Will Disappearing Bike Lanes Be a Problem With This Year’s Installations?

Almost-invisible eastbound lane on Division west of Rockwell this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently hustling to construct 35 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes this year, which would bring us to a total of 65 miles of lanes installed under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The department hopes to reach 100 miles by May 2015. However, in the rush to build a large quantity of lanes, it’s important to keep an eye on quality as well.

As Steven Vance pointed out earlier this year, eastbound buffered bike lanes striped last fall on Division Street between California and Rockwell Avenues in Humboldt Park deteriorated quickly. Nowadays, in places, the markings are barely discernible. Other sections of this bikeway, which were installed earlier in the season, are still intact.

Similar problems occurred with some of the “Safety Zone” markings installed on streets bordering the nearby Humboldt Park green space. Enhanced shared lane markings (bike-and-chevron symbols with skip dashes striped on either side of the symbol) marked last year on Desplaines Street south of Milwaukee are also largely gone.

When I recently spoke to CDOT Project Manager Mike Amsden about the latest bikeway projects, I asked him about this issue. His response suggests that disappearing bikeways shouldn’t be as much of a problem with this year’s installations.

Faded enhanced sharrow on Desplaines at Lake in March. Photo: Steven Vance

John Greenfield: One thing that was an issue last year was that a lot of the bike lanes came in at the end of the season when it was starting to get cold. You take something like the enhanced sharrows on Desplaines, south of Milwaukee Avenue, those are pretty much gone now.

Mike Amsden: Eastbound Division in Humboldt Park…

JG: Right, the buffered bike lanes.

MA: Yeah. We’re definitely aware of it. We sent our interns out and they kind of documented not only bike lanes but some of the safety zone makings to try and find commonalities between the installations where we had problems. The vast majority, almost all of the lanes where we had problems, were installed late in the year when it was too cold.

JG: The pavement is less porous so it’s hard for the thermoplastic to adhere to it?

MA: Yeah. So that’s a lesson learned. We probably will not be installing thermoplastic that late in the year again. It doesn’t make sense.

JG: But it seems like you’re getting an earlier start on construction this year.

MA: That’s the goal [laughs]. We want to get these done as early as possible.

  • Reader

    Fully separated and protected bike lanes don’t fade.

  • Anonymous

    They’re the opposite of old soldiers.

  • And it takes an AWFUL lot of traffic passing over them to wear off proper concrete curbs.:->

  • Did CDOT say if they would fix these fading installations that aren’t even 1 year old? If not, they would wait until the next resurfacing job or the alderman pays for it.

  • Joseph Musco

    I thought I posted a comment asking 1) is CDOT going to ask for warranty work from the contractor or 2) did CDOT fail to follow the manufacturers specs in installing thermoplastic? Was it deleted for some reason?

    When CTA forgets to weather treat the wood on a platform costing $6M it makes all the papers. When CDOT puts down thermoplastic that fails in less than a year we should all just shrug? “Follow the instructions” isn’t exactly a radical statement, unless the instructions were to build up the striped bicycle lane total — and worry about whether the lanes were visible, functional, etc. another day.

  • Sorry if your comment was deleted; it wasn’t intentional.

    The problem is, I believe the contractor was just following CDOT’s orders to do the striping on such-and-such date. It was CDOT that decided to take the risk of striping on cold days, and the gamble didn’t pay off.

  • Fred

    They still require maintenance though. Have you been down the Kinzie cycletrack recently? The bollards that aren’t missing look like they’ve been through war.

  • Anonymous

    They’re rebuilding Lawrence from Western, east to Ashland.

    But what about Lawrence WEST of Ashland? Bake lanes were added all the way to Central and beyond, yet most of the way is faded and invisible. I’m pretty sure it was just painted, not thermoplastic.

    Most of the missing paint is in the 39th Ward. Does CDOT pay for this, or does it need to come out of the Alderman’s “menu money” budget?

    Even as we speak, IDOT is re-paving Foster Avenue, a roadway barely wide enough for four lanes (only 42-feet wide); after paving, wouldn’t this be a good chance to put a bike lane down Foster, from the river, west to Central Avenue?

  • Technically Foster is currently striped for one travel lane in each direction and parking on both curbs (though nobody parks there, even right at the park/playground, because everyone’s terrified of the speedway and don’t know it’s legal).


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