Central Loop Busway Will Reorganize, Expand Downtown Bike Lanes

Mike Amsden describes bikeway component of the Central Loop BRT project
The Loop’s poorly connected bicycle network.

Bicycle routes through the Loop suffer from “poor connectivity,” admits Mike Amsden, assistant director of transportation planning at the Chicago Department of Transportation. At yesterday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, Amsden revealed details about how the Central Loop BRT project will improve the situation by spring of 2015.

The Central Loop BRT project, Amsden said, will “move people more efficiently across the Loop,” ending the days when it’s faster to walk than take the bus across downtown, and also “optimize use of space, because most of it is devoted to cars” right now. Not only will buses get dedicated lanes, but so will bikes — a sea change from present conditions, where, as Amsden says, “I’m ashamed to say we don’t have a network in the Loop.”

By next year, new protected bike lanes will be added to Clinton Street, Washington Street, and Randolph Street.

  • Clinton will have a two-way, protected bike lane from Fulton to Harrison. The lane, similar to Dearborn Street’s, will be on the east curb, with direct access to Ogilvie Transportation Center and the Union Station Transit Center.
  • Washington will have a one-way, protected bike lane from Wacker to Michigan. It will be protected from car traffic by parked cars on some blocks, and bus stop islands on others.
  • Randolph will have a one-way, protected bike lane from Michigan to Clinton, separated from traffic by a parking lane. Amsden said they will be improving the existing bike lane on upper Randolph, but didn’t provide specifics.

We’re awaiting more information from CDOT about how cyclists will cross on Washington and Randolph west of Wacker or Clinton, particularly to the bike lane along Desplaines through the West Loop.

Meanwhile, the existing bike lanes on Canal and Madison, the latter of which Amsden called “not the best example of a bike lane,” will be removed.

Mike Amsden describes bikeway component of the Central Loop BRT project
Amsden pointed to the Dutch example of moving bike lanes behind bus stops to remove bike/bus conflicts.

Anne Alt, president of the Chicago Cycling Club and paralegal at FK Law Illinois (a Streetsblog sponsor), was relatively unfazed by the proposed switch-up. “Looking at the big picture, balancing the uses, and considering the overall nearby uses and the chaos factor” by Union Station, she said that “getting the bike lane out of [Canal] is a good thing… Making a two-way [bike lane on Clinton] should be a safer approach.” She said that Washington and Randolph are a little out of the way for her trips, “but those streets make sense” as an alternative to Madison going west and, well, nothing going east.

To connect people bicycling eastbound on Washington to the existing bike lane on Randolph, which leads to the Millennium Park bike station and the Lakefront Trail, CDOT will add a one-block bike lane northbound on Michigan Avenue. When asked about how bicyclists will make the tricky left turn from Washington onto Michigan, Amsden said the intersection was still being designed.

Amsden explained that removing the bike lane from Canal would clear up significant conflicts between bicyclists, taxis, and both CTA and intercity buses. Streetsblog asked how people will bicycle to destinations on Canal and Madison. Amsden replied, “People can bike on all streets, and we believe these better bike facilities are [being installed] so they can spend the least amount of time on those [other] streets,” adding that the new bus and bike facilities will “calm traffic much more than today.”

  • Mishellie

    Are they ever going to connect the Dearborn PBL to Grand (in both directions?) — it’s only a couple blocks, and it would be something I’d ride multiple times a week.

  • From the March 2014 meeting:

    “Extending Dearborn is something we’re really interested in doing, working on that this year.”

    Information about this was not offered nor asked for at yesterday’s meeting. CDOT says they’ll have a “bikeway roadmap” on their website.

  • Excellent news. Things get crazy around Ogilvie in the mornings, which isn’t a problem with the people walking – it’s the cars, and half the time, the taxis.

    Throw in an couple of #125 accordion buses and it can be everyone for himself, At times.

    With an extra conflict at the 5-way intersection of Canal / Milwaukee, it looks like this will become even more of an “unofficial shared space” than it already is.

    The only thing extra I’d propose? A Divvy station-sized curb cut in front of the train station.

  • Mishellie

    Cool thanks.

    Also, I totally thought I put a reminder that I should GO to that meeting in my phone. Apparently I did not do that, or I would have been there.


  • duppie

    I am looking forward to the Clinton bike lane, since I use Clinton daily.
    I like the choice for east curb, so there will no longer be any interaction with the charter buses. And I no longer will have to use Jefferson NB, with all the traffic rushing to the Kennedy. All great improvements!

    But if you had concerns about pedestrians in the Dearborn bike lane, expect a increase of potential conflicts here: I work at Clinton and Adams, and pedestrians, trying to catch their express train, are often borderline reckless. I see it every day. They run in front of cars, ignore lights, and they all enter on the SE corner of Clinton and Adams.

    It definitely will take some time getting used to…

  • Alex_H

    It just occurred to me that a potential problem with “moving” the Madison bike lane to Randolph is that, IME, it is far more treacherous to cross the highway using Randolph than it is using Madison. Will anything be done west of Clinton to make continuing west on Randolph a less terrifying proposition?

