An IDOT Engineer Discusses the Department’s Ban on Protected Bike Lanes

IMG_7112
Clybourn, a couple blocks northwest of the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

This February, Steven Vance reported that the Illinois Department of Transportation has been prohibiting the installation of protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads in Chicago at least until the Chicago Department of Transportation collects three years of “safety data” on existing Chicago protected lanes. That means the earliest the ban would be lifted would be July 2014, three years after Chicago’s first protected lanes opened on Kinzie. IDOT is not blocking installation of buffered lanes.

IDOT’s anti-protected lane policy came into sharp focus after cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver, on Clybourn Avenue, a state jurisdiction street, on May 29. Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 designates Clybourn as a bike-priority “Spoke Route,” and the street is wide enough for protected lanes. Had IDOT not been blocking protected lanes on Clybourn, it’s possible that the city would have built them prior to the crash.

The circumstances of Cann’s death are still unclear and, since the crash may have happened in an intersection, it’s not certain that PBLs would have shielded Cann from an out-of-control driver. However, protected bike lanes on Clybourn could definitely help prevent similar tragedies. Since protected lanes are off the table, CDOT has announced plans to stripe buffered lanes, which do not shield cyclists from cars, on Clybourn from Division to Belmont, with construction likely starting this week. IDOT is cooperating with the project.

da4fe4f8-287a-4775-bd05-c1e936192601
IDOT Project Engineer Aren Kriks, second row, center, at last week's meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

At last Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting at City Hall, attorney Brendan Kevenides (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) asked IDOT Project Engineer Aren Kriks why his department is prohibiting protected bike lanes on streets like Clybourn, despite evidence from other cities that protected lanes improve safety for all road users. CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton was involved in the discussion, as was I. Here’s a transcript.

Brendan Kevenides: I did have a question I wanted to pose to the IDOT guy if I may. As many of us know, Bobby Cann was killed by a drunk driver who was speeding on May 29th. As [CDOT Commissioner] Gabe Klein mentioned at the beginning of this meeting, it’s not’s not quite clear whether he was killed in the intersection or on Clybourn but it’s been reported that there’s a desire among CDOT and many other cyclists in Chicago to have car-protected bike lanes on Clybourn and on other streets.

As I understand it, and correct me if I’m wrong, CDOT has either proposed a car-protected bike lane on Clybourn or at least stated that it wants it. My understanding is that IDOT is blocking that.

Luann Hamilton: That’s not really accurate. I can speak to this.

BK: Well, it’s been reported, so I wanted to…

LH: They have our plans under review, so we haven’t gotten all their responses yet and we’re supposed to get them this week. They didn’t block it, they’re just going through their process and it just takes a while.

John Greenfield: But there’s a blanket ban on barrier-protected bike lanes on IDOT roads.

LH: Well, if it’s on state jurisdiction roads there’s a ban.

BK: Right, that’s what I’m saying and Clybourn, as I understand it, is under IDOT control [it is]. That’s why I mentioned Clybourn specifically. It’s been reported that it’s because there’s not enough data and that IDOT wants three years of data. There’s plenty of data from places like New York who’ve used protected bike lanes for a while and I guess, respectfully, the one piece of data we got on May 29th seems awfully powerful. Could you explain why IDOT doesn’t want protected bike lanes on Streets like Clybourn that are…

39ab1cb4-4db2-45b0-aa12-7282094d39ef
Brendan Kevenides at a seminar on legal issues related to the Cann case, last Tuesday at REI in Lincoln Park. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

LH: I don’t think it’s really fair to ask a staff person a policy-level question. Do not comment on that.

Aren Kriks: I mean, I can speak to it just a little bit. As you said, really that is a policy-level thing, but I can say that, especially in light of everything that’s happening right now, these studies are taking place and it’s driven us to start a district bicycle and pedestrian study where, you know, the state bike plan is going on right now. And this is meant to look at the current policies, and we will be changing them in the future. But, as most people in this room know, these changes won’t happen overnight.

This one [crash] will probably bring to light, be a driving force to help get these studies going again. But whether or not the change is going to happen immediately at the state level, I can’t say. I can say that we’re studying it. That’s really all I can offer.

In comparison to a place like New York, we’re looking at state policies. When you get into counties and local practices, it might not be comparing the same thing necessarily. I don’t know if that answers the question but I can say that we are studying accommodations like protected bike lanes, whereas previously they were not being studied.

BK: So if I’m understanding you, and I know you might not be in a position to answer this, we may not have to wait for three years of data.

LH: No, he’s not is a position to answer that. I don’t think it’s fair. I’m going to cut it off.

  • Kurtis Pozsgay

    Did Luann come off as defensive sounding as it looks in this article? And why is she speaking on behalf of IDOT like she did? I’m sure Aren was capable of handling these questions.

  • Kevin M

    More studies, more injuries and deaths. They put the “IDOT” in Idiots. Shame on them.

  • Anne A

    Thank you for covering this. I hope that we can get a more detailed answer in the future from someone at IDOT who is more involved with policy development.

  • Fred

    A more accurate headline for this article would be “An IDOT Engineer Discusses How He Can’t Discuss the Department’s Ban on Protected Bike Lanes”

  • What are they studying? Seems they’re too tied up in ramming freeway interchanges through existing regional plans to bother with allowing the city’s own department to do what it KNOWS will work. Why does a state agency even have control over local streets? (That’s a bit of a rhetorical “frustration question” to which I’m sure the answer is too complex)

  • Well, this is a transcript of the conversation. It appeared that Luann didn’t feel like this public meeting was an appropriate venue to discuss the PBL ban.

