Eyes on the Street: Handy New Protected Bike Lanes on Harrison

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A green lane shepherds cyclists across the offset Harrison/State intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is almost finished building the city’s latest protected bike lanes, on Harrison between Desplaines and Wabash, and they’re useful ones. The new PBLs serve as a handy connection between protected lanes on Desplaines, Canal, and Dearborn, as well as conventional and buffered lanes on Clinton, Franklin, and Wabash, and they’re mitigating a couple of problem spots on Harrison.

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A worker heats green thermoplastic on Harrison. Photo: John Greenfield

It appears that the white lines for the lanes are finished, and a crew was out laying down green thermoplastic yesterday. In general, the lanes are curbside, but they will not be protected by parked cars. Presumably, CDOT will soon be installing flexible posts in the buffer on the left side of the lanes, to discourage motorists from driving in them.

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Typical lane configuration, looking west near the main post office. Photo: John Greenfield

At Desplaines, in front of the Greyhound station, the westbound bike lane is a buffered lane to the left of the taxi stand, which seemed to be working well when I dropped by this afternoon. However, the eastbound lane, set against the curb by a self-storage facility, was filled with parked cars. That wasn’t surprising, since pay-and-display parking signs are still up. CDOT plans to remove two free parking spaces and relocate eight metered spots from in front of the storage facility, which should solve this problem. There are also some major potholes in the eastbound curb lane, so it would be great if this stretch was repaved.

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Rough pavement in the bike lane across from the Greyhound station. Photo: John Greenfield

In many stretches of Harrison, the previous configuration was a de facto four-lane street. The addition of the lanes represents a road diet, which should help calm traffic. Continuing east through the West Loop, I didn’t see any other cars parked in the curbside lanes until I got to the main post office at Canal. Although there are “No Parking” signs here, a couple of vehicles were double-parked while folks were sending or picking up mail. I suspect this will be a recurring issue by the post office.

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A car parked in the bike lane by the main post office. Photo: John Greenfield

After crossing the bridge over the Chicago River, I saw one of the major perks of the new lanes. As Steven Vance predicted after CDOT announced plans for the Harrison PBLs in April, the lanes are mitigating an past mistake by CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation. In 2012, they widened Harrison east of the river from four to six lanes in conjunction with the Congress Parkway interchange reconstruction. The new bike lanes help tame this massive slab of asphalt by removing some of the excess car lanes.

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Harrison/Franklin before and after the road diet. Photos: Steven Vance, John Greenfield

At Dearborn, there’s now a four-way intersection of protected bike lanes, which is a unique situation in Chicago so far. However, Steven told me he’s not pleased with the way this junction was designed. The westbound bike lane ends before the intersection to make room for a wide right-turn lane for motor vehicles. Therefore, cyclists can get stuck behind right-turning drivers who are waiting for pedestrians to cross Dearborn. Steven pointed out that there was sufficient road width to continue the bike lane to the left of the right-turn lane.

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Just before Dearborn, the westbound bike lane disappears into a right-turn lane. Photo: John Greenfield

However, the treatment of the offset intersection of Harrison and State is definitely an improvement. When I first visited, the lanes were striped through the juncture as dashed lines, which curved to shepherd cyclists through the jog in the intersection. When I dropped by later in the afternoon, the crew had added green paint to the lane on the south leg of the intersection.

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Crossing westbound at Harrison/State, before green paint was added. Photo: John Greenfield

The new PBLs already seem to be doing their job of making people feel more comfortable biking on city streets. I saw a woman and four girls on Divvy bikes (some of whom seemed to be younger than 16, the age limit to check out the cycles) pedal off the sidewalk on State and into the Harrison lanes. “Stay in the bike path!” the woman hollered.

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A gaggle of Divvy riders taking advantage of the new lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

You can take a virtual tour of the new bike lanes, thanks to video shot by Streetsblog Chicago contributor Justin Haugens. Here’s the eastbound ride, and here’s westbound video.