Array

[All photos courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation, except where noted.]

Last Tuesday evening when I first pedaled down the new Madison Street bike lane, crisp white lines on fresh, smooth asphalt, my initial emotion was exhilaration. Just like the first time I rode the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, I was experiencing something that had never been done before in Chicago, and it was a liberating sensation.

For years I’ve wished the city would stripe bike lanes within the central Loop, defined by the Chicago River, Michigan Avenue and the Congress Parkway, but until now this seemed verboten. The taboo against downtown lanes has always struck me as typical of the conservative way the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) did bike improvements under Mayor Daley. The attitude seemed to be that the Central Business District (CBD) was too congested to have bike lanes, when in reality the Loop is too congested NOT to have lanes encouraging people to bicycle instead of driving.

So I was thrilled last week when Steven forwarded a newsletter from 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly announcing that CDOT was striping lanes on Madison from Michigan to Wells. But I confess that a couple blocks into my maiden voyage down the new lane I became a little disappointed. I realized that many cyclists will not feel comfortable riding in the lane because it is marked to the left of a bus-only lane. This means cyclists will be pedaling between two lanes of moving traffic with no protection except paint on the road.

Riding in a “floating” bike lane like this is disconcerting. I’ve never liked the bike lane on Roosevelt west of Michigan for this reason. As I rode the new Madison lane, it occurred to me I’d feel safer pedaling in the bus lane, a few feet from the curb, as I did before the lane was striped. Plus I was riding at 7 pm, and I have six years of messenger experience under my belt. I’m guessing a typical cyclist traveling at rush hour would be very uneasy pedaling in the middle of the street between two lanes of moving vehicles.

Array

Roosevelt Road – photo by Steven Vance.

Back in the mid-2000s, when I was working at the CDOT Bicycle Program, the bikeways staff approached the Chicago Transit Authority about turning downtown bus lanes into bus/bike lanes simply by installing bike symbols. The CTA balked at the idea because of liability concerns. Riding in the new “floating” lane I wished that CDOT had pushed harder for this.

Grid co-author Steven Vance doesn’t feel this way. “I disagree with the idea of a bus/bike lane on Madison because of the insane number of buses on this route,” he writes. “It would be a bad idea, unless the lane was 14 feet wide. I think bikes and buses sharing lanes is backward thinking. Let’s keep moving to an appropriate and well-designed separation, like Kinzie Street.”

Array

Despite my misgivings about the lane placement, I view Madison as an overall victory, because it breaks the Loop bike lane ban. For a couple of reasons, Steven sees it more as a missed opportunity. Here’s a summary of other things we like and dislike about the Madison Street lane.

Positive aspects:

· The lane is yet another example of a bold bike/ped initiative under new Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, like the Kinzie protected bike lane, the on-street bike parking corral in Wicker Park, and the re-opening of the Queen’s Landing crosswalk, which probably wouldn’t have happened under the previous administration.

· As the first CBD bike lane it paves the way for more lanes in the Loop, where they’re desperately needed.

· The bike lane striping was piggy-backed onto an existing CDOT street resurfacing project, which saves money.

· To make room for the new bike lane on Madison, existing travel lanes were narrowed but none were removed. This calms traffic, but it’s a politically safe move because drivers can’t complain that lanes were taken out.

· Visitors to downtown Chicago sometimes wonder, “If this city’s so bike-friendly, why aren’t there any bike lanes?” This highly-visible lane is a good advertisement for the city’s bikeability.

· We really like that the lane continues as dashed lines through intersections. It’s really cool that CDOT is doing more of these types of continuous lanes, like on the Kinzie cycle track and at Cortland/Clybourn/Racine, where a curving, dashed lane ushers cyclists through the intersection towards lanes on Armitage. The dashed lines also remind drivers to watch out for bikes in the intersection.

Array

Negative aspects:

· We both feel it’s a shame Madison is not a physically-separated lane like Kinzie. This is somewhat understandable due to the high-traffic location, the presence of the bus lane and the fact CDOT was already taking a risk by installing a lane downtown. But Steven would have preferred that the bikeway was at least striped as a “buffered” bike lane, with dead space painted on the asphalt on either side of the lane to help keep cars away from bikes.

