A construction project along Green Bay Road will affect many in Highland Park, and many are letting the City know where they stand.
Their stances center on if dedicated bike lanes be added to a portion of Green Bay Road.
Highland Park city officials must respond to that question as plans for the upcoming 1.4-mile reconstruction project continue to develop.
And during a three-hour public engagement session on Thursday, March 2, where the project’s most recent plans were presented, city officials heard passionate arguments from both sides of the debate.
Around 30 people spoke during public comment, which took up the majority of the informational meeting. Most speakers shared their thoughts on allowing bike lanes on Green Bay Road, between Clavey Road and Central Avenue.
City Manager Ghida Neukirch said at the start of the meeting that while the project has been approved, specifics have not; though, the road work is expected to begin in either 2024 or 2025 and would last two years.
Neukirch repeatedly during the meeting emphasized the importance of community feedback.
“Again, I can’t stress enough that public engagement is a critical component to every project that we undertake,” she said.
As an example, Neukirch cited feedback from the city’s first public engagement session on Jan. 25. Because of that feedback, she said officials are no longer considering widening Green Bay Road to accommodate bike lanes nor will they build a concrete barrier to create a protected lane.
“If bike lanes are advanced, it would be designed based on the current footprint of Green Bay Road,” Neukirch said.
The most current plans call for a 5-foot bike lane, consisting of 4 feet of pavement and 1 foot of gutter, that will be painted green to designate it from the rest of the roadway.
Project manager David Block, of TranSystems, said bike lanes are being considered for a number of reasons, including to diversify the transportation network in Highland Park, to provide a paved road for bicyclists and to improve safety for all road users.
“Some studies have shown that bike lanes have actually been able to reduce the speed of motor vehicles by 5 miles per hour,” he said, adding that lanes could function as a “traffic calming” method, especially since drivers could be tempted to drive faster with a repaved roadway.
Bike lanes, Block said, would also create an additional barrier between street traffic and pedestrians on the sidewalk.
The majority of the public comments focused on the potential bike lanes, with both proponents and opponents sharing their thoughts.
Andrew Katz said he rides his bike on Green Bay Road with his young daughter, taking her to school, the pool and the recreation center.
“Green Bay doesn’t feel particularly safe for me on the road or on the pavement because there are people walking their dogs, their strollers,” he said, adding that when landscaping trucks are parked it’s difficult to see into traffic.
He added, “I’m sad that there isn’t support for a protected solution, because that would have been the safest for everyone involved.”
Mark Portman, who participated in the meeting via Zoom, said he opposes the bike lanes because, in his opinion, they don’t fit the “character” of Green Bay Road, especially in the winter.
“It seems to me it’s almost like this utopian plan which is best suited for southern California, sunny Florida, Texas and those places,” he said, “but has no reality when it comes to our harsh northern climate.”
Portman said, if the bike lanes go forward, he believes they’ll be damaged by snow removal equipment and that the paint would need to be reapplied frequently.
His concerns were echoed by other speakers.
Residents asked about other roads for bike lanes, and Neukirch said roads being considered are those that need resurfacing, since it makes more sense to add a lane when the road is under construction.
Some proponents of bike lanes also asked city officials to reconsider expanding Green Bay Road, while opponents said the street is too dangerous for bike lanes to be added.
Neukirch said the city will accept feedback until March 31, at which point a report and recommendation will be put together and presented to the City Council, possibly on April 10.
She also said that while the formal deadline is March 31, anybody can provide feedback afterward.
“You can contact us at any time,” she said. “If something comes up April 5 or whenever, please make sure that you know that you can contact us at any time with your questions or feedback.”
A comment card can be found online and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to City of Highland Park, 1150 Half Day Road, Highland Park, IL 60035, Attn: Emmanuel Gomez.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.