IDOT Blocks Protected Bike Lanes on Several Chicago Streets Until 2014

Parked in the bike lane
At IDOT's insistence, this part of Jackson Boulevard was left with a buffered bike lane instead of the originally proposed protected bike lane.

Last month we noted that the Illinois Department of Transportation prevented the installation of a protected bike lane planned for Jackson Boulevard, allowing only a buffered bike lane on the segment of the street it controls. Now we know why: IDOT will not allow protected bike lanes to be installed on Chicago streets under its jurisdiction until mid-2014, at the earliest, because the agency wants to see three years of data (presumably crash data) before signing off on this type of street redesign.

Since several Chicago streets are under IDOT jurisdiction, this policy could affect implementation of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and impede the installation of protected bike lanes. Street redesigns that have proven safety benefits may be delayed or downgraded to less effective buffered lanes.

One street that could be affected, for example, is Clybourn Avenue, which is marked as a “crosstown bike route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. Though the plan doesn’t specify which routes should be protected lanes, in a brainstorming session hosted by Active Transportation Alliance in April, 2011, attendees agreed that the entirety of Clybourn Avenue should be one of the city’s first protected bike lanes. For most of its length, Clybourn is 52 feet wide, which meets the minimum width standard for protected bike lanes.

However, implementation is scheduled for May 2013 at the latest, which would make an on-time protected lane project incompatible with IDOT’s moratorium. (Clybourn Avenue has an additional issue: Much of the street has rush hour parking bans, which would complicate the implementation of any type of bike lane. If CDOT can tackle this conflict, perhaps by eliminating the rush hour parking controls, it would bode well for streets around the city with similar parking regulations, where bike lanes currently can’t be added.)

Wide open and waiting for the protected bike lane it's not getting
Clybourn Avenue is wide open and begging for a protected bike lane that IDOT won't allow for at least two more years.

So why is IDOT delaying designs that several American cities have already been implementing for years? The agency says it wants to measure safety impacts based on robust statistical evidence, and that three years provides a representative sample.

The rationale for requiring this information would be reasonable if Chicago was the first city to ever implement protected bike lanes, but it doesn’t hold up because the results have been the same wherever protected bike lanes have been installed: The injury rate of all street users is reduced, be they walking, biking, or driving.

IDOT has not clarified whether data from New York City, Washington, and countless cities worldwide was reviewed before deciding to implement the three-year moratorium here.

View IDOT jurisdiction map in a larger screen. Red lines are IDOT streets; blue lines are existing protected bike lanes. 

CDOT spokesperson Pete Scale sent the following statement about the agency’s arrangement with IDOT regarding protected bike lanes:

IDOT has requested that we monitor and evaluate the safety and operational impacts of innovative bike facilities on City jurisdiction roadways before installing these facilities on State jurisdiction roadways. To that end, we have developed a scope of work for analyzing the safety impacts of protected bike lanes installed to date, and will be initiating this work as “after-installation” crash data becomes available. This evaluation will look at safety impacts for all roadway users.

Additionally, we are monitoring traffic operations on roadways with recently installed protected bike lanes. This includes traffic counts and travel-time studies for both bicyclists and motorists.

As these analyses progress, we will share our findings with IDOT and work together to develop a strategy for the installation of these innovative facilities on State jurisdiction roadways.

Other streets identified in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 that are under IDOT’s jurisdiction and could be affected by the moratorium include:

  • Lincoln Park West from Clark to Fullerton (Neighborhood Bike Route, May 2013-May 2014)
  • Diversey Avenue from Logan Boulevard to Damen Avenue (Crosstown Bike Route, May 2014-May 2015). West of here, Diversey suffers from rush hour parking bans.
  • Washington Boulevard/Street from Damen Avenue to Michigan Avenue (Crosstown Bike Route, May 2014-May 2015). This street segment was repaved between Ogden Avenue to Canal Street in 2011, and the door zone bike lane remained. Note that the bike lane still ends at Desplaines Street, dumping bicyclists at a hostile transition from a 3 lane speedway to a 4 lane speedway with frequent lane changes.
  • Adams Street from Desplaines Street to Michigan Avenue (Crosstown Bike Route, May 2014-May 2015).
  • Archer Avenue from Loomis Avenue to State Street (Crosstown Bike Route, May 2014-May 2015). Archer from State to Western Avenue is under IDOT jurisdiction.
  • Pershing Avenue from Kedzie Avenue to State Street (Crosstown Bike Route, May 2014-May 2015). Only the segment from Ashland to King is under IDOT jurisdiction.
IDOT Annual Report 2012
## 24 of IDOT's 2012 Annual Report## shows a photo of a protected bike lane on 55th Street, with cars parked in it.

Additionally, there are many more streets under IDOT jurisdiction that are not identified in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 but could benefit from protected bike lanes. For instance, Canal Street between Harrison Street and Cermak Road has two lanes in each direction and is currently used as a speedway between two congested areas: Chinatown and South Loop.

