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40th Ward Development Town Hall heralds many promising Far North Side sustainable transportation projects

Ald. Andre Vasquez and his staff discussed upcoming pedestrian improvements, plazas, and bikeways, plus the new Peterson/Ridge Metra station.

Attendees in the Brauhaus Room at DANK Haus. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

Update 6/11/24, 2:45 PM: Asked whether the the 40th Ward is going to get protected bike lanes on Damen Avenue near Winnemac Park and Amundsen High, where a driver fatally struck bike rider Donald Heggemann, 59 last October, Vasquez provided the following response. "I don't know that we are. We're trying to figure out the conversation, and some of that also involves pickup and drop-off plans for the [Amundsen] parents, so that becomes a little complicated. So we're trying to figure out what else is being done to slow down traffic in the area... We're still discussing it, but I just don't know how likely it is."

Update 6/11/24, 9:30 PM: 40th Ward Director of Communications & Development Alison Murphy provided more details about the Damen Avenue protected bike lane issue. "We looked into protected bike lanes, but it turned out to be too complicated to fit in within the existing budget and scope (this project is being paid for with federal funds, which means it has a tighter timeline and budget than some of the others). Doesn't mean it's off the table forever, just means that we couldn't make it happen within the scope of this particular project." 

If you're an alderperson who wants a big turnout for your town hall meeting on ward development issues, it doesn't hurt to hold it in a tavern-like space with a jazz big band performance afterwards. But it also helps if you've a long list of encouraging sustainable transportation and affordable housing projects going on your district. Perhaps 100 residents showed up for last week's 40th Ward Development Town Hall at DANK Haus German-American Cultural Center, 4740 N. Western Avenue in Lincoln Square.

The event took place in the building's Brauhaus Room, which includes much of the decor salvaged from Lincoln Square's Chicago Brauhaus restaurant and bar, which closed in 2017. And the Horner Park Jazz Band played swing tunes and more after the presentation. But, judging from the many bicycles locked outside the DANK Haus, it was clear that one of the main attractions was a discussion of the numerous upcoming sustainable initiatives in the district, represented by Ald. Andre Vasquez.

Bikes outside DANK Haus before the meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

Early on, Ald. Vasquez discussed various infrastructure funding sources, such as Chicago's Capital Improvement Program, Tax Increment Financing, Menu money, and other types of state, county, federal, and community grants. "I'm not going to go over all of this stuff, but we will be going over probably 75 percent of it during this presentation," he said. "Here's a snapshot of all the stuff that in one year all those funds pay for. There's plenty more than that, but these are just the big ones."

Projects happening in Vasquez's district this year. Image: 40th Ward

Let's do a quick rundown of some of the projects that Ald. Vasquez and 40th Ward Director of Communications & Development Alison Murphy discussed at the meeting that may be of particular interest to Streetsblog readers.

Damen Avenue Arterial Resurfacing will happen this summer on Damen Avenue (2000 W.) between Bowmanville (about 5500 N. here) and Wilson (4600 N.) avenues. It will include raised crosswalk and curb extensions at Winona Street (5130 N.) and Winnemac Avenue (5030 N.), next to Amundsen High School and Winnemac Park.

Image via 40th Ward.

Last October an allegedly intoxicated driver struck and killed ceramicist Donald Heggemann, 59, as he was bicycling in a paint-only bike lane on the 5100 block of North Damen. In the wake of that tragedy, Ald. Vasquez expressed interest in installing protected bike lane on Damen.

I didn't notice any discussion of adding protected bike lanes to Damen near the crash site, so I'm double checking with the ward. [See update at the top of this post.] But Alison Murphy did say the Chicago Department of Transportation may be installing a roughly block-long stretch of protected bike lanes on Damen between Bowmanville and Bryn Mawr Avenue (5600 N.), next to Rosehill Cemetery.

Ashland Avenue Arterial Resurfacing will take place on Ashland (1600 W.) from Ridge Avenue (5930 N.) to School Street (3300 N.) this year, on a date TBA. The project includes a new stoplight at Berwyn Avenue (5300 N.), which will make it a better lower-stress cycling route cycling. CDOT will also install new pedestrian islands, non-camera-enforced bus lanes, and curb extensions that shorten pedestrian crossing distances and double as "bus bulbs", allowing bus operators to pick up passengers more easily.

Image via 40th Ward.

