more dangerous threat, for granted. Bystanders getting seriously hurt by cyclists is a relatively rare man-bites-dog scenario. When it happens, it makes headlines. Meanwhile, the daily carnage caused by drivers barely registers, and we tend to view it as the unfortunate but unavoidable downside of American-style transportation.

    It’s not even clear that non-injury bike/pedestrian crashes are a particularly common phenomenon, so I’m not sure that it’s the case that these residents are “weary of being hit by bikers” (or did you mean “wary”?)

    As a friend recently wrote, “When you consider that we don’t have nearly enough near-hospitals and near-ambulances to cover all the near-injuries resulting from reckless cyclists, the problem is even worse than it sounds.”

    So, yeah, perhaps it’s a better strategy to coddle these folks and pretend that it’s understandable that they fear that installing infrastructure to slow down drivers and encourage people to bike on their street could result in a pedestrian bloodbath. But, nah, I’ll leave that kinder, gentler approach approach to CDOT.

    FYI, I recently wrote about constructive strategies for encouraging better behavior by people on bikes. https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.chicagoreader.com%2Fchicago%2Fcyclists-who-break-the-law%2FContent%3Foid%3D69405676%26fbclid%3DIwAR3YUgeRGpFvHkM0XIGGH9401aUsrm3Et5ggCq23JNeo7qLZtsNxQAFWmXo&h=AT3dlNH-2ZxEOM4TTRyBkM4h0XozUT1wz-htoeJk1y_alNdDyZXi5-_jtdc-OPJSPy9zmWGroM4YZnqvMDjTZ7jw8BFHpTq34I3OJdwedZQLXZdOUytC8DGsmFCrhsZJIUoMi9tZe_zzK3GnBuVCweg

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I don’t think the alderman was particularly talking about reckless driving on Armitage. By its nature, Armitage is a relatively narrow, busy retail street with lots of parking turnover, which makes it stressful place to ride for less-confident cyclists. But at one point in the meeting Dave Smith said something to the effect of, “We can’t have traffic cops on every corner, which is why we want to use infrastructure to encourage safe behavior.”

  • outerloop

    John- you demonstrate your lack of patience with those of differing opinions regularly here. Anyone reading Streetsblog regularly can see.
    I was not recommending coddling, but for us to attempt to understand those who do not see things as we do and be respectful of others. What do you think is it about honey over vinegar that helps with democratic processes? ..Or maybe you don’t believe in treating “others” well (as opposed to some of what you say/you’re incongruent)?

  • Jacob Wilson

    I’m just stating the facts.

    Luckily plenty of advocacy and infrastructure improvement can happen while still mostly ignoring these types.

    You’re always going to have a fringe group that insists on anti social behavior. Some neo-nazis and religious fundamentalist are just never going to have their minds changed, period. That doesn’t mean we can’t move on without them.

    A lot of older folks who grew up in an era of absolute automobile dominance will go to the grave with their backwards ideas about infrastructure justice whether we like it or not.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “You demonstrate your lack of patience with those of differing opinions regularly here.” Opinions like the comment that it would be a good idea for people to carry guns on the CTA, which you “liked”? Correct, I don’t have a lot of patience for flat-earth arguments. The notion that installing traffic calming devices and encouraging cycling on a street is going to make it more dangerous is such an argument — it defies logic.

  • I really hate how the bike lane ends and then resumes as it passes under the ‘L’ near Sheffield, in favor of having car parking.
    https://www.google.com/maps/place/900+W+Armitage+Ave,+Chicago,+IL+60614/@41.918147,-87.6523728,3a,75y,275.48h,83.14t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sh_lmSotIrnwpTg6kRJ9rCQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192!4m5!3m4!1s0x880fd3190380e8df:0x436bda85b1418b05!8m2!3d41.9182831!4d-87.6511576

    There’s also the fact that this is a conventional bike lane that puts bicyclists in the door zone.

  • relevantjeff

    Honestly? Who cares what these entitled douchebags think? If they want to live somewhere with fewer scary cyclists, where they can drive to their heart’s content, there are four and a half suburban counties that would welcome them – and their tax dollars – with open arms.

  • skelter weeks

    ‘Nimbyism’ is not about race or class, although it may seem that way. It’s a manifestation of emotional decision-making (people trying to make themselves feel more powerful) disguised by a thin veneer of logic (in this case, ‘cyclists are dangerous’) which, upon closer examination, quickly falls apart because of the lack of any proof. The same people in the suburbs loudly complain about ‘buildings being too tall’, as if that had any effect on their lives. Give insecure people a chance to ‘feel powerful’ and they’ll quickly take it.That’s why their arguments are so easily discounted…they’re paper-thin.

