Mix of Protected and Buffered Bike Lanes Slated for Busy Broadway

Broadway's road diet cross section
Between Wilson and Foster, the proposal calls for buffered bike lanes.
Broadway's road diet cross section
Between Montrose and Wilson, the proposal calls for protected bike lanes.

The Chicago Department of Transportation will redesign Broadway between Montrose and Foster, a mile-long stretch that’s currently a very car-centric four- to five-lane road. The street is so inhospitable that one resident at a public meeting Wednesday night said she doesn’t drive, walk, or bike on it.

The agency failed to make a “complete street” out of Broadway when it created a new streetscape a few years ago between Montrose and Wilson, but is correcting that mistake by adding curbside protected bike lanes with a floating parking lane on that stretch. While DNAinfo gave the impression that the proposal, still in the design phase, calls for protected bike lanes along the whole stretch, a longer part of the street, from Wilson to Foster, will only get buffered bike lanes. (DNA also reported that the loss of four parking spaces is likely to be a point of future contention, but no one at the meeting lamented this.)

The redesign calls for a “road diet” that would convert space from one motor vehicle lane in each direction to a center-median left-turn lane and bike lanes. North of Wilson, the street is 10 feet narrower, and CDOT project manager Mike Amsden said protected bike lanes could fit there if curbside parking was consolidated to one side of the street or the center turn lane was removed. But he argued that a buffered bike lane is more appropriate between Wilson and Foster because there are more driveways and vehicles turning across the bikeway than on the southern portion of the street.

Instead of crossing the street, this guy was waving all the drivers to pass in front of him
In 2010, CDOT finished a project that gave drivers generous 11-foot wide travel lanes, a center turn lane, and 8-foot wide parking lanes, leaving people to cross four to five lanes of traffic. The proposed redesign includes bike lanes and won't require people to cross more than three lanes of motor vehicle traffic.

Amsden pointed out that the proposed design will make it safer for drivers, too, saying “we want to create roadways where people understand what to do.” The center turn lane should lead to less weaving by drivers attempting to pass other motorists waiting to turn left.

Other changes include:

  • Banning left turns from Broadway to Leland, where visibility of oncoming traffic is poor.
  • Using the right lane under the CTA viaduct as a bike lane/right-turn lane. The viaduct will be replaced as part of the Wilson Red Line station replacement, removing all columns from the roadway.
  • Potential improvements to the traffic island where Racine Avenue meets Broadway.
Say goodbye to this track
Until the columns are removed, CDOT is going to restrict people from driving in the right lane under the CTA viaduct.

About 25 people came to the meeting and the reception was mixed but mostly positive. Of course, it wasn’t without some crankiness. One attendee made sure to say he rides a bike before launching into a diatribe about how “bicyclists are inherently ignorant of the traffic laws.” He continued:

The ones that they do know, they fly right through. I’m telling you it’s a wonderful plan, but you’re cutting down a traffic lane, and traffic in the city has become more and more cumbersome. …So, when you cut down these lanes, Broadway is a wonderful road, when you shut down some of these lanes, are you planning for ten years down the road when traffic is going to be much greater coming up here? So I’m concerned that spending all this time and effort for bicyclists who do not adhere to the rules of the road, that do not stop at stop signs, do not stop at stop lights, they cut around, they shoot out before the lights change…

In fact, CDOT is planning for ten years down the road and for today. Already, a substantial majority of Uptown residents – 62.5 percent – don’t drive to work, according to CDOT. Residents are clamoring for safe walking and bicycling facilities and converting wide speedways to safer, multi-modal streets is the only way to do that.

Amsden pointed out that Broadway has too much space for the level of traffic that it sees – about 11,000 to 13,000 cars per day. Road diets can work on roads with up to 25,000 cars per day, he said, citing Wabash Avenue between Harrison and Cermak as a recent example.

Many people thanked CDOT for bringing this proposal to Uptown, Active Transportation Alliance’s Lee Crandell included. He asked CDOT to consider building concrete pedestrian islands, something agency staff have said they want to do for two years, though none have been built yet. Amsden said that to build concrete barriers, more funding is needed.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, Mr GrumpyPants was quite a hoot in his bumbling rant. Even Mike Amsden could barely hide his laugh.

