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.

  • Herding Bats

    Having ridden my bike down Stony Island just last week–to spend rather a lot of money at a business on that street–I’m very pro. Picked my way down neighborhood streets part of the way, but the one-ways messed me up eventually.

  • Since I’m reading constantly about concerns that bike lanes will cause or exacerbate congestion I think this should be brought to the discussion: Bike lanes do no cause traffic congestion. Cars do. Especially those that were designed for 6 people and consistently transport 1.

  • Anne A

    Love it! Can’t happen soon enough. This area is lacking in workable north-side bike routes. Lots of folks could ride to businesses there, and walking there would be more pleasant with a bike lane next to the curb.

  • kastigar

    Milwaukee Avenue, between Lawrence and Elston to the north, needs the same thing!

  • Wow, that rendering is nice. Looks like you could ride side-by-side if you’re not blocking other people, and feels a LOT more protected than the little plastic sticks they’ve thrown up everywhere else. All I’d worry about is how it looks at intersections – lots down on Stony are huge and might make the bicycle rider less visible. You’d also have to make sure drivers couldn’t drive into it/use it as a loading zone.

  • FG

    I’m already flinching imagining the problems at all the driveways out of the retail, fast food and auto service parking lots along Stony. Since Ald. Hairston seems skeptical about it, it may not happen. I don’t really see how a road diet will help – the south side, especially once you get south of the skyway is very suburban in outlook and density (like Niles or Skokie). If it’s absolutely necessary to have bike lanes, put them in the unused and neglected center median which would actually make the street more attractive.

    This seems like a vanity/make work project for the city rather than feeling an actual need or community wish-list item.

    Just from the choice of rendering location I see huge congestion on Saturdays…

  • Anne A

    Ald. Hairston needs to hear from those among us who live in the 5th ward, work there or patronize businesses there. We need to speak up in favor of the project so she gets a sense of support for it.

  • Elihu Blanks

    I live in the 5th ward and have biked to work 3 days a week using stony island. I would greatly appreciate the protected bike lanes. I have tweeted #cpd to keep the LFT as clear of snow this winter as it had the portions north of 35th street.

  • Social_werkk

    I drive down Stony Island fairly frequently. I would love to see protected bike lanes. I can’t see biking being safe on Stony without protected bike lanes barring a serious reduction in the number of cars that travel on Stony.

  • Guest

    Perhaps moving these protected lanes to each left-hand side (instead of the right side) of the NB and SB lane segments may alleviate some of these problems?

    Though perhaps this would require left turns only being allowed at signalized intersections on arrow only, or with placement of left turn lanes on the boulevard (left) side of the PBL, which would make them less protected as cars would have to cross the PBL to enter the turn lane.

  • Brian Sheehan

    Perhaps moving these protected lanes to each left-hand side (instead of the right side) of the NB and SB lane segments may alleviate some of these problems?

    Though perhaps this would require left turns only being allowed at signalized intersections on arrow only, or with placement of left turn lanes on the boulevard (left) side of the PBL, on the opposite side from the through lanes, which would make the PBLs less protected as cars would have to cross the PBL to enter the turn lane.

  • Bike lanes of the pictured variety would definitely improve biking on Stony Island but as I believe you imply, does biking in the neighborhood improve by improving biking on Stony Island?

    Would biking through the area see similar or greater improvements by improving infrastructure on parallel routes instead of on Stony Island?

  • FG

    It would be depend on the destination/intent of the cyclists – commuting, definitely better on parallel route, local (i.e. shoppers), maybe just as good on parallel street or on Stony. Stony isn’t really an attractive street – it’s a busy commercial street, for recreational bikers a narrower ROW, tree shaded street would be better. There’s also got to be a better route which would enable cyclists to avoid the South Chicago-Stony-79th Street intersection and viaducts beyond. I wouldn’t choose to bike on Stony if there were an alternate which was more pleasant.

    I think there are better uses within the 5th Ward for the money though (replacing the brand new too shallow water mains or all the failing ADA compliant curb cuts with the tactile surfaces which failed this winter or new street lights, etc).

    I asked someone who lives just west of here what he thought of this proposal and his response was a derisive snort – I won’t repeat his hilarious tirade (he’s a funny person) but a lot of his points are valid. Bus lanes might be a far better benefit to the community as a whole than bike lanes at this point.

    (meant to say meeting rather than feeling in earlier post)

  • Anne A

    The nearest parallel through route to the west with good crossings at major streets is Cottage Grove – a gap of 1 mile. To the east, it’s Jeffery, which is a bit narrow. Between Stony Island and Cottage Grove, the grid has major interruptions – created by rail lines, Oak Woods Cemetery and the Skyway.

  • I’d say one mile is a pretty long gap that needs to be filled.


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