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Eyes on the Street: Many West Side Bike Lanes Are Snow-Blocked

12:33 PM CST on January 5, 2016

Franklin Boulevard bike lane wasn't plowed
There was no evidence that the city attempted to clear snow from the protected bike lane on Franklin Boulevard, which normally has flexible posts, in East Garfield Park between Sacramento (pictured) and Central Park Avenue (3/4 miles).
Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Biking on the West Side has been a mixed bag each time it's snowed this winter. When it snowed on the weekend after Thanksgiving it took more than two days for the protected bike lanes on Lake Street to be plowed. With last week's snowfall it’s been over a week, and the protected bike lanes on Franklin and Jackson Boulevards still haven’t been cleared as of Monday afternoon.

The conventional and buffered bike lanes in the area had varying levels of cleared snow. Some blocks on the same street were totally clear, others had snow from motorists clearing their own cars, and the remaining seemed like the plow missed a whole eight feet.

At the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting last month, Mike Amsden, assistant transportation planning director for the Chicago Department of Transportation said "We are committed to maintaining our protected bike lanes year round so people can bike in them year round." The goal, Amsden said, "is to get to each of the locations within 24 hours." If you notice a bike lane hasn't been cleared he said you can email

Lake Street protected bike lane was perfectly cleared of snow
The protected and buffered bike lanes on Lake Street were well-cleared from Kedzie, at a minimum, to the border with Oak Park last week, but it's unclear if they were done within 24 hours of last Monday's snowfall.

CDOT and the Department of Streets and Sanitation use myriad equipment to do this, including the normal large plows, pickup trucks, and smaller vehicles. To increase the number of protected bike lanes that could be cleared with the regular plows, Amsden said that CDOT would remove the flexible posts from streets with the two inch snow ban, or where there's no on-street parking. He specified Broadway in Uptown, Jackson in East Garfield Park, Lake, Vincennes in Auburn Gresham, Franklin in East Garfield Park, and Halsted in Bridgeport.

The posts were removed from Franklin but not Jackson, and neither street was cleared. The other protected bike lane in the area, Lake Street, was cleared well from California Ave. to Oak Park, an about face from the Thanksgiving snowfall. East of California, though, snow banks, patches of ice, a frozen pond, and a string of garbage bins blocked the path this morning.

Garbage bins are stored in the Lake Street protected bike lane, atop snow piles.
Garbage bins are stored in the Lake Street protected bike lane, atop snow piles.
Garbage bins are stored in the Lake Street protected bike lane, atop snow piles.

Obstacles like snow force bicyclists to merge into faster moving traffic, a situation depicted in official materials that the city distributes to motorists, urging them to not park in bike lanes. On Franklin that means that some motorists have been passing me pretty closely as I ride in the plowed lanes.

Some people have commented here that the issue of clearing snow from protected bike lanes is an inherent design flaw. The bike lanes' designs are one factor of winter maintenance plan, but good snow clearing is also dependent on the policies and commitment of the two snow-clearing departments.

Removing the posts from some of the bike lanes would mean that fewer pickup trucks or smaller vehicles are required to move around the city, because they can be cleared with the drivers of large trucks already moving up and down every street.

As you can see from the photos, though, many bike lanes weren't cleared, but others were. Removing the posts from the lanes looks to be for naught if the large truck drivers aren’t making a second pass to clear the now obstacle-free bike lane.

On Washington Boulevard, Warren Boulevard, Central Park Avenue, and Jackson Boulevard, streets with buffered bike lanes, the amount of snow cleared was excellent in some locations, and abysmal in others. On Warren the level of snow removed flipped from block to block.

Warren Boulevard bike lane wasn't plowed
This block of the buffered bike lane on Warren Boulevard appeared untouched by a plow.
However, the bike lane on this block of Warren was cleared!
...but the next block of Warren Boulevard was well-cleared of snow.

The Franklin Boulevard bike lane has an actual design problem, one that persists throughout the year but is compounded in the winter: It doesn’t connect to a bike-friendly street on the east end at Sacramento Boulevard/Humboldt drive. Normally, the cyclists I’ve seen and talked to maneuver over to the service drive because there are fewer motorists and they aren’t driving as fast. To go northbound from Franklin you do this by biking over the crosswalk curb ramp, but it's probably blocked with snow and ice in the winter. Then again, you have to be really careful making this left turn because traffic in the northbound-only service drive from the right doesn’t have to stop at this intersection.

More photos of West Side bike lanes blocked with snow. 

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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