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Eyes on the Street: New Bikeways on State Street and Archer Avenue

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To borrow from a famous song, on State Street, that great street, I just gotta say, they’ve done something they haven’t done yet on (Chicago’s) Broadway. They’ve installed nearly perfect Windy City-style protected bike lanes.

The one-mile bikeway on State from 18th Street to 26th Street, features silky-smooth new asphalt, a four-to-three conversion road diet, crisp, white pavement markings and, south of Cullerton Street (2000 south), well-designed, car-protected bike lanes. Add some green paint at conflict points -- none is planned for this year -- and you’ve got all the ingredients of a textbook Chicago PBL.

Intersecting with this bikeway is a freshly striped .6-mile section of buffered bike lanes on Archer Avenue, running through Chinatown. There are also some interesting new pedestrian safety treatments at the junction of the two streets.

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Continuing with our New Bikeways Week project, I took a spin on the lanes yesterday afternoon around sunset. Rolling south on State from Roosevelt Road, I enjoyed the velvety new blacktop, but noted that while there’s plenty of room for bikeways on this portion, none have been striped yet. When I reached 18th, broad bike lanes with two-foot-wide buffers on either side appeared, and the rush-hour riding became a bit more comfortable thanks to the extra dead space striped between me, moving traffic and parked cars.

This buffered section between 18th and Cullerton is the most retail-dense stretch of the bikeway, and it appears to be wide enough for protected lanes, so it would have been nice if PBLs had been installed to provide physical protection from traffic and dooring. Presumably, the Chicago Department of Transportation encountered some resistance to protected lanes from merchants. With the possible exception of a couple blocks of Dearborn Street in Printer’s Row, CDOT has yet to install PBLs in a dense, busy retail district, where they’re most needed. It would be great to see this in the future.

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South of Cullerton, the curbside, six-foot-wide protected lanes, featuring a three-foot buffer between bikes and the floating parking lanes, seem to be functioning just fine – I didn’t see any illegally parked cars. After Cermak, where there are few public destinations but plenty of vacant lots, parked cars are sparse, so the lanes offer less physical protection. That’s a good argument for using permanent infrastructure, like concrete bollards or Jersey walls, to keep moving cars out of the bike lanes. Hopefully CDOT will try this strategy in the future.

At 26th, I turned around and rolled north again. North of Cermak on the east side of the street, Reggie’s Rock Club and Music Joint is just about the only retail establishment on the protected portion of the bikeway. Plenty of people cycle to Reggie’s, so I’m guessing the venue was happy to get the PBL, which makes it safer and more comfortable for customers and employees to pedal there.

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Back at the broad State/Archer intersection, I noted that the concrete median on State has been extended with yellow paint and flexible posts, presumably to discourage overly fast left turns by motorists from Archer onto State. Paint and bollards have also been used creatively at the northwest corner of this juncture to tighten the too-wide turning radius, discouraging drivers from whipping around the corner, and shorten the crossing distance for those walking to the southwest corner.

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Pedaling southwest in a buffered lane on Archer, I see that another four-to-three conversion road diet has been implemented here. This section has also been recently repaved, providing a satiny riding surface. At Dearborn Street there’s yet another interesting application of street markings and flexible posts, used to create a pedestrian refuge island of sorts. True, an actual raised, concrete island would provide physical protection from cars for people crossing the street, but this treatment was probably cheaper than building a real island, and it’s still an upgrade.

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The lane continued southwest under a Metra viaduct and the CTA Red Line, taking me into the lively Chinatown restaurant district. This is another area where there seems to be plenty of room for protected lanes but, again, perhaps there was resistance from business owners. The vast intersection of Archer, Cermak and Princeton, at the west end of the retail district, is a little intimidating to navigate on a bike. Striping the lanes through the intersection would have been helpful.

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The buffered lanes peter out before another railroad viaduct a bit east of Canal Street, at which point the lanes continue southwest in their old, conventional format. Hopefully these will be upgraded to PBLs or BBLs in the future. I do a U-turn and continue northwest back towards State. As I pass Wentworth Avenue, I’m tempted to detour south to grab a barbecue pork bun at Chiu Quon Bakery, but willpower prevails and I continue with my mission. Back at the State and Archer intersection, I conclude that these nicely executed PBLs and BBLs are a fine addition to Chicago’s bike network.

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