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Big turnout in support of upcoming Grand Ave. protected bike lanes at West Town meeting

Dozens of people showed up to voice their support for planned protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue in West Avenue at an open house Wednesday night.

Dozens of residents showed up for the open house at Smith Park. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Dozens of people showed up to voice their support for planned protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue in West Avenue at an open house Wednesday night. The discussion of the Grand Avenue Complete Streets project was hosted by the Chicago Department of Transportation and Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) in Smith Park. The initiative also includes wider sidewalks, raised crosswalks, pedestrian countdown signals, and improved CTA bus stops – read more here.

The project area. Image: CDOT

The upcoming upgrades to Grand are planned between Chicago Avenue (800 N., about 2900 W.) and Ogden Avenue (500 N., about 1300 W.) Meeting attendees were able to learn more the Grand plan by perusing a large map of the project spread across multiple tables. The attendees were also invited to write down feedback on sticky notes and place them on the map. 

"So, this is an area that I picked up during the redistricting," said Villegas. He was alluding to the fact that, due to this year's ward remap stuck with a long, skinny district basically shaped like a teaspoon, largely made up of land near Grand.

Scanning the map. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"I officially took over this area on May 15, and prior to [me] picking up this portion of the ward, CDOT had been planning to make some improvements along Grand Avenue," He added. "I had asked them to make sure that they incorporated the community's business input, so that way we can make as good a plan as possible."

After an early meeting that introduced the Grand proposal to the public, the most recent follow-up meeting was held on January 28. Villegas said that after about 30 days of constant back and forth between business, the community, and CDOT, the January meeting featured tweaks to what was originally introduced.

Checking out the bike map. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"We're working real closely with a lot of community folks," explained CDOT Complete Streets program manager David Smith to Streetsblog. "In the cycling strategy we highlight a program that we call Neighborhood Bike Networks, where we partner with a wide variety of community stakeholders, people who are working on a range of issues like public health, youth engagement, access to employment, economic development." He said that approach helped "connect the dots between cycling and creating great communities."

While Chicago's curb-protected bike lanes have been found to have a dramatic impact on reducing crashes, there's usually some opposition to project like the Grand plan that involve converting some street parking spots to curbside bike lanes. That's despite the fact that CDOT generally only uses that strategy on corridors with relatively low parking levels, which is the case with most of this section of Grand.

Only a small section of this stretch of Grand has heavy parking use. Image: CDOT

Douglass Van Tress, owner of The Golden Triangle home furnishing store at 2035 W. Grand Ave., located in an area where less than half of the on-street parking spaces are used on average, said he "mostly" liked the plan. He said was concerned about how converting some of the nearby parking spaces and installing protected curbs might affect seniors and people with injuries. On the other hand, he said CDOT "overshot" somewhat with its plan to lower the speed limit to 20 on Grand, which potentially deadly driving speeds are common.

Villegas said that there should be one more final meeting on the project. According to the Alderman, the hope is that they would be able to address as many concerns as possible. But hopefully CDOT won't water down its plan in a way that makes pedestrians and bicyclists less safe in order to satisfy drivers.

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