A post about posts: why CDOT took out bollards along the Kinzie lanes

[flickr]photo:7221274724[/flickr]

Messenger John “Blunt” Robbins rides in a section of Kinzie without parking, where every-other post has been removed.

It was a little mysterious when the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently removed more than half of the flexible posts (AKA bollards) that separate the Kinzie protected bike lanes from parked cars and moving traffic. So I called CDOT bikeways planner Mike Amsden, to get the skinny. He explained the motivations for taking out the posts, and also pointed out a few recent upgrades to the street I hadn’t noticed before.

[flickr]photo:6804987991[/flickr]

John and Mike at a Streets for Cycling public meeting last winter. Photo by Serge Lubomudrov

What was the reason for modifying the Kinzie bike lanes?

I think from day one when we installed it we said we’d be looking at our design to see what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to be changed. And fortunately I think everything works pretty well.

The one thing we’ve realized as we’ve been designing more and more protected bike lanes and also looked at other cities, is that the posts aren’t really needed in the volume that we installed them on Kinzie. So we minimized the number of posts we use where there is no on-street parking. I believe we spaced them every ten to fifteen feet originally and our new standards are every thirty to forty feet.

And where there is heavily used on-street parking, the posts don’t provide the protection, it’s the parked cars. So we left the posts in at the beginning and the ends of the parking lanes to guide motorists on where to park. We’ve been monitoring it quite a bit and from what we’ve been seeing they seem to be figuring it out pretty well. There are still some violations every now and then just like there were before when all the posts were in, but it’s working out pretty well.

[flickr]photo:7221275624[/flickr]

Where parking exists, all the posts have been removed except for at either end of the parking lane.

And there are also a whole slew of other changes. We pulled back parking a little bit on the eastbound bike lane coming down the hill as you approach Jefferson there because visibility was an issue with motorist turning onto Jefferson. We just shifted it all back a little bit, like twenty feet.

So you crossed out the parking space in front. Was there any loss of parking?

There was a little bit but it’s for visibility and safety issues.

[flickr]photo:7221274262[/flickr]

At the bottom of the hill by the Blommer Chocolate factory, CDOT crossed out one parking space to improve sight lines, as well as adding a “slow” legend for cyclists.

Any other changes?

We upgraded all the crosswalks to high-visibility continental [AKA international or zebra-stripe] crosswalks. We’ll actually be installing a new crosswalk in the near future at Orleans, I believe, where if you’re walking eastbound the sidewalk kind of ends as you get to the Merchandise Mart. The crosswalk will take you to the sidewalk on the north side of the street. We also refreshed some pavement marking and put in some more bike symbols.

[flickr]photo:7221277656[/flickr]

CDOT recently painted “rungs” on all the crosswalks to make them more visible.

We added a “slow” or “stop” legend, mostly stop, at all the stop signs, both in the cycle track and then also in the travel lanes in some spots as well. One of the biggest complaints we’ve gotten about Kinzie is bicyclists not stopping at stop signs, especially for pedestrians. So hopefully this will be one more thing that will get a few people to start stopping. We’ve also had our ambassadors out there and we’ll do it again this year.

So did you guys make the changes based on CDOT evaluations, comments from the public, comments from [42nd Ward] Alderman [Brendan] Reilly or something else?

All of the above.

What kind of comments have you heard, other than that cyclists weren’t stopping at the stop signs? People don’t like the way the flexible posts look?

Yeah, a lot of people consider the posts to be not the most appealing look for a roadway. Another thing, which we’re not really doing at this point but we need to be doing in the future, is some kind of urban design element. We need to make the street look good. We don’t want to make it ugly for people who live on the street. And we did hear that the amount of posts that we had on Kinzie was ugly in a lot of people’s eyes. I can’t disagree with them.

[flickr]photo:7221276708[/flickr]

Half the posts have been removed on the bridge.

So you think that it’s more aesthetic now that there are less frequent posts?

I guess. That’s more of a personal opinion. But that isn’t the main reason for removing the posts. The main reason is that New York City has done the same thing on Grand Avenue. They put them in and then after a while they took out all the posts and it works quite well.

They haven’t found that there’s more frequent parking and driving in the bike lane?

[flickr]photo:7221319748[/flickr]

An SUV parked in the Kinzie bike lane a few days ago, although the nearby parking lane was nearly empty.

Nope. If cars are parked there it’s really hard to drive in the bike lane.

What about if there are no cars parked in the parking lane?

