As the Chicago Department of Transportation builds more protected bike lanes, especially curb-protected lanes, it’s important that these bikeways are well maintained, particularly after snowstorms. A snow-filled PBL is at best an annoyance, and at worst a danger to cyclists, because it can force them to ride in the adjacent, plowed, mixed-traffic lanes, which may be too narrow to safely share with motor vehicles.
City Hall took a step in the right direction last fall, passing an ordinance that makes it clear it’s illegal to shovel or blow snow into the street, including curbside bike lanes. The law also states that shoveled snow may not block train stations, bus stops, building entrances, bike racks, or Divvy stations.
In addition, the ordinance increased the fines for shoveling scofflaws from the previous $25 to $100 range to $50 to $500, although CDOT officials said there were no plans to increase enforcement. The department only issued 226 tickets for failure to shovel last winter.
Last month, after the first snowfall of late 2015, it was encouraging to see that the city used a special snowplow to promptly clear the new curb-protected lanes on Clybourn Avenue. A photo of the plow in action was posted on Facebook by Marcus Moore, a longtime Chicago bike advocate and owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike shop, 1310 North Clybourn.
You may know Moore as the guy who led the successful campaign to save the South Chicago Velodrome. It’s fortunate that he’s there on Clybourn to keep an eye on the bike lanes, which are something of an experiment, since they’re the city’s first significant stretch of curb-protected lanes.
During this week’s heavier, multi-day snowfall, it seems there have been some issues with snow in popular PBLs. Steven Vance and I have heard complaints about Dearborn Street downtown and Broadway in Uptown. Although CDOT is responsible for plowing the lanes, they don’t necessarily deserve all the blame for the slushy bikeways.
When the city’s Streets and Sanitation department plows the travel lanes, snow is often thrown into the protected lanes. And when workers clear sidewalks in front of businesses and multiunit buildings, the snow often gets pushed into the lanes. This is still happening despite the new ordinance.
Last Monday, Moore posted some video of the bike lane near his shop filled with slush. He noted that openings in the curbs that protect cyclists are designed to allow water to flow from the street to sewer openings, but these openings can get filled with snow that freezes and blocks the drainage.
On Wednesday, Moore noted on Facebook that the sidewalk in front of Unity Manufacturing, 1260 North Clybourn, was cleared, but all the snow had been dumped in the bike lane. He also noted that, Winfield Moody Health Center, a clinic next door to Unity that sees many patients who are pregnant, on crutches, or in wheelchairs, had only shoveled a small section of the sidewalk.
Matt Dinerstein, a Facebook friend of Moore, contacted Unity about the problem and got a message from the company in response. “[They say] they are sorry, and that the workers that shoveled should have known better, and that they will correct the issue,” Dinerstein reported. “They deserve a pat on the back for that action.”
It’s nice that the company is addressing the problem, but it would be great to see CDOT step up enforcement of the new ordinance that forbids dumping snow in PBLs, and well as writing more tickets for un-shoveled sidewalks. It would mean safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, plus more revenue from fines for our broke city – seems like a no-brainer.
Streetsblog Chicago will resume publication on Monday. Have a safe and happy New Year!