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.

  • Broadway protected lanes are right in front of Cappleman’s office. You couldn’t shove this issue closer in his face if you wanted to, and yet nothing.

  • The street plows don’t stop running the instant the snow’s fallen. There are still salt and plow trucks checking to make sure the streets are clear well after a fall.

    The same needs to be true of the bike-lane plows. Spot-check after the fall and before it’s had time to melt into nastiness.

  • Cameron Puetz

    This is one of many reasons that I prefer buffered bike lanes to protected bike lanes.

  • Chicagoan

    Education is definitely the answer. It’s a common idea among shop owners to clear their sidewalks into the street, where the city can deal with it later. Chicago is becoming a leader in cyclist infrastructure (if we aren’t already), but a lot of people are still oblivious to this progress. This is especially true in Uptown, a neighborhood that isn’t as used to cyclists as, say, Wicker Park.

    I’d love to see some kind of coalition with Alderman Cappleman’s office, Active Transportation Alliance, Heritage Bicycles, and Uptown Bikes to spread awareness on the issue.

    Small bit: Fat Cat, on Broadway and Gunnison, offers patrons a free appetizer if they ride their bike to the restaurant, take a picture of themselves at the bike rack, and share if with Fat Cat’s social media accounts. Pretty cool!

  • what_eva

    Why doesn’t the city step up enforcement? I would think the city could hire a few part time people just to write these kinds of tickets to businesses and they could easily cover their own pay.

    I was shopping on Elston over the weekend and saw how bad some of the sidewalks are. Target, Pep Boys and the furniture store between them hadn’t cleared anything (but naturally the sidewalks in front of Target were perfectly clear). Home Depot’s sidewalks were great. Why not have someone go drop $500 tickets, especially on these big box stores that are clearly violating city ordinances? Probably won’t take more than a couple to change behavior.

  • rohmen

    I tend to agree, and Lake is much better this year after they pulled the bollards for the winter and a regular plow can hit it. That said, Washington is buffered only, and it wasn’t plowed at all through the west side or the west loop. I remember the Augusta lanes would also often be in horrible shape, though I haven’t seen it this year yet. Parked cars may be the common theme, but it’s an area the city needs to step up on.

  • Chicagoan

    This is one of the primary reasons I absolutely despise strip malls and buildings fronted with surface parking in general. They have little to no interest in attracting pedestrian shoppers, just people arriving by automobile. So, they’ll clear the parking lot and the walkways encircling the parking lot, but they show zero interest in clearing the sidewalks along the street.

    This is a chronic problem along Clybourn Avenue in Lincoln Park. You have all of those awful-looking strip malls with two rows of parking separating the sidewalks and the storefronts and they’re never cleared of snow. The end result is always a layer of ice on the sidewalk, making for a horrid pedestrian experience. As if the Clybourn Corridor didn’t dissuade pedestrians enough already.

    I’ve recently made a point of not shopping at strip mall stores, it makes me feel good :)

  • Augusta is bad every year, and this year it’s still icy and dangerous in spots between Ashland and California – I can’t speak to conditions further west than that.

  • what_eva

    In the case of the strip malls, it’s probably a landlord who is responsible for all the snow clearing (lot, sidewalks on the storefronts and the street) as opposed to the shops themselves. ie, if there’s a little clothing boutique, they probably don’t even own a shovel since the landlord or management or someone takes care of it for them.

  • Chicagoan

    Sorry, should’ve clarified, by “they”, et cetera, I meant the landlord. It seems to be a chronic problem that strip mall landlords don’t care about keeping their sidewalks shoveled, is what I was trying to say. My little boycott is more a protest of strip malls and their place in Chicago than it is against the stores.

  • 46th Ward Resident

    Has anyone actually CONTACTED the Alderman’s office to see if they will help out, instead of just complaining about this?. Before you go casting aspersions, the bike lane wouldn’t have been there without Cappleman’s support; he’s been very friendly to cycling interests. So do that instead of blogging about it. Community involvement involves some effort beyond writing armchair blog posts…

  • Yes.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yup, I’ve tagged Alderman Cappleman in tweets about about the bike lanes. No aspersions against the alderman were cast by me in this post.

    “Community involvement involves some effort beyond writing armchair blog posts.” See the third photo in this post — that’s me, digging out the bike lane last year. I had to get out of my armchair to do that.

  • Three Green Kashira

    I’ve also noticed businesses with large parking lots completely ignore the sidewalks outside of those parking lots. Walking on North Ave from Damen to Kedzie, the two worst offenders are the Auto Zone (southside of North west of Western) and Burger King (northside of North, west of California). Both of them have clear parking lots and ice covered sidewalks.

  • Chicagoan

    You don’t need to be so defensive. I think Alderman Cappleman has done a lot of good for Uptown, I think Uptown is trending up in a way that it never quite did under Alderman Shiller.

    Also, couldn’t raising awareness be considered a form of community engagement/involvement, or whatever?

    Every little bit helps.

  • BlueFairlane

    Target at Logan and Elston is another one.

  • Chicagoan

    I’d imagine almost every strip mall in Chicago is guilty. The landlords and the store owners usually have little to no interest in the street they’re on and the community they’re in. They just care about the cars that park in their lot.

  • planetshwoop

    Call the corporate office. Some are more responsive than others, but I’ve had a lot of luck chasing corporations with this for ped issues. Most of these places have contractors who are expected (and paid) to do the sidewalk and don’t because someone doesn’t follow-up. When I didn’t get what I wanted from calling the local store manager, I called the corporate headquarters and often got results as well.

    Most of these places have to post phone numbers or have them on a website, so if you’re waiting for the bus or walking it’s not too hard to call quickly.


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