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Solving The Problem of Snow Being Pushed Into Protected Lanes

No, this is not an expanse of arctic tundra, its one of the Broadway protected bike lanes. Photo: John Greenfield
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In general, protected bike lanes are great for encouraging “interested-but-concerned” folks to try urban cycling. However, as I discussed last week, when the lanes aren’t maintained well during the winter, they can actually make cycling more difficult. And when snow- or ice-filled PBLs force bike riders to share narrow travel lanes with motorists, that decreases safety.

Even when the Chicago Department of Transportation does a good job of plowing the protected lanes, there’s often a problem with snow later being pushed off sidewalks in front of businesses, into the curbside bike lanes. Last fall the city passed an ordinance that makes it clear it’s illegal to do this, as well as raises fines for property owners who don’t shovel their sidewalks, but CDOT officials said there were no plans to increase enforcement.

It’s great when merchants are conscientious about clearing their sidewalks for pedestrians. However, many business owners, or at least the people they hire to shovel, seem oblivious to the fact that plenty of Chicagoans use the protected lanes year-round, and that it’s illegal to dump snow in them.

The Clybourn bike lane, after Unity had it cleared. Photo: Marcus Moore.

The good new is that once people are made aware of these facts, they may change their behavior. After a cyclist contacted Unity Manufacturing, 1260 North Clybourn, and asked them to stop pushing snow off their sidewalk into one of the Clybourn curb-protected lanes, the business had a path cleared for bike riders.

Last year, I took Broadway PBL snow clearance into my own hands. Photo: Justin Haugens

The protected lanes on the short segment of Broadway between Wilson and Montrose, one of the few stretches of PBLs in Chicago along a retail strip, are especially prone to being filled with shoveled snow. Last winter, I took matters into my own hands and shoveled out a section of the bike lanes myself.

Buffered lanes on Broadway north of Wilson, photographed today. Photo: John Greenfield

Several days after last week’s snowstorms, the buffered lanes on Broadway north of Wilson are completely clear. However, the curbside protected lanes are completely impassible. It appears that after CDOT plowed them, merchants shoveled snow into them, which partially melted over the weekend and then froze again. As you can see from the photo below, I’d need an ice pick to clear out those suckers.

“Ice Ice Baby.” Another location on Broadway, photographed today. Photo: John Greenfield

So what’s the solution? Since the city isn’t planning to step up enforcement of the shoveling ordinance, perhaps education is the answer. It would be great if CDOT staffers, local ward representatives, or transportation advocates such as the Active Transportation Alliance were to do outreach, wherever there’s an issue with snow being dumped in protected lanes.

By mailing fliers or going door-to-door, they could inform business owners that people really do use the bike lanes all year, and that merchants can theoretically be ticketed for blocking them with shoveled snow. They could ask that the snow instead be left at the edge of the curb, on the sidewalk, or that a path be cleared in the bike lanes for cyclists. I’m guessing some gentle persuasion would go a long way towards solving the problem.

Tomorrow morning, Steven Vance will provide an update on West Side protected bike lane conditions.

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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