Business Owners on Elston Won’t Fight Buffered Bike Lanes

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Biking on Elston, just west of Ashland. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s official: business owners along the Elston industrial corridor are giving up their fight against better bike lanes on the street.

In December, when Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” However, transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld wrote Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the industrial council, last month pointing out that there’s already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and 26 percent of crashes resulting in injuries involve cyclists. She also noted that ANBR would add half a mile to a bike trip downtown, and the infrastructure could cost 100 times as much as the buffered lanes.

At the end of March, CDOT project manager Mike Amsden presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, to North Branch Works, and now the council is grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes are slated for construction in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Mike Holzer with a map of the Elston corridor. Photo: Skyline

“I don’t think we want this,” Holzer told me yesterday. “The bike lanes should be in another spot. But the city wants this, and we’re not going to pick a fight. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Of course, unlike the protected bike lanes further south, the buffered lanes will be nothing but paint on the road that will have little effect on trucking operations. But Holzer said business owners still aren’t happy about the prospect of more bike traffic on Elston. “Considering that [CDOT has] decided to move forward with this, they’ve done what they can to address the companies’ issues. We don’t think this is the right location for a bike route, but they’re putting it here and we’ll deal with it the best we can.”

He acknowledged that the plans for wider travel lanes – and narrower bike lanes – are an improvement from the business owners’ perspective. “That’s a nod to the fact that the [protected bike lane] project south of North Avenue prevents wide loads from safely operating on the street.” He has said that, due to the narrower travel lanes widths by the PBLs, large crane trucks from Heneghan Wrecking, 949 North Elston, now require a police escort and flaggers when they travel on the street because they no longer fit within the lanes. “So we’re glad they’re not repeating that mistake north of North.”

While new protected bike lanes would have been more effective for sheltering cyclists, shortening pedestrian crossing distances, and calming traffic on a street where speeding is common, the buffered lanes represent a reasonable compromise.