    Emotional decision-making (‘feelgoodism’) infests many parts of our society and must be stamped out.

  • skelter weeks

    I don’t know how they can describe Armitage as a ‘fast’ street for bikes what with all the stop signs and stoplights they have on it. I could manage the cars and everything else on Armitage, but totally gave up on it when the bike rider ahead of me suddenly stopped, for no reason. ‘Did he see a squirrel?’, I thought. ‘Is there a car coming?’ But there wasn’t any squirrel, and that car was parked/not moving. He stopped because of a stop sign! Aaahhhhh. Dickens is much better. There’s no one in front of me pulling shit like that.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Trust me, driver behavior on Armitage is far more dodgy than just parking space turnover.

    I spent a few hours nearly every Saturday afternoon the past 3 years walking around the neighborhood just for the nostalgia benefit while my kid was at Old Town School. What I’d say is that CPD seems unsurprisingly disinterested in ticketing upper class Lincoln Parkers, even when they are acting like complete idiots and are absolutely endangering people’s safety.

    On a weird but related note, the lack of tweens and teens biking around the side streets compared to the 80s is striking, and sad. I biked to St James from Lake View off and on from 83-85, prompted by the school making space inside/allowing some of its grads attending Lincoln Park HS to park their bikes there during the day. I miss that still tinged in counterculture, more friendly and socially progressive Lincoln Park.

  • outerloop

    John- you are missing my points but that’s fine. If you want to make assumptions about and attack me, other readers, other cyclists or others in the community that’s your decision.
    If you really want to know why I “like” various comments you’re welcome to start a respectful discussion.

  • rwy

    Some people just don’t like bikes. I don’t fully understand why. You’re not going to convince them that making streets better for bikes is a good thing.

  • Guy Ross

    You’re putting in a good effort at playing devil’s advocate. However, I have seen very few examples of your approach having any positive effect to our stated common goals. Have any evidence to the contrary?

  • Carter O’Brien

    I do agree this is a particularly egregious section, especially as cars routinely just come to a halt in order to drop off or pick up people coming from the L.

  • Kraken
  • Tooscrapps

    No one said it doesn’t happen. John (the editor), summed it up well above:

    “Bystanders getting seriously hurt by cyclists is a relatively rare man-bites-dog scenario. When it happens, it makes headlines. Meanwhile, the daily carnage caused by drivers barely registers, and we tend to view it as the unfortunate but unavoidable downside of American-style transportation.”

    In one (and probably both) of the articles you link, the jogger/pedestrian turned into the path of the cyclist.

  • RedMercury

    A few other entertaining things to note that about that.

    Last year, drivers killed 121 people on Chicago streets. 75 of those people were motorists. Some unknown number may have been the drivers in question.

    Also, let’s compare the number of cyclists to the number of motorists and you’ll find a pretty big disparity. So it isn’t really much of surprise that there are far fewer people injured by cyclists than by motorists.

  • Kraken

    “I heard one of them yell ‘watch out!'” Tillman said. “I turned around and saw them IN MID-COLLISION. She fell and hit her head, he fell on top of her with his bike and rolled off.”

    “Tillman said the cyclist who hit Williams was trailing another cyclist. She SUSPECTS Williams may not have seen the second cyclist and stepped out into traffic after the first cyclist passed her, thinking the coast was clear.”

    The witness only saw the biker and the pedestrian IN MID COLLISION, and thus the witness only SUSPECTED that the accident happened when the jogger/pedestrian turned into the biker.

    As for the pedestrian injured on the 606, there is no witness mentioned who claimed that he jogger/pedestrian turned into the path of the cyclist

  • Tooscrapps

    “…about to make a U-turn…”

    “He was not issued a citation…”

    I stand by my comment.

  • Kraken

    “Megan Williams was jogging near Diversey Harbor when she was injured earlier this year.

    Megan Williams never saw the bike that hit her on the lakefront path.

    She was out for a 4-mile run after work — training for the Chicago Marathon — and about to make a U-turn to head back to her apartment in Old Town.”

    That’s when her memory goes dark.
    ________________

    The victim’s recollection that she was “About to make a U-turn” does not establish that “the jogger/pedestrian turned into the path of the cyclist.” These sorts of armchair fault assessments are questionable at best.