  • That man… that made me laugh, honestly. Especially when he said the city wasn’t thinking 10 years down the road by narrowing the street. That’s exactly what they’re doing; with the downward trend of driving in the whole country and the carless nature of this neighborhood, we should be narrowing the streets.

    I asked a question and I wasn’t satisfied with my response, though, and didn’t feel like I’d get a good one, so I’m going to write it here: I just don’t get why the protected lane won’t go to Leland? The street may narrow to 60′ but that is still wide enough, and if CDOT wants to prevent left turns from Broadway to Leland, then there won’t need to be that center turn lane they’re talking about. So why can’t it go another block?

    I’m also disappointed in the giant center median. I don’t think it does enough to visually slow the street. But we’ll see! Like the project manager said, it’s a limited budget, and it could be just the first step. Happy about the project.

  • Endless Mike

    The dumb thing is that anyone who drives Broadway north of Wilson realizes it’s a terrible road to drive on. Terrible weaves, random left turns, people driving 40mph+ on it. Being 3 lanes makes it a much calmer and more pleasant drive, and that’s without even mentioning the biking improvements. All 4 lane roads without middle turn lanes should be eliminated in my opinion.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Buffered lanes are better than regular lanes, but not by much. I ride on the Franklin buffered lanes every day, and they are usually completely full of idling cabs, cars waiting to turn at intersections, loading zone, etc. Really no substitute for a real bike lane.

  • There are no driveways or curb cuts from Wilson to Leland, save for this one into a parking lot between the two L viaducts.


    However, it will be eliminated with the new CTA station.

  • Joseph Musco

    Looks like nice work from Mike Amsden and CDOT.

    I think the SherMon Plaza safety improvements should be integrated with this project. It doesn’t make sense to have all the regular users of this corridor learn a new configuration only to add a twist immediately south of Montrose in the very near future. The traffic control aspects of SherMon Plaza (all crosswalks, bumpouts, & lane configuration changes at Sheridan/Montrose/Broadway) should be consolidated into this project — even if the funding for the plaza itself is not there there yet. Adding a few hundred feet S of Montrose to the scope of this project is not a big lift and the safety benefits would be huge.

  • I think a big issue with the buffered lanes is that, wider is good, but it’s downside is that drivers use them as loading/temporary parking spaces, and some will use it as an additional lane to get around traffic. narrower “standard” bike lanes don’t enable that to happen.

  • Kevin Crawford

    I just love these statements from planning officials bout how automobile traffic is going to increase x% in 10 years. Even better are the ones that predict growth 35 years out i.e. what happened in the northwest with CRC. Do these people have any idea where the resources required for that are going to come from? Magic? Just look at the insane operations underway *today* i.e. tar sands, just to keep up with a flattening or even declining demand. The people making these assumptions are clearly totally clueless. It just demonstrates once again the US’s car fetish, and the abject failure to consider any alternative or actually *think* (not project) long-term. The silver lining is that the younger folk up and coming actually do have a clue, and will necessarily push the old and clueless out of office.

  • Anonymous

    Why is Foster the northern boundary? It seems like this project could go further north to Bryn Mawr or Hollywood before the traffic volumes get too high.

  • The question about how CDOT would handle Montrose/Sheridan was asked by a single person in a “two part question” but not answered.

  • Are you referring to some specific statements?

    The city planners at this meeting didn’t address the audience member’s comment about the current trend of decreasing driving or that people are asking for safe roads they can walk, bike, and use transit on.

    “The silver lining is that the younger folk up and coming actually do have a clue, and will necessarily push the old and clueless out of office.” That’s what Malcolm X suggested on the back cover of his book, “By Any Means Necessary”. If you’re not gonna, then get out of the way.

  • My guess? Because Broadway north of Foster is also known as U.S. 41, under IDOT’s jurisdiction.

