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During bikeway maintenance rally, Ald. Vasquez discusses efforts to make Clark lanes work

3:07 PM CST on February 4, 2022

Last night’s rally. Photo: John Greenfield

If Chicago is going to use cycling to reduce congestion, pollution, and crashes, and improve transportation equity, we need to build a citywide network of connected, physically protected bike lanes that are safe and appealing for everyday Chicagoans. But we also need to keep them clear of debris, snow, and illegally parked vehicles so that people can actually ride in them.

In the summer of 2021 the Chicago Department of Transportation installed protected lanes on Clark Street in Edgewater, but they've been of limited utility due to constant vehicle blockages and, in recent weeks, snow accumulation, forcing bike riders to share the travel lanes with high-speed traffic. Last Saturday the person behind the Clark Street Bike Lane Twitter account expressed frustration that several 311 reports had been filed about snow in the bike lanes in the previously five days, but the bikeways still hadn’t been plowed.

A Domino's delivery vehicle parked in the bike lane on the 5800 block of North Clark last night. Photo: John Greenfield
A Domino's delivery vehicle parked in the bike lane on the 5900 block of North Clark last night. Photo: John Greenfield
A Domino's delivery vehicle parked in the bike lane on the 5800 block of North Clark last night. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday evening, in the wake of another major snowstorm earlier this week, the person behind the Twitter account and Streetsblog Chicago co-editor Courtney Cobbs hosted a rally to draw attention to the issue, hanging out in one of the slush-filled bike lanes just south of the White Castle at Clark Street and Ridge Avenue. This block has had recurring issues with drivers parking in the curbside bike lane. Attendees were encouraged to bring signs highlighting the need for the city to prioritize plowing bike lanes. Despite frigid and windy conditions, about a dozen people turned out for the demonstration.

Dana Smith said he showed up for the rally due because he's experienced "too much frustration trying to travel north and south on this road." He lives in Andersonville and uses Clark when he goes to volunteer The Recyclery nonprofit bike shop in Rogers Park, and work with refugees in West Ridge.

Dana Smith and Jeff Wegerson. Photo: John Greenfield
Dana Smith and Jeff Wegerson. Photo: John Greenfield
Dana Smith and Jeff Wegerson. Photo: John Greenfield

"We really just want the bike lanes to be maintained the same way the travel lanes are," said Kevin, one of the organizers of the event. "It's as simple as that."

Kevin, one of the event organizers. Photo: John Greenfield
Kevin, one of the event organizers. Photo: John Greenfield
Kevin, one of the event organizers. Photo: John Greenfield

"I ride down Clark Street a lot, and the bike lanes don't function that well," said attendee Mel Leverich, who works as an archivist. "They're always obstructed by cars, and now there's ice and snow and slush in them. The whole bike lane area is impassible.

Mel Leverich. Photo: John Greenfield
Mel Leverich. Photo: John Greenfield
Mel Leverich. Photo: John Greenfield

"I just wish this bike lane would be usable as a bike lane some day," said Spencer Carran, an epidemiologist who recently moved to the area.

Spencer Carran. Photo: John Greenfield
Spencer Carran. Photo: John Greenfield
Spencer Carran. Photo: John Greenfield

Hanging out at the bike lane provided a window into why there are so many issues with illegal parking. Although CDOT recently installed additional flexible plastic posts along the Clark bike lanes, making it difficult for motorists to pull into them from the left, a Domino's Pizza delivery backed into the lane just south of the gathering in order to make a pickup. And as person entered an apartment in an adjacent building she sarcastically yelled at the demonstrators, "Thank you for taking our parking away from us."

The organizers invited local aldermen Andre Vasquez (40th) and Harry Osterman (48) to the rally, and Vasquez showed up, bringing a couple of Domino's drivers with him, to explain his efforts to make the new street design work for all stakeholders.

Alderman Vasquez, right, discussing parking management  on the 5800 block of North Clark, accompanied by Domino's drivers. Photo: John Greenfield
Alderman Vasquez, right, discussing parking management on the 5900 block of North Clark, accompanied by Domino's drivers. Photo: John Greenfield
Alderman Vasquez, right, discussing parking management on the 5800 block of North Clark, accompanied by Domino's drivers. Photo: John Greenfield

"We had talked to Domino's about using the parking lot on Thorndale," Vasquez said, referring to the cross street to the south. "I talked to building management and they were cool with it. My understanding is that [the delivery drivers] were doing that and they were [still] getting complaints from the building management, so I'm going to sort that out with them." He added that another alternative to parking in the bike lanes is to "stand" in one of the two southbound travel lanes on Clark with blinkers on.

Vasquez also said he's looking into creating metered parking on Thorndale and setting up loading zones for the delivery drivers. "They're kind of caught in the middle because they hear from everybody... They're just working and trying to pay their bills." He added that in the future CDOT will be adding concrete protection to help keep cars out of the bike lanes, probably in late spring or early summer of this year.

Courtney Cobbs at last night's rally. Photo: John Greenfield
Courtney Cobbs at last night's rally. Photo: John Greenfield
Courtney Cobbs at last night's rally. Photo: John Greenfield

The alderman said there is also a conflict on the 6100 block of Clark, where there are multiple auto shops, and he's trying to arrange for their customers to be able to use the parking lot at a firehouse at the northwest corner of Elmdale and Clark streets on a temporary basis, since the fire department conducts training on the lot during the warmer months. In the future CDOT may create a parking-protected bike lane layout on the block to permanently address this issue.

These developments are an encouraging reminder that, when there's political will to address conflicts between different road users on protected bike lane corridors, it is possible to come up with solutions that make the new layout work better for everyone involved.

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