Eyes on the Street: New Protected Bike Lanes on Canal Street

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South of Harrison, looking south. Drivers seem to have caught on to the floating parking lane concept. Photo: John Greenfield

New Bikeways Week rolls on with a look at the new protected bike lanes on Canal Street between Harrison Street and Roosevelt Road. Several recently constructed Chicago bikeways, such as the lanes on Milwaukee Avenue between Kinzie Street and Elston Avenue, are largely made up of buffered lanes, sometimes with flexible posts that discourage, but don’t prevent, drivers from entering the lanes. On these bikeways, there are only short sections where bicyclists are actually physically protected from moving cars by parked vehicles. However, the majority of this half-mile section of Canal features parking-protected bike lanes, which provide a nice feeling of security for risk-averse cyclists.

One of the best things about the new Canal PBLs is that they run in both directions on a street that formerly only had northbound bike lanes. Although the protected bikeway is only a few blocks long, on a section that doesn’t seem to get tons of bike traffic yet, the new facility is a nice little addition to the city’s bike network, and a well-earned half-mile in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s quest to build 100 miles of PBLs within his first term.

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A Divvy station, and a puddle, just south of Harrison, looking south. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday afternoon around 4:30 p.m., I took a spin on these new PBLs, starting at Harrison, where there’s a Divvy bike-share station, and a good-sized puddle, suggesting Canal has drainage issues similar to those along the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane. However, freshly laid asphalt on this entire stretch of Canal is silky smooth. I’ve heard that, as is the case with most new PBLs, there were problems with drivers parking in the bike lanes when Canal was first reconfigured. Nowadays, motorists seem to understand the layout and are doing a good job of parking in the floating parking lanes, aided by the word “Parking” spray painted on the pavement, although I did come across one cab in the bike lane with its driver absent.

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The extra stripes are supposed to discourage driving in the lanes. Looking north towards Harrison. Photo: John Greenfield

Canal features some interesting new street markings. At a few locations, there are a couple of extra thermoplastic stripes parallel to the main bike lane stripes. “The striping is intended to visually narrow the opening of the bicycle lane and discourage motor vehicle traffic from driving in the bicycle lane,” Chicago Department of Transportation bikeways engineer Nathan Roseberry told me. “New York City has installed similar markings.” Some of the mixing zones, where drivers cross the bike lane to make a right turn, feature two right-turn arrows marked on the pavement, along with a bike-and-chevron symbol, plus four thickly applied triangles, known as “shark’s teeth,” at the point where cars enter the bike lane. These are intended to remind motorists to yield to cyclists.

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These "shark's teeth" are nothing to be afraid of. Photo: John Greenfield

On the last two blocks from Taylor Street to Roosevelt, the southbound bike lane is merely a buffered, not protected, probably because there’s a major construction project going on next to the lane, which is taking up some of the road width. However, the northbound lane on this stretch, which starts next to the iconic White Palace Grill, in business since 1939, is fully protected. Just north of the diner, there’s a giant suburban-style retail development, including an LA Fitness club. While there are several publicly accessible bike racks in the shopping center’s parking garage, the handrails of the wheelchair ramps leading up the gym’s entrance are covered with bicycles, a reminder that it’s important to place bike parking conveniently close to building entrances.

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Looking north at Roosevelt. Photo: John Greenfield

Over on the Dearborn PBL, there’s a large, seemingly permanent puddle in front of the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, popular for cigarette butt disposal by federal employees. Here on the east side of Canal at Taylor, there’s a vast body of water that makes “Lake Kluczynski” seem piddling by comparison.

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Drainage issue at Taylor Street, looking north. Photo: John Greenfield

North of Harrison, you can continue pedaling on Canal in the existing, un-protected bike lane. However, as part of the Central Loop BRT Corridor project, slated for 2014 construction, the bike lane will be removed north of Van Buren Street, and a two-way PBL will be installed one block west on Clinton Street. South of Roosevelt on Canal there’s fresh asphalt but no bikeway, which doesn’t make much sense, as this stretch is listed as a recommended route on the city’s bike map and there’s plenty of room for bike lanes here.

  • The shark’s teeth are facing the wrong way. I wonder if CDOT got this wrong in their design specs, or if the contractors screwed up.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    This is pretty cool! I wish my commute still took me this way.

    Actually, north of Harrison, you couldn’t continue pedaling in the existing, un-protected bike lane because the bike lane and the two or three lanes next to it were full of buses and cabs waiting at Union Station. Photo: http://bit.ly/1aEvYnD

    @John, how far south did you go past Roosevelt? If I remember correctly, last summer they put in bike lanes on some blocks between Roosevelt and 29th, where Canal jogs and narrows to two lanes. Other blocks were left with the sharrows that have been there for several years. I think it has to do with motorists turning into and out of parking lots on those blocks. I’d love to see PBLS all the way to 29th, but there is some bike infrastructure there.

  • The current city bike map doesn’t show any marked bikeways on Canal south of Roosevelt.

  • There’s a bike lane from 14th Street (by Pacific Garden Mission) to about 17th Street, in both directions. I don’t think there are any others.

  • They indeed are facing the wrong way.

  • The pavement quality at the joint where the Canal Street viaduct meets the Harrison Street viaduct is horrendous and frankly a little dangerous and needs to be repaired. It’s behind you in the first two photographs.

  • Id wager contractor, no way cdot would get something so elementary wrong

  • Roland Solinski

    As Steven mentions, Canal is actually on a viaduct (like Wacker, sort of) from Madison to Taylor. This viaduct is currently crumbling away and needs to be rebuilt, which may explain the crappy drainage.

  • Anna

    I just biked Canal from 31st to Milwaukee, and you are correct, sir! There are some worn sharrows just north of 29th, and there are yellow “shared lane” signs and green bike route signs from 29th to 17th and 14th to Roosevelt, but no marks on the pavement anymore. Are we gaining bikeways or just keeping up?

  • That’s the unanswerable question because we don’t know which bike lanes have disappeared. CDOT occasionally reviews the network quality in the field.

  • Anonymous

    I ride south of Roosevelt regularly and then hop onto Archer. This is a very popular bike route for Bridgeporters going to and from the loop. South of Roosevelt it gets scary though because the traffic moves very fast (40 +mph) and the bike lanes are virtually non existent. There aren’t many good routes to the south from the Loop (Archer to Wabash & Halsted st). Making Canal more bike friendly is a great improvement!

  • I was looking for southbound bike lanes on Canal yesterday… except north of Jackson. They don’t seem to exist yet. :-(

  • Adam Herstein

    The shark teeth markings were installed upside-down. They are supposed to look like this, mirroring a yield sign.

  • Anonymous

    …as mentioned below?

  • Anonymous

    Not sure whether they are upside down or not, because I am not even sure what the shark teeth are signifying in this situation. They commonly (i.e. in Europe) refer to the fact that one has to yield to cross traffic. But there is no cross traffic at that point. Merging, yes. Cross traffic, no.

    Forget for a second whether they are upside down or upside right: Are shark-teeth in that specific location an “approved” use, by US design standards?

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