Eye on the Street: Andersonville (Finally!) Gets a Complete Streets Makeover

Paint-and-post sidewalk extensions shorten crossing distances. Photo: John Greenfield
Paint-and-post sidewalk extensions shorten crossing distances. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago still has a long way to go when it comes to being a truly walkable, bike-friendly city, but it’s nice to think about how far we’ve come. For example, although downtown alderman Brendan Reilly and I have been known to butt heads on occasion, he deserves some credit to being open to the idea of converting a lane of Upper Wacker into protected bike lanes, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

And back in the early 2000s, when I was working at the Chicago Department of Transportation getting bike racks installed, the CDOT bike program had arranged for the city’s first on-street bike corral to be installed in front of the Cheetah Gym in Andersonville. The owner was ready to pay for it, the local chamber of commerce approved, and then-40th Ward alderman Patrick O’Connor had signed off on the project, but at the last moment, an overly cautious CDOT deputy commissioner put the kybosh on the plan. Fast forward 15 years or so and there are on-street corrals up and down the Andersonville strip.

A bike parking corral in front of the Hopleaf bar. Photo: John Greenfield
An on-street bike parking corral in front of the Hopleaf bar. Photo: John Greenfield

Also back in the early 2000s, CDOT and then-48th Ward alderman Mary Ann Smith agreed to pilot some temporary curb bump-outs at Foster and Clark in Andersonville to shorten pedestrian crossing distances and discourage dangerously fast turns by drivers, using flexible plastic posts to delineate the sidewalk extensions. However, merchants and residents disliked the aesthetics, and drivers freaked out about having to adjust their habits, and the posts were quickly removed.

As a sign of how much things have changed for the better since then, recently paint-and-post bump-outs were installed up and down the Andersonville retail district as part of a complete streets project. New stop signs have been added on Clark to calm traffic, and “Stop for pedestrians” signs have been installed at intersections without stop signs, although some of them were almost immediately flattened by drivers.

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A fallen soldier on Clark Street. Photo: John Greenfield

Locals have also been asking for bike lanes on Clark Street for ages, but there was insufficient road width for even conventional bike lanes, let alone protected lanes, without stripping car parking. If conventional lanes had been installed, buses and trucks wouldn’t have fit within the travel lanes. So CDOT instead striped dashed bike lanes, which allow drivers to cross the dashed line if necessary.

Not everyone one is a fan this treatment, but, in my experience, drivers tend to stay out of the dashed bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, giving cyclists more room to ride away from parked car doors, so they’re a modest upgrade from shared-lane markings (bike-and-chevron symbols.) But as private car use falls in the future, hopefully it will be possible to swap a parking lane for protected lanes.

Photo: John Greenfield
New dashed bike lane on Clark Street. Photo: John Greenfield

In fact, Andersonville Chamber of Commerce director Sara Dinges said that the new Andersonville streetscape was inspired by the Wicker Park project. “They’re both dense commercial districts with many modes of travel. It worked well in Wicker Park, so they thought it would be a good approach here as well.” She said the response to the bump-outs from locals has been mixed so far, but noted that the project is only partially completed.

Current 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman noted that portions of Clark Street were torn up for long periods of time for water main work, but now that that’s over, the goal was to “create an environment that supports the heavy bike and pedestrian traffic” on Clark. While some folks aren’t thrilled about the aesthetics of the bump-outs at the moment, Osterman said the appearance may be improved with colored street paint and planters “so the street will look warm and friendly and inviting.”

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

“Like anything, people are getting used to it, but at the end of the day it’s going to make Andersonville more walkable and bikeable, so that’s good for the community,” the alderman added.

So why haven’t the bump-outs resulted a vicious backlash this time around? “This is not the first [complete streets project] we’ve done,” Osterman said. “This is like the 20th thing we’ve done.” He pointed to projects like the Argyle shared street and the Glenwood greenway. “There’s a growing acceptance for this kind of thing.”

The alderman added that he’s currently in talks with CDOT and current 40th Ward alderman Andre Vasquez about doing a road diet on Clark Street between Hollywood and Devon avenues, possibly with physically protected bike lanes. “North of Gethsamane [garden store, at Victoria Street], Clark meets up with Ashland Avenue and it just becomes a sea of asphalt.” They held a planning charrette to brainstorm ideas with community members about a week ago.

In addition, Osterman said he’s looking at possibilities for new east-west bike routes to help connect Clark Street with neighborhoods to the west. With all the walking and biking improvements in the works, it’s clear that that this is not your grandfather and grandmother’s Andersonville.

  • J.B.

    “The alderman added that he’s currently in talks with CDOT and current
    40th Ward alderman Andre Vasquez about doing a road diet on Clark Street
    between Hollywood and Devon avenues, possibly with physically protected
    bike lanes. “North of Gethsamane [garden store, at Victoria Street],
    Clark meets up with Ashland Avenue and it just becomes a sea of
    asphalt.” They held a planning charrette to brainstorm ideas with
    community members about a week ago.”

    Oh my goodness, that would be really great! There is so much potential in the area and plenty of people nearby to support business and such, but “sea of asphalt” is a very accurate description.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s nuts that that five-lane stretch of Clark is still marked as a recommended route on the city’s bike map, when it’s a terrifying place to ride for less-confident cyclists. (People should use the Glenwood greenway, two blocks east, instead.)

