Eyes on the Street: Many West Side Bike Lanes Are Snow-Blocked

Franklin Boulevard bike lane wasn't plowed
There was no evidence that the city attempted to clear snow from the protected bike lane on Franklin Boulevard, which normally has flexible posts, in East Garfield Park between Sacramento (pictured) and Central Park Avenue (3/4 miles).

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Biking on the West Side has been a mixed bag each time it’s snowed this winter. When it snowed on the weekend after Thanksgiving it took more than two days for the protected bike lanes on Lake Street to be plowed. With last week’s snowfall it’s been over a week, and the protected bike lanes on Franklin and Jackson Boulevards still haven’t been cleared as of Monday afternoon.

The conventional and buffered bike lanes in the area had varying levels of cleared snow. Some blocks on the same street were totally clear, others had snow from motorists clearing their own cars, and the remaining seemed like the plow missed a whole eight feet.

At the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting last month, Mike Amsden, assistant transportation planning director for the Chicago Department of Transportation said “We are committed to maintaining our protected bike lanes year round so people can bike in them year round.” The goal, Amsden said, “is to get to each of the locations within 24 hours.” If you notice a bike lane hasn’t been cleared he said you can email cdotbikes@cityofchicago.org.

Lake Street protected bike lane was perfectly cleared of snow
The protected and buffered bike lanes on Lake Street were well-cleared from Kedzie, at a minimum, to the border with Oak Park last week, but it’s unclear if they were done within 24 hours of last Monday’s snowfall.

CDOT and the Department of Streets and Sanitation use myriad equipment to do this, including the normal large plows, pickup trucks, and smaller vehicles. To increase the number of protected bike lanes that could be cleared with the regular plows, Amsden said that CDOT would remove the flexible posts from streets with the two inch snow ban, or where there’s no on-street parking. He specified Broadway in Uptown, Jackson in East Garfield Park, Lake, Vincennes in Auburn Gresham, Franklin in East Garfield Park, and Halsted in Bridgeport.

The posts were removed from Franklin but not Jackson, and neither street was cleared. The other protected bike lane in the area, Lake Street, was cleared well from California Ave. to Oak Park, an about face from the Thanksgiving snowfall. East of California, though, snow banks, patches of ice, a frozen pond, and a string of garbage bins blocked the path this morning.

Garbage bins are stored in the Lake Street protected bike lane, atop snow piles.
Garbage bins are stored in the Lake Street protected bike lane, atop snow piles.

Obstacles like snow force bicyclists to merge into faster moving traffic, a situation depicted in official materials that the city distributes to motorists, urging them to not park in bike lanes. On Franklin that means that some motorists have been passing me pretty closely as I ride in the plowed lanes.

Some people have commented here that the issue of clearing snow from protected bike lanes is an inherent design flaw. The bike lanes’ designs are one factor of winter maintenance plan, but good snow clearing is also dependent on the policies and commitment of the two snow-clearing departments.

Removing the posts from some of the bike lanes would mean that fewer pickup trucks or smaller vehicles are required to move around the city, because they can be cleared with the drivers of large trucks already moving up and down every street.

As you can see from the photos, though, many bike lanes weren’t cleared, but others were. Removing the posts from the lanes looks to be for naught if the large truck drivers aren’t making a second pass to clear the now obstacle-free bike lane.

On Washington Boulevard, Warren Boulevard, Central Park Avenue, and Jackson Boulevard, streets with buffered bike lanes, the amount of snow cleared was excellent in some locations, and abysmal in others. On Warren the level of snow removed flipped from block to block.

Warren Boulevard bike lane wasn't plowed
This block of the buffered bike lane on Warren Boulevard appeared untouched by a plow.
However, the bike lane on this block of Warren was cleared!
…but the next block of Warren Boulevard was well-cleared of snow.