· Steven is also bummed that the lane stops at Wells, a southbound street. “It doesn’t go far enough,” he writes. “What about cyclists leaving the Loop who want to go north? Must they go north on LaSalle (ugh), or Dearborn? Why not Franklin? [This could be because Franklin was recently changed to a two-way street to accommodate traffic detouring from the Wacker Drive reconstruction, so there may be less room for bikes than before.] How are cyclists going to continue west? Madison west of Wells is the trickiest part because of the Ogilvie Transportation Center (500 W Madison).”

Array

Steven would like CDOT to create “Loop exit routes” with special signage and pavement markings leading cyclists to Randolph and Harrison, two westbound streets with bike-friendly bridges. “That would be a pretty comprehensive and sensible plan I know CDOT can accomplish,” he writes. “So why not do it? Why not create ‘above and beyond’ instead of just status quo?”

Despite these criticisms, I’m proud Chicago has finally broken the downtown bike lane barrier. And I’m optimistic the Madison Street bike lane is a sign of good things to come.

flattr this!

  • http://twitter.com/tonyatoms Tony Adams

    Madison is not the first bike lane in the loop. There was a bike lane on Dearborn for a few years.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      was that installed during Mayor J. Daley’s administration?

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Tony, in the post I defined the central Loop as central Loop, defined by the Chicago River, Michigan Avenue and the Congress Parkway. There is currently a bike lane on Dearborn north of the river (which I avoid riding in because it’s on the left side of the street, but that’s another issue.) Did this used to exist south of the river? I don’t think so, because CDOT is also calling this “the first bike lane to reside in the heart of the Loop”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagobikes/sets/72157627454737822/

      • http://twitter.com/tonyatoms Tony Adams

        Yes, it did exist for a while south of the river. Sort of recently, as in the past 20 years (or so). It was also on the left side of the street if I recall correctly. I’m still pretty overjoyed with the new CDOT so I’m willing to give them a pass and not expect them to remember everything from previous administrations.

  • Aaron Brown

    Great post.

    I too was really hoping for a protected bike lane. I feel like CDOT could’ve accomplished this fairly easily, by placing the bike lane on the left side of the one-way street, leaving the bus-only lane as is.

    I’m really hoping that Gabe Klein takes this step with the next Loop bike lane.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      where do you think the next bike lane in the Loop should go? Pick a companion eastbound street for Madison and then suggest a northbound and southbound street. I’ve got my own idea.

      • John Wirtz

        I would bet that Washington might get an eastbound bike lane soon.

        I want to see Clark and Dearborn get road diets with protected contra-flow bike lanes. So it would be like a two-way street, but only bikes could go one of the directions.

      • John Wirtz

        I would bet that Washington might get an eastbound bike lane soon.

        I want to see Clark and Dearborn get road diets with protected contra-flow bike lanes. So it would be like a two-way street, but only bikes could go one of the directions.

      • Aaron Brown

        I’ve always liked Monroe as an eastbound street. Passes by Union Station, Millennium Park, Art Institute, and it’s pretty centrally-located. The downside here is that they just re-paved the street, so likely not going to happen. Based on the suggested routes in the map above, I’d guess either Jackson or Washington will be the first eastbound lanes. I can live with either of those.

        For north/south, it’s gotta be Dearborn and Clark. Both are centrally located and have 3-4 lanes of speeding one-way traffic, where CDOT should be able to take one out.

        The trick will be getting bicyclists over from the Wells St. bike line to Clark/Dearborn. An easy solution would be extending the Kinzie St. bike lane (still protected, please!) – I’m kind of puzzled as to why they didn’t choose to do that already. Without that, the exit/entrance route to the Loop will still be a bit tricky.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

          This is me playing devil’s advocate on extending Kinzie Street: East of Wells there’s a lot of loading zones, some on-street parking, and several driveways. In one word, “complicated.” All of these would take more time to deal with and include in a good design.

  • http://twitter.com/sud0er Sten Turpin

    I’m riding this lane to work instead of Randolph, where I’d detoured during the resurfacing and Lolla. I’m not complaining about having to ride between buses and cars, that’s what I’m used to with bike lanes in the city. New riders probably won’t be comfortable with the proximity, but they wouldn’t have been comfortable riding in the bus lane, either.

    As for the lane terminating at Wells, there’s a major sewage project going on in the next block, and Wacker reconstruction after that. Let’s push for the lane to be expanded as those projects wrap up.

