Strong Support from Residents — Including Lots of Kids — at Dickens Greenway Hearing

Young attendees at the Dickens Greenway meeting. Photo: Rebecca Resman
Young attendees at the Dickens Greenway meeting. Photo: Rebecca Resman

Didn’t have a chance to attend last night’s meeting? You can fill out the Active Transportation Alliance’s petition in favor of the project.

I never did find out who sent the slick, anonymous mailings against the city’s Dickens Avenue neighborhood greenway proposal and launched the Friends of Dickens NIMBY website, but at this point that info may be moot. Of the 100-plus people who packed the auditorium of Lincoln Park High last night for a community meeting on the family-friendly bikeway — including plenty of children — there seemed to be a clear majority of residents who support the project. This was evidenced by dozens of public comments praising the initiative, hundreds of petition signatures endorsing it, and scores of attendees wearing green to show their support.

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

The Dickens Greenway project, which would include a contraflow bike lane to allow eastbound cycling on the one-way westbound street, would also feature a lower 20 mph speed limit, sidewalk extensions, speed humps, and raised crosswalks to calm motorized traffic and make walking safer and easier. But some neighbors blasted the proposed changes at a May 29 community meeting, indicating that they view increased bicycle traffic as a bigger safety threat to pedestrians than speeding drivers.

Box bikes parked outside the meeting. Photo: John Greenfield
Box bikes parked outside last night’s meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago Family Biking, a grassroots organization with over 2000 members on its Facebook discussion group, did a great job of mustering its troops to attend last night’s hearing. A dozen or two cycles were parked outside the school, including several Dutch-style kid-hauling box bikes. Inside the auditorium, the Chicago Department of Transportation had set up a long mock-up map of the proposed changes to the corridor, including updated renderings of the positions of the traffic-calming features. Attendees were invited to leave PostIts on the map with comments on the design.

Attendees leave comments on the mock-up map. Photo: John Greenfield
Attendees leave comments on the mock-up map. Photo: John Greenfield

Local alderman Michele Smith kicked off the meeting, stating that her office had received over 700 emails about the project since May, which they had forwarded to CDOT. As such, transportation department planner Dave Smith, who spoke next, was armed with info to address the safety concerns of the anti-greenway contingent.

“I just ask that you listen to [my] presentation, and come at it with an open mind,” Smith said to the audience and, to their credit, the response from bikeway skeptics was generally more civil than it was during the contentious May meeting.

Smith addressed the concerns that the greenway will result in an epidemic of bike/pedestrian injury crashes, including injured kids. He said he has discussed the subject with the Chicago Department of Public Health, the local 18th Police District, and the Chicago Police Department’s citywide Major Accidents crash investigation unit. “Everybody acknowledges that crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians do happen, but they are in very small numbers, and the risk of being seriously injured does not compare to the risk when a pedestrian gets hit by a car [drivers.]

Dozens of attendees wore green to show support for the greenway. Photo: John Greenfield
Attendees, including Siouxzi Donnelly, foreground, wore green to show support for the greenway. Photo: John Greenfield

He added that the pediatric injury research department of Lurie Children’s Hospital has agreed to work with CDOT to monitor all injury crashes to children 15 and younger in the area and let the city know how those crashes are happening. “I hope this will provide comfort for folks here today.”

Smith noted that the Dickens Greenway would offer a lower-stress cycling alternative to the bike lanes on nearby Armitage Avenue  — a busy retail street with CTA buses, frequent truck deliveries and parking turnover — and would better organize Dickens to encourage more predictable behavior from all road users. The department has found that Armitage has more than four times the traffic volume of Dickens, with 19 times as many drivers breaking the 30 mph speed limit, including some going as fast as 50. Smith noted that studies show that people struck by drivers doing 20 mph almost always survive, while those struck at 40 almost always die.

As for bike traffic, CDOT found that while Armitage currently sees four times as many cyclists as Dickens,  none of the cyclists observed were children, while 11 percent of Dickens riders were kids. He added that 40 percent of cyclists on Dickens were riding eastbound against traffic, arguing that “there’s a need to formalize this behavior” and make it safer and more predictable by adding the contraflow bike lane.

