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Lots of walk/bike improvements are on deck for the 47th Ward this year

A westbound cyclist on Sunnyside Avenue waits to cross Western Avenue. A new westbound contraflow bike lane will legalize westbound riding on the one-way eastbound strech of Sunnyside east of Western. Image: Google Maps.

Ever since he took office two years ago, 47th Ward alderman Matt Martin has proved himself to be one of the most proactive Chicago City Council members when it comes to traffic safety, sustainable transportation, and affordable housing. Martin's district includes parts of Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, North Center, Lakeview, and Uptown.

According to Josh Mark, the ward's director of development and infrastructure, Martin has allocated almost a million dollars in the district's discretionary "menu" funds on pedestrian and bike safety improvements. Mark briefed Streetsblog on several Complete Streets initiatives that are on the docket for this year.

Bumpouts on Wilson Avenue

At Wilson and Virginia avenues, just east of the Chicago River, the Chicago Department of Transportation will be installing detached concrete bump-outs to shorten the pedestrian crossing distance on the east leg of the T-shaped intersection, and striping a new crosswalk.

Bump-outs at Leland and Virginia.

At Wilson and Leavitt Street, which Mark called a "weirdly wide," skewed intersection, detached concrete bump-outs will be added to the east and west legs of the junction.

Bump-outs at Wilson and Leavitt.

Pedestrian upgrades on Lincoln Avenue

CDOT is installing paint-and-post bump-outs at Wilson and Lincoln, north of the Old Town School of Folk Music. "This location has seen a lot of crashes, and it's right where the business district starts to get pedestrian-heavy" north of Wilson, Mark said. The project has been delayed somewhat by utility work.

Two new crosswalks are planned nearby. The two Old Town School buildings on opposite sides of Lincoln see a fair amount of mid-block foot traffic between them, so to make that crossing safer, CDOT will be striping a new mid-block crossing. The department has already built wheelchair curb cuts and an attached concrete bump-out at this location. (CDOT doesn't do detached bump-outs, which are better for drainage, on main streets.) "Stop for Pedestrians" signs will be installed in the middle of the street, but Mark acknowledged that it probably won't take long for drivers to destroy them.

Half a block north of Wilson at the south intersection of Eastwood and Lincoln Avenues (Eastwood jogs here, so it has two junctions with Lincoln), near the Davis Theater and various shops, restaurants and bars, CDOT will be installing a new crosswalk at the south leg.

Leland Slow Street and Neighborhood Greenway

Last year Chicago's first Slow Street (the city calls them "Shared Streets") debuted on Leland Avenue in the 47th Ward, eventually expanding to connect the River with Sheridan Road in the 46th Ward. On Slow Streets, through traffic is banned and local traffic is calmed with barricades and traffic barrels. Last year in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a major incentive of the program was to make it safe to walk and jog in the street, enabling social distancing. But even now that over 60 percent of Illinoisans have received at least one vaccine shot, and new research suggests that less than one percent of coronavirus transmission has taken place outdoors, Slow Streets are still a great strategy to enable safe walking and biking.

This year Leland was supposed to get a permanent "Neighborhood Greenway" treatment between Clark and the river in the 47th Ward (it's already designated as a greenway east of Clark), including contraflow bike lanes on one-way segments of the street to legalize two-way cycling. The project will also include bump-outs and bike-friendly speed humps.

The Leland project area. Image: CDOT
The Leland project area. Image: CDOT
The Leland project area. Image: CDOT

However, the fact that the Leland Slow Street is slated to return next Thursday raises questions about whether the greenway construction is actually going to take place this year. Mark declined to discuss the topic, referring me to CDOT, and department spokesperson Mike Claffey didn't know the status of the project offhand. We should have an update next week.

For starters, the Slow Street will only be coming back to Leland between Lincoln and Sheffield. "East of Lincoln people really liked it last year and wanted it to come back," Mark said, but it hasn't been determined whether it will be extended to the river again.

Protected bike lane on Roscoe and Campbell avenues

As it stands there are buffered bike lanes on the curving segment of Roscoe and Campbell avenues connecting Belmont and Western avenues, which provides a connection Roscoe Village and the Belmont river bridge. The route is also near Lane Tech and DePaul College Prep high schools, Clark Park, and The Garden bike jumps.

Since the corridor is flanked by surface parking lots, the curbside parking is virtually unused, so CDOT is taking advantage of that to upgrade the bikeway with a combination of flexible plastic post and concrete curb protection. As part of the project the street, which is currently is terrible condition, will be repaved.

Mark said that ward staff recently counted cyclists on Campbell for five hours on a Saturday afternoon and observed 317 people biking, or a cyclist less than every minute.

Participatory budgeting projects

This year Martin held a participatory budgeting election, allowing constituents to vote on how $250,000 in ward menu money should be spent. Residents opted to allocate $64,000 for a contraflow bike lane on the short stretch of Sunnyside Avenue between Lincoln and Western, next to Welles Park, plus detached concrete bump-outs at Sunnyside and Oakley Avenue, where park staffers report stop sign running by drivers is a problem.

Sunnyside is already a handy low-stress eastbound corridor between the soon-to-be-completed 312 RiverRun trail network (located between Belmont and Montrose avenues along the river) and Ashland Avenue, since all the major street crossings have stoplights or four-way stop signs. The new contraflow segment will make it work westbound as well. As part of the project, CDOT will be installing a dedicated bike stoplight at Sunnyside/Western for westbound bike traffic.

Sunnyside is a handy eastbound route, and the contraflow segment will make it work westbound as well. Image: Google Maps
Sunnyside is a handy eastbound route, and the contraflow segment will make it work westbound as well. (From Sunnyside, westbound cyclists can head south on Rockwell Street, west on Montrose Avenue, and cross Montrose at Manor Avenue, where there's a pedestrian island, to access Horner Park and the 312 RiverRun trail network. Image: Google Maps
Sunnyside is a handy eastbound route, and the contraflow segment will make it work westbound as well. Image: Google Maps

Sunnyside would be a good bike route almost all the way to the Lakefront, except that its crossing with five-lane Ashland Avenue is unsignalized, and therefore unsafe for people walking and biking to cross. Mark said the ward is looking into whether it might be possible to install a pedestrian island at the intersection, perhaps by eliminating one of the turning pockets for drivers.

$50,000 in menu money was also allocated for attached curb extensions at Belle Plaine and Damen Avenues, by the new Northcenter Town Square Plaza. Another $50K was earmarked for attached bump-outs at Ainslie and Ashland avenues, next to the Bethany Retirement Community.

So, as you can see, even if the Leland Greenway doesn't get built, it's going to be a busy year for bike and pedestrian projects in the 47th Ward.

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