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Eyes on the Street: The Dickens Slow Street is getting great use

5:23 PM CDT on July 10, 2020

Parents pushing babies and tots riding bikes in the roadway: good signs that a Slow Street is working as intended. Photo: John Greenfield

Due to the kind of Not In My Back Yard-style opposition that's common in the tony Lincoln Park neighborhood, the city of Chicago's proposal to build a permanent traffic-calmed "neighborhood greenway" bike route on Dickens Avenue has faced some stiff headwinds. Recently local alderman Michele Smith wisely decided to test the concept by letting the Chicago Department of Transportation roll out a temporary Slow Street (CDOT calls it a "Shared Street") on Dickens between Racine Avenue and Clark Street.

Photo: John Greenfield

On Slow Streets through traffic is banned to enable safe pedestrian activity and biking in the street, although parking, deliveries, pickups, and drop-offs are still allowed. Barricades, traffic barrels, and signs require motorists to slalom a bit, calming traffic, and remind them to yield to pedestrians.

Photo: John Greenfield

Much of the concern from neighbors about the neighborhood greenway was based on the notion that more bike traffic on Dickens would endanger pedestrians. That's even though permanent concrete infrastructure like raised crosswalks and curb extensions would slow down drivers and make crossing the street easier.

Photo: John Greenfield

There have also been complaints from residents about motorists continuing to use Slow Streets like Leland Avenue and the Bloomingdale Trail alternative route as cut-through, and driving at unsafe speeds. CDOT has addressed these issues by adding more barricades, barrels, and signs, which seems to have largely solved the problem.

Photo: John Greenfield

So on Dickens, the department opted to make the Slow Street super-safe from the get-go by saturating it with traffic calming, which seems to be working well. On the two evenings I stopped by this week, speeding and through traffic seemed to be non-issues.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

I did see lots of residents using the street as intended: strolling, pushing baby carriages, walking dogs, jogging, and cycling. And there were plenty of adorable kids riding scooters and bikes, an indicator species of a successful Slow Street.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

Unsurprisingly, though, some drivers have balked at having to change their habits. Smith recently emailed constituents to say that CDOT would be moving some of the traffic calming elements to make it easier to turn and park, and reduce the need to slalom. The good news is, a Streetsblog reader rode Dickens today and reports that it still feels very safe.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

My favorite element of the new Slow Street is a fun "Easter egg" CDOT included in the design. One of the most vocal opponents of the neighborhood greenway is a parks advocate who calls herself "The Witch of Oz Park," after the local L. Frank Baum-themed green space. She argued that because cyclists on Dickens would be directed to a multiuse path that runs through the park, pedestrians would be endangered.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

To help ease her concerns, for the Slow Street, CDOT created special yellow "Slow Down, Yield to Pedestrians" signs at the entrances to the path, geared towards cyclists. And as a shoutout to the lady, the sign features a witch on a broomstick, complete with a pandemic face mask.

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