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Protected Bike Lanes

What should we do about Wells Street?

Streetsblog readers offer ideas for building protected bike lanes on Wells Street on the Near North Side, especially in delivery truck-clogged Old Town

The 1500 north block of Wells in Old Town, looking south, as it appeared in November 2021. Image: Google Maps

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Last week Streetsblog shared some encouraging news about the Chicago Department of Transportation building concrete-protected bicycle lanes in River North on Dearborn Street (30 W.) this year, and Clark Street (100 W.) in 2024. Those will help shield cyclists on two key on-street north-south routes used by hundreds of riders a day to travel between downtown and North Lakefront neighborhoods.

The new Dearborn (northbound-only in River North) and Clark (southbound-only downtown) protected routes will essentially run between Kinzie (400 N.) and Oak (1000 N.) streets. CDOT also hoped to build another protected bikeway on Wells Street (200 W.), on the two-way segment basically between Chicago (800 N.) and Lincoln (1800 N.) avenues, taking the protection a mile further north.

Unfortunately, the transportation department ultimately was unable to come with a protected bike lane design that was considered viable on Wells, a heavy truck delivery corridor. That's especially true in the retail-stretch between Division Street (1200 N.) and North Avenue (1600 N.) in the Old Town enclave.

The proposed Wells protected bike lane route. Image: Google Maps

2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins' Hopkins' director of zoning and development Brian Pelrine acknowledged that current delivery practices on Wells in Old Town are "not an ideal situation." While he said there are some loading zones and side streets truckers can use, delivery options are narrower than other areas because there are almost no alleys. As such, it's common for truck drivers to block the existing non-protected bike lane as well as part of the mixed-traffic lane, which creates hazards for pedestrian, bike riders, and motorists alike.

The 1200 north block of Wells, looking north, in October 2028. Image: Google Maps

Last week as part of a resurfacing project, CDOT bunted on the issue by simply re-striping the old Wells bike lanes with a few inches of added width. However, spokesperson Erica Schroeder told us the department is still "evaluating the potential of implementing protecting bike lanes on Wells Street... without requiring the removal of a parking lane."

The newly-striped, slightly wider non-protected bike lanes on the 1700 north block of Wells, looking south last Wednesday. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

Granted, removing large amounts of parking on a Chicago street with lots of shops, restaurants, and bars would be a heavy political lift. And the concessionaire for our city's awful parking contract would need to be reimbursed for revenue loss. But that's not necessarily an insurmountable hurdle.

For a fresh perspective we asked Streetsblog followers on Twitter if they had ideas for how to crack the Wells Street nut. Here are some of the suggestions, edited slightly for clarity:

• "Make half the parking a loading zone." (Tweeted by Streetsblog contributor Steven Lucy.)

• "Designated delivery zones are a must, and [delivery companies and/or merchants should] pay up on lost parking meter agreement revenue in the progress of safety!"

• "Reverse the position of parking and bike lane for starters, and turn some of those parking spots into loading zones."

• "Deliveries on one side and a wider two-way PBL on the other?"

A response to our query from Molly Fleck.

• "No car parking during delivery/rush hours 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m."

• "Close the street to vehicular traffic like 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., with movable bollards. Allow deliveries, but no through traffic (perhaps with a permanent barrier around 1400 N. Wells St.) at other times."

• "Perhaps delivery companies can switch to smaller trucks and have them get fitted with cameras so they can report any car that [is illegally parked in the loading zone.]"

• "E-cargo bikes!"

And one commenter questioned the notion that protected lanes need to be postponed to accommodate illegal delivery methods. "This is just an absurd excuse – [we're] dealing with it in River North as well. [Decision makers are] saying no to protected lanes to ‘protect’ illegal use of lanes by delivery trucks Enforce/provide proper delivery options [instead]."

So the consensus seemed to be that, to make Wells a safer street for everybody, road width permitting, we should put the bike lanes curbside and create more dedicated loading zones, even though that means stripping some car parking. That would create a more convenient situation for delivery truckers, and a less dangerous and chaotic one for everybody else.

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