Chicago Gets First Curb-Protected Lanes; Many Other Bike Projects on Deck

Sacramento - Douglas to Ogden (6)
The curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive in Douglas Park. Photo: CDOT

In a surprise move, the Chicago Department of Transportation recently began building the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive through Douglas Park. This morning, assistant director of transportation planning Mike Amsden provided an update on this game-changing facility, plus a slew of other bikeways projects slated for 2015.

Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes within his first term. Later the goal was revised to include buffered bike lanes — which don’t offer physical protection from cars — as wells as PBLs. The city currently has 71.5 miles of BBLs and 18.5 miles of protected lanes, for a grand total of 90 miles, according to Amsden.

Since Emanuel was inaugurated for his second term this morning, the 100-mile target has obviously been pushed back a bit, but it’s likely CDOT will exceed that goal by the end of this year. “When we get there, [Streetsblog] will be the first to know,” Amsden promised. “Our focus this year is really going to be on bridging the gaps in the bike network.”

The new curb-separated lanes run on both sides of Sacramento, a curving roadway within the Southwest Side green space, on a quarter-mile stretch between Douglas Boulevard and Ogden Avenue. The curbs are about six inches high and two feet wide, with breaks at drainage basins, and wherever park paths cross the street.

The Sacramento protected bike lanes were originally installed in 2012 on a section that included some truly awful pavement – a counterproductive practice that CDOT has since discontinued. The new curbs are being put in as part of a resurfacing project.

“Over the past four years, we’ve put in a lot of bike lanes in a short time, but it was always our goal to upgrade them over time,” said Amsden. “We’re piloting curb separation here. Experimenting with concrete is something we want to do moving forward whenever we can.”

While CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced plans for curb-separated bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in Old Town last summer, there was no public announcement about the Sacramento curbs, Amsden said. However, 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler signed off on the plan. In early 2013, Chandler asked CDOT to downgrade an existing PBLs on nearby Independence Boulevard to buffered bike lanes.

While Amsden said he has heard reports of drivers parking in the Sacramento PBLs south of Ogden, near baseball diamonds and soccer fields, he doesn’t anticipate problems with cars blocking the curb-protected lanes, which are about eight feet wide. “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, but one of the goals of the concrete separation is to encourage drivers not to park in them.”

IDOT had previously prohibited CDOT from installing PBLs on state roads within the city. However, the state transportation department lifted the ban after an allegedly drunk driver struck and killed cyclist Bobby Cann at Clybourn and Larabee Street in 2013, and is actually spearheading and funding the Clybourn curb-protected lane project. CDOT has been helping out with design input and public outreach, Amsden said.

The state recently held a bid opening for the Clybourn construction contract, and the curb-protected lanes may be built later this year. Read more about the project here.

As I discussed last week, a northbound buffered lane is going in on State Street from 79th to 69th in order to narrow the travel lanes, as part of a complete streets makeover. “The goal is primarily to improve conditions for pedestrians,” Amsden acknowledged. However, a bikeway on Vincennes Avenue will be extended north to 69th in the near future, mostly as buffered bike lanes, and a short stretch of 69th will get BBLs, creating a connection over the Dan Ryan Expressway between Vincennes and State.

Also, CDOT plans to link up the existing stretch of buffered and protected lanes on Vincennes with the Major Taylor Trail via two blocks of buffered lanes on Vincennes from 103rd to 105th, plus shared-lane markings and wayfinding signs on a short stretch of 105th. Construction should start any day now, Amsden said.

Buffered bike lanes on the 2200 block of North Elston. Photo: CDOT

Soon, almost all of nine-mile-long Elston Avenue will be upgraded to BBLs, Amsden said. About 4.5 miles were completed last year, and another 3.5 to four miles of upgrades will happen the near future. This does not include the segment of Elston between North Avenue and Webster Avenue, where the local business association North Branch Works previously opposed BBLs. However, the group has dropped its opposition, and the buffered lanes may go in by fall, pending design review, Amsden said.

One stretch of Elston that won’t be upgraded anytime soon is the segment at Fullerton Avenue and Damen Avenue, where Elston is being rerouted through the Vienna Beef factory site. This stretch will get curbside, curb-protected bike lanes, Amsden said.

Along with State and Vincennes, a few other streets designated as “Spoke Routes” in the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 will be getting improvements this year. Buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue – the city’s busiest biking street — will be extended northwest to Division Street. The two-to-three-block segment between Elston and the Kennedy Expressway will get PBLs with New York City-style concrete parking end caps – another first in Chicago.

