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Added Dec 15 2012

I'd like to thank Alderman Chandler for hosting a news conference highlighting the bike lane planning deficiencies along Independence Boulevard. Alderman Chandler indicated that he voiced resident concerns to CDTO Commissioner Gabe Klein regarding unsafe conditions brought about by the new configuration of the bike lanes on Independence Boulevard. He indicated that Commissioner Klein responded that the lanes were "designed by a world class designer. What do those people know?" Alderman Chandler indicated that he supports bike lanes, but not that particular configuration due to the safety hazards. He could support a configuration like the one on Douglas Boulevard, which maintains curbside parking for residents, with the parking lanes immediately to the left of the parking area. Alderman Chandler spoke of how over 34 people got $150 parking tickets for parking in the curbside parking lanes rather than the new parking lanes. Typically parking tickets are $50.00, and redlight camera tickets are $100. These new lanes could end up being a revenue generator on the backs of low income people. Alderman Chandler also raised concerns that the lanes were done on a Sunday morning, with no warning, no community input and nobody from the local community working on the project.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    The residents shared their concerns, one by one. Garfield Major, of A-1 Garfield suggested that bikers be licensed, fined and ticketed for offenses, just like drivers, in as much as the city will be making such a large investment in these lanes. Another woman spoke of how she parked in the new parking lane, and her daughter was terrified to get out of the car, afraid she may be hit by an oncoming car. A lady in a wheel chair, who lives in one of the buildings on the boulevard indicated how she is concerned about having to get out of her car into oncoming traffic with no buffer. Pastor Spiller, of Greater Galilee shared pictures of dangerous areas, and complained that lines were drawn over pot holes that needed to be repaired. He also indicated that the church bus had been sideswiped and one of his church member's car had been sideswiped. Mr. Barnett expressed concern that Independence Boulevard would become a ticket trap in a low income community. Mr. James Kimbrough expressed concern that there was no community input in the planning process. A number of residents voiced concern and indicated that they would not vote for Mayor Emanuel if he continued to disrespect the community. I expressed concern regarding the loss of 40% of the parking spaces and the fact that some residents can no longer park in front of their houses. I also pointed out the danger of removing the right turning lane at the intersection of Independence and Hamlin and the fact that drivers are making right turns from left leaning lanes as a result. I reminded the Mayor that he got over 90% of the vote in the 24th Ward and he continues to disrespect us. In fact, he only comes to the ward to talk to children. He has a World Class designer on this project who is treating the people in the community like Third World citizens and we will not take it anymore.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    A few interesting things of note occurred while the conference was going on. First of all, there were only 2 bikers to come through the entire time. One biker observed the rules of the road, but couldn't stay in the bike lane because cars were parked. Another biker came through, driving against traffic, and weaving in and out between the bike lane and the parking lane. There was a near accident caused because one driver was confused. She apparently thought a parked car was stopped for the stop sign. She drove behind it. When she noticed it wasn't moving, she darted to the left, in front of a line of 3 cars. Had they not responded quickly there would have been a 4-car pileup. Finally, we observed a policeman writing a ticket for a car parked in the bike lane. More than 35 people have gotten $150 parking tickets since the lanes were installed a short time ago.

    Alderman Chandler announced that there would be a public meeting at Greater Galilee MB Church, 1308 South Independence, Monday, December 18, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm to discuss resident concerns. Commissioner Gabe Klein has been invited.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    I meant to type CDOT Commissioner.

  • Marcus de la fleur Proud Lawndale resident

    I respect the concern that has been voiced. I have, however, to disagree with a number of items.

    The "world class designers" do actually know what they are doing. Their process is not based fancy ideas and what looks pretty on paper, but cold and hard numbers - safety statistics, years if not decades of traffic statistic. I have worked with this kind of designers (traffic engineers) before, and the only thing they are interested in are the stats. They know they are responsible for the safety (their heads are on the chopping block) and take this very serious.

    I understand that some people feel unsafe with the new configuration. Because the city put it in place, we now voice our concern. I am not convinced that the current layout is more unsafe compared to what we had before:

    Most cars were going way over the speed limit - even in the numerous school zones along the way. There was constant short term double parking/stopping going on on Independence and Douglas, where people got in and out in the middle of the road. I heard no-one voicing safety concerns then!

