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Protected Bike Lanes

The removal of curb protection from the Doty bike lanes in Ald. Anthony Beale’s 9th Ward really gets our goat

Was the potentially livesaving infrastructure removed due to drainage issues, as CDOT told us, or for some other reason?

Visualization of a contractor removing concrete curb protection from the Doty Avenue bike lanes. Illustration: Jonathan Roth, edited by Steph Reid

This post is sponsored by Keating Law Offices.

Why are there goats in the above image? Because the Southeast Side is home to delicious goat tacos, and (unrelatedly) a herd of goats that eat weeds to help maintain prairie grass on a landfill near Lake Calumet.

The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways are well aware that our city's Southeast Side doesn't have its fair share of connected, physically protected bicycle lanes. For example, last year they hosted multiple bike rides to get feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of SE Side bicycycle infrastructure.

The location of the Doty/Woodlawn protected bike lane, the long green stripe between Olive Harvey and Walmart. Image: Google Maps

One bike infrastructure bright spot on the Southeast Side for the last few years has been a stretch of curbside protected bike lanes running 1.8 miles through the Pullman community area, in the 9th Ward. It curves between 100th Street and Woodlawn Avenue (about 1200 E.) near Olive Harvey College, and 111th Street and Doty Avenue (roughly 800 E.) near a Walmart Supercenter. It largely hugs the Bishop Ford Expressway, and is located just west of Lake Calumet, and on the other side of the lake from Big Marsh bike park.

The bike lanes on Doty north of 111th, looking north, before the concrete curbs were installed, or after they were removed. Image: Google Maps

The Doty/Woodlawn route recently got much safer for bicycling when CDOT contractors upgraded much of the corridor with pre-cast concrete curb protection. Providing a sturdy barrier between drivers and bike riders, not just just paint on the road or flexible plastic posts, is crucial for preventing reckless, intoxicated, and/or distracted motorists from seriously injuring or killing people on bikes.

Tragically, that fact was laid bare last October, when an allegedly drunk driver fatally struck Don Heggemann, 59, who was cycling in a non-protected, paint-only bike lane on Damen Avenue (2000 W.) in Lincoln Square. It's possible that if the bikeway had been shielded with concrete curbs, they would have prevented the motorist from striking Heggemann, and he would still be alive today.

Don Heggemann

But in early January, Streetsblog got some bad news about the Doty/Woodlawn protected lanes from a bike rider who lives in the area. "I was thrilled to see concrete PBL work done on Doty near a South Side Walmart," he wrote. "Imagine my horror when I saw that the concrete PBLs have all been 100 percent removed from Doty within a month or so of their installation! [Curb protection still exists on Woodlawn north of 103rd near Olive Harvey.] I'm FURIOUS. Why has this removal happened? It should be the opposite, with more and more concrete PBLs being installed."

Ald. Anthony Beale

Streetsblog asked CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder why the safety infrastructure was torn out so soon after it was installed. "The pre-cast concrete curbs were removed from the Doty bike lane in coordination with [local alderperson Anthony Beale (9th)] due to drainage issues," Schroeder said. "The bike lane would flood with water following rainfalls, making the lane unusable. We are assessing options to address the problem."

After Streetsblog shared this statement with the local resident who told us about the removals, he said CDOT's explanation is absurd. "I saw the PBLs in the rain; They looked like the rest of the street... The concrete [was] not even flush with the ground. There are raised parts underneath which allow for water to flow in and out." He hypothesized that the curbs might have been removed to make driving on Doty more convenient for truckers who serve an Amazon warehouse located just north of the Walmart.

Pre-cast concrete protection on one of the Kinzie Street PBLs in River North shows that the curbs allow rainwater to drain. Photo: John Greenfield.

"I definitely have not observed flooding in that area, which is notable in the region," said Paul Fitzgerald, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of Big Marsh Park.

Ald. Beale's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A recent photo of the now non-protected bike lanes on Doty near 109th, between the Walmart entrance and the Amazon warehouse and the Pullman Community Center. Photo: Paul Fitzgerald

Is CDOT's claim that the curbs were taken away due to drainage issues accurate, or was there was some other reason Ald. Beale asked the department to remove them? We don't yet know for sure, but one thing's certain. Now that there's nothing on the avenue to protect bike riders from dangerous drivers except paint and flimsy posts, it's a lot more likely someone will die on Doty.

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