CDOT Tries Out a New Kind of Bikeway on Lincoln Avenue: “Barrows”

CDOT will be adding sharrows next to the buffers on Lincoln north of Wells. Photo: John Greenfield

The Chicago Department of Transportation has a toolbox of different bikeway treatments: neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and shared lane markings, also known as “sharrows.” Now they’re experimenting with a new kind of treatment that consists of sharrows — bike symbols with chevrons — with a striped buffer painted on the right. I propose that that these buffered sharrows should be referred to as “barrows.”

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A photo of the old sharrows on Lincoln, plus a rendering of the “barrows.”

This CDOT pilot is being done in conjunction with an Illinois Department of Transportation project to repave Lincoln between Diversey and Wells, the portion of the street which is a state route. Lincoln, a key diagonal route downtown from the North Side is included in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 as Crosstown Bike Route. However the blogs Let’s Go Ride a Bike and Bike Walk Lincoln Park have both posted articles detailing the challenging conditions for biking on the street, including lousy pavement.

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Prior to repaving, Lincoln was plagued with potholes. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

LGRAB’s Dottie Brackett noted that, although bikes sometimes make up 40 percent of rush hour traffic on Lincoln, speeding drivers, carelessly opened car doors, huge six-way intersections, and stopped delivery trucks create a hostile environment for cyclists. She said she’d like too see buffered or protected bike lanes on the street. Unfortunately, most of the stretch between Diversey and Wells is too narrow to install these kind of bikeways without stripping large amounts of parking. In spring of 2013, BWLP’s Michelle Stenzel and her neighbors surveyed Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park and counted 24 potholes.

43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith — who told me she often rides a bike herself – said she lobbied hard to get IDOT to repave the street in order to create safer conditions for cyclists and drivers alike. Work began in October, including repairs to sidewalks, curbs, and gutters, as well as concrete bus stop pads. Smith also told me that she urged CDOT to get involved in planning meetings for the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital Site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, to ensure that the project includes pedestrian and bike improvements. As a result, bike lanes will be striped through the six-way intersection.

Conventional bike lanes have been restriped between Diversey and Fullerton. Photo: John Greenfield

Almost all of Lincoln south of Diversey has been repaved with silky-smooth asphalt, save for a couple of blocks near the hospital site, which will be torn up during the redevelopment work. For the most part, the faded bikeway markings are being restriped in the same configuration as before.

Non-buffered bike lanes have been re-marked from Diversey (2800 North) to Fullerton (2400 North). The short segment from Webster (2200 North) to Cleveland (2100 North) is getting regular sharrows again. A quarter-mile stretch between Cleveland and Armitage (2000 North) has been upgraded from non-buffered lanes to buffered ones. Unfortunately, it appears that some of the marking work was done under sub-optimal weather conditions. While the thermoplastic lines look good, some of the bicycle symbols north of Fullerton are already starting to disintegrate.

Conventional bike lanes between Cleveland and Armitage have been upgraded to buffered lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

From Armitage to Wells (about 1830 North), where there were previously conventional sharrows, CDOT is trying out the sharrow-plus-buffer treatment. According to a handout from the department, the buffers will encourage drivers to park closer to the curb, while helping to keep cyclists out of the door zone. CDOT says the sharrows — which haven’t been marked yet – will be located in the same locations as before, and that parking and motor vehicle travel won’t be affected. The department will be observing the new treatment to see how driver and cyclist respond to it, compared to the conventional sharrows up the road.

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Street layouts for sharrows versus “barrows.”

Stenzel, who lives on this stretch of Lincoln that’s getting the “barrows,” noted that this 42-foot-wide section was too narrow to install full bike lanes without stripping parking. She said that dooring isn’t much of an issue on this stretch because it is unmetered, so there’s a low rate of parking turnover. “Some cars don’t move for weeks,” she said. “Still, it’s good to see CDOT try something new.”

  • tooter turtle

    I like the buffer on Limcoln. At least it shows drivers (many of whom expect that cyclists should hug parked cars) that when I keep some distance between myself and car doors, I am merely obeying street markings. That might make them less agitated and hence less likely to try to kill me.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Los Angeles Department of Transportation did a pilot testing of sharrows along 6 different streets throughout the city. I participated in more of the before and after sharrows test rides than any other volunteer.

    I’ve found a major problem with sharrows is getting people to ride where they are placed. Streets that have more traffic that is moving faster has less potential for getting people to ride further out in the road. That something that the LADOT did not check. The assumption seems to be that people will ride wherever sharrows are placed. Putting sharrows more than a few inches further out into the roadway than most people usually ride may not convince many people to change their riding position. The LADOT places them 12-feet away from the curb. That can be uncomfortably far out in the roadway for most people.

    Using a buffer plus sharrows would seem to have a lot more potential for convincing more people to ride further away from the parked vehicles than sharrows alone.

    The question is how will drivers respond to the bicyclists riding further out into the roadway? Will the stripping of the buffer convince more drivers that’s where the bicyclist is supposed to be riding?