  • JZ

    We have decades of data from the Netherlands and Denmark. Why do we need to study these sub-par protected lanes for three years?!? Sounds like some b-s to me.

  • Adam Herstein

    If the city can destroy a runway in the middle of the night, why can’t it just install protected bike lanes under cover of darkness? C’mon, Rahm, where’s your chutzpah? :-)

  • Carl

    Normally I am understanding of these types of things, but this is a prime example of bureaucracy gone wrong. Are you telling me someone at IDOT is actually going to take three years to study this? Who is this person? What does their weekly schedule look like? I’m all for thorough review, critical analysis and very much in favor of a strong, smart government, but Springfield has lost its way here.

    IDOT should either explain its actions and be held accountable for its policies or relinquish control of these streets to local officials. It seems they don’t want to do either. This is why people say government is broken.

  • Kevin M

    Why does a state agency even have control over local streets?

    Because, I think, the State provides capital funds to build & repair locally-managed streets. Additionally, I think, IDOT has historically retained jurisdiction over certain routes (Route 64–North Ave, for example) that it feels are too important to (to the State’s road needs, I presume) relinquish control to local authorities.

    I don’t like the current system (of IDOT having final say on certain Chicago streets), or, specifically, IDOT’s vague and unfair 3-year ban on protected bike lanes. I’m just sharing what I think I know of the situation.

  • The way we understand it, IDOT wants CDOT to provide three years of “safety data” that includes information from the protected bike lanes that CDOT has installed. IDOT will then review this data.

  • Adam Herstein

    State and US highways at least make sense why IDOT controls them. It explains North Ave (IL-64) and Jackson (Used to be US-66, although that route was decommissioned in the 80’s I believe).

    Clybourn is neither of those, however.

  • Adam Herstein

    Sounds like an Onion headline.

  • Adam Herstein

    Because Illinois is somehow “special” and data from other states doesn’t count.

    It’s this line of thinking that really drives me crazy. I hear “well, X may work in New York, but this is Chicago and something like X would never work here.” It’s a completely backwards way of thinking.

  • Yes, I think she did sound that way.

    Another IDOT staffer was present, Dennis Embree, Division of Traffic Safety Bike/Ped Program State Coordinator. I asked if Mr. Embree could answer the question, since it was “policy level” and he works in Springfield, where statewide policies like this are made.

    However, Mr. Embree “is not a geometrics person” (according to Luann) and couldn’t speak about policy because he’s in Springfield while Aren is in District 1. I don’t understand the difference.

  • Aren said, “When you get into counties and local practices, it might not be comparing the same thing necessarily.”

    Streets are pretty much the same in big cities. There’s a curb, parking, a bike lane, some drivers, and some bicyclists. The only thing that changes is specific widths of each of those things in the roadway.

  • Tim Jeffries

    Well, it’s not an appropriate venue if you are CDOT, who has well-documented policy disagreement with IDOT regarding the use of PBL’s. Airing that issue out in a room full of Chicago-based bicycle partisans has zero benefit on that front – especially if they are still engaged in discussions on the issue – so she shut it down.

  • I believe your assessment is correct.

  • SLC

    This is really why IDOT needs to be stripped of all policy making authority and have it handed to regional planning agencies (i.e. CMAP). I don’t think you can find another state agency that was such an illustrious history of failure as IDOT. Have worked with IDOT on a professional level, they are flat out awful.

  • Matt from Division St.

    I’ve been following this story and I’m shocked that everything seems to be centered around the fact that IDOT has prevented protected bike lanes from being built on this street and nothing has been written about tougher DUI laws and enforcement.

  • Jin Nam

    If there is space, what is the actual difference from IDOT’s perspective between a buffered and protected lane that they would ban protected lanes pending this 3 year safety study? Do they cite a rationale for allowing a buffered versus protected lane? Have they studied the safety of a buffered lane from….any kind of bike infrastructure that determined buffered lanes are fine but protected lanes are not? From a common sense perspective, it makes no sense to ban it.

  • There’s been some discussion of this in the comments section of earlier posts on the Bobby Cann case.

  • That’s true but (playing what-ifs) the drunk driver could have gotten into his car just blocks from the accident, and it would have been hard for police to nab him, right? So it makes sense to advocate for protection as well as prevention. I don’t think many people would be against both, they’re just slightly different topics.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Hamstrung by IDOT, City Plans Buffered Lanes Where Cann Was Killed

|
Last Thursday, about a week after the May 29th death of cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann, killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced plans to stripe buffered bike lanes on the entire 3.5-mile length of Clybourn, from Division to Belmont. Construction should start either this week […]

IDOT Discusses the Future of Protected Bike Lanes on State Routes

|
The ribbon cutting for the Clybourn Avenue curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town on November 20 was a Kumbaya moment for the city and state transportation departments after years of conflict over protected lanes. Soon after Chicago Department of Transportation opened the city’s first protect lane on Kinzie Street in July 201 the Illinois Department […]

Email Shows IDOT Almost Approved A Protected Lane, Changed Their Minds

|
The Illinois Department of Transportation’s ban on protected bicycle lanes on state-jurisdiction roads is a mystery. As Steven Vance reported in February of this year, the department is prohibiting the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing PBLs on IDOT streets at least until CDOT provides three years of “safety data” on existing protected lanes. Since […]

Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

|
Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case. Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike […]