No, the new Montrose bridge over Kennedy doesn’t have bike lanes, isn’t getting them

Sharrows were installed on the bridge late Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Josh Koonce
Sharrows were installed on the bridge late Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Josh Koonce

Update 8/25/21, 5:45: The sharrows were installed on the bridge late Wednesday afternoon.

Reports of new bike lanes on the reconstructed Montrose Avenue bridge over the Kennedy Expressway and the local Blue Line station have been greatly exaggerated.

This tweet from the Illinois Department of Transportation on Tuesday indicated that bike lanes had already been installed on the $16M span.

News outlets parroted this supposed good news, with headlines like, “New Montrose Avenue Bridge Over Kennedy Expressway Is Now Open — With Bike Lanes.”

But Chicago cyclists were puzzled. The photo in the IDOT tweet doesn’t show any bikeways, and there reportedly still weren’t any there this morning.

I dropped by earlier this afternoon, and there were still no marked bike lanes to help people cycling access the station safely, just four lanes of fast car traffic.

An IDOT spokesperson provided a press release that said the new bridge will feature, “a shared bicycle lane in each direction.” The spokesperson said the pavement markings actually hadn’t been installed yet due to equipment issues on Monday, but the contractor was scheduled to put them in later today.

Pressed on what exactly what a “shared bicycle lane” is – the Chicago Department of Transportation doesn’t use that term – the IDOT rep revealed that the bridge isn’t getting bike lanes at all. Rather, “shared bicycle lane” is a rather Orwellian euphemism for what CDOT called “shared lane markings,” bike-and-chevron pavement markings popularly know as “sharrows.”

A street with sharrows. Photo: Steven Vance
A street with sharrows. Photo: Steven Vance

That is, people riding bikes on the new Montrose bridge aren’t getting their own dedicated lane at all, let alone a protected one. Rather, they’re getting symbols indicating that they’re supposed to share the same mixed-traffic lane with drivers. Needless to say, a lot of bike riders aren’t going to be happy about that.

While the new bridge is still pretty darn car-centric and bike-hostile, at least it’s a little better for pedestrians. The sidewalks have been widened from the previous seven-feet-wide to ten feet.

The bridge sidewalks have been widened from seven feet to ten feet. Images: Google Docs, John Greenfield
The bridge sidewalks have been widened from seven feet to ten feet. Images: Google Street View, John Greenfield

The bridge project involved removing the original concrete structure built in 1957. The new span includes modernized LED lighting under the bridge and over the Blue Line stop, which remains inaccessible to wheelchair users.

The original cast-in-place, three-unit concrete structure was taken out one unit at a time over three weekends to avoid closing the expressway entirely. Access to the Blue Line was maintained throughout the work.

The south half of the bridge was removed and rebuilt in 2020. Unfinished tasks on the north side of the span includes fence repairs and electrical work. There will also be occasional travel lane closures on Montrose through late October as part of a paving project from Central Avenue to Pulaski Road.

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