Eyes on the Street: Dearborn Detour Suggests Salmoning on Lake Street

Photo by @UncleTaco
The Dearborn bike lane yesterday. Note to contractors: This isn’t an appropriate bike lane detour sign. Photo: Mike Bingaman

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The City of Chicago has made notable progress on expanding its network of protected bike lanes into more community areas and communities of color than it had before Rahm Emanuel became mayor, but it seems nothing is better about the way bicyclists and pedestrians are accommodated around construction projects. The city has even beefed up detour rules contractors must follow multiple times to benefit human-powered transportation.

The two-way bike lane on one-way Dearborn Street is one of the city’s most important bike lanes, because it carries hundreds of people on bikes each day, through the heart of the Loop, where few blocks have a bike lane relative to the number of people who bike downtown.

It’s regrettable, then, when bicyclists, who have few options in the central business district, receive the suggestion to bike against vehicle traffic on Lake Street to reach Clark Street in order to get around a construction project. That was the situation Wednesday and today for people cycling southbound on Dearborn. People bicycling north, in the same direction as Dearborn vehicle traffic, at least had the option to merge with vehicle traffic.

construction scene on Dearborn
The construction takes up the parking lane, a travel lane, and the bike lane. Photo: Mike Bingaman

The construction project, according to four permits on the city’s open data portal, is to cut open a trench and install Comcast fiber cables, and a new Peoples Gas main.

Yesterday, a hand-painted sign on Dearborn, just south of Lake Street, said “Bike lane closed – use Clark St.” But any reasonable person would see why this is foolish. To follow these directions, a bicyclist would have to head the wrong way against eastbound traffic on Lake Street to reach Clark, or else use the sidewalk.

I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation, which reviews detour plans before permitting construction sites. CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey couldn’t confirm today if the contractor was following an approved detour plan. Streets with protected bike lanes, like Dearborn, also have a special step in the permitting process “to ensure proper reinstallation of all bicycle facility elements.”

A professional sign replaced the hand-painted one and was placed in a more appropriate location. Photo: @ritzcrackerhead
A more official-looking sign replaced the hand-painted one on Thursday and was placed in a more appropriate location. Photo: @ritzcrackerhead

The spray-painted sign was later replaced with a printed, metal sign just north of Lake Street, but it bore the same dubious message that cyclists should head west on eastbound Lake to Clark. Claffey, of CDOT, said, “There has been a citation issued for improper traffic control to the contractor, who is working for Comcast installing new cables.” He said the work should be done by Saturday, and asked “riders to take alternate routes until the work is complete.”

Clark, which isn’t particularly bike-friendly south of Division Street is not a great southbound alternative to Dearborn. Wells Street, located three short blocks west of Dearborn is a decent route for southbound cyclists. North of the Chicago River it has buffered bike lanes, and it has “Cyclists may use full lane” signs and sharrows in the Loop. State Street is about as bike-friendly as Clark.

Our tipster Mike Bingaman told us at 5 p.m. that the detour signs were gone and “it’s basically passable from either direction.”

Updated to add that I asked CDOT what the detour plans were.

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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