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'Greenway' on School Street? Tunney Looks to Add Bike Lane, Slow Cars

By Serena Dai | January 24, 2014 6:45am
 School Street could soon have a bike lane allowing cyclists to ride against traffic on the one-way street.
School Street could soon have a bike lane allowing cyclists to ride against traffic on the one-way street.
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LAKEVIEW — Cars might have to slow down on School Street — which would become home to the only east-west bike lane in Lakeview — if Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has his way.

Tunney and staffer Sougata Deb, director of infrastructure and special projects, are looking for input on a play to turn School Street into a so-called "greenway" that would make the street more friendly to bikers and pedestrians.

The idea was pioneered in the city by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) on Berteau Avenue. In addition to a contraflow bike lane, which allows cyclists to travel opposite the flow of traffic, the street now has a pedestrian island, traffic circle and with other improvements.

The move comes because Tunney's office has received many complaints in the last two years about cars going too fast on School Street between Ashland Avenue and the lakefront, Deb said. More cars have been using the road as an alternate route to busy Belmont Avenue, he said, a trend that comes as more families have moved to the area.

With two schools and a new park planned for the street, Tunney wanted a "more long-term, comprehensive approach" to reducing speeds than installing speed humps, Deb said. 

Greenways in urban areas often make streets more bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly while reducing speed limits for cars.

"You're talking about changing the whole dynamic of the street," Deb said.

Tunney's office and the Department of Transportation are looking at additions such as traffic circles, raised crosswalks, curb extensions and the contraflow bike lane.

A new bike lane would be the only one that goes east-west in the ward, thus connecting major north-south bike lanes on Lincoln and Southport avenues and Clark Street. No street parking would be lost, Deb said.

The project, which would extend from Ashland Avenue to the lakefront, could cost anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000, an expense that will ideally be covered by a federal grant from a green initiative, Deb said. The grants should be announced by the spring.

Construction would start next year, after this year's water main project that will extend from Ashland Avenue to Halsted Street, Deb said.

In the meantime, the alderman will seek community input. Since the greenway can be different from block to block, Tunney's office hopes to connect with residents on School Street for ideas on individual areas.

That, along with traffic studies from CDOT, will contribute to the planning process.

"The goal is to put the power in the people's hands," Deb said. "If it's feasible, we'll pull the trigger."

Deb presented the idea for the first time to resident group Hawthorne Neighbors this week. 

Some neighbors pointed to the potential of more bottlenecks during drop-off and pickup times at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, 3319 N. Clifton Ave.

School Street, which turns into Aldine Avenue farther east, is also adjacent to Nettelhorst Elementary School, 3252 N. Broadway.

Target also is planning to open a store nearby, at 3201 N. Ashland Ave., another potential for traffic issues in an already congested area.

Deb said that the schools will be consulted and that officials will look "very closely" at the traffic problems a slower, more pedestrian- and bike-friendly School Street might create.

"Sky’s the limit," he said. "We’re not closing the door on anything."