IDOT’s Protected Lane Ban Overshadows Development of State Bike Plan

Alta's Craig Williams takes a question from the audience. Photo: John Greenfield

As the Illinois Department of Transportation launches the public input process for the state’s first-ever statewide bicycle transportation plan, the elephant in the room is IDOT’s prohibition of protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads in Chicago. Protected lanes have been proven to improve safety for all road users, based on several years worth of data in other American cities like New York, which has been installing them since 2007.

However, this winter Steven Vance reported that IDOT is blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected lanes on state roads within the city, at least until CDOT provides three years of safety data on other local protected lanes, which won’t be possible until July 2014. It’s ironic that IDOT is seeking input on strategies for improving bike safety when the department’s own policy is undermining it.

If you’re reading this on Tuesday afternoon, please consider attending the public meeting from 6:30-8 p.m. today at the Jim Thompson Center, 100 West Randolph in the concourse assembly room, and voicing your displeasure with IDOT’s protected bike lane policy. If you can’t attend, you can also give the state a piece of your mind via an online survey for the bike plan. You can also join an online “webinar” on Tuesday, July 30, 6:30-8:00 p.m. RSVP for the webinar here. Several other public meetings will held downstate this month.

Protected bike lanes are listed as a possible treatment for an arterial street in this slide from the meeting presentation. Photo: John Greenfield

During an input meeting for transportation professionals earlier this afternoon at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning offices, staff from Alta Planning and Design, consultants for the state bike plan, walked attendees through surveys on what kind of bike improvements they’d like to see. It’s worth noting that protected bike lanes are mentioned in these handouts, and discussed as a possibility by the Alta consultants.

After the floor was opened to questions, I brought up the subject of the protected bike lane ban. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

John Greenfield: Stop me if this isn’t the right place to bring this up, but IDOT currently has a policy of prohibiting protected bike lanes on state roads. Will the public input process for the state bike plan have any effect on whether IDOT will eventually embrace protected bike lanes? The currently policy is, they’re waiting for at least three years of safety data on protected bike lanes in Chicago.

IDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Policy Advisor Gabriel Sulkes: I can say that this plan and Alta will produce recommendations along a variety of different metrics, as we’ve seen, including design recommendations. And concurrent to the state bike plan study, there’s a District 1 [Chicago region] study over the next few years also looking at innovative design treatments, ways to best accommodate bikes and pedestrians in this district.

All these plans will produce recommendations that the department will take into consideration when designing facilities and when looking at internal policies. I think something that Alta has emphasized is that this plan will not produce a document that is implemented policy change. It will produce a roadmap for IDOT’s future in terms of changing policies and evaluating the recommendations that are produced in both the statewide study and the District 1 study.

So what’s helpful about this kind of process is coming to meetings like this and soliciting feedback and hearing from constituents and residents the types of recommendations and the types of facilities that they would like to see so that when we do evaluate these plans we can find ways to implement those.

IDOT's Gabriel Sulkes was injured when a driver struck him on his bicycle. Photo: John Greenfield

Alta Chicago Office Director Craig Williams: As I had mentioned earlier, we’ve identified those treatments that currently aren’t in the [IDOT] Design & Environment Manual, which, along with the [IDOT Bureau of Local] Roads Manual, is kind of the bible that engineers and IDOT staff and municipalities use to determine the standards of design. The idea is to point out those elements that aren’t in there and to hopefully encourage them to include more of those. Certainly there are things like buffered bike lanes that are pretty easy to implement. A broader use of even regular bike lanes would be encouraged in a lot of facilities.

I have to say that District 1 is unique. I didn’t mention this in the beginning, but I was the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for IDOT for about ten years and I can say that 80 to 90 percent of the bike facilities in the state are here. 98 percent of the enthusiasm for bike facilities is here. When we go downstate, we won’t get the same questions that you’re asking today. I doubt that we’ll get a protected bike lane question in District 5 [which includes Carbondale] or District 7 [which includes Effingham]. There we’re hopeful if we can get support for paved shoulders or sharrows or just simple bike lanes. It’s a really different part of the state.

