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Why doesn’t the 111th Street streetscape improvement project include bike improvements?

The two-lane street across the Mt. Greenwood community is designated as a "Bicycle-friendly route" by Google Maps, but the new project doesn't include any bike upgrades.

Some of the community leaders holding shovels at the groundbreaking, from left to right: state representative Mary Gill, Mount Greenwood Community and Business Association directorJamie Berten, unidentified person, Chicago’s Beauty Boutique owner Sabrina Barksdale, Ald. O’Shea, and Commissioner Biagi. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Last week was notable for advancing initiatives to improve Chicago bicycle safety as part of larger street improvement projects. On Monday, June 26 the Chicago Department of Transportation said at an open house that it's moving forward with plans for curb-protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park-Bucktown in the 32nd Ward in conjunction with a resurfacing plan. And at a community meeting on Wednesday, July 28, CDOT provided info about protected lanes that will be built in Grand Avenue in West Town in the 36th Ward as part of a project that also includes upgrades for pedestrians and bus riders.

The stretch of 111th between Homan and Sacramento that is being streetscaped is designated as a "Bicycle-friendly route" on Google Maps.

That Tuesday, June 27, CDOT and Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) also hosted a groundbreaking for a streetscape improvement on a half mile of 111th Streets between Homan (3400 W.) and Sacramento (3000 W.) avenues in Mount Greenwood. According to CDOT, that project will include widening sidewalks, building ADA ramps, upgraded crosswalks, new lighting, new trees, and street repaving. But while this stretch of 111th is a popular retail street with two travel lanes and is designated as a "Bicycle-friendly route" on Google Maps, it has no bike facilities. Unlike the other streets, 111th isn't getting any bike lanes as part of its CDOT project, let alone protected ones. But before we go further into that issue, let's take a closer look at what is happening on 111th.

Tuesday's groundbreaking held at La Fiesta Restaurant, 3333 W. 111th St., near 111th and Christiana. CDOT commissioner Gia Biagi, Ald. O'Shea, and other city, state, and business leaders gathered to give a few statements about the project.

This stretch of 111th Street has plenty of room for bike lanes. So why aren't any being added as part of the streetscape? Image: Google Maps

This is actually the second section of a multi-phase plan. A quarter-mile stretch of 111th between Central Park and Homan avenues with the same two-lane layout received similar upgrades, and no bikeways, a few years ago. The current phase, which started on May 10, will cost about $8 million, with construction funded by the state of Illinois. It's slated for completion early next year.

The state representative who raised the state money for the project is Mary Gill, who served as the executive director of the Mt. Greenwood Community and Business Association for ten years before becoming the state representative of the 35th District in late March. Gill said that the project "will help keep the businesses that are here and attract new businesses, and this is an uplift that Mt. Greenwood really needs."

Gill said she's enthusiastic about the second phase of the project. "I am so excited to see this project through to Sacramento. I think this project will help keep the businesses that are here and attract new businesses. This is an uplift that Mt. Greenwood really needs."

Jamie Berten, who replaced Gill as head of the MGCBA, said that despite the short-term inconveniences that construction brings, local businesses are looking forward to the "facelift" of the strip.

That sentiment was echoed by Sabrina Barksdale, the owner of Chicago's Beauty Boutique. "As business owners, we are absolutely ecstatic about the economic development that's taking place." This is great for the community. It's also great for the residents," said Barksdale."

"I've always said that if you invest in the street and you invest in the community, businesses are going to want to come here," said O'Shea.

While that may be true, as alderman of the ward, one aspect of this street O'Shea has not chosen to invest in is making it a safer to bike on. That's despite the fact that 111th is one of the few east-west routes that crosses the three-mile-long series of cemeteries and recreation spaces that runs between 103rd and 127th streets.

The east end of the streetscape at 111th and Sacrament is a 2.5-mile bike ride from the Major Taylor Trail, shown in green. Image: Google Maps

It's also worth noting that it's only a 2.5-mile bike ride east from the streetscape to the Major Taylor Trail, mostly in the 19th Ward, but there are no bikeway markings on that part of 111th. Directly east of the trail, outside of O'Shea's district, 111th is marked as a bikeway for the next two miles to Cottage Grove Avenue.

One of O'Shea's constituents told Streetsblog there's a reason there are few bike lanes in his ward, and zero in Mount Greenwood. "The 19th ward office doesn't understand that bikes are good for business," they said. "Most of the local business district associations don't get it either, with the exception of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association, which includes many of the businesses on Western and 99th St and has been seeking community input and working on ideas to make the area more bike- and pedestrian-friendly."

Matt O'Shea. Photo: Twitter

The 19th Ward resident said that in the early 2010s as part of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 citywide bike planning project, some neighbors proposed that that 111th have bike lanes from Whipple Street to Talman Avenue. That's basically the next half mile east of the streetscape. "That would have allowed for safer passage between Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood. O'Shea was dead-set against that, having told CDOT during a 2012 hearing, 'If you never put a bike lane in my ward, that's too soon.'" The alderman changed his tune somewhat in recent years, when constituents asked that Divvy bike-share be expanded to include his ward, and he voiced support for the project.

Still, the constituent said, "What I've seen of the 111th Street streetscape plan suggests that they're trying to improve vehicle traffic flow, presumably with no consideration for bikes."

It's a shame to hear that while street projects in North and Northwest Side wards will conditions safer for all road users, this one on the Southwest Side shows no interest in protecting people on bikes.

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