Bike lane removal for Amazon turn lane prioritizes driver convenience over cyclist safety

Looking south on Halsted below an Orange Line and Metra viaduct just south of the river. The existing bike lane has been scraped out to make room for a left turn lane for truckers. Photo: Matthew Maule
Looking south on Halsted below an Orange Line and Metra viaduct just south of the river. The existing bike lane has been scraped out to make room for a left turn lane for truckers. Photo: Matthew Maule

Last year a coalition of environmental justice organizations and sustainable transportation advocacy groups tried to convince the Chicago Plan Commission to reject a zoning change to allow for a 112,000-square-foot Amazon warehouse on the south bank of the South Branch of the Chicago River, west of Halsted Street in Bridgeport. They argued that the Southwest Side already had many fulfillment centers and other industrial sites that contribute to air pollution in the area and create dangerous conditions for walking and biking.

A site plan for the Amazon warehouse.
A site plan for the Amazon warehouse.

Their lobbying efforts were unsuccessful, and the distribution center project has moved forward. Since that’s the case, at the very least, the city of Chicago should be doing what it can to mitigate the impact of increased traffic on vulnerable road users. For example, since there will be more truckers on Halsted, it would make sense to upgrade the existing painted bike lane on the street by adding concrete curb protection.

The urgent need to provide better protection for bicyclists on main street was tragically highlighted on Friday, December 10, when a right-turning truck failed to yield to cyclist Jose Velásquez, 16, in Back of the Yards, crushing the teen to death.

Looking north on Halsted under the viaduct. Photo: Matthew Maule
Looking north on Halsted under the viaduct. Photo: Matthew Maule

Infuriatingly, as highlighted in a Twitter post by Matthew Maule, conditions for people on bikes have actually been downgraded on Halsted in order to facilitate access to the Amazon facility. Under the Orange Line and Metra viaduct just south of the river, the northbound painted bike lane has been scraped out to make room for a new northbound left-turn lane at a new stoplight that will make it super-easy for truckers to make the westbound turn into the facility without delaying other motorists.

Yes, CDOT painted a green box with a bike-and-chevron “sharrow” symbol to help alert truckers to the presence of bikes, but overall these changes are clearly going to make people on bikes less safe. Through traffic will merge into what used to be the bike lane, creating a new risk of cyclists being struck from behind.

Streetsblog editor-at-large Steven Vance noted on Twitter that the new stoplight was announced in the traffic plan for the warehouse, but it doesn’t appear there was any warning about the bike lane removal.

If city officials were serious about mitigating the traffic safety impacts of the distribution center, northbound truckers would be prohibited from making left turns from Halsted to access the facility. Alternately, other motorists would simply be required to wait for truckers to execute the turn, rather than being allowed to passing the truck on the right. (Obviously, that would require curb protection for the bike lane to keep motorists from veering into them.)

The Chicago Department of Transportation hasn’t yet responded to our request for information on how the decision was made to scrape out the existing bike lane.

But any way you slice it, this bikeway downgrade, which will make bike riders less safe, makes a mockery of the city’s stated Vision Zero goal of eliminating all serious and fatal crashes.

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