    I manually counted the different types of 2,421 bicycle collisions reported by the LAPD in 2013. Subtracting the 569 collisions involving bicyclists riding the wrong way leaves 1,852 collisions. There were 155 bicycle collisions involving parked vehicles, or 8.4% of the 1,852 total. A buffer plus sharrows could have a significant impact on reducing bicycle collisions with parked vehicles.

  • Pat

    Nice to see that truck sticking out into the bike lane in background of the 4th picture.

    For me this is the great frustration along Lincoln and certainly on Wells between Division and North. I understand that trucks are wider than a normal spot, but too often they only pull in enough to leave a 2-3ft gap between the truck and the curb.

  • Overall, this sounds like a great idea to test. Of course, with 12-foot lanes in which cyclists are told to position themselves a foot or two into the lane, many cars will likely pass inside the three-foot buffer mandated by state law. Not that that’s not happening already, but it’s worth noting.

  • jeff wegerson

    Yeah the trick is to get drivers to hug the middle yellow line as much as possible. Me as a driver I tend to center myself in the lane. That would be the yellow line down the middle and whatever to the right. The whatever is now either parked cars or some kind of bike line. I find the bicycle chevron of little use psychologically for centering myself in the lane. I wonder if where there is not room for a full bike lane whether a half or third of a lane short dashed line might help me center myself more to the left without making me think that bikes where taking more than “their share”. Short dashed lines are used these days to indicate a lane that is going away on the expressway. You are clearly allowed to cross it but it’s not a lane you can count on long term. In that sense I would be allowed to enter the partial bike lane but I should not use it long term. Then when I’m not in the partial bike lane the short dashed line would be encouraging me to hang left by the center line and giving me constant guidance about where they (bike riders) really want me to be.

  • May we end up with sharrows that are measured and painted from the inside versus outside. We need sharrows painted there for drivers have better visual of along with decrease wear and tear on the paint. This would improve safety, barely, but decrease cost.

  • Has potential, but seeing the sharrows hugging the buffer is concerning for the proposal. If the lanes were 16′ wide, it would make more sense to keep them that far right, but not in 12′ lanes. At least center them in the lane.

  • David Altenburg

    Agreed. If there’s not room for a bike lane, that’s because there’s not room for vehicles to safely pass, except when the cyclist judges otherwise (such as where there are no parked cars). I don’t understand the point of putting the sharrows to the right. Chicago’s drivers are aggressive enough towards cyclists who take the lane without markings muddling the issue.

  • Velocipedian

    All of the above lanes suck. They are unsafe and just give parkers the sense that they can safely open their door into the bikelane. Putting these lanes on Lincoln, where traffic is not slowed by stop signs or speed bumps, is just asking for more dooring tragedies.

  • southsidecyclist

    I’d like to see CDOT try a pilot program where the street parking is removed and replaced space for space with a paved lot. It could be done on one side of the street and the lot would be a reclaimed vacant lot in each block. Relocating parking on narrow streets could create enough room for proper bike lanes. This wouldn’t work on every block, but it would work in many.

  • Jamie

    Stop signs and speed bumps on Lincoln? Really? #WorstIdeaEver

  • undercover epicurean

    The height of meh.

  • G1991

    Painfully horrible idea.

  • Adam Herstein

    Buffered parking lane.

  • Velocipedian


  • I still don’t get what sharrows are meant to do.

    Putting sharrows on a few streets tells the cars on those streets, “There might be cyclists here, and the street agrees they belong there.” It also tells bike-hostile drivers, “Bikes should stay on the arrows; if you see them on a street with no arrows honk at them and drive dangerously to chase them back where they belong.”

    Sharrows change absolutely nothing — bikes are ALWAYS allowed on streets (where not explicitly signed as forbidden). Putting sharrows on a few roads is counterproductive and doesn’t measurably improve safety.

  • There aren’t very many empty lots on north Lincoln.

  • On streets too narrow for a full bike lane, “their share” is the full lane. Cars should not be passing bikes in 12′ lanes, and drivers should never be encouraged to use bike lanes at any time, because too many are treating them as free-drive spaces as it is.

  • Charlie

    Has Chicago ever tried advisory bicycle lanes? Remove the yellow center line and dash stripe 5′ bike lanes adjacent to the parking lane. Drivers would use the center of the road in both directions unless two drivers in opposite directions meet, at which point they should both merge to the right over the bike lanes in order to pass each other.

  • Sounds like a great way to repeatedly hit cyclists, honestly, given how drivers act right now on the existing no-middle-line streets (like parts of Wilson between Pulaski and California). Cars tend to drive centered, then freak OUT when they see an oncoming car (even though there’s plenty of room for both cars to drive with feet of space between them). Sometimes someone even pulls over into an alley or curb cut and stops until the other car passes them — which doesn’t work at busier times of day.

    The cars would likely whip over to the right very quickly without looking in the bike lane, because they’re much more worried about the oncoming car.


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