Eyes on the Street: New Buffered Lanes on Wells Street in Old Town

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All bike lane pictures were taken on Wells between North and Lincoln. Photo: John Greenfield

This weekend might be the Chicago Department of Transportation’s last hurrah for building bike lanes before the construction season ends. The molten plastic striping doesn’t properly adhere to asphalt at temperatures under 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so the last several days of frigid weather put a halt to CDOT’s efforts to install 20.7 more miles of buffered and protected lanes before the deep-freeze sets in.

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Photo: John Greenfield

This weekend it’s supposed to warm up to the 60s, although rain is also predicted, and then it’s supposed to dip back into the 40s. Perhaps bike advocates should gather under the Picasso in Daley Plaza this evening to chant “No rain!” in hopes that innovative bikeways like the Broadway buffered and protected lanes, one of the first Chicago PBLs on a retail street, can be completed by Monday.

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Photo: John Greenfield

In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at the recently upgraded lanes on Wells Street from North Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, the last link in a nearly two-mile stretch of BBLs on Wells from Lincoln to the river. Wells is an important connector for people commuting from the North Side into the Loop, but as the fatal 2012 dooring of attorney Neill Townsend, 32, at Wells and Oak Street put into stark relief, it can be a hazardous route for bicyclists. The buffered lanes on Wells, striped after Townshend’s death, feature additional space striped to the right of the lane, which helps reduce the risk of doorings by encouraging cyclists to ride further away from parked cars.

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Ghost bike memorial for Neill Townshend. Photo: John Greenfield

While the buffered lanes on Wells south of North Avenue were laid on fresh asphalt, on this newest section CDOT simply ground out existing conventional lanes and striped over the old pavement, which is in reasonably good condition. Like most of Wells north of the river, the new bikeways lack a buffer on the left side of the lane to distance cyclists from motor vehicle traffic. However, speeding doesn’t seem to be a problem on this stretch, probably due to the narrow travel lanes and high retail density. As you can see from the photos, even on this chilly afternoon, there were plenty of cyclists in the lanes.

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Photo: John Greenfield

With these new buffered lanes, plus a new buffered stretch on Halsted Street from Fullerton Avenue to Diversey Street, notes Streetsblog reader Frank Gellen, you can now ride from Wrigley Field to the Loop almost entirely in buffered lanes, save for Lincoln between Halsted and Wells. This 4.5-mile, almost entirely buffered route is Clark Street to Halsted to Lincoln to Wells. “I know buffered lanes are not protected lanes, but this is quite a game changer for me,” he said. “I will ride this route for a while and see whether I like it better than my usual route of Clark to Southport to Lincoln to Wells. The network is coming together nicely from my perspective.”

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