Blizzard of DOT: Transpo Officials Provide Deets on Bike Lane Plowing Protocols

The Kinzie bike lane, as it appeared two days after last week's snowstorm. Photo: Lindsay Banks Bayley
The Kinzie bike lane, as it appeared two days after last week's snowstorm. Photo: Lindsay Banks Bayley

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Chicago bus and car commuters generally gave positive reviews to the city’s response to last week’s early-morning, 8.3-inch snowfall — travel lanes on main arterials were clear a few hours into the workday. But bike commuters were less impressed. They reported that, more than a day after the storm ended, portions of key protected bike lane routes like Milwaukee, Dearborn, and Kinzie were still impassible. And Streetsblog’s Steven Vance noted that on the fourth day after the snow fell, sections of the protected lanes on Franklin Boulevard in East Garfield Park were still completely unplowed.

While Streets and Sanitation is generally responsible for clearing the roads, the Chicago Department of Transportation, which constructs the city’s on-street bikeways, is responsible for snow removal in bollard-protected bike lanes. Late last week CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey provided a full explanation of the department’s approach to clearing the lanes.

The Franklin Boulevard in East Garfield Park bike lane four days after the storm ended. Photo: Steven Vance
The Franklin Boulevard in East Garfield Park bike lane four days after the storm ended. Photo: Steven Vance

“Wintertime maintenance of bike lanes is a collaborative effort between CDOT and the Department of Streets and Sanitation,” Claffey said via email. “DSS is responsible for clearing streets in Chicago, including roads with buffered bike lanes, standard bike lanes, marked shared lanes [bike-and-chevon symbols], and neighborhood greenways. In those areas where the delineators (bollards) [on protected bike lanes] have been removed, DSS plows the street as part of their snow clearing effort.”

However, Claffey said, on protected bike lanes where the flexible posts are not removed during the winter because they’re needed “for safety reasons,” CDOT is responsible for plowing. (Many cyclists would argue that none of the bike lane bollards should be removed during the winter, since they help keep cars out of the lanes, and they’re sometimes not reinstalled in the spring.) The same goes for lanes such as the ones on portions of Milwaukee, Elston, Clybourn, Dearborn, 31st Street, and Sacramento Boulevard, with concrete protection.

“Our goal is to clear the snow within 24 hours of a snowfall ending,” Claffey added. “DSS and CDOT coordinate snow removal operations — but because the bike lanes require special equipment for removal, the process can take a little longer.” To clear bike lanes, CDOT uses pick-up trucks with plows, plus small snowplows manufactured by Bombardier, and Kubota. (It would be great if the city also used these devices to clear sidewalks on a widespread basis.)

A Kubota snowplow (not to be confused with the eponymous squash.)
A Kubota snowplow (not to be confused with the Kubotan self-defense keychain weapon.)

Claffey said the department encourages citizens who encounter blocked bikeways to call 311 or go online to the 311 service request webpage and report the obstruction as “Snow — Uncleared Sidewalk or Bike Lane.” I’d add that cyclists should also report blockages on the civilian-run Bike Lane Uprising website, which documents bike lane obstructions.

He added that one challenge to keeping protected lanes clear is that maintenance workers sometimes shovel snow from the sidewalk into them, which is a violation of Chicago’s snow clearing ordinance. (Instead, sidewalk snow should be piled on the sidewalk near the curb, in the “street furniture zone,” with occasional clear spots left to make it easier for people to travel between parked cars and the sidewalk.) “If we are informed of this, we will send crews out to clear [the bike lanes] again. We also issue warnings and can fine businesses that push snow into bike lanes.”

While it’s a drag that the city has lower standards for promptly clearing protected bike lanes compared to mixed-traffic lanes, the Active Transportation Alliance’s Kyle Whitehead argued that cyclists should hate the game — a city transportation system that prioritizes motor vehicles — not the players. “This is about resources,” he said via email. “City agencies need the money for staff and equipment to identify where snow is piling up and remove it quickly from bike lanes. There’s little dedicated funding for building and maintaining biking and walking facilities citywide, which is why we’re pushing for a Chicago Bike Walk Fund.”

  • Jeremy

    “City agencies need the money for staff and equipment”

    There will be talk about property taxes prior to the upcoming mayoral election. A quick look at Zillow shows property taxes for a house in Chicago are approximately half the taxes for similarly priced homes in Highland Park, Naperville, and Schaumburg.

    With a new Cook County Assessor about to start, hopefully the corruption in the assessment process will end. Chicago should bring in far more property tax revenue from corporate properties. Undervaluation of corporate buildings and TIFs are hamstringing city services.

  • From the article: “He added that one challenge to keeping protected lanes clear is that maintenance workers sometimes shovel snow from the sidewalk into them, which is a violation of Chicago’s snow clearing ordinance.”

    This was not what the problem was on Milwaukee Avenue, Clinton Street, Kinzie Street, or Randolph Street. And if it was a problem, CDOT can come by more than once to clear off what building maintenance workers have pushed off into the bike lane.

    Four days later and Randolph Street between Wacker and Canal was still bad.

  • Roo_Beav

    “[CDOT] encourages citizens who encounter blocked bikeways to call 311”

    I called for Dearborn and the request was closed within the hour without resolution. Only after I called the alderman’s office did Dearborn get de-iced.

  • Random_Jerk

    It’s depressing that the second biggest city in the most prosperous nation in the world has no money/resources to clean couple of inches of snow for so many days. Seems to me like 4 or 5 of these little tractors could do the job in couple of hours. We don’t have THAT many bike lanes…. Sad.

  • Mcass777

    Thank god it rained – The piles of snow on Kinzie, Milwaukee south of Chicago, and numerous parts of Elston was terrible and not going anywhere.

  • what_eva

    It was that bad after a pretty minor storm. 8.3″ was at O’Hare. It was a lot less downtown, more like 2-3″. What about when we actually get 8.3″ downtown or more?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Third biggest, but snow-filled protected bike lanes isn’t a problem in Los Angeles.

  • Random_Jerk

    Los Angeles is not a city.

  • Mcass777

    And how would those Bird and Lime scooters handle this snow and ice???

  • George Christensen

    Black ice needs to be monitored as well. There were several treacherous patches on the Clybourne protected land south of North.

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