Take a Virtual Spin on the (Partly Finished) Elston Curb-Protected Bike Lanes

As I’ve written, it’s a shame that the valuable riverfront land at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Damen will likely be redeveloped as big box retail with tons of parking in the aftermath of a project to reroute Elston Avenue so it bypasses that intersection. The silver lining of the project is that this new, curving five-lane stretch of Elston, which opened to motorized traffic last week, will have curb-protected bike lanes.

Prior to construction, the six-way Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection saw about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranked among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’ve moved through traffic on Elston about a block east on land occupied by WhirlyBall, which relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and the Vienna Beef factory, which will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport.

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Elston, which formerly intersected with Fullerton and Damen, has been relocated one block east. Image: CDOT

The entire bypass project was supposed wrap up this spring, but according to CDOT spokeswoman Sue Hofer, it’s currently not slated for completion until this December. But starting last week northeast- and southeast-bound motorized vehicles began using one lane in each direction on the new section of Elston, which crosses Damen a block north of Fullerton/Damen intersection.

The old, two-block stretch of Elston just southeast of Fullerton/Damen remains open for local traffic under the new name Elston Court. Under the new traffic pattern, vehicles are allowed to turn right from eastbound Fullerton onto Elston Court, but vehicles from northbound Elston Court south of Fullerton are only permitted to turn right, eastbound, on Fullerton.

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Last week, workers were installing planter boxes for future trees along the new stretch of Elston. Photo: John Greenfield

From today through November, Fullerton will also be reduced to one lane in each direction. CDOT is advising road users to expect delays through the construction zone until the project is completed. Recommended east-west alternates include Diversey, Webster and North Avenue; Ashland (not a safe street for biking) and Clybourn are recommended as north-south alternates.

When complete, the new stretch of Elston will feature two lanes in each direction plus a center turn lane plus the concrete-protected bike lanes on either side. The project will also widen Damen to make room for conventional bike lanes and widen the north sidewalk along Fullerton.

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Careful, that next pedal stroke is a doozy. Due to a gap or two in the curb PBLs, they’re not quite ready for the public to ride. Photo: John Greenfield

While the curb-protected lanes aren’t officially open to bike traffic yet, and there are still some gaps, I was able to take a reconnaissance ride in them last Wednesday. It appears that the bikeway will be a nice facility. And, since the Elston bypass will be a wide five-lane that will likely see tons of traffic due to the big box development and ample parking, cyclists are going to need that extra protection.

  • J

    Bad: Big road-widening leads to more driving, more pollution, more speeding, more crashes, and more severe crashes.

    Good: Protected bike lane encourages more biking & safer biking.

    Overall seems like a lot of money to make the city both better and worse.

  • JacobEPeters

    Looks like only 2 areas where curb cuts are easily able to be added, which is better than I feared. Still hoping the waterfront property gets a use that isn’t car focused, but rather river focused.

  • planetshwoop

    I’ve given up on biking on Elston. As it has become more retail-focused and less commercial, I’ve felt less and less safe. There were simply too many times when I felt threatened by cars trying to cut ahead in the bike lane (because they were stuck in traffic) or inconsiderate motorists peeking out of a turn (Kohl’s, Logan to Diversey by David’s Bridal, the Jewel, etc.).

    It has fairly significant bike traffic; it’s really too bad any of the dozens of retailers couldn’t put their business by the sidewalk so we could enjoy it. (Like say, a new taproom by where Metropolitan is building their new brewery. )

  • Walking home through this intersection last night during rush hour it appears most of the obstacles seen here are cleared as there were lots of riders using the lanes. Car traffic is starting to adjust to the new configuration as well because last night was the first time I saw cars lined up at the stop light on the new section.

    CDOT needs to add some additional signage around the closed segment of Elston because cars headed west on Fullerton are still lining up to stop where there’s no longer a stop light (and occasionally trying to turn right onto Damen). That removed stop light also means crossing Fullerton on the south side is a little more hectic because there’s no way to tell if a car is going to pull into what’s now an unsignaled section of Elston “open to local traffic only.”

  • kastigar

    I rode Tuesday 8/22 north on Elston, and took the “Old Elston” path instead of following the signs. Big mistake. No way to easily cross Fullerton, narrow lane on the part north of Damen.

    Follow the signs, take the lane if it’s necessary and the bike lane isn’t an option.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sweet. Did you notice if the gap in the southeast-bound bike lane, shown above, has been filled in?

  • ev_one

    How would you compare your experience to Milwaukee Ave? Are there any other alternatives?

