Rally for better bike lane maintenance planned for this Thursday 6 PM at Clark/Ridge

A Divvy user rides outside of the Clark Street protected bike lanes in Edgewater because they're clogged with snow and illegally parked vehicles. Image: Twitter user @Teflonics
A Divvy user rides outside of the Clark Street protected bike lanes in Edgewater because they're clogged with snow and illegally parked vehicles. Image: Twitter user @Teflonics

The protected bike lanes on Clark Street from Hollywood Avenue (5700 N.) to Devon Avenue (6400 N.) in Edgewater have been a source of frustration for people who ride bikes ever since the Chicago Department of Transportation began installing them last summer. First, it took seemingly forever for crews to install the flexible plastic posts intended to keep drivers out of the lanes, a delay CDOT blamed on supply chain issues. Even after the posts went in, motorists have constantly parked in the lanes, with little or no enforcement, making the bikeways semi-functional at best.

After a campaign by the transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago, of which I’m a cofounder, in December CDOT committed to adding more posts by the end of the month, and installing concrete protection later this year. However, in January there were still constant issues with bike lane blockages despite the additional posts, which don’t offer much physical protection from drivers compared to concrete curbs or raised bike lanes.

The Clark Street bike lanes in Edgewater were still full of snow well after the travel lanes were plowed. Photo used by permission from a Reddit poster.
The Clark Street bike lanes in Edgewater were still full of snow well after the travel lanes were plowed. Photo used by permission from a Reddit poster.

Yet another issue has come up with the Clark bike lanes. The city has failed to plow snow from them in a timely manner, forcing cyclists to share the travel lanes with fast-moving drivers.

On Saturday afternoon the Clark Street Bike Lane Twitter account expressed frustration that several 311 reports had been filed about snow in the bike lanes in the last five days, but the bikeways still hadn’t been plowed.

I have been out on my bike every day since the most recent snowstorm on Friday, and I’ve used Clark for most of my commute because I knew CDOT crews would prioritize plowing this major arterial street and CTA bus route. However, the bike lanes haven’t been an option since they’ve been full of snow and illegally parked vehicles. Since I ride an e-bike and can travel relatively fast without a lot of extra effort, I felt comfortable riding in the center of the adjacent travel lane, aka “taking the lane.” Fortunately, the drivers I’ve encountered seemed to be fine with me doing this, because there are two travel lanes in each direction on most of this stretch of Clark. 

However, not all bike riders on Clark Street have been so lucky. On Sunday night a Twitter user named Dana, who tweets under the handle @teflonics, posted a video of a person riding a Divvy bike south on Clark from Ridge Avenue, riding on the righthand side of one of the travel lanes. In the clip, a motorist in a red car drives erratically around the bike rider, nearly sideswiping them.

Dana wrote, “People still can’t use the new Clark Street bike lanes because they are still full of snow and cars. Watching moments like this every trip is scary. Can we get plowing and parking enforcement here?” They tagged local aldermen Andre Vasquez (40th) and Harry Osterman (48th) and CDOT, among others. 

While cycling this stretch of Clark on Monday around 3 p.m., I noticed the bike lanes appeared to be shoveled. There were a few times during my ride that I had to considerably slow down or hop off my bike due to some snow in the middle of the lane or a huge puddle near the curb. At one intersection where snow had been left in the middle of the bikeway, I dismounted to kick some of it into the roadway.

The Clark bike lanes now have more posts, but they're still often filled with snow and/or blocked by illegally parked vehicles. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
The Clark bike lanes now have more posts now, but they’re still often filled with snow and/or blocked by illegally parked vehicles. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

The person behind the Clark Street Bike Lane account and I came up with the idea of holding a protest to call attention to the snow clearance issue. While we initially announced it for this evening, we eventually decided to move it to this Thursday, February 3, at 6 p.m. at the southwest corner of Clark and Ridge (about 5900 N., next to a White Castle), to give people more notice, and because rain was predicted for today, followed by another major snowstorm later tonight. Attendees are encouraged to bring signs highlighting the need for the city to prioritize plowing bikeways.

Poor bike lane maintenance is a citywide problem. In September I wrote about the city of Chicago’s failure to take ownership of the bike lanes it installs by keeping them free of debris and blockages. My hope is that with continued protests and media attention to the issue, we can make progress towards ensuring bike lanes are cleared in a timely manner, just like travel lanes for motor vehicles. After all, not only does Chicago need a citywide, connected network of physically protected bikeways, but we also need them to be maintained so that they are actually rideable.

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