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.

Clybourn, a couple blocks northwest of the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

The Cann tragedy makes this painfully clear. The city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 classifies Clybourn as a “Crosstown Bike Route,” a bike-priority street connecting neighborhoods. Clybourn is generally about 52-feet-wide, which would be enough room for two seven-foot-wide parking lanes, two five-foot bike lanes with a three-foot buffer, and two 11-foot travel lanes. Alternatively, there could be eight-foot parking lanes and ten-foot travel lanes. If IDOT hadn’t been blocking the protected lanes, its likely CDOT would have installed them on the street instead of buffered lanes, possibly before the crash occured.

The circumstances of Cann’s death are still unclear. He may have been struck in the intersection, in which case protected bike lane wouldn’t have shielded him from San Hamel’s car. However, if the Clybourn parking lanes had been relocated to the left of protected lanes, this would have physically narrowed the travel lanes. That might have caused San Hamel to driver slower, which could have mitigated the crash. While it’s impossible to say whether protected lanes would have saved Cann, it’s certain that they would have improved safety on Clybourn for other cyclists, more so than the upcoming buffered lanes will.

In the wake of Cann’s death, IDOT tweeted support for CDOT’s plan for buffered lanes. As Steven wrote earlier, this is hypocritical, since the department blocked the protected lanes that might have made a difference in the crash, and IDOT has not changed its policies towards protected and buffered lanes at all in response to the case. The department is still blocking the protected lanes that could help prevent further loss of life.

Therefore, I have mixed feelings about the upcoming buffered lanes on Clybourn. CDOT is making the best of a bad situation by striping the lanes, which will be an improvement over the status quo. However, if IDOT actually cares about improving safety, the department needs to lift the ban on protected bike lanes immediately. That would make a real difference for keeping Chicago cyclists safe, and that would be a fitting legacy for Bobby Cann.

San Hamel is scheduled to appear at the Cook County courthouse at 26th and California on July 17 at 9 a.m. 18th District police officers are seeking volunteer court advocates, concerned citizens who appear in court to show their support for the victim. You can contact the 18th District CAPS officers at 312-742-5778 for more info. More details are available on The Chainlink from Active Trans’ Jason Jenkins.

  • Fred

    I believe Ryne San RecklessDisregardForHumanity’s BAC was .127, not 1.27 as stated above.

  • Scott Sanderson

    I agree. I almost wish CDOT would wait until IDOT is ready to let them move ahead with protected lanes because Clybourn seems like a perfect candidate for them (spoke route, plenty of width).

  • All things being equal, it’s probably better to install buffered lanes now, rather than wait at least a year to install protected lanes. Even buffered lanes will help prevent crashes on the street in the meantime by calming traffic. But hopefully CDOT will upgrade the lanes to protected once the ban is lifted.

  • Adam Herstein

    Can they at least be curbside buffered lanes?

  • Interesting idea. Curbside buffered lanes (which would allow them to install flexible posts to deter people from driving in them) can only be built on stretches where there there’s no parking allowed.

  • Adam Herstein

    I’m not familiar with the parking regulations on Clybourn, but I vaguely remember there being at least some stretches with no parking.

  • You’re all so much more charitable toward buffered lanes than I am, so far as I’m concerned they’re utterly pointless. “Better than nothing” should not be a planning strategy.

  • I strongly disagree (although Steven probably doesn’t.) Even sharrows have some value because the encourage cyclists to stay out of the door zone, advertise the presence of bikes, and encourage drivers to keep left.

    Conventional bike lanes do the above, plus they calm traffic (since motorists get nervous when they have to drive closer to the center line) and designate a space on the road for bikes, and encouraging drivers to give them space.

    Buffered lanes do all of the above, plus the striped buffer(s) help keep cyclists out of the door zone, and/or encourage drivers to stay even farther away from bikes. As I’ve said, they do nothing to prevent reckless motorists from intentionally or unintentionally careening into the bike lane, but they’re definitely not pointless.

  • “Even sharrows have some value because the encourage cyclists to stay out of the door zone, advertise the presence of bikes, and encourage drivers to keep left.”