    The current system reduces the frequency of this ad hoc behavior, and thus in my opinion increase overall safety. The one thing we have to get used to though is following the rules of the road. If we don't do that, no matter what the road layout - we always will have a safety issue.

    It understand it is all new and very unusual, but if we take a step back and beyond our initial fear and begin to look at the big picture, we may begin to realize that this is a new jewel for our community, in so many different ways. And I am grateful for that improvement!

  • Valerie, I hear what you're saying -- and most of the points you make are actually in support of these sorts of bike lanes. I laughed to myself when you talked about how people are afraid to get out of their car when it's so close to traffic. Try riding there on a bike sometime - that's what cyclists have to endure every day.
    It is critically important to build bicycling in North Lawndale. Here are some reasons why:
    1. Bicycling builds community. Bicyclists are not closed off from their environment in a metal box. They are part of the community through which they ride. They can stop and say hello, or they can turn off on a side street to go see a friend or visit a business. Also, when there are more bike lanes there are more bicyclists, which creates a bicycling community in a neighborhood. (I have been a part of this in other neighborhoods, and it's wonderful.) Bicyclists make communities safer.
    2. Bicycling is healthy. Having protected bike lanes will encourage more people to bike. Bicycling helps people overcome obesity and diabetes. With protected bike lanes, people can hop on a bike and go get a gallon of milk at Leamington's, or ride down to Cermak for lunch, or ride to the park with their kids. We have a serious obesity problem, and protected bike lanes will help encourage people to make a change.
    3. Bicycling is cost effective. The average cost of owning a car in Chicago is $9,000, last I checked. A new bike from Working Bikes (approx. 2400 block of S. Western) costs about $200. The amount a person saves by choosing a bike combined with public transportation over owning a car can be staggering. All Chicago buses have bike racks, so a person can easily get to work with a bike-and-bus combo.
    4. Speaking of work, bicycling will help people get jobs. Part of the barrier for some people and potential jobs is transportation. A bike-and-bus combo can help them get there faster and more reliably than without a bike.
    More to follow...

  • These are just some of the reasons why these bike lanes are important to the community. The reasons you cite for them being dangerous speak volumes about the current bad habits of residents in this area. We are so used to the car being king, and it's killing us. An active lifestile, of which bicycles can be a major part, will help solve lots of the problems we face.
    These protected bike lanes have been studied very carefully and they have been in use in many parts of the world, in major cities everywhere. We have a significant perception barrier to overcome, but once people get used to them you'll see that they are an incredibly valuable resource.
    I agree that bicyclists who can't, or won't, follow the rules of the road are a problem. I'm not sure what to do about that, but hopefully offering a resource like these bike lanes will help them realize that there is a better way than riding head-on into traffic.
    But the biggest thing to keep in mind is that people who drive cars with impunity and with a complete disregard to the basic rules of the world will end up killing someone. In the U.S., about 40,000 people die every year from cars. Did you see that number? 40,000. We panic when West Nile hits and four people die, but it's totally fine to lose friends and family members to fill an entire sports stadium each year. We need to build a better respect for how dangerous cars can be. People need to know and follow the rules of the road, because when you have a several-ton hunk of metal flying down the road at a high rate of speed, that is very, very different from a 200 pound person on a 40 pound bike. And the results show it. A protected bike lane changes the environment on the road and gives drivers better boundaries. And if you have to get out of your car close to traffic, well, maybe that will give people the opportunity to stop and think about what they, themselves, are doing as drivers.

  • Additionally, 40% of our population cannot drive a car because they are too old, too young, or ill or disabled in some way. They need options, and a bike is their best choice. Protected bike lanes will make the environment better for all those people - the 15-year-old coming back from basketball practice, or the 80-year-old who wants to go see a friend a mile away.
    I am a long-time cyclist. I started riding my bike to work in 1998. At that time I was a size 14, and growing, and I was becoming sedentary. Riding my bike to work allowed me to drop to a size 10 and stay that size for 14 years. It has been incredibly valuable to my physical - and mental - well being. I find it incredilbly sad that you only saw two people go by on a bike during the news conference. That need to multiply a hundred fold.
    The scariest thing about riding a bike is the potential of being doored ... which, as you probably know, resulted in the death of a 32-year-old attorney a couple of months ago on Wells St. I've come close a number of times, and it's not good. A protected bike lane protects people who are trying to lead a better life from that danger. I've heard friends say that when you're on a bike, the sound of a door handle being opened is a lot like the sound of a gun cocking. Let's have less of that. Let's make our community safe for everyone.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    Thanks, Cathy and Marcus, for your explanations. I still believe this configuration is hazardous, especially removing the right turning lanes and having cars merge into bike lanes. I really d o dislike the fact that parking was reduced and reconfigured. It is not fair to prioritize bikers' convenience over the residents. Those bike lanes don't have to be curbside to be safe for bikers.

