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.
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.”