    Jurisdiction map: http://geocommons.com/maps/230908

  • I wholeheartedly disagree. 15 feet (10+5) is plenty of space for two 6-feet wide cars to pass.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not US 41, that stays on Foster from LSD to Lincoln. But if it’s IDOT jurisdiction like the map says (and I have no reason to doubt it), that would be an easy explanation for stopping at Foster. Even if CDOT wants to go farther with buffers, they might have to get some kind of additional IDOT approval or some crap like that.

  • Ah, my mistake. I guessed that it was 41. I made the map using data from IDOT.

    IDOT is currently okay with buffered bike lanes.

  • Joseph Musco

    Thank for covering this meeting. I was at the fire code/sprinkler retrofit meeting the same night or would have asked myself.

  • Regarding the CRC, we have our own, in the Circle Interchange and Illiana Expressway, and maybe North Lake Shore Drive. None of them have even half the scope of CRC, but I’m talking process-wise, and politically (although it’s local politics and not interstate politics).

    CMAP just dropped a bomb on Illiana Expressway with their analysis, which I’ll be reporting on soon. How does that impact Chicago?

    For one, the Illiana Expressway (IE) will suck resources away from Chicago and into a very rural area (near Quinn’s pet airport project) that will exacerbate our sprawl issue.

  • This is what CDOT staffers stressed more than the addition of bike lanes.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, but do we know if they make CDOT jump through a bazillion hoops even for those?

    That map is mystifying though. There’s some stuff you expect like North/Irving (state highways), Foster/Lincoln or Bryn Mawr/Ridge/Peterson (US highways). Others are so bizarre, like Lincoln Park West or a short section of Rogers by Sheridan or Ashland in Rogers Park. Just odd stuff there.

  • Anonymous

    But, I think the behavior described happens less often in a standard bike line than a buffered bike lane. The buffered bike lane’s width is more inviting to a driver who needs to stop and idle.

  • Adam Herstein

    Installing only two blocks of protected lanes is a slap in the face.

  • Adam Herstein

    Yes they do. The left-hand bike lane on Dearborn north of Kinzie is frequently used as a left-turn lane for cars. It’s already quite narrow, and if one is riding outside the door zone, all it takes is someone to inch their car just a bit to block use of the bike lane. It’s a left-hook disaster waiting to happen.

    The same thing can be said about the northbound bike lane on Clark in Lincoln Park, except replace left-turners with buses.

  • Edgewater Roadie

    Broadway north of Foster is technically the beginning of US Hwy 14 (The Ronald Reagan Highway), so yes, it is under IDOT jurisdiction. We in Edgewater are pushing to extend the Road Diet to Bryn Mawr. In past years, IDOT produced a schematic drawing that is consistent with the buffered lanes proposed north of Wilson. Hopefully IDOT will go along with extending that configuration north to Bryn Mawr. As a faster rider, I feel buffered lanes are safer than protected lanes against the curb as they keep cyclists visible to car traffic, especially entering intersections.

  • My biggest objection to properly-installed buffered bike lanes (that have buffering marking the whole door zone to make it clearly visible) is that cars completely ignore the paint in a way that bollards/parked cars in the way make much more difficult. They pull into the buffered lanes to pass other cars, they beach their car in them to load/unload/double park, use them as separated right/left turn lanes, and generally consider them to be completely unimportant.

    As time passes with more of them painted (and, dare I wish for it, ACTUAL ENFORCEMENT with tickets/citations for drivers doing it), drivers will get used to them and start respecting them better. But in Chicago as it currently stands, paint is mostly useless.

  • OK I should have clarified: The buffered lanes are used as an entire lane when there is traffic. So if there’s a long line of cars at a stop sign, some drivers use buffered lanes as their own lane.

    The left-turn lane on Dearborn is not being used as an entire lane, cars are just blocking it. They can’t fit in the whole bike lane though. I see this every day on Dearborn and it drives me nuts, having to weave in and out of car lanes for taxis and left-turning drivers.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if one reason it seems like cars-in-the-buffered-lane is more of an issue than with traditional bike lanes is because, if a car is standing in a traditional bike lane, the traffic will naturally slow because cars often have to cheat into the oncoming traffic a bit in order to pass. (Or even if they don’t have to cross the center line, it still creates a bit of a squeeze that causes them to brake.) This slowness makes it easier for a cyclist to merge with traffic in order to pass. By contrast, with a buffered lane, a car can stand in the lane and the traffic in the rightmost travel lane needn’t slow down at all. This creates a hazardous condition for the cyclist.

