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47th Ward: Community outreach will help prevent backlash to Leland Greenway extension

6:58 PM CDT on September 4, 2019

A cyclist rides on Leland Avenue near Artesian Street in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield

There will be a community meeting on the 47th Ward Leland Greenway proposal on Tuesday, September 24, 6-8 p.m. at DANK Haus German American Cultural Center, 4740 North Western Avenue.

Most of the Not In My Back Yard arguments against building the Dickens Avenue neighborhood greenway in Lincoln Park, such as the claim that lowering the speed limit; adding pedestrian safety infrastructure and speed bumps; and encouraging more cycling on the street will make Dickens more dangerous, are off-base. But there may be a kernel of truth to some residents' claims that the city didn't do enough outreach to neighbors before holding the first community meeting on the project, which would help explain why that hearing was so contentious (although supporters showed up in force to a recent hearing.)

Fortunately, it looks like the the extension of the existing Leland Avenue neighborhood greenway west into Lincoln Square community area is going to involve much less drama, partly thanks to extensive community outreach by the 47th Ward office and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The existing Leland greenway runs through Uptown in the 46th Ward between Clark Street and the lakefront, a block north of Wilson Avenue, which is also bikeable, but has too much traffic to be comfortable for less-confident bike riders. It includes route signs, pavement markings, speed humps, and a nicely landscaped bike path through the Uplift Community High School campus.

The bike path though Uplift High. Photo: John Greenfield
The bike path though Uplift High. Photo: John Greenfield

"The Leland Greenway is working out really well," 46th Ward chief of staff Tressa Faher said today. "More and more bike riders are using Leland instead of Wilson, especially people who wouldn't feel comfortable riding on a busy street." She added that the ward office is excited about the idea of extending the Leland rout west into Lincoln Square. "That was our hope all along."

As it stands, Leland is already an excellent low-stress eastbound all the way from the Chicago River, about 2900 West, and the adjacent North Shore Channel Trail. Motorized traffic is very light, and there are stoplights at all major street crossings. However, there are one-way eastbound stretches between Clark Street and Damen Avenue, and Western Avenue and the river.

The proposed Leland Greenway extension would add contraflow bike lanes on these one-way segments to legalize two-way cycling, making it possible to bike all the way between the Lakefront Trail and Skokie on off-street paths and low-stress routes. (The city should also prioritize creating a signed side-street route between the North Shore Channel Trail and the southern terminus of the North Branch Trail at Foster and Kostner avenues, but that's a topic for another day.)

The Leland Greenway extension project may also include curb bump-outs to shorten pedestrian crossing distances, speed humps, and other traffic calming devices. CDOT will provide more specifics at the September 24 community meeting at DANK Haus, according to Josh Mark, director of development and infrastructure for the 47th Ward.

Mark said CDOT and the ward office have already done a fair amount of outreach about the Leland Greenway extension to community organizations. While he said this strategy wasn't a direct response to the Dickens controversy, he added "We've been doing some very intentional communication to avoid misconceptions about what a neighborhood greenway is. We don't want people to get the impression that we're forcing something on them." He added that it helps that Lincoln Square is already a bike-friendly community with plenty of local cycling advocates.

The proposed Leland Greenway route through Lincoln Square. Image: CDOT
The proposed Leland Greenway route through Lincoln Square. Image: CDOT

The ward has met with representatives of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Rockwell Organization, the Heart of Lincoln Square Neighbors Association, and the Ravenswood Neighbors Association. The chamber held an online survey to ask residents how they use Leland and what improvements they would like to see, which garnered many dozens of responses. CDOT met with GRO yesterday and may meet with other groups soon.

"The most exciting thing about this project is that the plans are being developed in concert with residents," Mark said. "We've been making sure to include these organizations from the start so that they can provide input about what would be most useful."

HOLS even invited neighbors to walk the greenway route about a month ago to discuss possible improvements, drawing a couple dozen participants. "That was really cool -- it was very much active participation," Mark said. The ward forwarded the residents' comments to CDOT.

The most important potential collaboration between the neighborhood groups and the transportation department could be signing agreements to maintain plantings on the sidewalk bump-outs, Mark said. "The neighbors have shown interest in doing this."

CDOT's rendering of the project doesn't make it clear what will happen at the west end of the greenway, showing dashed lines connecting to an existing neighborhood greenway on Manor Avenue via Wilson, as well as to busier Lawrence Avenue via Rockwell. (Currently, if you're coming from west of the river on Lawrence, Virginia Avenue, located just east of the waterway, is a good way to head south to Leland.)

Mark says this aspect of the plan was intentionally left open-ended so that residents could provide input at the meeting. "I like the idea of directing cyclists to Rockwell, to highlight the hidden gem of the Rockwell business corridor" by the local Brown Line station, he said.

47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin, far right, listens to a presentation by a community gardener at a Ward bike ride on August 2. Photo: John Greenfield
47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin, far right, listens to a presentation by a community gardener at a Ward bike ride on August 2. Photo: John Greenfield

Mark added that the Leland Greenway extension is part and parcel of recently elected 47th Ward alderman Matt Martin's transportation strategy, which emphasizes better biking, walking, and transit access. He pointed to recent projects to install new dashed bike lanes in the ward on Clark from Lawrence to Foster Avenue, as well as to refresh existing bikeways on Berteau Street and Lincoln Avenue with new pavement and/or paint.

In addition to the September 24 greenway hearing, the 47 Ward will also be hosting a bike safety awareness event on Tuesday, September 17, at 6 p.m. at the Roscoe Village Pub, 2159 West Roscoe. The gathering will include presentations by CDOT's Bicycling Ambassadors and Christina Whitehouse from Bike Lane Uprising, a website for documenting bikeway obstructions, including tips for drivers on how to safely share the road with bikes.

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