Q & A: Right-on-Red Etiquette for Cyclists, Roosevelt Bus Route, and Metra Signage

How do you stay out  the way of right-turning drivers while waiting for a red?
 Photo: John Greenfield
How do you stay out the way of right-turning drivers while waiting for a red? Photo: John Greenfield


This article is part of our new weekly Q & A feature, “The Chicago Transportation Authority,” presented by Keating Law offices. Send us a question that you want answered via email (jgreenfield[at]streetsblog.org) or a tweet (@streetsblogchi). You can also post a query in the comment section of this article or on our Facebook page

Where’s the proper place to stop on your bike at a red light when there’s a potential for cars to make a right on red? I usually stop on the right side [of the right-most lane], but that would be blocking any driver that wanted to make a right on red. There’s not always a clear place to be “in the middle,” to the right of cars heading straight, and to the left of right-turners. – E.S.

In this scenario, it’s pretty much impossible to stand with your bike in a place that’s totally safe and/or where there’s no chance that you will be in the way of a turning driver. And I hate when I’m standing in the right-most lane and a driver who wants to turn right impatiently honks at me. To be honest, when that occurs, that tends to want make me stand my ground and not move out of the way.

But, on the bright side, that rarely happens to me anymore. I tend to position myself on the border of the through lane and the right-turn lane, or else in the middle of the right-turn lane. I try to glance backwards now and then to keep tabs on what’s going on behind. If I notice that there’s a driver behind me with their right turn signal on, I shuffle to the left to make room for them to turn. Motorists seem to appreciate that, and I often get a hand wave or a polite tap on the horn from them in return. Thus, a situation that has the potential for bad vibes instead turns into an opportunity to earn some good bike karma.

A #12 bus on Roosevelt Road. Photo: CTA
A #12 bus on Roosevelt Road. Photo: CTA

As a follow-up to the question of why the #74 Fullerton bus doesn’t go farther east, why doesn’t the CTA’s #12 Roosevelt bus go to Adler Planetarium anymore? I find it especially irritating given that West Siders used to have straight shot to get to the 12th Street Beach and the museums. When I was a kid people felt safe putting their kids on that bus knowing it was going straight to an impossible-to-miss destination. – C.O.

Nowadays the Roosevelt bus originates at Harrison Street and Central Avenue, heads south to Roosevelt and then east to the Illinois Medical District, where the route jogs northeast on Ogden Avenue, east on Taylor Street, and south on Damen Avenue back to Roosevelt. From there the line continues east to Indiana Avenue (a block east of Michigan Avenue), where it turns around by heading south to 16th Street, west to Michigan, and back north to Roosevelt. That leaves you a few blocks from the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium, and about a mile from the Adler Planetarium and the neighboring 12th Street Beach.

“As part of a bus network system review, service enhancements were made to seven bus routes,” CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz told me. “These changes took into consideration changes in ridership trends and were designed to improve overall travel in and around the growing South Loop area.” In December 2008, the #12 bus route was extended south to connect the South Loop to the growing Roosevelt Road corridor.

At the same time, the #146 Inner Drive/Michigan Express bus route was modified to operate southbound on State Street to Roosevelt Road in order to connect to the Roosevelt Red, Green, and Orange line station before continuing to the Museum Campus, turning around at the planetarium.

“One of the factors considered in this bus route modification included low ridership on the #12 Roosevelt route west of State Street, going to Museum Campus,” Ferradaz said. “Data showed that approximately 85 percent of #12 customers who were going to Museum Campus would be served by the #146, once it was modified to make the Roosevelt rail station connection. Ferradaz said the CTA’s trip analysis was based on an origin-destination survey of customers and analysis of the agency’s automated passenger counter data, which counts passengers boarding and alighting the bus.

In other words, the CTA decided that since their data showed only about 15 percent of Roosevelt bus riders who were headed to the Museum Campus or the beach started their trips west of State Street, it wouldn’t inconvenience too many people if they rerouted the #12. “The goal of this service modification was to better connect the growing [South Loop] residential area to employment opportunities and educational institutions,” Ferradaz said.

