Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Lanes on Wells Street in Old Town

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All bike lane pictures were taken on Wells between North and Lincoln. Photo: John Greenfield

This weekend might be the Chicago Department of Transportation’s last hurrah for building bike lanes before the construction season ends. The molten plastic striping doesn’t properly adhere to asphalt at temperatures under 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so the last several days of frigid weather put a halt to CDOT’s efforts to install 20.7 more miles of buffered and protected lanes before the deep-freeze sets in.

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Photo: John Greenfield

This weekend it’s supposed to warm up to the 60s, although rain is also predicted, and then it’s supposed to dip back into the 40s. Perhaps bike advocates should gather under the Picasso in Daley Plaza this evening to chant “No rain!” in hopes that innovative bikeways like the Broadway buffered and protected lanes, one of the first Chicago PBLs on a retail street, can be completed by Monday.

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Photo: John Greenfield

In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at the recently upgraded lanes on Wells Street from North Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, the last link in a nearly two-mile stretch of BBLs on Wells from Lincoln to the river. Wells is an important connector for people commuting from the North Side into the Loop, but as the fatal 2012 dooring of attorney Neill Townsend, 32, at Wells and Oak Street put into stark relief, it can be a hazardous route for bicyclists. The buffered lanes on Wells, striped after Townshend’s death, feature additional space striped to the right of the lane, which helps reduce the risk of doorings by encouraging cyclists to ride further away from parked cars.

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Ghost bike memorial for Neill Townshend. Photo: John Greenfield

While the buffered lanes on Wells south of North Avenue were laid on fresh asphalt, on this newest section CDOT simply ground out existing conventional lanes and striped over the old pavement, which is in reasonably good condition. Like most of Wells north of the river, the new bikeways lack a buffer on the left side of the lane to distance cyclists from motor vehicle traffic. However, speeding doesn’t seem to be a problem on this stretch, probably due to the narrow travel lanes and high retail density. As you can see from the photos, even on this chilly afternoon, there were plenty of cyclists in the lanes.

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Photo: John Greenfield

With these new buffered lanes, plus a new buffered stretch on Halsted Street from Fullerton Avenue to Diversey Street, notes Streetsblog reader Frank Gellen, you can now ride from Wrigley Field to the Loop almost entirely in buffered lanes, save for Lincoln between Halsted and Wells. This 4.5-mile, almost entirely buffered route is Clark Street to Halsted to Lincoln to Wells. “I know buffered lanes are not protected lanes, but this is quite a game changer for me,” he said. “I will ride this route for a while and see whether I like it better than my usual route of Clark to Southport to Lincoln to Wells. The network is coming together nicely from my perspective.”

  • kastigar

    The molten plastic striping needs to be done on Lawrence Avenue, from the river west to Central Avenue. If this had been done instead of the painting done originally it wouldn’t be worn away as it is now.

    Unfortunately, a large part of Lawrence Avenue is divided between two wards so it may take convincing two aldermen that this needs to be done.

  • Netro

    This isnot a buffered bike lane. Buffer is supposed to be on the left side where the fast moving traffic is. The door zone buffer should be automatic to prevent serious injuries, but that’s not why you call a bike lane a buffered one.

  • According to NACTO, “Buffered bike lanes are conventional bicycle lanes paired with a designated buffer space separating the bicycle lane from the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane and/or parking lane”: http://nacto.org/cities-for-cycling/design-guide/bike-lanes/buffered-bike-lanes/

  • Not just to Central — all the pavement markings are very, very worn at least as far as Jeff Park.

    I did get stuck in inexplicable traffic that turned out to be a re-plasticking of the left-turn lane yellow striping at all four limbs of the Pulaski/Irving Park intersection, though.

  • tooter turtle

    I like the improved lane, but I’m usually only able to use it for about half of my ride through Old Town. The rest of the way I have to take the lane to pass taxis and double-parked drivers. Wells is still a good route, mainly because the high density of businesses (with drivers stopping to load/unload passengers) slows down the drivers a lot.

  • Adam Herstein

    I get off the Lake Front Trail at Oak Street, and continue south into the Loop. I used to use State, but because of these new lanes, I have switched to Wells. I like it better than State, but it’s not perfect. I still see people driving in it and cabbies parked in it at least three times a week.

  • Adam Herstein

    It’s still technically a buffered lane, but I agree that having the buffer on the left is better. I already know to ride outside the door zone, and the extra buffer serves as a visual warning to people driving cars.

  • Peter Debelak

    I disagree that the buffer on the left is better. When the buffer is in the door zone it helps reduce accidents (in this case doorings) by encouraging bicyclists to feel safe biking further to the left, away from parked cars. I don’t see what accidents a buffer on the left is trying to prevent except for the rare case of someone being hit from behind. In that case, though, I don’t see how the buffer on the left would really help.

  • Adam Herstein

    The buffer on the right won’t prevent people from opening their car doors without looking. Buffered bike lanes generally are not enough to attract the “interested but concerned” crowd, so most people riding in them are already aware of the dangers of the door zone.

    Buffers on the left encourage people driving to give more space to people riding bikes. They increase safety (if only by a little) by moving people further away from speeding cars. The best solution obviously would be fully-separated cycle tracks, but if buffered lanes with only one buffer are the only option, I prefer the buffer-left type.

  • Alex_H

    A problem I observe, though, is that such wide BBLs allow cars to double-park without obstructing the cars in the travel lane. This makes it more dangerous for cyclists to maneuver around the parked car, because the traveling cars do not have to slow down (as they often do, at least a little, when a car is parked in a traditional bike lane and blocks a bit of the travel lane).

  • Adam Herstein

    True, but I see plenty of people parking in right-side buffered lanes, and conventional bike lanes as well. I’m not sure it makes a difference; people are going to park in them anyway.

  • Alex_H

    My point is not about the frequency of such parking; my point is that it is more hazardous to evade a parked car when its presence does not also impede the traffic flow of cars.

  • Netro

    Wow. Ok, if this is the definition of buffered bike labe than I’m sorry for you. Buffer on the right side (where parked cars are) is required here in Europe because of the doorzone. Buffer is considered as something separating fast moving traffic (especially on roads with speeds above 50 km/h) from cyclist, who is not comfortable riding next to fast traffic. Doorzone is a safety buffer, but not buffered bike lane.

  • Alex_H

    We would call what you describe a “protected” bike lane.

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