CDOT Forgets to Accommodate Cyclists During Bloomingdale Construction

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.

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.

  • Lisa Curcio

    The problems you describe are among the most frustrating for me as a commuter, and make one question the city’s real commitment to cycling and increasing cycling infrastructure. For the eastbound Kinzie problem, it is fortunate that there is no parking allowed in the parking spaces north of the bike lane while the construction equipment is there so there is actually almost a lane for bikes. But it sure would be nice to have something to indicate that the road is to be “shared” there.

  • oooBooo

    Things like this just make laugh.

    Just use the side streets for a couple blocks. It’s not hard to detour when on a bicycle. And outside of live construction hours one can just go through a construction zone on a bicycle much of the time. Might involve a dismount.

    What is happened to bicycling where people need official permission and guidance? sad.

  • Lisa Curcio

    You are right–it is not hard to detour when on a bicycle. But in Chicago, with streets on a grid system, how hard is it to detour when in a car? Yet much effort is put into posting detours and all manner of signs to assist drivers. I think Steven’s point was that CDOT works to assist drivers, but does not think of the cyclists the city is supposedly trying to encourage.

  • Richqb

    Seems like CDOT could use a few bikers on staff. Guessing most of the folks making decisions haven’t pedaled anything in years.

  • oooBooo

    It’s not difficult to detour in a car. The detour signs and such are to keep a large volume of traffic from trying to make its way through via side streets. It’s not to assist drivers getting around a closure, it’s to divert traffic to where it has been planned to go.

  • Roland Solinski

    A contraflow lane? Huh? Why should CDOT spend time and effort designing and striping a contraflow lane for a detour that only lasts three days? This isn’t like the water main project with weeks of construction.

  • what_eva

    “Why are trucks even allowed on Milwaukee?”

    Because there are businesses on Milwaukee that need deliveries?

  • Guest

    You must have had better detour experiences on a bike than I have. The problem isn’t that there are plenty of side streets, but that often taking a side street means trying to cross major thoroughfares without a stop sign or traffic light. And navigating the one-way streets isn’t always exactly intuitive.

    Plus, the famous grid system isn’t always as gridded as billed. Rivers, rail lines, etc. often disrupt the grid and taking a side street can end up with a dead end.

  • oooBooo

    When did bicycling become so wimpy?
    There’s a big gap when I wasn’t following things… what happened? Crossing a major road that didn’t have a stop sign or traffic light… I learned to do that as child. It was something everyone in my neighborhood learned as children. I had the over protective parents and was late in doing it.

    If there’s a problem with a river or something, follow the signs for the cars, it will direct one to the nearest road that crosses it.

  • The lane should be there all the time, or the street should be a two-way street. I used the pedestrian detour today, alongside two other people riding bikes (whom I didn’t know). Noticed people bicycling against traffic northbound on Leavitt. It’s the intuitive route, the convenient route. It should be *the* route.

  • In this case, CDOT planned for bicyclists to go nowhere. Well, they made up a plan after I brought it to their attention.

    But on the ground? The signs today said to use Western Avenue. Yep, it said, “Chicagoans, hey, Milwaukee Avenue, that convenient, straight shot between popular neighborhoods you like to bike to and through is closed, so use Western Avenue and then North Avenue.”

    Bicycling didn’t become wimpy. You design for the kind of person you want to get. Want more people to bike? You’re going to have to design the streets in such a way that reaches beyond the those who already doing it. It must be convenient and away from fast automobile traffic.

  • There’s not difficult in detouring on any transportation mode – the problem is knowing which detour route to take and trusting that that detour is going to be a good one for you.

  • “That” kind of truck isn’t compatible with bicycling – it is part of the reason we have a perennially low bicycling mode share in Chicago. There are plenty of other truck sizes.

    The Dutch perspective on this is clear:
    “Large differences in speed and mass of different road users in the same space must be eliminated as much as possible.”
    “Because of this principle the Dutch will never implement a combined bus/cycle lane as is common in some other countries.” (replace bus with truck)

  • Roland Solinski

    You won’t hear me arguing in favor of one-way streets. If the speed of drivers on side streets is properly controlled, though, cyclists shouldn’t need a contraflow lane. They should just enjoy the legal right to use the street in whichever direction they choose. Strategic no-parking zones and hydrant zones would allow for passing at a slow speed.

