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At Long Last, Stony Island May Get Protected Bike Lanes

CDOT rendering of a protected bike lane on Stony Island.

Years ago, under Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Chicago Department of Transportation proposed piloting the city’s first protected bike lane on Stony Island between 69th and 77th. By February 2011 they’d received a $3.2 million federal grant to build it. However, construction wasn’t slated to begin until 2014.

We all know what happened since that grant was awarded. Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor in February 2011 and soon announced a plan to build 100 miles of protected lanes in his first term. That July, the first PBL opened on Kinzie, and things have moved quickly since then. CDOT has built more than 16 miles of protected lanes and more than 31 miles of buffered lanes within three years.

Today DNAinfo reported that there’s finally movement on building protected lanes on Stony Island. It’s not yet clear whether this is the same project that was originally funded, and I haven’t heard back from CDOT yet on this subject. Either way, the resulting road diet could go a long way towards improving safety on this highway-like, eight-lane surface street.

At a 5th Ward community meeting yesterday, CDOT officials discussed plans for a $3 million streetscape project on Stony Island from 67th to 79th. They presented several different options for reconsidering the street. One possibility is converting a northbound travel lane into a two-way bike lane, protected from traffic by narrow landscaped medians. Another scenario would convert both a northbound and a southbound travel lane into wide, one-way bike lanes protected by medians.

Some attendees feared that converting travel lanes would cause rush hour traffic jams on the route connecting Lake Shore Drive to the Chicago Skyway and I-90. However, CDOT project manager David Smith pointed out that Lake Shore Drive, which also has eight lanes, carries 70,000 vehicles a day. Stony Island only carries 35,000 per day, half as many as LSD, and that excess capacity encourages speeding. Converting a lane or two to PBLs would also benefit motorists and pedestrians, because it would calm traffic and shorten crossing distances.

Residents were also incredulous that bike lanes on Stony Island would actually get used, but Smith said traffic counts show cyclists are already pedaling on the massive street to connect to 71st, which they ride east to the southern terminus of the Lake Front Trail.  Safety improvements are clearly needed. Stony Island has seen 45 bike crashes in the last five years, perhaps partly because of high car speeds.

After the streetscape plan is finalized, construction would begin next summer. Later this spring, CDOT will begin streetscape work on a half-mile section of 71st, from South Shore Drive to Jeffery. That project will include conventional bike lanes, which will improve access to the lakefront.

Hopefully, CDOT can succeed in persuading residents and 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who is currently skeptical, that a road diet on Stony Island makes sense. This busy Southeast Side corridor would greatly benefit from a safer street and better conditions for walking and biking. We'll provide more details about proposed changes to Stony Island in the near future.

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