  • Marcus de la fleur Proud Lawndale resident

    Valerie, thank you for this spirited debate. From what I have learned about the City's bike program, it is not about increasing convenience for bicyclist, but safety. Going back to traffic and accident stats, they have shown that protected bike lanes at curb side do, in most cases, increase safety. Cathy mentioned the young bike rider who got killed on Wells street, because a parked car opened the door in this path and he tried to escape by swerving into traffic and got run over by a semi. Protective bike lanes at curb side can prevent accidents like this.

    I also think that a key aspect is that we need to begin to follow the rules of the road, motorist and bicyclist alike.

    I am not sure that parking really was reduced. It may seem it was because of the new configuration. This may be a good question to ask on Monday's meeting. If it was reduce it would be interesting to know by how much. CDOT will have those numbers, because they all are part of the design process.

  • Marcus de la fleur Proud Lawndale resident

    Just came back from the meeting called by the Alderman regarding the bike lanes. Wow - what a disappointing experience, on so many levels.

    I expect a certain level of professional leadership from our elected officials, including in meetings like this. Alderman Chandler could have been the rational voice in this meeting, reaching out to those with concern and those with praise for the bike lanes. Instead he chose to stoke the fire and lingering anger, making it extremely difficult for the meeting to stay on a constructive track. Thanks God the pastors jumped in and tried to salvage what there was to salvage. I only can describe Alderman Chandlers behavior as disruptive.

    I heard that the community feels disrespected because they were not consulted about the bike lanes. That is a very valid point with which I do sympathize, with one exception though:

    The City (including CDOT and the Active Transportation Alliance) had organized community meetings about the bike lanes about a year ago. I even saw the meeting notices on EveryBlock. There is so much the departments can do to get the word out. My question is, why did the Alderman's office not participate in getting the word out?

    I am a frequent attendee at various community meetings in North Lawndale. What always surprises me is the low attendance rate. If we want change, we have to work for it - we have to get involved - pro-actively.

    Attendance at the local public meetings for the bike lanes was apparently very low, which doesn't surprise me. I think it is unfair to now point the finger at the City, accusing them of disrespecting the community because the community "was not involved". The Alderman chose not to get involved, we chose not to get involved. The anger about the disrespect is misplaced in my opinion.

    It is fair to be angry and to bring concerns to the table. But it is essential to be able to take a step back and take a critical look at the big picture and ones own opinions.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    You make excellent points, Marcus. Thank you for your civility, and I do apologize if I made you uncomfortable in any way during my remarks. The meeting could have been structured differently. I am one of the people who expressed anger and frustration. It didn't help that Commissioner Kaplan, the Alderman and others walked out of the room while I was sharing information that I learned regarding the bike lanes. I am frustrated because of the manner in which Mayor Emanuel has treated this community since he was elected. I have a whole laundry list of items that he has refused to address, even when they were brought to his attention. Any letter I ever write to raise issues, I always make a point of making recommendations as to how the issue may be addressed. I can also see other perspectives and I respect them. I realize that the Boulevards belong to all of us, and my recommendations concerning the bike lanes have taken biker safety into account as well as safety for drivers. Any anger I expressed at the meeting was related to the sum total of the level of disrespect shown this community, whether deliberately, or through indifference.

    As a white man, Marcus, you will always be accorded a certain level of respect that I as a black woman will never get from CDOT--regardless of how valid the points I raise may be. That's a fact of life, and if I need to appeal to a higher level than Mayor Emanuel, then so be it. I will not continue to be disrespected in my own community or anywhere else. (I want to stress that you and Cathy have always treated me and everyone else in this community with the utmost level of respect.) I want to reiterate, that I am not against bike lanes, or the Mayor's grand plan to bring 645 miles of bike lanes and spend $150 million on biker safety. I do have a huge problem with the fact that the plan is being implemented without fully engaging North Lawndale residents. On top of that, when we raise concerns, we're totally dismissed.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    I attended the Alderman's first meeting on this matter and shared with him and CDOT the issues of safety. The CDOT people told us they had no authority to make changes. They would listen and get back to us. I sent a letter to the alderman with very detailed descriptions of the issues and very clear recommendations. The letter included not only my concerns, but concerns voiced by people in the meeting. The letter was copied to the Deputy Commissioner of CDOT who was in attendance.

