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Contested Elston Bike Lanes Are Finally Here, But Divvy Station Might Leave

3:27 PM CST on February 9, 2016

The new bike lanes on Elston still need bike symbols and crosshatching in the buffers. Photo: John Greenfield
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Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm's support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

It’s been a long time coming, but buffered bike lanes have finally materialized on Elston between North and Webster. With this new segment, just about all of the nine-mile-long diagonal street has the lanes.

Buffered lanes usually serve as a consolation prize for cyclists on streets where there isn’t enough right of way, or political will, to install physically protected bike lanes. Since they’re merely paint on the road, and they generally don’t inquire the elimination of any car parking spaces, they’re really not much of an imposition drivers.

But the buffered lanes on this stretch of Elston were surprisingly controversial. When Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed the plan for them at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council back in December 2013, there was stiff resistance. Although there was already a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane north of North, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

The bike lanes near Kohl's, a little south of Webster. Photo: John Greenfield

As an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle detour proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” Fortunately, the department held its ground, pointing out there was already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and more than a quarter of injury crashes on the street involved cyclists.

In spring of 2014, CDOT presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, and the industrial council grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes were slated for construction within a year, but installation didn’t begin until almost two years later.

Following the repaving of this stretch, the parallel lines for the lanes and buffers were installed, but the bike symbols and crosshatching for the buffers haven’t been put in yet, but the lanes are already functional. The rest of the work should be completed in the early spring, once the weather is warm enough for pavement marking, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

A dashed bike lane has been added to guide cyclists on Elston across its massive intersection with Ashland and Armitage, but it's still a scary place to ride. Photo: John Greenfield

Mike Holzer, director of economic development for North Branch Works, acknowledged that the buffered lanes aren't causing any inconvenience for truckers. “They’re working out fine,” he said. “We haven’t had any complaints from companies.”

On the other hand, Holzer says the council would like to relocate a Divvy station that was recently installed next to this stretch, at the southwest corner of Wabansia and Elston. The station was formerly located at Hirsch and Leavitt in Wicker Park, but it was moved in November, after vandals caused more than $8,000 in damage to the equipment, DNA reported. The new location is a block west of west of the Hideout music venue, a popular destination for cyclists.

“Now the station in a spot that’s tough to navigate around for tractor trailers,” Holzer says. He added that moving it closer to the bar doesn’t seem to be an option because there’s a high demand for car parking nearby. “We’re looking at other alternatives, like the parking lot of the Home Depot [located about two blocks southeast of the Hideout]. I think the [industrial] companies are willing to pitch in a few thousand dollars to move it, if that’s what it takes.”

"We are considering a couple of different options for relocating the station," stated CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. "Nothing is decided yet at this point, but we are open to having the discussion."

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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