Milwaukee’s bridge over the Kennedy will get bicycle passing lanes, nearly identical to what currently exists on the street’s Ohio Feeder overpass. And the section of Milwaukee between Augusta Boulevard and Division will get buffered lanes.

Lake Street, the east-west Spoke Route, which currently has protected lanes running from Ashland Avenue to the Oak Park border, will get buffered lanes between Ashland and Halsted Street. CDOT will also be extending the BBLs on South Chicago Drive, a Spoke Route that serves the Southeast Side, by building a new stretch between 79th and Marquette Road, 6700 South. Like the installation of buffered lanes on the southernmost section of South Chicago, this project will involve a “four-to-three conversion” road diet.

Existing bike lanes on a 2.5-mile segment of Lawrence Avenue, between Central Avenue and Central Park Avenue, will be upgraded to buffered lanes in the near future. “[Bike advocate] Bob Kastigar has been eagerly awaiting that one,” Amsden said.

CDOT is working with several aldermen on new neighborhood greenways, aka bike boulevards, traffic-calmed bike routes on residential streets, Amsden said. In Uptown, a greenway on Leland Avenue, which 46th Ward residents voted to bankroll with ward money via a participatory budgeting election, is currently in design review. The transportation department will also be installing route signs and sharrows on a short stretch of Marshfield Avenue to direct cyclists from the Cortland Street to Walsh Park, the eastern terminus of the Bloomingdale Trail, which is opens on June 6.

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Workers install red concrete for bus-only lanes on Madison Street. Photo: Daniel Kay Hertz

He said he’s particularly excited about the protected bike lanes that will be installed downtown this year as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project. Construction on dedicated bus lanes is currently underway on Madison Street and Washington Street, the latter of which will get an eastbound PBL between the curb and the new island bus stops. The existing westbound bike lane on Madison will be replaced by a protected lane on Randolph Street, which is currently torn up for water main work.

CDOT will also be building a two-way protected bike lane on Clinton Street, similar to the Dearborn Street PBL, which will connect the Randolph and Washington lanes with existing PBLs on Harrison Street. The whole Loop Link corridor is supposed to be up and running by the end of the year. “Soon we’ll have a robust network of protected bike lanes downtown, which, in my biased opinion, is pretty unparalleled in this country,” Amsden said.

Update: According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the Clybourn protected bike lane contract was awarded earlier this month to Summit Construction Company for $700,000. Work is slated to start this summer and wrap up in the fall.

  • duppie

    On a recent neighborhood meeting alderman Osterman announced that CDOT Wil be installing a contra-bikelane on Glenwood between Ridge and Foster. This means that Edgewater cyclists will finally have a safe and legal southbound route.

  • Wow, I was just thinking yesterday that, while Glenwood is a great alternative to Clark for traveling between Andersonville and Rogers Park, it’s annoying that, biking southbound, you currently have to “salmon” for half a block south of Ridge, and then head west on Edgewater to Clark, because Glenwood is northbound-only between Ridge and Foster. This will make it possible to stay on Glenwood until Argyle, just before St. Bonifice Cemetery. Very nice!

  • Anne A

    That will be good for Rogers Park cyclists as well. This improvement is MANY years overdue.

  • It’s good that the downtown bus lanes are being poured in red concrete, it won’t wear off as quickly as red melted-on plastic.

  • Right. It’s always frustrating when you see those stamped, fake-brick crosswalks that have faded to invisibility within a year or two.

  • Pulaski just started getting some, on Elston, Montrose, and Sunnyside so far. There’s also a central stamped intersection pattern with plastic melted into just the grooves (leaving the high spots asphalt-colored), which is an interesting attempt at durability. We’ll see.

    (I’d like them better if the orange filigree borders didn’t clash badly with the “brick” color of the stamped crosswalks they’re directly adjacent to, but whatever)

  • Adding a photo. This is before they ground off the zebra crossings and put on stamped “brick” ones.

  • Eli N

    This is fantastic news. I live on Glenwood near Catalpa and it is always frustrating to get home from north of Ridge.

    Can I ask what meeting this was? I try to attend these and am on his e-mail list but must have missed this one.

  • Eli N

    I’m torn about these. On the one hand, the plastic barriers certainly don’t work to keep cars out. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about being stuck in this narrow lane with no ability to bail if necessary. This seems like it would make it much easier for drunks and kids to harass cyclists–a single person could block the whole lane and trap you pretty easily.

