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Officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation are mulling over plans for bike routes on the West Side.

Since 2012, CDOT has been working with Active Transportation Alliance to develop a citywide bike route expansion plan. According to Mike Amsden, the department’s assistant director of transportation planning, as the Divvy bike share network continues to grow, the city wants to have a more robust network of routes to go with it.

City officials said that, although the bike network is meant to benefit the entire city, they’re trying to tailor specific routes to address the needs of individual communities.

In a series of community meetings this month, CDOT solicited the opinions of residents and local leaders about the proposed project.

In a March 23 meeting at Legler Library in West Garfield Park, residents and CDOT officials tailored their concerns to the West Side area bordered by North Avenue to the north, the city border to the west, Roosevelt Avenue to the south and California Avenue to the east.

The area includes West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, most of West Humboldt Park, all of Austin (except Galewood) and parts of North Lawndale.

Amsden said that CDOT consulted with local aldermen, community groups and institutions to figure out which routes would connect the West Side to the rest of Chicago and help local residents reach jobs, medical facilities, recreational amenities and public transit stations.

They also noted that they are looking to provide routes that everybody would feel comfortable riding, a move they hope will increase bike ridership.

“We are really trying to build a bike route network that would benefit everyone,” said Amsden. “We are trying to provide low-stress, enjoyable routes in all neighborhoods, in all communities in Chicago.”

The route would fall into two major categories: the neighborhood routes and crosstown bike routes. The neighborhood bike routes would use quieter streets where bicyclists can usually ride safely without worrying about heavy vehicle traffic. Those routes would get some pavement markings and signage.

The crosstown routes would use busier arterial streets, such as Madison Avenue and Kedzie Avenue.

“People want to ride bikes on those streets; but oftentimes, they don’t feel safe,” said Amsden.

During the March 23 presentation, CDOT officials showed community members a map of several high- and medium-priority bike routes. High-priority routes would establish links to existing parks. For instance, Central Avenue would link together with the Madison Avenue route and the existing bike path in Columbus Park.

After the presentation was over, residents were invited to use stickers to highlight which routes they would like to see most. Most of the stickers were placed at the Chicago Avenue, Madison Avenue and Grand Avenue routes.

Jerome Montgomery, of West Garfield Park, said he bikes regularly and hopes that the new bike routes would inspire more people to do the same.

“Hopefully, it would get more people into bike riding,” he said. “My friends and family don’t do it.”

Montgomery said that he liked to see bike path extensions on Madison, but that he would be happy to get any kind of improvements.

Ronald Weber, of the Near West Side, said he would be happy to see any new bike routes, especially if they would let people get to Oak Park.

“I would like to be able to bike west from [Lake Michigan] all the way across the city and there really isn’t a safe way to do it,” He said.

He said that, out of the routes suggested, the Chicago route struck him as the best way to accomplish that.

But actually getting the routes up and running will be tricky. Amsden said that the next step would be to take the feedback CDOT got, refine the plans and present them to the aldermen and other area stakeholders.

“Our goal is to get as much support [for the routes that will be built] as we can,” he said.

CDOT will work with officials to get local or federal funding, or some combination of both. Amsden said that the department hopes to at least start the design phase later this year.

The timetable for actually putting the routes in, he said, will depend on how soon CDOT can get the funding.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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