Ice Ice, Baby: Long After Snowfall Ended, Bike Lane Conditions Are Still Treacherous

Main street travel lanes were plowed soon after the snowstorm ended, bikeways not so much. Photo: Halsted Bike Lane
Main street travel lanes were plowed soon after the snowstorm ended, bikeways not so much. Photo: Halsted Bike Lane

Ever since Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic lost reelection in the wake of the Great Blizzard of 1979, city officials have been fanatical about clearing the streets for driving, going to far as to salt travel lanes in advance if there’s even a possibility of snowfall. Accordingly, following the snowstorm that dumped several inches on the region Sunday night, commuters reported that major arterials were in fairly good shape for motorists a few hours into Monday.

Unfortunately, clearing snow from bikeways isn’t as high of a priority for the city, even though thousands of Chicago commuters don’t give up on cycling when the snow starts flying. (Despite the challenging conditions, the Divvy bike-share system saw 1,868 Divvy trips yesterday.) This morning, more than 24 hours after the storm ended, local cyclists tweeted that many of of our city’s key protected bike lanes were still a mess, clogged with snow and/or glazed with ice.

In fairness, conditions have been challenging for bikeway maintenance, with the damp snowfall being followed by a drop in temperature that froze slushy puddles into treacherous skating rinks. But this morning bike riders said that some important cycling route didn’t seem to have received any TLC at all.

Streetsblog’s Steven Vance shot a photo of the inbound Milwaukee Avenue protected bike lane, which was completely unplowed south of Chicago Avenue.

Meanwhile on the Near South Side, “The bridge on Halsted over the south branch of the river was super icy and rutted,” reported Noah Manion. “The bike lane north of there to Canalport was pretty bad too.” However, he added that the bikeway was well-plowed south of the river.

The recently launched Twitter account for the Halsted Street bike lanes noted issued with workers dumping snow from the sidewalk in front of the Newcity shopping center, on the 1500 block of North Halsted, into the bikeway.

The account for Bike Lane Uprising, a site that allows cyclists to document bikeway obstructions, recommended submitting such blockages to the site’s database under the “other” category.

The bike touring nonprofit Out Our Front Door issued a general warning to its followers to be careful cycling on poorly maintained bikeways. “Be careful biking out there friends! The elements have had time to compact down into thick, slippery ice! (or be plowed directly into our safe spaces.)”

However, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey promised that conditions will improve in the near future, hopefully in time for the evening commute. “We have had crews out today. They have been plowing and salting the bike lanes all day today.”

That’s reassuring, but it would be great if city officials would prioritize snow clearance for sustainable transportation facilities, just as they obsess over making sure drivers aren’t inconvenienced by the white stuff. It would be even better if they were to follow the lead of forward-thinking countries like Sweden that clear sidewalks and bike lanes before plowing roads.

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As the Chicago Department of Transportation builds more protected bike lanes, especially curb-protected lanes, it’s important that these bikeways are well maintained, particularly after snowstorms. A snow-filled PBL is at best an annoyance, and at worst a danger to cyclists, because it can force them to ride in the adjacent, plowed, mixed-traffic lanes, which may […]