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Eyes on the Street: Elston Bike Lanes Are Clogged With Cars Northwest of “The Hotdog”

Vehicles in the Elston curbside bike lanes also prevents drivers from using the outside travel lanes. Photo: Cheryl Zalenski

Streetsblog Chicago reader Cheryl Zalenski gave us a heads-up about an annoying issue for cyclists on the 2500 block on North Elston. This stretch is just northwest of the Damen intersection and the new curved “hotdog” bypass (so called because it goes by the Vienna Beef plant), which features curb-protected bike lanes. On the 2500 block Elston is a four-lane street with conventional curbside bike lanes, and she says there are typically lots of cars parked in the bike lanes from 7 a.m. through late afternoon.

Zalenski says this has been a problem since construction began on the bypass a couple years ago. There are still a few finishing touches left to be done on the street reconfiguration. She says she’s reported the issue to 311, the city’s non-emergency help line, several times.

Since the bike lanes ares usually clogged with vehicles, cyclists typically bike in the outside two travel lanes, which works because the parked cars also obstruct part of the outside travel lanes, making them impossible to drive in, Zalenski reports. “The use of one lane by cyclists and only one lane by motor vehicles in this stretch for such an extended period would seem to indicate that a parking-protected bike lane could be added here without disruption to traffic,” she says. “It is, in a sense, a de facto traffic study.”

One reason people have been parking in the bike lanes is that the No Parking signs are missing on this stretch. After Zalenski notified Chicago Department of Transportation assistant director of transportation planning Mike Amsden about the issue, he said CDOT would arrange for reinstallation of the signs and then notify the Chicago Department of Revenue, which enforces parking, about the issue.

However, he added that a road diet on this stretch of Elston to make room for protected bike lanes probably isn’t in the cards in the near future. The stretch of the road with protected lanes also has four travel lanes.

“Elston Ave. is under the jurisdiction of the State of Illinois,” Amsden wrote Zalenski. “This limits our design flexibility and unfortunately precludes us from installing a protected bike lane, as you suggested.”

IDOT blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes within the city for political reasons for several years, an embargo that ended with the installation of curb-protected lanes on Clybourn in Old Town two years ago. Amsden clarified that while it’s currently possible for the city to install protected lanes on state-controlled routes, it’s a more involved approval process. In the past, IDOT has generally been recalcitrant about road diets, since they tend to be more car-focused than CDOT.

Since Zalenski’s observations suggest that Elston northwest of Damen could undergo a road diet to make room for protected lanes without causing undue congestion for drivers, it would be great if the city and state consider this option in the future. In the meantime, hopefully the upcoming sign reinstallation will unblock the curbside lanes.

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