CDOT Previews Chicago’s Next Round of New Bikeways

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New protected bike lanes on Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The quarterly meetings of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council are a good place to get up to speed on Chicago’s latest bike developments. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with updates on bike lane construction, off-street trails, Divvy bike-share, and more. The sessions take place during business hours, but if your schedule allows you to attend, you can get on the mailing list by contacting Carlin Thomas, a consultant with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program, at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton kicked things off by introducing MBAC’s four new community representatives. All four are seasoned bike advocates, so they’ll likely be an asset to the meetings, bringing on-the-ground knowledge of their respective districts.

Anne Alt, who works at the bike law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor) and volunteers with Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, will represent the South and Southwest Sides. Kathy Schubert, the founder of the Chicago Cycling Club who successfully lobbied CDOT to start installing non-slip “Kathy plates” on bridge decks, will cover the North Side.

Miguel Morales, a former networker for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children and current West Town Bikes board member, will represent the West Side. And Bob Kastigar, a longtime activist who launched petition drives in support of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann and the proposal for a safety overhaul on Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park, will cover the Northwest Side.

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Kastigar, Morales, Schubert, and Alt. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld somberly noted that Chicago has seen seven bike fatalities this year, up from three by this time last year. The crashes generally took place on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. All but one involved a driver, and the victims ranged in age from 20-year-old Jacob Bass to 59-year-old Suai Xie.

CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden provided an update on the department’s efforts to put in 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes by 2015. So far, 67.75 miles have been installed, with 19.5 miles built this year, Amsden said. An additional 23.5 miles of federally funded lanes are slated for construction in spring 2015. These include Lawrence (Central to Central Park) and Milwaukee (Lawrence to Elston).

Currently, 14 miles of bikeways are going through the approval process and could be built this fall or next spring. These include Elston (Webster to the northernmost intersection of Elston and Milwaukee, near Peterson), Kedzie (Milwaukee to Addison), and Pershing (King to Oakwood). Another 7.5 miles are tied to street repaving projects, and are slated for construction this fall or in spring 2015. These include Armitage (Western to Damen) and Augusta (Central Park to Grand). Presumably, the lion’s share of all of these upcoming bikeways will be buffered bike lanes, rather than protected lanes.

Amsden reported that recently built buffered and protected lanes on Broadway in Uptown have been getting positive reviews from business owners, pedestrians, and cyclists. A brand-new stretch of PBLs and BBLs on Lake Street from Central Park to Austin means you can now ride five miles from Damen to the city limits on next-generation lanes, albeit it under the shadow and noise of ‘L’ tracks. Buffered lanes were recently striped on Marquette, from Cottage Grove to Stony Island, and from California to Damen.

“Next we’re going to start focusing on closing the gaps in our network,” Amsden said. “We’re really trying to create a cohesive system by looking at areas of concern, like difficult intersections.”

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An SUV parking in a protected bike lane on Harrison Street. Photo: John Greenfield

Amsden also talked about the problem of parking in bike lanes, which has plagued bikeways like the new Harrison PBLs downtown. He acknowledged the recent #Enforce940060 Twitter campaign, which has drawn attention to the problem. He noted that bike program staff have been distributing “Never Park in Bike Lanes” flyers to motorists, and business owners have been contacted. The Department of Finance has done ticketing stings, and flexible posts may be added at spots like the Greyhound station on Harrison.

He encouraged people to call 311 to report drivers blocking the bike lanes, so that CDOT can learn where the problem areas are and target their efforts. “We really are doing a lot to try to curb that activity – no pun intended,” he said. Scheinfeld suggested that the language on the flyers should be changed to point out that parking in the lanes is illegal and to list the cost of a ticket. The Chainlink’s Julie Hochstadter asked if cyclists could get copies of the handbill to put on windshields, and Amsden offered to have it posted as a PDF on the bike program website.

Kastigar asked Hamilton for status reports on the Weber Spur Trail, which will run northeast from Elston Avenue in Mayfair to suburban Lincolnwood, as well as the planned bike bridge that will connect two sides of North Shore Channel Trail near Devon and Kedzie. The trail is partially funded, and CDOT staff have been surveying the project area, Hamilton said. After the data collection is complete, the department will apply for additional federal funding for construction.

Although the bridge was designed and locally funded back in the early 2000s, then-50th Ward Alderman Bernie Stone refused to allow CDOT to build it. By the time current alderman Debra Silverstein approved the bridge, the funding had been lost, and a new boat launch at the site meant that the department had to go back to the drawing board, Hamilton said. Since CDOT now has to apply for federal money, the “Stone Bridge” won’t be completed until fall of 2016 at the earliest, but it will get built, Hamilton promised.

Hamilton provided an update on Divvy. The system now has 23,542 active annual members, and 2,507,027 trips have been taken. Although the expansion of the system from 3,000 to 4,750 cycles was delayed by the bankruptcy of the equipment supplier, Montreal-based Bixi, supply chain issues are being resolved, she said. A purchase order for new bikes and stations was entered in August, the equipment should arrive by late February or early March of next year, and the new stations should go online in the spring.

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The planned route of the North Branch Trail extension.

Kindy Kruller, a planner with the Forest Preserve of Cook County, concluded the meeting by discussing recent challenges to building the 4.2-mile southern extension of the North Branch Trail, which would run from Devon and Caldwell to Foster and Kostner. Construction is planned for next year. “We’ve had a lot of community opposition, and it could get hairy over the next few months,” she said.

Some residents have protested the planned removal of 425 trees for the trail, although Kruller said some of these are dead and others are invasive species. Much of the opposition is coming from homeowners from the Old Edgebrook community, an enclave of about 40 houses near Devon and Central. The path would run on the west side of Central, a busy street with no turn lanes.

The residents fear that they’d have difficulty making turns from Central onto Louise and Prescott, the only streets that access the neighborhood, due to heavy bike traffic on the trail, which would back up traffic on Central, Kruller said. Amsden suggested that the bike trail could be “jug-handled” away from Central at Louise and Prescott. That way, residents could first make the turn off of the main road, and then wait for a gap in bike traffic to cross the trail.

Kruller encouraged MBAC attendees to show up for future community meetings on the trail to show their support. Hamilton suggested that MBAC send the forest preserve district a letter of support for the trail, and the council moved to do so.

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