Smith noted that while the number of cyclists has increased on older neighborhood greenways with contraflow lanes, the total number of crashes decreased significantly. On Berteau and Wood streets, total crashes fell by 15 and 38 percent, respectively. He added that the number of women and children on bikes increased on streets that received greenways, drawing a round of applause.

Next Smith outlined the nuts and bolts of the Dickens project, which would include 27 new high-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks, 45 concrete curb extensions, five raised crosswalks, and five bike-friendly sinusoidal speed humps. More curbside drop-off space would be created at St. James Lutheran School, and raised crosswalks would be constructed at both nearby intersections.

The proposed layout at St
The proposed layout at St. James school with three raised crosswalks.

Smith said CDOT has also received multiple requests to improve the Dickens/Cleveland/Lincoln intersections. The plan calls for bump-outs to shorten crossing distances, plus green bike lanes to shepherd cyclists across the six-way junction.

The proposed Dickens/Cleveland/Lincoln layout.
The proposed Dickens/Cleveland/Lincoln layout.

Addressing concerns about Oz Park, Smith said CDOT considered residents’ requests to detour cyclists around the park via Armitage or Webster, but concluded that it’s unlikely cyclists would use such circuitous routes. “People will continue to ride through the park as they do today.”

Proposed entrance to the park at Howe Street with new bike racks.
Proposed entrance to the park at Howe Street with new bike racks.

The plan includes more than doubling the current number of bike parking spots in the park from 44 bikes to 92 by installing dozens of new racks, focusing on the southeast corner of the green space, which has none. Smith said racks would be strategically installed at Dickens and Howe Street, where cyclists enter the park, to direct bike riders onto a dedicated bike entrance to the multiuse path, “communicating that you are entering a shared space and to slow down.”

He noted that while residents have argued that the concrete path is too narrow for more bike traffic, it’s 14′, four feet wider than the 10′ national standard minimum for multiuse trails, and it also includes a four-foot-wide soft-surface path for runners, for a total width of 18′. Smith added that further widening the trail would require cutting down several trees.

A person on a bike shares the Oz Park path with people walking. Photo: John Greenfield
People on bikes are already sharing the Oz Park path with people walking. Photo: John Greenfield

Smith concluded by saying that CDOT would collect all feedback from the meeting, post the presentations on the 43rd Ward website, collect and review any additional input, make a final recommendation on the design in the coming months.

Dozens of people lined up to provide testimony at the meeting, a process that took about two hours. Local resident Gary Sinclair said he’s concerned that the greenway will encourage more people to use Oz Park, which he argued is already overtaxed. Siouxzi Donnelly from Chicago Family Biking countered that the green space is “a great Chicago park that belongs to the entire city.” She added that having safe on-street bikeways provides an opportunity for kids to learn proper cycling behavior without endangering themselves or people on sidewalks.

Biking dad Andrew Berg said he was sympathetic to the concerns of the bikeway opponents, but noted that data shows that they aren’t realistic. “Don’t scare the Dickens out of our greenway,” he exhorted. “We need greenways so that when people make mistakes on the street, no one dies.”

Stephanie Simms. Photo: John Greenfield

The president and vice president of the Oz Park Advisory Council said the group is opposing the project because they feel it’s unsafe to have increased bike traffic through the park, stating that they had collected 232 signatures against the plan from park users and residents at nearby senior housing. But local neighbor Stephanie Simms, an expectant mom, said proponents have collected over 300 signatures in favor of the project. “It will make [pedestrians and cyclists] more visible, for my safety, my family’s safety, and my community’s safety.”

A local man who rents space via Airbnb made a passionate speech decrying the NIMBY opposition:

I can appreciate that the greenway is a very controversial topic for many of the homeowners on Dickens. The idea that an underused street might become a shared community resource is certainly different thinking. I can even appreciate initial concern around safety, although it’s becoming hard to understand how a project for safety, in this case a bike path, could ever be considered a bad idea. The tortured logic is instructive. It tells us that this discussion has moved past the realm of objectivity and into the realm of values. I view the outcome of this proposal as a vote on our values.

So what do we value? Do we value the freedom to travel safely by bike, foot, bus, or car? Do we value our neighbors and their children, who may choose to commute differently than us? Do we value our role as a gateway to Chicago’s lakefront and the city’s best institutions? And while few here will speak out against inclusivity, the tone of entitlement can not be obfuscated. It’s the concept of keeping bikes on Armitage and not my street. “Don’t mind the experts; this bike path is dangerous.” And per [Friends of Dickens], presumably speaking on behalf of residents on the South and West sides, that they might be better off by decreased access to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the conservatory, the nature museum, the history museum, and broader lakefront.

