A New Bikeway on Middle Randolph From Michigan Avenue to Lakefront Trail

Workers put the finishing touches on the Middle Randolph bike lanes. Photo: Anne Alt
Workers put the finishing touches on the Middle Randolph bike lanes. Photo: Anne Alt

There’s a new, reasonably bike-friendly direct cycling route between the Loop and the lake. This week the Chicago Department of Transportation installed bike lanes on the middle level of Randolph Street between Michigan Avenue and the Lakefront Trail. There were already buffered bike lanes on Upper Randolph, leading to and from the Millennium Park bike station, which, inconveniently, is located on top of one of Chicago’s biggest hills.

CDOT is calling the new bike lanes “protected,” since they’re in the process of installing flexible plastic posts on the striped buffer to the left of the lanes. But it would really be more accurate to describe these as “enhanced buffered lanes” or something, since the flimsy poles really serve as more of a suggestion to drivers to stay out of the bike lanes, rather than actual physical protection. I doubt the posts would even mess up a car’s paint job if a driver ran over them. It would be great if the department upgrades the lanes with concrete curbs to offer actual physical protection for bike riders as soon as possible, as it is currently doing on the Milwaukee Avenue bike lanes in River West.

Leaving the Columbus Avenue viaduct on Middle Randolph. Photo: Anne Alt
Heading east on Middle Randolph, just below the end of upper Randolph. Photo: Anne Alt

But the new Randolph lanes still offer a good option for people traveling between the Loop and the Lakefront. West of Michigan, Randolph is a westbound street with a car-parking-protected bike lane.

While eastbound Washington Street also has a protected lane, getting to Middle Randolph from there is relatively frought, requiring cyclists to bike a block north on multilane Michigan, an intimidating prospect for folks who aren’t seasoned urban cyclists. If that’s your situation, I say there’s no shame in riding slowly on the broad sidewalk on the east side of Michigan (although it’s technically illegal to do so if you’re over 12.)

But it would be great if CDOT installed a short sidewalk bike lane here with green paint and plastic posts. Or, better yet, the city should convert one of the four (!) northbound travel lanes on Michigan to a protected bike lane.

  • JeBuS

    Middle Randolph is a fairly mellow route to get from Michigan to LFT. I have taken it often during evening rush hour and it’s a ghost town. The city could convert 4 lanes to bikes and hardly anyone would notice, except for the CTA drivers who park the buses down there.

  • ardecila

    Cycling is obviously legal on park paths, it should also be legal on sidewalks abutting a park. Otherwise how do you get to the park paths?

    IMO the entire length of Michigan from Randolph to Roosevelt should have a sidewalk bike lane, bidirectional. Adventurous riders could still mix with traffic on Michigan but tourists and others would have a gentle ride from Millennium Park to the Museum Campus.

    https://i1.wp.com/averagejoecyclist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/separate-bike-lane-father-and-son-biking-next-to-velib-rack-750.jpg?resize=750%2C335&ssl=1

  • planetshwoop

    This is good news! The buffered bike lane on Upper Randolph is frequently blocked with Uber picks ups, drivers, or tour buses. (Aon has stepped up its game and doesn’t hang out in the bike lane.)

    Also, the route through Maggie Daley park is weird. Middle Randolph is more direct (if a bit whiffy).

    The Washington Wiggle needs to be fixed. It is harrowing to turn left on Michigan and dealing with the line of cars, buses etc waiting to turn onto Randolph. A reasonable connector is needed.

    (Also, the westbound horrors in front of the Aon building need to be fixed. I think blocking right turns from Randolph to Michigan is the answer as there is a work around.)

  • Cameron Puetz

    Cycling isn’t allowed in Millennium Park. It’s not a park district property and has different rules than most parks.

  • Roo_Beav

    The main parts of traveling from the Loop to the LFT are solid, but the rough edges are so very rough.

    I haven’t yet figured out the best way to get through the Washington Wiggle. Cutting across multiple lanes of traffic feels not like the safest option, but neither is hitting Michigan in the bike lane (if it’s even possible with all the cars parked in that lane.) Often I walk my bike along Michigan for a block, which is often faster than waiting in Michigan traffic to turn right.

