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