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:

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.

  • The 55th St. protected bike lane bollards were removed last year. Initially, I hadn’t noticed much of a detrimental effect to their removal, but the other day…

    I had entered the bike lane eastbound at Ellis. Almost immediately, a car pulls forward into the bike lane directly in front of me. After some amount of maneuvering in the bike lane, he straightened into his parallel parking spot. I talked to him after having watch astounded at the maneuver. Apparently, he felt it important to get out of the way of traffic on 55th as quickly as possible, instead of properly backing into his spot. He didn’t believe me that the double solid hatched line meant that his car was not supposed to enter the lane. “If that [a physical barrier] was there, I wouldn’t have crossed it.”

    Not to mention the delivery trucks, and 4-way blinkered parked cars in the lane each day. Given that the buffered bike lanes use the same double striped treatment (which cars may cross to park) as the protected lanes, I’m not entirely sure that these types of dangerous behaviour are illegal except where the contravene obstructing traffic or improper lane change laws.

  • Thanks for sharing. I’m pretty sure the bollards on 55th were still around until recently — I ride those lanes regularly. But hopefully CDOT will provide a timeline in the near future.

  • Eric Masek

    Yesterday they were removed from 31st most of the way between the Metra tracks and lsd save the last few closest to lsd.

    They’re also mostly missing from the overpass on Milwaukee near green street.

  • The PBLs on Broadway were well out of view from the Lawrence station.

    The only thing that comes to mind is that Broadway is a snow route and merely preparation for the winter.

  • I had been thinking some scenes might have been shot further south on Broadway as well.

  • The posts have been gone from Kinzie Street between the river and Orleans for months, presumably not replaced because all of the Wolf Point construction traffic would just keep knocking them down.

    The Kinzie Street protected bike lane – the city’s first – has also been one of the most neglected, because of unreplaced posts, fading painted stripes (instead of more durable thermoplastic), and constant underground utility construction requiring closing the bike lane and putting metal plates atop it.

    CDOT had said that they would open a protected bike lane on Grand Avenue before shutting down Kinzie Street’s bike lane for Wolf Point construction. The question is, at what point is the Kinzie Street bike lane shut down? When it’s covered in metal plates for a week? When cars are parked in it for three successive days?

  • Cecilia Gamba

    Actually I can confirm they’ve been gone for months.. At least the west portion, Woodlawn to cottage grove or so.. Disappeared at some point last winter and were never reinstalled. My theory was that they used them as an educational tool at first, and deemed them unnecessary after learning phase. But maybe snow removal was the initial reason, and then they got lazy. I think they’re not super critical on that particular street, but it’s always better to have them.. I’ve seen the occasional car parked in the bike lane.

  • Velocipedian

    These bollards are key to safe separation of cars and bikes. Isn’t there an existing city bike path snow plow?

  • Somebody is making a good buck on bollards.

  • Amanda Noelle Neal

    I recently saw a cyclist riding on Milwaukee, holding one… are people stealing them too?


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