Take a Virtual Ride on the New Randolph Protected Bike Lane

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Looking east on Randolph, west of LaSalle. The vehicles next to the bike lane are parked cars. Photo: John Greenfield

An important new downtown bikeway recently became rideable. The Randolph protected bike lane runs from Michigan to Clinton, making an already-popular westbound route out of the Loop safer.

The project involved a road diet. One one the three travel lanes on Randolph was converted to make room for the bike lane and its striped buffer. Presumably the Chicago Department of Transportation calculated that the roadway had excess capacity for the number of cars it carries, so the change shouldn’t cause undue congestion, although it will discourage speeding. Another bonus is that pedestrians now have fewer lanes of car traffic to cross.

Having a protected lane on Randolph is especially important because a conventional bike lane on Madison, previously the only westbound bikeway out of downtown, was removed last year when the westbound Loop Link bus lane was constructed. Ever since the bus rapid transit corridor opened, many cyclists have been riding in the Madison bus lane, which isn’t particularly safe for the riders and doesn’t help bus speeds. Having a safer option on Randolph should move much of the bike traffic out of the Loop Link lane.

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Looking east on Randolph, east of State. Photo: John Greenfield

The westbound Randolph protected lane now forms a couplet with the eastbound protected lane on Washington, which was built in conjunction with the Washington Loop Link lane last year. The Randolph PBL links up with existing two-way protected lanes on Dearborn and Clinton.

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Looking south at Randolph/Dearborn. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the project, CDOT has built special concrete intersection treatments, inspired by Dutch-style protected intersections, at the northwest corner of Randolph/Dearborn and the northeast corner of Randolph/Canal. These include pedestrian islands, which should help encourage walkings to not stand in the bike lanes while waiting to cross. Similar treatments were built at Washington/Franklin and Washington/Dearborn.

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The Randolph bridge over the Chicago River. It would be great if the non-slip treatment could be widened to make it safe for faster cyclists to pass slower ones on the bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition to the road diet, which may inspire some griping from motorists, another aspect of the new bike lane that may be controversial is the decision to move the bikeway from the street to the north sidewalk of Randolph between Canal and Clinton, under a Metra viaduct. While it’s a wide sidewalk, this cuts the space for people walking in half, and there’s currently a pedestrian bottleneck at the east end of the viaduct, where a couple of newspaper boxes are sitting.

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Looking west at Canal/Randolph. Photo: John Greenfield

There are also likely to be some conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians at Randolph/Canal and Randolph/Clinton in places where the east-west sidewalk bike lane intersects with north-south pedestrian routes. Its seems like a better solution might have been to keep the protected lane in the street. The stretch of Randolph under the viaduct includes a left-turn lane plus three through lanes, so it appears that one of the through lanes could have been converted without making motor vehicle congestion worse.

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Looking southeast at Randolph/Clinton. It’s likely there will be some conflicts between people biking and people walking here. Photo: John Greenfield

Keep in mind that Randolph is still a work in progress. Dedicated bike traffic signals have not been activated yet. Moreover, construction of new developments on Randolph between State and Dearborn and Wells and Franklin will continue into next year, so those segments don’t yet have protection. After the buildings are completed, CDOT will fill in the blanks.

  • Driverforecer

    As someone who drives westbound on Randolph regularly in the mornings, and who generally opposes road diets, I’ll say CDOT did a nice job with this one. They have ample turn lanes where necessary, and I think it actually makes it easier to go straight through on the through lanes.

  • I wish the poles were orange. White poles on pale-ish road (stops being dark black pretty quickly) in an area that already has white paint striping is genuinely hard to see.

  • Pat

    Gotta say, they really half-assed the bridge. Those poles will be mowed down quickly.

    Why no green pavement like Washington?

  • Re: green pavement. I’m skeptical of the effect of green payment on reducing collisions at junctions with alleys and driveways.

    The full-block-length green pavement on Washington is a different situation and it doesn’t seem useful to have the green pavement between a curb and the walls of the Loop Link stations.

  • Your response is typical post-road diets. This change reduces/mitigates constant lane changes or using through lanes as turn lanes.

  • Carter O’Brien

    …and using turn lanes as through lanes, my personal pet peeve.

  • skyrefuge

    You shoaled two other riders and didn’t even edit it out of the video? :-P (ok, the 2nd wasn’t bad, but the first was pretty egregious!)

    It’s always fun to see the over-the-line parking that drivers do in the parking-protected areas. I wonder if they normally just position themselves by ramming their tires into a curb, and, lacking a curb, don’t know how to line up? Or is it more “well, there’s extra space here, I might as well use it!” At least in this case, the poles mean that they don’t actually encroach on the bike lane (yet), unlike Dodge St. in Evanston.

  • Fuegofan

    At this point, that block between State and Dearborn is super frustrating given that the bike lane is painted on the blocks on either side of it. And I can’t wait for the traffic lights to go in so that there is less chance of traffic turning right from Randolph to NB State or NB Dearborn hitting me as I go straight. I know it will take awhile to retrain the cars, just like on SB Clark at Washington. Randolph is a much appreciated improvement. Now if there were only a good way to get from Washington and Wabash to the EB Randolph bike lane.

  • Pat

    I think the green pavement certainly helps at the protected intersections:
    -Pedestrians seem to be more aware of it and have a better idea not to stand in the lane
    -Where it passes across where cars are turning right, they better understand where to wait, rather than blocking the bike lane waiting for pedestrians to clear.

    While maybe there aren’t the numbers to support safety (as a cyclist I can see peds and cars blocking your path from blocks away) it certainly makes the flow more efficient.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sorry, guilty as charged, very rude of me. It’s hard to restart a Divvy when you’re shooting a video, so I tended to keep cruising as long as possible before putting a foot down. Oh well, at least I wasn’t “bike salmoning.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Per CDOT, green paint will be added after the new asphalt has time to “cure.”

  • Pat

    Lets hope they do a better job than at Milwaukee/Halsted. :(

  • Carter O’Brien

    Thanks for the update, I rode the whole length of it yesterday – it is a huge improvement, barring the hot mess of vehicles parked outside of the Oriental Theatre (do they have an exemption?), and a few places drivers were awkwardly trying to create a magical turn lane to avoid waiting behind through traffic.

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