[A participant asked a question about whether the plan will also address pedestrian issues; Williams said ped facilities are relevant to the plan, but not part of its focus.]

[Unidentified participant]: This is kind of relating to one of the earlier questions. I’m seeing a lot on [the survey] about how IDOT can implement different policies and provide more information. I’m not seeing a lot about how IDOT can just get out of the way [laughter from the audience] and let some communities, particularly the city of Chicago, do things to make biking safer and easier. I don’t know if there’s a commitment to bike safety from IDOT, but I think that there’s a perception on the part of the cycling community here that [there isn’t]. So I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done about that on a survey like this.

CW: It’s a very good comment and we’ll certainly note it.

  • Anonymous

    I would’ve appreciated it if the IDOT survey asked for the user’s workplace ZIP as well as their home ZIP. As mine are very different (home-city; work-suburbs) my answers to most of those questions are fairly nuanced, especially about what kinds of infrastructure improvements it would take to get me cycling more. When they’re tracking results and geographically grouping them, I’d really rather most of my answers be tied to a suburban location. I may take the survey again simply to get those responses tagged differently in their system.

  • Jin Nam

    Unidentified Participant, I salute you, then curtsy.

    I took the survey and commented something similar to let Chicago plan their streets to get its residents going where they need to go safely by not forcing IDOT’s policies that are at odds with the city’s plans on a block here and there where IDOT has a say for no legitimate reason.

  • Fedor Manin

    I understand IDOT’s desire to control treatments on roads that are under their jurisdiction. What I don’t understand is why IDOT has jurisdiction at all over local streets. Is there a process that Chicago could use to persuade IDOT to abandon that jurisdiction? Would this mean a loss of money for the city? I know such a process exists in other states.

  • Anonymous

    I know that Jackson dates back to it being part of Route 66, but no idea why it’s still under IDOT jurisdiction today.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    I wonder if CDOT is considering taking back jurisdiction over roads it would like to add protected bike lanes on. Does anyone know if CDOT has any means of shifting road jurisdiction to their department? I went to the meeting tonight, which was very interesting with many citizens from outside of Chicago. I wanted to ask if there was a process for CDOT to take over control but I didn’t ask as it was more of a technical question.

  • A process exists. Peoria, a downstate municipality took jurisdiction of an IDOT road while also moving the state route designation to a different road, because Peoria wanted to make a road diet to make Washington Street a more livable place.

    More recently, IDOT paid Peoria $5.2 million to assume jurisdiction of 2.3 miles of a street.

  • Concerned Cyclist

    Did Active Transportation Alliance or any other bike group speak up at this meeting?

  • Anonymous

    The section of Foster Ave. from Pulaski Rd. to U.S. 41 is maintained by the City of Chicago under a maintenance agreement.

    So to get a protected bike lane on this section Chicago would have to take over maintenance and pay for this maintenance itself, losing the income from the state.

  • Anonymous

    I attended the meeting Tuesday, and this is my observation:

    Although Copenhagen has had protected bike lanes for over 25 years,
    and New York has had protected bike lanes for almost 10 years, the
    Illinois Department of Transportation will continue to “study” them
    for a long time before allowing Chicago to put protected bike lanes
    on streets controlled by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

    The score so far: Cars 1, Bikes and Pedestrians 0.

    It’s pretty obvious that the Illinois Department of Transportation is focusing on automobiles, altho the claim is that it’s looking at “inter-modal transportation.”

  • No one from Active Trans spoke at the afternoon meeting for transportation professionals, nor the evening meeting for the public, which Steven will report on soon. Ed Barsotti, head of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, did speak at the public meeting. People from other bike groups and clubs spoke up as well.

