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Posts tagged "buffered bike lanes"


Eyes on the Street: Augusta Buffered Lanes and Repaved Milwaukee PBLs


Augusta near Noble. The buffer encourages riding outside of the door zone. Photo: John Greenfield

Due to the cold spring, the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bikeways construction season got off to a late start. Thermoplastic pavement markings don’t adhere properly to asphalt at temperatures below 50 Fahrenheit, as evidenced by bike lanes and crosswalks in various parts of town that were striped too late in the season in 2013 and have quickly deteriorated. Therefore, it was wise to wait for warmer weather this year.


This Logan Square crosswalk was badly faded not long after installation. Photo John Greenfield.

Now that work has begun on the 20 miles of buffered and protected lanes slated for this year, things are moving fairly quickly. This month CDOT installed buffered bike lanes on the following stretches:

  • Halsted: 85th to 75th, 69th to Marquette, 59th to Garfield, and 31st to 26th
  • Racine: 52nd to 47th
  • 26th: Kostner to Pulaski
  • Augusta: Damen to Noble

As Steven posted earlier today, Wood recently got a neighborhood greenway treatment between Augusta and Milwaukee. CDOT is also nearly done reconstructing the Milwaukee protected lanes between Erie and Ogden. Those were largely obliterated by a water main project this fall, and then all of the remaining bike lane bollards taken out by motorists and snowplows over the winter.


Milwaukee Avenue during water main construction. Photo: John Greenfield

I plan to ride the new South Side facilities next week. This afternoon, I took a quick spin to check out conditions on Augusta and Milwaukee. CDOT striped conventional bike lanes on Augusta from Central Park to Noble a few seasons ago, but as I ride in from the west, I noticed that many stretches west of Damen are badly faded. Hopefully, these sections will be next in line for an upgrade.

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Business Owners on Elston Won’t Fight Buffered Bike Lanes


Biking on Elston, just west of Ashland. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s official: business owners along the Elston industrial corridor are giving up their fight against better bike lanes on the street.

In December, when Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council, there was stiff resistance. Although there’s currently a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane on most of this stretch, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

In January, as an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle route proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” However, transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld wrote Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the industrial council, last month pointing out that there’s already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and 26 percent of crashes resulting in injuries involve cyclists. She also noted that ANBR would add half a mile to a bike trip downtown, and the infrastructure could cost 100 times as much as the buffered lanes.

At the end of March, CDOT project manager Mike Amsden presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, to North Branch Works, and now the council is grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes are slated for construction in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Elston Has a Speeding Problem — A Safe Bike Lane Can Help

Without protected bike lanes on Elston, bicyclists will continue to get the truck route squeeze

Without protected bike lanes on Elston, bicyclists will continue to get squeezed between trucks.

To reach Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of having five percent of trips under five miles made by bike, bicycling will have to appeal to a much broader base of people than it does today. CDOT’s bikeway projects will only succeed at that goal if new cyclists feel safe and comfortable while riding in these lanes — which, in turn, largely depends on whether they feel safe from nearby traffic.

Elston Avenue, where a proposal for buffered bike lanes has proven contentious, is a good place to measure how fast people are driving — and whether bike lanes provide sufficient separation from speeding cars. CDOT has proposed a buffered bike lane from North Avenue to Webster Avenue, and, at some point in the future, an extension further north through Avondale and beyond. The North Branch Works business association isn’t pleased with the proposal, saying that it will impede truck traffic.

John Greenfield and I spent last Tuesday morning measuring drivers’ speeds at two different locations on Elston. We used our new radar speed gun — donated by Streetsblog readers — to collect data on northbound drivers on Elston at Blackhawk/Magnolia, where Elston bends slightly, and on Elston at Willow, next to the Creative Scholars Preschool. The Blackhawk/Magnolia intersection is part of the stretch of Elston that has a bike lane separated from traffic by flexible posts, and the Willow intersection is part of CDOT’s new project area.

The proportion of speeders was high at both locations. At Blackhawk/Magnolia, 37.6 percent of drivers exceeded the 30 mph speed limit, and at Willow, 32.3 percent of drivers were speeding. We measured vehicle speeds for 15 minutes at each location, capturing 100 drivers apiece. While ideally a larger sample would be collected to gauge the extent of speeding, our measurements suggest there is a higher proportion of speeders on Elston than on other bike routes known for high speeds, like Marshall Boulevard and 55th Street.

