CDOT is Filling in the Gaps Between the Washington and Randolph Bikeways

New green paint, a dedicated bike signal, and -- gasp! -- a bike lane on Michigan facilitate the transfer

The new one-block stretch of bike lane on the east side Michigan between Washington and Randolph makes biking on the six-lane avenue a bit less intimidating. Photo: Twitter user @jimsey
The new one-block stretch of bike lane on the east side Michigan between Washington and Randolph makes biking on the six-lane avenue a bit less intimidating. Photo: Twitter user @jimsey

This post is partly based on photos and observations from a longtime Streetsblog reader who asked to remain anonymous.

Earlier this month the Chicago Department of Transportation installed buffered bike lanes with flexible plastic posts on Middle Randolph between Michigan and the Lakefront Trail, creating a direct, relatively bike-friendly connection between the lake and the Loop. Recently CDOT did a few other treatments that help make the downtown bike network more useful.

While the department installed a protected bike lane on Washington in the Loop almost two years ago as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project, the lane stopped just east of State. Recently CDOT added some concrete protection on the last two blocks of Washington before Michigan, but due to a lack of pavement marking, drivers still tended to park against the southern curb, blocking the way for cyclists.

A short time ago, CDOT added green paint and bike symbols to the segment between State and Michigan, making the bikeway much more obvious. Still, illegal parking in the bikeway still seems to be fairly common, so adding plastic posts here would be helpful. Between State and Wabash there’s room for drivers to park (illegally) on the wide striped buffer to the left of the lane.

Between State and Wabash, drivers are parking on the buffer but not the bike lane.
Between State and Wabash, drivers are parking on the buffer but not the bike lane.

But east of Wabash the buffer is narrower, so motorists are blocking the bike lane. “It only takes one for everyone to decide to do it,” the reader noted.

On Washington between Wabash and Michigan, drivers are blocking the bike lane.
On Washington between Wabash and Michigan, drivers are blocking the bike lane.

Since Washington terminates at Michigan, it’s a common maneuver to turn left onto the massive six-lane avenue to head one block north to Randolph. (The other choice for getting to the lakefront is to head south a block on Michigan to Monroe.) To facilitate the left turn, CDOT has added a new dedicated bike signal at Washington/Michigan.

The bike signal goes green for eastbound cyclists while the left turn arrow for eastbound drivers are activated, and the right turn arrow for drivers remains red. This gives cyclists roughly 25 seconds to turn left without having to worry about getting “right-hooked” by drivers turning south, assuming that motorists obey their signal. This also makes crossing the south leg of the intersection safer for pedestrians.

Recently outlines were marked on the street that suggest CDOT will be marking a dashed bike lane across the intersection that will guide cyclists through the left turn. The department has already striped a one-block stretch of bike lane on the east side of Michigan between Washington and Randolph, making this potentially harrowing block a bit less intimidating for less-confident cyclists. (If you’re still not comfortable riding on Michigan, I feel there’s no shame in slowly biking on the wide sidewalk here, though it’s technically illegal for adults to do so.)

The new bike lane on Michigan.
The new bike lane on Michigan.

The department installed a few plastic posts by the Michigan bike lane at Randolph to help keep right-turning drivers out of it. However, the configuration of the poles (see the photo at the top of this article) may give cyclists the impression that they’re not allowed to proceed north on Michigan, which isn’t the case.

Once you get to Randolph, you can either take Middle Randolph downhill to the Lakefront Trailhead, or head uphill on Upper Randolph in a buffered bike lane to access the Millennium Park bike station, the Lakeshore East development, and other destinations. In the past the Upper Randolph lane has often been blocked by tour buses parked by Millenium Park, but CDOT recently (re?)installed posts here, which should help discourage illegal parking.

The bike lane on Upper Randolph.
The bike lane on Upper Randolph.

While the transition from Washington to Randolph is still far from perfect, these small changes should help make it more comfortable for bike riders. In the long run, it would be great to see CDOT add an eastbound protected bike lane to the westbound stretch of Randolph between Michigan and Halsted (it already has a westbound PBL on it), which would create a simpler connection between the West Loop and the lakefront.
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  • 1976boy

    That intersection of Michigan and Randolph is one of the worst downtown for red light runners and illegal or unsafe turns. This ought to help a little bit but more enforcement would be really helpful.

  • planetshwoop

    This is huge! How excellent!!

  • kastigar

    CDOT needs to fill in the blanks between the north-south off-road bicycle trails.

    Coming home from the Jefferson Park Transit Center, I discovered the
    new bike lane on both sides of Foster Avenue. It only runs the short
    distance from roughly Milwaukee Avenue to Elston Avenue.

    Elston is the dividing line between the 45th Ward and the 39th Ward, I
    think. So this needs to be expanded further east on Foster in the 39th
    Ward. It should go at least as far as Gompers Park to tie into the new
    North Branch Trail path, or continue even further east to the North
    Shore Channel path.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I actually enjoy biking on Michigan for short distances in the morning, the stretch between Congress (soon to be Ida B. Wells) and 11th is an absolute joy.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Personally, I find cruising downhill from the Chicago River into the Magnificent Mile to be a rush, but I’m pretty comfortable dealing with heavy traffic.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Agreed, I just rarely have a reason to go that route. Michigan Ave is a bit crazy, but it is also wide open and traffic visibility is excellent.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s also “Chicago’s Dumbest Intersection” — the city removed the crosswalk on the south leg shortly after Millennium Park opened in 2004 to facilitate driving. So pedestrians walking from the Chicago Cultural Center to the park have to cross the street three times instead of just once.

  • Deni

    I’m the same, I kind of like biking on it. With the way the traffic is predictable because of the right-hand lane being mostly cars turning right every other intersection it’s pretty easy to figure out where to weave to and fro to get through it all.

  • Deni

    Yeah, I really wish they would put that back.

  • Random_Jerk

    You may just put the Uber logo on the bike lane on Michigan.

  • Random_Jerk

    You may just put an Uber Drop-off logo on the bike lane on Michigan. Without any barrier this lane will be useless for bikers. I love that Chicago is embracing biking, but I hate half-baked solutions. Lanes like that put the bicyclists in harm’s way. Going around parked cars is not only dangerous,- especially on 3-lane street with fast moving cars – but also disturbs traffic flow, since cars have to slow down/stop to let the bicyclist pass. Why can’t CDOT just extend the sidewalk and put the bike lanes on it. Tourist on Divvys do it anyway and at least they would ride in designated area.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Are there any changes coming to where Upper and Middle Randolph merge? That’s another tough spot with this new route.

  • David P.

    This is a small but helpful addition. I’d love to see bolted-in plastic curbs rather than the posts, which are better than nothing but only just.

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