  • Wade Johnston

    I rode it this morning, the gap is still there

  • Carter O’Brien

    I obviously can’t speak for planetshwoop, but I would love to see a serious analysis comparing and contrasting of Elston and Milwaukee. Personally, even though Milwaukee gives me an almost straight shot downtown, I always go a half mile+ out of my way to take Elston.

  • rohmen

    How good has CDOT been about clearing snow out of the protected lanes this far north?

    That’s my only fear with these projects. The Lake Street PBL was pretty poorly plowed, until they removed the plastic bollards and started using regular machinery. I assume the Elston PBL will require a special plow, unless they made the width wide enough for a truck to drive down.

  • ev_one

    @carter_o_brien:disqus I agree and for me the big difference is there are fewer pedestrians and aggressive bike commuters to dodge on Elston. For the most part I can focus on my own pace and staying clear of road hazards and automobiles. I would be interested in hearing from someone who has experience with both streets.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Well, I’ve got over 25 years of Elston biking experience (I worked for the US Census in 1990 and they had an HQ by Strack and Van Till/once Cub Foods), it’s a great street for long distance commuting IMO.

    Milwaukee Ave serves the commuting function, but it is also very different from Elston in that there are a lot more destinations on Milwaukee itself (or in very close proximity). Elston has maybe the Hideout, big box stores as a general rule of thumb are not exactly tailor made for cyclists. I do take Milwaukee for local trips, but I’m probably in the same camp as a lot of people in that the convenience and speed of the Blue Line often wins me over on any given day/night.

    But in spite of its physical limitations and the other alternatives (train and bus), Milwaukee is still a very fun street to ride on as long as you aren’t rushing and stay attuned to your surroundings. I think Milwaukee is going to keep growing in terms of bike usage – at some point it would be a great test case in terms of just removing an entire lane of parking in its busiest stretches (yeah, that will cost us) and putting in real protected bike lanes.

  • planetshwoop

    I’ve had been taking Elston mostly (from about Irving Park) for about 10 years. I watched it become less industrial and more retail as more and more big box stores were developed. So the things I didn’t like about Elston: more trucks, longer light intervals, and there’s not much scenery to watch or observe.

    The stretch between Kimball to about Fullerton was particularly treacherous. So many people trying to cut into the bike lane to get around a light or poking their car out. (The David’s Bridal stretch near Diversey was esp. bad.) The construction at Grand and Milwaukee eventually had me give up — I didn’t feel safe and arrived home feeling like I’d driven a car, having yelled at people a lot.

    Milwaukee is a bit better. The light intervals are a bit shorter and the intersections easier to cross. There’s also a lot more bikers, which I think makes cars “behave” a bit more. For me, the significant downside was the moving company trucks that used Milwaukee as a highway (their HQ is next to RevBrew on Kedzie, blah) and the highway crossing. Car drivers get into a particularlar kind of aggression when entering a leaving a highway, so if possible, I try to stay away from on-ramps because it’s dangerous.

    For Elston or Milwaukee, I feel that Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted is just really unsafe right now. The constant cement trucks, the blind corners designed for cars and not the significant number of bikes that now take it (like lane crossing under a dark viaduct, really?!?)

    My alternative is Lincoln Ave. That is probably peculiar to my situation because I can pedal along the river from Albany Park to Lincoln Square to head in. But it’s more retail focused, has no highway crossings, and feels (to me) a lot safer than either Elston or Milwaukee. I believe there are approx. 8 Starbucks along my route to work, and while that can mean more people parking (dooring), it feels like there’s more awareness of bikes and just a generally slower pace. And better smells.

    The biggest downside to Lincoln is the 2 big six corners (Ashland/Belmont & Irving/Damen). Wells St. has some people parking in the bike lane, but due to the high number of peds in Old Town everyone seems more aware of cyclists.

    (Added benefit to Lincoln: with a new steel growler I have my choice of 4 breweries where I can “fill up the tank” before coming home.)

    The bottom line is that I usually come home happy, like I’ve taken a bike ride, which is a feeling I didn’t get from Elston or Milwaukee. Your mileage may vary.

  • Cheryl Zalenski

    Question: is there any plan for addressing the potential for right hooks by cars turning right on to Fullerton? The bike lane seems just enough out of the line of vision of motorists that they may not think to look at it before turning.

  • Eric

    Unfortunately, the final product (?) after the reconfiguration has two bottleneck points: heading north after Damen and south after Fullerton.

    This allows vehicles to try to pass each other as they approach the bottleneck, if they don’t negotiate it safely then the vehicle on the right can proceed into the painted bike lane to pass. This is a very dangerous design for cyclists. Amazing that CDOT allowed it to be built this way. I’ve experienced this twice since it opened – four days ago.

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