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Protected bike lanes are coming to Dearborn, Clark, and – maybe someday – Wells on Near North Side

Dearborn is getting northbound PBLs north of Kinzie, and Clark is getting southbound ones, but Wells Street will have to wait.

A new concrete island next to the northbound Dearborn bike lane at Huron Street, looking north. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

This post is sponsored by The Bike Lane.

Special thanks to Michelle Stenzel for help with this article.

If you need proof that lots of Chicagoans use streets to bike from North Lakefront neighborhoods to downtown, just look at the city's only bike counter on Wells Street (200 W.) at Chicago Avenue (800 N.) in River North. On Wednesday, a great example of terrific post-Labor Day cycling weather here, the device detected a whopping 715 riders (and probably missed a few.)

Unfortunately, if you want a lower-stress bike route to downtown from these neighborhoods with protection from motorized traffic, you generally need to detour to the (usually) car-free Lakefront Trail. Wells, Clark Street (100 W.) and Dearborn Street (30 W.) are widely-used north-south on-street bike routes across the Near North Side that have painted bike lanes. But they have no physical protection from motorists north of Kinzie Street (400 N.) in River North, where chaotic, sometimes deadly, driver behavior is common.

Happily, that is – or could be – changing in the future on Dearborn, Clark, and Wells. You may have noticed that Chicago Department of Transportation crews are currently upgrading the existing painted northbound bike lane on the west side of Dearborn with concrete protection between Kinzie and Chicago Avenue, a half-mile stretch. The bike lanes will be moved curbside, with car parking relocated to the right.

The new concrete island next to the northbound Dearborn bike lane at the southwest corner of Hubbard/Dearborn, looking north. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

As Streetsblog readers know, Dearborn is normally a two-way protected bike lane you can ride in both directions 1.2 miles between Kinzie and Polk Street (800 S.) But due to Chicago River bridge work on Dearborn, bike traffic is currently detoured between the Dearborn PBLs and Kinzie via a block of Jersey Wall protected lanes on Wacker Drive, and a new block of PBLS on Clark.

The new concrete island next to the northbound Dearborn bike lane at the southwest corner of Hubbard/Grand, looking north. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

As of yesterday afternoon, there were four new concrete islands installed to the right of the Dearborn bike lane, at Hubbard Street (430 N.), Grand Avenue (530 N.), Huron Street (700 N.) and Chicago Avenue. Those structures will help protect bike riders from recklessly left-turning drivers, a common hazard on Dearborn in River North. They'll also shorten crossing distances for people on foot. But they're not bus stop islands, since the northbound CTA #22 Clark bus runs on the east side of Dearborn downtown.

The new concrete island next to the northbound Dearborn bike lane at the southwest corner of Hubbard/Chicago, looking north. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

According to CDOT, there will be a protected bike signal phase at Dearborn's Chicago Avenue intersection. Bike riders will be separated from left-turning drivers by raised concrete and a dedicated bike signal. While people biking and walking across Chicago Avenue have the green light or walk signal, left-turning drivers will have a red turn arrow.  

Tireless sustainable transportation advocate and photographer Michelle Stenzel, who provided the Dearborn photos, also raised some intriguing possibilities about Wells and Clark this week after browsing ChiStreetWork. "OK, this is on the official CDOT infrastructure portal, that Wells Street from Lincoln (1800 N.) to almost Chicago Avenue, (800 N) will get a curbside, parking-protected lane in 2024," she tweeted Monday evening. "If this actually materializes, [it] will be huge for many North Side bike riders," Many local cyclists, Streetsblog included, were psyched by this idea for a 1.2-mile low-stress north-south route.

The potential Well protected bike lane from from Lincoln Avenue to Institute Place mentioned on the ChiStreetWork site. Image: Google Maps.

Michelle later shared with Streetsblog another ChiStreetWorks notice discussing the installation of a protected bike lane on Clark, 0.75 miles between Oak Street (1000 N.) and Kinzie, in 2023. She noted that on that south of Walton Street (930 N.) Clark becomes a "superwide" one-way southbound street with three mixed-traffic lanes, so there's plenty of room to convert one of them to a PBL.

