Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane
The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

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Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane
A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2013. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane
Why is there brick-shaped asphalt inside this bulb instead of a bioswale? Photo: Steven Vance

Two apparent water management design flaws in the project could make the bike lanes a wet ride after rain storms. Although the parking lanes are capped with concrete-enclosed bulbs that would be ideal for bioswales, it looks like the designers passed up this golden opportunity to use landscaping to capture, store, and filter stormwater to reduce the burden on our already overloaded sewer system. In a summer 2014 presentation [PDF], IDOT and CDOT explicitly mentioned that the project would provide “potential for…green infrastructure” and “water infiltration applications.”

CDOT installed bioswales on Berteau Avenue as part of a neighborhood greenway but it looks like the bulbs on Clybourn are simply filled with asphalt and stamped to look like bricks. We’ve contacted IDOT and CDOT to double check that these bulbs don’t include water-management features and will update this post if we hear from them.

Additionally, rain that falls in the mixed-traffic lanes and parking lanes will be channeled into the bike lanes, where the existing sewer grates are located. Since the bike lanes will be surrounded by curbs, it will be difficult for cyclists to avoid riding through any puddles that form if the sewers fill up or the grates get clogged. This problem isn’t inherent to curb-separated bike lanes. Relocating the sewer grates and/or raising the bike lane above street level would have addressed this issue.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane
Protected right-turn lane for cyclists at Division/Orleans. Bike-specific traffic signals here will provide separate phases for cyclists heading east and motorists turning south. Photo: Steven Vance

Last year’s presentation showed bike-specific traffic signals at the intersections of Clybourn/Division and Division/Orleans, where there will also be a protected right turn lane for bicyclists. After workers complete the northbound and eastbound bike lanes, they’ll construct the southbound and westbound lanes. The short westbound lane will have a curb as well, except between Orleans and Sedgwick Street. IDOT expects to wrap up construction in early August, according to a press release [PDF].

While there are currently buffered bike lanes on Clybourn between North Avenue and Belmont Avenue, it appears that the stretch of Clybourn between North and Halsted, next to the CTA’s North/Clybourn Red Line station, is not getting any bikeway treatments.

Update 7/28/15, 4:30 p.m. Asked whether the bulbs at the ends of the parking lanes include any stormwater mitigation features, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell provided this statement:

The use of permeable pavers at various locations along the project was considered, but ultimately not included, mainly due to added cost and maintenance. As part of the pilot aspect of this project, roadway drainage is one of the aspects that will be monitored in the future.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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