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Take a Virtual Ride on the New Randolph Protected Bike Lane

Looking east on Randolph, west of LaSalle. The vehicles next to the bike lane are parked cars. Photo: John Greenfield

An important new downtown bikeway recently became rideable. The Randolph protected bike lane runs from Michigan to Clinton, making an already-popular westbound route out of the Loop safer.

The project involved a road diet. One one the three travel lanes on Randolph was converted to make room for the bike lane and its striped buffer. Presumably the Chicago Department of Transportation calculated that the roadway had excess capacity for the number of cars it carries, so the change shouldn't cause undue congestion, although it will discourage speeding. Another bonus is that pedestrians now have fewer lanes of car traffic to cross.

Having a protected lane on Randolph is especially important because a conventional bike lane on Madison, previously the only westbound bikeway out of downtown, was removed last year when the westbound Loop Link bus lane was constructed. Ever since the bus rapid transit corridor opened, many cyclists have been riding in the Madison bus lane, which isn't particularly safe for the riders and doesn't help bus speeds. Having a safer option on Randolph should move much of the bike traffic out of the Loop Link lane.

Looking east on Randolph, east of State. Photo: John Greenfield

The westbound Randolph protected lane now forms a couplet with the eastbound protected lane on Washington, which was built in conjunction with the Washington Loop Link lane last year. The Randolph PBL links up with existing two-way protected lanes on Dearborn and Clinton.

Looking south at Randolph/Dearborn. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the project, CDOT has built special concrete intersection treatments, inspired by Dutch-style protected intersections, at the northwest corner of Randolph/Dearborn and the northeast corner of Randolph/Canal. These include pedestrian islands, which should help encourage walkings to not stand in the bike lanes while waiting to cross. Similar treatments were built at Washington/Franklin and Washington/Dearborn.

The Randolph bridge over the Chicago River. It would be great if the non-slip treatment could be widened to make it safe for faster cyclists to pass slower ones on the bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition to the road diet, which may inspire some griping from motorists, another aspect of the new bike lane that may be controversial is the decision to move the bikeway from the street to the north sidewalk of Randolph between Canal and Clinton, under a Metra viaduct. While it's a wide sidewalk, this cuts the space for people walking in half, and there's currently a pedestrian bottleneck at the east end of the viaduct, where a couple of newspaper boxes are sitting.

Looking west at Canal/Randolph. Photo: John Greenfield

There are also likely to be some conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians at Randolph/Canal and Randolph/Clinton in places where the east-west sidewalk bike lane intersects with north-south pedestrian routes. Its seems like a better solution might have been to keep the protected lane in the street. The stretch of Randolph under the viaduct includes a left-turn lane plus three through lanes, so it appears that one of the through lanes could have been converted without making motor vehicle congestion worse.

Looking southeast at Randolph/Clinton. It's likely there will be some conflicts between people biking and people walking here. Photo: John Greenfield

Keep in mind that Randolph is still a work in progress. Dedicated bike traffic signals have not been activated yet. Moreover, construction of new developments on Randolph between State and Dearborn and Wells and Franklin will continue into next year, so those segments don't yet have protection. After the buildings are completed, CDOT will fill in the blanks.

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