So I simply ask the room to consider: Which Lincoln Park do you think our community most identifies with? One of safety, inclusion, ambassadorship, and common sense? Or one of fear and special interests, and a belief in segregation on who deserves safe access to our community?

The speech was met with thunderous applause from greenway supporters.

However, longtime neighborhood resident MaryAnne Spinner wasn’t impressed. She said she lives near Armitage and Lincoln, which both have bike lanes, “so we are about to be hemmed in by bikers.”

“I believe that bike riders are a special interest,” Spinner said, alluding to the Airbnb owner’s speech. “You think you have the moral imperative, but there are other people in the vicinity… Why are we always focusing on bike routes? According to CDOT there are 248 miles of bike lanes in this city already, thanks to our two previous mayors, who were both bikers.” Another attendee later pointed out that Chicago has thousands of miles of car-dominated streets.

MaryAnne Spinner. Photo: John Greenfield
MaryAnne Spinner. Photo: John Greenfield

Spinner said “the gorilla in the room” was the cost of the greenway and the funding source, which CDOT hadn’t yet disclosed. David Smith said the final price tag is yet to be determined, but $700,000 is a ballpark figure for the one-mile project, with 80 percent of the money coming from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds, and the city paying the remaining 20 percent, or $140,000. He noted that the latter sum would only cover repaving about two blocks of Dickens, or purchasing one half of a single traffic signal, so the greenway is “a very cost-effective project.”

Perhaps most problematically, two people who described themselves as “avid bikers” (often a red flag) argued that the facility would be unnecessary and unsafe. One man who characterized himself as a “professional cyclist” said he rides on Armitage all the time and can’t imagine why anyone would feel unsafe biking there. Maybe because they’re not professional cyclists?

The other anti-greenway bike enthusiast, who stepped up to the mic holding a helmet and a pannier, said the curb bump-outs along the Dickens corridor would be a hazard for cyclists, even though the CDOT plans clearly show the bike lanes wouldn’t overlap with these sidewalk extensions. She added that contraflow bike lanes are unsafe, although she later admitted that she didn’t recall ever riding in one of Chicago’s many existing neighborhood greenways with contraflow lanes, so she had no experience with this kind of facility.

Rebecca Resman and her daughter Sloane. Photo: John Greenfield

Rebecca Resman from Chicago Family Biking said she can’t afford to live in Lincoln Park, but frequently cycles through the neighborhood with her children on their way to lakefront attractions. “Not building the greenway jeopardizes our children,” she said. Resman added that drivers have twice injured her on her bike, including one who doored her she was pregnant with her daughter Sloane, now 6. “She was involved in a bicycle crash before she was born.”

Sloane Resman read an eloquent statement in favor of the greenway herself. “My family is car-free and we get around our neighborhood on our family bike. My mom says we are getting too big and we will need to ride our own bikes soon. I’m scared to ride on the big streets to get to the zoo and Oz Park. I hope they make the new bike lane. It will be super for me, super for my little brother Max, and super for everyone.”

Fill out the Active Transportation Alliance’s petition in support of the Dickens Greenway project.

  • Tooscrapps

    CDOT did a very good job presenting the facts. It could be just me, but I felt like Smith took the wind out many of the opponents’ sails right off the bat. I saw many people who looked like they came for a fight just get up and leave right after. In stark contrast to the first meeting, I left impressed by the local residents openness, thoughtfulness, and the diverse support for the greenway.

    And that “professional” cyclist! That was a wild ride.

  • Alex

    Looks like the meeting went well. $140k (of city money) for a new greenway is a bargain

  • Alex

    One question tho, why does the Greenway go down Magnolia and then feed into Clybourn? It seems like the natural way to go would be to send it down Racine, and from there you can continue down to Clybourn or go across Cortland. In addition to being a shortcut for where most people will be going, it would also be a lot safer. The stretch of Clybourn between Racine and Magnolia is not protected (just a sharrow), but the stretch of Clybourn south of Racine has an actual lane. Just seems weird that if you’re coming from Bucktown that you’d take a sharp left at Cortland onto Clybourn and then go up to Magnolia and then onto Dickens. I suspect bikers will go down Racine anyway (which is what they currenty do)

  • Gary Chicago

    No way the one mile is going to cost $700,000 !!. The 606 was sold as $33 million for less then 3 miles , True cost is north of $100 million . Millilenal park was sold as $300 million true cost was close to $1 billion. ALL city Projects are always presented at a low price to get them passed . Peoples Gas new pipeline replacements was presented at $2.0 billion and now up to 8 billion.

