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Take a Virtual Spin on the (Partly Finished) Elston Curb-Protected Bike Lanes

2:14 PM CDT on August 22, 2016

As I’ve written, it’s a shame that the valuable riverfront land at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Damen will likely be redeveloped as big box retail with tons of parking in the aftermath of a project to reroute Elston Avenue so it bypasses that intersection. The silver lining of the project is that this new, curving five-lane stretch of Elston, which opened to motorized traffic last week, will have curb-protected bike lanes.

Prior to construction, the six-way Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection saw about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranked among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’ve moved through traffic on Elston about a block east on land occupied by WhirlyBall, which relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and the Vienna Beef factory, which will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport.

Elston, which formerly intersected with Fullerton and Damen, has been relocated one block east. Image: CDOT

The entire bypass project was supposed wrap up this spring, but according to CDOT spokeswoman Sue Hofer, it’s currently not slated for completion until this December. But starting last week northeast- and southeast-bound motorized vehicles began using one lane in each direction on the new section of Elston, which crosses Damen a block north of Fullerton/Damen intersection.

The old, two-block stretch of Elston just southeast of Fullerton/Damen remains open for local traffic under the new name Elston Court. Under the new traffic pattern, vehicles are allowed to turn right from eastbound Fullerton onto Elston Court, but vehicles from northbound Elston Court south of Fullerton are only permitted to turn right, eastbound, on Fullerton.

Last week, workers were installing planter boxes for future trees along the new stretch of Elston. Photo: John Greenfield

From today through November, Fullerton will also be reduced to one lane in each direction. CDOT is advising road users to expect delays through the construction zone until the project is completed. Recommended east-west alternates include Diversey, Webster and North Avenue; Ashland (not a safe street for biking) and Clybourn are recommended as north-south alternates.

When complete, the new stretch of Elston will feature two lanes in each direction plus a center turn lane plus the concrete-protected bike lanes on either side. The project will also widen Damen to make room for conventional bike lanes and widen the north sidewalk along Fullerton.

Careful, that next pedal stroke is a doozy. Due to a gap or two in the curb PBLs, they're not quite ready for the public to ride. Photo: John Greenfield

While the curb-protected lanes aren’t officially open to bike traffic yet, and there are still some gaps, I was able to take a reconnaissance ride in them last Wednesday. It appears that the bikeway will be a nice facility. And, since the Elston bypass will be a wide five-lane that will likely see tons of traffic due to the big box development and ample parking, cyclists are going to need that extra protection.

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