High motor vehicle speeds not only pose a danger to people who bike, they also discourage people from biking in the first place by increasing the perception of risk. Likewise, bikeways that provide greater separation from speeding traffic not only reduce the risk of injury, they also lead more people to bike by increasing the perception of safety. To compensate for the high level of speeding on Elston — and the preponderance of truck traffic — the street should have the safest bicycle infrastructure available.

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Chicago Building Four Miles of Protected Bike Lanes This Year

Can you believe this road was expanded from 4 lanes to 6?

CDOT will install a buffered bike lane on Harrison Street through this asphalt monstrosity built for the Congress Parkway interchange expansion.

The City of Chicago announced a new slate of bikeway projects today, outlining about 15 miles of new buffered bike lanes and a little more than four miles of protected lanes to be built in 2014.

Under the plan for this year, protected bikeway construction in Chicago would continue to outpace every other American city except perhaps for New York. But the city still embellishes its progress by counting buffered lanes as protected lanes, saying that it is already halfway to the goal of building 100 miles of protected lanes by 2015. (In fact, just under 17 miles of protected bike lanes have been built.)

It’s unfortunate that the city continues to mislabel buffered bike lanes, not only because it’s misleading but because it cheapens the substantial progress being made in Chicago — often in the face of difficult obstacles like the Illinois Department of Transportation ban on protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction streets, including Clybourn Avenue and parts of Elston Avenue. (The ban has now been lifted on a trial basis on Clybourn.)

This year, about 4.25 miles of new bike lanes will be physically protected from traffic by parked cars and/or flexible posts. CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden said in December that the city is considering using curbs for protection on Clybourn Avenue from Division Street to North Avenue — a stretch that traverses the intersection where cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by drunk driver Ryne San Hamel — and State Street south of 26th Street. The news release says this is still being designed. (CDOT said at the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting in March that curb separation was “still on the table.”)

The new protected bike lanes are:

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Elston Businesses Want Easier Trucking at the Expense of Bike Safety


The Elston Avenue protected bike lane at Division Street. Photo: John Greenfield

On Wednesday morning the North Branch Works industrial council hosted a meeting for business owners on the city’s proposal to upgrade barely visible conventional bike lanes on Elston between North and Webster to buffered lanes, focusing on the section south of Cortland. Joe Robinson, a member of Bike Walk Logan Square who teaches at a school located on this stretch, attended the session, in which Chicago Department of Transportation discussed the plan with attendees. Although there is a protected lane on Elston between Milwaukee and North, and this section is wide enough for PBLs, Robinson said there was stiff opposition from the business owners to merely striping buffered lanes with paint.

“CDOT tossed this group of businesses a bone [by proposing buffered lanes instead of PBLs], at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians, and the group hardly acknowledged it,” Robinson wrote me. He added that the owners of industrial businesses instead expressed concerns about the new buffered lanes encouraging more bike traffic on Elston. “There was a lot of talk about large trucks having enough room, being able to turn out of driveways, and being able to access loading docks.”

Robinson said safer conditions for biking and walking are sorely needed on this stretch. “There are no lights or stop signs between Cortland and North, and folks use that stretch like it’s a highway,” he said. “I would guess that the majority of drivers speed, and a good percentage of them approach or exceed 40 mph.” Drivers use the existing bike lane as a passing lane and to avoid rough pavement, he said. He added that after a new office building opened at 1765 North Elston with hundreds of employees, curbside parking spaces on this stretch began filling up early in the morning, and truckers have taken to parking in the bike lane while waiting to pull into loading docks.

View Larger Map
Looking north on Elston from North.

Mike Holzer, director of economic development for the North Branch Works confirmed his organization is strongly opposed to new buffered lanes, let alone protected lanes. “The majority of business owners in the room [on Wednesday] were concerned about cyclists’ safety. We’re thinking that Elston shouldn’t be designated as a bike route, period, that there are better alternative routes for cycling.”