The Franklin Boulevard bike lane has an actual design problem, one that persists throughout the year but is compounded in the winter: It doesn’t connect to a bike-friendly street on the east end at Sacramento Boulevard/Humboldt drive. Normally, the cyclists I’ve seen and talked to maneuver over to the service drive because there are fewer motorists and they aren’t driving as fast. To go northbound from Franklin you do this by biking over the crosswalk curb ramp, but it’s probably blocked with snow and ice in the winter. Then again, you have to be really careful making this left turn because traffic in the northbound-only service drive from the right doesn’t have to stop at this intersection.

More photos of West Side bike lanes blocked with snow. 

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • Yep, very hit or miss on the west side. Lake, Warren, and Washington even, vary from block to block. At Warren & Western there is a pile/wall of ice blocking the bike lane right at the intersection, pushed there no doubt, by a vehicle with a snowblade.

  • I noticed on the previous similar article and in this one that there’s quite a heavy focus on the PBLs, which is great. I loved both articles, but the idea that CDOT is actually going to handle the PBLs seems unlikely.

    I ride Halsted from Lakeview to the West Loop every single day, and it’s not a PBL but is still mostly a disaster in a lot of stretches. While the driving lanes are nice and clear, there’s still a lot of ice hanging around in the bike lanes along with snow from people cleaning off their cars and so on. Also, the bike lane on Halsted just south of Division has been completely unplowed since our first batch of sleet a couple weeks ago.

    My point is: They can’t manage to maintain the lanes that are actually easy for a normal plow to get to and service: what hope do we *really* have for PBLs and the like? Last year I totally gave up on the death trap that is Des Plaines in the winter, and have continued to ride the far safer Halsted instead. At least on Halsted I have the option of taking a lane, but in those PBLs it’s easy to get forced into dangerous decisions.

    It sucks, because I love riding in the PBLs in the summer but we have tons of evidence that CDOT simply can’t manage to maintain them in the winter. As a result, I’ve come to really dislike the idea of adding more PBLs. Each mile of PBL is a bikeable mile we lose come winter, and I want bikeable miles year round. Give me a sharrow, I guess :(

  • Pat

    Buffered and other lanes that run next to parking are easy to clear… as long as there aren’t cars parking there. That’s why you see these build ups in those areas. Plowed snow gets pushed as far right as it can, which just happens to be where those bike lanes are.

    PBLs are a bit more straight forward to clear in the first place (albeit with different machinery), but the city seems to have ignored these lanes. And, when they are cleared, people shoveling sidewalks push the snow right back in.

    The sharrow must die.

  • rohmen

    Parking may factor into it a bit (Madison is plowed well and has a parking ban when it snows), but I ride Warren daily, and as Steven’s pics accurately reflect, one block will be plowed well and the next few blocks will be completely missed.

    My guess is it just depends on how good of a job the plow driver does on the block at the given time they hit it. The stretch of Warren/Washington through Garfield Park, for example, isn’t plowed at all, and there is no parking in that area.

  • planetshwoop

    What matters is what’s measured. If you call 311 and the impacted alderman’s office, you can see if it improves for the better. You can be certain that residents call when their streets aren’t plowed; we should ask for the same for bike lanes.

  • Matt Grosspietsch

    Tip of the day:

    Some time in the past week or so, the online 311 “Snow – Uncleared Sidewalk” service request category was renamed “Snow – Uncleared Sidewalk or bike lane”. After entering the street address, 2 new options are available: “Bike Lane” and “Bike Share – Divvy Station”.

    Check it out here:

    https://servicerequest.cityofchicago.org/web_intake_chic/Controller

  • Lisa Curcio

    That is a step in the right direction. Theoretically one can be notified of results of a request and track the request.

  • Pet P

    No problem. The bike lanes are still serving their true purpose – to slow down traffic for cars as part of CDOT’s long-fought War on Cars.

  • Anne A

    I noticed that the other day. Finally!!!

  • South Side, too. Most bike lanes I’ve traveled have been neglected and were packed with snow and ice in some stretches. Piles of snow and ice blocked the bike lanes approaching the Halsted Street bridge over the South Fork of the Chicago River in both directions, a bridge that was fitted with anti-slip plates for bicyclists this year. Those plates were packed with snow and ice too. The protected and buffered lanes to the south were full of snow and ice too.

  • CDOT’s motto: Take the lane or take the train!

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