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The case of the disappearing Damen bikeways

4:35 PM CDT on May 5, 2021

The Damen advisory bike lanes last November and last week. Photos: John Greenfield and Courtney Cobbs

North Damen Avenue is a popular north-south cycling route despite having no physically protected bike infrastructure. Although truck drivers fatally struck two young women on bikes on North Damen in the past dozen years – Liza Whitacre in October 2009 at Wellington Avenue ,and Anastasia Kondrasheva in September 2016 six blocks north at Addison Street – the city has done very little to improve biking conditions along Damen.

Cyclists were thrown a few crumbs in November 2020 when the Chicago Department of Transportation installed dashed “advisory bike lanes” on Damen between Diversey and Belmont avenues. CDOT installs advisory lanes on streets that are deemed too narrow for proper bike lanes, since drivers traveling down the street are technically allowed to cross the dashed lines if necessary.  In effect, advisory lanes are installed when there's no political will to strip parking in order to make room for conventional bike lanes, let alone physically protected lanes.

Damen north of Diversey, as it appeared last November. Photo: John Greenfield
Damen north of Diversey, as it appeared last November. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the project, CDOT recommended lowering the speed limit on that stretch of Damen from 30 to 20 mph. Local alderman Scott Waguespack introduced an ordinance to lower the speed limit last November, but other aldermen on the City Council's Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety failed to pass it.

Recently a Streetsblog Chicago reader alerted us that the new pavement markings along Damen Avenue have already begun chipping off, only a few months after installation. I checked out the street myself  last week and confirmed this.

Faded paint along N Damen Avenue.
Chipped pavement markings on Damen last week. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

I only took photos as I was heading southbound on Damen but I could see on my way back North that fading has occurred on both sides of the avenue.

Another photo of faded "advisory lanes" along N Damen Avenue.
Photo: Courtney Cobbs

CDOT did not provide a explanation for why the markings had chipped off so quickly. However, in the past there have been instances where the department's contractors installed the molten thermoplastic when the temperature was too low for the material to properly bond with the asphalt, which is likely what happened here.

A CDOT spokesperson said crews will be redoing the Damen street markings “in the coming weeks.” That's great, but in the future the department should require its contractors to be more careful about installing the lines when the weather is conducive, so as to avoid this kind of waste of time and materials.

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