What’s Going on With Alderman Reilly and the Kinzie Protected Bike Lanes

Kinzie from the Orleans overpass - 2011
This part of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, from the River east to Dearborn, is supposed to be removed during Wolf Point construction. Photo: masMiguel.

Alderman Brendan Reilly submitted an order to city council on Wednesday that would compel Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lane between Dearborn and the Chicago River because he says it conflicts with Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In 2013, under former commissioner Gabe Klein, CDOT agreed to a development plan [PDF], which was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and codified into law. The plan called for Hines, the Wolf Point developer, to pay for installing temporary protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie Street bike lanes to facilitate the construction project.

In the long term, it makes sense for there to be bike lanes on both Grand Avenue – already identified as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – and Kinzie Street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition asking other aldermen to oppose Reilly’s order. “Ald. Reilly has proposed installing new bike lanes on Grand Avenue as an alternative,” the petition stated. “But the reality is, people will continue to bike on Kinzie because it is less stressful than Grand Avenue with fewer cars and no buses, not to mention it provides the most logical and direct connection to the central business district.”

CDOT appears to have changed its position about the development plan. Spokesman Mike Claffey underscored the importance of the Kinzie bike lanes in a statement to Streetsblog:

“CDOT has safety concerns about removing the protected bike lanes on Kinzie, which is the second most popular street for bicycling in Chicago. The protected bike lane is in place to reduce conflicts and the risk of accidents between bicyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians. We have been in discussions with the Alderman about these concerns and will continue to work with him on this issue.”

Specifically, the development plan, identified as Planned Development 98, calls for:

  • Temporary removal of the protected bike lanes on Kinzie from Dearborn to Milwaukee
  • Eastbound and westbound PBLs on Grand from Milwaukee to Wells
  • Westbound PBL on Grand from Dearborn to Wells
  • Eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn
  • “An improved bicycle accommodation on Wells Street for cyclists traveling, between Grand Avenue and Illinois Street”

The Kinzie bike lanes are indeed important, but it’s unclear why Scheinfeld is now pushing back against the plan. Reilly told City Council that Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. We asked for a copy of this report but Claffey said he didn’t have one. The development plan also says that all of the developer’s designs for these temporary bicycle accommodations are subject to Scheinfeld’s departmental review.

CDOT could propose retaining the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes throughout the construction project, which started over a year ago. If that’s not feasible, and the bike lanes must come out, the agency should bring back their support for the original plan that temporarily relocates the bike lanes to Grand. However, it’s important the the Kinzie lanes be reinstalled, because Kinzie is the direct and route between the popular protected bike lanes on Milwaukee and bike lanes on Desplaines, Canal, Wells, and Dearborn.

  • Eric Fischer

    This is kind of insane. The Wolf Point traffic impact study shows Kinzie to be one of the busiest bicycle routes in the country.

  • Pat

    Before we tear out hard-fought infrastructure* (though barely since they are just bollard protected lanes) shouldn’t we see how it works with construction going on?

    Has the alderman looked into taking out a parking lane to ease congestion? (Parking-meter deal might be the death knell) Wouldn’t making the north side of Kinzie a 2-way PBL mitigate trucks turning into Wolf point? How about making it a one way? Closing it to local traffic only?

  • ohsweetnothing

    Construction has been ongoing over the past year. My personal experience: it has been annoying from time to time, but I wouldn’t say “unsafe” and still preferable to Grand.

  • That’s the thing – construction has been going on for over a year, and the first (of three) skyscrapers has a dozen floors already built! There have been no changes made to Kinzie, aside from the unmaintained deterioration of the pavement quality and disappearing flexible white posts on the road and bridge.

    I would agree with @ohsweetnothing:disqus that there hasn’t been any issues.

  • I take this on a daily basis during rush hour and have not seen any worse traffic than before. A solution in search of a problem? I suspect Mr. Reilly felt he had to submit his order now; at the rate that the paint and bollards are disappearing, pretty soon nobody would know what he is/was talking about.

  • Lisa Curcio

    The planned development ordinance requires that the developer do the work to build the lanes outlined above and to remove the Kinzie lane before it can get an occupancy permit for the apartment tower it is now building and before it can start the other two towers.

    Also, the order proposed by Alderman Reilly requires the city commissioner to perform the removal. It is unconditional and without time frames. While he keeps repeating on twitter that it is temporary, that is not what his proposed order says.
    Finally, it is somewhat nonsensical since–as many cyclists and Active Trans have said–the removal of non-existent paint and signs is unlikely to stop people from riding on Kinzie, especially since it only applies to the stretch from the River to Dearborn. And of course there is no lane east of Wells anyway.

  • Dan

    Great work clarifying this issue, Streetsbloggers. Yesterday on Twitter, Reilly definitely made it sound like he was advocating for permanent removal. https://twitter.com/AldReilly/status/588475116775993345

  • Good points, Lisa. Also, why would the document repeatedly specify that the improved lanes on Grand, Illinois and Wells would be “temporary”? So they would be there for a year and then get ripped out as well? What a waste.

    The proposed eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn would be useless for people trying to get into the Loop, as Dearborn has a one-way, northbound, left-side, unprotected bike lane at that point. What is Reilly envisioning that Loopbound bicyclists do, salmon south for a few blocks?

  • Good question, Michelle. Gabe Klein was a member of the Chicago Plan Commission when this passed.

    From my notes at the January 2013 meeting, “Klein noted that the developer will have to come back to CDOT and CPC with new traffic studies before building the office towers in phases two and three.”

    Construction has been going on for over a year without any noted issues. I don’t see what the problem is. Ideally, we should have protected bike lanes on both streets.

  • Thanks, Dan. I appreciate that Reilly is one of the few (if not the only) who regularly uses Twitter to explain (well, as much as can be explained) his positions to the public and without the filter of a press release or news conference.

  • G

    By the time they put the lane in on Grand and take out Kinzie the Wolf Point residential tower will be almost finished. The office and hotel component are at least a couple years away from being built. Presumably “temporary” in this case means until WP is fully built out which could be a while from now. Given the long timeline and relatively minor impact from the ongoing construction witnessed thus far I don’t see a legitimate reason to remove the bike lane at this point. Getting the bike lane reinstated after it is removed could be harder politically than making to remain in the first place.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Thanks for your advocacy and information regarding this issue. I’m used to be a regular user of this lane and still use it from time to time as its the best way to get from the northwest side to the loop. I’ve sent the form letter Active Trans sent out to my alderman, I’m wishing the best of luck to you guys for fixing this problem.

  • ThisManIsRight

    someone with more time than me could probably dig through the donations to Reilly’s aldermanic funds here to find which Wolf Point developer gave him the most money and presumably has a grudge against bikers…
    http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/CommitteeDetail.aspx?id=19263

  • forensicgarlic

    I work at wolf point, so I am on kinzie every time I bike to work. And for commuting purposes, I’ve not run into any conflicts. I have seen some trucks park blocking the bike lane between the driveway and the stoplight at kingsbury.

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