    When the meeting was held on Monday, it was as if we were starting from scratch. Presumably, Gabe Klein would have had an opportunity to review the facts before coming to the meeting. He was noncommittal, and kept insisting that the new design would stop accidents. He didn't hear a word that was said. There was a woman there who was on a walker, and lived on Independence. She relayed how she was scared to alight from her car in the middle of the street. Others raised issues regarding tickets and concern for safety for children. It didn't matter what issue was raised, the response I heard from the Commissioner et al was this was a better design, and that bike accidents would be reduced. This level of tone deafness is unbelievable. If the plan deficiencies are not addressed, the City will be paying through the nose for accidents--particularly if there is a record that they were warned of potential danger and did nothing to correct it.

    There will be another meeting on Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 11:30 am at Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, 1308 South Independence. Commissioner Kaplan committed on Monday to come back with a couple options. He did not describe what those options could be, and made no comitments to make changes. Alderman Chandler did ask him to bring parking back curbside and put the bike lanes on on the left of the cars.

  • John Greenfield here, from the transportation blog GridChicago.com. We have an interview from Red Bike and Green's Eboni Senai Hawkins about the West Side residents' concerns posted today: http://gridchicago.com/2012/concerns-from-locals-about-protected-lanes-on-the-west-side-boulevards/

    This is a very informative thread. Ms. Leonard, thanks for providing a longtime Lawndale resident's perspective.

    One more more piece of info I'd like to contribute is that I believe pedestrian safety, maybe more than bike safety, was at the top of Commissioner Klein's priorities when CDOT chose to put protected lanes on the West Side boulevards. CDOT's Mike Amsden told me there were requests from residents and 12th ward Alderman George Cardenas to make it safer to walk to the major parks.

    Protected lanes are designed to help calm traffic, and they shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, making it easier for children and elders to cross safely. Here's our interview with Mike on the subject: http://gridchicago.com/2012/are-the-upcoming-streets-for-cycling-projects-in-good-locations/

    Ms. Leonard, I invite you to check out Eboni's interview and post your thoughts on the subject in the comments section of our blog.


    John Greenfield

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    Thank you, Mr. Greenfield, for bringing this discussion to the fore. I have read the interview from Ms. Stevenson, and I think she brings a great perspective. It is most unfortunate that the City did not rely more on people like her, Tiffany Childress and Tawanna Calvin to provide input into planning and community outreach. Moreover, they should also have included the voices of North Lawndale residents who live along the Boulevards, and get the perspectives of property owners and local planning organizations like Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and the Lawndale Business and Local Development Corporation who might have additional insights into the impact of the plan. I also find it troubling that biker advocacy groups are calling for people to support this plan, but do not seem bent on making sure the safety issues are remedied. We cannot be asked to essentially sign a blank check--that is, support this plan with no guarantees of fixing the deficiencies. That is short-sighted and selfish. Winning at any cost is a lose-lose proposition in the long run.

  • The organizations and individuals you mention should definitely be in on the conversation. I know that Active Transportation Alliance, the advocacy group that put out the action alert, has worked closely with Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, one of their official partners for staging the Open Streets healthy recreation events along the boulevards: http://www.activetrans.org/openstreets/chicago

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    Clearly more outreach should have been done, and the plans should have been reviewed with an eye to assess the impact to residents and drivers, and not just bikers (and pedestrians to a lesser degree.)

  • Marcus de la fleur Proud Lawndale resident

    I have been dissecting the events of the meeting back and forth in my mind. With all the anger voiced and complaints presented, I can see one common thread:

    The City (CDOT) went over our head and stuck these bike lanes to us. No one talked to us! Why has our community been disrespected again?

    Every argument that I have heard in that meeting (or that I remember), seems to go back to this key point - which is problematic - because it stands on wobbly legs.

