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Eyes on the Street: The Case of the Missing Bike Lane Bollards

broadway at sunnyside before after
The Broadway protected lanes before and after bollard removal. Photos: John Greenfield

Uptown’s Broadway protected bike lanes, installed earlier this year, are a great example of the power of a road diet with PBLs. By converting a former four-lane speedway to two travel lanes, a turn lane, and protected lanes, the city transformed a hectic, dangerous stretch of Broadway into one that’s calmer and safer for pedestrians and drivers, as well as cyclists.

Recently, however, all of the plastic posts that separated the curbside bike lanes from the parking lane mysteriously vanished. This isn’t the first time that posts, also known as bollards, have disappeared from Chicago PBLs. They’re commonly taken out by careless drivers and construction projects.

Last winter, one of the snowiest on record, was particularly rough on the city’s protected bike lanes. Snowplows knocked out plenty of PBL posts on Dearborn and Kinzie. By springtime, every single bollard on Milwaukee, the city’s busiest bike lane street, had been obliterated.

But we haven’t even had significant snowfall yet, so what happened to the Broadway Bollards? A few theories sprang to mind. Broadway is one of the few retail streets in Chicago with protected lanes. Perhaps business owners complained about losing access for curbside deliveries, so the posts were removed to make it easier for truckers to temporarily park in the lanes?

On the other hand, crews recently filmed scenes for the movie “Batman Vs. Superman” in Uptown. They temporarily turned the Lawrence Red Line stop into a fictional “Gotham Transit Authority” station. Maybe the producers felt that bike lane bollards would look out of place in the Caped Crusader’s hometown.

While the bollard removals are puzzling, some feel that plastic posts are superfluous on parking-protected bike lanes. For example, the posts generally aren't installed along parking-protected lanes in New York City.

All the bollards along the 55th Street PBLs have also been removed. Photo: Em Hall

One of the owners of Azusa Liquor, 4411 North Broadway, told me the bollards on that street were taken out about two weeks ago. No one had told him why, but he was confident that they had been removed to prevent them from being taken out by plows after the first heavy snowfall hits. “It’s only common sense, you know,” he said.

I called the 46th Ward office last week to confirm this theory, and they referred me to the Chicago Department of Transportation. After several requests for info, CDOT has not yet provided an explanation.

I've since learned that all the posts have also been removed from the protected lanes on 55th Street as well, although they're still standing along all of the other protected lanes I've ridden recently. The Fourth Ward office wasn't sure what the story was, and the Fifth Ward hasn't yet responded to an info request. Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Ted Villaire told me they hadn't previously heard about the removals.

Updated Wednesday 11/26 at 10:30 a.m.

46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman provided an explanation via Twitter:

@JustinHaugens @transitized @greenfieldjohn We just learned ourselves that bollards were removed on any street with a snow ban.

— Ald. James Cappleman (@JamesCappleman) November 26, 2014

It appears the mystery is solved. Hopefully CDOT will provide more info about this policy after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Updated Saturday 11/29 at 10 a.m.

5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston provided this statement explaining why the bollards on 55th Street were removed:

To prepare for the snow. Last year the snow plows could not get in between the posts to clear the snow. Numerous complaints. Streets and San solution was to remove them so that they can be plowed.

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