May 14, 2013

John Greenfield


Final CDOT design for Berteau Street between Ashland Avenue and Greenview Street.

It’s been a long time in the making, but it looks like the Berteau Neighborhood Greenway, Chicago’s first bike boulevard, will be debuting this summer. On Friday, 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar announced that in June the Chicago Department of Transportation will begin construction of the greenway, a traffic-calmed, bike-priority street, in his North Side district, on a one-mile stretch between Lincoln Avenue and Clark Street. The work will start immediately after the city’s water department replaces a 100-year-old water main on Berteau between Ravenswood and Ashland avenues.

The $120,000 bike project, bankrolled by the alderman’s discretionary “menu” funds, will likely be ready to ride by the end of the summer, according Pawar’s assistant Bill Higgins. “We’re really happy with the final design,” Higgins said. “It’s hard to make everyone happy but we think it will work out well in the end.” Check out CDOT’s design drawings here.


Pawar discusses plans for the greenway at a community meeting last August. Photo by Steven Gross.

In other cities, bike boulevards are residential streets where speeding and cut-through traffic are discouraged through the use of traffic calming devices and/or traffic diverters – bump-outs, cul-de-sacs and other structures which prevent cars from driving down the entire length of the street or making certain turns. Meanwhile, contraflow bicycle lanes allow bikes to travel in both directions on one-way sections, and the diverters have cutouts that permit cyclists to continue unimpeded. CDOT originally proposed included diverters in the Berteau Greenway design, as well as a chicane, a slalom routes designed to slow drivers down. However, after residents at community meetings last year kvetched about having to change their driving habits, these features were removed from the proposal.

Some might argue that the final product is not a true bike boulevard, since westbound motorists will still be able to drive the whole stretch, and it won’t be an “8-to-80” bike facility, suitable for use for everyone from young kids to seniors, because cyclists may be exposed to the occasional speeder. However, the features that made the cut will still be a big improvement over existing conditions on Berteau. Sections of contraflow bike lane, including a dedicated bike signal at Damen Avenue, will allow eastbound cyclists to safely travel from Lincoln to Clark. Green paint at conflict points and shared lane markings on the two-way sections will remind drivers to watch out for cyclists.


CDOT design for Berteau/Clark intersection, featuring a pedestrian refuge island with a cut-through for bikes.

Other features will benefit nearby residents, pedestrians, and motorists as well as cyclists. Curb extensions at intersections with plantings will calm traffic, shorten crossing distances, and absorb stormwater. A landscaped traffic circle will be built at Greenview Street. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks will be added at all intersections. The speed limit will be lowered to 20 MPH and posted. And a pedestrian refuge island will be built in the middle of Clark, with a cut-through to allow eastbound cyclists to turn north on Clark.

“We’re going to continue monitoring these elements to see how they work out,” Higgins said. “If more traffic calming is needed, we might add it. If something’s not working out, we might remove it.” While he’s confident that the improvements will help slow traffic, he said it’s harder to predict whether the changes will discourage car commuters from using Berteau as an alternative to nearby, busy Irving Park Road and Montrose Avenue.

Bike boulevard at Going and MLK

Bike boulevard in Portland, Oregon. The pedestrian refuge island stops cars from continuing forward but cut-through allow through bike traffic. Photo by Steven Vance.

Meanwhile, James Cappleman’s 46th Ward, located just east of Pawar’s district, recently held a participatory budgeting election, allowing residents to decide how the district’s menu money is used. Constituents voted to spend $120,000 in menu funds to build a bike boulevard on Leland, a few blocks north of Berteau, between Clark and Clarendon Street. This one-mile section, which would be completed next year, would also include bike lanes, traffic calming and planters, according to 46th Ward Chief of Staff Tressa Feher.

Higgins said Pawar is also interested in eventually extending the Leland Greenway west into the 47th Ward. “But that’s a good way off,” he said. “We’re going to wait and see how theirs works out.” Hopefully the success of the Berteau Greenway will make Chicagoans more comfortable with the bike boulevard concept so that, when it’s time to build on Leland, CDOT will have the freedom to move forward with a bolder design that includes traffic diverters, a true 8-to-80 facility.


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