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Eyes on the Street: The State Street Road Diet

7:05 PM CDT on September 16, 2015

The new bike lane is a defacto car lane for motorists accessing diagonal parking. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this summer the Chicago Department of Transportation implemented a complete streets overhaul on State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, as part of effort to slow down car traffic and make the area friendlier to pedestrians. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, the street is essentially a frontage road, which drivers have treated as an ittension of the expressway.

The redesign, which includes a buffered bike lane, zebra-striped crosswalks, ADA ramps, and the additions of diagonal parking, was included as part of a CDOT-funded street repaving project. 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer chipped in $30,000 of ward menu money to pay for a traffic study for the street remix on the 1.3-mile stretch.

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In the end, a buffer was not installed to the right of the bike lane next to the diagonal parking spaces.

CDOT converted one of the three travel lanes to the buffered bike lane. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking was converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding a handful of new parking spaces.

Like many Chicago bike lanes that are piggybacked onto repaving projects, the new buffered lane isn’t a particularly useful addition to the bike network, although it does connect with an existing non-buffered lane on 71st east of State. However, the purpose of the project was more about traffic calming than creating a useful bikeway, 6th Ward chief of staff Brian Sleet acknowledged. “We don’t get a lot of biking on State Street,” he said. “Our main interest was in narrowing the street and slowing down traffic.”

I checked out the new layout in person yesterday. While the fresh asphalt is a big improvement over the moonscape that previously existed, it’s hard to recommend this stretch of State as a bike route, unless you’re patronizing one of the businesses on this strip. The Louisiana-style seafood shop Market Fish, 7021 South State, is definitely worth checking out.

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The bike lane at 75th Street. Photo: John Greenfield

Hopefully, the conversion of one of the three travel lanes has had some kind of traffic calming effect. However, the road is still a drag strip, with two travel lanes plus left- and right turn lanes, and drivers exiting the Ryan at highway velocities.

A curbside buffered bike lane segment near 69th Street. Photo: John Greenfield

On the stretches with parallel parking, the buffered lanes function as intended. But on the section with diagonal parking, the extra-wide bike lane doubles as a car lane for drivers accessing the spaces, often at high speeds. Although CDOT renderings showed buffers on both sides of the bike lane on this segment, only the left-hand buffer was striped, and bike-and-chevron markings were installed on the left side of the lane. In effect, you’re supposed to ride on the left side of a travel lane, which doesn’t feel safe.

This new stretch of diagonal parking is getting little use since it's next to a parking lot. Photo: John Greenfield

As Streetsblog readers predicted, sharing a lane with cars entering and exiting the diagonal stalls is a dicey proposition. Fortunately, much of the diagonal parking is next to land uses with large parking lots, so those on-street spaces aren’t getting much use. A better solution might have been to install a curbside, parking-protected bike lane.

Curbs have been extended at 79th Street -- the one in the photo previously stopped just past the righthand light pole. Photo: John Greenfield

One nice feature of the project is that curb extensions have been added at 79th Street by the Red Line station, which makes it a little safer to cross State. However, the sidewalks on 79th by the station are way to narrow for the amount of foot traffic – they were completely blocked by crowds jockeying to get on buses.

79th can definitely use wider sidewalks by the train station. Photo: John Greenfield

While this project doesn’t do much for biking, it’s certainly a good thing that better crosswalks and wheelchair ramps have been added, and hopefully more can be done in the future to make the street more pleasant for walking. Sawyer hopes that improving the pedestrian environment will help attract more and better retail to the strip, Sleet said. He added that a sound-dampening wall may be added in the future to muffle the the racket from the expressway.

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