Could Chicago bypass all of these restrictions by taking over the streets from IDOT? There is a precedent downstate: the city of Peoria wanted to put Washington Street on a road diet, converting a travel lane in each direction to parallel parking. “The Illinois Department of Transportation, in their mission to block business development and focus on moving cars using seven lanes in a city of 115,000 people, said no,” wrote Robert Guico in the Strong Towns forums. Blocked by IDOT, the Peoria City Council voted to accept jurisdiction of the street last year. IDOT moved its state route through East Peoria; that city’s council is now asking for money to widen the road.

  • @stevevance:disqus will correct me, but crash maps I have seen show clusters of injuries and fatalities on those kinds of roads. Even though they are often horrible for biking, people chose them for reasons such as: their destination in on that road; it provides the only access across/under a barrier (highway/river, etc); and they are not aware of alternate routes. I like to say that people on bikes need to go the same places that people in cars need to go. All the more reason to complete these streets.

  • and, as you discussed in a previous post, intimidating road conditions keep people off bikes, which is no good either.

  • sometimes a year can make a difference in funding or political will. not sure if this is a concern in this case.

  • Rodger

    Add Addison to the list of projects in the Cycling 2020 Plan that is impacted by the moratorium. Even though it is not listed for implementation yet. Some folks on the NW side are now petitioning for it to happen sooner. Addison is horrible for crossing the Kennedy and the river where side streets are not an option. Steven or John- Are you aware of anyone talking to local IL Sen or Reps to push IDOT on this issue?

  • Rob

    [head bouncing off desk].

    Bikes, schmikes. They’re not in the manual.

    Neither is transit.

    Multi-modal commitment? Sure, they support cars AND trucks.

  • Nice. That’s almost a haiku!

  • Jennifer

    I call BS.

    1. IDOT has been building buffered bike lanes since 1976.*
    2. Buffered bike lanes now count as “protected” bike lanes.**
    3. Hence, IDOT should have something like 35 years’ worth of its own data on protected bike lane safety.
    4. Nice and safe, right? IDOT? Hello?

    *I could be wrong: the buffered configuration could only be as old as I’ve been seeing it. Which is still fairly long; I haven’t even been there since the amount of data they want ago.
    **Crud, this is CDOT’s definition. Still, IDOT can’t just sit back and act like they themselves have never done this before.

  • The Active Transportation Alliance has made it easy for you to send a message directly to Gov. Pat Quinn to ask him to end IDOT’s obstruction of safer streets via the petition below. Please consider signing it and passing it along to others.

  • Thanks for sharing this link. I’ve been so busy I didn’t know what to do with it!

  • The data all say the same thing: riding in protected bike lanes leads to reduced injury and crash rates versus riding on streets with door zone bike lanes or without bike lanes.

  • NYC has data going back as far as 2007 for protected and buffered bike lanes, and 2009 (maybe earlier) for raised bike lanes (Sands Street). They have experimented with many different kinds of protection: parking protected and Jersey barrier protected. They’ve also used flexible posts and they have installed concrete islands on day one.

  • I don’t know if they keep their distance… every flexible post has black marks on it.

  • I don’t know the history. Was there a bus on Clybourn before?

    There was a planning study in 2008 that looked at the Clybourn route because of the many businesses that offered opportunities for low-income workers.

  • Not aware.

  • Even Second City Cop is whining about it.

  • The section between North Avenue and Armitage/Ashland Avenue is not IDOT – I’m not sure why this wasn’t a PBL, except that it may be narrower than the stretch south of it necessitating the removal of at least one side of parking before a PBL could be installed.

  • BlueFairlane

    There’s been a large construction project on the east side of this stretch practically as long as the protected lane has existed. A hole has existed from the building that stands there, across the sidewalk and into the street to about the point the bollards would stand long enough that I forget when it appeared. This would have cut right into a protected lane and forced bike traffic to dive into the car lanes. I don’t know who initiated this project, but maybe the city knew this was coming and would make the buffered lane unworkable here.

  • Rob

    If IDOT were genuinely concerned about safety, and particularly in urban areas, they would heavily invest in public and alternative transportation. Public transportation is dramatically safer than driving, of course, and rail, in particular is the safest.

    Rather than building add-a-lanes that IDOT knows in advance are insufficient to effectively address congestion during peak, we should be building high capacity transit alternatives and implementing pricing to encoruage people to use them. How many people (and cars) does a CTA Blue Line transport through a bottleneck (which all our highways are during peak) compared to the number of people a highway lane can?

    On a per square foot basis, how many people can ride a segment of roadway at the same time when compared to the number of cars (with average – abysmal – occupancy rates)?

    Transit and biking win for safety and throughput. Why build more lanes, and why not invest in walking, biking, and transit? We have enough roads – more than enough.

  • Ryan Lakes

    Such a great article.


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