    The City did reach out to the community and so did the Active Transportation Alliance. Could the outreach have been better? Of course! There is always room for improvement. But the key question to me is - would have a better outreach made a difference?

    Of all the community meetings in North Lawndale that I have attended over the past three years, I can count those with a "good" attendence one one hand. I simply cannot muster the confidence that a better advertising of the public meetings would have gotten more community members involved.

    It would helpful if we as a community could exercise this level of honest self-critic. It would certainly help us (the community) to gain credibility and make for more productive and constructive meetings.

    If the Alderman plans to attend, he may have had time to reflect on his role in "shaping" the bike lanes and hopefully will bring a professional attitude to the table, leading a productive and constructive meeting.

  • Marcus de la fleur Proud Lawndale resident

    I also would like to share another provocative thought:

    Put yourself into the shoes of the CDOT staff!

    I have worked on a professional basis with CDOT staff on and off over the past years. All the staff members I have interacted with have a very keen eye towards the communities they are working in - it's their job. If they wouldn't, they wouldn't last long in that department.

    I also have observed that they are generally very passionate about their work, and work very hard trying to make a difference, trying to get the best possible product for the best possible price to the various communities.They work evenings and week-ends planning, attending and leading public meetings. It is fair to say that some have their heart in their work.

    Now imagine having finished a project, after a lot of hard work, and being very proud of it. Now imagine coming into a meeting in which you get accused of doing a terrible job and not consulting with the public.

    Do you have any idea on how demoralizing this can be? Please, let's keep this in our minds while we try to resolve the various issues that were raised! Thank you!

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    That is one of the threads, Marcus. We each have different issues based on how we use the Boulevards. Public safety is a huge issue for me and I heard a lot of people voice that concern.

    Lack of community engagement is not an issue to be minimized as minor as it may sound. Indeed, it is one of the reasons our community is in the shape in which we find ourselves.

    This is not really about not getting a phone call or a flyer asking us to come to a meeting, in my mind. It's about respecting the people who live in the community and who also pay the salaries of the Mayor, the Alderman, Commissioner Gabe Klein's and the world class designer's fees--as bona fide stakeholders in this whole process. It's about not having our interests subordinated to bikers--most of whom don't live in the community and ignoring the interests of many of the bikers that do live in the community. That does not come about by getting a flyer to a meeting.

    It's about having us fully engaged in the entire process-planning-AS EQUAL PARTNERS in meetings, participation in advisory groups, joint decision-making; providing feedback; asking whether we could do without 40% of the parking spaces on Independence Boulevard; educating us about what the various choices could be; letting us know what the consensus was; giving us advance notice of the changes; conducting education regarding the new lane changes; being willing to make adjustments when it is known the plan didn't work as expected, or to enhance safety. Commissioner Gabe Kaplan does not respect our alderman or this community. It shows in the manner in which he has handled this entire process.

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    I can only imagine how demoralizing this can be. I am not a designer, but I used to work for a civil engineer on public projects. When the client didn't like the work, it was done over. We didn't treat them like they were children. We realized they were paying us to achieve a certain result. The product we delivered was always the result of negotiations between the developer and community within design constraints imposed by IDOT and local zoning codes. Moreover, we managed expectations and maintained constant contact with clients and communities to minimize the chances of outcomes like what we have here.

  • Marcus de la fleur Proud Lawndale resident

    I just attended the 2nd bike lane meeting at Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church. Looks like the issues on the Independence Blvd bike lanes have been resolved: rather than having a protected bike lane along the curb site, the design will be changed to a buffered bike lane with parking along the curb site, similar to what was installed on Douglas Blvd. Everybody seemed to be happy about this solution.

    The one thing that still bugs me is that all of this could have been resolved pro-actively, if the Alderman would have elected to participate in the public meetings/hearings during the design process. Instead, we now have to flip the bill for doing the work (installation) twice.

    On the glass half full side: We have a Boulevard with bike lanes! How cool is that!

  • Valerie F. Leonard Lawndale Community Builder and Policy Analyst

    I'm glad the issues seem to have been resolved. The City could have also not relied solely on aldermen to get the word out. They have over 400 delegate agencies around the city that could have helped to get the word out in the community if asked. Also, our Mayor is a master communicator. He could have promoted the meetings and this initiative with the same vigor as he has other issues near and dear to his heart. This experience, for better or for worse, was not all for naught. I would hope that everyone has learned from it.

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