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Take it to the bridge! Meeting attendees want CDOT’s Division Street plan to extend bikeway separation to the new spans

Sustainable transportation advocates see some good things about the plan, and others aspects that need improvement.

The current Division Street bascule bridge over the river, and the planned tied arch bridge. Images:: CDOT

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

After the Chicago Department of Transportation's presentation on the Division Street Reconstruction, between the Kennedy Expressway (about 1300 W.) and Cleveland Avenue (roughly 500 W.), Safe Streets advocates had mixed feelings. According to CDOT, "The project will improve a mile of roadway on Division Street and also includes removal and replacement of the bridges over the Chicago River and the [North Branch Canal]."

Attendees like walk/bike/transit booster Michelle Stenzel praised plans to remove car parking on Division to make room for separated bike lanes, although it wasn't clear how robust the separation would be. But she noted that no improvement are planned for the 70 Division bus except for coordinated stoplights on the corridor, and there don't seem to be any plans for traffic calming. Advocates also wondered why the new bikeways won't have bike separation on the bridges, forcing bike riders to cycle next to moving traffic. More on those issues in a bit.

Riding in a freshly-cast concrete protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue in front of the library. Photo: Cameron Bolton

The meeting was held at the Bucktown-Wicker Park library branch, 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave. Perhaps thanks to heavy promotion on social media, there was a full house despite the inconvenient 4 p.m. start time, and there seemed to be dozens of pro-walk/bike/transit folks present.

The audience at the presentation talk Lucas Bradt, center, quoted below. Photo: Cameron Bolton

The presenters were Soliman Khudeira, section chief of major projects at CDOT, and AECOM consultant Mike Eichten, who is managing the project. They explained that CDOT plans to replace the existing Division Street River Bridge, a bascule bridge built in 1904, with a tied-arch bridge. Meanwhile, the Division Street Canal Bridge was replaced with a temporary bridge in 2014, but the department plans to swap that for a permanent thrust arch bridge. CDOT promises there will be "new dedicated bike lanes", wider sidewalks, and "accommodation for a future riverwalk under the new bridges."

The current temporary bridge over the canal, and the planned thrust arch bridge. Images: CDOT

Other plans are to widening the north side of Division by four to six feet, and add more mixed-traffic lanes to the bridges. CDOT also wants to add left turn lanes across Goose Island (about 1130 W. to 830 W.), add a new traffic signal at Hickory Avenue (roughly 1000 W.), and remove an existing 4-way stop at Cherry Avenue (1030 W).

Soliman Khudeira speak. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"The new bridges will accommodate two westbound through lanes, exclusive left turn lanes, and there'll be a single eastbound through lane, and then you'll have a bike lane on either side," said Eichten.

Cross section of the new river bridge, looking east. Image: CDOT

Added Khudeira, "Division today does not have any bike lanes" so installing protected bike lanes on Division will create a connection with existing bikeways on Elston Avenue (about 1216 W.), Halsted Street (800 W.), Larrabee Street (600 W.) and Clybourn Avenue (440 W.)

Division, shown looking east from Elston Avenue towards the existing river bridge, connects with protected lanes on Elston. Image: Google Maps

During the Q&A portion, Lucas Bradt had concerns about riding south on Halsted in the bike lane and crossing Division just east of the canal bridge, since eastbound traffic may be faster after the bridge is expanded. "I've hated this intersection because further north of the intersection there's a bike lane, and then the bike lane ends, and the parking lane becomes a turn lane,” said Bradt. “And so it became really hard to navigate that intersection. And it looks like they're making Halsted just north Division here even wider, and making that less safe as a cyclist than it was before."

The current and proposed layout of the Division/Halsted intersection. Images: Google Maps, CDOT

After the presentation, attendee Matt Dregg told Streetsblog, "A lot of people [at the meeting] were concerned that they have to spend ten more minutes driving while we’re concerned we’re going to get killed biking while on [Division]. And it seems like [CDOT is] doing some improvements and trying some things, but overall they might be making it worse, especially the wholesale section [on Goose Island]. That's already one of the scariest sections I deal with and we're not getting anything like any real bollard or concrete [bike lane protection] there. [Making it] faster and wider for cars is probably going to be unpleasant."

Advocates discuss the proposed design after the meeting. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"The bridges are beautiful," said Sammy Schneider. She's an architecture worker and sustainable transportation activist who helped organize others to attend. "They're really well designed. It's great that there's going to be space underneath the bridges for Riverwalk potential. And the engineers have been listening to bikers a lot more than they have historically... They're not quite to my standard yet, but they are moving forward. And at the end of the day, this is gonna be a huge improvement to Division Street for bikers. So all in all, it's a net positive. It's just how big can we win?"

In the Twitter thread below, Schneider proposed a design separating the bike lanes from the mixed-traffic lanes on the bridge.

Schneider was disappointed that there don't seem to be plans for bus lanes. "It seems like when CDOT designs for new projects, they always take into account these traffic studies that... very much prioritize private vehicle throughput instead of people throughput. A bus going through an intersection has a lot more throughput than one or even four cars in a light cycle. And I think that they need to update their traffic study models and really prioritize moving people over moving cars."

Read Michelle Stenzel's thread about the meeting below.

It's worth noting CDOT says the plans haven’t been finalized yet. Through April 26, you can email comments to soliman.khudeira@cityofchicago.org, or mail them to:

CDOT Division of Engineering
2 N. LaSalle St., Suite 820
Chicago, IL 60602
Attention: Soliman Khudeira, PhD, PE, SE, Section Chief -
Major Project

The engineering phases of the project will last until this fall, when construction is slated to begin.

View the meeting presentation here.

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