Eyes on the Street: Bike and Ped Facilities on the South Side and in the Loop

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Bike traffic in the new Grand BBL during the evening rush. Photo: John Greenfield

As the construction season winds down, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been busy building a number of new bikeways and pedestrian facilities. We’ll get you up to speed on these with a few Eye on the Street posts in the near future.

CDOT recently striped buffered bike lanes on a .6-mile stretch of Pershing from King to Oakwood. Unlike many new BBLs that involved upgrading existing, non-buffered lanes, these were put in on a section of road that formerly had no bikeway at all.

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The wide BBLs on Oakwood replaced excess travel lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Best of all, the Pershing lanes involve a road diet to what was formerly a de facto four-lane street. The new lanes, with very wide buffers, occupy the excess road width, which calms traffic and shortens pedestrian crossing distances. Since the city striped buffered lanes on Oakwood from Pershing to the Lakefront Trail earlier this year as part of a repaving project, you can now get from King to the lakefront entirely on BBLs.

Speaking of King, while scouting out facilities last Sunday morning, I passed by the historic South Park Baptist Church, 3722 South King. You may recall that the city originally proposed installing protected bike lanes on King from 26th to 51st. However, largely due to feedback from local clergy, who were concerned that the lanes would impact church parking, CDOT installed buffered lanes here instead.

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The BBLs by South Park Baptist Church fill up with cars on Sundays. Photo: John Greenfield

In various parts of the city, it’s common for parishioners to park in travel lanes along boulevards on Sundays. While this longstanding practice is technically illegal, aldermen generally condone it. Such was the case when I passed by South Park — dozens of cars were parked in the BBLs. Fortunately, this situation only exists for a few hours a week, and traffic on King is usually light on Sundays.

A couple miles north, at 18th and Calumet, the city has eliminated an annoying barrier for cyclists. There’s an underpass and pedestrian bridge here that leads over railroad tracks to Soldier Field and the lakefront, but there was previously no curb cut to access the path to the underpass from the street.

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The new curb ramp near 18th and Calumet. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT recently built a bumpout with a curb ramp here. They also installed shared-lane markings on Calumet with green boxes underneath, a high-visibility reminder to drivers to watch out for bicyclists.

Several blocks northwest, at Roosevelt and Canal, work has been completed on new curb ramps. Streetsblog readers may remember that this construction, which didn’t include a safe detour for pedestrians, forced people on foot out into the street.

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The construction for these curb ramps at Canal/Roosevelt forced pedestrians into the street. Photo: John Greenfield

Up in River North, the city has upgraded the existing non-buffered lane on Grand to a BBL between State and Wells. This small change seems to have had an impact on ridership. Over the past few weeks, during the evening rush, I’ve noticed that the number of cyclists on the westbound street is approaching Milwaukee Avenue levels.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    The one on grand is useless. Completely useless. There’s a right turn lane on the right side of it, cops park in the beginning of it who are going to the Red line station, and the people on the left don’t give two…… I ride through there often enough, and it is basically always terrible, even with the new BBL. All it is is paint on the ground, honestly, that one is a waste of money for CDOT. They need to come up with something completely different.

    They put posts up to protect the bike lane from St. Clair to Michigan, and people drive over them constantly, park in the lane, etc. It’s never been a parking zone, and people still park there despite the now extra difficulty. And cabs at the cab stand are always standing in the lane at Rush.

    I don’t know what they should do, but Grand is not going to be helped by mere paint.

  • I’m glad there’s finally a curb cut at 18th. Now, if they could time the lights along 18th from Clark to Indiana so that they alternated greens instead of all turning green at the same time, that would be something. Right now, it’s one of the worst spots in the city for cyclists running red lights. They’re timed so that it turns red just as you get up to it.

    I’m sad to see that CDOT is making a habit of implementing buffered lanes where there would be enough room for protected lanes. They be really adverse to plowing protected lanes.

  • BikerGirl

    how can you condone behavior such as blocking the bike lines during Sunday services? I guess it’s ok,then , to block the bike lanes at any time?

  • JacobEPeters

    The pastors should make announcements “that cars parked in the bike lane will be ticketed, so park in the right most travel lane and you will be spared”

  • JacobEPeters

    The Grand increase in traffic might be more because Kinzie has been absolutely atrocious in terms of paving. I only take it because it is a safe way to get across the river, but if I was just going up to Kingsbury, or Franklin I’d probably take Grand too.

    Although there needs to be intense ticketing of the amount of luxury SUVs which park in areas marked no parking. Especially since their passengers seem to be less likely to check for cars or cyclists when flinging their doors open while exiting.

  • Velocipedian

    I agree that the Grand buffered bike lane (to me a pseudonym for dooring deathtrap) is not very safe or useful. I use Grand to go west to Clark during morning commutes just before dropping a Divvy at LaSalle and Illinois (a station that always has a parking spot) and the bbl is inevitably blocked by a truck or car, with three lanes of eager traffic racing up your…left flank. Would be much improved by being on the left side of the road, where dooring is at least 1/2 as likely, or just being a protected bike path, or whatever you deem a bikeway directly adjacent to the sidewalk with posts to keep the cars the f#@$ away. Honestly, doesn’t Grand need a road diet and some speed bumps?

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Speed bumps on grand would be hilarious, but I’d go for it, put them between streeter and lakeshore, peshtigo and mcclurg, Columbus and Michigan, State and Clark, Wells and Franklin, Franklin and Orleans, Orleans and Kingsbury.

