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City wonders if bicycling is a priority on the West Side

During the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council, an activist explores how biking can be integrated with residents' higher priority needs

June 11th, 2019 2:14 PM

By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

On June 6, the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council — a body made up of city transportation officials, regular cyclists, community activists and representatives of cycling-related community organizations throughout the city — met on the 11th floor of City Hall to discuss some of the major biking-related issues on the West Side.  

In March, the Chicago Department of Transportation restructured the council, dividing the city into eight regions and assigning each a community representative. Each representative is responsible for tackling issues specific to their area, listening to residents' concerns and bringing residents' suggestions back to the council.  

The West Region — which includes the entire West Side, in addition to the Montclare, Belmont-Cragin, and Hermosa neighborhoods further north — is represented by Jose Abonce, a community organizer with Austin Coming Together.

During the June 6 meeting, Abonce gave an overview of the major issues in the West Region and what he plans to do to address them. Abonce said that much of the region doesn't have any bike lanes and that some areas are prone to crashes.  

He cited the section of North Avenue between Austin Boulevard and Laramie Avenue; the sections of Chicago Avenue between Pulaski Road and Kedzie Avenue and between Central and Cicero Avenues; the section of Lake Street between Lockwood and Hamlin Avenues; and the section of Pulaski Road between Arthington Street and Chicago Avenue. Some of the major streets, Abonce said, are dangerous to cyclists.

"Cicero Avenue is one of those streets that connects neighborhoods on the north to the south, but people shouldn't be bicycling on that," he said. "It has no bike lanes and the trucks — it doesn't make [a safe] environment at all."

Pulaski Road, Abonce said, has a similar problem and so do major streets connecting the West Side to the Loop. He said that planners must remember that West Side residents are concerned with earning a living wage, having access to good housing, good education, and safety. The fact remains, Abonce said, that many residents "may not necessarily have the luxury of bicycling or thinking about bicycling in any other way besides leisure." 

He added that too often, residents don't know about any roadway and bike lane improvements until they actually happen.  

Abonce also said that the region has several assets it could take advantage of. He pointed to the fact that North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and Austin Coming Together developed community-wide Quality of Life Plans, and it would make sense to build on the plans that are already there to figure out the best way to improve cycling amenities. 

The West Side already has a network of strong community organizations, including ACT, NLCCC, Garfield Park Community Council and the Northwest Side Housing Center. The communities have plenty of large and small parks. Abonce specifically cited Columbus Park, Garfield Park and Douglas Park as examples of spaces that offer recreational opportunities. The region is served by three 'L' lines and multiple bus routes. And while the large number of vacant lots has been a problem, he said, they also provide opportunities.

Abonce said that his first priority would be to engage with West Side regional stakeholders, not only to find out the best way to encourage cycling, but to figure out "whether bicycling is a priority, why or why not."

"I think that's something we need to define," he said.

Abonce said that he would like to find out how many residents have access to bike infrastructure within half a mile of where they live. He plans to work with local summer races and events to incorporate biking components.

David Smith, CDOT's bicycle and pedestrian programs planner, said that he appreciated the idea of the city building on existing community planning efforts.

"I think it's really crucial to bring in cycling infrastructure." he said. "There's been so many efforts that are happening from the ground up and we need to see how we can tap into those efforts. And we look forward to tapping into that."

Smith also praised Abonce for asking whether bicycling is a priority for West Region residents, saying that it was "an honest part of the conversation we need to have." Smith also mentioned that CDOT is gearing up for a design phase on improvements to the section of Chicago Avenue between Latrobe and Kedzie Avenues. 

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