    It’s also very poorly marked as to what bike/vehicle traffic is supposed to do when the bike lane ends right before LSD. It feels like a double-wide turn lane to southbound LSD, but then it could be a mixing zone, or it could be a bike lane left or right of the right turn lane. Wasn’t filled with traffic when I went through, but it’d be dangerous adding vehicles to the mix.

  • Tooscrapps

    While they’re out there maybe they can fix the Washington PBL after Dearborn so people have a safe way to travel east. The major issues:

    – Bollards end prematurely and throw cyclists into a terrible mixing/turn lane at State. Frankly, with all the pedestrian traffic at that corned, right turns should be prohibited.

    – The lane picks up again at the LoopLink station after State for half a block, only to end right away and offer no protection or markings. This stretch is a “No stopping/No Standing” zone. If there is no stopping or standing, why is there no PBL here?

    – Good protected intersection at Wabash leading into another LoopLink protected half-block lane only to end again into a 4-lanes of mixed traffic before Michigan. Those who are looking to hook up with the new Randolph PBL to the LFT will have to navigate across a double right turn lane just to get left onto Michigan.

  • Tooscrapps

    Meanwhile the 606 is Park District run and has different traverse rules than all parks. :-P

  • Anne A

    When I was there, the area around LSD was fairly empty. I could see it being confusing if the area is full of traffic. I think that a marked green lane from where the lane ends over to the lakefront would make sense.

  • This was a nice, surprise win earlier this week on my commute in. Very excited to see it done.

  • That’s great news that the City is expanding protections along these routes, It would be nice to see actual physical separation that is more robust than bollards though, but concrete curbs are expensive, permanent and create a lot of issues with drainage.

    We’d love to see Chicago try out some innovative solutions like this Bikerail and Pedrail.
    https://www.dero.com/news/protected-bikeway-and-pedestrian-solutions/
    Fabricated from steel throughout at dimensions comparable to standard curb heights these technologies provide robust real protection for cyclists and pedestrians, are quick and easy to install, provide storm water drainage and debris clearance throughout, and are totally modular and adjustable if they need to be reconfigured if something isn’t working.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    This Middle Randolph facility is needed and a great idea / accomplishment. However, as many point out below, how are cyclists riding east on the Washington separated bike lane (which has some issues east of Dearborn, as Tooscrapps points out) supposed to safely get from Washington and Michigan to the new Middle Randolph facility? For cyclists, 1) turning left onto Michigan Ave., 2) turning right onto Randolph, and 3) getting by the ‘ramp like” lane that goes up to the Harris Theater and Upper Randolph are all big problems/safety issues. And for those riding west from the Lakefront Path to the Randolph St. separated bike lane and other destinations in the Loop, 1) the section where you emerge from Middle Randolph up to ‘ground-level’ Randolph (and where vehicles coming down from Upper Randolph merge with those — including cyclists — coming from Middle Randolph), 2) the busy, crowded and tight intersection of Randolph and Michigan (which has no crossing on the south leg) are also big problems/safety issues for cyclists. Perhaps, John Greenfield will interview and report on how CDOT plans to address these problem points?

  • Cameron Puetz

    This kind of planning has been a chronic problem with bikeways. CDOT will lay down bikeways where there is easy to get space and improve their stats on how many miles of new bikeway have been built. However, when they come to a difficult spot, where trade offs have to be made, cyclists are thrown to the wolves. Building protected lanes on Randolph without addressing the intersection at Michigan is the same flawed approach as building protected lanes on Elston without addressing the dangerous Y intersections, rebuilding the whole Damen/Elston/Fullerton intersection without giving cyclists space on Damen south of the intersection, or continuing to neglect the Logan/Western intersection.

    I don’t want to knock a good thing (a route between the Loop and the lake is sorely needed), but we should be able to expect CDOT to build quality, complete designs and not celebrate every half measure. Without addressing the Washington Wiggle, this is a half measure.

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