  • That’s a little hyberbolic. Disappointing, maybe, but not a slap in the face… there are other reasons for the PBLs not being installed further north. There are a ton of curb cuts north of Lawrence. Cars would pull out of them and block the PBL, leaving bikes to wait (Think of the hotel just south of Kinzie on the Dearborn lane).

    I’m completely 100% for PBLs but there are other variables CDOT has to work with and they can’t just close down entire strip malls to make a bike lane work. I wish they could, but they can’t.

  • Adam Herstein

    Every time I use the Dearborn lane north of Kinzie, I get cut off by taxis and people looking for valet parking. That’s why I switched to using State St.

  • Adam Herstein

    Perhaps, but it’s frustrating to learn that there will be only two blocks of PBLs when the initial news made it seem like there would be more. It’s essentially a bike lane to nowhere. There are no other protected or even buffered lanes nearby, so I don’t think two blocks is enough to persuade cyclists to ride down Broadway.

  • I agree, it’s definitely disappointing, especially because the city has this piecemeal approach to building bike infrastructure that doesn’t create anything meaningful. Think of Dearborn ending at Kinzie, as if nobody is possibly going north. There’s tons of room to take it up to Chicago Ave.

    I do sometimes take Broadway up from Diversey to Wilson and this final two-block stretch will be nice to have because the drivers really do go too fast. I just wish there were something between Diversey and Montrose for bikes. It’s “too narrow” for sharrows, which says a lot.

  • Edgewater Roadie

    Was anything mentioned at the meeting about the stretch of Broadway between Montrose and Irving Park? It is currently too narrow for any kind of bike lanes. It would be nice to connect the lanes to the Halsted lanes. I avoid that stretch and use Sheridan to Grace instead. Maybe CDOT could use Sheridan as the connector between the two Broadway/Sheridan intersections.

  • Oh, it’s just as big with traditional bike lanes — and the cars-using-them problem is why I don’t really see any advantage to buffered lanes over plain (and they use up more paint to do). The striped zone doesn’t make anyone safer or actually convince enough cars NOT to use the lane; just put bollards or a curb in if you’re going to try to do something more than ‘traditional’, IMHO.

  • Anonymous

    But I’m saying that, even if it’s just as common in both cases, the effect may be worse with the buffered lanes because passing cars needn’t slow down like they may more likely need to do in the traditional-lane context.

  • I don’t see how it’s any better in the traditional case — but then, I’m not riding my bike in them, I’m in the other car lane feeling awful for the poor cyclist being obstructed by the jackhole who feels entitled to pavement that’s not his.

    I don’t ride my bike on anything wider or busier than Wilson is at Kimball, because even that is scary enough to practically give me heart palpitations. It doesn’t help that I’m very slow to start, so every time I actually have to stop I ‘obstruct’ cars caught behind me, making them honk and then ZOOM past me so close I could hit them with my elbow if I stuck it out (while still holding my handlebars).

    I haven’t had a chance to try protected lanes yet, because I live in Albany Park and we haven’t got any. But I think being on the CURB side of the parking would be a lot less tension-inducing for me, giving me fewer things to try to keep track of while cycling safely — just looking out for people coming out of parked cars or pedestrians coming off the curb, except at intersections, which are already a nightmare I usually get off and walk through if I can’t roll it.

  • Lee Crandell

    Also, I think the road diet aspect of this project is a pretty big deal and will drastically change the feel of the street for the better. Buffered lanes may not provide as much protection from traffic, but reducing lanes to slow traffic down will do a lot to make people feel safer. I think the buffered lanes on Wabash in the South Loop are pretty great, and this will be a lot like that. There’s certainly room for improving it in the future, but this is welcome progress, and I’d rather CDOT do something like this than put in a protected bike lane in a poor location where it could potentially increase crashes because of the curb cuts.

