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CDOT Forgets to Accommodate Cyclists During Bloomingdale Construction

3:27 PM CDT on March 14, 2014

The bridge over Milwaukee will be modified to remove piers from the roadway and sidewalks, and add arches.

Bloomingdale Trail construction charges ahead, with bridge work that involves closing Milwaukee at the viaduct, tonight at 8 p.m. through early Monday morning. Cars, trucks and buses will detour around the construction via North and Western, and pedestrians are advised to take a shorter detour via Oakley, Wilmot, and Leavitt Street to reach Wilmot. Winnebago, which would otherwise be a detour option since, like Wilmot, it parallels Milwaukee, will also be closed at the Bloomingdale viaduct during construction.

But what alternative route should people on bikes use to avoid this closure of the city's busiest cycling street? The Chicago Department of Transportation map [PDF] doesn't mention or show a bike-specific detour, and one wasn't mentioned in the original press release. "My mistake," said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales when I asked him about the oversight. "We recommend that cyclists use the designated bike lanes along Damen and Armitage to avoid the area." He told me he would update the website posting, which he did.

CDOT's map modified to show their recommended bike detour in green and the more convenient alternative in yellow.
CDOT's map modified to show their recommended bike detour in green and the more convenient alternative in yellow.
CDOT's map modified to show their recommended bike detour in green and the more convenient alternative in yellow.

However, a more intuitive solution for the bike detour would be a bit more direct, saving people on bikes 0.2 miles and a minute of pedaling time. If a northbound contraflow bike lane was added to the short southbound stretch of Leavitt between Wilmot and Milwaukee, cyclists could use the same detour route as pedestrians.

While Scales was responsive to my request to add a bike route to the posted detour info, at this point CDOT really shouldn't need to be reminded to accommodate cyclists during construction projects. However, even as the pace of bike lane construction has dramatically increased over the last three years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, this continues to be an issue.

During the Wells Street bridge closure in late 2012, there were signs with conflicting messages on the bike detour route. I also had to ask CDOT to improve the pavement on the recommended detour route of Clark, which changed to Dearborn once protected bike lanes opened on that street.

Last year the Department of Water Management royally screwed up CDOT's new protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Ogden and Ohio during water main work. After I brought this to former CDOT chief Gabe Klein's attention, he told one of his deputies to "work with DWM to put a better traffic management plan in place for cyclists asap," but no bike detour signs were installed before the work ended.

Driver decided not to test the height at this bridge
The bridge over Milwaukee will also be raised to allow tall trucks through. This truck driver didn't want to take a chance, but some do and pay the price by damaging their trailer. Why are trucks even allowed on Milwaukee?

The Complete Streets Design Guidelines codified CDOT's new approach to transportation: walking, transit, and biking would be prioritized before driving, and the city would design streets to reflect this hierarchy. The new attitude was also supposed to result in better accommodations for pedestrians, transit users, and cyclists during construction projects. However, as this latest oversight shows, bike accommodations tend to be an afterthought.

Kinzie, the oldest protected bike lane, has been adversely affected by construction projects several times since last summer. When construction equipment was stored in the eastbound bike lane this week, signs indicated that the lane was closed, with no advice for bicyclists or drivers. In prior weeks, when the equipment was stored in the bike lane on the other side of the street, signs indicated the travel lane had become a shared lane.

The city needs to do a better job accommodating cyclists during construction, even if it's only for 57 hours, as is the case this weekend.

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