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.”

  • From my observations, most of the time a vehicle is parked in the bike lane is when it’s a service vehicle. So i think CDOT’s assertion that cars are typically parked in the correct spot, is true. However, I do there there are a couple of problem locations (NW corner of dearborn and congress comes to mind) where some sort of a barrier would do a lot to protect bikers and keep traffic organized.

  • Pat

    Once the city paints all the PBLs green or some other solid color then we can discus removing the bollards on regular basis. However, people still pull around the bollards to park/stand in the lane, often entering the PBLs at intersections.

    Clearly a curb or other physical barrier would be preferable, but until the snow removal becomes more efficient, removable bollards are here to stay. That being the case, I wish they were space closer to deter people pulling into the lanes.

  • I would accept the idea of raised lanes not being plowed immediately if I knew a long term plan existed to begin plowing them or they were managed within a reasonable time. There’s still no guarantee lanes will be managed well even if the bollards are removed or the entire lane is painted.

  • This is a sub-chicken or the egg discussion. Drivers often cite a decline in bikers during the winter, nobody disputes that, but without understood safe passage, bikers often forgo biking entirely because of the unknown–not just because of the temperature.

    So without the demand, until CDOT has the courage to execute a snow removal plan thoroughly, you’ll likely continue encountering the plunge of riders as winter approaches. The uncertainty of how to get home or to work in the event snow begins to fall and they do not feel safe continuing that day results in an education topic.

    Where do I put my bike? May I bring it with me? Where may I lock it? How should I lock it?

  • The reason I would accept it is even if the snow is removed within 24-48 hours, that still leaves, typically, 325+ days of safe, raised bike lane use.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The two blocks of PBLs in Uptown is going to be problematic. In the case of a major snow event leaving the posts up means a two block stretch will always be a low priority in terms of clearing snow from the bike lanes. Clearing the parking lanes will also be problematic as parking lanes genereally are not cleared on major streets un til the storm is done or the next day. We usually have at least one storm that stretches across 48 hours per winter, sometimes more. Enen with the 2 inch parking ban police dont ticket and tow because their manpower is stretched.

    Also the city will have the public relations problem that will result if bike lanes are cleared before major streets as the snow continues to fall. You simply cant have two snow removal team in the same place at the same time.

  • Mcass777

    Ever run over a bollard base? Not fun! ONce the top of the bollard is gone the base often stays attached to the street and is dangerous and hidden with just a little snow cover.
    I would rather loose all of the bollards. They do not deter cars from parking or standing in the lanes but the do a great job of collecting snow by keeping the big plows out. Then again I did not mind the old school bike lanes where the cars were on the right. At least the street and bike lanes were clear and dry with no biking in the gutter.


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