Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Bike Lanes on South Damen

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Mr. Carter pedals the new buffered lanes on South Damen. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation continues to build new bike lanes, and upgrade old ones, in order to get the maximum number of miles in before it’s too cold to lay thermoplastic. Yesterday, I cruised over to South Damen Avenue, where the department recently striped buffered bike lanes on the three-mile stretch between 63rd and 87th streets.

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The new BBLs connect with the Major Taylor trailhead at Damen and 87th. Photo: John Greenfield

Stretches of South Damen have had non-buffered lanes for years, although there were a couple of gaps in the bikeway, in sections where the local alderman had formerly opposed adding bike lanes. One nice thing about this recent project is that it fills in the gap between 71st and 79th streets. The BBLs also connect with recently striped buffered lanes on Marquette Avenue (6700 South), as well as the Major Taylor Trail, which has a trailhead at 87th and Damen.

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Non-buffered bike lane on Damen north of 63rd. Photo: John Greenfield

North of 63rd, the bikeway is still an un-buffered lane – hopefully CDOT will upgrade this in the future. South of 63rd, the old lanes have been ground out, and the BBLs have been striped on the existing pavement, which is in decent shape.

On the northern stretch of the new bikeway, the buffer is located on the left side of the bike lane, which helps keep cyclists away from moving vehicles. South of 83rd, the buffer is on the right, which helps prevent doorings. However, when I rode the BBLs in the early afternoon, there were few cars in the parking lanes.

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A car displaying t-shirts celebrating the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. Photo: John Greenfield

Although no mixed-traffic lanes were removed for the project, and the travel lanes were only narrowed by a few inches to make room for the buffers, a neighboring homeowner I spoke to was unhappy about the upgrade. “Look at those bike lanes,” he groused. “Now they’re almost as wide as the car lanes.” Next, he launched into a diatribe about the city’s speed camera program.

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A neighboring homeowner griped about the new lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

However, a cyclist I saw on Damen told me he’s a fan of the new BBLs. “It’s good for us riders,” said the man, a retiree who told me his last name is Carter. “It feels safer now.” He pointed to the buffer on the left side of the bike lane. “That white line is like the yellow line in the middle of the road – cars aren’t supposed to cross it.”

  • Velocipedian

    Still don’t get why they can’t swap parking and bike lanes. I know, I know, it’s a buffered lane not a protected bike PATH, but honestly the same amount of road could be used for a much safer bike way. PUT THE BIKE WAY INSIDE THE PARKED CARS!!!

  • Protected bike lanes do require more road width than buffered lanes. They also require the elimination of some parking spaces to maintain sight lines at intersections, although that wouldn’t be much of an issue here because parking is so plentiful.

    In situations where buffered lanes were installed instead of protected lanes, even though there is sufficient road width, it indicates that there was local resistance to PBLs. This could be because people oppose parking removals, don’t like the look of the flexible posts, are freaked out at the idea of not being able to park their cars curbside, or want to maintain the tradition of illegal Sunday church parking on boulevards.

  • Katie

    In addition to requiring more roadway space, PBLs require special maintenance equipment, so that may be a consideration.

  • Anne A

    I’m glad to see these improvements on Damen. I ride there sometimes, usually on weekends. It makes me especially happy that the gap from 71st to 79th has been bridged. Where the lanes exist, drivers usually respect them. In terms of street and traffic conditions, I find it to be one of the most pleasant streets to ride among all the bike lane locations on the far south side. At times I ride it all the way to 47th St.

  • paulcycles

    Folks rarely understand that cost. they understand alterations in their ability to park on street. esp. if their late to church on Sunday morn.
    ps I don’t like the look of the white flexible posts either.
    What of candy cane colors with reflectors and sonic alarms, sic.

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