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Protected Bike Lanes

Frightful! After Dearborn bridge protected bike lane reopened, CDOT removed Wacker, Clark PBLs without warning on Halloween

"It takes forever to get the city to even repaint a bike lane or repair a flexi-post, but they can remove the posts and markings almost overnight," a reader noted.

Riding south in the two-way protected bike lane on the rebuilt Dearborn Street bridge. Photo: A Streetsblog reader

This post is sponsored by The Bike Lane.

During the seemingly endless reconstruction of the Dearborn Street (30 W.) bridge over the Chicago River, which connects the Dearborn two-way protected bike lane to the Kinzie Street (400 N.) protected lanes, there was a bright spot. The Chicago Department of Transportation set up a temporary detour, connecting Dearborn to Kinzie by installing PBLs on short stretches of Wacker Drive (300 N.) and Clark Street (100 W.) Read a full writeup of that project in this post from September 2022.

The Dearborn and Kinzie (mostly) protected bike lanes (green), and the detour route on Wacker and Clark (red) with PBLs that CDOT removed shortly after the Dearborn Bridge reopened. Image: Google Maps

CDOT installed flexible post-delineated bike lanes on both sides of Clark, a one-way southbound street, with parking protection for the northbound bikeway. As you can see in the video below, there was a bit of a sketchy situation on this block due to a mid-block crosswalk with a stoplight just north of the bridge, with poor sight lines for northbound bike riders.

The temporary protected bike lanes in both directions on a southbound-only section of Clark, as it appeared in September 2022, looking north. Photo: John Greenfield

As you can see in the video below, there was a bit of a sketchy situation on this block due to a mid-block crosswalk with a stoplight just north of the bridge, with poor sight lines for northbound bike riders.

But the segment on Wacker was generally very nice. CDOT installed the temporary Jersey barrier-protected two-way bike lane on the north side of Wacker between Dearborn and Clark. While you were cycling east-west, it offered near-total protection from reckless drivers. One fly in the ointment, which you can see in the following video, was that many drivers heading north on Dearborn and turning west onto Wacker disobeyed endangering people on bikes who were turning left into the curbside lane.

Establishing the Wacker bike lane involved converting a travel lane, but there were still six lanes for drivers left on the massive road. There should be permanent protected lanes like this along some or all of the entire length of Upper Wacker.

The Wacker two-way protected bike lane in September 2022, looking west. Photo: John Greenfield

Late year summer CDOT started extending the Dearborn protected lane north of Kinzie into River North as a northbound-only concrete-protected lane. They also announced that Clark Street in River North would be getting a similar treatment next year, with a permanent southbound PBL. Read about those projects here.

On October 26 architecture writer Lynn Becker tweeted out the excellent news that the Dearborn Bridge was reopened, including the flexi-post delineated two-way bike lane. The Chicago bike community rejoiced.

On October 27, Streetsblog Chicago editor-at-large Steven Vance asked me, in the wake of the bridge reopening, "Will the current Wacker and Clark PBLs remain in place, or what’s the future of those locations?"

I immediately passed along Steven's question to the CDOT spokesperson. On October 30th the spokesperson responded, "Hi John, checking on a few things and will get back to you on... your question re: Wacker/Clark." 

I never actually heard back from CDOT on this matter, despite sending one more follow-up this afternoon. But as it turned out the question "What's the future of these locations" was answered wordlessly on October 31.

Wacker Drive after CDOT removed the Jersey barriers and ground out the street markings, looking east. Photo: A Streetsblog reader

"As you know, the Dearborn bridge is back open to cyclists and the Clark Street cafe street [a pedestrianized zone between Kinzie and Grand (530 N.)] has been removed for the season," a reader wrote me that day. "However, what really struck me is how quickly the city yanked out the cycling infrastructure on Clark. It takes forever to get the city to even repaint a bike lane or repair a flexi-post, but they can remove the posts and markings almost overnight. Gotta get that parking back!"

A CDOT crew removing the southbound Clark protected lane, looking south. Photo: A Streetsblog reader

"Obviously, since Dearborn is open, there doesn't need to be a northbound protected bike lane [on Clark]," the reader acknowledged. "But the southbound PBL was very helpful, especially on the bridge and dealing with right-turning [southbound drivers] at Wacker. It looks like we're back to another winter of the Clark Street morning rush dragway that starts at Ontario Street [630 N.] and blows by Daley Plaza [100 N.] One step forward, two steps back."

Clark after the protected bike lanes were removed, looking north from Wacker. "Even with three travel lanes, there would still be room for a southbound protected bike lane," the reader says. Photo: A Streetsblog reader

So yeah, it was a little spooky when CDOT made the Clark and Dearborn protected lanes vanish on Halloween without a word of warning. But, on the plus side, we can look forward to the new permanent PBL on Clark in River North next year. And let's keep our eyes on the prize to permanently convert a lane or two of a large section of Wacker Drive to PBLs in the future.

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