Streetsblog has previously discussed planned bike, pedestrian, and green space improvements on Ravenswood Avenue (1800 W.) on the east side of Metra's Union Pacific Northwest tracks, in the 40th and 47th wards. Murphy noted that in the 40th, Ravenswood Avenue Arterial Resurfacing, between Peterson (6000 N.) and Ainslie (4900 N.) avenues, will include curb extensions and bike-friendly speed bumps, plus on-street bike parking "corrals". This will also happen later this year.

A bike corral. Photo: CDOT

Western Avenue Arterial Resurfacing, also taking place later in 2024, covers Western (2400 W.) between Foster (5200 N.) and Leland (4900 N.) avenues. It will include curb extensions and pedestrian islands, including at Winnemac Avenue, a route to the park and Amundsen High from the west.

The California Avenue Arterial Resurfacing project will happen this year on California (2800 W.) between Peterson and Winona. Murphy said there will no new pedestrian islands because California is relatively narrow, but CDOT will install several new curb extensions.

Bryn Mawr Avenue Arterial Resurfacing will take place in 2024 on a half mile between Virginia (about 3030 W. here) and Lincoln (about 2630 W. here) avenues, including curb extensions and raised crosswalks.

And the Pratt Boulevard Arterial Resurfacing project will happen this year at the north end of the ward on Pratt (6800 N.) as part of a larger 1.5-mile CDOT project between Western and Sheridan Road (1000 W.) "Probably the most exciting thing will be a stretch of protected bike lanes," Murphy said. The crowd applauded.

The 40th Ward staff also discussed a few upcoming Streetscape projects on Lincoln Avenue, Lawrence Avenue (4800 N.), and Elise Malary Plaza on Catalpa Avenue (5500 N.) between Clark Street (about 1530 W. here) and Ashland. See details about these projects below.

Vasquez discusses Elise Malary Plaza. Photo: John Greenfield

Regarding Elise Malary Plaza, Ald. Vasquez noted that Catalpa was frequently pedestrianized during COVID-19, not only for the Andersonville farmers market, but also for community activism at the time of the George Floyd protests. "So we are naming it after our Black trans sister who is no longer with us, Elise Malary." Audience members applauded. "When we think about wanting to see representation in the world, these kind of landmark opportunities are something we want to make sure we move forward with."

One of the most energized points during the town hall was when Ald. Vasquez discussed upcoming bike projects in the ward and the greater Far North Side. He gave a special shout-out to advocacy group Chicago, Bike Grid Now! for advocating for a network of low-stress, connected bikeways citywide, which resulted in loud applause.

View a larger version of this map here. Image: CDOT

Ald. Vasquez noted that in 2024 within the 40th Ward CDOT will install:

  • Protected bike lines on Lincoln between Western and Berwyn, and Pratt between Western and Ridge
  • Neighborhood Greenway side street routes on Winnemac between Rockwell Avenue (2600 W.) and Leavitt Street (2200 W.), and Ainslie roughly between Rockwell and Damen
  • The long-delayed Leland Greenway between Western and Lincoln

He said next year we're likely to see:

  • Expansions of the exisiting Berwyn and Rockwell greenways;
  • A possible Neighborhood Greenway on Granville Avenue (6200 N.).

Ald. Vasquez also lauded the new Peterson/Ridge Metra stop, 1780 W. Peterson Ave., and invited town hall attendees to come to the station's ribbon cutting Tuesday, June 11 at 10 a.m.

After the presentation, Mike Pavilon, who is "semi-retired" from his business restoring major buildings, told me he enjoys bicycling, but is wary of doing it on busy retail streets in the area, such as Lincoln Avenue. He said he appreciates the new Neighborhood Greenway routes on side streets like Leavitt and Winnemac. "[Ald. Matt Martin (47)] and Andre are doing a very good thing to spread the biking idea to other people who, if there weren't bike lanes, wouldn't do it that much."

The Horner Park Jazz Band gets ready to play after the presentation. Photo: John Greenfield

Kevin Borgia, a solar energy employee who lives in the 40th Ward said he was happy to hear about all the new sustainable transportation initiatives happening here. "Ald. Vasquez is really responsive to what people want in his ward. As a person who cares about urban infrastructure, I think he is doing great work as far as walkability, bike infrastructure, and just making the built environment that we live in, that we deal with every day, more attractive to people who care about walking, biking, and transit. It's great to see him and his staff so organized about things that matter a lot."

Check out slides from the town hall here.

Watch a video of the event below.

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