  • I use Canal’s bike lane today and Clinton will be a huge improvement. Alas, I will no longer be working over here at that time ^^

    The decision to go to Clinton is also great because you won’t get the Metra train exhaust blown up at your face as you cross over the grates in the roadway, nor will the “seams” on the roadway that make up the roof of the Metra platforms jostle you and your items on the bike as you cross it.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I agree with this! I hate it when I’m going into the city because the best route from home to the city is Grand, and Dearborn, but going from grand to dearborn requires going south on State which is a mess, and west on Kinzie, from which a left turn is illegal, but – Not for bikes? I dunno, its confusing. IT’s messy. Just make Dearborn two-way all the way through River North up to Lincoln PArk. That would be something!.

  • cjlane

    “it is far more treacherous to cross the highway using Randolph than it is using Madison”

    I’m not doubting your experience, but I find that *shocking*. Over the Kennedy, Madison is a two way, with two left turn lanes on the two entrance ramps. It’s a fricking disaster to walk, drive, bike, take a bus on. Yes, Randolph has *most* of the same issues, but is only a one way, so at least there isn’t head-on traffic, too, and only two turn directions on to the Kennedy, and only one turn direction off.

  • Because of Randolph’s insane width, people can more easily make wide and fast turns in their cars into the on-ramps, right-hooking people riding bikes.

    The painted hatch areas don’t make much difference as, well, paint is paint.

  • Kim

    How will the lane on Randolph be protected by parking in the areas of the street where there currently isn’t parking?

  • Good question. So little time is devoted to the details at these meetings and this information was neither offered nor asked.

    For those wondering, Randolph doesn’t have on-street parking on at least two blocks (for all or most of the block, and both sides): between LaSalle and Wells, and between Michigan and Wabash.

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  • Alex_H

    Fair points; but I agree with Steven’s comment below that the speeds on Randolph more than make up the difference.

    When I cross the highway via Madison, it is almost always rush hour-ish time, so maybe that congestion has “helped.”

  • Mishellie

    Oh I know. I just generally forget to check it, so I put multiple alarms on stuff I’m interested in on my own calendar. But… I failed this time.

  • Mark Twain

    This really does nothing to deal with cycling traffic west of Jefferson. It’s suicide riding across the I-90/94 bridges.

  • Mark Twain

    And, and the Madison Street bridge is a complete nightmare for everyone involved. Drivers can’t see oncoming traffic when exiting the Kennedy onto Madison Street, pedestrians have to deal with 4-way high-speed turn-outs from Madison onto the Kennedy ramps, and cyclists… well, good luck! Years ago, before Daley #2 had that bridge quickly remodeled for the DNC, it was a much safer bridge. Maybe one of you Streetsblog folk can do a little show piece on our flagship bridge in that area that is a complete disaster for everyone involved.

  • Mark Twain

    Randolph is almost as bad as Madison, but not quite. However, the idiotic configuration of Randolph Street WEST of the Kennedy makes the whole situation utterly confusing. I’d hate to see any sort of bike lane be placed there; no one can figure out how the hell Randolph Street is supposed to work.

  • Mark Twain

    There’s plenty of buses that unload on the WEST side of the street in front of the suburban concourse at Ogilvie (i.e. where the French Market is). Now, cyclists will just have to contend with pedestrians trying to cross the street from their buses.

  • This seems to be a good guide: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/12/the-street-ballet-of-a-bike-lane-behind-a-transit-stop/

    So long as there’s a wide platform for pedestrians, though.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I am one of those timid bikers, I guess … and probably won’t ever ride in the Loop, but still I’m glad to read about this. As it is, basically downtown is awful for anything *except* walking. Driving’s a nightmare, biking–well, I know many here do it, but it looks to me like taking your life in your hands, and it’s absolutely true that it is almost always way faster to walk anywhere downtown than to wait for, and wait some more for, and then crawl along on, a bus.

    Lately, it seems, when I have a destination downtown it involves a long trudge from the Ogilvie to Navy Pier or the Metra Electric stations on Michigan. It would be great if I could count on actual useful bus service and not have to budget an extra half hour or more just to get across downtown. If good bike lanes are part of the bargain, this old geezer might even try a Divvy.

  • Broseph Stalin

    It’s a market, bro.

  • Roland Solinski

    Not every street needs a bike lane. Randolph Street probably shouldn’t have one in the Haymarket Square area – the only thing that makes sense there is sharrows in the service drives. You could switch the parking to back-in.

  • Roland Solinski

    I love bike riding but the lifeblood of downtown is pedestrian activity. Proper design can minimize conflicts but the pedestrian needs to remain numero uno… their “reckless” behavior is in fact the proper behavior in an urban environment, practiced for thousands of years before bikes and cars arrived. If you’re on a bike, use some common sense and don’t expect to fly at Lakefront Trail speeds down Clinton or Dearborn.


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