Eyes on the Street: Halsted Street Cyclists Battle Drivers for Bike Lanes

a bus driving in the halsted bike lane
A reader submitted this photo, taken from inside of REI at 1466 N. Halsted St., of a CTA bus being driven in the Halsted bike lane. It was one of four seen within a 15-minute period last week.

Two readers have contacted Streetsblog to report that many Chicago Transit Authority bus operators and other Chicagoans are driving in Halsted Street’s buffered bike lane, between Division and North. Drivers appear to be taking to the bike lane to avoid queues on northbound Halsted as it approaches the busy three-way intersection at Clybourn and North Avenues.

One reader has submitted three complaints to CTA, saying, “Buses in the bike lane… [are] illegal and dangerous to people on bikes in the bike lane, bus passengers, and motorists who are patiently waiting in the legal lane.” She also attached photos of four Halsted bus operators, all seen using the bike and parking lanes in a span of 15 minutes.

driving in the Halsted bike lane
A driver illegally uses the Halsted bike and parking lane.

The same reader sent us photos of several drivers who are also using the bike lane to bypass backed-up traffic. Reader J. Patrick Lynch, who commutes along Halsted from the West Loop to Lakeview, has also seen this: “Because there is relatively little commercial use from Grand Avenue to North Avenue, the empty parking lanes have turned into de facto traveling” lanes, he said in an email. This has become more common, he wrote, since construction at the New City site (seen above) has blocked off parking along the east side of Halsted’s 1400 block, and opened up an extra-wide space outside the travel lane.

“People are so frustrated at the traffic that they choose to drive in the parking and biking lanes now,” Lynch said.

CTA didn’t respond to our request for comment, and responded to the reader with a standard message: “Your information has been forwarded to the responsible General Manager for appropriate corrective action. Safety is the CTA’s top priority, so thank you for reporting this incident.”

We’ve seen before that bus garage general managers will sometimes respond in more details, often about how the driver was identified and instructed on how such behavior was against policy.

This would be a great opportunity to use self-enforcing infrastructure design. Once construction is completed, a well-placed curb extension — for instance, in the no-parking zone in front of a fire hydrant, or at the mid-block crosswalk in front of the British School – would both prevent this behavior and create more green space.

10169 (Dylan Passmore)
A curb extension, like this one in Victoria, B.C. would prevent drivers from driving in the parking lane. This one also doubles as a bioswale, and offers seating. Photo: Dylan Passmore / Flickr
  • Ross

    I bike this road to work almost every day, and it constantly has obstructions in the bike lanes. Besides cars using the bike lane going Northbound, there is also a business (scrap metal?) that has it’s semi trucks parking completely in the bike lane going Southbound almost every other day.

    It’s gotten so bad that I don’t use Halstead past North Ave. anymore, and instead take Clybourn to Larabee, which also has issues of cars using the extra wide road as a 2 lane.

  • Halsted is also problematic through Greektown, particularly with the maintenance work being done on the bridge over 290. It’s always so congested that drivers just go wherever they want.

  • Anne A

    I’ve seen this problem many times, and it’s gotten much worse since the curb lane got “no parking” signs due to the construction site. Before that time, having parked cars in the lane was quite effective as a traffic calming device. Since construction started, the number of drivers using the parking and bike lanes as passing lanes has been huge, creating a significant hazard for cyclists.

  • If we had manpower for traffic enforcement on moving violations, they could at minimum all get slapped with “passing on the right” tickets. Plus bike lane violations.

  • madopal

    Welcome to the curse of the Northwest side. The driving habit “passing on the right” scourge is finally spreading, as it was fortold by the prophets.

    Seriously, though, empty parking lanes and unused bike lanes are fair game in too many places in the city, and it makes riding downright deadly. Some enforcement would be nice, as well as some alderman flexing muscle on changing some roadways. A bump out every block or so (with bike lane continuing on right, natch) would work wonders.

  • Ahhh, but bumpouts eat the holy parking! :-> Plus I’ve seen drivers be totally freaked out at trying to park behind/in front of bumpouts — they usually leave about 2/3 of a parking space between their bumpers and the concrete curb.

  • duppie

    Steven, As your reporting on the Marianos at Lawrence showed, reporting on it sometimes leads to improvements.
    Anything streeysblog readers can do here? Does the construction company have a responsibility here? How about contacting the alderman? It appears that this construction will continue for a while.

