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Neighborhood Greenway

Here are the new plans for traffic diverters instead of PBLs on the Wood Street Neighborhood Greenway

While the new proposal is a major change from the original protected bike lane plans, installing traffic diverters will go a long way towards making Wood truly bike-friendly.

Former CDOT bike program manager Mike Amsden, left, and Congressman Mike Quigley (5th) ride on the newly installed Wood Street Neighborhood Greenway on a facilities tour in September 2014. Photo: John Greenfield

There was big news last week, as the Chicago Department of Transportation shared plans for what's basically our city's first Neighborhood Greenway side street bike-ped route with traffic diverters. That's infrastructure to prevent drivers from using residential roads for "cut-through" crosstown trips, creating a safer, lower-stress corridor for people walking and biking.

The project includes installing diverters at major intersections along a little over a mile of Wood Street (1800 W.) between Grand (500 N.) and Milwaukee Avenue (1430 N.) The route is located in the 1st and 36th wards, which are represented by bike-friendly alderpersons Daniel La Spata and Gilbert Villegas, respectively.

A "bike box" street marking on the Wood Street Neighborhood Greenway at Division Street, looking south. Image: Google Maps

Wood was one of the first Neighborhood Greenways in Chicago and is a popular north-south route for bike riders. Currently it features "sharrow" bike-and-chevron pavement markings and painted "bike boxes" to allow cyclists to wait in front of drivers at red lights. There's also a contraflow "wrong-way" southeast-bound bike lane on a northwest-bound-only block of the greenway route on Wicker Park Avenue near Milwaukee/Wood.

The southeast-bound contraflow bike lane on Wicker Park Avenue, a connector between two different sections of Wood at and near Milwaukee. Image: Google Maps

However, Wood Street is also commonly used as cut-through route for drivers avoiding motorist-generated traffic jams on nearby arterial roads Damen (2000 W.) and Ashland (1600 W.) avenues. The planned traffic diverters will force drivers traveling on Wood to make turns onto Chicago Avenue (800 N.), Augusta Boulevard (1000 N.) or Division Street (1200 N.), exiting the residential road. Gaps in the infrastructure will allow people on bikes to continue straight along the greenway route.

The Wood Street Neighborhood Greenway route between Milwaukee and Grand shown in green, with the locations of the planned Division, Augusta, and Chicago Avenue traffic diverters shown in blue. Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps

Wood is a narrow, two-way residential street with parking on both sides. Bike riders must share the travel lane with drivers. It is common for two motorists traveling in opposite directions to scarcely have room to pass one another, creating a high-stress situation for cyclists on the route. Drivers using Wood as a cut-through exacerbate the problem, causing congestion on what was intended to be a quiet neighborhood street, and endangering vulnerable road users. 

The changes presented at the July 25 community meeting are actually a major revision to an existing plan for a safer Wood Street. In the 2021 1st Ward participatory budgeting election, a majority of voters approved building protected bike lanes on the greenway route, earmarking $325,000 of the ward’s "menu" infrastructure money.

CDOT drafted a plan to convert the greenway into a one-way northbound street to create space for the protected lanes. After some Not In My Back Yard-style opposition to the proposal, the plan to make Wood one-way for drivers was changed. But the new proposal is probably further upsetting many of the NIMBYs who don't want to have to change their driving habits.

Anonymous anti-Wood protected bike lane flyer posted by salon owner Ben Clauss in January 2022. Image: CBS Chicago

At Division, curbs installed in the middle of the road at Wood would prevent northbound and southbound drivers from continuing on the side street, instead requiring them to make a right turn onto the arterial street. Motorists traveling east or west on Division would be able to continue straight or turn right onto Wood, but not left. But, again, bike riders on Wood would be permitted to continue north or south.

New layout at Division/Wood. Image: CDOT

At Augusta, drivers traveling south on Wood will be able to travel straight and turn right or left. Northbound motorists would be required to turn right or left, but not continue straight, due to a new traffic island on the northeast side of the intersection. Eastbound and westbound drivers on Augusta will be allowed to continue straight or turn south onto Wood, but the island will prevent them from heading north there.

New layout at Augusta/Wood, with a traffic island at the northeast side of the intersection. Image: CDOT

At Chicago Avenue, as with Division, new curbs will require northbound and southbound drivers on Wood to turn right onto the arterial. Eastbound and westbound motorists on Chicago may continue straight or turn right onto Wood, but not left.

New layout at Chicago/Wood. Image: CDOT

CDOT has not yet finalized the design of the traffic diverters. Materials presented at the community meeting show examples of possible options. In the handouts, CDOT states that "Some designs also allow emergency vehicles to cross the diverter, to reduce impacts to emergency operations." The department expects to install the diverters with temporary materials as a pilot project by spring 2024, and then collect data about the design and build permanent infrastructure by 2025. 

Perhaps the only existing traffic diverter on a Chicago Neighborhood Greenway, an island at Glenwood and Ridge avenues that allows bike riders to head south on the Glenwood Greenway's contraflow bike lane, but prevents drivers from doing so. Image: Google Maps

As Streetsblog wrote in 2020, traffic diverters are a common sight in West Coast cities like Portland, Seattle and Long Beach, and an effective traffic calming measure. While the new plan is a major change from the Wood protected bike lane plan that was approved during the 2021 PB election, installing traffic diverters will go a long way towards making the Neighborhood Greenway truly bike-friendly.

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