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Protected Bike Lanes

Some good news about Clark Street, for a change: A protected bike lane is on the way

CDOT has started constructing pedestrian islands that will double as protection for the new Clark bike lane between Oak Street and Grand Avenue.

Riding south past the construction site for a new pedestrian island at the northeast corner of Clark and Eric streets, which will double as bike lane protection. Photo: CDOT

This post is sponsored by Keating Law Offices.

Last Friday I checked out and posted about a depressing situation on Clark Street (100 W.) in Chicago's Near North Side. The Extended Out Dining district between Grand Avenue (530 N.) and Kinzie Street (400 N.), which used to be refreshingly car-free during the warmer months, is now overrun with drivers again.

The formerly pedestrianized Clark Street EOD last Friday. Photo: John Greenfield

On the bright side, on Friday I also looked at something encouraging happening on Clark in that neighborhood.

Now, the Dearborn Street (30 W.) protected bike lane, located one block east of Clark, is one of Chicago's most popular bikeways. The Chicago Department of Transportation recently extended it 0.7 miles north as a northbound-only bike route from Kinzie Avenue (400 N.) to Walton Street (930 N.)

A minor issue is that, since there are no nearby southbound protected bike lanes, wrong-way riding is common on this northbound-only stretch of Dearborn. That's not a major problem, because this segment is reasonably wide, but it's not ideal.

A southbound rider on the northbound-only protected bike lane on Dearborn on the Near North Side. Photo: John Greenfield

Fortunately, last September CDOT confirmed to Streetsblog that a similar parking-protected bike lane, with pedestrian islands at intersections, was planned for Clark, which would provide a lower-stress southbound alternative. (Sustainable transportation advocate Michelle Stenzel had previously alerted Streetsblog that there were notes about the project on the City's ChiStreetWork website.) 

Green: Existing protected bike lane on Dearborn (northbound) and in-progress PBL on Clark (southbound). Purple: Clark Street Expanded Outdoor Dining district. Image: Google Maps

Last month, another Streetsblog reader sent us photos of pedestrian islands starting to take shape on the east side of Clark in on the Near North Side. They have a similar layout as the ones on Dearborn with a bike lane-sized gap between the island and the "mainland".

"That is indeed part of the Clark PBL project," CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroder said. "Work is currently underway to install a southbound concrete-protected bike lane on Clark Street, from Oak Street [1000 N.] to Grand Avenue."

Biking south on Clark past the Newberry Library at Walton. Photo: John Greenfield

That answered the question of how the Clark protected lane would have functioned between Grand and Kinzie if that stretch had been pedestrianized this summer for Extended Outdoor Dining. Again, unfortunately the EOD is not slated to be car-free this year. Since there's plenty of room on three-lane southbound Clark on that segment nowadays, even with the curb lanes occupied by restaurant seating, it would be good if CDOT at least painted non-protected bike lanes there.

A new pedestrian island, doubling as protection for the upcoming bike lane, on the east side Clark south of Walton, next to Washington Square Park. Photo: John Greenfield

"This lane complements the recently installed northbound protected lane on Dearborn Street, contributing to Chicago’s expanding network of protected bike lanes downtown and across the city," Schroeder added. "The project also includes curb extensions to create shorter pedestrian crossings and increase visibility for people crossing Clark Street."

Sidewalk and street work underway at the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue (800 N.) and Clark. Photo: John Greenfield

So as is always the case with protected bike lanes, this project will benefit people on bicycles, on foot, and in motor vehicle, since the islands will visually narrow the streets, calming traffic and helping to prevent car-car crashes.

A crew installs a pedestrian island / bike lane protection by The Kerryman Irish pub, at the northeast corner of Erie Street (658 N.) and Clark. Someone should buy these people a round. Photo: John Greenfield

We're looking forward to CDOT finishing the curb extensions, moving the parking lane to the right of the bike lane, and perhaps adding some green paint to make the new bikeway obvious to drivers so they don't park in it. Hopefully it won't be long until the Clark Street protected bike lane is ready to ride.

Update Wednesday 6/5/24, 11:45 AM: CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder provided the following explanation of what's going at Chicago Avenue and Clark Street, the second-to-last photo in this post. "At Clark/Chicago, CDOT is implementing a curbside protected bike lane and a new bicycle traffic signal. The bicycle signal will provide a dedicated signal phase for people walking and biking, allowing them to cross the intersection separately from left-turning motorists. The work you see at the intersection is associated with the new traffic signal equipment and protected bike lane. Bus stops will remain on the west side of Clark."

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