  • Elliott Mason

    I just took the survey, and two things built into its assumptions bothered me:

    A. They think sharrows are a safety feature, when all the data shows that streets with sharrows are more dangerous than those with no additional features at all
    B. They seem to think a ‘sidepath’ (a separate piece of asphalt sidewalk, effectively, somewhere well away from the road) is safer, more desirable, and in fact A RATIONAL SOLUTION for bike infrastructure. I suppose it might make sense somewhere rural, but in Chicago? Hah heh hee haaaaaa, like we have room for that garbage on commute-paths …

  • Here’s my take, I was in attendance for the evening event for cyclists in general, not professionals. I’m well aware of the desire of Chicago residents to have more PBLs implemented, but how it was handled last night would not achieve any change or speed the process.

    It’s safe to say the time frame defined to collect data is going to remain, what you can achieve at this point is pushing for the actual implementation once the data has been collected and a resolution determined.

    “Why are you against protected bike lanes?”

    First off, nobody said IDOT was against PBLs. Are they being slow about it? Are they delaying it? Are they overlooking data that could be used, even as a secondary source, for a decision? Sure, I’ll give you that. But to label them as “anti” anything at this point is simply aimed to evoke emotions.

    Is this journalism, even with a bias, or an editorial page?

    Last night was nothing more than an attack on two IDOT representatives who were dispatched to listen to Illinois residents. What happened was an attempt by those attending to start dialogue only to receive a standard verbiage they were directed to use.

    They are not policy changers, do they have influence? Sure. I highly doubt the two individuals made the decision to implement a moratorium and you weren’t going to pull anything new out of them at that meeting.

    So tell them you really appreciate that CDOT implemented PBLs, that you wish there were more in the city, that it is something IDOT should embrace, design and implement as quickly as possible because you’re confident any data collected will prove useful in support of them.

    Regarding the survey, it was clearly unnecessary to have those in attendance fill it out. It’s designed for non-cyclists, beginners or novice riders. Mocking the survey doesn’t accomplish anything either, what needs to be done is to pass the survey along to friends, family, acquaintances to increase the input the state receives.

    The fact that all in attendance likely fall into the “Strong and Fearless” or “Enthused and Confident” category rids the point of that survey, you’d likely ride on any given road if it came down to it. Would you choose other options? Yeah, but you know you don’t always have that luxury.

    At this point, we need to give IDOT the benefit of the doubt. Expect greater communication with cities and residents overall. Should we walk hand in hand with IDOT to accomplish their goals, we all stand to gain.

  • Justin, we make no bones about our mission of promoting safe, livable streets so, yes, in many ways this website functions like an editorial page. IDOT, which should share that goal, is currently standing in the way of creating safer, more livable streets by blocking CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on Chicago streets. Therefore, I don’t really care if the IDOT leadership is philosophically opposed to protected lanes or not; their current policy anti-PBL.

    Cyclist Bobby Cann was recently killed on Clybourn, an IDOT street in Chicago where CDOT likely would have installed protected lanes if the state wasn’t blocking them. While it’s not certain PBLs would have made a difference in Cann’s case, it’s very possible they would have. We can’t wait for another fatal bike crash on an IDOT street in Chicago to make it more obvious that the state’s policy is harmful. If IDOT actually cares about bike safety, they need to drop the PBL ban immediately. Until they do, Streetsblog will continue to draw attention to this issue.

  • Draw attention in a reasonable manner, as you stated, “While it’s not certain PBLs would have made a difference in Cann’s case,” the dramatization surrounding it in Streetsblog writings aimed at stating it would have prevented it and basically laid the young man’s life at IDOTs feet. That’s irresponsible.

    I ride in PBLs regularly, especially Dearborn and it was only recently that I proclaimed the least stressful ride into work without any interference from pedestrians or drivers. What does that say? PBL or not, it’s crazy out there and PBLs don’t fix everything. How would you write an article if a cyclist was
    killed while riding in a PBL? “WE NEED TO DO MORE!” Yeah, we do, and what if IDOTs research actually pushes them to implement a better PBL policy than what CDOT has done?