    I think there are other missed opportunities you guys, um, missed in your commentary. The obvious one would be the continued lack of an eastbound lane; so now I can get into the loop in a bike lane, but not back out. I’d love for the proposed Jackson protected lane to be extended through the Loop, preferably as a protected lane, but I’d settle for painted for now.

    My current biggest complaint is that there’s no good route from the Lakefront Trail into the Loop. When I used to ride Roosevelt to Canal to work, I’d have to come up onto the sidewalk at Roosevelt, which is barricaded off from the street, ride to the end of the barricades dodging pedestrians, hop down the high curb onto Roosevelt without a bike lane until after Michigan, and continue west from there. That’s the *best* current link between the LFT and the loop, and that’s still at the furthest end of what anyone might consider the Loop area. Until this week, I’d been riding up the sidewalk on the west side of Lake Shore to Randolph and up a big artificial rise on Randolph to Michigan, and the bike lane on Randolph terminates at the east side of Michigan, so the rest of Randolph has no bike lane. Now, with the Madison lane in place, I bike through sometimes severe traffic between Lake Shore and west of Michigan, and take the *very* unfriendly turn from Michigan onto Madison.

    All that is to say, you can’t get between the Lakefront Trail and any part of the loop without going at least a block on an extremely high-traffic street, or riding on the sidewalk. If you watch Michigan Ave in the morning rush, you’ll see dozens of bikes on the sidewalk, which is illegal and unsafe, but I suspect these bikers took one look at their legal alternatives and said “nuh-uh.”

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      you’re right, we forgot to discuss an eaatbound bike line. I think the best inbound lane would be continuing Washington to Michigan from where it stops abruptly at Desplaines.

  • Randy Neufeld

    Over the last several years Mayor Richard M. Daley talked about the need for an east-west bike lane in downtown. He even shared this interest with many of us at a bike-to work rally at Daley Plaza. The difference now is CDOT’s ability to get things done. This starts with Gabe Klein’s leadership.

    A simple painted bike lane is a great start. Protected or buffered lanes in the loop would be a big deal because you’re looking at a major reprogramming of the street space. That is going to take a little planning, lots of PR, and some more city experience with protected lanes. It’s not just jamming the lanes onto the street, we need a full-on re-visioning of the loop as a place that prioritizes peds, bikes and transit.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I think I was too caught up in Gabemania that I thought the waiting days were over. I’d like to buy some vision, please, Alex!

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Thanks for your comment Randy. That’s interesting that Mayor Daley talked about the need for an east-west Loop bike lane. I’ve attended the last several Bike to Work rallies (here’s a transcription I did of his speech at his last BTW rally appearance in 2009, http://votewithyourfeetchicago.blogspot.com/2008/06/mayor-daleys-bike-to-work-address.html) and I don’t recall him ever mentioning this. I assume that if Daley really wanted to stripe an east-west route across the Loop it would have gotten done. We’re talking about the mayor who sent bulldozers in the dead of night to turn an airport into a park (which I applauded).

      While I credit Gabe Klein with getting Madison striped, I think Daley deserves some of the blame for the previous taboo on Loop lanes. Klein was able to stripe Madison because he knows that Emanuel supports CDOT taking bold actions for biking, as stated in the bike section Rahm’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan (which you helped write). Under Daley, the CDOT leadership acted conservatively because they were afraid of getting on Daley’s bad side.

      For example, you’ll recall the time a CDOT deputy commissioner insisted that the Bike Program fire a bikeways staff member because the staffer wrote a letter to Mayor Daley complaining about the Park District/CDOT design for the 11th Street bike/ped bridge. I don’t think this would have happened under Emanuel and Klein.

  • Jakewegmann

    Nice post.

    If anything, I think you’re showing too much restraint. The question is: is Rahm/Chicago serious about being bike-friendly, or not? If so, then there needs to be a network of safe routes throughout the most important part of the city, the Loop, that pass the Enrique Peñalosa 8-80 test. Period. End of story. As you rightly describe, this lane doesn’t come even remotely close to passing that test. It would have been laughed out of 1970s-era Amsterdam, let alone present-day Amsterdam.

    Other cities in Europe and Latin American have invited cyclists of all ages and abilities into their busiest central core areas. It’s not like this is something that’s impossible, or that has never been done before.

    So Chicago either needs to step up its efforts to be “world-class” in its cycling offerings, or else the rest of us need to hold the politicians accountable for saying something but not really meaning it.

