ROSCOE VILLAGE — The city’s plan to resurface Belmont Avenue may be welcome news for those annoyed by potholes, but cycling and public transit advocates say the plan is one big missed opportunity.
About 100 people gathered at Fellger Park, 2000 W. Belmont Ave., in Roscoe Village Wednesday calling on the city to add protected bike lanes and other safety features to Belmont Avenue from Southport Avenue to DuSable Lake Shore Drive — not just the ADA curb ramps, pavement markings, curb extensions and painted bike lanes already planned for the stretch.
After gathering in the park, the group biked toward Ald. Tom Tunney’s 44th Ward office, where they stopped briefly before heading to the Lakefront Trail.
Those participating in the protest, organized by Better Streets Chicago, Chicago Bike Grid, Now, Chicago Family Biking and Urban Environmentalists Illinois, said the city must better consider pedestrians, cyclists and transit users while planning resurfacing projects.
Instead, the protesters feared motorists were being prioritized in the overhaul — and are frustrated that detailed plans for the resurfacing have not been released even though construction could start as soon as next week.
“When the Chicago Department of Transportation is undertaking a resurfacing project — not just Belmont, but all of them — improving the safety and usability for pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists should be the number one priority,” said Kyle Lucas, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago.
Advocates proposed several changes to the current street layout as part of the resurfacing plan, including:
- Four lanes of travel on Belmont east of Halsted; two for buses and vehicles and two for protected bike lanes in each direction.
- An additional lane with loading and parking zones west of Halsted.
- Prohibiting right turns on red lights and the addition of protected intersections, also known as Dutch-style intersections, in which the lane barriers that separate cyclists and pedestrians from cars continue through the intersection.
- Signal priority, bus boarding islands and additional shelters for the Belmont 77 bus line.
Erica Schroeder, spokesperson for the city’s transportation department, defended the resurfacing plan. Painted Belmont bike lanes are designed to complement the existing neighborhood greenway bike routes on School/Aldine and Roscoe streets, which connect the Lakefront Trail to Roscoe Village and the existing protected bike lanes on Campbell near Clark Park and the 312 River Run Trail, Schroeder said.
In addition to the painted bike lanes between Southport and Ashland on Belmont, painted “bike boxes will also be installed at certain intersections, which provide people biking with a safe and more visible space to wait at red lights,” Schroeder said.
Painted bike lanes will also be installed along Belmont west of Southport to Ashland Avenue as part of the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont streetscape project, which broke ground in June.
The city is also evaluating whether to create an additional bike connection on Belmont between Ashland and Campbell as part of another resurfacing project next year, Schroeder said.
“Belmont Avenue and its surrounding streets are a critical part of CDOT’s goals to build a connected network of low-stress bike routes stretching from the Lakefront to the west side,” Schroeder said, but because “Belmont narrows significantly east of Clark Street,” there isn’t enough room for a bike lane all the way to the lake.
But Rebecca Resman, founder of Chicago Family Biking, said the current resurfacing plans won’t make cyclists or pedestrians any safer.
“I’m here not to fight for one stretch of one street — I’m here to challenge the leaders of our city and the Chicago Department of Transportation to make safety the default on every street in the city of Chicago,” Resman said.
Chicago Family Biking is made up of over 4,000 parents and advocates from around the city and Resman said the “number one concern” they hear from the community is safety.
“While riding with our babies on board, we see first-hand the recklessness and the aggressiveness of Chicago’s drivers,” Resman said. “It is our responsibility to make sure everyone has access to a connected and protected network of bike lanes. Spoiler alert: When you make streets safer for biking, you make them safer for everyone.”
Resman’s daughter is 9, so for her, safe cycling infrastructure is particularly important because children older than 12 are no longer legally allowed to ride a bike on the sidewalk.
“Think about when you were 12, were you ready for this?” Resman said, motioning to traffic on Belmont Avenue.
“Do you think 12-year-olds are safe riding on streets like Belmont Avenue? No they are not,” Resman said. “But they could be.”
‘More of the same design’
Since January 2017, drivers have hit at least 23 cyclists and 36 pedestrians on Belmont Avenue between Ashland and DuSable Lake Shore Drive, according to city data. Over half of those crashes occurred during daylight hours, data shows.
Jeremy Frisch, who lives blocks from Belmont, first read about the resurfacing plan in Ald. Tunney’s newsletter and started a petition shortly after learning the design specifics.
Frisch said he was angry when he learned the street would be resurfaced “with only partial painted bike gutters and no real bus improvements.”
“Mad that after seven children have been killed by drivers on our streets just this summer, including Lily Shambrook, a 3-year-old killed because a truck blocked a painted bike lane, CDOT has the audacity to propose more of the same design,” Frisch said.
“Mad that I have to worry that I might not come home to my wife and two-year-old just because I wanted to bike to pick up a library book. Mad that CDOT and our elected officials think car storage is more important than my life or my two-year-old’s life when we use our family bike to get around the city,” he said. “Mad that a bus load of people on our city’s eighth busiest bus line have the same priority as a single driver in a private vehicle.”
The petition he started demanding Frisch said he then ”started a petition hoping other people would be just as mad” and has since garnered over 500 signatures.
His petition calls for the city to add dedicated bus lane to Belmont, upgrade the bike lane from painted to protected and lengthen it all the way to DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
Over 2,100 letters have been sent by Chicagoans through Frisch’s petition to Tunney, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), transportation commissioner Gia Biagi and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Work on the resurfacing project is expected to begin imminently and last through November, according to Tunney’s oddice. Though the resurfacing should break ground any day now, Frisch said no one has seen the final street plan despite repeated requests.
Schroeder said “CDOT has been in close communication with the 44th Ward regarding the upcoming work on the eastern part of Belmont Ave.” Calvin Cottrell, a representative of Tunney’s office, said the Belmont resurfacing project has been “planned and managed solely by CDOT.”
The city’s final plans for Belmont were still not released to the public as of Thursday afternoon, adding to neighbors’ frustrations.
“Safe streets should just be the default,” Lucas said. “We know what we deserve.”
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