Updates on Berteau Greenway and Lawrence Streetscape

By Patty Wetli | Monday, April 30, 2012

Credit: Phil Thompson

Bill Higgins, program analyst and coordinator for the 47th Ward Office, was invited to present an update on the Lawrence Avenue Streetscape at last week’s joint meeting of Friends of Amundsen and Winnemac Park Neighbors. CSJ took the opportunity to also quiz Higgins about the status of the proposed Berteau Greenway.

Berteau Greenway

Though CDOT is still working on a design and obtaining community feedback, the greenway is likely to come to fruition sooner than the streetscape, which, while further along in development, will be more complicated to implement by an order of magnitude. According to Higgins, under the most optimistic scenario, the greenway could break ground this July once a final plan is approved. “We don’t have to go out to bid,” he said, explaining the project’s relative fast track.

CDOT and the ward office both identified Berteau as ripe for a greenway for a number of reasons, including the fact that one-way sections of Berteau tend to be quite wide, which encourages drivers to treat the street like a NASCAR track. “The whole idea behind a greenway is bringing down the speeds,” said Higgins.

Speed bumps are one solution but a greenway is less invasive, according to Higgins. “Generally, we’re trying to get away from slapping speed bumps on a problem. We already have 215 in the ward.”

Among the “traffic calming” solutions proposed for the greenway: a bike lane in the street’s one-way sections that will run opposite to auto traffic, narrowing the road for cars. Bump outs at the corners of side streets feeding onto Berteau are also being considered, as are “neck downs,” which are essentially bump outs in the middle of a street. All of these elements are aimed at forcing drivers to curb reckless behavior.

Ironically, Higgins said several stop signs may be removed from Berteau. “Because there are so many, people don’t even stop,” he explained.

In addition to addressing traffic concerns related to automobiles, the greenway gives cyclists a viable east-west bike route to use as an alternative to Montrose or Irving Park, where Higgins noted a number of accidents involving cyclists have occurred. While some have complained that Berteau doesn’t provide access for cyclists all the way to Lake Michigan, Higgins countered that streets such as Wilson, with its wide avenue and shared bike lane, already serve that purpose.

Once CDOT has finalized a design for the greenway, Higgins said the plan would be presented to the community at ward-wide public meetings.

Lawrence Avenue Streetscape

The plan for the streetscape is nearly complete, awaiting finishing touches on the design of community identifiers before being sent out to bid, which tends to be a lengthy process. “At the earliest, it would start this fall,” said Higgins. Step one will be to rehab the plaza adjacent to a strip mall just east of the point where Lincoln meets Lawrence (behind Subway). The goal is to connect this space to Giddings Plaza, creating a natural pedestrian thruway between Lawrence and the heart of Lincoln Square.

Construction on primary components of the streetscape will likely begin in spring 2013, running through the entire construction season, possibly into 2014. Although the project doesn’t entail road resurfacing, “we will be redoing sidewalks and curbs,” said Higgins.

While there’s been little objection to the streetscape’s more cosmetic features – really, who’s going to argue against the planting of 250 trees – the “road diet” element of the plan, in which Lawrence shrinks from four lanes to two between Ashland and Western, remains a bone of contention with residents.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” commented one attendee.

Higgins responded that Lawrence is, in fact, broken. “It needs a dedicated bike lane,” he said. “There’s a shared one now and riders don’t want to touch it.”

Pedestrians aren’t fond of Lawrence either, partially due to the strip’s rather lackluster retail environment but also the difficulty of getting from one side of the street to the other. “We’ve heard from businesses that no one’s wandering up and crossing Lawrence,” said Higgins. “The whole point is economic rejuvenation.”

Neither of these points addressed neighbors’ top concern: the project’s potential impact on side streets. Drivers are already frustrated with the gridlock on Lawrence and use alternatives such as Ainslie for a quick cut-through, noted several attendees at the meeting. The road diet, in their view, will only exacerbate the problem, sending more drivers onto residential side streets in a bid to bypass back-ups on Lawrence.

A number of those cars are only using Lawrence because of the current four-lane stretch, said Higgins, when they should be traversing Irving Park or Foster. Once the road diet is implemented, he anticipates that a number of these folks will adjust their habits and ultimately avoid Lawrence. “A big part of the project is timing all the lights to keep traffic moving,” he added.

Yet residents remain skeptical. Higgins perhaps best summed up the sentiment in the room when he conceded, “It’s not going to be perfect.”

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  • http://twitter.com/ravenshood Boy in the ‘Wood

    People will complain about anything. I happen to live on a street that may see more traffic flow thru due to backup on Lawrence, yet I fully support this project, as it is capable of improving the neighborhood from an economic and beautification standpoint.

    I’m glad the Alderman and his folks are listening to the concerns of the Ward residents, but also know that the Alderman will ultimately do what is in the best interest of the entire ward. If you polled the ward, I bet 80% or so would support this project. It’s the detractors that always make the most noise.

    Looking forward to the start of this project.

  • Emma Malloy

    I totally agree with Boy in the ‘Wood.

    The Lawrence Streetscape project will be good for the entire community. Lawrence avenue is due for improvement and change. Just the other day we saw someone get side swiped by a car while waiting to cross the street at Lawrence and Paulina. I cannot wait for them to break ground on this project. It can’t happen soon enough.

    And it’s ridiculous to hear what people are complaining about… if you don’t like change then move to the suburbs. Your streets will be much quieter there.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ericrojas2 Eric Rojas

    It’s unfortunate the two above comments here take a negative tone and discount those that have inquiries and concerns as “complainers” and suggest they “move”.  To me, these types of disparaging comments are a form of intimidation, belittle neighbors and will ultimately dissuade people from participating in the community.  The people with questions spent time to actually study the plan and show up at meeting with their neighbors.

    Winnemac Park Neighbors http://www.winnemac.org (which I serve as chair) sponsored and promoted this meeting and asked Bill Higgins to update neighbors on this projects.  Those with questions, those in support and those that had valid concerns were very respectful… and their concerns were respected by the 30 plus attendees of the meeting. In fact, at one point I turned to the group and asked “does anyone think this is a bad idea?”…we all kind of smiled and people were encouraged to challenge aspects of the plan.  No one felt the StreetScape project as a whole is “bad”, but discussed particular details.

    If “voted on”, yes, most of the community would support the Streetscape plan as it is with little inquiry.  And, that’s fine.  However, there is no reason to shout down folks who have concerns about increased traffic, safety and even aesthetics.  As long as people on either side of the community issues are respectful, we’ll continue to provide forums for people to voice concerns, support and ask questions.

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