Swap car lanes for bike lanes along Chicago Avenue in West Town?

SHARE Swap car lanes for bike lanes along Chicago Avenue in West Town?

A cyclist battles rush-hour evening traffic on Chicago Avenue in West Town. | Alisa Hauser / For the Sun-Times

A proposal to put a stretch of Chicago Avenue in West Town on a “road diet” to accommodate bike lanes on both sides of the street will be on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s exploratory docket in 2018.

The idea to reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to two and install a center turn lane was a recommendation in a taxpayer-funded “We Are West Town” Master Plan completed last spring.

When it would happen or where the lane conversion will be along Chicago Avenue has not been decided.

Additionally, there would be wider sidewalks along the corridor and larger curbs or “bump outs” at busy intersections like Chicago and Ashland avenues where pedestrians congregate and wait for the No. 66 bus, which is among the five most used bus routes in the city.

CDOT spokesman Michael Claffey said the department plans to discuss the possible road changes during yet-to-be-announced outreach related to the city’s “Complete Streets” initiative.

“As always, we are evaluating our streets using our Complete Streets and Vision Zero goals and strategies, including designing streets to decrease crash risk and making streets safer and more comfortable for all users, which includes people walking, those riding bikes and those taking CTA bus service on Chicago Avenue,” Claffey said in a statement.

The Chicago Avenue corridor in West Town is especially dangerous, with 176 percent more crashes per mile than the citywide average for arterial or main streets, said Claffey, citing Illinois Department of Transportation statistics.

According to the We Are West Town report, an “influx of fast moving cars and trucks has made our city’s namesake street unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

While the report found that West Town residents are four times more likely to use bikes to get to work and are more likely to use mass transit than the rest of Chicago, the city’s namesake street in West Town is one of few east-west thoroughfares that enjoys two traffic lanes in each direction, so the proposed changes could spark controversy.

Scott Weiner, owner of Roots Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery, 1916-1924 W. Chicago Ave., said increased car congestion on Chicago Avenue could be a drawback and might send traffic to Augusta.

Weiner said he supports wider sidewalks like those on Division Street, which is packed with sidewalk patios and offers more space for pedestrians. “I think anything that might potentially increase the size of the sidewalks, thereby increasing foot traffic, is a good thing for the street,” Weiner said.

Chef Carlos Gaytan, owner of the acclaimed restaurant Mexique at 1529 W. Chicago Ave., said Chicago Avenue is becoming a destination that’s deserving of a better roadway.

“My hope is that the city can help to fix the sidewalks, make them wider,” Gaytan said while standing on a narrow and uneven patch of sidewalk in front of his restaurant.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) declined to comment on whether he would support the proposal.

Kate McKenna, communications director for the West Town Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the road diet was a recommendation and not a directive.

“This and the other recommendations focus on having three facets — the community, the city, and support organizations — working together to lobby for these solutions and others as they fit,” McKenna said.

John Greenfield, a writer for Streetsblog Chicago and a transportation advocate, said he would like to see more attention paid to improving the Chicago No. 66 bus route rather than cycling conditions on Chicago Avenue.

“I generally don’t like to bike on streets with four travel lanes because car speeds tend to be higher. On the other hand, given the choice, I would argue that converting two of the travel lanes to bus-only lanes would be a bigger win for sustainable transportation, because Chicago Avenue is such an important bus route, and it’s currently so slow during rush hours,” Greenfield said.

The full West Town Master Plan can be found here: http://www.westtownssa.org/masterplan/.

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