Eyes on the Street: Recent Bike Upgrades in the Loop and on the South Side

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Wide buffered bike lane on California over the Ike. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago Department of Transportation crews are continuing their work this summer, building new bikeways and upgrading existing ones. Yesterday, I took a spin around the Loop and the South Side to check out the latest improvements on Randolph, Harrison, California, 33rd, and King.

I started out on Upper Randolph, where CDOT recently upgraded the existing conventional lane between Michigan and the Millennium Park bike station to a buffered lane, and added a short stretch of buffered lane to shepherd riders onto Lower Randolph. When I checked this out earlier this month, tour buses were still using the stretch of the bike lane near Michigan, where the lane is curbside, as a standing zone.

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Flexible posts have been added to upper Randolph. Photo: John Greenfield

However, flexible plastic posts have since been added, which seem to be doing a good job of keeping buses out of the lane. Drivers don’t seem to be having any problems navigating the slightly complex road layout. Further up the hill, the bike lane shifts to the left of a parking lane, so the buses only partially block the bikeway.

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Further up the hill, the Randolph lane shifts to the left. Photo: John Greenfield

Next, I checked in on the new protected lanes on Harrison from Wabash to Desplaines. Since the last time I looked at it, CDOT has added flexible posts. With generally good pavement quality, plenty of green paint, and now posts, Harrison now joins Dearborn, Milwaukee and Elston as being one of Chicago’s nicest PBLs.

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New entrance canopy at the Harrison Red Line stop. Photo: John Greenfield

As I cruised the Harrison lanes, I checked out two new main entrance canopies for the Harrison Red Line station, part of a $10 million station overhaul. These classy glass structures feature large video screens that display ads and train arrival times.

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Vehicle parked in the Harrison PBL near State. Photo: John Greenfield

The main fly in the ointment with the Harrison PBLs is that drivers are parking in them, since the lanes are generally curbside with no parking lane to their left. Although new “No Parking” signs have been added since my last visit, I saw a number of vehicles in the lanes, including a U.S. Postal Service truck near the main post office. Perhaps adding posts to the entrances of the lanes at intersections would solve this problem.

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New pavement and sharrows on California near Madison. Photo: John Greenfield

Next, I headed west to California Avenue, where CDOT has installed brand new bikeway markings, mostly a mix of sharrows and conventional bike lanes, between Madison and Roosevelt. This treatment feels like a bit of a throwback, since the city has pretty much stopped striping new conventional lanes. Instead, new bikeway streets generally at least get buffered lanes, if not protected ones, as part of the quest to reach 100 miles of advanced lanes by 2015. However, this stretch of California is generally about 42 feet wide, so a parking lane would need to be removed to make room for buffered lanes.

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Wide buffered lane on California over the Ike. Photo: John Greenfield

Although BBLs would have been preferable, silky-smooth new asphalt and the new bike markings have transformed this section into a good street for biking. I saw a half dozen cyclists on it within a few minutes. One nice touch is a short section of bike lane with a very wide buffer where California crosses the Eisenhower Expressway. Flexible posts to keep cars out of the lane would be a good addition.

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Conventional bike lane on California by Douglas Park. Photo: John Greenfield

From Roosevelt to 19th, where California borders Douglas Park, the pavement has also been replaced and the existing conventional lanes have been restriped. This stretch is about 44 feet wide, but it’s still too narrow for buffered lanes without removing parking, and the spaces near the park are heavily used.

The city’s bike map indicates that there are conventional lanes on California south of 19th, where the street runs through a bustling Little Village business district but in reality these are virtually invisible “zombie lanes,” long overdue for restriping. This will surely happen when this section is repaved.

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Attention CDOT: more bike racks are needed here. Photo: John Greenfield

From there, I headed to 33rd Street, where new asphalt and shared-lane markings were added from State to King as part of a water department project. On the way, I passed by the north entrance of the Red Line’s Sox/35th station, near the IIT campus. Although there are only two “inverted U” bike racks here, about a dozen bikes are locked up to various objects here, so more racks are clearly needed.

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New pavement and sharrows on 33rd near IIT. Photo: John Greenfield

After enjoying the satiny new pavement on 33rd, a mellow route to the lakefront, I headed south on King to check out the recently refreshed asphalt on the drive from 37th to 51st. Although King is one of Chicago’s oldest bike lane streets, it’s never been a particularly bike-friendly route due to multiple lanes of high-speed traffic. Even after travel lanes on the King were converted to very wide buffered lanes in Bronzeville a couple years ago, rough pavement still made for a fairly unpleasant riding experience.