  • Mary Pustejovsky

    That was my first thought as well. That stretch is just a car sewer and feels dangerous to cross in the crosswalk, much less riding it on a bike. I hope they do it quickly!

  • Anne A

    Sea of asphalt and car sewer are both good descriptions for the section north of Gethsemane. It can be hellish to ride, even for confident riders. Glenwood is much nicer.

  • Austin Busch

    And, because it’s a recommended route by the city, it defaults in Google Maps’ bike directions, which leads the least experienced riders directly to it.

  • Courtney Cobbs

    I have been emailing Osterman often about bike lane obstructions. I was told I’d be kept in the loop about bike related events. I didn’t get any notice about this meeting re: Clark St though I was aware there were some ideas being thrown around for physical protection. In any case, glad to hear portions of Clark will get physical protection for people on bikes. I’ll keep sticking to Glenwood and all of its speed bumps.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Good news: They’ve repaired at least one (probably more) of the crumbling speed bumps on Glenwood.

  • Courtney Cobbs

    Maybe it’s just one because I went over a few crumbly ones yesterday. This was north of Hollywood. I know there’s a few crumbly ones between Hollywood & Berwyn. I may be headed through there today so we’ll see.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Clark (and intersecting roads) is indeed a “sea of asphalt” is from Victoria St. (Gethsamene) up to Devon. From Devon north to Howard, Clark is one travel lane in each direction, with on-street parking. The anti-contextual, anti-urban, anti-bike and ped nature of the southern part of this stretch of Clark (from Victoria up to Peterson/Elmdale) is exacerbated by the horrendous Ridge-Clark and Ridge-Peterson and Clark-Peterson/Elmdale intersections, which form the “car wash triangle,” This area is truly horrific for bicyclists and also for pedestrians. The south leg of the highly skewed Ridge-Peterson intersection is a “fatality (or more) waiting to happen.” The cars heading east on Peterson have a “soft” left turn onto Ridge, which they take at 30-40 mph! While the south leg is not an “official” (i.e. marked) crossing, (clueless) folks get of the bus near “Heart o’ Chicago” motel and then think that they can go across Ridge (west to east on south leg) since they see a green signal. It’s really dangerous! Any changes in the area will have to take the fire station on the west side of Clark just north of Peterson/Elmdale into account. An opportunity to improve the this terrible, totally automobile-centric area is the upcoming construction of the new Metra station at Peterson and Ravenswood. How are folks going to bike and walk to that station from the nearby residential neighborhoods (especially to the east)? There are, it should be noted, planted medians between Victoria and Devon — though they are interrupted at every cross street, instead of just major/collector streets. On-street parking in this area is definitely underutilized. The redesign opportunities for this area — if only CDOT and IDOT can be creative and innovative and commit to prioritizing non-motorized travel, while still accommodating cars — are truly endless. Look to what NYC did in Times Square and on big arterials in Brooklyn and Queens!

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I wish CDOT would have taken out the centerline and widened the “advisory bike lane” to 6.5 or 7 ft. on Clark in Andersonville — and ideally applied green, bike facility pavement coloring! Even on Argyle, where there is no centerline, the “dashed bike lanes” are only 5 ft. wide. Come on, CDOT, you can do this! You can do true, Dutch-style Advisory Bike Lanes!

  • Jacob Wilson

    So literally the only safe place to ride in these dashed bike lanes is on the outside of the dashed line. Otherwise you’re squarely in the door zone which is incredibly active on Clark.

    Do these bike lanes actually do anything other than encourage door zone riding and give drivers something else to rage about when they see cyclists (properly and safely) riding outside of these bike lanes? The ONLY time it’s safe to ride in the dashed lanes are when traffic is stopped and you’re filtering up to the front at like 5 mph.

    If anything it’s more of a move to make the mixed use lane seem exclusively for cars which is kind of a regressive move. The “bike lanes” should be buffered door zones and the mixed use lanes should have sharrows in the MIDDLE of the road. If cars want to go faster than bikes there’s a 4 lane highway 1 block to the west!

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I agree that one must ride directly on or barely (1″-6″) inside the “dashed bike lane” lines on Clark, and also on Milwaukee — though one’s handlebars and rear view mirror will be outside the line. Both streets have super high turnover on parking (i.e. tons of doors suddenly opening). Why not do (properly) what is called an “Advisory Bike Lane”? See https://www.advisorybikelanes.com/. I know that the ADT is “too high,” but I say go for it anyway: take away the center line; widen the dashed bike lane to 6-7 feet wide, color the bike lane green. As is cars have to wait for a clear stretch to go around the cyclists anyway (if they want to pass at a safe distance). And moreover, given the peds, even relatively slow cyclists are, at most times, moving faster than cars through Andersonville on Clark (at least, over the course of more than a block or two).

  • what_eva

    colorful paint and planters makes it sound like the “Lincoln Hub”, which a lot of the nearby residents hate (it’s my local NIMBY group). I’ll be much happier in a few years when the whole intersection gets redone with permanent bumpouts.

    As is sadly usual in Chicago, a couple years in, the paint is faded, often the bollards are smacked around. It’s not nearly as nice as when it started.

  • duppie

    Bad news: they’ve repaired only one (not more) of the crumbling speed bumps on Glenwood.

  • duppie

    I get weekly emails from the alderman. I do not recall seeing anything on this public meeting either.

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