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.

  • Pat

    Whats the big deal? Bikes are supposed to be on the sidewalk anyway.

  • In the Central Business District, it’s not allowed to ride a bike on the sidewalk.
    Outside the Central Business District, it’s legal for children 12 and younger to ride on the sidewalk.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Historically after utility work pavement conditions have been unrideable for months after a project is complete. Does the “proper reinstallation of all bicycle facility elements.” cover pavement repair?

  • After sewer work in my neighborhood, three corners of an intersection had outside curbs and enormous gaping holes where the sidewalk should be, back to about 6′ from the street. Finally they put in the red nubbly stuff and poured concrete ramps, but that was a really, really annoying three and a half weeks.

    Even on foot, for an able-bodied person, it was incredibly cumbersome. A person relying on wheels would have to backtrack AN ENTIRE BLOCK to find a safe place to cross.

    But the street was beautiful and smooth, and they’d relaid grass seed on the edge of the tree lawns! How nice of them.

  • Lisa Curcio

    Actually, the problem for southbound traffic started on Monday. I have been taking Wells to Washington which is not a terrible alternative. Clark, particularly over the river, is a terrible alternative.

    As to reinstallation of facilities, expect it to be miserable. Today they were pouring concrete in the cut-out areas as they installed what appeared to be the piping for the fiber optic cable. If they resurface with asphalt and restripe, I will fall over.

  • Dan Korn

    So it’s up to some random contractor who is digging up the street to decide what the detour routes should be and what signs to put up? Not be all big-government-y, but shouldn’t someone from the DOT be present at a construction site to decide how to detour traffic, in a way that’s consistent with not just the law, but with CDOT and IDOT policies, not to mention common sense?

    The way things are now, road crews do all sorts of dumb things with detours and signage. It’s even worse for transit users than for cyclists. A couple years ago, a crew was working on a street near my house, and decided to put a hand-drawn sign up on a pole marking a bus stop. The sign said that the stop was moved up the block. I guess I was being naïve that morning, because I waited at the spot where the sign directed me, but the bus, of course, didn’t stop. I flagged down one of the construction workers and asked them basically WTF, and he said that the bus driver should read the sign. But there was no way a bus driver could have possibly read the tiny hand-written sign from the bus driver’s seat!

    And I can’t count the number of times that lanes or entire roads are closed and bus drivers have to do impromptu reroutes, often leaving people waiting at bus stops where a bus is never going to come.

    Shouldn’t there be some kind of coordination between the contractor, CDOT, and the CTA for construction projects?

  • Pat

    Sorry, I thought my comment was dumb enough to be taken as sarcastic!

  • Yes, Monday was the worst and by Wednesday they had at least moved the barricades out. Here is another picture looking North from Monday before they did the cut: http://i.imgur.com/kX8rpm6.jpg I will say it got better as the week went on, but I still wonder how many thousands of people need to be taking a route for them to be even considered during street closures. I also don’t really have high expectations for the patch job if the rest of Dearborn is any indication.

  • Carmin

    I’ve always wondered–what about parents with those kids? Are we allowed to ride with them on the sidewalk?

  • planetshwoop

    My recollection is that children are allowed on the sidewalk.I’m not sure of the exact code, but the enforcement of “don’t ride on the sidewalk” was always concentrated near the lakefront anyway, not in the neighborhoods.

  • planetshwoop

    It clearly doesn’t apply to the street, so it’s hard to imagine how it would even kind of apply to bicycle facilities. I’ve been riding in on Lincoln and there’s a section of repoured concrete that reminds of me of Richard Scarry — lots of footprints in concrete in the road, strange edges, very uneven surfaces.

  • I thought that might be the case, but not everyone is knowledgable about the rules on sidewalk cycling.

  • The detour plans are reviewed by CDOT before they can issue a permit, so yes, they deserve some blame.

    I wasn’t made aware of this until Wednesday, and apparently no CDOT staff or inspectors came this way from Monday, the day @lisa_curcio:disqus says it started, and Thursday, when I notified CDOT.

    Miraculously there is some coordination on this project…I think. According to the permits, both Peoples Gas and Comcast want to dig up this block of Dearborn Street. I *presume* that the permits were issued together so that the street cuts are done around the same time as each other.

  • The City still has not improved on their maintenance of bikeways in the 5 years since they started caring about bicycling again. Dearborn is a 3.5 year old bikeway and it has only gotten worse, not better. (Well, the snow clearance has probably improved a little bit.)

  • Lisa Curcio

    Steven, there are orange markings all over Dearborn in that block–not just in the bike lane. The work being done this week was only in the bike lane. They did the cuts, apparently put the pipe down, and, yesterday, poured concrete back into the cuts. I hope Peoples Gas does not have work to do in the bike lane since they will be tearing it up again if they do.

    Perhaps there is some hope that with two utilities doing work at almost the same time the entire block will be repaved once it is all over.

  • It’s a grey area. Bikes-on-sidewalks is vanishingly likely to be enforced anywhere but the lakeshore neighborhoods, but I don’t like to break laws if I can help it.

    Around here (Albany Park) there are certain stretches of certain streets where all the middling-experienced cyclists (not the spandex warriors, but the middle aged guys on teen BMX bikes getting to work) switch to the sidewalk, because the street is SO NUTS and the sidewalks are wide. I don’t blame them.

    Taking my kid to school, my husband started riding in the street paralleling her sidewalk course once we could trust her to stop and check at alleys. I don’t ride on sidewalks with the kid because I have a cargo trike and it’s dead easy for my trike to BE the whole sidewalk, and that’s simply unkind to anybody else trying to use it for walking.

    We keep wanting to make it to a Kidical Mass to help her learn how one rides in streets (well, quiet side streets, anyway), but they’re all so far away from our house we’d have to drive to get there, which seems weird.

  • Carmin

    Agreed. It’s the checking at alleys that’s the reason that I’ve always ridden on the sidewalk with him. If I trusted him to check at the alleys, I could probably trust him in the street.

    But actually, we probably only spent 1-2 seasons on sidewalks. By 7, he was riding too fast to be safe on the sidewalks (again partially because of alleys), so we switched to the street and have been fine. But there’s a younger sibling ready for ride on his own, so the issue is coming up again.

    I’m not sure kidical mass helps that much with learning to ride on the street. It’s so different from typical riding–you can ride in the middle of the street, so dooring isn’t an issue for instance. Good luck!

  • David P.

    I understand when final resurfacing is delayed for reasons such as further utility work, winter, etc. but it is really irritating when s**t pavement just sits and sits for ever and ever. DWM has been replacing water mains all over the city for quite a while, and a year or two back they were working around my neighborhood (Avondale). Milwaukee from Addison northwards was torn up, jiffy-fixed and then resurfaced in a reasonable amount of time. But Milwaukee between Belmont and Addison has had terrible concrete-patch pavement on it for well over a year now. What’s the deal?

  • planetshwoop

    People’s Gas had been replacing a lot of mains. They’ve had to stop by costs ballooned and it wasn’t properly disclosed. I know that was a cause of a lot of repaving. http://abc7chicago.com/news/state-suspends-$8-billion-peoples-gas-project-/1125574/


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