Holzer said the corridor was designated as a Planned Manufacturing District in order to secure the area for industrial growth. “There are multiple loading docks and drive-through doors on Elston, as well as buildings built right up against the sidewalk,” he said. “The feeling was that this is not a place where you should encourage cycling.”

Holzer says he himself is a real-deal bike commuter who frequently pedals from his home in Logan Square to his office at 1866 North Marcy, just west of the new buffered lanes on Clybourn. “I still stay off Clybourn,” he said. “It’s not a great street to ride on either. I take Cortland to work, and if I’m going to the Lincoln Park Zoo or downtown I’ll knit together a route that takes smaller streets like Marcy and Willow and stays off of heavily trafficked ones.”

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An Update on CDOT’s Bikeway Construction


A crew installs buffered bike lanes on Madison Street. Photo: CDOT

We’re currently in the midst of a bike lane building boom. Earlier this year the Chicago Department of Transportation completed groundbreaking protected lanes on Milwaukee from Kinzie to Elston, which involved removing about 50 percent of the parking spaces. Buffered lanes were striped on Wells from Chicago to North. Recently CDOT completed buffered lanes on a two-mile stretch of Madison between Pulaski and Central, and this week the department began or continued installation of the following 11 miles of bikeways:

  • Clybourn (North to Belmont): 2.8 miles of buffered lanes — construction was slated to end today
  • Vincennes (103rd to 84th): 2.65 miles of protected and buffered lanes — striping was slated to end today, flexible posts will be installed in the near future
  • Kedzie (North to Palmer): .75 miles of buffered lanes — construction started this week
  • Archer (State to Cermak): .60 miles of buffered lanes — construction started this week
  • Halsted (Garfield to Pershing): two miles of buffered lanes — construction started this week
  • Berteau (Lincoln to Clark): .85 miles of neighborhood greenway — construction ongoing
  • South Shore (79th to 71st): 1.25 miles of buffered bike lanes — construction started this week

It’s worth noting that all of Clybourn and South Shore, most of Archer, and the southernmost three blocks of Vincennes are state jurisdiction roads. The Illinois Department of Transportation has prohibited the city of Chicago from installing protected lanes on IDOT streets, citing safety concerns. The real reasons for the ban aren’t clear yet, but an email obtained from CDOT via a Freedom of Information Act Request indicated that concern for cyclist’s safety wasn’t one of them.


Active Trans' Bikeways Tracker map. Proposed projects are red; projects under construction are purple; completed projects are blue.

In addition to the roughly 15 miles — about four of them protected — completed or under construction this year, CDOT had a bid opening this week for a federally-funded project to build 15 more miles of buffered lanes this year. The department hopes to complete 35 miles of buffered and protected lanes in 2013, for a total of 65 miles — 20-25 of them protected — installed since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in May 2011. The current goal is to install 100 miles of protected and buffered lanes by May of 2015. This means CDOT will really need to hustle to get the last 35 miles in next spring.

I recently sat down with CDOT Project Manager Mike Amsden to discuss these projects. The department currently refers to protected lanes as “barrier-protected” and buffered lanes as “buffer-protected.” For simplicity, I have altered his quotes to include the more commonly used terms.

Amsden says he’s particularly excited about the bikeway on Vincennes, which is designated as a Spoke Route in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. While conventional bike lanes previously existed on this stretch, CDOT removed them to increase motor vehicle capacity on the street during the Dan Ryan Expressway reconstruction from 2006 to 2008. In general, the southbound bike lane will be buffered with curbside car parking; the northbound lane will be curbside with a painted buffer to the left plus flexible posts that will discourage, but not prevent, drivers from entering the bike lane.

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Hamstrung by IDOT, City Plans Buffered Lanes Where Cann Was Killed


Ghost Bike memorial to Bobby Cann the 1300 block of North Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

Last Thursday, about a week after the May 29th death of cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann, killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced plans to stripe buffered bike lanes on the entire 3.5-mile length of Clybourn, from Division to Belmont. Construction should start either this week or the following week, according to CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales.

According to police, Ryne San Hamel, 28, had a blood-alcohol content of .127 and was driving his Mercedes sedan at 50 mph when he struck Cann, 25, on the 1300 block of North Clybourn. San Hamel has been charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane. Bail was set at $100,000; the driver has posted $10,000 and was released from police custody.