Clark south of Walton, looking south. Photo: Google Maps

She also noticed that the CDOT 2023 Bikeway Installations list mentions that a westbound non-protected bikeway is planned on one-way Walton, located on the north side of Washington Square Park, by the Newberry Library, to tie Dearborn and Clark together. "This combination of protected bike lanes on Dearborn and Clark through River North will be a complete game changer," she said.

She's right, but how much of this stuff besides Dearborn is actually going to happen anytime soon? Streetsblog reached out to CDOT and local alderpersons Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) for more details.

Yesterday we heard from Hopkins' director of zoning and development Brian Pelrine. He confirmed that the southboand Clark protected lane is happening, with a similar configuration as the northbound Dearborn PBL in River North. That is, curbside with parking moved to the right of the bikeway, and concrete islands at intersections.

Pelrine had more good news. The Dearborn protected bike lanes will be extended north past Chicago Avenue to Walton in the 2nd Ward. At that point, bike riders can take Walton west to meet up with the two-way section of Clark (which isn't getting PBLs yet.)

The planned protected bike lanes on Clark and Dearborn. Image: Google Maps

Pelrine had some bad news too, though. While CDOT had, in fact, proposed PBLs on Wells between Chicago and Lincoln avenues, "they couldn't figure out a way to make it work." He noted, accurately, that there are major problems with delivery drivers blocking the existing non-protected bike lanes and mixed-traffic lanes, particularly between Division Street (1200 N.) and North Avenue (1600 N.) in Old Town, which is full of restaurants and bars. "Obviously that's not an ideal situation."

"There are commercial loading zones, and people try to pull trucks onto side streets," Pelrine added. "But things are worse there than in other parts of town because there are no alleys." As such, it would be difficult to put in protected lanes without removing a parking lane in that retail-dense stretch.

Diagonal parking on the 1200 north block of Wells in November 2021. Image: Google Maps

Pelrine said right now CDOT is simply resurfacing and re-marking Wells instead of installing protected bike lanes. One silver lining, he said, is that diagonal car parking on the west side of the 1200 and 1300 North blocks of Wells is being replaced with parallel parking, which should make conditions a little safer for bike riders. "CDOT no longer recommends that streets with bike lanes have diagonal parking," he explained.

Stenzel dropped by Wells today and snapped photos of partially re-striped non-protected "buffered" bike lanes (which have a few inches of striped pavement to the left and/or right of the bikeway itself.) As you can see from the photo below, the new layout is a few inches wider than it was before. She added that a diagonal parking was also converted to parallel parking on the 1700 North block, but Pelrine might have been unaware of that because it's in the 43rd Ward.

Partially finished new bike lanes on Wells today. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

Streetsblog heard back today from CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder. She confirmed that the northbound Dearborn PBLs will be extended a few blocks north of Chicago Avenue in the 2nd Ward as part of an upcoming repaving project.

Schroeder also said that southbound protected lanes are coming to Clark in River North, but not in 2023. "We don’t expect installation to begin this year. Some specifics of the project are still being finalized."

As for Wells, Schroeder said that while protected lanes are not happening anytime soon, all hope is not lost. "CDOT is evaluating the potential of implementing protecting bike lanes on Wells Street," she said. "As outlined in the Chicago Cycling Strategy, CDOT is identifying opportunities to convert buffered bike lanes to protected bike lanes without requiring the removal of a parking lane."

"While there are no immediate plans for implementation, we look forward to continuing to work to make Wells Street safer for everyone," Schroder concluded. "It is both a critical part of Chicago’s bike network and a busy commercial corridor with many loading and curbside challenges." 

A beer delivery truck blocks the northbound bike lane and mixed-traffic lane on the 1500 block of North Wells Street in Old Town, looking north. Image: Google Docs

So while it's disappointing that Wells is not getting protected bike lanes, it's encouraging that Dearborn and Clark in River North are. And, who knows, maybe a solution can be found for Wells in the future. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comment section.

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