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Good News: A Non-Awful Layout Was Chosen for the New Drexel Boulevard Bike Lanes

Moving the bike lanes to the median will remove the danger of dooring, at least when church isn’t in session. Image: CDOT


Last spring the city was considering reconfiguring the bike lanes and parking on Drexel Boulevard from 39th and 51st in a way that would have made the road more car-centric, and less safe and attractive. Fortunately they've instead begun to restripe the bikeways in a manner that is arguably an overall win for traffic safety.

The original, fully-funded Chicago Department of Transportation design for Drexel called for moving the current traditional bike lanes next to the boulevard's grassy median, and upgrading them to buffered lanes, so that cyclists wouldn’t have to worry about getting struck by opening car doors, among other benefits. This layout would eliminate conflicts between the bike lanes and 11 “T” intersections, and cyclists would also get a nicer view the median to their left.

However, due to requests from residents for more car parking, CDOT floated an alternative scenario that would add extra parking lanes next to the median instead, even though there was no money to pay for that version. That scenario would have had no safety benefits for cyclist, the parked cars next to the medians could have made it harder for motorists and pedestrians crossing the boulevard to see each other, and the additional parked cars would have obscured residents’ views of the attractive green space.

This layout, with extra parking lanes by the median, would have made the street more car-centric, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a redesign. Image: CDOT
This layout, with extra parking lanes by the median, would have made the street more car-centric, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a redesign. Image: CDOT
This layout, with extra parking lanes by the median, would have made the street more car-centric, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a redesign. Image: CDOT

Happily, sanity prevailed. According to local alderman Sophia King's chief of staff Prentice Butler, at a community meeting in May, the alderman asked for a show of hands on who supported the competing layouts, and the majority of residents favored the safer, fully-funded, more aesthetic option of moving the bike lanes to the median. "This way drivers don't have to compete with the bike lanes, and bicyclists don't have to worry about being hit by car doors," Butler noted.

One minor downside of relocating the bike lanes next to the median is that it’s likely drivers will park in them on Sundays, when there are services at several churches along Drexel. As is in the case on many of Chicago’s multi-lane boulevards, parishioners park on the inside travel lanes during services, which is technically illegal, but invariably condoned by aldermen.

We did it! I was passing Drexel and noticed something new...They moved the bike lanes from the door zone on the right to the area adjacent to the boulevard! Ahhh!!! Thank you for story a couple months back @greenfieldjohn, thank you for making right call @aldsophiaking!!

— Kyle Terry (@SmarterStadiums) September 28, 2018

Work on Drexel started last week and is about 50 percent complete, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. Between 39th and 51st the buffered bike lanes will be six-feet-wide with a three-foot striped buffer, and the mixed-traffic lanes will be 11 feet. On the narrower section of Drexel between 51st and 55th, the department will mark bike-and-chevron "sharrow" symbols.

One aspect of this project that may raise some eyebrows is that while new bike lanes are being striped this year using federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds, the whole street is scheduled to be torn up and repaved next years, and then striped with bike lanes again. When streets are repaved, the city typically rolls the cost of the new bike lanes into the project cost via the Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program. Therefore one might think it would have made sense to wait until next year to next year to stripe the lanes.

Here you go

— Jamahl “Go and Get a Bag” Banks (@TheFreeXone) September 29, 2018

However, CDOT officials said that the CMAQ grant money expires this year and can't be used for any other projects. Moreover, it's possible the repaving project could get bumped another year, so the department figured it was best to strike while the iron (or thermoplastic striping machine?) was hot.

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.

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