Proposed Rules for Road Construction Could Be Better for Walking and Biking

Terrible accommodation for bicycling on Milwaukee Avenue
A construction zone with lumpy pavement and a path that's too narrow for bicyclists to share the road safely side-by-side.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is accepting public comments until 5 p.m. today on the draft update to “Rules and Regulations for Construction in the Public Way” [PDF]. Among other things, this document can help improve safety for biking and walking by creating better conditions during street construction projects.

If the city’s proposed rules were in place today, for instance, the construction site over the bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue between Ogden Avenue and Erie Street probably wouldn’t be so abysmal for bicycling. This document is a big improvement over the existing rules, but there are a few ways the provisions to maintain walking and biking paths could be stronger.

The draft includes rules to accommodate people walking and biking that don’t exist now. For example, bike racks in the construction zone must be removed and returned, bikeway markings must be restored within seven days (no timeline was given before), many crosswalks that are now two stripes must be restored as more visible zebra crosswalks. And, for the first time, bicyclists and pedestrians are specifically mentioned as groups that require safe accommodation. The existing infrastructure for biking and walking should not be disrupted – language that doesn’t exist now. Additionally, the draft rules require a traffic control and detour plan to make a safe walking path to bus stops and train stations.

The existing rules only mention bicycling once — to say that bike lane markings must be restored. This shows at the construction work on Milwaukee Avenue. The new protected bike lane — installed this past summer on the city’s busiest cycling street — is closed due to a water main project, and cyclists share a narrow lane with automobiles in both directions. Cuts were made in the street and covered with lumpy asphalt, gravel, and slippery metal plates. Safely accommodating cyclists as required by the new rules should lead to better conditions during projects like this.

Still, the draft requirements for good bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and detours can be strengthened. Section 4.3 says, “[Traffic Control Plan] and Detour plan drawings shall meet the standards defined in this Manual, the IDOT Highway Standards and the MUTCD whichever is more stringent.” While the federal MUTCD manual does require “alternate routes to be provided” when pedestrian or bicycle facilities are disrupted, Chicago’s document should explicitly be the most stringent so that CDOT has the utmost control.

The same section requires “adequate facilities for drivers to maneuver safely through the construction area, day or night, and varying weather conditions” but not for people walking and biking. And it says that construction projects must “provide the capacity necessary to maintain an acceptable level-of-service for the traveling public” but again doesn’t require the same guarantee for walking and biking. This goes against the spirit of the department’s Complete Streets Design Guidelines, which place pedestrians atop the modal hierarchy.

Improper pedestrian accommodations
New regulations should make shoddy sidewalk closures like this a thing of the past.

Facilitating vehicular level-of-service often means giving bicyclists and pedestrians leftover space, closing sidewalks mid-block and at intersections, or closing bike lanes. There are better ways to handle street construction at a time when we are trying to increase the number of people who walk, bike, and take transit.

A couple of other points that could be improved:

  • When a cut into the roadway is made, CDOT requires an “asphalt restoration agreement” for certain scenarios, but not when a bikeway is cut. As many bicyclists know, the repaving after a cut is often still hazardous to bicycling, with either the rough concrete or lumpy asphalt replacements. (section 3.4.5a)
  • Many organizations, like Special Service Areas and universities, own infrastructure legally in the public way, but the draft update only makes provisions to protect city-owned bike racks and bus shelters owned by JCDecaux. The Wicker Park-Bucktown, Lakeview, and Uptown SSAs have installed many of their own bike racks and there are a handful of bus shelters installed by organizations other than JCDecaux. (section 4.2.10)

To submit a comment today, read the instructions on CDOT’s website.

Improper alternate route
The new rules should be clearly written to specify how to create an alternate route so people don't walk in the street.
  • So… I may not have time to fill out that whole Excel spreadsheet before 5. Does the new manual state that construction projects have to provide for peds? I mean, I’ve seen entire intersections being redone, and they close all 4 corners where pedestrians enter the crosswalk. Each one has a sign saying “use other crosswalk.” Uhhhhh… this is OK for me, but I know some people in wheelchairs who won’t be happy with that.

    Also does it require a temporary sidewalk without telling people to cross the street? I think that’s how I interpreted it. Right now the construction on Halsted just south of Grace got rid of the sidewalk. You have to cross the street at a 5-way intersection, it’s a hassle. The bike lane’s still there, but pedestrians just use that anyway. It’s unsafe, and they didn’t have to create a temporary sidewalk because it wasn’t in the guide. It was like that most of the summer, and still is.

  • Anonymous

    The current Marianos development on Lawrence is a good example of private construction projects that are complete fails. Pedestrians are forced to walk on Lawrence with speeding traffic passing within a foot or so.
    I am just waiting for a pedestrian to get hit by a car.

