Eyes on the Street: Halsted Street Bike Lanes on the South Side

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Looking north on Halsted, a little north of Garfield. Photo: John Greenfield

There are so many new and upgraded bike lanes to check out right now, we’re extending New Bikeways Week another day. Some new and upgraded lanes on Halsted Street between Garfield Boulevard and Van Buren Street show, once again, that fresh asphalt makes all the difference in creating a high-quality cycling experience. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently repaved Halsted from Garfield to Exchange Street and striped brand-new buffered lanes, and the velvety tarmac makes them a pleasure to ride.

Friday afternoon I rode the street north from Garfield, a boulevard plagued with speeding traffic, which would be a great candidate for a road diet and protected bike lanes. The broad bike lanes have buffers striped on each side, with curbside parking to the right, but since there isn’t much retail on this two-mile stretch through the Back of the Yards neighborhood, the parking lanes were mostly empty when I visited. Therefore, risk averse-cyclists may opt to ride in the parking lane in order to be further away from moving traffic. However, the buffered lanes narrow the car lanes, which helps calm and organize motorized traffic. When I rode this stretch in light mid-afternoon traffic, drivers were respecting the crisp, white lines.

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4100 block of South Halsted. Photo: John Greenfield

At 44th Place I smelled the familiar dog-food scent of the former Union Stockyards site, then rolled past the famous Stockyard Gate, crowned by a carving of a bull’s head, at Exchange Street. The buffered lanes end north of here, but at 41st Street there’s a new gateway arch for the Bridgeport neighborhood attached to a railroad viaduct, as well as a display panel with “A Visual History of Bridgeport,” including images of landmarks like Comiskey Park, the Ramova Theater, and Bubbly Creek.

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Interesting intersection treatment at Halsted and Pershing. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s an interesting new intersection treatment at Pershing Road, with real (not stamped) red brickwork used to create high visibility crosswalks, plus a large circle in the center of the wide junction. I’d like to think that the intrigue created by this unusual design serves as traffic calming.

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Phantom bike lane by Blue City Cycles in Bridgeport. Photo: John Greenfield

The old, conventional bike lanes resume north of Pershing, but as I approach 35th Street, the start of Bridgeport’s retail strip, the white line to the left of the bike symbols becomes invisible. In some places the symbols aren’t even visible, but this stretch is still designated as a bike lane street on the Chicago Bike Map. It needs to be restriped and, if possible, upgraded to a buffered lane.

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Flexible posts will be installed in the striped buffer of this lane under I-55. Photo: John Greenfield

At 26th Street, beneath the Stevenson Expressway, the bike lane resumes as a buffered, curbside lane on old, but decent-quality pavement. CDOT Project Manager Mike Amsden told me the agency will be installing flexible posts in the buffer zone on both sides of the street for a .3-mile strech from here to Lumber Street. No green paint is planned. While they won’t offer as much protection from traffic bike lanes sheltered by a line of parked cars, these post-protected lanes will be a nice upgrade.

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Vestigial "bike-in-the-house" symbol on the bridge over the South Branch. Photo: John Greenfield

Non-slip plates will also be installed on the metal-grate bridge over the south branch of the Chicago River, which will create a much safer crossing. Oddly, the bridge still features a vestigial “bike-in-the-house” pavement marking, a style that hasn’t been used in Chicago for more than a decade.

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1100 block of South Halsted. Photo: John Greenfield

A little north of Cermak Road, the bikeway reverts to conventional lanes, which continue through Pilsen and University Village. Shortly before Roosevelt Road, the street widens to four travel lanes, and north of Roosevelt CDOT has striped new curbside buffered lanes again, but there are no plans to add bollards.

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Bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway. Photo: John Greenfield

By the time I reached the bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway, by the Circle Interchange, car traffic was at a standstill. However, drivers were staying out of the bike lane, which offered me a clear path into Greek Town. The buffered lanes disappear at Van Buren, replaced by mere sharrows on this narrow stretch of Halsted. From here, Jackson Boulevard, a block north, is a logical route into the Loop, but it currently has no bikeways east of Halsted. It would be great to see the protected and buffered lanes that exist west of here extended east.

The rougher sections of Halsted between Garfield and Greektown, particularly the phantom bike lanes in Bridgeport, could use a touch-up. But all-in-all, the new and upgraded sections, especially the buffered lanes between Garfield and Exchange on fresh asphalt, are nice additions to the network, and I look forward to the added protection between 26th and Lumber after the flexible posts are installed.

Update 10/29/31: When I rode Halsted south between Pershing and Garfield during the evening rush on Monday, most motorists were respecting the bike lanes and driving at a moderate speed. However, there were two or three instances where a driver used the bike lane to speed to the front of the line of cars, in one case coming dangerously close to me on my bike. This kind of behavior would certainly make risk-averse cyclists feel safer pedaling in the nearly empty parking lanes rather than the floating bike lanes.