Who’s protecting and maintaining Chicago’s protected bike lanes?

Concrete curb-protected bike lane on Elston between Damen and Fullerton. Image: Google Maps
Concrete curb-protected bike lane on Elston between Damen and Fullerton. Image: Google Maps

It’s not uncommon for Streetsblog Chicago to be tagged in social media posts about bike lane obstructions, whether it be a vehicle, a commercial sign, a construction project, snow, or trash. In December 2019 we covered the issue of reports of bike lane blockages to the 311 app getting no response. Sadly, it seems that many bike lane obstructions are still going unaddressed, which can put people on bikes in danger.

I noticed a tweet on my Twitter timeline on September 10 from a user with the handle Bikes Peace Love stating they have reported blockages in the Elston concrete curb-protected bike lane for two month with no response. According to this person, the bike lane has been filled with debris including broken glass.

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That evening I emailed  the local alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), about the Elston issue. Almost two weeks later, I still haven’t heard back. I went out five days later to check out the bike lane. Sure enough, there was dirt, gravel, and glass in the bike lane. It seems as if runoff from the lots surrounding the bike lane ends up in the bike lane when it rains.

Gravel runoff in the Elston bike lane.Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Gravel runoff in the Elston bike lane.
Photo: Courtney Cobbs

I reached out to Bikes Peace Love to obtain screenshots of their 311 requests. A request from August 23rd was still open in spite of 311 stating the estimated completion time was fourteen days.

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I asked the Chicago Department of Transportation, which installs and maintain protected bike lanes, if there’s a set maintenance schedule for these bikeways. I was unable to get a direct answer as to whether or not there’s a maintenance schedule. Instead I was informed once again that CDOT encourages folks to report bike lane issues to 311.

Christina Whitehouse of Bike Lane Uprising, a site for documenting bikeway obstructions, noted that not much seems to have changed since she spoke with me for the 2019 article on bikeway maintenance.

Whitehouse said Bike Lane Uprising has paired BLU submissions with 311 requests and seen firsthand that needed bike lane maintenance or obstructions were not dealt with. In the case of the Elston protected bike lane, Whitehouse said there have been BLU submissions involving delivery trucks placing their loading ramps over the bike lane presenting a risk of a “clothesline” decapitation. Whitehouse added that the car dealerships along Elston do not allow delivery drivers to use their parking lot and count on drivers using the bike lane as a loading zone.

An image from ATA's Clear the Way campaign.
An image from ATA’s Clear the Way campaign.

Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Kyle Whitehead said the advocacy group often hears from their supporters about the issue of bike lane maintenance, or rather the lack thereof. In 2016 ATA launched the Clear the Way campaign, which led to improvements in the 311 reporting system, including the ability to specifically call out bike lane obstructions. However, Whitehead said it is clear that the 311 system is “not sufficient to tackle the problem at scale.”

“ATA has pushed for streamlined reporting using tools like social media and texting, plus dedicated funding for bike lane and sidewalk maintenance,” Whitehead added. “Right now it’s unclear how many resources are going towards maintaining bike paid infrastructure because it’s lumped in with the overall maintenance budget. This likely results in few resources going towards keeping sidewalks and bike lanes clear and no clear strategy. The city needs to be more transparent about its approach to maintaining this critical safety infrastructure and how many – or how few – resources they’re putting into it.”

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