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Riverdale leader Deloris Lucas: We’re disappointed about Divvy, hopeful about bikeways

Deloris Lucas. Photo: WKYR

At last week's Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that Divvy's citywide expansion will begin on the Far South Side in communities like Roseland, Washington Heights, and Beverly. This was despite the fact that the bike group We Keep You Rollin', based in the Riverdale community area, had strongly advocated for beginning the expansion that area, which includes the Altgeld Gardens housing project and enclaves like Golden Gate.

On the other hand, CDOT announced that it is planning to build a whole network of bike lanes and side paths in or near Riverdale, which is currently a bikeway desert. This would include bike lanes connecting the community with the Major Taylor Trail, a few miles west. Most importantly, CDOT is proposing a sidepath on the south side of highway-like 130th Street, the northern border of Altgeld and Golden Gate, which would double as a walking route on a corridor that lacks sidewalks.

Proposed Riverdale bike lanes.
Proposed Riverdale-area bike lanes.
Proposed Riverdale bike lanes.

At last week's meeting, WKYR leader Deloris Lucas was largely silent on the Divvy issue. However, she did let out a groan when a CDOT staffer mentioned that there hasn't been any progress yet in getting bikeways installed on Illinois Department of Transportation-controlled street, including 130th, Indiana Avenue, and 127th Street.

I checked in with Lucas this week to get more of her perspective on these announcements.  She said she's "not satisfied" with the Divvy situation, but acknowledged that CDOT probably decided not to launch the Divvy expansion, which included electrical-assist cycles, in Riverdale because the community currently lacks safe biking infrastructure. She conceded that it would probably be a bad idea to encourage people to ride the e-bikes on high-speed, five-lane 130th. "I'm sure that was a factor in why they didn't start out with us... they almost did us a favor by not bringing Divvy, because it's clearly not safe [yet.]"

130th Street near Altgeld Gardens. Image: Google Maps
130th Street near Altgeld Gardens. Image: Google Maps
130th Street near Altgeld Gardens. Image: Google Maps

However, Lucas argued that when it comes to resources like Divvy stations and bikeways, "they should go to the areas that currently have the least."

While Lucas said she was somewhat surprised by the decision not to include Riverdale in the first round of expansion, she is pleased with how CDOT is collecting input from residents to help determine where stations should go. This includes neighborhood bike tours Divvy cohosted on the South Side, community roundtables, and the “Suggest a Location” tool on Divvy’s website.

WKYR received one of 15 grants that Lyft, the Divvy concessionaire, is providing to community organizations, totaling $100K, for assistance in promoting Divvy use in low to moderate-income communities. "We are part of the collaborative to help Divvy use grow, in a fair manner," Lucas said. "We're trying to get as many people as possible enrolled in Divvy for Everyone [the $5 membership program.]" She said the funding (a "small" grant) for her group helped soften the blow of not immediately getting stations for Riverdale.

As for CDOT's Riverdale-area bikeway plan, Lucas said the MBAC meeting was the first she had heard about it, although the CDOT proposal drew on recommendations that Lucas and other local advocates made for the recent Riverdale Community Area Multimodal Transportation Plan. At last week's meeting she asked why the bikeway proposal doesn't include a protected bike lane heading south on Indiana Avenue from the Riverdale community area to the Cal-Sag Trail corridor.

A section of the Cal-Sag Trail exists (green line) just south of Chicago's Riverdale community area (not to be confused with the suburb of Riverdale), west of Indiana Avenue. the section of trail east of Indiana Avenue (blue line) is currently under construction. Map: Friedns of the
A section of the Cal-Sag Trail exists (green line) just southwest of Chicago's Riverdale community area (not to be confused with the suburb of Riverdale), west of Indiana Avenue. The section of trail east of Indiana Avenue (blue line) is currently under construction. Map: Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail
A section of the Cal-Sag Trail exists (green line) just south of Chicago's Riverdale community area (not to be confused with the suburb of Riverdale), west of Indiana Avenue. the section of trail east of Indiana Avenue (blue line) is currently under construction. Map: Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail

CDOT staffer Dave Smith responded at the meeting that the department is considering the Cal-Sag connection as a possible future project. Lucas told me she feel the Cal-Sag connection should be a top priority. "I'm not talking about ten miles of protected lanes but a short portion, less than a mile." Overall, however, she said that she's pleased that years of advocacy by Riverdale bike advocates like herself is paying off with the promise of several new bike lanes and the 130th Street side path.

Lucas noted that the current lack of bikeways is just one of the infrastructure challenges faced by the Riverdale community area, which has many gaps in its sidewalk network. Existing sidewalks are often poorly maintained and obstructed by weeds, brush, overgrown tree branches, litter, and fly dumping. She cited the sidewalk under the 130th/Indiana Metra viaduct as a problem spot.

The 130th and Indiana Metra viaduct. Image: Google Maps
The 130th and Indiana Metra viaduct. Image: Google Maps
The 130th and Indiana Metra viaduct. Image: Google Maps

Lucas said that it's particularly ironic that the section of 130th in Riverdale is currently so hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, because it's named for the late environmental justice activist Hazel M. Johnson.

While she waits for the Divvy system to expand to Riverdale, Lucas said she would be interested in having the bike-share company or another sponsor provide e-bikes that could be used for WKYR's guided community bike rides and environmental tours. The group still has a dozen or so non-electric cycles that the dockless bike-share company Ofo donated about two years ago, which WKYR uses as loaners for group rides.

While Lucas is a little frustrated by the relatively slow pace of bike-share Divvy and bikeways to Riverdale so far, she said she's optimistic that things will speed up soon. "There's no better time than now as we roll out Divvy and new bike lanes under the new mayor."

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