    Again, that’s entirely hypothetical, but the recent writings here surrounding PBLs rides on that frequently.

  • Jin Nam

    The survey was for all of Illinois. The zip code question/data collection of respondents should have been included in the survey as the first comment suggested so they have a better gauge for geographical differences in needs and wants. I know of a small group of avid cyclist in a rural area in Illinois who are working toward getting a side path near them for safe riding. For them that is the ideal infrastructure.

    IDOT rep pointed out the differences/disparity between District 1 and the less urban areas at the meeting from reading this write up of the meeting.

  • CL

    Why do sharrows make the streets more dangerous? I’m curious because I don’t like them, but I think someone on here told me that they make drivers more aware of cyclists.

    I was wondering about the sidepaths when I took the survey. I think I clicked that I liked them, because it would be cool if cyclists had their own path somewhere off to the side… but realistically there is no place to put a side path in the city.

  • Like I said, it’s not certain PBLs would have prevented Cann’s death, since the crash may have happened at the intersection. But by narrowing the travel lanes PBLS still might have helped because they would have discouraged the motorist from driving so fast. We’re not necessarily blaming IDOT for Cann’s death, but by blocking CDOT from installing PBLs on Clybourn, they’re preventing CDOT from taking significant steps to prevent a similar tragedy on that street.

    The way PBLs are executed in Chicago isn’t perfect. I want to see them use permanent infrastructure like Jersey walls, curbs or concrete bollards to protect cyclists. Dedicated bike signals would also be helpful. But I’m not worried about having to write about a cyclist killed while riding in a well-designed PBL. The bike mode share in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen is about 17 times as high as Chicago’s, but their crash, injury and fatality rates are a fraction of ours. PBLs are big reason for that difference.

  • IDOT has had plenty of chances to be given the benefit of the doubt, on all kinds of projects, all over the city. Their Complete Streets policy has been LAW since 2007, and requires bike and pedestrian accommodations. Yet you heard Jane Healy’s struggle with IDOT in her town about getting a sidewalk for Blue Island High School students in a road binge project (the high school already has an overpass!).

    There are issues closer to home. Why did IDOT make reasonably bikeable street on Harrison at Wacker to Wells six lanes wide from four lanes? Where’s the bicycle accommodation there? Why did IDOT propose eliminating the Blue Line west of some point and replacing it with bus service on a widened, but still-not-tolled I-290?

    Bona Delano asked if NYC data and Copenhagen data “were relevant”. They’ve had two years to figure out the answer, two years being the duration that IDOT has had CDOT’s proposal for a protected bike lane on Jackson Boulevard east of Ogden. You don’t need 3 years of local data to figure out if a city very much like our own has relevant data (and six years of it, to boot).

  • Anne A

    There are a few places where sidepaths might be feasible and helpful in the city. On the far south side, we have NO safe uninterrupted east-west routes to get from Halsted (800W) to the lake. One of the few places where such a route is possible is 127th St./Indiana Ave./130th St., which is a major truck route (especially east of I-94) often plagued by too-fast traffic. Space is available on portions of that route for a sidepath, but not along its entire length. We made planners aware of the need for safe bike accommodations on 127th/130th during the Streets for Cycling 2020 public input process. Hopefully we can get improvements there in the not-too-distant future that would benefit communities from Blue Island to Hegewisch and beyond.

    On the subject of sharrows, I have seen them make a difference in driver awareness when they’ve been added to some local streets, especially when supplemented by signage. In recent years, I’ve often ridden Wells through the Loop at night and I noticed a significant change in driver behavior after the addition of sharrows and shared lane signage. Drivers (even cabbies) are much more likely to move over and give me room without honking compared to their typical behavior before the change. I’ve experienced this difference on other streets as well.

