Nevermind the NIMBYs, Here’s What Dickens Greenway Advocates Have to Say

A cyclist rides past Saint James Lutheran School on Dickens Avenue in Lincoln Park. Photo: John Greenfield
A cyclist rides past Saint James Lutheran School on Dickens Avenue in Lincoln Park. Photo: John Greenfield

“To me way, hay
We must have our way
The Lincoln Park NIMBYs are we
From Clybourn to Stockton
We must kill this project
‘Cause bicyclists are scary!”

— To the tune of Steve Goodman’s “Lincoln Park Pirates
H/T Max Grinnell, @theurbanologist

Show your support for the Dickens Avenue Greenway by attending the next community meeting this Thursday, August 22, 6-8 PM at Lincoln Park High, 2001 N. Orchard Ave. Wear green to show you’re in favor of the bikeway. You can also fill out the Active Transportation Alliance’s petition in favor of the project.

By now Streetsblog readers know all about the saga of the Not In My Back Yard efforts to put the kybosh on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s proposal for a family-friendly neighborhood greenway bike route on Dickens Avenue in Lincoln Park. The project, which would include a contraflow bike lane to allow eastbound cycling on the one-way westbound street, would feature a lower speed limit, sidewalk extensions, speed humps, and raised crosswalks to make walking safer and easier. But some local residents freaked out about the proposed changes at a May 29 community meeting, making the nonsensical argument that, by increasing bike traffic, the greenway would endanger pedestrians.

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

Since then, CDOT has released data that shows that while the number of cyclists did increase on older greenways on Berteau and Wood streets, the total number of crashes decreased significantly, by 15 and 38 percent, respectively.

But last week Streetsblog learned about an anonymous, slickly orchestrated scheme to raise opposition to the sensible Dickens Greenway plan. The opponents launched the faceless the Friends of Dickens website, featuring a litany of classic NIMBY talking points, from “Think of the children!” to “This was a backroom deal!” They also sent out nameless, expensive, full-color glossy 8.5 X 11″ political-style mailers to residents within the project area, which strongly indicates that whoever is behind this cowardly campaign has previous experience with this kind of political activity.

The slick, political-style mailing from the Dickens NIMBYs. Photo: Sam Brunson
The slick, fear-mongering political-style mailing from the Dickens NIMBYs. Photo: Sam Brunson

Predictably, some residents took advantage of the online form on the Friends of Dickens site, where neighbors are urged to “to voice your opposition to the bike path,” to discuss why they think the greenway is a good idea. We previously published one from Loyola professor Sam Brunson, who lives just south of Dickens.

“My son goes to [Oscar Mayer School, located two blocks north of Dickens on Clifton Avenue] and, frankly, if you were actually concerned about kids’ safety, you’d be up in arms about cars speeding along Dickens, and running the stop sign on Clifton,” Brunson wrote. “I’ve seen any number of kids nearly hit, and almost been hit myself, by cars. The evidence is compelling that adding bike lanes (and bikes) to the traffic mix slows cars and makes the streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and even drivers.”

Former neighborhood resident Jeff Wegerson left this comment.

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 7.10.53 PM

Neighbors also emailed me this week to voice support for the greenway, including attorney Dan Cummings, 69. He’s lived a half block from Dickens for 30 years, and one or two blocks away in the decade before that. “Families with children ride eastbound [against traffic] on Dickens all the time because Armitage has too much traffic,” he noted. “People ride bicycles through Oz Park all the time. The new bike lanes would just acknowledge something that is already happening.  The Greenway is not going to be a ‘bicycle highway.’ It is going to be a safer alternative for children on bikes.”

Cummings said he’s sympathetic to the concerns of of parents of children who attend Saint James Lutheran School at Dickens and Fremont Street. “But the Greenway would be on the opposite side of the street from where cars drop off or pick up children. True, there is foot traffic during the day as children move from the school to the church. [But] bicycles will be much less dangerous than the cars that use [Dickens and Fremont] all day.”

While the Friends of Dickens site agues that the greenway would be redundant because Armitage Avenue, one block south, has bike lanes, Cummings noted that “Armitage is a commercial street with trucks making deliveries — sometimes blocking the bike lanes — cars parking and buses. Dickens has none of that.”

Armitage Avenue at the Brown Line tracks, where a driver injured my former editor. Image: Google Maps
Armitage Avenue at the Brown Line tracks. Image: Google Maps

Logistics professional Bryan Young, who lives just south of Oz Park, cc-ed me on an email to the Oz Park Advisory Council, which is opposing the plan, claiming that having a the greenway run through the green space would be a danger to other park users. (The concrete path on the south side of the park that would be used for the greenway has been designated as a recommended bike route on the CDOT bike map, so it’s not like the greenway designation would be a big change.)

“There seems to exist this weird idea that this neighborhood greenway is some sort of cycling superhighway where cavalier fixie gangs on rocket cycles will be blasting down Dickens at incredible speeds jeopardizing the wellbeing of everyone in the vicinity,” said in his email to the advisory council. “What I took from conversations with several CDOT people at the previous community meeting… is that this is designed for slow-speed safe transportation.”