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 4.46.39 PM

Metra’s Western Avenue station in West Town serves three different routes, so it’s possible to get confused about which train is yours. Image: Google Maps.Why doesn’t Metra label its trains to make it easy to tell which route a train is traveling? All the trains look the same when pulling into the station, and it gets confusing if a stop serves multiple lines. – S.C.H.

“I’m not sure even if I did a deep dive into our historical records and the historical records of our predecessor railroads that I could find a moment where the question of exterior signage on locomotives and cars was considered and debated and I could definitively answer you,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis when I contacted him a couple of weeks ago. “But the answer probably is that most lines have distinct routes and serve distinct stations, and there has not been a need or a demand for such signage.”

Gillis conceded that a few stations do serve multiple routes. The Clybourn stop, which serves the UP-North line to Kenosha and the UP-Northwest line to Harvard, is an example. But he noted that there are two different platforms, and signs notifying customers which platform serves which line.

The Joliet station is also serves two lines, he noted, but has separate platforms with signage.

The Prairie Crossing and Prairie Crossing / Libertyville stations, serving the MD-North line to Fox Lake and the North Central Service route to Antioch, respectively, are located close to each other but are still two distinct, separate stations. (And the tracks of the two lines do, in fact make a crossing in the prairie just northwest of the stations.)

The two different Prairie Crossing stations. Image: Google Maps
The two different Prairie Crossing stations. Image: Google Maps

Gillis noted that there are only two stations outside of downtown that serve more than one line from the same platforms. The Western Avenue station in West Town serves the MD-North line, the North Central Service route, and the MD-West line to Elgin. And The River Grove station serves the North Central Service and the MD-West line.

“At those stations, and at the five downtown stations, we try to address any confusion about lines or branches with station signage and platform announcements,” Gillis said. “We would also encourage customers to ask the conductor before boarding, if there’s any confusion.”

Gillis added that Metra Electric District trains do have external signs that display the trains’ run numbers. “Since the line has trains serving several different zones and branches, displaying the run number is another way to help people find the right train, especially at the downtown stations.”

Last week Gillis provided an update that’s good news for the Metra-confused. On March 20 the railroad issued a request for proposals for at least 200 new rail cars, and it’s allowing manufacturers to propose alternative car designs that could potentially work better than the bi-level cars that have been used in Chicago for nearly 70 years. The RFP requires a car with internal signage, and also says “it is preferable” that the cars have exterior signage that would provide info to customers on the platforms. “So external signs are an option that they can propose, not one they are required to propose,” Gillis said. Check out the language from the RFP, below.



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.

  • Ben

    I live in Forest Park and I don’t think the the 12 bus comes all the way out here. According to the link you posted it only goes as far as Central and Harrison, not Harlem and Harrison.

  • planetshwoop

    I can already hear the total whining and moaning that will arise if Metra changes. Which it really really should.

  • Russiancreme

    I think the traffic is the main reason. When Columbus is closed, it can easily take 30 mins to reach Michigan from LSD along Roosevelt. Wouldn’t having buses stuck in that mess cause reliability issues and longer waits for those waiting for a bus at Ashland or Kedzie? During the summer, I see people get off the 146 at the L or Michigan once they realize they can walk faster to the Campus.

  • David P.

    Consideration for other road users is never misplaced, but you on a bicycle are no more “in the way” of a driver wanting to make a right on red than another car is. I generally position myself in a way that prioritizes my safety in terms of road position and visibility, and if I am then also able to make it easy to allow car drivers to turn right then I’ll do so, but it’s not a priority.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Getting out of the way of a right-turning driver does nothing to make a cyclist less safe, but it’s an easy way to avoid being (granted, unfairly) honked at, and generate some good vibes.

