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Dickens Greenway

“Please sir, we want some more more”: A request to extend the Dickens Greenway to the Lakefront Trail

Software engineer Nikolas Gamarra asks Ald. Knudsen to expand the Dickens route, as well as make bike improvements to Wells Street and Lincoln Avenue.

Oliver Twist requesting more porridge in Charles Dickens’ eponymous novel. Illustration: Gilbert Scott Wright via Wikipedia.

This post is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance.

It's not unlike Charles Dickens' novel "Oliver Twist", in which the protagonist politely asks for additional porridge. A resident is requesting that (bike-friendly, not stingy) Lincoln Park alderperson Timmy Knudsen (43rd) expand the Dickens Avenue Neighborhood Greenway to make it safer and easier to access Lake Michigan. More on that in a bit.

Over the many years it has taken the greenway to become a reality, and in the few months since it opened last January, Streetsblog has covered this surprisingly controversial bike and pedestrian safety project extensively. In short, the corridor runs 1.4 miles, basically between the Chicago River and the Lincoln Park Zoo. It provides a lower-stress way to bicycle most of the way between the The Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, and the Lakefront Trail.

The DANG bike route. Image: CDOT

Read this article for more about the new corridor's many safety upgrades for people traveling on foot and bike, and in motor vehicles. (The latter benefit from traffic calming and a reduced speed limit, which makes them less likely to crash.)

The "cut-through" route motorists used to take from La Salle to the Lincoln Park neighborhood to try to avoid congestion on Clark Street, via Stockton and Dickens, before the traffic diverter plaza was installed on Dickens just west of Stockton. Image: Google Maps

But some car-centric and politically active neighbors in Lincoln Park, one of Chicago's wealthiest community areas, are still angry about the changes. They're especially upset about the traffic diverter plaza the Chicago Department of Transportation created on Dickens near the zoo.

That's because this infrastructure prevents drivers exiting DuSable Lake Shore Drive at La Salle Drive from using Stockton Drive and Dickens through the park as a "cut-through" route to avoid congestion on Clark Street. Since Ald. Knudsen signed off on the greenway project, one of the motorheads recently posted a "One-Term Timmy Street" note on a sign next to the plaza. (Click on the Tweet below to see the Post-It.)

But lots of Chicagoans love the Dickens Greenway, as you could tell from the "Bike Jam" ride on it February 26, hosted by the advocacy group Chicago, Bike Grid Now! According to organizers, more than 70 people showed up to ride.

The Bike Jam gathers at the traffic diverter plaza at Dickens Avenue and Stockton Drive. Image: Chicago, Bike Grid Now!

One these Dickensians is Nikolas Gamarra, a software engineer who lives just north of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Lakeview East. "If I travel by bike from Lakeveiw to the Loop, I often go through [the Lincoln Park green space]," told Streetsblog. "Even before the Dickens Greenway project, I often used Dickens as a way to avoid the really bad section of Clark bordering Lincoln Park."

Gamarra shared an email he sent to Ald. Knudsen, cc-ing CDOT, last month. He began by thanking the alder for the new bikeway. "The route provides a vital, safe connection for pedestrians and cyclists to get between western parts of Chicago and Lincoln Park/Lakefront."

However, he noted in his email that it's still not obvious how to safely bike from the east end of the Dickens Greenway to the Lakefront Trail. "The Zoo and South Lagoon create geographic barriers, so one must go north or south on Stockton Drive. This street has many [drivers] merging in and out of parking spaces as well as fast car traffic [with drivers] attempting to take a shortcut from DLSD or from Clark. Furthermore, the off-street paths and trails in this part of Lincoln Park are too narrow to be safely shared by pedestrians and bikes."

Now, here's a route I currently might ride between the Dickens traffic diverter plaza and the Lakefront Trail towards the Loop, riding south on Stockton and then east on off-street paths to the North Avenue bike-pedestrian bridge. While it's generally legal to cycle on Chicago park trails, Gamarra is correct that they are often narrow, and you must ride cautiously, at a slow-to-moderate speed, to avoid conflicts with people on foot. And obviously this is a non-intuitive route. So, yeah, a better Dickens-LFT option is needed for riders headed to or from downtown.

A route I might currently use between the Dickens traffic diverter plaza and the North Avenue bike-ped bridge connecting with the Lakefront Trail. Image: Google Maps

Since Gamarra avoids biking on the park paths, heading south from Dickens he stays on Stockton Drive. "I have often been passed dangerously close or had near-dooring incidents on Stockton," said in his email to Ald. Knudsen.

"As such, I would like to further encourage you to continue your ward's work with CDOT / [Illinois Department of Transportation] / Chicago Park District to improve bike and pedestrian safety while traveling east-west (especially between Armitage and North [avenues])," Gamarra continued.

"This section of road between Armitage and North Blvd. creates a major gap in the network of safe bike lanes," the software engineer noted. "Currently, bike lanes on Lincoln [Avenue] and Wells [Street] are narrow and unprotected and have mixing zones [locations where drivers cross the bikeway to turn right] and conflicts with parking spaces." He added that there these streets have long crossings for people on foot, with no pedestrian islands.

Overhead view of current street layout at Lincoln, Wells, and Clark. Image: provided by Gamarra

Gamarra proposed building a new off-street bike path through the Lincoln Park green space, parallel to Clark and connecting to the Lakefront Trail, plus Clark south of North Avenue, and Wells. He also called for upgrading the on-street bike lanes by making them curbside with parking and/or (prerably non-flexible) bollard protection, and protected intersections. Other features of his proposal included bus boarding bump-outs, curb extensions for shorter pedestrian crossings, and additional crosswalks.

Gamarra's proposal. Image: provided by Gamarra

"Thank you for your work on the Dickens Greenway," Gamarra's email to Ald. Knudsen concluded. "I hope to continue to see great improvements in bike and pedestrian safety from your ward."

Gamarra told Streetsblog that residents who want safer walking, biking – and driving – need to immediately lobby the Lincoln Park alderperson and CDOT to make bold changes. "[Ald. Knudsen] is at risk of succumbing to pressure from wealthy car-owning residents of his ward who can't be bothered to drive one block [north to Webster Avenue (2200 N.)] around the new Dickens [traffic diverter plaza]." 

So, yes, especially if you live in the 43rd Ward, it would be a great idea to drop Ald. Knudsen a line. Tell him you're a big fan of Dickens (the route, not necessarily the writer) and would strongly support additional forward-thinking safe streets improvements in his district.

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