CDOT & Reilly Reach a Consensus on Kinzie: The Protected Lanes Will Remain

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Crews were restriping the Kinzie PBLs Tuesday morning.

There’s some great news about Chicago’s oldest protected bike lanes. Yesterday, the Chicago Department of Transportation confirmed that the Kinzie Street PBLs will stay in place for the foreseeable future, despite an effort by downtown alderman Brendan Reilly to force CDOT to remove them.

The department installed the Kinzie lanes in 2011, not long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. In 2013, CDOT agreed to a development plan that called for the developer to pay for installing PBLs on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie lanes to ease construction of a new high-rise at Wolf Point.

However, by early this year, the new lanes still hadn’t gone in and the transportation department seemed to be unwilling to remove the old ones. Last April, Reilly introduced an ordinance to City Council that would have required CDOT to take out the Kinzie lanes, arguing that they conflicted with the Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

Reilly told the council that transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey didn’t provide Streetsblog with a copy of the study, but he said the department had concerns about removing the lanes on Kinzie, which had become the city’s second-busiest biking street after Milwaukee Avenue.

In response to Reilly’s move, the Active Transportation Alliance launched a petition asking the other alderman to oppose the ordinance, which garnered more than 1,400 signatures. They also got almost 50 businesses to sign a letter to Reilly asking for the Kinzie lanes to be left in place but improved.

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Most of the flexible posts on Kinzie are gone.

Over the years, the pavement, bike lane markings, and flexible posts on Kinzie have deteriorated to the point where the PBLs barely function as such. Several weeks ago, CDOT crews patched some potholes in the bike lanes, but Scheinfeld did not confirm that the department had reached an agreement with Reilly.

Tuesday morning, crews were restriping sections of the PBLs and crosswalks on Kinzie. This time, Claffey confirmed that the department had reached a consensus with the alderman. “We’ve agreed that the temporary removal of the bike lanes is not necessary at this point in the Wolf Point development, but should be evaluated with future phases of development as part of the traffic study process that is required of the developer,” he said.

In the meantime, CDOT has been in talks with Reilly, plus local businesses and residents to develop a plan for safety improvements to Kinzie, Claffey said. These include refreshing the markings, plus better signage and lighting.

“CDOT is also working with [the Chicago Police Department] to increase education and enforcement efforts regarding traffic law compliance to improve traffic safety along Kinzie Street,” Claffey added. If this is anything like the type of targeted enforcement that has previously taken place on Kinzie, it will mostly consist of officers issuing warnings and tickets to bike riders – rather than car drivers – who don’t come to a complete halt at stop signs.

One of Reilly’s assistants told me he’s traveling and is unavailable to comment about the bike lane agreement.

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke heralded the news that the Kinzie lanes will stay as a victory for bike advocacy. He noted that Reilly has generally been supportive of buffered and protected bike lanes in his ward, including the Dearborn PBLs. “While we didn’t agree with the alderman about removing the Kinzie bike lane, we thank him for working out a solution with CDOT and for highlighting some elements that need to be improved,” Burke stated.

Now that the lanes are being repaired, Active Trans is calling for further improvements, including repaving the street, better lighting under the viaducts, and replacing the virtually disposable plastic posts with concrete curbs, or some other type of permanent infrastructure. They also want to better enforcement to keep drivers from parking in the bike lanes, and they’re proposing a stoplight for the intersection of Kinzie and Kingsbury Street, “where too many cyclists don’t yield to pedestrians,” Burke stated.

It would have set a terrible precedent if the Kinzie PBLs had been removed without creating an alternative protected route, so it’s great that they will stay in place and are being fixed. And if the flimsy posts are replaced with real physical protection for bicyclists, that would be a big win for cycling.

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