  • JacobEPeters

    It would be great if they awarded contracts for different designs for the Metra Electric District trains than the rest of the longer haul commuter lines. There really aren’t many reasons that that collection of routes should have the same rolling stock as their diesel powered, freight railroad operated brethren.

  • Roland Solinski

    Metra Electric has brand new railcars, so those aren’t going anywhere soon. Even if Metra electrifies the Rock Island, which has been proposed, they will probably keep the low platforms that are incompatible with Metra Electric’s cars.

  • JacobEPeters

    ugh, can I dream that they’ll just increase service to a conveninet level so that they will just use those new outdated cars for the service to University Park & Blue Island? Then commission new rolling stock for beefed up South Chicago service?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    RE Positioning at intersections in relation to right-turning vehicles: — When I am continuing straight, I usually position myself in front of vehicles that are going straight (as if there were a bike box there — https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/intersection-treatments/bike-boxes/). That way, I am more visible generally, and right-turning vehicles, where RTOR is permitted, can do so. I do, however, wish that the City of Chicago would restrict ‘Right Turns on Red” in many more or even all locations. Other progressive cities with VZ goals (think NYC and Vancouver) do so. Disallowing RTOR may slow motor vehicle traffic but the safety benefits — in multimodal contexts — are very clear.

  • Carter O’Brien

    In the summer I almost always walk – but that’s easy to do as a relatively healthy and youngish guy not encumbered with kids, or needing to bring supplies or anything like to work with me.

    The CTA narrative is one of those self-fulfilling negative prophecies that makes sense as they’ve defined the issue. When they say: “These changes took into consideration changes in ridership trends and were designed to improve overall travel in and around the growing South Loop area.” This reflects a subjective judgment that servicing the “growing” South Loop warrants more service, at the expense of the already underserved communities on the West Side. They also conveniently neglected to mention that only every other 146 goes to the Museum Campus, the others only go to Harrison.

    But in the bigger picture I completely agree that a bus having to cross Michigan, Columbus and then LSD is an insane time suck. It’s terrible not just for visitors to the campus, but all of the traffic those buses interrupt. So it would certainly not be cheap, the reliability of a subway spur from the Roosevelt stop is the fix that is needed.

    I should note that I had mixed my childhood memories over the years – the bus I remember taking as a kid to Adler was the 126 Jackson.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Disallowing RTOR may slow motor vehicle traffic but the safety benefits — in multimodal contexts — are very clear.” Good point.

  • Jeremy

    I live near the Clark & Wrightwood intersection that has “No Turn on Red” signs posted. A not-insignificant number of drivers do so anyways.

  • Fred

    I don’t understand why Metra doesn’t embrace electronic TV signage like the CTA has.

  • Dennis McClendon

    In 2007, I’m not even sure CTA farecards (the old Chicago Card) could be tracked—but in any case, they’ve never indicated where riders disembark. Ridership east of Wabash on the #12 was determined the old-fashioned way: counting the number of people on the bus. This is typically done by summer interns, but it’s all we’ve got for now.

  • David P.

    I sometimes position myself the way you indicated – sort of between the right lane (from which turns are allowed) and the left lane, or on the left side of the right lane if it is extra wide – when there is room, but often it is better to stay in the right lane (e.g. it’s a through lane and my travel lane), and trying to squeeze myself between two lanes only allows drivers to try to squeeze by me, which is not a position I’d like to be in.

  • rduke

    They don’t need to. They have red LED text signage on almost every single platform on the system, but instead of using those signs to show the estimated arrival and route of the next train on that platform, it’s just a repeated, scrolling message that warns people to look both ways before crossing the tracks, or some other message of minimal utility.


The 2013 Chicago Streetsie Awards

Season’s Greetings Streetsblog Chicago readers. I hope you’ve had a joyful December and are gearing up for a fabulous New Year’s Eve. 2013 has been a banner year for walking, biking and transit in the Windy City, but there were so many landmarks and firsts, as well as a few discouraging developments, that it’s a […]