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

Looking north on State at Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 south. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Looking south at 18th and State. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Looking south on State south of Cermak, by a vacant lot. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Median in the center of State at Archer. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Northwest corner of State and Archer. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

A pedestrian island, sort of, at Archer and Dearborn. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Looking southwest on Archer near Wentworth in Chinatown. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

  • Anonymous

    Fabulous write-up. I want to go check it out!

  • Guest2

    Is there an up to date bike map for Chicago that is desktop friendly?

  • I wonder if the Archer/State bollards-and-paint sections might get upgraded to bigger, wider sidewalks (with bioswales? And benches? A guy can dream!) after a winter or so of proof that the asphalt can be repurposed from carrying cars.

  • Lisa Curcio

    Not perfect, but these changes certainly give hope! Thanks for letting those of us who are not normally riding in that area know about the upgrades.

  • Sure thing.

  • Steven will probably give you the spiel for his offline Chicago Bike Guide. In the meantime, Active Trans’ Chicago Bikeways Tracker is a fairly up-to-date map of PBL/BBL progress: http://www.activetrans.org/bikeways/tracker

  • Thanks!

  • BlueFairlane

    Guest2 is Steven, isn’t it.

  • Scott Wendt

    Awesome to see. No reason they shouldn’t have more lanes especially on the lighter trafficked streets. I can understand resistance if these were to push into the loop, but for now I think push ahead and encourage as many miles of lanes all around the city as possible.

    I also think it would be nice if they use a few more bollards. Jersey barriers might be too much since they would cause problems if there were ever a real need for emergency vehicle access, like an ambulance or fire truck. Bollards have work great to keep traffic away from the lane but still allow for that occasional emergency. I mean if cars are expected to yield their lanes in times of need, we probably should allow the possibly, too.

    That’s not unreasonable, right?

  • Guest

    You speculate too much about reasons for design choices

  • More permanent bollards/jersey barriers near the ends of blocks might at least visually cue cars that THIS IS NOT FOR YOU in a way that thin white whippy plastic things apparently do not (with thin white whippy plastic things between to reinforce the line visually). Not that CDOT is at the moment even slightly interested in putting concrete in the middle of streets.

    The advantage of a curb to separate (with whippy bollards coming up out of it) protected lanes is that emergency vehicles can mount it without trouble to access the area, just as they can with sidewalks, but it’s big enough that cars won’t mess with it lightly.

  • Tony Adams

    This is great to see indeed, but we need to encourage the City to keep the momentum going toward the southwest on Archer. In the last year or so we’ve actually lost some segments of the existing bike lane: the westbound block just West of Canal is now sharrowed with parking in what used to be the bike lane. the bike lane was interrupted in the 2500 block for on-street parking for a restaurant and dry cleaners and at least a couple of blocks on the east bound side seem to have had their rush hour no-parking designation removed, making an already dangerous commute even less comfortable.

  • Point taken. The CDOT staffers have a lot on their plates, so it’s often difficult for them to respond to questions about the details of bikeway design in a timely manner. But I’ll check in with them about my “presumably” statements and see if they can provide some clarification.

  • That restaurant and dry cleaners (southwest of the Halsted Orange Line station)…yeah. After that was put in, and police officers started parking in the bike lane, it just kind of disappeared. This despite that the two businesses provide off-street car parking.

    And curbside parking was made legal here. Very lame.

  • “Not that CDOT is at the moment even slightly interested in putting concrete in the middle of streets.”

    They’ve done a few pedestrian islands here and there, like with Berteau.

  • Ha! I only post as myself.

  • My app, the Chicago Bike Guide, is available for Android and iOS for 99 cents, and for free on the desktop.

    It’s no longer offline, as this wasn’t a sustainable way to make map updates and expanding the boundaries of the map.

  • True — I wasn’t thinking about full medians, though, just concrete dividing-bikes-from-cars lane things.

  • Yeah, I want to see some of that. Jersey barriers don’t have to be ugly. New York City: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycstreets/10404756686/

  • MLKendricks

    There doesn’t seem to be any reason this shouldn’t be extended through the IIT campus to at least 35th St. The traffic is lower south of 26th St on State St than north of it.


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