Contested Elston Bike Lanes Are Finally Here, But Divvy Station Might Leave

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The new bike lanes on Elston still need bike symbols and crosshatching in the buffers. Photo: John Greenfield

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It’s been a long time coming, but buffered bike lanes have finally materialized on Elston between North and Webster. With this new segment, just about all of the nine-mile-long diagonal street has the lanes.

Buffered lanes usually serve as a consolation prize for cyclists on streets where there isn’t enough right of way, or political will, to install physically protected bike lanes. Since they’re merely paint on the road, and they generally don’t inquire the elimination of any car parking spaces, they’re really not much of an imposition drivers.

But the buffered lanes on this stretch of Elston were surprisingly controversial. When Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed the plan for them at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council back in December 2013, there was stiff resistance. Although there was already a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane north of North, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

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The bike lanes near Kohl’s, a little south of Webster. Photo: John Greenfield

As an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle detour proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” Fortunately, the department held its ground, pointing out there was already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and more than a quarter of injury crashes on the street involved cyclists.

In spring of 2014, CDOT presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, and the industrial council grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes were slated for construction within a year, but installation didn’t begin until almost two years later.

Following the repaving of this stretch, the parallel lines for the lanes and buffers were installed, but the bike symbols and crosshatching for the buffers haven’t been put in yet, but the lanes are already functional. The rest of the work should be completed in the early spring, once the weather is warm enough for pavement marking, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

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A dashed bike lane has been added to guide cyclists on Elston across its massive intersection with Ashland and Armitage, but it’s still a scary place to ride. Photo: John Greenfield

Mike Holzer, director of economic development for North Branch Works, acknowledged that the buffered lanes aren’t causing any inconvenience for truckers. “They’re working out fine,” he said. “We haven’t had any complaints from companies.”

On the other hand, Holzer says the council would like to relocate a Divvy station that was recently installed next to this stretch, at the southwest corner of Wabansia and Elston. The station was formerly located at Hirsch and Leavitt in Wicker Park, but it was moved in November, after vandals caused more than $8,000 in damage to the equipment, DNA reported. The new location is a block west of west of the Hideout music venue, a popular destination for cyclists.

“Now the station in a spot that’s tough to navigate around for tractor trailers,” Holzer says. He added that moving it closer to the bar doesn’t seem to be an option because there’s a high demand for car parking nearby. “We’re looking at other alternatives, like the parking lot of the Home Depot [located about two blocks southeast of the Hideout]. I think the [industrial] companies are willing to pitch in a few thousand dollars to move it, if that’s what it takes.”

“We are considering a couple of different options for relocating the station,” stated CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. “Nothing is decided yet at this point, but we are open to having the discussion.”

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.

  • JacobEPeters

    If you’re going to move it, move it to the parking spots across from the Hideout, or on the south side of Concord at Elston. It would minimize parking spaces lost, & maximize visibility either to potential users (Hideout/High Concept Labs/Ada Street) or to people traveling on Elston buffered lanes.

  • Scott Sanderson

    That intersection with Ashland is one of the worst I am aware of. I just simply do not ride on that section of road anymore.

  • Jane

    Did you notice that the bike lanes from Cortland to Ashland are entirely new?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    No, I didn’t — good catch. While the city’s bike map shows that section as previously having conventional bike lanes, a review of old Google Street Views proves that there were never bike lanes on that short stretch. Well, that’s another thing to like about this project!

  • Mcass777

    Can I take this opportunity to express my extreme dissatisfaction with the conditions of the protected bike lanes on Elston and Kinzie? Today we had less than 1 in of snow, an amount that I bet the city felt did not demand cleaning of the protected lanes. What resulted was dangerous conditions of what is billed (and promoted in this article) as a safe route for cycling. I saw one woman fall in a protected lane on the hill on Kinzie. On Elston, i saw another rider leave the protected lanes south of People’s Gas to ride on the street. The street was wet, with road salt being spread by cars. The buffered lanes were wet too, seeing the benefit of cars spreading that salt. The PBLs continue to be a joke, outright dangerous, and slock when we see snow. The Buffered lanes in this article are perfect because the salt actually reaches the curb! I did not stick around to see if any plows came thru but the evening commute seemed about the same. I know I have said this before but I have ridden that stretch for 18 years and the pbl has not improved conditions for an average or above average cyclist in winter. How many broken colar bones or slips into cars before the city enacts a plan to actually clear snow and ice?

  • Cheryl Zalenski

    Absolutely agree. The dashed lines and motor vehicle lane markings have not improved drivers’ cutting from the left lane to the right for the turn to Ashland. There really should be a separate traffic signal for bicycles here, to allow them to move through the intersection separately.

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