UPTOWN — Uptown resident and bike enthusiast Connie Howes teaches yoga in the South Loop, and a lot of her students bike there along Dearborn Street, home of Chicago's first two-way protected bicycle lane.
The lanes "work pretty well" for them, and Howes said she would "love to see more of that going on in Uptown."
"When you're not with the cars, you're one less distraction for them," Howes said.
Plans are underway in Uptown to make North Broadway — a busy, largely four-lane street with no protected bikes lanes — safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Broadway is due for a makeover sometime between the $203 million reconstruction of the Wilson Red Line stop this fall and other projects scheduled for next year. The Red Line station project will move support beams from the street to the sidewalk and feature streetscaping improvements.
Uptown community group Bike Uptown is hoping for a safer street in the aftermath.
Broadway between Ainslie and Montrose avenues is a primary focus of safety efforts, said Bike Uptown member Melanie Eckner, who is also a member of the 46th Ward's Streets and Cycling Committee that created an array of proposals.
Eckner said drivers frequently speed on Broadway, at times ignoring the speed limit to make a light. The commercial corridor includes the entertainment district, the Wilson Red Line station, a Target store, senior housing and Graeme Stewart Elementary School, which will close unless a lawsuit keeps it open.
"There's an issue because you don't have a safe haven somewhere in the middle of the street," said Eckner. The amount of foot traffic by young and elderly pedestrians and the width of the crosswalk creates safety concerns, he said.
Streets would have to be narrowed to make space for the protected bike lanes, something that would also slow traffic and make crossing the street a shorter, presumably safer, trip for pedestrians, according to Lee Crandell, director of campaigns at the Active Transportation Alliance.
One of the questions to ask when trying to make a "complete street," Crandell said: "Is the street safe for the most vulnerable people?"
"If it's safe for a 5-year-old kid, then it's going to be safe for me," Crandell said.
He said protected bike lanes provide a visible barrier between cyclists and motorists and help "create more order on the street and get people out of each other's way a little bit more."
He said drivers often appreciate the barriers because it reduces the number of bikes traveling "in the middle of the road."
Installing the lanes could also call for switching the position of the bike lanes with parked cars so bikers are biking against the curb, a setup Crandell said would help prevent dooring. He also said "bus islands" in the middle of the street might be a good idea, as they stop from buses crossing bike lanes to pick up passengers.
The office of 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman and city transportation officials will hold a public meeting with residents next week to discuss efforts to "increase safety and make the street [Broadway] more comfortable for all roadway users."
Voters in the ward decided on various measures to make troubled streets in Uptown safer to navigate for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians during participatory budgeting in the spring. The projects won the community over but must be reviewed by the city before implementation.
The city's streetscape plans around the Wilson Red Line station that will move support beams from the street to the sidewalk have some local business owners worried about the effect on their shops.