Governor Quinn is On Board With IDOT’s Protected Bike Lane Ban

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Governor Pat Quinn meets constituents at an Illinois bike shop. Photo: Harvard Avenue Photostream

For years, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has been an enthusiastic supporter of walking, biking and transit initiatives. In 2001 he hiked from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan to draw attention to the need for universal healthcare, and he later launched the Walk Across Illinois fitness challenge, encouraging residents to walk 190 miles within one year, an equivalent distance.

In 2005, as lieutenant governor, he successfully pressured Metra to grant access to bicycles. As governor, in 2010 he signed the Protecting Cyclists and Pedestrians from Harassment Act, which makes it a crime to drive unnecessarily close to vulnerable road users; if the violation results in a serious injury the motorist can be charged with a felony.

Because of Quinn’s history as an advocate for sustainable transportation and safe streets, it seemed unlikely that the governor would support the Illinois Department of Transportation’s ban on protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads. Protected lanes have been successfully implemented in Europe for decades, and they’ve been shown to significantly improve safety for all road users, as well as promote commerce, in other U.S. cities like New York, which has been installing them since 2007.

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Protected bike lane on Elston Avenue near Division Street. Photo: John Greenfield

However, earlier this year Steven Vance reported that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected lanes on state roads in our city, at least until CDOT provides three years of “safety data” on protected lanes on other Chicago streets. Since the Kinzie Street protected lanes were opened in July 2011, that means the ban will be in place for at least another year.

This is a major constraint on CDOT’s ability to create safer streets. IDOT is currently developing a state bicycle transportation plan, but its illogical protected bike lane policy has undermined Chicagoans’ confidence that the department actually cares about improving safety for cyclists, as shown by comments at a recent public meeting on the plan. There is suspicion that the notoriously car-centric agency is actually more interested in preventing excess travel lanes or on-street parking from being converted to protected bike lanes, or perhaps there is some unknown political motivation behind the ban.

I had assumed that our pro-bike governor simply hadn’t heard about the ban, so I was extremely disappointed to learn this is not the case. “Governor Quinn is aware of the prohibition on protected bike lanes and the fact that IDOT is studying these over multiple years,” said Quinn’s spokesman David Blanchette. “He has a strong record on sustainable transportation and environmental issues, but he also has great confidence in the people he appointed to run IDOT, and when they say they need more time, he respects that decision. The governor is a big fan of walking and bicycling and does both activities regularly. He’s also a Chicago resident so he’s very aware of these issues.”

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Kinzie Street protected bike lane. Photo: CDOT

“There are reasons why IDOT requires a certain amount of time to do studies,” Blanchette added. “They have certain time frames that they like to observe on studies of this kind because they want to make sure the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists isn’t shortchanged.”

But why is additional study necessary when protected lanes have a proven safety record in peer cities like New York? “Every city is different,” Blanchette responded. “They each have their unique transportation situations and we want to make sure the study takes account of Chicago’s unique situation.” To me, this sounds like a rationalization from a state transportation department that simply does not want protected lanes on its streets.

Blanchette assured me that Quinn has spoken with his communications staff, as well as IDOT chief Ann Schneider, about the protected lane ban, but it’s still hard to believe that our progressive governor is on the wrong side of this issue. In the near future, we’ll be working with Quinn’s office and IDOT to get more information on the decision process behind the prohibition, and we’ll keep you posted on what we find out.

  • J

    This kind of logic makes me think that all the studies in the world won’t convince IDOT. If they were truly interested in measuring safety, they’d follow a standard engineering procedure of proceeding with a limited number of pilot projects along with careful, well-defined before and after studies to truly evaluate the effects of those projects, in terms of boosting ridership and safety. This doesn’t seem to be the case, leading me to believe that there is, in fact, no intention to seriously study this type of facility. Instead, IDOT’s ban is a merely a delay/discourage tactic disguised as concern for safety.

  • Correct.

  • R

    Well put! I have been thinking the exact same thing ever since the Streetsblog guys brought the ban to light. So is IDOT studying protected bike lanes that CDOT has installed on CDOT controlled streets? Why wouldn’t IDOT study pilot projects on IDOT roads and accumulate data then from their own roads that have prelim installed PBLs.

  • Thank you for continuing coverage on this issue. I’d love to know what exactly IDOT believes is so unique about Chicago’s transportation system. The density of the population? The width of the streets? The way Chicagoans drive? The laws that apply to drivers or bicyclists? I don’t think these are very different here than in many cities that already have separated bike lane infrastructure. IDOT is insisting on first obtaining three years of data on a half-mile stretch of the Kinzie. Will they then say that it’s insufficient data due to the limited length of the street, or that the volume or speed of drivers on Kinzie are not comparable to those on Clybourn, or other IDOT-jurisdiction streets? I simply can’t fathom what makes this “Chicago exceptionalism” argument so strong for IDOT. It’s just not logical. I’m very disappointed to hear that Gov. Quinn supports the ban.