    That’s what is said to encourage newbies to start riding and to justify their continued use. And it’s what we convince ourselves to believe. I’m just as guilty of this.

    Real world experience, ignoring all empirical evidence on the matter, I don’t think they do any of those things.

    And then the city or a utility contractor installs them wrong. I just noticed a replacement one today, installed 2 feet too close to the door zone.

  • Are you saying the SF sharrow study isn’t enough to convince you? http://www.fcgov.com/transportationplanning/pdf/shared_lane_marking-052404.pdf

  • CL

    When I drive, I do feel like buffered lanes cause me to keep left, especially when I’d normally be drifting to the right several yards before the right turn lane actually begins.

    Sharrows, however, are on narrow roads, so keeping left isn’t an option — if I come up on a bike, I’ll wait until it’s safe to cross the median slightly, and then I’ll pass the bike and return to the center of the lane. I’m not a fan of sharrows because they confused me when I first encountered them — I thought I was supposed to stay out of the “bike lane” when it was impossible to do it on such a narrow street. They do remind me of bikes, though, I’ll give them that.

  • I’m not convinced they alter driver behavior any more than conventional lanes do. I still see people using them as passing lanes or to double park, or plain just swerving across the lane. And the buffered lane on Division went in, what, less than a year ago, and the thermoplastic is nearly completely worn away.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about perception anyway. I don’t feel any safer with an extra stripe of paint, and I don’t think buffered lanes work to get that coveted “interested but concerned” segment of users. Second-rate infrastructure will lead to a second-rate mode share.

  • The disappearing thermoplastic issue is definitely troubling. CDOT rushed to install a lot of lanes at the end of the season last year after the pavement was too cold for thermoplastic to adhere properly. I assume they’ve learned their lesson and we won’t get a repeat of that this year.

  • I would guess that once buffered lanes are put in, they’d be here to stay, unfortunately. I can’t see ripping out year-old infrastructure — especially three miles of it — when there are so many other streets that don’t have any facilities at all.

    The reality is that Clybourn is plenty wide for protected bike lanes in most stretches, and that’s what should be put in, but it’s not being allowed by IDOT. The third picture in the post reflects how Clybourn is a blank slate that could be transformed into a fabulous new city route. Changes that make it safer for bicyclists and drivers alike would also attract people and investment, and spur economic development along the entire way. It’s disappointing.

  • That sort of speaks to my point, that it was rushed. I’d much rather see CDOT take the time to do things properly than to do things quickly in order to meet the Mayor’s arbitrary performance measures, especially considering that those measures were redefined after the process had already begun!

    As another example, I drove past the PBL in Douglas Park for the first time last week, you would basically need a high-end mountain bike to negotiate all those potholes…and unsurprisingly, nobody was using it. In my book, that thing shouldn’t even count toward the total miles built, as it is virtually unusable.

    Too many citywide planning decisions in this city are beholden to local political expediency. I’m constantly getting emails from my alderman to report potholes, but I pass through pieces of six different wards on my way to work every day. I look at ward boundaries all day long at my job, but with all the gerrymandering, even I couldn’t tell you where they fall from one block to the next. Any one of those six aldermen can decide to block a project in their ward, which is just going to lead to a disjointed network that is of no practical use.

    Sorry for ranting, I’ve obviously got some wide-ranging complaints. It was incredibly dispiriting to me when they changed the definition of ‘protected’ to include ‘buffered’ and nobody really fought it. We need to hold CDOT & the council accountable for these things if we want them to deliver what was promised.

  • Of course you did, didn’t mean to sell you guys short. But it wasn’t heeded, and then it just fizzled out as the Mayor’s Office kept on reporting the numbers that they wanted to. (Granted, that complaint is hardly limited to bike lanes.)

  • John

    Clybourn isn’t a “Spoke Route.” Clark and Milwaukee are Spoke Routes.


Video Shows Bobby Cann Crash Happened at the Intersection

View Larger Map The crash site from the driver’s perspective. Security camera footage recently obtained by the State’s Attorney’s Office shows that motorist Ryne San Hamel fatally struck cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann at the intersection of Clybourn and Larrabee, according to victim advocate Sharon Johnson. Previously the authorities did not know if the crash happened […]