Thar he blows! Ed Fitzpatrick goes public with his obsession with killing the Dickens Greenway, assisted by Inside Publications
A new article from the car-centric newspaper chain, featuring Fitzpatrick griping about the bikeway, falsely claims the project was paid for with "Chicago taxpayer funds" due to a "bait and switch."
5:29 PM CST on January 10, 2024
Update 1/11/24, 12:15 PM: I called Inside Publications editor Ronald Roenigk, the author of the anti-Dickens Greenway article, this morning, and he told me that he had seen our piece. But he added that he hadn't noticed the statement from the Chicago Department of Transportation explaining that the bike lanes were funded by payments to the City from Lyft, the Divvy bike-share concessionaire. That contradicts Roenigk's claims that the project was paid for by "Chicago taxpayer funds."
However, Roenick said he would not be running a correction, insisting that money spent by Divvy users to buy access to bike-share, whether those people are from Bridgeport or Berlin, still counts as "Chicago taxpayer funds". "We're standing by our [factually incorrect] story," he said, before hanging up.
By now Streetsblog readers and fans of the new Dickens Avenue Neighborhood Greenway street bicycle route in Lincoln Park are well familiar with local attorney Edward "Ed" C. Fitzpatrick. For years now he's been working behind the scenes to stop the Chicago Department of Transportation from building the low-stress two-way cycling corridor, which also includes safety improvements for pedestrians and drivers.
As Streetsblog discussed at length, Fitzpatrick has been quietly filing many Freedom of Information Act requests with CDOT, and sending the department and local alderpersons angry emails, for almost three years now. He asked the transportation department for records of correspondence about the Greenway that he apparently hoped would show wrongdoing. At one point he requested all emails about the project since 2010 between CDOT staff and a long list of city departments and agencies; transportation planning firms and advocacy organizations; and... me?
Streetsblog's own FOIA inquiry revealed that after a CDOT spokesperson told Fitzpatrick the department would need more info to fulfill his very broad demands, he accused them of corruption. "Based on the lack of responses to my reasonable requests and the DOT's stonewalling to date, I can only conclude that the department of transportation is hiding something from the voters and taxpayers... What are you hiding?" If you have time, I recommend reading the whole rundown of his campaign against CDOT and then-Lincoln Park alderperson Michele Smith (43rd) – it's a hoot!
But all that time Fitzpatrick kept a low profile, and was never quoted in any of the many non-Streetsblog articles about the Dickens controversy – until this week. He recently talked about his conspiracy theories for a long article published in multiple editions of the Inside Publications newspaper chain, which covers many North Side neighborhoods, including Lincoln Park.
If the title didn't tip you off, the Inside newspapers are basically the opposite of Streetsblog: anti-sustainable transportation news and advocacy outlets. For example, they bitterly fought against Lincoln Square alder Matt Martin's (47th) proposal to replace a parking lot next to the Western Brown Line station with an affordable transit-oriented development.
The Dickens Greenway article's author is Inside editor Ronald Roenigk, known for putting out articles with fake bylines like "Hugh Mann Wrights" and "Kareem N. Sugar."
Even disregarding the greenway article's title, you can tell from the first sentence where Roenigk is going. "Crafty North Side drivers have long enjoyed the pleasant views and time saved by turning north on Stockton Drive off La Salle Drive, passing by the Farm in the Zoo and Green City Market to Dickens Avenue, then heading West on Dickens into Lincoln Park, thereby avoiding the usual traffic backups on Clark Street."
Of course, what Roenigk is glorifying was a "cut-through" route, crosstown motorists using a non-arterial street as a faster alternative to the main street they're supposed to be driving on. In this case they rushed through parkland and past a petting zoo.
Tragically, the reasons why this is an unsafe approach were laid bare in May 2006. That's when a driver fatally struck Maya Hirsch, 4, as she walked with her family two blocks north of Dickens at Belden Avenue and Lincoln Park West, just west of the Lincoln Park Zoo.
But Roenigk argues that the real tragedy here is the elimination of the cut-through route by the installation of a traffic diverter on Dickens just west of Stockton as part of the greenway route. It stops drivers from heading west towards Clark. "It is the victim of Chicago’s new scourge: the privileged bike path."
Roenigk uses that phrase many times in his piece. "Note to readers, not all bike paths are 'privileged'" he says. "Chicago’s privileged bike paths are cordoned off – many times behind bollards or concrete barriers – and reserved for the exclusive use of one 'privileged' class of user: bikers."
