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Two-Way Bike ‘Greenway’ Considered near School Street

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Cars might have to adapt to new regulations on Ashland Avenue in Lakeview — which would host the only east-west bike lane through Lakeview if Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) gets his bicycle project approved and built.

Tunney’s staffer Sougata Deb, director of infrastructure and special projects, is determined to turn School Street into a greenway that will be both friendlier and safer to bikers and pedestrians.

“The primary goal is to slow down the traffic on a school street. By introducing a bike lane, we will make a east-west bike route that connects all of our north-south bike lanes,” said Deb, adding that the project is still in a planning stage.

A neighborhood “greenway” project will introduce east-west bike lane near schools — from Ashland to the lake, costing between $250,000 to $500,000, said Deb.

Deb said that the goal is to complete the project by 2015 or 2016. Tunney and Deb recognize the importance of community input as they conduct discussions about the project.

Deb said the project is currently moving along as ways of approaching it are being discussed along with proposing designs of the school streets.

“We’re making progress on it, but the money is not certainly a done deal. I don’t want to say that we are almost there, but we’re passed the difficult stage,” Deb said. “We’re planning and waiting for money now.”

The greenway project is a result of the complaints that Tunney’s office received over the last two years as many residents pointed out that cars going over the speed limit on School Street, between Ashland Avenue and the lake.

With two schools, located on the street, Tunney wanted a long-term, solid solution what will reduce speed and increase safety on the school street, drifting away from speed bumps and speed cameras.

According to the most current Bike Crash Report, published by Chicago’s Department of Transportation in 2012, the number of workers commuting to work by bicycles increased from 5,956 to 15,096 between 2000 and 2010. Chicago includes 39 percent of the state’s walkers and 42 percent of those who bike to work, and bicycle injury crashes have increased by 27 percent while pedestrian injury crashes declined by 9 percent, according to the report.

Brendan Kevenides, a biker and an attorney who represents others that ride is a strong supporter of greenway project as he said he believes in bike specific infrastructure.

“The best way to increase safety is to encourage more people to ride in the first place,” Kevenides said. “More people on bikes will bring more awareness to motorists. The best way to get more people on their bikes is to continue building bike specific infrastructure that encourages young and old, healthy and not-so-much to ride their bikes, and leave their cars at home.”

According to the Active Transportation Alliance, greenways are designed to make streets more pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly while increasing their safety by reducing the speed limit.

Javier M. Perez Jr., an international executive vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union said he supports bike lanes and other forms of public transportation that reduce our carbon footprint.

Perez is aware that having unprotected bike lanes can be challenging both for the drivers and the bicyclists, although he said he believes that taking extra care is the solution that will increase safety in the flow of traffic.

“When the weather gets warmer, a lot of passengers want to get up and get on the bikes, so we are certainly in favor of that type of situation while we still recognize the need for safety,” Perez said, adding that he recognizes the connection between bus passengers and bikers.

Tunney and Deb want to assure that the neighbors are comfortable with their idea, therefore collecting feedback takes a lot of work, said Deb.  

Deb works with the community, presenting the idea to the residents and neighbors.

“I think that in the end it will serve well. I am looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a big success,” Deb said. “It’s a little too early to say that, but I am optimistic about it.”

The greenway project does not have a fixed completion date yet, as it still need funding and more community input, but both Tunney and Deb are confident about it and determined to make it happen. Deb said the greenway will be covered by a federal grant from a green initiative that will be announced this spring.

“If it all goes well it should be a nice, busy year for us when it comes to bikes,” Deb said.

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