  • duppie

    The annual block club meeting in April where the alderman attended. He mentioned that he would seek community input before implementing it.

  • Just a question — does this particular curb-protected implementation make the Sacramento bike lane a parallel off-road bicycle facility (meaning, under Illinois law, cyclists are required to take it instead of the road)?

  • planetshwoop

    Color choices aside, that project is such a horrific waste of money. Painted intersections and plinths for what? An Auto Zone and grubby CVS? Plus, once they tore down the bank at Elston and Pulaski the agent is marketing it as a great drive-thru spot. So infuriating.

  • Quite a few people walk around here, especially families with kids (headed for Aspira Haugan, among others) in morning rush-hour. The corner I photographed, at Elston, has quite a few restaurants on it and a lot of foot traffic (for the area, not up to Logan Square standards but quite a lot for up here).

  • Mcass777

    The paint is already coming up on the pattern on Elston/Pulaski

  • Some of the lines actually never had paint/plastic in them (that should, given the pattern), because the installation was incredibly slipshod. (I know, I was watching it over the course of about ten trips through there in one three-day period)

  • David Altenburg

    Last year, CDOT announced plans to build BBLs on California Avenue along Humboldt Park. Does anyone know what happened to those plans? ( )

  • It seems likely they were waiting to do this until it can be rolled into a repaving project. Know what the pavement is like there nowadays?

  • Very nice, these look like they’re wide enough to be useful, no doubt helped along by the lack of parking or other competing interests to remove to make space. Hopefully the City can get more of these out and soon!

  • Edgewater Glen Association general membership meeting in April.

  • ThisManIsRight

    they just tore up the east side of California along the park in what i assume is water main replacement or something similar. the replaced pavement is a disaster, pretty much eliminating the previous width that allowed both bikes & cars to travel north together.

  • fjkdlafjefje

    It is all temporary until they complete the street, no need to completely pave it over unless the job is done. Hope they do this soon, although PBL’s would be much preferred!

  • Greg Heck

    It could certainly be an issue. As someone that rides past Douglas Park on my way home I have been harassed a few times. Without the option to create my own path i am not sure what would have happened.

  • Anne A

    When I lived in RP, I regularly used Glenwood NB when going home – nice alternative to Clark. Had some close calls between Bryn Mawr and Ridge (dimly lit) w/folks salmoning without any lights or reflectors on their bikes. Don’t know if lighting has been improved there in recent years. I sure hope so.

  • So that means that they now get to travel one at a time.

  • chris b

    Will this mean that cyclists will stop running red lights, stop running atop signs, stop riding the wrong way on one way streets and screaming at pedestrians after they nearly hit them even though they were following traffic signs???

  • I dunno. Will drivers?

    Every group has its minority of totally entitled rageful assholes.

  • 1976boy

    No, and neither will drivers stop speeding, making unsafe and illegal turns, refuse to use turn signals, and run red lights at every single intetrsection in the city.

  • Craig Moore

    …In other words will cyclists stop behaving like motorists.

  • The Dutch and the Danish rarely use such curbs in urban areas. They use raised bike lanes more often. So there’s always an out.

    CDOT’s Bike 2015 Plan said they would pilot raised bike lanes by 2006. I can’t seem to find that one…

  • Like @ThreeGreenKashira:disqus said there is a water main replacement project. It was still ongoing last week (second week of August).

  • The sidewalk lane on Roosevelt is almost complete. But, of course, it’s not the same thing as a Danish-style bike lane, which sits on its on level between the street and the sidewalk. Implementing these in Chicago would be relatively complicated due to the need to relocate street drainage. More discussion of this topic here:

  • Still wondering about the legal aspect here. Is a curb-protected implementation like this, or Clybourn, a fully separated parallel off-road bicycle facility under Illinois law? Because when such a path exists cyclists are required to use it, and stay out of the car lanes.

  • I hope they’ve gotten a little more legally explicit. I can see some judges interpreting Clybourn, in particular, as fundamentally a different kind of bike facility than the Kinzie lanes.

  • As a biker, I follow all rules of the road. Will drivers look both ways before they open their car doors? Now that will be a first.

  • I saw a car, this weekend jump from 2 lanes, to try to make an illegal right had turn. No turning signals, just blowing their way into 2 lanes? Unreal! That person should be horse whipped!


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