    Let other people be “reasonable” or “make compromises.”

    I know that it’s early days, and that Chicago is coming off of the Kinzie Ave triumph. But I would encourage all of you dedicated, passionate Chicago biking activists to keep the pressure on.

    I say hold the city’s feet to the fire, and make them back up their lofty rhetoric.

  • Jakewegmann

    Nice post.

    If anything, I think you’re showing too much restraint. The question is: is Rahm/Chicago serious about being bike-friendly, or not? If so, then there needs to be a network of safe routes throughout the most important part of the city, the Loop, that pass the Enrique Peñalosa 8-80 test. Period. End of story. As you rightly describe, this lane doesn’t come even remotely close to passing that test. It would have been laughed out of 1970s-era Amsterdam, let alone present-day Amsterdam.

    Other cities in Europe and Latin American have invited cyclists of all ages and abilities into their busiest central core areas. It’s not like this is something that’s impossible, or that has never been done before.

    So Chicago either needs to step up its efforts to be “world-class” in its cycling offerings, or else the rest of us need to hold the politicians accountable for saying something but not really meaning it.

    Let other people be “reasonable” or “make compromises.”

    I know that it’s early days, and that Chicago is coming off of the Kinzie Ave triumph. But I would encourage all of you dedicated, passionate Chicago biking activists to keep the pressure on.

    I say hold the city’s feet to the fire, and make them back up their lofty rhetoric.

  • Mike

    This looks so silly. If this is a one-way street with heavy bus traffic, the bike lane should clearly be on the LEFT side, the way New York does it.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      That would be a solution. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of riding in unprotected left-side lanes, like on Dearborn in Chicago. Feels weird to me. But, yes, this would probably be an improvement over the “floating” lane.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Buses and bikes are not a good mixture of vehicles.

      • Mike

        Exactly. Bikes on the left, buses on the right. Works spectacularly well in NYC.

        On a one-way street, there is every reason for the bike lane to be on the left:
        – Avoids conflicts with buses
        – Less likely to be doored by right sides of parked cars than left sides of parked cars
        – Moving cars have better visibility on their left sides than their right sides

        There is no good reason to place bike lanes on the right sides of one-way streets, except foolish consistency.

  • John Wirtz

    I rode it this morning and enjoyed having the dedicated space. Even better was the smooth pavement, because I never really had a problem with riding in the bus lane either. I don’t think there was enough width for a buffered lane or a protected lane though without removing something else.

    I disagree that there are an insane number of buses on Madison. I rarely pass a bus or vice versa on Madison between Michigan and Franklin, but I’m usually out there around 7 AM, so maybe it’s too early?

    I would think it will go farther west after all the construction on Madison is finished.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      The insane number of buses are seen in the afternoon rush hour, as people are leaving the loop and heading towards the train stations. It doesn’t feel that way now because Wacker Drive construction has them on a different route.

      • John Wirtz

        I concede that afternoons may be insane. I have not experienced it since I only use Madison early in the morning going from the LFT to my office. It’s always nearly empty at that time.

    • Kfnalkdfjg

      The lane STILL does not go past Ogilvie and then toward Greektown.  Construction is all done and striping favors taxis over pedestrians and cyclists.

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        I have a feeling it won’t go any further than Ogilvie (Canal Street or Wacker Drive) until a solution can be found to get people on bikes safely through this section where taxi drivers disregard safety, rules, and lane striping. 

  • Jackson Adams

    Great article. I agree with everyone that this doesn’t go nearly far enough. However, I think baby steps are better than no progress at all. And although separated bike track lanes are certainly safer, these painted stripes may help just a little to create awareness by drivers that cyclists are present.

    Furthermore, I think the most important issue at hand is changing our overall culture of automobile dependency. Just by having a bike lane on the streets, some car drivers may actually notice them and maybe even think twice about trying the alternatives. Don’t underestimate the need for public awareness.

  • Jobetterblues

    I rode the Madison lane last night. My commute from Museum Campus to Logan Square often takes me west on Monroe, so I ride north on Michigan for a block before turning onto Madison. What a stellar surprise to find that after “taking my lane” from cars on Michigan, I had my very own lane on Madison.
    It’s only paint, and I too wish it went all the way to Oak Park on Madison. But we’ve got a few (important) blocks, and I agree with those below that it is a step in the right direction.
    Great article, thank you!

