What should drivers do to avoid blocking bikeways – especially bike-share workers?
5:59 PM CDT on October 22, 2021
Hard-working delivery drivers, and other workers who need to visit multiple locations by car, van, or truck in the course of the day, help keep Chicago running. (Of course the more of these kind of trips that can be replaced by bicycles, electric cargo bikes, and other space-efficient, sustainable modes, the better.)
Our streets should be designed to safely, legally, and conveniently accommodate short stops with at least one designated loading zone on every block. That would be a win for all concerned.
As it stands, it's pretty much impossible to do these kind of trips all day in our congested city without occasionally bending or breaking traffic rules. It's common, and understandable, for professional drivers to briefly parking in illegal curbside spots or double-parking in a travel lane with their flashers on if no curb space is available anywhere near their destination.
But when motorists park in bike lanes, it's at least an annoyance for so-called "strong and fearless" urban cyclists who are comfortable merging into the adjacent travel lane to get around the vehicle. And for less skilled or confident bike riders, it can be downright hazardous to be forced to detour into the mixed-traffic lane, and a major deterrent to on-street cycling. That's enough of an issue that there's a nationwide, Chicago-based website dedicated to documenting and advocating against bikeway obstructions called Bike Lane Uprising.
Moreover, when the person clogging the bikeway is employed by a city-owned bike-share system, an entity whose entire purpose is to make bicycling easier, this kind of blockage can feel like a betrayal. Earlier this week Kyle Lucas, cofounder of the sustainable transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago, tweeted out a photo of a Divvy van parked in the curbside, non-protected bike lane on Orleans Street, on the west side of the Merchandise Mart, sparking an in-depth discussion of the issue.
Some people responded to the tweet by expressing frustration with this not-uncommon phenomenon, as well as describing incidents where Divvy drivers cut them off in traffic. Others suggested reporting the driver's plate number to Divvy.
I asked, where would people like the Divvy employee, who's redistributing or maintaining the black and blue bikes for the benefit of local cyclists, to park in a situation like this, when there's no available curb space. Some suggested the service drive on the south side of the Mart, but that's about half a block away from the station, a long way to travel when wrangling a bunch of bikes, and then the worker wouldn't be able to keep an eye on the van.
Since the block has multiple northbound mixed-traffic lanes, others said the driver should park in the travel lane to the left of the bike lane, with their hazard lights on and traffic cones out. "Forcing a [driver] to merge over is less dangerous than forcing a cyclist to merge," tweeted Hyde Park-based bike advocate Steven Lucy. "Plus [the Divvy driver is] already partly blocking the car lane."
I asked someone I know who drives for a bike-share service in another city for their take. "Bike-share vehicles blocking bike lanes is expressly forbidden and can lead to corrective action from management," they said. "But people are human and if they think they're going to make a very quick stop, I actually think less of [people who call them out] on Twitter (and knowingly or unknowingly threatened their employment) than I do the drivers themselves. Such social media activity is aggressively anti-worker in my view... On top of the limited space that our maintenance drivers, technicians, and rebalancers have to find parking and work from, we are also quite cognizant that there are members of the public who can put our jobs in jeopardy with anonymous social media vigilantism."
Needless to say, some Chicagoans who ride bikes (including Streetblog Chicago co-editor Courtney Cobbs) disagreed with that point of view.
I asked Divvy spokesperson Jordan Levine for his take on the Merchandise Mart situation, and info on what guidelines Divvy drivers are given on parking or driving around bikeways. "Safety is our top priority for both our associates and riders and this incident will be reviewed internally," he promised.
A person associated with the Divvy program assured me that the bike-share system has "robust" policies in place for rebalancers. "We advise our associates to find a safe place to park that does not block traffic including intersections, sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and bus stops. In addition to finding a safe place to park, we also give guidelines that the vehicle remains within eyesight of the associate and task." Therefore, parking around the corner from the Merchandise Mart Divvy station would have been frowned upon.
"Drivers are trained to never park in the bike lane," the person said. "Park down the street, wherever you can to not block a bike lane. The last option is to block the lane of travel, with cones placed, but we don’t love that solution, especially in very congested areas due to the increased risk of crashes." Again, some argue this option is safer than forcing bike riders to merge into traffic.
Steve Lucy pointed out that if Chicago had European-style separated or raised bikeways all over the city, this sort of thing would be a non-issue.
And Streetsblog Chicago editor-at-large Steven Vance proposed a good near-term solution: Add physical protection to the curbside bike lane, and then convert the travel lane to the left of it into a dedicated loading zone.
Divvy rebalancing and maintenance workers, if you're reading this, thanks in advance for viewing blocking bikeways as a non-option in the future, instead parking in the adjacent travel lane. And thanks for keeping Chicago's bike-share system rolling. We appreciate you.
In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.
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