  • rduke

    There was some vehicular cyclist loon at the Harrison/9th street bike lane meeting a few months back. I wonder if it was the same guy.

  • Alex

    Those projects are not even close to comparable at all

  • Gary Chicago

    my point is the estimated cost to be sold to the public are never the final cost . Ask what is included in the 700K . Is it legal , permit , engineering reports or just construction of path . Is repair and replace of grass included

  • Austin Busch

    That’s some nice kettles you’re comparing to apples. How about you look into the cost of the existing greenways that were already built in the city? Why compare costs to megaprojects when almost identical proposals to this have been completed and their costs finalized?

  • Patrick

    Oh my God, I really want to know who the professional cyclist was!

  • duppie

    Where did you get the $1 billion number from for Millenium Park?
    According to most stories, the cost was around $490 million, not $1 billion.

  • skelter weeks

    40% of cyclists on Dickens ride eastbound against traffic? I find that hard to believe. I’ve seen a few, but 40%? No way. And I ride my bike regularly on Dickens westbound – on the left side – so I do see ALL of them. I’ve tried to ride Dickens eastbound, and it was crazy because of all the intersections you have to cross where people don’t expect you to be. Most contraflow lanes are on short stretches and don’t cross a lot of intersections – see Berteau and Wicker Park Ave, for example. If you want to go east, use Belden. That’s what it’s there for. Although they should get rid of that stoplight at Halsted and return the stop sign – that’s a real buzzkill!
    If they do go forward with this, what’s the plan for Burling/Dickens? There’s one poorly placed curb cut there, and to funnel all the bike/ped traffic through there will be a nightmare!

  • Alethia

    I habitually have roughly 6,000-8,000 US dollars each and every 30 days via internet. Haven’t you understood that the future is in the online arena whether or not online marketing or simply working for businesses that are based and employ online workers. If you do not do it now you may always regret it sooner or later you’ll be force to make the change but you won’t be in the driver’s seat any longer. What exactly are the advantages to having the ability to generate money on the web? Well there are several. For one there’s increased capacity to automate and therefore be working even while, you’re sleeping. You also don’t need to work at the typical and uncomfortable work environment. You can work when you need and this comprises more flexibility to take that needed vacation whenever. You can work where you need –at home, in the library, at the coffee shop, at your cabin, or in your Caribbean cruise. You can also wear exactly what you would like, I prefer sweat pants and a T-shirt you may like your bath robe. Other huge benefits to a”earn money online” kind of job are that you don’t need to think about merchandise whether or not storage, supply, tech assistance, you name it. So this sounds great right? Oh. . .you think that the initial risk of quitting your job to generate money online is too large? Well then don’t quit your job! You are able to easily keep both a normal job and an online income at the exact same time and you’ll discover very soon that you don’t have anything to fear. So please do not wait, today is your chance to beat the mad rush and in the speed that makes you comfy. >>>>

  • FlamingoFresh

    The most effective way in silencing the opposition to a beneficial project is to present them with facts that disprove their false claims. If a person stands up and makes an emotional claim that is false and you don’t have any data to disprove it, even if it’s inherently wrong, there needs to be presentable data to silence them before it gets out of hand. CDOT did a good job anticipating the expected NIMBY claims and presented facts and data proving them wrong removing key talking points for being against the project.