  • Right? And who knows, when the three years are up, and a protected bike lane goes onto an IDOT road, we might be surprised that IDOT and CDOT roads ARE DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER AND MORE STUDY WILL BE NEEDED!

  • BillD

    Not going to be governor for long…

  • Joseph Musco

    Maybe you can flip it around and ask IDOT about their 3 year methodology for studying roads. If they can’t give you as straight response you can FOIA the information. What are the criteria for the 3 year study? What is being measured? What data is being collected? Let IDOT show their process in good faith. Maybe IDOT has a good process and just are conservative with their data requirements.

  • Anonymous

    Wow.

    Maybe that is why northeastern Illinois is continuing to sprawl while its metropolitan area peers are exhibiting growth patterns representative of improved understanding of the linkages between land-use. They place value on transit and alternative transportation – and they back up their value statements with investments. Unfortunately, Illinois does not.

    IDOT is at the center of the debacle.

    I agree that Secretary Schneider says the right things in public, and seems to be genuine in her statements, but the organization she leads is not implementing according to her stated commitments. We continue to see one highway expansion after another, while transit is allowed to stagnate and decline. We see less than sincere commitments to cycling infrastructure, and roadblocks to allowing local governments to make necessary improvements. We see urban highway interchanges in heavily used pedestrian and bike areas designed to move cars, not improve safety for “all users” as IDOT always claims.

    We need significant investment in transit and alternative transportation, not roadblocks to progress accompanied by investment strategies that undermine progress and erode public confidence in the state’s ability to see a future that is different from our past – a necessary lens for the 21st century.

  • Anonymous

    IDOT studies do little other than validate what IDOT wants them to; huge engineering firms produce analysis that fails to adhere to the most basic of statistical principles. Is it that they lack the skill to produce quality analysis, or are they directed to manipulate data and narrative such that it supports wasteful public spending and cultivates perverse outcomes? Well, there’s a lot of money at stake – that much I do know.

    One must question, though, how can an agency that has done so many costly studies over the years never have found that their proposed solution turned out to be the wrong one? They’re always right, by gosh. That is an amazing feat. They deal with very complex urban issues and are never wrong – they even know the outcomes before the analysis is complete, which is even more amazing. Hell, it’s downright worthy of Guinness Book status – a virtual carnival sideshow act.

    Every proposed add-a-lane is a great idea that reduces congestion and improves safety for all users. Surely after 50 years of the same thing we’d have no congestion and very low crash rates on our highways, right? Well, that’s obviously not the case, yet the studies are still underway – right now – cranking out the same tired results they always have, and the consultants keep standing at the end of the money printer hauling out duffle bags full of taxpayer dollars every minute.

    There’s something that really wreaks about a 100% accuracy rate – the “we’re always right” analysis that IDOT uses to justify their ill-advised undertakings.

    In any case, IDOT analysis is stacked in favor of the outcome they wish to advance. If they want to allow PBLs, then their study will find the need. If they want to restrict PBLs to one type of road or another, then it will find that. We just need to pay a lot of money for them to shore-up their position . . . it seems the consultants need to buy more duffle bags, as they can’t keep up with flow of cash coming their way.

  • Adam Herstein

    “Every city is different,” Blanchette responded. “They each have their unique transportation situations and we want to make sure the study takes account of Chicago’s unique situation.”

    There’s that “we’re special” attitude again.

  • Chicagio

    Opposition to PBL’s, the Illiana Expressway, the stupid circle interchange project… is there any doubt that IDOT is the worst government entity in the state? (and yes, that is saying a lot) I wish IDOT would have all planning and standard writing authority stripped of them and handed to regional planners, like CMAP. Engineers make terrible planners.

  • Anonymous

    Quinn is an idiot, saw him touting the Circle Interchange yesterday. I guess we just have to hope that Daley is a better governor (shudder)

  • Mcass777

    how much safer is Kinzie? I was looking for Steve’s app

  • JohnHimm

    IDiOTs run the place

  • Kelly Pierce

    I would like to hear the positions for the other candidates for governor.
    Please reach out to the campaigns of bill Daley, Dan Rutherford, Bruce Rauner, bill Brady and Kurt
    Dillard. I am highly curious to know if
    any of them offer a different position about protected bike lanes than governor
    Quinn.

  • Hmm… Not a bad idea, thanks.

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