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.
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.