  • Latoya Velazquez

    I ordinarily income close to 6,000-8,000 dollars each 4 weeks from the internet. Haven’t you understood that the future is in the internet arena whether is online marketing or simply working for companies that are based and employ online workers. If you do not do it now you may always regret it because sooner or later you will be force to make the switch but you won’t be in the driver’s chair any longer. What exactly are the advantages to having the ability to make money on the web? Well there are several. For one there is increased capacity to automate and therefore be working even while, you are sleeping. You also don’t need to work at the uncomfortable and typical work environment. You can work when you need and this includes more flexibility to take that needed vacation whenever. You can work where you want–at home, at the library, in the coffee shop, in your cabin, or in your Caribbean cruise. You might also wear what you want, I prefer sweat pants and a T-shirt you might like your bath robe. Other enormous advantages to a”make money online” kind of job are you don’t need to think about merchandise whether is be storage, supply, tech assistance, you name it. So this sounds good right? Oh. . .you think that the first risk of quitting your job to generate money on the internet is too large? Well then do not stop your job! You can easily maintain both a standard job and an internet income at the exact same time and you’ll discover very soon that you don’t have anything to fear. So please don’t wait, now is your chance to beat the mad rush and at the speed that makes you comfortable. ->->

  • Gary Chicago

    this includes maggie daley park and reconstruction of underground michigan ave parking
    just cost of Millennium park pitch was 150 mill with final cost of 450 , City loves to break projects up into “small numbers “

  • TheWordBird

    I am not a cyclist anymore. I used to ride a lot in the city but gave up after too many close calls and a night in the hospital.
    That being said, I am in full support of this project even though I have no plans to use the bike lanes. Traffic on Dickens is terrifying. I live at Dickens and Seminary and can attest that drivers use this street as a high-speed alternative to Webster or Armitage. I’ve been honked at for crossing the street too slowly and cursed at for telling someone to slow down.
    I’ve written Ald. Smith multiple times but have never gotten any resolution and never seen any police enforcement. I am in full support of a lower speed limit, narrower curbs, or anything else that will get people to slow down.

  • Common Sense

    I find it very disconcerting that people who are completely uninformed as to the programming and usage of Oz Park, including CDOT, would think that they are in a better position to assess the safety issues posed by a full time dedicated bike path through Oz Park. This is NOT NIMBY, this will pose an increased danger to children playing in the park, LPHS high school students who congregate on a daily basis on the sidewalk proposed for the path, the CHA senior residents who live next to the proposed path through Oz Park, people walking their dogs through the park, etc. Good luck getting a bunch of high school kids who already show little respect for authority to move away from the path. Their new favorite past time will be to block the path, which will no doubt cause at least verbal altercations with cyclists. I love bicycles and own several, and I would never go into someone else’s neighborhood and presume to know what will and will not work in their neighborhood park. And I certainly wouldn’t trust the bureaucracy of a city agency to figure this out. One speech with a bunch of skewed and unverified information and all of a sudden uninformed bicyclists think CDOT is amazing. But next week when CDOT tells you something you don’t like, you will be calling them worthless. As far as I can tell, the cyclists who support this measure going through Oz Park are putting their own agenda above that of the people who actually use Oz Park regularly. Why should children no longer be able to sled down the Oz Park hill? Why should parents have to be worried about their kids getting hit by cyclists when they are warming up for a baseball game? Why should senior citizens be terrified to walk on the Oz Park sidewalks once the number of cyclists in the park goes through the roof? Why should people now have to avoid this sidewalk while walking their dogs? Why should joggers who use the Oz Park jogging path every day have the path taken away because CDOT claims this is a “soft shoulder” to the sidewalk? Common sense has completely gone out the window. CDOT could have avoided all of this if they had only sought to discuss the potential path with groups like Lincoln Park High School, residents of the CHA senior housing next to the park, the Oz Park Advisory Council, the Oz Park Baseball Association and the Lincoln Central Association BEFORE making this proposal public. Now it has become a contentious issue because CDOT and Alderman Smith hid this agenda from the regular users of Oz Park. Had they consulted these groups from the beginning, perhaps they would have saved a lot of time and money and looked to make cycling improvements that don’t imperil regular users of an already very busy park. And there would be no fight where one is not warranted. I love my bikes and I love bike paths, but I would never put my desire for a bike path above the safety of others. And if those who support the path are truly concerned about children’s safety, they wouldn’t seek to push the agenda of their children biking more over the safety of other children who simply want to play baseball and roll down a hill or sled in Oz Park. It is wise to stay out of arguments that one knows nothing about. Those who don’t regularly use Oz Park and are unfamiliar with its programming should stay out of this one.

  • Gary Chicago

    show us a project that came at or under budget from it initial cost ? i gave examples ad you give your ideas