    On rural high speed roads, sidepaths may be the safest solution. The injuries that can be inflcted in high speed crashes on such roads are much more likely to be fatal or life changing compared to lower speed crashes on city streets.

  • Joshua Putnam

    IDOT is right to be cautious — the recent Pucher study that claims separated facilities are so safe conflates two very different types of facilities. The study’s own data show that urban cycletracks with high intersection densities are quite dangerous compared to ordinary streets — the overall safety of cycletracks is driven by facilities with very low intersection densities, a few per mile, such as suburban highway sidepaths and waterfront cycletracks without cross streets.

    This is consistent with the increased accident rates seen in D.C. and Copenhagen’s official reporting on their separated facilities in urban road grids.

    IDOT’s desire to see real-world data on the safety of these facilities is a very reasonable approach in the face of well-documented hazards when these facilities have been installed elsewhere in urban-density road grids.

  • Judy Frankel

    I have seen no data that says Sharrows make streets more dangerous. I have seen just the opposite. If you are going to make a claim, you may support it with evidence.

  • Elliott Mason

    I’m not sure anyone knows why, but the statistics show more midblock crashes and deaths on sharrowed streets than unimproved (no stripes, no bike lane markings, nada) ones, and have for a while now.

  • Elliott Mason

    Studies have been posted in articles here repeatedly over the past year; I’ve tried using the searcher but there are too many results for ‘sharrow’ for me to run it down. Maybe our kind hosts remember?

  • Is this adjusting for the fact that people are more likely to bike on streets with sharrows on them? I.e., are there more crashes simply because there are more bikes on these street, or has the crash rate actually increased.

  • Here’s a San Francisco report that found that sharrows improve bike safety:

  • Ryan Lakes

    Do PBL accident rates take into account the increase in the number of cyclists using those streets? PBLs may encourage more people to choose to ride by buffering them from dangerous automobile contact.

    PBLs may also encourage people already commuting to take a different route (the more protected one). Do the PBL accident rates take into account reduced accident rates on neighboring streets due to this rerouting?

  • Joshua Putnam

    Pucher’s data aren’t before-and-after, they’re relative risk of the facility vs. other streets.

    The D.C. and Copenhagen results do take traffic volumes into account — the accident rate increased, not just the raw number of accidents.

  • Daniel

    In New York, see sharrows mostly as guidance to get you from one bike path to the next in an environment where we don’t yet have continuous protected bike paths along all arterials. They seem to increase ridership along the corridor where they are installed, increasing safety there. But often there is another slower route on a parallel side street where I’d feel safer. The location of the sharrows on the roadway may be important too. Drivers logically think the cyclist should be on or near the sharrows unless turning, so if the sharrows are painted too close to parked cars the driver may think you are being an asshole riding to the left of the sharrows. If the sharrows are placed so that you can safely ride down the middle of the v’s then I don’t see how they could be less safe than the same roadway with no markings.

    I do think a city sidepath is both on it’s face and based on personal experience a terrible idea. As a bicyclist you want to do everything to increase your visibility because most fatal collisions with cyclists are due to a motor vehicle failing to yield to your right of way due to inattention. When a side path that runs parallel to a roadway intersects a perpendicular road too many turning drivers will not see you coming and will run you over. Unless left and right turns from the parallel roadway are banned completely this type of facility is extremely dangerous. It really only makes sense for limited access highways where all cyclist and vehicular traffic can be separated with flyovers and the like.

    In terms of safety, the city sidepath should have been on the left of that slide and then it would read from least safe on the left to most safe on the right.

  • Well-placed sharrows with a parking stripe offer these advantages:
    – Advertise the presence of bikes
    – Encourage cyclists to ride with traffic instead of against it
    – Encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone
    – Encourage motorists to park close to the curb
    – Encourage motorists to drive closer to the center line, away from cyclists, which also discourages them from speeding

  • Judy Frankel

    You have shown us no studies that indicate this


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