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Construction of South Loop Bike Improvements, Delayed by Ald. King, Is Finally Starting

3:07 PM CDT on May 9, 2019

Concrete protection will be added on Harrison, and a new low-stress route will connect the Dearborn protected lane with Grant Park.

On Tuesday, South Loop residents and bike advocates gathered for a community meeting hosted by Ald. Sophia King to discuss plans for long-overdue bike improvements in the neighborhood. During the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that it is starting construction on the bike infrastructure, which was delayed by a year due to initial opposition from King.

Back in August 2017, CDOT presented what were supposed to be final plans for a low-stress bike route from the south end of the Dearborn protected bike lane to Grant Park via Polk Street, Plymouth Court, and 9th Street. The department also planned to add concrete curb protection on the existing Harrison Street protected bike lanes between Desplaines Street and Wabash Avenue. The work was slated to be completed in spring 2018, but it never happened, reportedly due King's concerns about maximizing car parking.

“We want the streets to communicate to everybody where they should be and how they can get around comfortably and safely,” said CDOT senior transportation planner David Smith during his presentation at Tuesday's meeting.

CDOT will be building a short stretch of two-way concrete-protected bike lane on the south side of Polk.
CDOT will be building a short stretch of two-way concrete-protected bike lane on the south side of Polk.

Smith said the work to build the Harrison concrete protection and the low-stress route to Grant Park would start this week. The latter will involve adding a two-way curb-protected bike lane on the south side of Polk from Dearborn to Plymouth, and wayfinding signs to lead cyclists to the park. CDOT will also install a pedestrian island on the east leg of the Polk/Plymouth intersection.

During the meeting, some neighbors voiced concern about the changes leading to increased traffic congestion, and some felt that encouraging cyclists to go down Plymouth is unsafe.

“We need to have a network for everyone, just like when you’re driving there’s more than one street you can use,” Smith responded. “There are different routes for different purposes and different trips and we want our pedestrians and bicyclists to have more than one option as well.”

Dozens of people attended the meeting. Photo: Lynda Lopez

One audience member asked why there aren’t striped bike lanes on the latest version on 9th Street. Josh Ellis, a board member of the Greater South Loop Association, responded that during the last community meetings feedback led for the removal of the striping. “People here talked them into making it less safe,” Ellis said.

At the end of the meeting, King said she had been initially upset with how CDOT had rolled out the proposal but she now felt better moving forward with the project. “I think because of all the dialogue, it’s a better proposal. I honestly will revisit it if it’s not working.”

Smith said the Polk project was set to start Wednesday and the Harrison project was scheduled to begin on Thursday. CDOT estimates the project will be completed by the end of May or early June.

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