    Better yet, and more reasonably, just raise all the crosswalks to be speed tables. Kill like 6 birds with one stone, then put in a protected bike lane on the left like dearborn, hell, make it a two way, and get rid of illinois. Put more parking on Illinois, and narrow Illinois as well (or something, Illinois is too wide and only congests when other roads are closed and the lanes it has don’t do it any good). So Grand can lose one car lane, it won’t hurt it at all, Illinois could lose one or two, it won’t be hurt, crosswalks could be raised, and a 2-way left side grand ave bike lane could be built at least to milwaukee all the way from Navy Pier. THAT would be the day.

  • I really don’t know why this isn’t the enforced policy. If they really don’t mind using the road for parking on Sundays, then use the road, not a safety feature which is now blocked which now endangers the lives of cyclists. I figured church going folks would care about the safety and lives of others. Even other’s who choose a different mode of transportation from them. This is of course an unfair statement, it really is just ignorance, many drivers don’t consider the consequences of their actions.

  • Velocipedian

    Raised crosswalks that serve as speed tables should be everywhere!

  • Alex Oconnor

    They should be held accountable under a public nuisance theory

    http://law.justia.com/codes/illinois/2005/chapter53/29820.html

    in particular subsection (5)

  • Alex Oconnor

    Yes

  • andrewkewley

    I can see that there is loads of space, so why did they build the bike lane on the wrong side of the cars?

  • Did you swing by the work on roosevelt between state and indiana? It is very exciting to see the plan shape up, it’s going to have a huge effect on calming traffic on this stretch of road that normally sees people speeding to connect LSD to the expressways. Also, the amount of added landscaping and huge sidewalk widths will definitely make it a very comfortable pedestrian-oriented environment.

  • Good question. When CDOT changed the definition of protected bike lane to include a “buffered bike lane” (and becoming the only city in the country to accept this new definition) they gave up the commitment to building more bike lanes protected by parked cars or other objects.

  • Every time I have seen actual parishoners or clergy speaking about their concerns on the subject, they seem terrified at the thought of “grandma” (and it’s always “grandma”) getting out the passenger door of a car and being smashed by a fortuitously-passing spandex-clad Road Warrior on a bike.

    The distance from passenger door to curb squicks them intensely.

  • JacobEPeters

    I understand the concern, but think the way to remedy that would be to have a significant buffer for passengers to exit into…oh wait, that’s a protected bike lane, which for some reason is deemed as less acceptable than a 15′ wide car lane.

  • No, the people protesting on these grounds want car passengers to be able to directly exit to a curb without ever putting their feet on an asphalt road surface.

  • WrongWay Jones

    Which street?

  • Yet Another Reader

    As far as I can tell, this is going to be awful for cyclists. The massive bump out they created means that there probably isn’t enough room for a bike lane anymore.

  • Yet Another Reader

    Yes, they do this because they are almost always thinking about Grandma. Remember, church attendance is disproportionately comprised of the elderly, and they don’t walk quickly or well.

  • To the contrary, this is going to have the city’s first grade-separated bike path. You’ll notice there are two rows of the landscaped trees on the super-wide sidewalks, the space between the trees will be the bike path. Also, the changes will greatly calm traffic and provide more logical traffic flow, making it safer for peds and bikes (and cars).

  • Yet Another Reader

    That’s good news. Thank you for the update. When I passed it, the current curb cuts didn’t look sufficient for bicycle traffic, but I guess they are!

  • Yet Another Reader

    Now that I’ve seen the plans, I still think it’s a problem. Once arriving at State and Roosevelt, eastbound bicycle traffic will, indeed, be blocked by the bump out. Eastbound cyclists will need to cross a street perpendicular to the direction of travel in order to reach a two-way raised bike path, thereby necessitating waiting through at least one traffic signal cycle. After stopping and turning north, bicyclists will then have to turn back east and cut through pedestrian traffic. It seems like an overly complicated solution to a simple problem, and I suspect it will create some new confusion. You can see the renderings here, so you can see what I mean: http://chicago.curbed.com/archives/2014/06/09/construction-of-raised-bikeway-on-roosevelt-begins-july-1.php

  • Yes, and not even senior citizens should have any trouble glancing down the lane as they stand. Properly constructed, buffered curbside lanes are set up so that if you are arriving and parking, you can stop the vehicle and open the door without the door actually extending into the lane. Then you get out on the passenger side (still inside the door ‘shadow’ in most cases), straighten, and have plenty of time to look both ways to see if anyone is coming before you close the door and cross the bike lane on foot.

    There is a pent-up terror of change, without actually thinking about what the in-person use case is going to be.

    If Grandma gets out of the car, she’s standing among the flexible posts — they protect HER as well as cyclists by demarcating a no-cars, no-bikes zone for her to stand in as she catches her breath and gets her bearings.

  • Yet Another Reader

    The concern isn’t about traffic (bike or car), it’s about dealing with dozens of people who have trouble walking or are in wheelchairs. Being able to step or move directly onto the sidewalk is a real benefit in those cases. Anyway, I’m a fan of protected bike lanes, and I think there’s a solution to this problem. I’m just saying that their perspective is totally understandable.

  • If you look at the photo, you can clearly see that in most of these “park in the traffic lanes of the boulevards on Sundays” situations there IS no sidewalk — just a tiny curb and grass. Or, to be realistic, usually slippery mud.

  • oaklandguy

    Has anyone considered putting the bike lanes between the parked cars and the sidewalk. This eases the dangerous mixing of bikes and vehicles. The parking boundary can be delineated by a length of those curbs used to stop the forward progress of parking cars.

  • The term for those kinds of lanes is “protected bike lanes”, and they have been discussed on Chi.Streetsblog many times:

    http://chi.streetsblog.org/tag/protected-bike-lanes/

    Businesses and other local NIMBY interests are often strongly opposed to them, because they require the removal of one or two street parking spaces per block (to open up sight-lines near intersections, driveways. etc).

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