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CDOT’s Winter Maintenance Strategy for Protected Bike Lanes

Snow in the Dearborn protected bike lane
PBLs are often full of snow and slush, even after the rest of the streets is clear. Photo: Steven Vance

A few weeks ago, the flexible posts, also known as bollards, that delineated the Broadway protected bike lanes mysteriously disappeared. I also noticed that the posts along the 55th Street PBLs had vanished. At the time, the local aldermen said the bollards has been removed to facilitate snow plowing.

This morning, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales provided more details about why the posts were removed, and additional info about the city’s plans to do a better job of keeping the bike lanes clear this winter. “We’ve proactively removed bollards on a number of streets in order to make them more usable, more quickly,” he said.”

During last year’s Polar Vortex, several heavy snowfalls and inconsistent snow removal limited the usefulness the city’s PBLs. On top of that, snowplow operators knocked out many of the PBLs' posts. By this spring, every single bollard on Milwaukee had been obliterated.

To keep that from happening again, CDOT has removed posts from all protected lanes on streets where parking is banned in the event of two-inch snowfalls, as well as in PBL locations with no car parking. Here’s a full list of the removals:

Locations with snow parking bans

    • Broadway: Montrose to Wilson
    • Jackson: Oakley to Hoyne
    • Lake: Laramie to Damen
    • Vincennes: 103rd to 89th

Locations with no car parking

    • 31st: Wells to Lake Shore Drive
    • Halsted: 26th to Lumber
    • Franklin Boulevard: Central Park to Sacramento
    • Jackson: Independence to Central Park

Note that 55th Street is not on this list. All of the bollards on 55th were removed last winter after they proved to be a barrier for snow removal, Scales said. 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston told me she received numerous complaints about snow removal on the street. The posts were never reinstalled.  “We’ve been monitoring 55th Street," Scales said. "By and large, drivers have been parking properly there.”

Some feel that plastic posts are superfluous on parking-protected bike lanes. For example, New York City doesn’t install them along these kind of lanes.

New York's Prospect Park West PBLs. Like most parking-protected lanes in NYC, they don't have bollards. Photo: Streetsblog NYC

While CDOT was responsible for plowing all of Chicago’s PBLs last winter, this winter the Department of Streets and Sanitation will plow the bike lanes on the aforementioned streets. “Last year, it was hard for CDOT to plow these locations, so it will be easier and more effective to let Streets and San remove snow from the entire street -- including the bike lane,” Scales said.

CDOT will continue to plow protected lanes in other locations, using pickup trucks with plows and salt spreaders, as well as similarly equipped, heavy-duty utility carts. The department also uses these carts to clear snow from the sidewalks of downtown bridges.

Scales said the current plan is to reinstall all the posts, but it’s not a sure thing. “This is a pilot, so we’ll evaluate the results and act accordingly.”

Last winter, protected lanes that CDOT cleared often got filled with snow again when Streets and San plowed the mixed-traffic lanes. To prevent this situation, CDOT will wait until Streets and San is done plowing streets before they clear the PBLs. They’ve also asked Streets and San to angle their plows differently so that less snow gets pushed into the bike lanes.

Scales said his department is still working on a strategy to address the problem of downtown building maintenance workers shoveling snow from sidewalks into the protected lanes. “We’ll see how things go this year. Hopefully we won’t have as heavy a snowfall as last year.”

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