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North of 35th, King still has pavement is rough and markings are faded. Photo: John Greenfield

The fresh pavement and markings make a world of difference on this new stretch. Although you still need to contend with two lanes of fast traffic in each direction, the smooth, highly visible lanes now make this a decent cycling route.

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Fresh asphalt and markings on King near 51st. Photo: John Greenfield

The new lanes end a stone’s throw from 51st and Calumet, which is turning into a biking hotspot thanks to youth bike programs and free repair sessions at the Bronzeville Community Garden, as well as the brand new Bronzeville Bike Box pop-up bike shop. We’ll have an update on the shop, housed in a recycled shipping container, next week.

  • Str0ng

    IMO more bike racks are needed in a lot of places. Speaking strictly anecdotally, the loop during the workday is always full everywhere, as his Navy Pier, Foster Beach, and Montrose Beach on the weekend.

    I can’t imagine it’s much better at other popular destinations.

  • stahl

    New bike racks are being installed today next to the East Bank Club. The sidewalk improvement project there is almost complete.

  • MLKendricks

    33rd St could use more racks. They could really road diet that whole bridge over the Dan Ryan. No need for 2 lanes Eastbound. Could use a wider sidewalk.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I really like that you do these comprehensive and critical reviews of these new bike lane projects on SB Chi. It’s nice to see what’s going on in other parts of the country and to see the progress and problems other jurisdictions are having. Keep up the good work.

    BTW, I just visited Portland and was really impressed by how totally conventional their bike infrastructure was. Conventional but wide bike lane on major streets with sharrowed bike routes in parallel quite side streets. When you have civilized drivers you can do a lot with paint.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Their argument will be BUT WHITESOX!!!! …. *Sigh*
    Or IIT will argue: But Graduation!, which If I’m not mistaken is one of the reasons there are still no bike lanes on State St, where they really need to put them in IMO. I believe the alderman promised either barrier protected or post protected lanes on state since the ones on King are half-baked

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I’d LOVE a large rack put right in front of LAke Point Tower! There’s even a huge bulb out of the curb right there it could go on, wouldn’t even affect traffic. The tower has started to get uppity about us parking our bikes on signposts nearby, so apparently we have to have a rack or risk having the tower cut the locks and take the bikes. I live in the tower and think the people who run it are insane, but I’m young and they aren’t so we have different points of view. Theirs are outdated, but, its their sum of life experience I suppose.

  • Thanks Andy!

  • Str0ng

    Why don’t you just request a bike rack for the garage like most buildings have?

  • alexfrancisburchard

    There’s a bike room on the second floor, but there’s so many doors to get to it, all require security key out in hand, all are self-closing not proppable, and its up the freight elevator which takes forever to show up. Basically I could walk across my whole neighborhood in the time it takes me to get a bike in and out of that room. I prefer to just park on the street, and I’ve been parking on the signposts forever and its never been a problem until very recently. The garage is similarly difficult to get into, though it at least is not up an elevator.

  • Scott Sanderson

    “When you have civilized drivers you can do a lot with paint.”

    I think this is an under appreciated aspect of biking infrastructure. Last week a lady parked her car in the Dearborn protected lane, and before I could politely ask her to move, I could see she had her angry face on. Before I even opened my mouth, she screamed a profanity at me and walked into a hotel. The valet just shrugged and said some drivers just do not acknowledge the existence of the bike lanes.

  • FG

    All good and well that Randolph is getting improved bike lanes (have they fixed the awful expansion joints too?) but there are too many bikes on the sidewalks along this stretch of Randolph, particularly on the north side of the street, so how do we get that changes?

  • FG

    I’ve seen a lot of awful biking this summer, unfortunately, so she probably had someone do something crazy right before she parked.

    The worse I’ve seen? Two bikes on the inside lane of Randolph ignoring a red light going through a crosswalk causing a woman pushing a baby carriage to almost fall over avoiding them. On the other side of the light they decided to move to the right lane – if I’d been in my own car I would have given them a piece my mind…

  • Creating safe conditions for biking in the street is the best way to get bikes off the sidewalk, so this is a step in the right direction.

  • You can request bike racks, and see others’ requests, on CDOT’s new bike parking request website: http://bikeparking.chicagocompletestreets.org

  • The new lanes on MLK are wonderful! Out of laziness (and, often, tardiness), I’ve been sticking to it on my southbound commute rather than going all the way to the lake. Now if only they could do something about the nightmare that is the intersection of Ellsworth/Garfield/Morgan/Rainey slightly further south in Washington Park…

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