Cyclists heading in opposite directions pass each other in the 400 block of West Dickens Avenue, which is a one-way street. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN PARK — A controversial plan to add a bike lane on the mostly one-way Dickens Avenue near Oz Park will be approved despite mixed feedback from neighbors — many of whom argued the plan would create a sort of bicyclist highway that would be dangerous for families and children.

The Dickens Greenway, a federally funded project, will add a contraflow bike lane to the one-way portions of Dickens Avenue between Magnolia Avenue and Lincoln Park West so cyclists heading east on the street won’t have any interruptions. It also brings a number of other safety improvements to the street, such as lowering the speed limit, installing crosswalks and creating curb extensions so pedestrians are more visible.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the Dickens Greenway’s area, announced Wednesday the $750,000 project will be approved. She has received mixed feedback from neighbors since the project was presented in 2019.

“Thanks to all the neighbors for your input, whether for or against it,” Smith wrote in her newsletter. “All the feedback given shaped the project for the better.”

During the most recent community meeting for the project — a nearly four-hour webinar held May 18 — a representative for Chicago’s Department of Transportation said the project’s main goals are to improve pedestrian safety, better organize the street so it’s clearer how people should use it depending on their mode of transportation and create consistency to make Dickens Avenue more predictable.

Currently, Dickens is a wide, one-way street heading west with some exceptions where the road is two-way, which has created safety concerns, said David Smith, bicycle and pedestrian program manager for CDOT.

Additionally, bicyclists already use Dickens to travel in both directions because “it’s a really nice connection to a number of destinations and is an important, low-stress connection for people biking in the neighborhood,” David Smith said.

The contraflow bike lane would formalize two-way bike traffic, making the street more predictable for everybody using it, Smith said. It would also make the street narrower so drivers no longer mistake it for a two-lane street, he said.

A handful of neighbors praised the project for its safety enhancements, including one neighbor who’s lived on Dickens Avenue for 17 years and said the greenway would offer an alternative biking route to Armitage Avenue, which is much busier and congested because of businesses along the street.

“I support the Dickens Greenway as it will create a way for my children to [bike] safely from Lincoln Park to Oz Park, which is not something we feel comfortable doing on the existing infrastructure,” another neighbor said during the virtual meeting.

A map of the Dickens Greenway (in green) shows where contraflow bike lanes will be added (in red) so cyclists can travel eastbound without interruptions. Credit: Provided/CDOT

But the project has been opposed by various community groups, including the Oz Park Advisory Council, which voted in 2019 to oppose part of the greenway that runs through Oz Park, said Judy Johanson, president of the council.

The greenway’s plans include adding a bike lane to the east-west walking path that runs through Oz Park just north of Lincoln Park High School. But Johanson said that path already is used by students at the local school, older people from the nearby Chicago Housing Authority building and hundreds of kids who use the park every day.

Additionally, there is a large hill just south of the path that’s used by dozens of children for sledding in the winter.

“They use that sidewalk to ride their bikes and scooters and run back and forth to get to other parts of the park,” Johanson said. “So to have bicyclists all of a sudden rolling through Oz Park is an accident waiting to happen. Somebody is going to get hit.”

Johanson said members of the Oz Park Advisory Council were “shocked” to hear of the project’s approval because it came so soon after the most recent community meeting.

Brian Comer, president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, said the group voted Tuesday to oppose the greenway’s proposal, and the group was “disappointed” neither CDOT nor Ald. Smith reached out to them between the most recent meeting and the project’s approval.

“There are certain aspects of the greenway that I think most people could get behind and support,” such as the raised crosswalks that make pedestrians more visible or the lower speed limit around the park, Comer said. “But we, in general, see this as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Comer said bicyclists might get too comfortable on the bike lane and stop paying attention to drivers coming out of the nearby alleys and garages that empty onto the street.

“We all exist in the city, so we all know how bikers treat the rules of the road,” Comer said. “I worry about Dickens actually becoming more dangerous for cars and bikes because of this.”

Smith addressed these concerns in her newsletter announcement, saying the greenway won’t create a “bike highway” because most cyclists still will use the nearby bike lanes on Armitage Avenue to go east and west.

Additionally, Smith said, “the many safety measures, including speed bumps, will discourage both fast driving and cycling.”

“Support for the greenway has been mixed, that is why we held many meetings and took all your feedback to ensure that this plan is responsive to the safety needs in our community,” Smith said.

More information on the proposal, including links to CDOT’s previous presentations on the project, can be found on Smith’s website.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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