That's an absurd argument for several reasons. For starters, aside from the diverter, the Dickens bike lanes have no bollards or barriers – they're just paint. Moreover, according to a City ordinance, all Chicago bike lanes, protected or not, may be ridden on by people on scooters and skateboards, not just bicycles. Folks on foot and in wheelchairs often use them as well. And it's not like anyone refers to motorists driving on DuSable Lake Shore Drive or expressways, where bicycles are banned, as a "'privileged' class of users."
The fierce opposition to the greenway from some neighbors included an anonymous Friends of Dickens website and glossy political-style mailings exhorting residents to stop the project “before it’s too late." But many other residents wanted to see it built, and there was a large turnout of supporters at an August 2019 community meeting. Then-alderperson Michele Smith (43rd) finally approved the protect nearly two years later in June 2021.
Even so, the greenway continued to be delayed. A few months after Ald. Smith stepped down in September 2022, and current Lincoln Park alder Timmy Knudsen was appointed, there was a danger that the project might not happen. During a 43rd Ward aldermanic election debate in March 2023, challenger Brian Comer threatened to put the brakes on the project if he won. Knudsen indicated that if he was reelected construction of the greenway would move forward. The rest is history.
Ed Fitzpatrick shows up in the middle of this week's Insider article, described as "a biker who owns seven bikes." That makes him a textbook example of the notorious "Avid Cyclist," a person who weaponizes their supposed enthusiasm for bicycling in order to block a bike safety project.
In the Insider piece, Fitzpatrick discusses a July 30, 2023 email from Ald. Knudsen to then-CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi, which Fitzpatrick FOIA-ed. The message discussed plans to fund the Dickens Greenway with local money instead of a previously discussed federal grant. "There has never been a public correction of the representation that Dickens Greenway was to be federally funded," the lawyer complained to the newspaper.
"The Lincoln Park's rookie alderman was somehow able to find $911,899 in City of Chicago taxpayer funds, funded from a line item titled '2022 Special Funding / Divvy,'" Insider's Roenigk adds. Three times in the article he refers to the funding change as a "bait and switch," writing "Nearby neighbors were never alerted by the alderman or other city officials to the new funding source... Left undisclosed was that the project was still going forward using Chicago taxpayer funds."
Here's my recent email to CDOT and Divvy while fact-checking that claim:
First of all, it turns out Roenigk's statement that the greenway was funded with taxpayer money is false. "The project’s total cost is approximately $1 million and is being paid with funding from Chicago’s Divvy bike-share system that is designated for transportation purposes, including the installation of bike and pedestrian safety projects," CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder told me today.
"[Divvy bike-share concessionaire] Lyft’s annual payments to the City are used for bike and pedestrian projects and programs, including infrastructure improvements that make it safer and easier to Divvy around Chicago," a transportation department staffer noted. "This is written in the Divvy/Lyft contract agreement with the City."
"[The Dickens Greenway] is a project the Divvy team at Lyft is strongly in support of," a Divvy employee said.
So the Dickens Greenway essentially wasn't paid for by everyday Chicago taxpayers, but rather by local people and visitors who buy Divvy passes and memberships. Obviously it's totally fair to fund bike lanes with revenue from the bike-share users who will benefit from the new infrastructure.
A non-CDOT City Hall employee argued that it's ridiculous that Fitzpatrick and Roenigk are making a fuss over the change to the greenway funding, calling it a case of bikeway opponents throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. "Neighbors never know the sources for funding for things like repaving DLSD or residential streets. City projects often happen because we're cobbling together funding sources. It's dishonest to get mad about it."
Another non-CDOT source familiar with the project’s lifespan told me, "The very idea that a rookie alderman can shake $911K out of the city is bonkers. He’d have to be f---ing superhuman. Those are [convicted ex-14th Ward alder] Ed Burke numbers. Do they think Timmy is some [Mayor] Brandon Johnson bestie?"
And, unsurprisingly, Ed Fitzpatrick appears to be one of the "crafty" motorists who are upset because they can no longer use Stockton and Dickens as a cut-through route, endangering families walking to and from the Lincoln Park Zoo. "The [traffic diverter] was not included in any of the three neighborhood presentations and came as a complete surprise to everyone" he groused to Insider.
Fortunately, the Dickens Avenue Neighborhood Greenway safety upgrades are already getting rave reviews from Lincoln Park families, and other people who ride bikes. So it might be time for Ed Fitzpatrick, the Captain Ahab of bikeway opposition, to finally give his FOIA harpoon a rest.
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In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.
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