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A Tale of Two News Outlets Part Two: Tribune publishes great and garbage pieces about Dickens Greenway

Transportation reporter Sarah Freishtat provides a balanced take on the Dickens controversy, but corporate lawyer William Choslovsky's anti-greenway op-ed is drivel.

5:50 PM CST on January 18, 2024

Sarah Freishtat and William Choslovsky.

This post is sponsored by The Bike Lane.

Read "A Tale of Two News Outlets, Part One," Streetsblog's response to NBC Chicago coverage of the Dickens Greenway, here.

The gripping Dickensian saga of Chicago's most controversial Neighborhood Greenway continues today. Once again it's a stark contrast between clearheaded sustainable transportation experts and advocates, and some deluded Not In My Backyard folks in the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood.

As Streetsblog readers know well by know, the Dickens Greenway is a two-way bike route recently installed on a mostly one-way westbound stretch of the avenue. While the greenway runs more than a mile, between Clybourn Avenue and the Lincoln Park green space, it cost less than a million dollars

The project made the corridor safer for all road users, since it involved lowering the speed limit of the residential street to 20 mph, and installing speed humps, sidewalk extensions, and raised crosswalks. The most contentious aspect is a new traffic diverter at Dickens and Stocktown Avenue that closes the intersection to westbound drivers, but lets pedestrians and bike riders proceed. Get up to speed on the initiative here.

Unfortunately, some Lincoln Parkers are hellbent on dismantling the bikeway because they feel it inappropriately invades their high-end turf. The often argue, bizarrely, that encouraging more people to bike in the area endangers other road users, despite all the new pedestrian safety infrastructure.

Yesterday Streetsblog looked NBC Chicago's disappointing TV report on the greenway, which had several problematic aspects. We helped their reporters correct the most glaring issue, their omission of the crucial fact the bike lanes weren't funded by Chicago taxpayer money but Divvy bike-share revenue. That resulted in the much-improved print version of the NBC piece.

The traffic diverter at Dickens/Stockton today, looking east this afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

Now let's look at what the Chicago Tribune recently pusblished about the Dickens Greenway, both a very good news report, and a very bad op-ed.

The Tribune's well-researched news report

Read reporter Sarah Freishtat's article here.

This piece is very strong because the reporter thoroughly explored the subject and published educated viewpoints from a couple of key advocates from the Active Transportation Alliance and the Metropolitan Planning Council. But she also empathetically portrayed local residents who are dismayed by the changes to their street, even though the direct quotes from these neighbors make their worries seem a little absurd.

"The concerns are one example of the tension that often surrounds bike projects," Freishtat notes. "Advocates say making the city more bike-friendly is crucial to its success, but residents sometimes fear changes to city streets, like narrowing driving lanes or eliminating street parking, could make it more difficult to get around by car."

Freishtat includes a hilarious tweet from former 43rd Ward chief of staff Erik Wallenius, which I hadn't noticed before. "This was literally the most contentious community issue I had to deal with in my 4.5 years working there," he posted. "More acrimonious than affordable housing, late night liquor licenses, or cannabis dispensary. And some of it from self-described environmentalists! Absolute madness."

Dickens is part of a lower-stress bike route between the Bloomingdale Trail and the Lakefront Trail. (We used walking directions here since Google Map's bike directions currently don't let you ride through the Dickens/Stockton traffic diverter). Image: Google Maps

ATA advocacy manager Alex Perez told Freishtat that the greenway serves as a great connection between the Near Northwest Side and the Lakefront. He added that his group is trying to educate neighbors about the benefits of making streets less car-centric.

But some of the residents quoted clearly feel like their car-oriented lifestyles are being attacked. "It’s harder and harder in the city to get around in a car, and we know that they’re trying to discourage and limit car use," said Stephanie Munger, who's a staunch opponent of the greenway.

"I’m afraid that a lot of what’s going on with the bike lanes is, they’re just encouraging bikes to take over," echoed neighbor Michael Stauffer in the Trib piece.

However, MPC transportation director Audrey Wennink noted to Freishtat that Chicago really does need to deemphasize driving and provide more alternatives to driving in order to reduce traffic violence and fight climate change. “People are dying and the earth is melting, so we need to do it."

All-in-all, Freishtat's piece is an excellent summary of the Dickens Greenway situation, featuring many diverse voices. Give it a read.

The terrible Tribune op-ed

Read William Choslovsky's op-ed on Dickens here (if you must.)

On the other hand, bike advocates will find William Choslovsky's infuriating op-ed about Dickens in the the Tribune today is only good for a hate-read.

Ed Fitzpatrick makes a comment very similar to Choslovsky's op-ed headline in his NBC interview. Image: NBC Chicago

You can tell what side of the Dickens debate Choslovsky in on from the title: "Lincoln Park’s Dickens Greenway is a typical Chicago solution in search of a problem." That's almost exactly the same wording used by monomaniacal anti-greenway activist Edward "Ed" C. Fitzpatrick in his NBC interview (at 1:55): "This is a solution waiting for a problem."

Lets debunk a couple of Choslovsky's most inaccurate or nonsensical op-ed statements:

• "Our broke city just spent a million dollars to take what was actually a rare, well-functioning, beautiful street and make it a less pleasant eyesore." City records show it only cost $910,000 for 1.4 miles but, yeah, will you look at this monstrosity! (Just kidding.)

The colorful greenway at the intersection of three avenues honoring three notable 19th Century figures: Charles Dickens, Grover Cleveland, and Abraham Lincoln, looking west yesterday. Photo: John Greenfield

• "[Dickens has] new bike lanes, even though there are existing bike lanes running in the same direction a block away on Armitage Avenue." Obviously there's big difference in safety between the "door-zone" bike lanes (bikeways where you ride within a few feet of parked cars) on Armitage, and riding on Dickens, a quiet residential street. Armitage, a dense retail thoroughfare with heavy motorized traffic and frequent parking turnover, is sort-of tolerable for so-called "strong and fearless" cyclists. But Dickens is a much safer and less stressful choice for "interested-but-concerned" riders and families with young children.

An apparently "strong-and-fearless" food delivery cyclist riding in an Armitage "door zone" bike lane in Lincoln Park in September 2018. Photo: John Greenfield

And here's an example of how an Armitage-style "door zone" bike lane is not a great option for even seasoned cyclists. A colleague of mine, who raced bikes, was "doored" (struck by a person opening their car door) in a bike lane under the Brown Line tracks on Fullerton Avenue, another main street four blocks north of Armitage, with a similar layout. That person suffered five broken ribs and minor organ damage.

A pedestrian crosswalk installed at Dickens and Fremont avenues to protect children walking to and from St. James Lutheran School, added as part of the bikeway. Choslovsky insists the project "has made the neighborhood less safe." Seen looking west this afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

Near the end of his screed, Choslovsky makes this ridiculous statement about Dickens, "There it now sits, a street made worse, a small reflection of a once-great city fading to mediocrity, or worse."

It's amazing that the Tribune could run a great piece about the Dickens Greenway on one day, and a godawful one the next.

Read "A Tale of Two News Outlets, Part One," Streetsblog's response to NBC Chicago coverage of the Dickens Greenway, here.

Watch Tuesday night's problematic NBC Chicago TV piece here.

Read Wednesday's improved NBC Chicago print report here.

Read Wednesday's balanced Chicago Tribune piece here.

Read Thursday's dreadful op-ed on Dickens here (if you really feel the need.)

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