  • Tooscrapps

    And yet here you are making them. The collision was investigated by police and the cyclist was cleared. What more do you want?

    Again, no one said these types of collisions don’t happen, just that the are a mere fraction of the carnage that motorists cause. Many more people are injured slipping and falling than in cyclist/ped collisions. Does that make walking inherently dangerous?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yep, these are basically exceptions that prove the rule. As someone who scans the headlines every morning for crash news, my sense is that when a person is seriously injured in a bike/ped crash, it’s generally considered newsworthy. Meanwhile, thousands of people are injured in driver-involved crashes in our city each year, and only a small fraction of the cases make it into the news.

  • Kraken

    No — YOU made the assumption (based on no relevant facts) that the jogger turned into the path of the cyclist:

    “In one (and probably both) of the articles you link, the jogger/pedestrian turned into the path of the cyclist.”

    Note the fact that a ticket was not given by the police is NOT evidence that the non-ticketed party was blameless. Ask any of the lawyers (such as those who advertise on this website) who handle cases for bikers, against drivers that never got a ticket.

    I have made NO ASSUMPTION as to whether or not the jogger turned into the biker’s path, since the witness’ recollection (only seeing biker and jogger in MID-COLLISION) does not prove anything about what happened as the accident began.

  • Tooscrapps

    Your original phrasing puts the blame on the cyclist, but anyway, keep on harping about two incidents.

  • Kraken

    My original post:

    Pedestrians being hit/seriously injured by bikes in Chicago is not an urban legend:

    https://chicago.suntimes.co

    https://www.dnainfo.com/chi

    Where exactly did I blame the cyclist or assign fault? A pedestrian can be hit or injured by a car, but fault depends on the surrounding facts (red light? crosswalk? speed? conditions of road?)

  • Tooscrapps

    Give it a rest.

  • Kraken

    You first — you responded to my post

  • Tooscrapps

    Your post that added little to the conversation except to point out two cyclists/ped collisions where at least one was determined to be of no fault of the cyclist. Cyclists mowing down peds like motorists do is about as close to an urban myth as it gets.

  • Kraken

    My point from the beginning is that bikers can and do injure pedestrians — both here and in other cities — and that pedestrian injuries shouldn’t be ignored for any reason.

    https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/04/10/bikers-reckless-ways-child-bloodied/

    If you feel differently, so be it.

    Once again, no one has “determined” whether the biker or the jogger was “at fault” or “not at fault.” The decision of a police officer not to issue a ticket does not establish fault or lack thereof.

  • Tooscrapps

    You held up two examples that don’t prove anything other than there was an injury to a pedestrian in a collision with a cyclist.

    Then you say you don’t know who is at fault because no one determined it, but in the one case the police investigating determined the cyclist was not at fault. How thick can one be?

    Again, no one (including me earlier) says that these collisions don’t happen. What we are saying is that they are relatively rare, get outsized media coverage, and when added all up don’t even register when compared to the carnage caused by motorists that people have become so desensitized to.

  • Kraken

    It is beyond dispute that bikers can and do hit pedestrians — which was the entirely point of those who opposed the Dickens Greenway. Thus, these examples couldn’t be more germane to the issue raised in the article.

    Once again, an officer’s decision not top issue a traffic ticket is not a legal determination of fault or no fault. In fact, bike accident lawyers regularly file lawsuits against driver who did not receive a traffic ticket. Please ask one of these bike accident lawyer to explain this point if you.

  • Kraken

    It is beyond dispute that bikers can and do hit pedestrians — which was the entirely point of those who opposed the Dickens Greenway. Thus, these examples couldn’t be more germane to the issue raised in the article.

    Once again, an officer’s decision not to issue a traffic ticket is not a legal determination of fault or no fault. In fact, bike accident lawyers regularly file lawsuits against driver who did not receive a traffic ticket. Please ask one of these bike accident lawyers to explain this point to you.

  • Tooscrapps

    Answer: very thick.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Hey folks, this back-and-forth is kind of pointless and is clogging my inbox, so please give it a rest. Additional comments on this thread will be deleted. Thanks.

  • outerloop

    I’m not playing devil’s advocate but pointing out that calling people names doesn’t help win them to our side.
    As far as evidence I can only speak of experience and observation. I have had my mind changed (and seen others) with understanding and reasonable discussion from opposing views. I’ve never noticed anyone changing their stance after being berated and belittled.
    Maybe Jacob truly believes the opponents will never change their minds and with decisive name calling he’s making that possibility more likely.

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