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Protected Bike Lanes

Riding on Chicago’s new all-green protected Clark Street “brat lane”

Enthusiastic Divvy bike-share riders on the new Clark Street protected bike lane near Huron Street (700 N.) on the Near North Side, looking north. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

"Fancy." "I Love It."

Those aren't just hits featuring British dance music singer-songwriter Charli XCX. They were also my reactions to Chicago's nearly completed Clark Street protected bike lane during my first pedal on it yesterday. I'll explain why in a bit.

Charli XCX in an Amsterdam bicycle parking area in the video for her hit song "Boom Clap".

I've previously written at length about the upcoming Clark PBL, located on the city's Near North Side, so I'll keep this post relatively brief. But if you're unfamiliar with this facility, you can get up to speed here.

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

The new Clark (100 W.) bikeway is the southbound sister to the northbound protected lane that was built last year one block east of Clark on Dearborn Street (30 W.) between Kinzie Street (400 N.) and Walton Street (930 N.) That stretch of Dearborn is 0.7 miles long.

A bicyclist and three scooter riders (legally) using the two-way block of the new Clark Street lane to exit northbound, turning west at Oak Street, the new facility's northernmost point. Photo: John Greenfield

The new Clark segment runs 0.6 miles from Oak Street (1000 N.) to Grand Avenue (530 N.), where an Expanded Outdoor Dining district, including the next three blocks to Kinzie, exists during the summer. (Unfortunately, this year this section of Clark is no longer car-free for the EOD, and there's no marked bikeway here at the moment.) Southbound riders on Clark can head east on Kinzie for a block to Dearborn, where they can take the longtime two-way PBL south of Kinzie into the Loop.

Even though it's not completely finished yet, this part of Clark is a great addition to the bike network. As you can see from the images in this post, it's already getting lots of use from bike and e-scooters riders. (The latter are also legally permitted to use Chicago bike lanes.)

Take a southbound virtual ride on the new Clark Street bike lane from Oak Street to Grand Avenue in this video. Notice that around 3:00 I address a wrong-way bike rider who may have been unfamiliar with the new layout: "How's it going? There's a northbound bike lane just one block east."

The main downside right now is that, as is to be expected, some drivers haven't figured out yet that they're supposed to park to the right of the bikeway, not curbside, blocking cyclists and scooter riders. Please keep in mind that there is a learning curve for PBLs, so let's cut these motorists some slack for now. After all, "Sympathy Is a Knife".

A driver illegally standing in the bikeway forces cyclists to steer around their vehicle into one of the high-speed mixed-traffic lane on Clark at Ontario Street (630 N.) next to the Hard Rock Cafe, looking north. Photo: John Greenfield

And Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Erica Schroeder told me the Clark lane is slated to get some more features that will help protect people on foot and bikes, and assist in keeping the bikeway clear of cars.

"The project will also include concrete curbs, [flexible plastic posts], and expanded pedestrian space," Schroeder said. "And at the Chicago Avenue [800 N.] and Ohio Street [600 N.] intersections, it will include new bicycle traffic signals that provide a dedicated signal phase for people walking and biking. We expect all elements will be completed in late July or early August."

More bike and scooter riders, heading south on Clark at Superior Street, (730 N.) Photo: John Greenfield

The recently installed protected stretch of Dearborn on the Near North Side includes plenty of light green paint, which is good for reminding motorists that they shouldn't drive, stand, or park in it. Refreshingly, practically the entire in-progress Clark PBL is that lime-colored shade.

Now, if you didn't see this post from Streetsblog Chicago's Twitter account Friday, you're probably wondering why I included a reference to UK Electropop star Charli XCX in this post about a chartreuse bikeway. This quote-tweet of a Chicago Department of Transportation post is what eventually got me onto that (cycle) track.

Maybe I've spent too many years debunking anti-bicycle trolls for a living. But my knee-jerk assumption was that Jonah Koslofsky is a critic of our city's progressive mayor, making a John Kass-style dig at the Clark bikeway.

I thought the tweeter was calling the new facility a "brat lane" because he thinks Chicagoans who ride bikes are scallywags. (Granted, years ago some of them were Scallywags, Uptown-based punk-rock Christians who rode double-tall cycles, but I digress.)

So I responded to Koslofsky's tweet by saying something like, "I'm getting big The Onion cartoon energy from this," and re-posting this hilarious comic.

Image: "Congested Values" by The Onion cartoonist "Stan Kelly"

Fortunately, local cycling advocate Alex Cannon politely responded to my tweet by indicating that Koslofsky almost certainly wasn't dissing bicyclists. Rather "brat lane" was a funny reference to the new bikeway being pretty much the same shade of green as the cover of Charli XCX's new album Brat, released last month.

The cover of Brat.

When I contacted him, Koslofsky confirmed this. "I am a big fan of Charli XCX and a big fan of Brandon Johnson, and so I’m happy to see them crossover like this."

Koslofsky is not alone is having Brat-mania. Heck, two days ago the New York Times' food section published a recipe article titled, "‘Brat’ Green Summer Cooking". He's not even an outlier among Chicago sustainable transportation advocates, as you can see from these other responses to the original CDOT tweet.

So do you really want to know How I'm Feeling Now about Clark? I'm very pleased that the new infrastructure will help prevent reckless, intoxicated, or distracted drivers from Crash-ing into people on bikes.

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