  • Poofsizzle

    I’d have more faith in this if I hadn’t almost been hit by a city bus while riding in a marked bus lane… buses pass one another all the time in the loop, and there’s nothing to prevent them from hitting cyclists.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      The city has at least one left-side bike lane (well, two if you count the new Jackson partial bike lane), and it’s Dearborn. I don’t know if CDOT ever evaluated the impacts and differences of a left-side bike lane. I’d like to know. 

      Perhaps a left-side Madison bike lane is better, to avoid the bus lane, and all of the dedicated right-turn lanes (I don’t believe there are any dedicate left-turn lanes, except maybe at Wells Street). 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_57C3XJX5VALK7UV27IFLFVB764 Scott

    It’s a bit narrow, don’t you think?

    How can a cyclist pass the bus with three feet of clearance and also have overtaking traffic pass with three feet of clearance?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_57C3XJX5VALK7UV27IFLFVB764 Scott

    It’s a bit narrow, don’t you think?

    How can a cyclist pass the bus with three feet of clearance and also have overtaking traffic pass with three feet of clearance?

    • John Wirtz

      They can’t, but I feel like that may be an advantage of bike lanes. The lines improve drivers’ judgement of the space they and adjacent traffic are occupying. This allows them to pass more closely while still doing it safely. More traffic in less space. Seems okay to me, but I can understand why it would make some uncomfortable.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_57C3XJX5VALK7UV27IFLFVB764 Scott

        Translation: Drivers ignore anything that isn’t in their current lane, which results in dangerously close passes.

        It would be safer if the bike lane markings were removed and the lane was just left as a wide lane.

        • John

          I’m not convinced that passing with 2′ of space is more dangerous than 3′ if everyone stays in their lane.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_57C3XJX5VALK7UV27IFLFVB764 Scott

            Passing within 2 inches is also safe “if everyone stays in their lane”.

            The problem occurs when the cyclist swerves slightly to avoid a hazard as he is being overtaken too closely.

            We need adequate space on both sides for maneuvering. Three feet is generally accepted as the minimum amount of space needed.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    You forgot a pro: Nobody will ever park in that lane because of how its in the middle.

    A left hand lane may have been more comfortable, but would be blocked more often.

    You can also bike in the bus lane and when a bus comes (easily audible) you move into the bike lane for a few seconds. In a shared bus/bike lane, you have a problem when buses pass you and then quickly merge right to stop…and you have this repeated every block. This way, YOU have the merge power/responsibility.

    Best solution? Leave the bike lane as is, and paint sharrows in the left lane.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I wouldn’t be so sure about people not parking in the bike lane. Maybe not on weekdays, or during rush hour. But on weekends, a lot of Madison Street has parking (and there’s still parking available during weekdays). The only thing stopping someone from double parking is either 1) a person standing there ready to write a ticket, or 2) a curb. 

  • Val Carpenter

    I read this post yesterday morning and then stumbled on to freshly repaved and striped Madison later in the morning and realized how on-top-of-it you are!

    I have mixed feelings about bike lanes. My main feeling is warm and fuzzy: they feel good while riding in them. My other feeling, which hits me when I need to make a turn, is apprehension and confusion: it feels like I’m relegated to the lane and the lane seems to limit the “share the lane” concept. If the bike lanes make the car lanes narrower, and the bike lane is on the right, it is harder to share a lane on the left side of the road if you want to make a left turn by mixing in with the left-turning traffic. Can we have bike lanes on both sides of the streets?

    Thanks for the post.

  • Catroot2

    I’m not an avid bike cyclist but need to get from west loop to Lakefront and back mid day mon – fri.  I started to bike though the loop and just went back to driving after it just felt too much. I am in my forties and attributed it to this…but I would love a good bike lane though the loop and would use it instead of driving if it were there!

    • Greenfieldjohn

      It would be great if protected bike lanes were installed on east-west Loop routes, say Madison and Washington.

  • Pingback: The Bike Pittsburgh Blog Archives » Port Authority Announces Community Input Meetings For Possible Bus Rapid Transit

  • Pingback: Does the new “tied arch” bridge on Halsted encourage speeding? | Grid Chicago

  • Pingback: Bike Pittsburgh | Port Authority Announces Community Input Meetings For Possible Bus Rapid Transit