  • oooBooo

    It became wimpy best I can tell from what I’ve been reading. The fears of traffic, the fears of unknown streets, the fear of anything that isn’t planned out by authority. Many of these bicycling challenges one should have learned to deal with before age 16. That includes how to deal with road closures. Most of which IME can be ignored by bicyclists if they aren’t riding in the hours the construction is active.

    “It must be convenient and away from fast automobile traffic.”

    City of chicago traffic isn’t fast, not by a long shot. I can make suggestions for actually fast roads to bike on, but they aren’t in Chicago proper. Secondly if one wanted convenient and away from cars then using the arterial streets for the routes is not how that is accomplished. That would be best accomplished using networks of side streets and bicycle only routes. (for reasons I’ve outlined previously)

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Ok, if that truck is not compatible with cycling, then cycling probably needs to go on a street that does not have that kind of truck. If the Dutch don’t mix trucks and cycling, that probably means cycles don’t use busy streets that may contain truck traffic.

    Now, if you don’t want those size trucks in the city, and you want to make businesses use many, many more smaller trucks to get their deliveries, you probably need to start petitioning your alderman to change the laws in the city. That means:
    1) You have to find a friendly alderman to sponsor the legislation or have the mayor come out front and say this is what he wants.
    2) You have to find 25 more alderman who will agree.
    3) You will have to get businesses on your side. What would the Chicago Chamber of Commerce say about a proposal to ban? Get the grocery stores, the big box stores, the moving companies, the factories (that are still left in the city) to buy in.
    4) Lastly you will have to explain to the general public why everything that gets delivered in a truck is going to cost more. (More manpower, more cost to acquire a fleet of new trucks, more gas, more insurance, etc.)

    So get out there, get to work if you truly want to ban this size truck from major commercial streets.

    One other item, the city is going to have to raise the height of a lot of bridges if Ashland BRT is implemented. So streets like Milwaukee Avenue that may have not seen as many large trucks are going to see more.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    And if a bike rider gets hurt you will see a headline something like this:.
    CDOT Detours Cyclists Directly Into Path of Oncoming Traffic on One-Way Streets.

  • cjlane

    “Plus, the famous grid system isn’t always as gridded as billed.”

    Wait…What??? The grid is sufficient to allow *bikes* to detour, but it will make 50,000 re-routed vehicle trips ‘no big deal’ (not that *you* said that, but is is the CW here)?

  • Guest

    Apples and oranges. The grid is nearly flawless if you only consider major auto-oriented arterials like Western, Ashland, Madison, etc. However, local streets often drop off and pick up intermittently without any rhyme or reason. Furthermore, the inconsistent pattern of one-way streets makes navigation even more difficult for someone unfamiliar with an area.

    Here’s an example: find me a southbound bike route from Lawrence to Clybourn that parallels Western within 1500 ft, doesn’t involve crossing a major arterial without a controlled intersection, and could be easily explained to someone unfamiliar with those neighborhoods. Leavitt is an easy northbound answer but I have yet to find a good southbound option that doesn’t snake all over creation.

    The common wisdom you reference holds Western as a good alternative to Ashland (as an example) because it is a nearby auto arterial. I don’t remember seeing claims that Hermitage will absorb regional car travel from Ashland.

  • cjlane

    “find me a southbound bike route from Lawrence to Clybourn that parallels Western within 1500 ft, ”

    Why does it have to be within 1500 ft? That’s pretty flipping arbitrary. And that basically makes it “why doesn’t one or more of Claremont, Oakley or Bell cut straight thru BOTH Welles Park AND Lincoln?” (or, even less reasonably: “why isn’t there a street that goes thru the middle of Lane Tech”).

    The correct answer, btw, is Lincoln to Damen, but you’ve excluded that option with unreasonable 1500′ and parallel limitations.

  • Guest

    I won’t pretend my example was perfect, but the topic of this post is construction detours. I would consider a 1/2 mile detour from Western to Damen to be a bit onerous for a biker.

    In any case, my original point still stands that outside of major car-oriented arterials, the grid isn’t nearly as connected, and often doesn’t lend itself to simple through movements on a bike.

  • cjlane

    “I would consider a 1/2 mile detour from Western to Damen to be a bit onerous for a biker.”

    To quote oooBooo:

    “When did bicycling become so wimpy?”

    A 2-3 minute ‘detour’ (which isn’t much of a detour, anyway, because it’s not like the starting and ending points are actually *on* Western–which is a popular point here) is too much for a cyclist, but a 5/10/20 minute (we don’t know, because the detoured are just assumed out of existence) detour for someone in a car is just fine?


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