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Eyes on the Street: New Protected Bike Lanes on Canal Street


New Bikeways Week rolls on with a look at the new protected bike lanes on Canal Street between Harrison Street and Roosevelt Road. Several recently constructed Chicago bikeways, such as the lanes on Milwaukee Avenue between Kinzie Street and Elston Avenue, are largely made up of buffered lanes, sometimes with flexible posts that discourage, but don't prevent, drivers from entering the lanes. On these bikeways, there are only short sections where bicyclists are actually physically protected from moving cars by parked vehicles. However, the majority of this half-mile section of Canal features parking-protected bike lanes, which provide a nice feeling of security for risk-averse cyclists.

One of the best things about the new Canal PBLs is that they run in both directions on a street that formerly only had northbound bike lanes. Although the protected bikeway is only a few blocks long, on a section that doesn’t seem to get tons of bike traffic yet, the new facility is a nice little addition to the city’s bike network, and a well-earned half-mile in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's quest to build 100 miles of PBLs within his first term.


Yesterday afternoon around 4:30 p.m., I took a spin on these new PBLs, starting at Harrison, where there’s a Divvy bike-share station, and a good-sized puddle, suggesting Canal has drainage issues similar to those along the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane. However, freshly laid asphalt on this entire stretch of Canal is silky smooth. I've heard that, as is the case with most new PBLs, there were problems with drivers parking in the bike lanes when Canal was first reconfigured. Nowadays, motorists seem to understand the layout and are doing a good job of parking in the floating parking lanes, aided by the word “Parking” spray painted on the pavement, although I did come across one cab in the bike lane with its driver absent.


Canal features some interesting new street markings. At a few locations, there are a couple of extra thermoplastic stripes parallel to the main bike lane stripes. "The striping is intended to visually narrow the opening of the bicycle lane and discourage motor vehicle traffic from driving in the bicycle lane," Chicago Department of Transportation bikeways engineer Nathan Roseberry told me. "New York City has installed similar markings." Some of the mixing zones, where drivers cross the bike lane to make a right turn, feature two right-turn arrows marked on the pavement, along with a bike-and-chevron symbol, plus four thickly applied triangles, known as "shark's teeth," at the point where cars enter the bike lane. These are intended to remind motorists to yield to cyclists.


On the last two blocks from Taylor Street to Roosevelt, the southbound bike lane is merely a buffered, not protected, probably because there’s a major construction project going on next to the lane, which is taking up some of the road width. However, the northbound lane on this stretch, which starts next to the iconic White Palace Grill, in business since 1939, is fully protected. Just north of the diner, there’s a giant suburban-style retail development, including an LA Fitness club. While there are several publicly accessible bike racks in the shopping center’s parking garage, the handrails of the wheelchair ramps leading up the gym’s entrance are covered with bicycles, a reminder that it's important to place bike parking conveniently close to building entrances.


Over on the Dearborn PBL, there's a large, seemingly permanent puddle in front of the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, popular for cigarette butt disposal by federal employees. Here on the east side of Canal at Taylor, there's a vast body of water that makes "Lake Kluczynski" seem piddling by comparison.


North of Harrison, you can continue pedaling on Canal in the existing, un-protected bike lane. However, as part of the Central Loop BRT Corridor project, slated for 2014 construction, the bike lane will be removed north of Van Buren Street, and a two-way PBL will be installed one block west on Clinton Street. South of Roosevelt on Canal there's fresh asphalt but no bikeway, which doesn’t make much sense, as this stretch is listed as a recommended route on the city’s bike map and there's plenty of room for bike lanes here.

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