  • Scott Sanderson

    This is a problem everywhere in the city. On Franklin North of the river, for example, there is a bike lane, but it is a de facto travel lane for cars.

    edit: one particularly dangerous/vexing aspect of this problem is when drivers frustrated by traffic abruptly swing into the bike lane without looking. I have been run off the road many times by this maneuver. This is why so many people are not comfortable riding bicycles in the city.

  • I don’t think bumpouts eat parking. The fire hydrant zone is 30 feet long (15 on either side) – a bumpout could be 20 feet long to allow for maneuvering.

  • I don’t either, I was merely puppeting for a moment a knee-jerk reaction I’ve heard used. Most bumpouts I’ve seen (like on Lawrence near Laurino’s office) don’t seem to be near hydrants.

  • P. Hertz

    The bike lane means nothing to taxis, motorcycles, people who think they’re above following traffic laws. Chicago PD does absolutely nothing to enforce traffic law, anyway. Until they enforce the law and start writing hundreds of very expensive tickets nothing will change. As it is..the city can’t be bothered to paint lines on the street so it’s just a free for all.

  • Ryan Wallace

    There is absolutely no reason the contractor can’t place barricades in the parking lane to prevent this during construction. They can removed and/or strategically placed as necessary to allow construction vehicles. Email to the alderman and CDOT seems appropriate.

  • Eric Allix Rogers

    With the insane number of major construction projects downtown, very few bike routes were usable today. Halsted around the Circle, Roosevelt around Canal Street, and even 18th Street under the Orange Line, all have construction causing huge backups, which spill over into unsafe driver behavior or cars just completely taking over the bike lane. Not sure what can be done, but it’s become virtually impossible to get from the Loop to the UIC area.

  • I think a note to the two aldermen would be appropriate. Waguespack now and Burnett in the remap. See what @rewallac:disqus said.

  • I think there may be a couple Close Calls that match your “edit”. I don’t have a special tag for this maneuver, but if I had a special tag for each “known” maneuver I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them all.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Why would the City of Chicago (i.e.. the taxpayers) go to all the expense to build bump outs and new curbs before a construction project is complete?

  • Kevin M

    What timing!? I was just on this stretch of Halsted yesterday (which is not routine for me) and witnessed some kind of giant hauling truck take the bike lane and use it to pass a long line of cars from Division to Clybourn. At one point the truck was squeezed and had to stop–which, of course, stopped me and my fellow cyclists behind me.

    It is moments like these that I abhor motorists for their combination of selfishness and lack of care for the huge footprint they take up on the road (or the pollution their vehicle spews in to my lungs, etc.)

  • jeff wegerson

    They could require the builder to construct a temporary one. No cost to you.

  • jeff wegerson

    Cars will be cars. I was guilty yesterday when I turned my car early into a bike lane in order to make a right turn onto Racine from Clybourn. I will say in my defense that I made a conscious choice to double check for bikers.

    The only real solution is physical realities like concrete to prevent car abuse. And yes builders need to put concrete, either moveable or fixed to protect non car zones.

    Last night as a pedestrian at Granville and Broadway I had to personally plant an oversized cone in the street because the corner contractor replacing the sidewalk had not put one in place to at least minimally protect pedestrian cross walkers.

    These are cultural changes. Ten years ago, hell even five, there was not even the shift we see here on these pages. We are the vanguard of these cultural changes.

  • Replace the first sentence with People will be People. Cars cannot be.

  • Anne A

    Have you used Harrison recently? Last time I went that was a few weeks ago, and it was much better than the routes you mentioned above. I hope that’s still the case.

  • madopal

    Oh yeah. I had the misfortune of having my first Divvy trip try to go from the Field to Greektown using Roosevelt. I had remembered there were bike lanes, but oh lord, was that a pain. With the construction, it was just 6 lanes of cars on Roosevelt across the tracks.

    A pedestrian barked at us for riding on the sidewalk, saying “Um, there’s a bike lane,” and I had to retort, “Yeah, see all the cars in it?”

    I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time until a tourist grabs a Divvy, follows a bike map, and winds up in one of these hornets nests of construction.

  • Anne A

    It seems likely that construction will continue for months, so applying some pressure via Waguespack and Burnett may be worthwhile.

  • Anne A

    Passing on the right has been a problem for years in many parts of the city, not just the NW side. It’s a problem on Vincennes in sections without protected bike lanes. It’s a worse problem on 99th going east from Vincennes – lots of selfish driving between I-57 and points west.

