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Thanks to lobbying by advocates, CDOT boosts the PBL mileage for Lincoln Avenue Streetscape

Granted, CDOT originally only planned to build a single block of bike lanes, but a little over half a mile is still an improvement.

Rendering of the new protected bike lanes between Berwyn and Western. Image: CDOT

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Update 10/4/23, 12:15 AM: Streetsblog asked the Illinois Department of Transportation about the theory that the IDOT jurisdiction over Lincoln Avenue north of Foster Avenue may have been a factor in why protected bike lanes are not being installed on the entire Lincoln Avenue North streetscape corridor. Here's the response from spokesperson Maria Castanedea:

"The Illinois Department of Transportation continues to work collaboratively with the Chicago Department of Transportation including on this project. The department approved the city’s design, which included protected bike lanes on Lincoln Avenue between Foster and Berwyn avenues, to connect with the existing east/west bike route on Berwyn Avenue. No additional protected bike lanes were proposed.

IDOT will continue to work with CDOT to help ensure the success of this project, with our joint goal of making Chicago and Illinois roadways as safe and accessible as possible."

Local alder Andre Vasquez (40th) told Streetsblog he "wasn't sure" why the protected bike lanes still aren't going north of Berwyn. "The IDOT answer was what we got, but we pushed to go to Berwyn because of the greenway to connect it, and also because that stretch of Lincoln didn’t have that much parking anyway, as the east side was the loading zone area."

CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder did not respond to to Streetsblog's request for a response to the question of whether IDOT is to blame for the lanes not going north of Berwyn to Balmoral.

These three responses, or lack thereof, seem to back up the Lincoln Avenue Bike Lane Twitter account's claim. That is, the PBLs are not being further extended north of Berwyn into IDOT-controlled roadway because CDOT thought requesting this from IDOT would delay the project.

Update 9/18/23, 6:45 PM: Immediately after this piece was published, the person behind the Lincoln Ave Bike Lane Twitter account tweeted, "Section 1 [Lincoln north of Foster] will not be receiving protected bike lanes because it’s under [Illinois Department of Transportation] jurisdiction. CDOT told me it would take months to get approval for a fundamental safety feature like this. Vision Zero should be rapid, not slow."

While the bike lane is being extended north of Foster to Berwyn, that's an exception that proves the rule: IDOT generally drags it's feet about allowing CDOT to make safety improvements on Chicago streets that the state controls.

Thanks in part to an open letter from transportation advocates to elected officials calling for more protected bikes on the $21 million Lincoln Avenue Streetscape and Plaza project, about five times as much PBL mileage is planned than before. On the other hand, the Chicago Department of Transportation initially proposed building only one block of protected lanes, so in the end we're talking about a little over half a mile.

Vasquez, center, and other officials at Friday's groundbreaking. Photo: CDOT

The streetscape, which bike-friendly Ald and other officials broke ground on Friday, covers the stretch of Lincoln, a useful northwest-southeast cycling route, between Catalpa Avenue (5500 N.) and the exisiting Ainslie Arts Plaza (4900 N.) The advocates called for building physically protected bike lanes along the entire roughly mile-long route. The letter was drafted by Better Streets Chicago and co-signed by the Active Transportation Alliance; Chicago, Bike Grid Now; Chicago Family Biking; the progressive community group Indivisible Lincoln Square; and On the Route Bicycles owner Joanne McSweeney.

The memo, sent in September 2022, was addressed to Vasquez (40th) and fellow bike-friendly alder Matt Martin (47th), although the project is only located in Vasquez's district. Other officials cc-ed on the document included state senator Mike Simmons, (7th) and state rep Greg Harris (13th); staff from the Chicago and Illinois transportation departments; and representatives of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and the local Special Service Area.

"PBLs are essential to improving safety and mobility in Lincoln Square and surrounding neighborhoods," the advocates wrote. "They will make it safer and more comfortable for more people to bike, reducing congestion and improving street safety."

At the time, a city official told Streetsblog that the Lincoln Avenue plan included a one-block-long stretch of protected bike lanes between Berwyn (5300 N.) and Foster (5200 N.) avenues. That would have connected with the recently-installed contraflow ("wrong-way") bike lane on Berwyn between the North Shore Channel Trail and Western Avenue (2400 W.) This year the Berwyn contraflow lane was expanded half a mile east of Western to Damen Avenue (2000 W.)

The press release for last Friday's event states that the current Lincoln plan "includes wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, a public plaza and new community gathering space, and additional placemaking and traffic safety improvements." But it didn't say which parts of the corridor are getting PBLs.

Asked today for more details, CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder replied today, "The protected bike lanes will be installed on Lincoln between Western and Berwyn, connecting to the existing Berwyn greenway."

The portion of the Catalpa-to-Western stretch of Lincoln that is getting protected bike lanes. Image: CDOT

So that means roughly five-sevenths of the corridor is getting PBLs. Advocates I shared the news with were generally pleased, but didn't think the city deserved too much of a pat on the back. For example Nate Hutcheson from Chicago! Bike Grid Now, which is advocating for making one-tenth of Chicago streets bike-ped priority, had a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response. "This brings us less than .001 percent closer to our goal of having 10 percent of Chicago's streets be part of the bike grid."

Protected bike lanes aside, the streetscape project does include many other upsides, according to CDOT (their language):

• Roadway geometry and intersection improvements

• New widened sidewalk, curb, and gutter

• Full width resurfacing with new pavement markings

• New pavers and trees on parkways

• New street lighting

• Upgrades to ADA ramps and crosswalks

• New street furniture and seating areas

• Community identifiers

• Creation of Ainslie Arts Plaza [which was partially destroyed by a driver last year] including the permanent [pedestrianization] of Lincoln Ave between Gunnison Street (4830 N.) and Ainslie Avenue (4900 N.)

• Creation of Catalpa community gathering space at Catalpa and Lincoln Avenue

Rendering of the new public space at Catalpa/Lincoln. Image: CDOT

• Creation of space in the public way for art installations

According to CDOT, "The streetscape’s construction will be broken into two sections, with work beginning on the north end of the project between Foster Avenue and Catalpa Avenue and Catalpa Ave between Lincoln Avenue and Western Avenue. The second section, consisting of Lincoln Avenue between Western Avenue and Foster Avenue, will be constructed in 2024. Substantial completion is expected by the end of 2024."

Image: CDOT

“It’s more important than ever to have intentional spaces that prioritize pedestrians and allow folks to come together in community,” said Ald. Vasquez in a statement. “The Lincoln Avenue North streetscape will be an amazing addition to the 40th Ward.”

Check out more renderings and learn more about the project here.

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