November 20, 2012

John Greenfield

This is an exciting moment for cycling in the Windy City as the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) races to meet its goal of building a total of thirty miles of green lanes before it gets too cold to lay thermoplastic stripes. Last weekend the department began installing new bike traffic signals for the eagerly anticipated, two-way protected lane slated for a 1.2-mile stretch of Dearborn Street between Polk and Kinzie streets, crossing the heart of the Loop central business district.

Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself declared the lane would be completed this fall, if the weather holds up it’s likely this ?game-changing? facility will soon be a reality. As the city’s first two-way protected lane and the first protected lane in the Loop, Dearborn will probably draw some criticism from the anti-bike crowd. But the 4,500 signatures the Active Transportation Alliance advocacy group recently collected in support of the lane prove that plenty of Chicagoans are looking forward to getting a first-class downtown commuting route.

CDOT also began striping new protected bike lanes on Desplaines Street in the West Loop last weekend, so Yesterday afternoon I pedaled downtown for a look-see. From Kinzie to Fulton Street, a two-way section of roadway, the department is putting in ?enhanced shared lane markings,? the same type that were recently installed on Wells Street in the Loop south of the Chicago River. These markings encourage cyclists to ride in the middle of the travel lane. Presumably CDOT will install ?Bikes may use full lane? signs here, as they did on Wells.

On Desplaines between Fulton and Randolph streets, the facility switches to a buffered bike lane. Protected lanes are going in from Randolph to Harrison streets. Yesterday cars were still parking next to the curb, on top of the half-finished bike lanes, instead of in the parking spaces marked to the left of the bike lanes. But once the lanes are delineated with flexible posts and marked with bike symbols, and police begin ticketing automobiles parked in them, motorists will learn to park in the correct place. This was the case after CDOT recently installed protected on Elston Avenue between Milwaukee and North avenues, northwest of downtown.

Since there are several on-ramps to the Kennedy Expressway just west of this stretch of Desplaines, the department has striped dedicated right-turn lanes for cars at some of the intersections. The turn lanes are marked ?Yield,? to warn drivers to look out for cycles as they cross the bike lane, and hopefully they will.

Desplaines should be a nice addition to Chicago’s bike network since it connects to Milwaukee Avenue, the main bike route to the Loop from several bike-friendly neighborhoods on the Near Northwest Side, as well as existing protected lanes on Kinzie. It will also serve as a useful alternative for cyclists who are used to heading downtown via the Wells Street bridge, which is currently closed for reconstruction.

During my reconnaissance yesterday I also saw that the existing bike lanes on Clinton Street are being re-striped on fresh asphalt. Although conventional bike lanes seem to be going out of style in Chicago, the new Clinton lanes appear to be the same configuration as before, simple parallel lines striped to the left of the parking lane.

CDOT is finishing its huge project to rebuild Wacker Drive, the road that follows the river around the perimeter of the Loop, and last week the Jackson Boulevard bridge re-opened after being closed for the Wacker rehab. Yesterday I was pleased to see that the slippery metal-grate bridge deck now has bike-friendly strips of concrete on the sides to create a safer passage for cyclists.

Once Wacker reopens, Franklin Street, which was converted to a two-way street during the rehab, will revert to a one-way northbound street. Active Trans reports that CDOT has decided to stripe a new buffered lane on Franklin, stretching across the Loop from Harrison Street to Wacker, linking up nicely with an existing lane on Orleans Street north of the river.

In other bikeways news, on the North Side buffered lanes were recently striped on Halsted Street from Division Street to North Avenue in Lincoln Park. Buffered lanes are also in on Clark Street from Wrigley Field to Diversey Parkway in Lakeview. Local alderman Tom Tunney is also looking into the possibility of creating new bikeways on Roscoe and School streets through the 44th Ward, perhaps traffic-calmed bike boulevards, known in Chicago as ?neighborhood greenways.?

On the South Side, CDOT originally proposed building protected lanes on Martin Luther King Drive from 31st Street to 51st Street in Bronzeville but local clergy opposed installing the lanes on the historic boulevard. Instead, as part of a compromise brokered by bike-friendly alderman Pat Dowell, crews began striping buffered lanes on King earlier this month, and the department will eventually build protected lanes nearby on State Street.

With so many green lanes projects are currently in the work, it’s hard to keep track of them all. For example, I still haven?t had a chance to check out the network of protected lanes under construction along the West Side boulevards. But that’s a great problem to have. Hopefully this fall’s relatively warm weather will hold out and CDOT will hit thirty miles of protected and buffered lanes before snowfall. That would be a nice punctuation mark to a memorable year of bike improvements.

Photos by John Greenfield (from top to bottom): partially completed protected lane on Despaines with cars parking in the bike lane, which probably won’t happen much longer; Markings Specialists crew working on Desplaines; bike-friendly concrete infill on the Jackson boulevard bridge.

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