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Courier proposes Neighborhood Greenway on Belle Plaine for ghost kitchen access

1:23 AM CDT on October 1, 2021

Belle Plaine and Western, looking east. Edler proposes adding a new, push-button-activated stoplight for east-west pedestrian and bike traffic. Image: Google Maps

Update 10/2/21, 2:45 PM: Marc Edler told Streetsblog Chicago he met on Friday with Josh Mark, 47th Ward alderman Matt Martin's director of development and infrastructure, to discuss his idea for the Belle Plaine Greenway. "The biggest takeaway from the meeting was that the Belle Plaine is too narrow between Rockwell and Western for a contraflow lane," Edler said. "My only thought would be to get rid of a lane of parking to make room. I know that would potentially be a tough ask of the city." However, Edler noted that there is a precedents for side streets with contraflow bike lanes that only have car parking on one side of the street, like this example from Minneapolis

A contraflow bike lane on a narrow street in Minneapolis, with parking on only one side of the street. Image: City of Minneapolis
A contraflow bike lane on a narrow street in Minneapolis, with parking on only one side of the street. Image: City of Minneapolis

Earlier in the year I wrote about the benefits of switching food delivery from cars to bikes in response to traffic woes associated with CloudKitchens, a commercial "ghost kitchen" for delivery- and pickup-only restaurants, located at 4131 N. Rockwell Ave. The establishment has since changed its name to Rockwell Food Center.

Recently food delivery biker Marc Edler contacted Streetsblog Chicago about the hazards of accessing the ghost kitchen on his bicycle, which inspired him to write up a proposal for a new Neighborhood Greenway on Belle Plaine Avenue (4100 N.)

The entrance to the Rockwell Food Center. Photo: Marc Edler
The entrance to the Rockwell Food Center. Photo: Marc Edler

Edler said he briefly spoke with a person directing traffic at the food center who remarked that the area was dangerous for people biking given that many of the drivers pull out suddenly onto Rockwell after picking up orders, often while looking at their phones to plan their next move. According to the courier, this sketchy situation and the lack of a bike-friendly eastbound bike route from Rockwell (2600 W.)  forces cyclists on the sidewalk which creates conflict with pedestrians.

Street layout near the Rockwell food center. Image: Google Maps
Street layout near the Rockwell food center. Click to enlage. Image: Google Maps

Here's an outline of the current street situation. The segment of Rockwell between Irving Park Road (4000 N.) and Berteau Avenue  (4200 N.) is two-way. Irving Park is a bike-hostile five-lane street. Berteau is a Neighborhood Greenway route, including stretches of contraflow bike lane to enable two-way cycling, between Lincoln Avenue (2100 W.) and Clark Street (1400 W.)

Berteau is a good westbound bike route to the ghost kitchen, with a stoplight at Western Avenue (2400 W.) to allow for safe crossing of Western, another five-laner. But it doesn't work as an eastbound cycling route from Rockwell because it's one-way westbound between Rockwell and Lincoln. There's no eastbound contraflow bike lane on that stretch, because the Chicago Department of Transportation deemed it too narrow for that kind of facility.

As it stands, Belle Plaine isn't useful for getting to or from the food center. Between Rockwell and Western it's one-way westbound, but east of Western it switches to one-way eastbound. Moreover, there's no stoplight at Belle Plaine / Western to enable safe crossing of Western.

Edler's proposal. for a contraflow eastbound bike lane on Belle Plaine.
Edler's proposal. for a contraflow eastbound bike lane on Belle Plaine. Image: Marc Edler

Edler proposes adding a bike lanes on Rockwell, which might raise driver awareness of bike riders. Then he calls for an eastbound contraflow lane on Belle Plaine between Rockwell and Western. A westbound contraflow lane could also be added on Belle Plaine between Western and Northcenter Town Square plaza, located between Lincoln and Damen Avenue (2000 W.) Or else we could just assume that westbound riders would take Berteau, so Belle Plaine and Berteau would form a couplet of Neighborhood Greenways, similar to the the Roscoe Avenue (3400 N., predominantly westbound) and School Street (3300 N., mostly eastbound) greenways in Lakeview.

The next necessary component would be a bit of a heavy lift: a new stoplight for bike and pedestrian traffic at Belle Plaine / Western. Given that Western is an Illinois Department of Transportation-controlled road, and IDOT has historically been loathe to make and street changes that would slightly inconvenience drivers, convincing them to sign off on a regular signal might be challenging.

To make the stoplight more palatable to IDOT by reducing the chance of drivers being delayed, Edler proposes making the new stoplight push-button activated so that it would only turn red for traffic on Western when a cyclist or pedestrian on Belle Plaine presses the button. The intersection is located next to the North Center Senior Village and there's already a pedestrian island in the middle of the south leg of the junction – see the photo at the top of this post. That means that it's currently possible for people biking to cross Western on bike relatively safely here by walking their bikes or riding in the south crosswalk via the island. But a signal would make it much safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Edler notes that the new Belle Plaine Greenway would encourage more people to bicycle to Northcenter Town Square, so it would make sense  to install additional bike parking.

Given the pro-sustainable transportation reputation 47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin has earned, perhaps the Belle Plaine greenway will wind up as an option in the next 47th Ward participatory budget election. 47th ward residents recently voted to spend $64,000 in ward infrastructure funds for a short stretch of contraflow bike lane on Sunnyside Avenue (4500 N.) between Lincoln and Western in the most recent PB election, among other walking and biking upgrades.

Granted, the 47th ward has existing or planned east-west bikeways on Berteau (4200 N.), Montrose Avenue (4400 N.), Sunnyside (4500 N.), Wilson Avenue (4600 N.), Leland Avenue (4700 N.), and Lawrence Avenue (4800 N.), so some might argue that the Belle Plaine Greenway (4100 N.) would be overkill. But seeing as how every Chicago street is designed with the needs of motorists in mind, I say another calm, connected bike route is a great idea.

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