Several memorials and tributes have been held in honor of Cann, a Groupon employee widely described as a safe cycling advocate. Cann’s coworkers recently started a memorial Groupon that has raised over $40,000 for the Active Transportation Alliance’s Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign, which advocates for protected bike lanes. The Groupon was scheduled to end yesterday but has been extended. Bob Kastigar, a longtime Chicago bike activist and Critical Mass rider, launched a petition drive asking that the county’s top prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, send the case to court instead of making a plea bargain; Kastigar mailed Alvarez a 432-page printout with 5,274 signatures, which arrived yesterday.


Bobby Cann. Photo: Groupon

I got the news about the bike lanes from a RedEye article that described the lanes as “protected,” which highlights the confusion caused by CDOT reclassifying buffered lanes as “buffer-protected” last year. Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 transition plan called for building 100 miles of protected lanes in his first term, defining protected lanes as sitting “between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic.” Last year CDOT changed that definition so that “buffer-protected” lanes, could be counted towards the hundred-mile protected lane goal; parking-protected lanes were renamed “barrier-protected.” For the rest of this article I’ll use the standard, nationally accepted definitions of protected and buffered lanes.

In February, Steven Vance discovered that the Illinois Department of Transportation has been prohibiting the installation of protected lanes on state jurisdiction roads in Chicago at least until CDOT collects three years of “safety data” on existing Chicago protected lanes. That means the earliest than ban would be lifted would be July 2014, three years after Chicago’s first protected lanes opened on Kinzie. IDOT has not blocked installation of buffered lanes.

Because of this ban, installing 100 miles of protected lanes by 2015 became less likely, so it’s understandable that CDOT adjusted its 100-mile goal to include buffered lanes, but it was a mistake for the agency to change the definition of “protected” lanes to include facilities that are merely paint on the road. While real protected lanes provide a physical barrier to prevent reckless drivers from crashing into cyclists, buffered lanes don’t, and the two should not be confused.

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How to Create Protected Bike Lanes That Confident Cyclists Will Enjoy Riding


The Kinzie Street protected lane. Is this what Milwaukee Avenue will look like in the future? Photo courtesy of CDOT.

As Steven Vance wrote recently, protected bicycle lanes will be crucial for boosting Chicago’s bike mode share because they attract the “interested but concerned” set that doesn’t yet feel comfortable riding on city streets. But as the city installs protected lanes on roadways that are already popular bike routes, such as Milwaukee Avenue, it will be important to design and maintain the new lanes so that they appeal to current riders as well.

Many “enthused and confident” riders have said they prefer buffered bike lanes to the city’s existing protected lanes due to design and maintenance issues. Others may avoid riding in protected lanes no matter what. So to avoid a backlash from cyclists grumbling that their favorite routes have been ruined, the city should build and maintain protected bike lanes so that the current complaints are addressed. The new street configurations should also allow speedy cyclists to safely ride outside the lanes if they choose, which Chicago Department of Transportation staffers recently said is a legal option.

We’ve heard criticisms of the existing protected lanes in person from a number of bike riders. And during a discussion of buffered and protected lanes on The Chainlink, a local online bike forum with over 8,500 members, ten different commenters, the majority, said they prefer the former, for a number of reasons discussed below.

At last week’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, CDOT staff fielded questions about several of these design and maintenance issues with responses that suggest these issues are on their radar and they plan to take action on them. Here are some of the complaints about the existing lanes, along with some possible solutions. The following photos were taken yesterday during a ride downtown on the Elston Avenue, Kinzie Street and Dearborn Street protected lanes.


Car parked in Elston Avenue protected bike lane south of Division Street. Photo by John Greenfield.

Complaint: Protected lanes make it harder for faster bicyclists to pass slower ones. “I don’t like infrastructure that prevents me from passing,” said a Chainlink commenter who called himself “Joe Schmoe.” “I’m trying to make good time to get back home, and I don’t like to wait behind slow cyclists.”

Solution: Build wider lanes. CDOT Project Manager Mike Amsden recently told Streetsblog that the five-foot minimum width for protected lanes won’t be sufficient on Milwaukee, so the agency wants to build wider lanes with plenty of room for passing.

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