  • Eric Allix Rogers

    Harrison is completely closed now for the Circle project, as far as I know.

  • Anne A

    Ah, just search and found this about construction. How about Harrison to SB Desplaines to WB Taylor?

  • Eric Allix Rogers

    That looks like a sensible way to go, actually. I’m sure I have used that route in the past but it didn’t occur to me yesterday.

  • Pat

    Illinois from Franklin to Michigan is full of shoddy patch jobs and large metal covers. Doesn’t get much better after Columbus either.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The bigger problem you should worry about is when projects are not built and Chicago is not seen as a good place to invest in major projects.

    You know, construction is always going to be here. Chicago does not have enough police to chase down every scofflaw (bike, auto, truck or bus). There’s a lot of work going on near Clybourn including replacing the eastern bridge to Goose Island on Division one example. So yeah, there are a lot of traffic hassles for everyone.

    And you know what, if you want to strictly enforce the bike lane, someone will have to strictly enforce when bikers decide to take the lane outside the bike lane when no obstructions are present. Poor bike behavior is just as much of a hassle. We don’t have Idaho stops, but a goodly percentage of bikers treat the streets like we do.

    Well living in a vital urban area means putting up with all sorts of hassles, and you will never escape that unless you want some sort of utopian perfection enforced with gestapo like tactics.

  • Why would they need to enforce against “when bikers decide to take the lane outside the bike lane when no obstructions are present”? This is perfectly legal behavior, and always a valid option in the state code for any roadway that doesn’t ban bicycles entirely (like Lake Shore Drive or the freeways).

    Taking the lane is not a violation.

  • Alex_H

    But, from Brendan Kevenides’s blog:

    “Illinois bicyclists must ride along the right side of the roadway, except when they can’t. Let me explain: If you are able to travel at the same speed as motorized traffic, then you may travel in the same lane. However, if you cannot the law requires that you ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” 625 ILCS 5/11-1505.”

    Link: http://www.mybikeadvocate.com/2009/10/ride-to-right-except-when-you-cant.html

  • madopal

    Yeah, I think it’s more a factor of the way the streets are constructed. Further along the lakefront, the streets are more narrow, allowing for less room for the pass on the right. Get west, and you see a lot more of the wider roads. And the bike lane + construction makes the street configured for such a thing.

    Isn’t there a design rule about having users using something in an unintended way, it’s a design flaw, not a user flaw?

    In addition, has anyone done a study of the rush hour parking restrictions and how horribly those actually mangle traffic?

  • Yes, but elsewhere in the code it says that a bicycle may take a whole lane (but not split with two riding abreast in a single lane).

  • rohmen

    Active trans has the best compilation I’ve seen of the Illinois Code as it applies to bicycles: http://www.activetrans.org/bicyclists-and-law/illinois-statutes

    Section 1505, which is the section Alex-H cited, is pretty clear on when a cyclist can take the whole lane. I’ve never seen anything in the Code that contradicts 1505, and nothing listed on the Active Trans site directly contradicts it. Maybe there’s something in the Code that Active Trans missed and I’m unaware of, but Section 1505 is pretty clear, and it suggests a cyclist cannot simply take a whole traffic lane whenever they feel like it. Section 9-52-40 of the Chicago Municipal Code largely mimics 1505.

    I’ve seen others argue that mandatory usage of a bicycle lane is not required in Illinois, and its true that the state does not have a mandatory usage law (some states do, such as Oregon), but I’d be interested to hear why those that indicate a cyclist has no duty to use the bike lane feel 1505 doesn’t potentially indicate otherwise.

    (EDIT: and I do see a potential argument as to why protected bike lanes would not fall under 1505, since I think an argument likely exists that the protected lane is no longer part of the “roadway” as the term is used in 1505 once bollards or a concrete curb are installed, but my understanding is that a standard, painted bike lane in Illinois IS still considered part of the “roadway” for all intents and purposes under the Code. Maybe the same type of argument would apply to a painted or buffered lane, but again I haven’t seen a great analysis of the issue).

  • Charlie

    I’m actually fine with bus drivers using bike lanes. Bus/bike lanes are actually quite common in many cities and transit really should be able to bypass traffic congestion where it can. There needs to be enforcement to keep private vehicles out though. Many drivers truly are just being rude and selfish because they know they can get away with it.


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