Eyes on the Street: New Bike Lanes on the North Side
This is the time of year when the Chicago Department of Transportation hustles to get the last of the new bikeways installed before it’s too cold to stripe thermoplastic. Since the threshold is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this week’s cold snap could mean the end of the construction season. Hopefully, this year, CDOT won’t attempt to continue striping after it’s too cold, which has previously led to problems with quickly disappearing bike lane markings.
Yesterday, I took advantage of the nice weather to visit a few new facilities on the North Side. On my way out, I checked out the progress of the Lawrence streetscape in Ravenswood and Lincoln Square. It’s now largely finished from Clark to Western, save for a few details like bioswales and neighborhood identifier poles with “bike arcs” for locking cycles. Baby-blue metal chairs, an interesting alternative to benches, have been installed in a few spots.
Next, I checked out a 1.25-mile stretch of new buffered bike lanes on Kedzie from Addison to Logan in Avondale and Logan Square. Previously, there were non-buffered lanes on the street from Logan to Barry, just south of the Kennedy Expressway. The new lanes, striped on reasonably smooth existing pavement, are buffered on both sides.
The BBLs help provide safer passage through viaducts under the expressway and nearby Metra tracks. Green paint has been added to the northbound bike lane by the Kennedy onramp, to remind drivers to look for cyclists before merging right. The buffered lanes also run right by Revolution Brewing’s production brewery, 3340 North Kedzie, which has a pleasant malt aroma. Aside from the Kinze protected lanes, located by the Blommer Chocolate factory, Kedzie may be the best-smelling bikeway in Chicago.
A mile east, CDOT has replaced terrible pavement on the 0.3-mile stretch of Logan between Western and Diversey. The glassy-smooth new asphalt makes a big difference in the bikeability of this key link between Logan Square and Lakeview. As a bonus, the existing non-buffered lanes on this section have been re-striped as BBLs on the stretch northeast of Elston, although the section from Elston to Western is still non-buffered.
The city still needs to address the dangerous expressway viaduct at Logan and Western, where cyclist Tyler Fabeck, 22, was killed in a crash in 2008. Unfortunately, the Illinois Department of Transportation controls the viaduct, and IDOT has been historically slow to allow bike and pedestrian improvements on its streets.
The entire 8.4-mile expanse of Elston from North (the northern terminus of its one-mile stretch of protected lanes) to Milwaukee in Gladstone Park is slated to get buffered lanes. The street already has non-buffered lanes for most of its length, although some of them are badly faded.
As a baby step in this direction, the city recently striped a 0.4-mile section of BBLs from Fullerton to Webster. The lanes were striped on fairly smooth existing pavement, with buffers on both sides. CDOT is planning to stripe BBLs on Elston between Webster and North by early 2015, although local business owners have opposed the upgrade.
A couple miles south, the city has built brand-new buffered lane on a one-mile stretch of Hubbard from Ashland to Halsted. Sections of the street were torn up for utility work last month – these stretches now have nice, new asphalt. In general, the lanes feature a buffer on the right, to encourage cyclists to ride out of the door zone.
Hubbard was already a useful, low-traffic alternative to busy Grand Avenue, a block north. However, Active Transportation Alliance staffer Jim Merrell, whom I encountered on his evening commute home, says the street has become even more bikeable since the BBLs went in. “This was sort of a one-and-a-half lane setup before, so there were sometimes issues with drivers trying to pass each other on the right,” he said, adding that the lanes discourage that behavior.
Just north of Hubbard, the stretch of Halsted between Grand and Chicago avenues has been repaved, although it’s not yet restriped. I know I’m not the only bike rider who formerly avoided this pothole-ridden section of Halsted, one of the city’s most important biking streets, so the fresh asphalt is a welcome improvement.