The Despised Dearborn Bike Lane in River North Will Be Getting a Little Less Lousy

The non-protected stretch of the Dearborn bike lane north of Kinzie. Photo: John Greenfield
The non-protected stretch of the Dearborn bike lane north of Kinzie. Photo: John Greenfield


The bike lane Chicago cyclists love to hate is getting a modest upgrade.

While the two-way Dearborn protected bike lane, which runs between Kinzie and Polk, is a popular route, the same can’t be said about the one-way northbound, non-protected stretch of the lane between Kinzie and Chicago Avenue in hectic River North. As with the protected section, the one-way stretch is on the left side of the multilane northbound street. The bike lane continue north of Chicago to Walton in the Gold Coast – that stretch is much quieter.

But unlike the protected segment, the section north of Kinzie doesn’t include bike-specific stoplights with separate signal phases for northbound cyclists and left-turning drivers, so there are often conflicts. This is especially a problem at Ontario Street, where many drivers turn west to head towards the Kennedy Expressway onramp at Orleans Street. It’s also common for  motorists to drive in the unprotected Dearborn bike lane in this busy nightlife area.

Yesterday Streetsblog reader Alex Hartler sent us photos of the Dearborn lane completely torn up between the Chicago River and Chicago Avenue. He noted that there were no warning or detour signs posted for cyclists approaching from the south.

When we tweeted to the Chicago Department of Transportation asking for an update, a department spokesperson replied, “Resurfacing [is] getting started for Dearborn — from the River to Chicago Ave. Please bear with us…end result will be a smoother ride for all,” later adding, “There will be [temporary] striping placed on the milled surface in the next day or so.”

My guess was that the city was hustling to get the nationally known protected lane in tip-top shape for next week’s National Association of City Transportation Officials conference, being held Monday through Thursday at Swisshotel Chicago, but that’s not the case. According to CDOT planner Mike Amsden, the work is being done as part of the repaving of the entire street from the river to Chicago Avenue, which won’t be done until mid-November.

On the plus side, the unloved bike lane north of Kinzie will be converted from a conventional lane to a buffered lane, Amsden says. That should give cyclists a little more breathing room – in the event that drivers respect the unprotected white lines. Amsden didn’t provide info about whether the raggedy-looking green bike lane section that existed just south of Chicago – intended to reduce conflicts with turning drivers – will be redesigned.

The Dearborn Bike Lane Twitter account had this to say about the situation:

Excellent question, Dearborn Bike Lane, excellent question.

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.

  • JacobEPeters

    This is a great opportunity to extend the protected bike lane north, install signals to better regulate the anarchy of turning movements & speeding that occurs on this stretch, & in some places reduce pedestrian crossing distances in a part of town w/ a ton of out of town visitors.

    Why is this just a buffered perpetuation of the untenable status quo?

  • kastigar

    It’s still on the “wrong” side pf the street. Even tho it’s a one-way street, I think cyclists would feel more comfortable with the lane on the east side – which those of us who use mirrors would find better.

  • Tooscrapps

    You would have to navigate across 3 lanes of car traffic to get to the right side. Makes more sense to leave it on the same side as the existing PBL.

  • Random_Jerk

    Finally! The markings on this lane were almost all gone. I wish they would extend the two way protected lane all the way to Chicago Avenue. There is plenty of room for it. Between Kinzie and Chicago Dearborn is definitely unnecessarily wide with 3 lanes of traffic. It would also connect to Illinois and Grand lanes. I’m guilty myself of going upstream from time to time, but it’s only 2 blocks…

  • hopeyglass

    Headline, tho.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Agreed, drivers also seem to confused by it. I’ve had more problems with left hooks on that stretch of Dearborn than right hooks in conventionally placed bike lanes.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The biggest problems with this lane are valet parking operators using it as an extending loading zone (Mastro’s Steakhouse is the worst), and clashes with turning traffic. It doesn’t sound like the changes address these problems.

  • If only there were a southbound bike lane in the loop that wasn’t on a one way northbound street the whole dearborn bike lane could finally be put on the right side of the street like almost every other bike lane in the world

  • Tooscrapps

    So two one-way lanes similar to the Randolph/Washington set up?

  • Anne A

    Yes, that’s a huge problem at Ontario.

  • Alex_H

    I agree…not sure how it could feasibly be moved to the east side of the street.


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