  • I really don’t know. The document is 319 pages long and I didn’t read it entirely.

    You could spend the 10 minutes filling out the form with the specific sections I’ve noted.

    You’ll notice that sidewalk closures downtown receive a lot more attention to pedestrian movement than sidewalk closures outside of downtown. I don’t see where in the document (existing or proposed) this discrimination was specified.

    I couldn’t find the MUTCD’s definition of an alternate route but I believe that “use other side” is not an alternate route because it requires one to turn around to use the nearest crosswalk they passed.

    The proposed rules calls for consistency, but only for drivers, while there is so much inconsistency for how bike lane and sidewalk closures are signed, re-routed, or ignored altogether (the photo above does not meet accessibility requirements).

    Page 82: “The key for effective traffic control is consistency. By following these guidelines and standards throughout the City, drivers will recognize the significance of devices used and react accordingly, no matter what jurisdiction the work zone is within.”

  • “Traffic” includes pedestrians, too. Wish I could send them an email saying that. I’ve never had to write a public comment in such a rigid format that requires reading at least part of a book-sized document. It impacts so many people, too. There’s usually always construction going on somewhere, and I don’t think they take into account the reality that pedestrians are not going to go out of their way like the sign suggests.

    It’s not that hard to ask someone driving a car to make a detour. But asking a (handicapped) pedestrian to do so is a worse. They’re the ones that deserve consistency.

  • Can you share a photo?

  • I would send the message in the format you see fit. The clunky and singular response mechanism is remarkably awkward for a public agency seeking public comment.

  • I added another photo demonstrate a common issue.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll take one later today. But it is similar to your last picture. Except cars are 2 feet removed from pedestrians

  • If you can take video, do that, too. I bet Alderman Pawar, who was touting this development in his newsletters recently, and his transportation expert Bill Higgins, will be receptive to improving the situation.

    Also, Gabe Klein still has a month to go!

  • Anonymous

    I emailed alderman Pawar last Thursday. He never responded. But then I don’t live in his ward.

  • Anonymous

    So good that all the white paint in the city goes to bike lanes and the crosswalks are hardly ever re-striped.

  • duppie

    Not sure how to embed video in Disqus, but here is a link to some video I shot this afternoon.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a big problem, agreed. It’s worth noting that the construction has been going on for months, and the pedestrian issue only started about a week ago. The building is intended to be complete by January. My guess is that the sidewalk will be restored with or without input from the alderman in the next 6-10 days, because it’s about regrading to create a driveway into the parking lot, and that won’t take long.

    Not an excuse. Just trying to give more details. I’m glad I live east of the station so I haven’t been tempted to walk in the street under the underpass.

  • BlueFairlane

    I think you overestimate the paint that goes to bike lanes. Much like every other painted line in this city, they only get painted once.

  • This entire summer, there were periodic closures of very busy sidewalks at intersections in the Loop so that the sidewalks could be re-built with better ramps. I was very impressed with how well pedestrians were accommodated each time. If a car traffic lane had to be shut down so that barriers could be put up so people could walk safely, that was done. This in itself is huge progress from the bad old days under the prior mayoral administration. Maybe some of you remember when, instead of removing one of six lanes for cars, the entire Michigan Avenue sidewalk around Erie was closed completely to pedestrians on the west side for a hotel development, for a number of weeks, or maybe it was months. So we’ve taken a step forward from that, at least. Hopefully the improved practice can be pushed out to neighborhood projects as well ASAP. That video of Lawrence by Mariano’s that Duppie posted shows how far we have to go.

  • Anonymous

    What about the restoration of bike facilities after construction? I have noticed that some of these projects leave the road poorly patched with very rough asphalt that is terrible to cycle on. An example would be the east side of Halsted near 29th.

    I’ve also encountered this chunky asphalt in a protected bike lane near IIT and patched into freshly repaved roads on the north side. Why aren’t these holes patched with blacktop?

  • Anonymous

    Anyone who has had to cycle on Clark Street in Rogers Park this whole summer can agree that these rules need to be reviewed.

  • I emailed Bill Higgins at Pawar’s office yesterday. He said he’s going to contact the contractor.

    I received the contractor’s public right of way use permit and there’s some conflicting information about the pedestrian detour.

    I’m waiting to hear back from Bill and I will probably post about this situation Wednesday (I visited it Monday but not during rush hour times).

  • Andrew H

    It looks like the rules have been implemented as of January 2014 and are on the city’s website. There are even a couple pictures of Divvy station in there. However unfortunately, the rules are not being followed as I regularly see no accommodation for pedestrian access during construction. See North/Halsted corner right now that presents a danger to pedestrians asking them to jump out into traffic with no signs or safety from the high speed traffic there. (I’ve emailed alderman Fioretti about this already). Regulations on city website:



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