IDOT wants to strip parking for bike lanes. Merchants push back. Both sides are wrong.
In northwest suburban Park Ridge, hometown of Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford, elected officials and merchants are pushing back on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s proposal to strip some car parking from part of Busse Highway, a northwest-southeast diagonal that’s under IDOT jurisdiction, to make room for bike lanes. The stretch in question is a roughly 1,000-foot segment between Parkwood Avenue and Potter Road, shown in red on the map below. The south side of this segment is lined with businesses, while the north side is residential.
Red: contested area in Park Ridge; Green: proposed four-to-three conversion road diets with bike lanes; Pink: Des Plaines River Trail and planned side path on the north side of Oakton Avenue.
On the other hand, if Park Ridge leaders don’t want the parking removed, IDOT is asking the city to spend $300,000 to widen that stretch to make room for the bikeways and all four existing mixed-traffic lanes, and the officials are understandably balking on spending that money.
Moreover, it’s not clear why IDOT doesn’t just do a four-to-three conversion road diet with bike lanes on that segment, as is planned for the rest of Busse Highway north of Touhy Avenue. This involves converting the four-lane “stroad” to one travel lane in each direction, plus a turn lane.
Putting bike lanes on Busse makes lots of sense. As a diagonal street, it would be a useful bike commuting route, and it would make it safer and easier to access the Des Plaines River Trail, which exists as a popular crushed-limestone path north of Devon Avenue. (South of Devon it’s a dirt path, which gets pretty sloppy after a rainfall.)
The city of Des Plaines, located just northwest of Park Ridge, explained in a planning document why it supports doing the road diet on its stretch of Busse, not just for bike riders, but to improve safety for all road users:
Under current and projected conditions, a four-lane cross-section is not needed to accommodate the low motor vehicle volumes along Busse Highway. The wide cross-section and low volumes on roadways like this can contribute to higher speeds. These higher speeds, combined with the turning movements occurring from the through lanes, can contribute to higher crash rates. The current movement, when four-lane roadways like this come up for resurfacing or reconstruction, is to reallocate the roadway space to improve safety and better meet community needs.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune’s Jennifer Johnson, during an October 12 meeting, Park Ridge officials said they are opposed to IDOT’s current request to eliminate about 18 on-street parking spots on the stretch of Busse between Potter and Parkwood, or else widen the road.
Originally IDOT proposed keeping all four lanes on the Potter-to-Parkwood segment, as well as all the parking, and simply installing shared-lane markings, aka “sharrows,” bike-and-chevron pavement markings directing bicyclists and drivers to use the same travel lane. That would have little or no positive effect on bike safety.
However, a 10-foot-wide bike-pedestrian side path is currently planned for the north side of Oakton Avenue between Busse and Northwest highways, with design plans likely completed by June 2022, the Tribune reported. The new trail would basically link up to Busse at Parkwood, so IDOT now wants actual bike lanes, probably the buffered style shown in the road diet image above, on the Potter-to-Parkwood stretch. If Park Ridge doesn’t remove the parking spaces or widen the street, the department is threatening to scrap the entire Busse bikeway project.
“I can’t support taking away parking that is already limited in that area,” Park Ridge mayor Marty Maloney said during the discussion, according to the Tribune. “And I certainly wouldn’t support spending an additional $300,000 [to widen] a tiny stretch.”
Local business owners also argued that removing the parking spots would harm them. “Each of these small companies, including my own flooring business, have several employees and clients who come and go on a daily basis, so street parking is crucial,” said Ani Ursache, who owns a building at 1024-1034 Busse with multiple storefronts, the Tribune reported.
Brian Beaugureau, who owns a commercial and advertising photography and videography studio just south of Urasche’s building, argued that if the spaces are converted to bike lanes “there will be no place for customers to park. Without customers, you can’t have a business,” according to the Tribune.
Whether there really would be a parking crunch if those on-street spaces are removed is questionable, since literally every business and residential property on this stretch has an off-street parking lot. Judging from this aerial view of the strip, Ursache’s building has about 28 total spots. The Beaugureau Studios building appear to have about total 14 spaces.
But in the unlikely event that parking got tight, despite the dozens of existing spaces, possible strategies could include sharing spots between different properties, or allowing public parking on Parkwood at all times. Currently it’s permit-only from 8-10 a.m. on weekdays.
But a better solution than stripping parking on this part of Busse would be implementing the road diet, since doing so would calm traffic, so it’s unclear why that alternative isn’t on the table. An IDOT spokesperson hasn’t yet responded to my question on that, but I’ll update this post if I hear back.
Whatever happens, IDOT shouldn’t be allowed to cancel the whole Busse bike lane project if the the department doesn’t get its way on this issue. A short stretch of sharrows on the Potter-to-Parkway stretch, with a road diet on the rest of Busse north of Touhy, would be better than no bikeways at all. Fortunately, Mayor Maloney said he plans to lobby state politicians to put pressure on IDOT if it won’t follow through with building the Busse bike lanes.