  • Lee Crandell

    I’m pretty sure someone in the meeting asked about the changes that would come with the new CTA station, and whether the eliminating the viaduct columns in the middle of the street might enable a protected bike lane on that block. I thought Mike said yes, the viaduct changes could make it possible to extend the protected lane to Leland. This would be great for the planned Neighborhood Greenway on Leland. Also good for the greenway is prohibiting left turns from Broadway onto Leland. I was glad to see that in the plans.

  • Joseph Musco

    Bollards are ugly. These business districts should pony up for planters or something to separate the lanes. We are the City in a Garden, not the City in Thermoplastic.

  • Anonymous

    Where you at the meeting? Did you speak up about your concerns?

  • One attendee asked about the possibilities for Broadway south of Montrose. 46th ward residents voted in bikeways infrastructure on this stretch through Participatory Budgeting. Amsden answered that shared lanes were a possibility, but more substantial improvements would require significant parking removal

  • Maybe it would be better to install BBLs the entire distance to save cost while looking for a long term resolution?

    (waiting for the bounty on my head)

  • Clybourn will have BBLs before long, that either shows there aren’t a bazillion hoops to jump through or CDOT is willing to jump through them all.

  • Just a Guy from Edgewater

    I personally believe that Broadway, north of … hmm? … Hollywood, or maybe Bryn Mawr, is a much too wide, too fast, and very unfriendly for pedestrians to safely and easily cross or for most cyclists to ride along. I think that very much could be done to improve this stretch. The ROW is very, very wide. It is at present functioning like very high-speed suburban arterial, not like what it really is — namely, an urban street / boulevard (?) with mixed-use land use adjacent, lots of school kids and seniors, a library, and — here’s the kicker — a mass rapid transit rail line half a block away! The buffered bike lanes could and should be extended north, in some fashion/design, to Devon — road diet from 5 to 4 lanes? stick with 3 lane road diet all the way to Devon? state-of-the-art center median? Etc.? Unlease the creative, progressive design engineers on this one. Finally, in addition to and in conjunction with accommodating cyclists, much should be done to slow/calm automobile traffic along this northern stretch of Broadway and to make it more ped-friendly! It ain’t so now.

  • Anonymous

    Alas, see Stephen Vance’s comment below.

  • That section of protected lanes from Montrose to Wilson will get extra-interesting if Sher-Mon Plaza ever actually happens …

  • This is my (transit-preferring, long-bike-commute loving) husband’s view of the Ashland BRT: if all that’s keeping drivers out of that big visually empty lane will be paint, they’re going to be all up in that lane faster than you can say spit.

  • I agree, it’s a neighborhood with a lot of pedestrians that would be much better served by a less speedway-ish street … but it’s also the main arterial intended to move people from the end of LSD up to various points north (and, for example, the Kennedy). The LSD is a firehose spewing cars into a mostly-narrow urban streetscape, and Broadway ends up taking a huge number of them.

  • brett

    Besides pedestrians, do you know who else is inherently ignorant of traffic laws? Pedestrians, Skate boarders, bus drivers, taxi drives, and most of all, drivers of private automobiles.

  • Buggsy

    Right now, most northbound traffic, getting off LSD, takes Sheridan north. At any rate, the “amount” of traffic on Broadway really isn’t the problem (although everything possible should be done to reduce private, single occupant vehicle use). The main problem is speed — and, concomitantly (sp?) — the extreme width of Broadway. Lots of cars moving at 20-25 mph on narrower and/or fewer lanes, with curb bulb-outs (when/where feasible), a raised center median, more street trees and street furnishings, buffered or protected, or simply wide-enough, bicycle lanes, ped-supportive signal-timing, lighting, high-visibility crosswalks, etc. — all of which can help slow traffic and provide pedestrian refuge and safety — would be ok. I.e. the speed of the cars and the crossing distances are the main problems, not the number of cars. We need to prioritize people over cars here and on other dense, urban, transit-served, mixed-use, streets.


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