Young concluded, “I urge the council to reconsider your opinion, realize that by embracing an idea that makes it easier and safer for all, but especially young and old, to walk, jog, bike, skate, or even scooter together, we enhance our neighborhood and prove that you don’t have to drive everywhere.”

Rebecca Resman and her children Max, 4, and Sloane, 6.
Rebecca Resman and her children Max, 4, and Sloane, 6.

Meanwhile, parents from the Facebook discussion group Chicago Family Biking, which has more than 2,000 members, is mustering their troops to support the greenway plan with a Dickens Greenway Call to Action Facebook event, urging people to show up for tomorrow’s public meeting, with about two dozen RSVPs so far.

Signs for tomorrow's meeting. Photo: Chicago Family Biking
Signs for tomorrow’s meeting. Photo: Chicago Family Biking

“When a child turns 12, they cannot legally ride on Chicago’s sidewalks,” noted CFB cofounder Rebecca Resman. “We have a responsibility to create a comprehensive bicycle network so that our youngest, most vulnerable riders can access the Lincoln Park Zoo, various parks, beaches and other destinations that Chicago families love. Neighborhood greenways are a core strategy of the city’s bike plan, and its troubling to see a small group of well-connected people ignore the facts, jeopardize our children’s safety and undermine the city’s plan to develop a bicycle network that genuinely serves all Chicagoans.”

Show your support for the Dickens Greenway by attending at tomorrow’s community meeting, 6-8 PM at Lincoln Park High, 2001 N. Orchard Ave. Wear green to show you’re in favor of the bikeway.

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m curious to see how this issue will fit in with the executive order against “aldermanic prerogative”. While Ald. Smith seemed to be on board with the general plan at the first meeting, if there is overwhelming push back from constituents and she says she does not support the plan, what will CDOT do?

    People who “get it”, know that this lane is a lot bigger than local resident users, though the benefits to the neighborhood in terms of safety would be enormous. But for cyclists Citywide, this could be a vital route who want to safely get from the LFT to the 606, Bucktown to Lakeview, etc.

    The residents should certainly have a say on some of the finer points, but we should be past the conversation as to whether or not this greenway should be implemented. I just hope CDOT and Mayor Lightfoot can recognize that.

  • FlamingoFresh

    CDOT will be the one making the ultimate decision regardless of Alderman Smith’s stance at the end of this. Her stance is just a recommendation but it is being left up to the technical experts.

    *Speculation* Alderman Smith appears to be in favor of the project but I wouldn’t be surprised if she “sides” with the NIMBYs and flips her stance. This may not be a honest switch of a stance, but rather a strategic one to show she’s backing the constiuents along Dickens, knowing that CDOT will have the ultimate decision. It will still allow the project to be approved and make her look good in the eyes of those against it. Of course the constituents who are for the project will not like this and she won’t be sitting well with them. It’s Chicago so I’m sure this type of thing happens. *Speculation*

    Hopefully Alderman Smith sticks to her guns and does what’s best for the Ward/Chicago and not try to play the political games. We’ll see how this goes.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I attended St James. This is what I wrote to Alderman Smith:

    “Dear Alderman Smith,

    I am out of town and cannot attend the meeting on the Dickens greenway proposal, but I have a few thoughts to share.

    I attended St James Lutheran Elementary from 77 – 85, and in fact rode a bike to school from our home in Lake View (George and Racine) quite often in the warmer months when I was in 6th-8th grade.

    Then, as now, it was not the challenge of physical street conditions or weather so much as dangerous and unpredictable traffic behavior that was the major obstacle. I got struck by a car early on that did not stop at a stop sign on a smaller side street, so I got used to sticking with larger/busier streets like Lincoln, Diversey and Sheffield.

    It would be great to have had more official encouragement to ride a bicycle at that age, and if anything I would tell concerned neighbors that having more bike traffic is a wonderful thing. It means more kids outside being healthy, and just more eyes on the street (which helps reduce garden-variety crime like package theft).

    Thank you for your efforts and sincerely,

    Carter O’Brien

  • Tooscrapps

    Lets hope so. She seemed to gloves on for the fight over the implementation Lincoln Yards, which will provide a lot of political fodder and NIMBY score-points.

  • planetshwoop

    Hope you outnumber the Dickens out of the NIMBYs.

  • TheWordBird

    I live near the corner of Dickens and Seminary. I don’t know if the bike lane will help or hurt Dickens to be honest. I can tell you that it is currently used as a super-highway for impatient motorists and is NOT a safe street in my opinion. Motorists rarely heed the stop signs and use it as a high-speed alternative to Webster en-route to the highway. I’ve had drivers honk at me for taking too long to cross the street, or just swerve around me in the crosswalk as they blast through the stop signs.
    I have written to Ald. Smith multiple times begging for some police enforcement on this street to no-avail.
    If the bikeway can bring enhanced visibility to this street, then I’m all for it. I just hope it doesn’t create more chaos than there already is.