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City Explains Gap in Snow Removal From Protected Bike Lanes This Week

1:08 PM CST on December 12, 2013

Kinzie bike lane plowed & salted except for bridge & of course , bridge sidewalk @transitized

— Ding Ding Let's Ride (@DingDingLR) December 9, 2013

Residual snow in bike lanes was a problem this week, putting cyclists in slippery situations. Twitter messages popped up about snow still in the Kinzie protected bike lane after the area's first snowfall Sunday night -- and Chicago's second winter with protected bike lanes. The issue was discussed at yesterday's Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council, where Chicago transportation officials explained what happened and how they plan to improve snow removal from the growing network of protected bike lanes (now at about 16 miles).

Sara Travis, owner of The Brew Hub bike-coffee cart, brought up the issue at MBAC yesterday afternoon, calling the snow removal in bike lanes "hit or miss." And it wasn't just protected bike lanes that weren't being cleared. Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund, asked if more could be done about buffered bike lanes.

"Right now, CDOT's In-House Construction is clearing protected bike lanes," said CDOT Bicycle Program project manager Mike Amsden. Since the Department of Streets and Sanitation plows everywhere else, that sometimes means that after CDOT plows the bike lane, Streets and San crews will come by and push the snow back into the bike lane.

Another issue CDOT deals with in clearing Kinzie and other parking-protected bike lanes is that they must truck around the narrower Bombardier-made plows. On the wider lanes – 18th Street and Franklin Boulevard, for example – pickup trucks can be driven directly to plow the bikeway.

Amsden hinted that this wasn't ideal. "We are continuing to push other departments to do this," adding that they would love for Streets and San to do this job.

I also emailed Scott Kubly -- a deputy commissioner at CDOT for few more days -- to find out why, 48 hours after Sunday's snowfall, the Kinzie bike lane was still covered in snow. He wrote back that the two crews on the Chicago River main branch, one using the Bombardier plows and the second a salt crew, plow the Kinzie bike lane first. They continue on, removing snow from the bridge sidewalks from Franklin/Orleans on the west to Columbus on the east. "Once finished," Kubly wrote, "they go back over the same routes as many times as needed until clear and the snow program is over."

He explained why Kinzie ended up with snow still covering the bike lane's anti-slip bridge plates and piles of snow that cyclists had to bike around:

Unfortunately, what happens on Kinzie and a lot of other places, is that once we are finished and have cleared the bike lane, [Department of Streets and Sanitation] or private businesses push the snow [from sidewalks] into the bike lanes. [The] Kinzie bridge was cleared by us; all that snow is from DSS pushing it into bike lane. This is what happens when it snows a few inches.

A change in CDOT policy should improve conditions on Kinzie. Kubly said that, going forward, the main branch crew must come back to plow Kinzie after refueling and before returning to the yard, adding "this should get some of the snow that gets pushed into the lanes."

Kinzie was finally, fully cleared by Wednesday afternoon
Kinzie was fully cleared by Wednesday afternoon.

Bill Higgins, policy analyst and transportation expert for the 47th Ward office, suggested at MBAC another change in policy. He said that neighborhood greenways (like Berteau Avenue and Leland Avenue next year) are classified as lower-priority residential streets but should receive more attention. He suggested they should get a second plowing in winter and a second street sweeping the rest of the year.

CDOT is asking for help in identifying places where there's still snow in protected bike lanes 24 hours after a snow storm. You can call 311 or email them.

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