Residents Review Final Plan for Berteau Greenway

By Patty Wetli | Monday, August 20, 2012

Plans for Berteau Greenway presented to residents. Credit: Patty Wetli

Barring any last-minute tweaks, the plans for the proposed Berteau Greenway appear close to finalized, with hoped-for installation by the end of the year. “That’s the goal,” said David Smith, bikeways planner for the Chicago Department of Transportation. “It’s going to be close, but it’s still possible.”

Smith presented schematics of and the reasoning behind the greenway, which will stretch along Berteau from Clark to Lincoln, at a community meeting held last Thursday at Welles Park. The greenway’s various features — bump outs, traffic circles, enhanced crosswalks and a contra-flow bike lane — are aimed at reducing vehicle speeds and non-local traffic on Berteau, he explained, as well as creating a comfortable environment for all who use the street, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

So what’s in store for each of these segments?

For autos, the greenway offers a number of obstacles intended to force drivers to slow the heck down, targeting 15-20 mph as the ideal speed. “Berteau is this odd mixture of people going too fast,” said neighbor Kathleen Abbott. “It’s the worst of all worlds.”

Too often, motorists use Berteau as a cut-through to avoid traffic on Montrose or the dreaded Lincoln-Damen-Irving Park intersection. “They’re blowing through stop signs and they don’t live in the community,” said Smith. To discourage such behavior, the one-way sections of Berteau, including Damen to Lincoln, will be striped with a dedicated contra-flow eastbound bike lane. “We’re taking away excess width that encourages speeding,” Smith said.

A traffic circle at Greenview will also slow autos, as will strategically placed “chicanes.” These staggered curb extensions on opposite sides of the street create an S-curve for cars to navigate. Chicanes will pick up the slack from stop signs being removed between Hermitage and Honore, which nobody was paying attention to anyway. (What passes for a joke in planning circles: “Don’t count your chicanes before they hatch.” We don’t write ‘em, we just report ‘em.)

For pedestrians, the greenway creates a refuge island at Clark and Berteau, where the current lack of a stop sign or traffic signal makes crossing particularly hazardous. Bump outs and curb extensions at intersections with Hermitage and Paulina, along with enhanced crosswalks (striped in the “continental” style of a series of perpendicular markings) improve pedestrian conditions and reduce the crossing distance, particularly around Courtenay Elementary.

Cyclists are clearly one of the prime beneficiaries of the greenway. More than one in 10 users of the roadway travel via bike, according to a count conducted by CDOT. “We have to provide safe conditions for bicycles,” said Smith.

The previously referenced eastbound contra-flow lane, which runs counter to traffic on one-way sections of Berteau, creates a viable, and safer, east-west route for cyclists, connecting them to major north-south bike routes along Damen, Clark and Lincoln. A bicycle signal will be installed at Damen to protect cyclists from oncoming traffic.

“This is a safety improvement project for everyone,” said Smith. “It’s the type of route anybody can get on and feel comfortable.”

Though concerns were raised about chicanes forcing cyclists into the car lane, and the potential for riders in the contra-flow lane to be struck by cars pulling out of street parking (drivers’ view of oncoming bikes will be limited), by and large, cyclists were in favor of the overall greenway plan.

“I think it’s great,” said Tom Riley, a year-round cyclist who lives at Lincoln and Berteau. To commute to his job downtown, he currently rides highly trafficked Addison to the lakefront path. “I go out of my way to avoid city streets,” he said. “The funny thing about this route, since Berteau is one way, I never even think of it.”

Other residents felt the traffic calming features, particularly on the portion of Berteau between Damen and Ashland, weren’t aggressive enough. “The first plan had traffic diversion,” said Abbott. Cars would have been forced off Berteau and directed to a turnaround elsewhere, an option Abbott believes would have made Berteau less attractive to cab drivers. “You can just tell they’re non-local,” she said. “I wish they were able to keep the diverters.”

Next steps for CDOT: digesting feedback from Thursday’s forum and making any adjustments to the design, engineering and site surveys, and coordination with utilities.

Even once installed, the greenway will still be a work in progress. According to Smith, CDOT will continue to monitor bike and auto counts to determine if any elements need to be changed or added.

“It’s kind of like a Lego set,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), whose office is paying for the greenway’s estimated $150,000 price tag. “You can add a piece in, you can take a piece out.”

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