Eyes on the Street: Broadway’s Keeper

I took took protected bike lane snow clearance into my own hands this afternoon. Photo: Justin Haugens

Steven Vance and I have been touched by the many shout-outs and well-wishes we’ve received on social media in the wake of last week’s shutdown of Streetsblog Chicago due to funding issues. We’ve heard a collective groan from everyone from our readers, to transportation blogging colleagues around the country, to other Chicago media outlets like Gapers Block, Chicagoist, and Chicago Magazine. We’ve even heard from local elected officials bemoaning the loss of the city’s daily source for sustainable transportation and livable streets news:


The good news is that we’ve made significant headway in the effort to raise funds so that Steven and I can return to producing original reporting. Readers have responded generously to my request for donations, with over 80 individual donations made within a few days.

If you value Streetsblog’s hard-hitting reporting and haven’t already done so, please consider making a contribution to the Streetsblog Chicago Resurrection Fund. I still need to raise a significant chunk of money from small-to-medium donations as part of my fundraising strategy, which also includes major donors, ad revenue, and foundation grants. Donations are not tax-deductible at this point, but all donors will receive an email stating that their money will be returned if daily publication of original articles has not resumed by April 8, three months from the start of the hiatus.

The northbound PBL on the 4400 block of North Broadway before shoveling. Photo: John Greenfield

I took a break from my fundraising work this afternoon for a little direct intervention to improve Chicago street safety. Ever since Mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection following the brutal Blizzard of ’79, Chicago mayors have done an excellent job of keeping the streets clear of snow for drivers. However, they haven’t always done such a great job of making sure bike routes get plowed. Last winter, many of the city’s protected bike lanes were often unrideable because they were filled with snow or slush.

To their credit, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been trying harder this year to make sure the PBLs are maintained. They temporarily removed the flexible posts that delineated several protected lanes along snow routes, to make it easier for the department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the entire street.

Streets and San did a good job of clearing the southbound PBL on the same block of Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

However, I recently heard that the PBLs on Broadway, between Montrose and Wilson,  have been impassible this month due to poor snow clearance, so that some cyclists have been taking Clark as an alternative. That means the Broadway lanes, which People for Bikes recently rated the nation’s tenth-best new PBLs, are actually deterring bicycling instead of encouraging it. That’s not right.

I went over to Broadway with a shovel in hand to investigate. While some portions of the lanes were well plowed and people were riding in them, other stretches were choked with slush, forcing cyclists to instead share the narrow travel lanes with cars. I didn’t have time to clear the entire bikeway, but I spent about 45 minutes digging out the northbound side of the 4400 block. I was rewarded by the sight of cyclists immediately taking advantage of the clear, protected passageway.

The northbound PBL, after my guerrilla intervention. Photo: John Greenfield

I’d like to think that the blockage in the Broadway lanes was mostly due to property owners pushing their sidewalk snow into them, rather than neglect by the city. Either way, it would be great if CDOT and Streets and San could take additional steps to ensure that PBLs around the city enable, rather than thwart, cycling.

In the meantime, I invite concerned cyclists from around the city to grab a shovel and join me in the fight to keep Chicago’s protected lanes rideable. Feel free to tweet your guerilla PBL shoveling experience at #AdoptABikeLane.

  • The surprising part about Broadway’s PBLs is the only segment that was unclear was one block north of Montrose and only the northbound side. I didn’t realize the condition of it until headed home from work Monday afternoon.

    This was taken at 15:05, Monday: https://www.flickr.com/photos/justinhaugens/16249221176/

    There’s a vehicle in the distance parked at the southern end of the PBL. I’m unaware of if the vehicle remained there overnight preventing Streets & Sans from clearing the PBL.

    Bike lanes are suppose to offer a sense of security and safety for riders. It’s meant to segregate people on a bike and those behind the wheel. But when a person on a bike truly needs this segregation, drivers continue to disregard the rule AND need for their own convenience.

    I snapped photos of at least six vehicles over a one hour commute home, completely unnecessary.

  • BlueFairlane

    You know, I made a joke on here when they first started installing these things several years back that the only way they’d stay clear in the winter would be if Steven got out there and cleared them himself. I guess I was only half-right. I should have included John.


  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Well this is the issue you are going to have when you don’t have enough snow in one storm to invoke the 2″ no parking ban on streets with protected lanes.

    How one side got done and the other not? Just a matter of having no cars parked in the parking lane when the plow went past.

    A two block stretch of PBLs and a city full of snow that needs to be plowed. Unless there is a fleet of smaller plows deployed across the city you are going to have this issue.

  • I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations on the snow clearance but I have taken care of one or two other things.

  • This is now the fourth winter for which the city has had to care for snow in protected bike lanes.

    But as I biked downtown in a 97% clear Milwaukee bike lane from Elston to Kinzie I remembered that the city does an equally poor job at removing snow from all bike lanes. Consider this: when there are conventional bike lanes between the parking and general purpose lanes the large snow plows push the snow into the bike lane.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Well it probably comes down to a number of factors.

    1) The mayor is going to save the OT budget for storms between now and election day.

    2) Where you have more bike traffic and more PBLs, your going to have the dedicated equipment to clear these lanes deployed.

    3) Not having enough equipment to clear a relatively minor 2 block set of PBLs should have been considered before installing them.

    4) Streets with now a single lane of traffic and a bike lane are probably only going to get a single pass with the plow unless you have a relatively heavy snow.

  • Velocipedian

    Let’s get/make one of these for Chicago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRp6T-R0_wY&sns=em


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