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Will complaints from drivers result in “changes to the design” of the beloved Augusta protected bike lanes?

Unsurprisingly, some folks who who drive aren't happy with the changes, which make it harder to illegally park or travel dangerously fast.

The Augusta protected bike lanes near Honore Street (1900 W.) Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Update 11/10/23, 11:00 AM: Although Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association president Kimberly Shannon told Streetsblog that not much discussion of the Augusta protected bike lanes was planned for last night's meeting, and we shared her statement, we later heard that some people who bike did show up to the meeting and made comments supporting the PBLs.

Update 11/9/23, 12:45 PM: A local resident who has accurately informed Streetsblog Chicago about Ukrainian Village bikeway meetings in the past told the site there would be a "Bike Lane Follow Up" about the Augusta protected bike lanes at tonight's Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association meeting, UVNA president Kimberly Shannon, wrote Streetsblog today to say that's not the case:

"Please note that the meeting this evening is our regular monthly meeting which we are jointly holding with [the East Village Association] this month. There are a number of agenda items for this meeting and an in depth discussion of the bike lanes is not one of them. We will be giving a brief update as to the fact the working group is getting formed and we will report out once this group has met.  I just want you and your blog followers to know that there are no plans to have in depth discussions or debate about the bike lanes at this meeting. We have a packed agenda of speakers and topics unrelated to the bike lanes which will be the focus of tonight's meeting."

So if you should up to tonight's meeting hoping for "in depth discussions or debate about the bike lanes," you might be disappointed.

We did eventually receive this message from our source today.

The following piece was written by John Greenfield, with additional reporting by Cameron Bolton.

Of all the likable bikeways that the Chicago Department of Transportation has created this year, the Augusta Boulevard (1000 N.) protected bike lanes are one of the most successful projects. Completed last August, they were an instant hit with many people who bike.

The route includes lots of concrete curbs to shelter cyclists from unsafe drivers, especially at intersections, and the speed limit was lowered to 20 mph. And one reason the lanes are so popular is that, unlike many past CDOT protected lane projects, the lanes run a relatively long distance,1.3-miles, across West Town between Western (2400 W.) and Milwaukee avenues. The latter is our city's busiest biking street, so that's a key connection. Therefore life is good for bike riders, right?

Not so fast. Unsurprisingly, some folks who drive aren't happy with the changes, which make it harder for motorists to illegally park or dangerously speed.

A Streetsblog reader recently sent us a copy of the following correspondence to neighbors from Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association president Kimberly Shannon, which we tweeted out on October 30. It said there had been a previous UVNA meeting with CDOT about "forming a working group to bring forth a proposal for changes to the design that will take into account the concerns of businesses and residents." It said the working group would work with local alderperson Gilbert Villegas' (36th) office and the transportation department "to hopefully come to a mutually agreed upon solution."

The UVNA letter to neighbors.

Now Ald. Villegas is alder of the UVNA's territory, his ward includes the south side of the western half of the Augusta project area, and he presumably supported the bike lane project. But the initiative's main proponent, whose district includes most of the bike lane zone, is Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st). He spoke extensively at the project's August 9 ribbon cutting, while Villegas wasn't even there.

The bike lane's zone, Augusta between Western and Milwaukee, is mostly located in the 1st Ward. Image: City of Chicago

As you might expect, most Streetsblog followers were troubled by the news that "changes" might be made to this beloved bikeway. "I was at that meeting for a different reason and it was wild!" responded one person on Twitter. "I actually contacted the supervisor of the CDOT rep [likely Complete Streets director David Smith] to commend him for how well he handled himself... Just a lot of old people yelling about bikes and how there isn't enough room for their giant vehicles when they want to double park."

Another person shared the following message Ald. Villegas sent to residents assuring them, "there are no plans to remove the protected bike lanes on Augusta."

That person looped in La Spata's Twitter account to the conversation, and a staff member provided this response:

Streetsblog tried to dig deeper into the issues by contacting both alders and several local established and grassroots bike advocacy groups. But either they didn't get back to us, or they declined to comment on the situation.

However, we did get an extensive response from a key player, UVNA president Kimberly Shannon, who graciously answered our emailed questions. What follows is excerpts from her statements, with Streetsblog commentary in brackets.

"Based on some of the social media posts and emails our organization has received, there seems to be some misunderstanding about what led up to the reason why UVNA is partnering with Alderman Villegas' office and CDOT," Shannon wrote. "First, UVNA is not advocating to remove bike lanes on Augusta Blvd. [Non-protected] bike lanes on Augusta Blvd have existed for a very long time. However, with the recent change to the protected bike lanes, many residents have vocalized their concerns about the impact these new lanes have brought to the community. Because there were so many concerns and complaints from our members, UVNA invited CDOT and the alderman’s office to our November meeting to get a better understanding as to reasons behind CDOT’s change of location for the bike lanes on Augusta and for CDOT to hear the concerns from the community."

Augusta and Ashland Avenue (1600 W.), looking east. Photo: John Greenfield

Shannon listed the follow concerns that neighbors and merchants voiced:

• "Lack of any egress for cars to move over to allow emergency vehicles to get past traffic." [It's unclear why this would be much different than any narrow two-lane street with car parking on both sides.]

• "Businesses no longer have space for their delivery trucks to deliver their products." [It sounds like the merchants are complaining about the truckers being unable to illegally double park, or park in no-parking zones at corners. The latter is dangerous because it blocks sight lines for drivers and pedestrians crossing the street.]

While drivers parking or standing at corners like this one at the southwest corner of Augusta and Damen (2000 W.) in the 36th Ward was already dangerous and illegal, but easy to do, before the protected lanes were installed, it's now more difficult. (Please note that we have not seen evidence of illegal parking at this particular corner.) Images: Google Maps, John Greenfield

• "Car owners do not feel safe entering and exiting their cars with little to no space between their parked car and oncoming traffic and maneuvering around concrete blocks on the passenger side of their cars." [Sure, sometimes there's a learning curve for parking a car next to a curbside protected bike lane.]

• "[Drivers] turning right are blind to [bike riders] coming down path." [This can be an issue with parking-protected lanes. CDOT generally removes a few parking spaces near intersections to insure there is sufficient "daylighting" so turning drivers and cyclists riding forward can see each other.]

• "Significant loss of parking per block on Augusta Blvd." [See comment above.]

• "Snow removal concerns." [Indeed, this winter CDOT needs to do a better job of plowing its protected bike lanes than is has in the past, by promptly using smaller snowplows designed for that purpose.]

"UVNA is not advocating to remove bike lanes on Augusta," Shannon concluded. In addition to the residents who have complained, "We also know there are residents who prefer the new location of the bike lanes. The working group that is being formed will have equal representation from both sides of the 'lane' (pun intended) to work with CDOT and Alderman Villegas' office to hopefully come up with a proposal for the 36th Ward side of Augusta Boulevard that will mitigate concerns and issues. Safety is a concern for all that utilize Augusta Boulevard, whether one bikes, drives, or walks."

La Spata, third from left, cuts the ribbon on the bike lanes with then-CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi, fourth from left, and CDOT Complete Streets director David Smith, fifth from left, on August 9, 2023. Photo: John Greenfield

It seems like the UVNA's approach in response to the complainers is not unreasonable. On the other hand, it would be a shame if the bike lane design gets partially watered down as a result, making the portion of Augusta in Ald. Villegas' ward more dangerous than the part in Ald. La Spata's district.

The next Bike Lane Follow Up meeting with be Thursday, November 9, 6:30 p.m. at the J&M Tap, 957 N. Leavitt St. (2200 W.) Note that the tavern doesn't have its name on the outside.

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