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.

  • Lee Crandell

    I’m curious about the State Street intersection. It’s different than the configuration presented at the public meeting, which would have avoided right-hooks. It looks like they changes that in their striping plan (http://www.scribd.com/doc/233519196/Harrison-Desplaines-to-Wabash-Striping-FINAL). Why the change? Does this mean they plan to add a bike signal there?

  • Jeff H

    Good progress, but I wish there was a decent bike lane that would take you all the way to the lakefront path from the loop. Monroe is a straight shot, but hardly bike friendly.

  • I’m not seeing the difference.

    Here’s a still from the eastbound video, at 4:18, and the relevant part of the striping plan.

  • A little south of the Loop, but the sidewalk lanes being built on Roosevelt will provide a low-street link from State to Grant Park, where you can pick up paths to take you to the lakefront.

  • Mishellie

    Monroe will be when the loop BRT is installed, I’m hoping?

  • Mike McCune

    There is finally a good route from the Wabash BBL to the Dearborn PBL. I used to take that every day and had some close calls at Harrison and State.

  • Andrew W

    Harrison is my normal route into work and the PBL’s certainly have made a difference. Traffic is now slowing down and drivers are starting to pay more attention. It’s been a great addition.

  • Sarah

    I think the area in front of the Post Office is going to be particularly dangerous with the combination of parked cars in the lane and people throwing their doors open into the area a cyclist would be in to go around the car.

  • RW

    Has anyone else had trouble the WB Canal-Harrison intersection in the AM? It seems that the bike lane addition has increased traffic backup on Harrison (also likely due to Van Buren bridge being closed, so more traffic is turning right onto Canal) and I’ve had a few near misses with cars merging into the bike lane far east of the intersection, as well as tour busses taking up both the traffic lane and the turn lane. Any ideas for ways to get through here safely and efficiently?

    And agreed with the area in front of the Post Office. It’s always been a de facto parking lot but is more dangerous now. Yesterday a CPD car sped by me and 5 parked cars, ignoring the whole situation. I don’t see it improving without enforcement or posts.

  • Anne A

    I agree. I rode the new Harrison lanes for the first time the other night. I was grateful for light traffic, otherwise the cars parked in the lane by the post office could have been a significant problem. We definitely need some enforcement there.

  • What’s really annoying about parking in front of the post office is that 1) I’m pretty they provide free parking in a garage whose entrance is by the river, and 2) you’re really not that close to the customer service area if you park on Harrison.

    I used to take the 60-Blue Island/26th bus from Pilsen to Ogilvie and WB Harrison at Canal was always a problem to merge from the curbside lane to the left-turn lane onto NB Canal. CDOT needs to install the flexible posts here ASAP or the bike lane will become completely unusable here.

  • As someone who’s been using that post office for over a decade, the parking garage is incredibly hard to find if you don’t already know it’s there. If you’re a casual user of the office (only stopping there in a hurry because Something Must Be Mailed), I can easily see how you might get there, freak out, and stop somewhere illegal.

    Better wayfinding could solve this problem entirely.

  • Now looking to be sometime after 2015.

  • Lee Crandell

    Yes, and that striping plan does not match what CDOT presented at the public meeting. Here’s that presentation: http://www.scribd.com/doc/177902217/Harrison-Public-Meeting-FINAL

  • Ah yes, what they presented and what they installed is quite different.

    I prefer the current configuration over the version proposed in October 2013 to South Loop residents because in that version they proposed TWO right turn lanes, one for turning right onto State Street and another for the slight right needed to jog and continue onto Harrison.

    I think such turn arrows (where there’s a slight right) combined with centered bike lanes (originally proposed) are problematic for motorists because it seems that either lane can accommodate their intended maneuver. This problem can be seen daily on SB Milwaukee at Augusta. There is a through lane and a turn lane that is supposed to accommodate “hard” right turns onto WB Augusta and “soft” right turns onto SB Kennedy expressway. However, many people make their “soft” right turn onto the Kennedy from the through lane and across bicyclists’ path (a right hook).

    It looks a little like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/5452608091

  • It’s been blocked every single time I’ve ridden through. The Canal lane usually is, too. (even though there’s room carved out for a car, they idle in the lane.)

  • cuevas

    This is a significant improvement, but hopefully there’s more to come. Are there plans for bollards to be installed still? The lane on westbound Harrison between Financial and Wells has become a de facto right turn lane for drivers heading north on either of those streets, particularly during rush hour.

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