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Driver killed cyclist Jason Hardt, 48, on road where protected bike lanes were removed

Independence Boulevard before and after protected bike lanes were downgraded to buffered lanes. Images: John Greenfield, Google Maps

In January 2013 the Chicago Department of Transportation downgraded new parking-protected bike lanes on Independence Boulevard in North Lawndale because drivers complained about not being able to park next to the curb. Last Sunday a motorist struck and killed Jason Hardt, 48, on this stretch and fled the scene, raising the question of whether the protected lanes might have made a difference in the crash.

According to police, on Sunday, September 12, at about 10:30 a.m., Hardt was biking on the 700 block of of South Independence. The driver of an "unknown vehicle" struck him and fled in an "unknown direction," police said.

Hardt was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital where he died from his injuries, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner's office.

As of Tuesday no one was in custody, according to police.

The protected bike lanes on Independence were installed in late 2012, in an effort to not only shield bike riders from drivers, but also to reduce speeding on the wide boulevard and shorten pedestrian crossing distances by narrowing the travel lanes.  But drivers said they found the new street configuration to be confusing, and felt uncomfortable parking in the “floating” parking lanes. They also objected to the removal of some parking spaces to preserve sight lines. It didn't help matters that police and the revenue department mistakenly did a flurry of ticketing of vehicles in the bike lane before neighbors had a chance to learn how to use the new parking layout.

Residents complained to then-24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler. Although Chandler had signed off on CDOT's plans for the lanes a year earlier, the alderman later blasted the new design at community meetings and asked CDOT to bring back curbside parking. The department used paint to convert the protected lanes to buffered lanes, which offer no physical protection for people on bikes.

CDOT barricaded the protected bike lanes before downgrading them. Photo: John Greenfield
CDOT barricaded the protected bike lanes before downgrading them. Photo: John Greenfield
CDOT barricaded the protected bike lanes before downgrading them. Photo: John Greenfield

Then-deputy CDOT commissioner Scott Kubly argued at the time that the problems with the Independence bike lane could be blamed on poor communication and insufficient public outreach, and he said the department learned from the experience. But the upshot of the incident was that, almost nine years later, there's still no physical protection for cyclists on Independence, an important bike route that connects major parks. That very well may have made the difference between life or death for Jason Hardt.

We mourn. This tragedy should not have happened and could have been prevented if the quality of the bike lanes had not been “downgraded”. Paint does not protect. Let’s put the safety of everyone first. #bikelanes #bikechi @ChicagoDOT

— RideOfSilenceChicago (@RideOfSilenceCh) September 15, 2021

This latest cycling fatality brings to mind the bike crash deaths of videographer Tyler Fabeck, 22, in 2008 and “School of Rock” drummer Kevin Clark, 32, last May at the intersection of Logan Boulevard and Western Avenue in Logan Square, a location where people have been asking for bike improvements for years. Follow the outcry after Clark's death, CDOT finally announced that protected bike lanes are planned for Logan Boulevard near the intersection.

These three tragedies are stark reminders that when safe bike infrastructure is downgraded or delayed, it can have deadly consequences.

Fatality Tracker: 2021 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets

Pedestrian: 12
Bicyclist: 7

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data released by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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