This past week saw the opening of the long-awaited Glenwood Greenway, a $65,000 bike lane on Glenwood Avenue between Ridge and Foster. The interesting thing about the Glenwood Greenway is that it’s a “contraflow” bike lane, meaning that the bike lane is oriented against car traffic. Car lane goes north, bike lane goes south.
The project took two whole years to materialize, possibly because some residents complained it would impede cars and “blight the community with ugly signs.” But most people seemed to support the project. 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman persevered, and here we are.
So how’d it turn out? CBS News is again predicting bike-pocalypse. But I happened to ride on this stretch four times Wednesday, and I, for one, think it’s pretty good.
For background, check out Streetsblog’s great write-up of the project.
First of all, the Greenway isn’t quite done. Northbound “sharrows” still have to be installed, which will direct northbound bikes to keep to the right. The lane will also eventually extend south beyond Foster to Carmen, at which point it’ll continue east along Carmen until Broadway.
Cyclist traveling south, car traveling north. Glenwood just south of Hollywood.
The driver’s perspective: A view to the north on Glenwood, just north of Bryn Mawr. Contraflow lane on the left. Ugly sign blighting community on the right.
First impression: it’s good! Clear markings inspired confidence. Cars generally gave me enough room, although the lane abuts the door zone. (Be careful.) It’s also a pretty route, lined with handsome ash and maple trees.
But the contraflow concept isn’t perfect. The main reason this section was targeted for a bike lane is that the only other southbound routes, Clark and Broadway, have lots of car traffic. Cyclists were instead traveling south down Glenwood in large numbers illegally. The Greenway is designed to legalize southbound bike travel and make it safer.
Sure, there’s something a little unnerving at first about traveling the “wrong way” through an intersection. But if you don’t fly through the stop signs, it’s easy enough to navigate.
The cyclist’s perspective: Glenwood and Hollywood looking south. Note the tiny stop sign for southbound cyclists.
This stretch of Glenwood also features speed bumps, annoying to cyclists. But speed bumps discourage Glenwood from becoming a high-speed, high-traffic through-street for cars, and thus make the route a good candidate for a bike lane. One has to take the good with the bad.
At night, I encountered a couple of other problems.
Glenwood looking south, just north of Foster.
Look at the picture above. See the speed bump? I didn’t. This being a former one-way street, the speed bumps only have markings on the other side. To a southbound cyclist at night, the speed bumps blend into the rest of the roadway. (It also wasn’t this bright in real life. Thanks, iPhone 5s camera sensor.)
For reference. Speed bumps only have markings for northbound travelers.
The easy fix is to put southbound markings on the speed bump.
The same spot on Glenwood.
Passing a driver at night made me feel like I was undergoing an invasive optometry procedure. An inherent weakness in the contraflow design.
This is a minor annoyance, not a crisis. But imagine if, in addition to the northbound car on your left, there’s also a parked car on the right with its lights on. Then it becomes a major annoyance.
Now that I’ve quibbled, let me reiterate how great this thing is. Going southbound on Glenwood feels extremely safe. It’s a pleasant, shady, and quiet route. The lane itself looks good. It addresses a real safety problem. And at $65,000, it’s cheap as heck.
The real measure of success is the zillion people I encountered riding in the contraflow lane. I didn’t keep count of how many, but it was a lot.
Happy riders wondering why I’m photographing them.
I did count while riding northbound on Glenwood at 10 PM on Wednesday. These were by no means peak hours, and I only rode between Foster and Bryn Mawr. But I still passed five(!) cyclists in the contraflow lane.
This isn’t going to be the speediest route in Chicago, thanks to the speed bumps and tight spaces. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re a confident cyclist in a hurry, you can already take Broadway and contend with its fast-moving cars. Glenwood caters to cyclists looking to avoid high-speed car traffic.
The most important thing? The city recognized how cyclists were using city streets and modified the streets to accommodate those uses. That in itself is remarkable. Even if it isn’t perfect, it’s good enough, and it meets a vital need for better neighborhood bike infrastructure.
3.25/4. A very good thing.