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Wood Street isn’t a high-crash corridor, but it would still benefit from protected lanes

Wood Street near Iowa Street. Image: Google Street View

The controversy over the plan for protected bike lanes on Wood Street in the 1st Ward rages on.

In January, ward residents voted in the local participatory budgeting election to fund the conversion of the mile-long stretch of Wood Street between Grand Avenue and Ellen Street to one-way northbound to make room for a two-way protected bike lane, at an estimated cost of $325,000. The project received 67 votes. Wood has been a bike-priority Neighborhood Greenway route since 2014.

Many Streetsblog readers were stoked about the plan. Sample comments:

    • “100% support this and many more like them. Chicago needs as many high quality hard-protected bike lanes as it can get – it’s life-threateningly scary to bike most Chicago streets today.”
    • “Yes please!”
    • “Sounds great!”
    • “Great! Do it yesterday!”
    • “Yes! More low stress bike lanes and routes!”
    • “I take Paulina south every day to go to work so this would make my commute infinitely safer.”

Neighbors also expressed support for the project at a Wicker Park Committee meeting earlier this month. “Even though [Wood] is a greenway, even though that is designated by the city of Chicago as a bikeway, you get squeezed out all the time, and cars get frustrated, they try to pass and then there’s another oncoming car, and they’ll get really close to you,” Jordon Novak said, according to a Block Club Chicago report.

However, other residents have pushed back against the project, complaining that they didn't hear about the election, and arguing that converting Wood to one-way will make driving somewhat less convenient. However, 1st Ward alderman Daniel LaSpata said he's moving forward with the plan, noting that it would be undemocratic to overturn the results of the PB election.

In late January Ben Clauss, the owner of a salon at 1821 W. Hubbard St, a block south of the affected corridor, posted flyers along Wood reading “Keep Wood a Two-Way Street.” He proposed moving the protected lane a block west to Wolcott Avenue, although that would require installing stoplights at Grand Avenue and Wolcott, which could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project cost.

Clauss recently launched a petition against the Wood Street plan, which has garnered more than 340 signatures. Granted, some of the signatures have been obviously fake, as you can see below.

Clauss commented on last week's Streetsblog article on the project, noting that as it stands Wood is not a particularly dangerous street to ride a bike on. "I'm not sure how much safer the Wood Street project would be [after the protected lane is installed. The data from [the Illinois Department of Transportation] indicates that there were four to five [crashes] on that stretch all were automobile-related, and two involve Grand and Wood with its mis-timed light. So if the target is zero bicycle [crashes] it has already been achieved and the [Neighborhood Greenway is] working as intended."

It's not clear which timeframe Clauss was talking about, but Streetsblog's analysis of IDOT crash data between 8/22/15 and 2/12/22 did find five bike crash cases on Wood between Grand and Ellen, including four at Chicago Avenue and one at Division Street. Three of the cases involved "non-incapacitating" injuries (visible injuries that didn't require hospitalization), and one involved a "reported, not evident" injury (in which the person claims they have been injured, although there's no visible evidence of that.)

Bike crashes on Wood between Grand and Ellen from 8/22/15 to 2/12/22. Image: Steven Vance
Bike crashes on Wood between Grand and Ellen from 8/22/15 to 2/12/22. Yellow dots are non-incapacitating injury crashes, white dot is a "reported, not evident" injury, and blue dot is no indication of injury. Image: Steven Vance
Bike crashes on Wood between Grand and Ellen from 8/22/15 to 2/12/22. Image: Steven Vance

Looking at all types of crashes along this segment of Wood Street during this period, including pedestrian, bike, and motorist cases, there were dozens of non-injury crashes, and a handful of non-incapacitating injury crashes.

All crashes along the Wood Street corridor between 8/22/15 and 2/12/22. Image: Steven Vance
All crashes (pedestrian, bike, and motorist) along the Wood Street corridor between 8/22/15 and 2/12/22. Yellow dots are non-incapacitating injury crashes, white dot is a "reported, not evident" injury, and blue dots are cases with no indication of injury. Image: Steven Vance
All crashes along the Wood Street corridor between 8/22/15 and 2/12/22. Image: Steven Vance

So it's not the case that there have been zero bike crashes on the Wood Street corridor in recent years. However, Clauss is correct that there hasn't been a bloodbath going on there either.

Still, the purpose of the protected bike lane project isn't to make a deadly street less so. Rather, it's to make people who currently ride on Wood, but believe the layout is too tight for cyclists to share the road with two-way car traffic, feel more comfortable. And another key reason is to create an appealing layout for people who might be interested biking on Wood, but wouldn't ride there without physical protection from drivers. As I've written before, these "interested-but-concerned" folks, including many seniors and families with young children, are the most important demographic to consider when planning bikeways.

And while Wood currently isn't particularly dangerous for any road users, making it one-way only and narrowing the roadway for drivers will should help reduce the number of non-injury fender-bender crashes, making the project a win-win.

So, yes, installing the Wood Street two-way protected bike lane isn't necessarily a matter of life or death. But it would make the corridor more comfortable for current and potential bike riders, as well as making it less crash-prone and more tranquil for everyone else, so those are valid reasons to move forward with the plan 1st Ward residents voted for.

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