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Bicycling

Edgewater’s Clark St. bike lanes need a redesign in the face of constant blockages

9:49 PM CDT on November 4, 2021

A common sight on Clark: A vehicle parked in the new bike lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

The newly installed "bike lanes" on Clark Street in Edgewater from Hollywood (5700 N) to Devon (6400 N) have seen drivers parked in them since they were first striped in September. This obviously frustrates, and more importantly, endangers the people they were designed for: people biking. I had low expectations for the bike lane. And the persistent issue of drivers parking in them without repercussions was unsurprising.

Flyers informing drivers about the bike lane and "no parking" signs were posted during construction of the bike lanes but drivers continue to park in the so-called bike lanes.

When I was traveling to the groundbreaking for the new Peterson/Ridge Metra station, I had to use Clark St. I entered Clark at Granville (6200 N) and could not immediately access the bike lane due to a sea of parked cars that lined the block on the west side of Clark. One vehicle was backing up and running over a flex post as I snapped a photo.

ClarkStEdgewaterBlockage
This driver is backing over a flex post while attempting to queue in the bike lane in the 6200 block of N Clark St.
Photo: Courtney Cobbs
This driver is backing over a flex post while attempting to queue in the bike lane in the 6100 block of N Clark St. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

One of the auto repair shops on this block parked some equipment in the "bike lane" as well.

This was one of the most outrageous bike lane blockages I've encountered.Notice a Chicago Police officer drive by in the farmost right lane. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
This was one of the most outrageous bike lane blockages I've encountered. Notice a Chicago Police officer drive by in the far most right lane. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
This was one of the most outrageous bike lane blockages I've encountered. Notice a Chicago Police officer drive by in the farmost right lane. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

I called 911 and the 24th police district. I was informed officers would be dispatched "when resources permitted." An hour later when I rode by to see if any ticketing had occurred, no tickets had been issued. I noticed that one car that had been parked on the east side of Clark in the 5800 block was there last week, appearing to have not moved in the past several days. Later in the evening I reached out to the 40th Ward office by email about the issue. I was informed that the office had reached out to the Department of Finance to ticket and enforce the bike lane so that drivers would understand they can no longer park there. The 40th ward hopes the enforcement is "constant so as to reinforce the preferred behavior." I also hope that enforcement is constant.

When I reached out to the 48th Ward office (which overlaps with a different portion of the new Clark St bike lanes) by phone about bike lane blockages, I was encouraged to contact the police or file a 311 report.

I returned the next day to check out the infamous location near Clark and Granville and conditions were not much better than the day before. I once again called both 911 and the 24th police district. The dispatcher for the police district seemed to be familiar with the issue, asking me, "Is it those new bike lanes they installed?" I confirmed that it was, and when they asked how many vehicles there were, I relayed there were seven cars. I was once again informed that an officer would be dispatched when resources permitted.

I don’t enjoy calling the police on errant or willfully ignorant drivers but it’s the option that could potentially result in immediate consequences for drivers who are blocking safe routes for cycling. In my experience reporting bike lane blockages in the 49th Ward, I was informed that ward offices can request a specific time for an enforcement officer from the Department of Finance to come out. I’m not sure how often these requests are adhered to but the obvious flaw in this strategy is that bike lane blockages occur at all hours of the day. Sure, some times may be “hotter” than others but we need a solution that drastically reduces the amount and frequency of bike lane blockages. In my opinion, the best solution is a change to the design of the bike lane.

In the search for better bike lanes, I used my Twitter account to ask folks for examples of bike lanes that are designed in such a way to prevent drivers from parking or driving in them. I'd like to share a few examples that stood out to me.

The city of Evanston is able to maintain a clear bike lane at Chicago & Davis with a few plastic posts. I've never seen drivers parked in this bike lane despite it being right next to a hotel, a few restaurants, and street parking. 

Plastic posts at the entrance of a protected bike lane at the intersection of Davis St & Chicago Avenue in Evanston.Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Plastic posts at the entrance of a protected bike lane at the intersection of Davis St & Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Plastic posts at the entrance of a protected bike lane at the intersection of Davis St & Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

Someone shared some photos of a jersey barrier-protected bike lane in Toronto along an underpass painted with murals.

Allen Cowgill in Denver, CO, shared a photo of a quick and affordable protected-bike lane in his city. I think a few scofflaw drivers could still park in this if it were installed on Clark but this design could be implemented on arterial streets with on-street parking. I'd like to see the plastic posts replaced with something more durable and see the bike lane striped along the curb.

Joan from Portland, OR, traveled to Seattle and snapped these photos of a protected bike lane while there. I love the little touch of greenery with the planters in the bike lane. There's even a footrest, similar to the Curbee installed at Milwaukee and Ogden. I think bike lanes protected or separated by planters could be an easy sell along commercial corridors where merchants and residents have concerns about aesthetics.

https://twitter.com/joanbybike/status/1453468626833469443?s=20

Lastly, there's Victoria, British Columbia. I appreciate that the bike lane featured in the first photo is lower than the roadway for drivers and the sidewalk. I think the fact that it's lowered would make some drivers think twice about parking in it.

While we wait for better cycling infrastructure, if you ride this stretch and encounter blockages, it seems like your best bet may be to directly call the 24th police district station, file a 311 service request, and email the appropriate alderperson. If you encounter issues on this stretch on the southbound side of Clark St, this is 40th Ward territory. The northbound side is in the 48th Ward. 

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