So this isn’t our new standard going forward at all locations. Every single protected bike lane we do and every block for every single protected bike lane is going to be designed on a case-by-case basis. If parking is lightly used then we need to put in some posts. On Kinzie where it’s pretty solidly parked most hours of the day, it’s our opinion that the posts aren’t needed. If we do find increased violations of parking or driving in the bike lane we can always go back and put in posts back in if we need to do that. But right now based off our observations we don’t think that’s necessary.

You know, it’s been our intention all along to remove posts where we can. It’s a cost savings, it’s a maintenance issue if we have a ton of posts out there and have to keep replacing them. I think it’s a win-win for everyone if it works the way we want it to work.

How did you guys pay for the refresh project?

We haven’t officially invoiced anything yet. Most likely it will be general operating money, city money for transportation projects. [Amsden later said the labor cost for removing the bollards was $4,500 dollars but he didn’t have numbers for the road marking and sign changes costs handy.]

There was a bike box on Milwaukee as you approach Kinzie from the northwest, that pretty soon after it was painted it got torn up by construction. Any plans to fix that?

[flickr]photo:7221273812[/flickr]

Bike box at Milwaukee/Kinzie.

Yes, but probably not right away. One of the issues with Kinzie is the green [road marking] that we used out there is a different type of material than what we’re now using. So we’ve refreshed some spots of green with just paint, but we don’t want to do that in large swaths because it’s slippery. So we’re probably not going to touch the bike box right now. We’re probably going to let it go a little more and then refresh it with the new material that we’re using.

Have there been a lot of calls to remove the Kinzie lanes altogether? Have a lot of people been going to Reilly saying that they hate it and they want it taken out?

Not that I’m aware of. The alderman has gotten some complaints. You’d have to call them to get that ratio of complaints compared to compliments, but as far as CDOT we haven’t heard anything since the two weeks when we were first doing installation.

How would you respond to someone who’d say, “Well, if you remove the bollards from a protected bike lane so that there’s no physical barrier between the cars and the bikes, that makes it just a buffered lane”?

The protection is between bicyclists and moving motor vehicle traffic, and the parked cars provide a lot more protection than one flexible bollard does.

So if you find that there’s a situation where frequently there are no cars parked between the moving cars and the bike lanes you might be inclined to put the bollards back in.

Definitely.

Any talk of at some point going to permanent, fixed bollards?

Yeah, I think that’s everyone’s long-term goal. There are no plans to do that. Obviously that becomes a major cost issue. But I think that’s what we’re all hoping for in the future.

Read all of our coverage on the Kinzie Street bike lane.

Published by

John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

44 thoughts on “A post about posts: why CDOT took out bollards along the Kinzie lanes”

  1. The scariest part of my 12 mile commute – Kinzie! I don’t feel I in the traffic flow and I don’t feel traffic and pedestrians see me. Merging traffic does not register the bike lane. They creep out, looking left to see if there are cars coming down the street. I think the wall of parked cars block out the bikes coming in a lane that is SO close to the sidewalk. I have seen more close calls in that stretch in one year than I care to think about. 

    And that green paint…Nothing like riding over that when it’s rainy or icy! It should be stripped ASAP. 

    1. You must use some really safe roads for the rest of your commute if Kinzie is the most dangerous part of it… I ride the Lincoln/Wells lane into the Loop for work and would much rather have something like the Kinzie PBL.  The handful of times I’ve ridden it, I haven’t seen any close calls, and I have close calls at least once a week on my other routes.

      1. I used to ride Lincoln but Elston is wider. You can easily ride in the bike lane while not being worrying about being door’ed on your right. Much of Elston is not wide enough for cars to ride side by side. Lincoln has a tight bike lane. 

        1. A lot of Lincoln doesn’t have a bike lane (just a “marked shared lane”). And the bike lane doesn’t exist under the ‘L’ at Wrightwood, creating a pinch point. And a lot of Lincoln from Diversey to Wells has pot holes in the exact places you want to cycle.

  2. The flex-posts are designed to allow a car to plow though them without scratching the bumper. They make “well-marked” bike lanes, but definitely not “protected” bike lanes. A heavy concrete bollard that damages a car (though not the driver) as much as one or more cyclists would be damaged if the car drives into the bike lane is protection. A curb is better because it protects the cyclists without threatening drivers or their property, thus allowing them to text, talk, and eat safely while speeding through my neighborhood.

  3. I rode Kinzie in the afternoon a few days ago – smooth trip, no conflicts with other types of road users.  Cars stopped where they should. I yielded to peds at crosswalks. In that respect, it was just the way it should be.  It was nice NOT to have any joggers coming at me, which happened on most previous off-peak trips.  My only complaint is that harsh gaps in the concrete pavement remain at various  points, especially near the bridge.

  4. This still really irks me. The only benefit of removing the posts that I’ve heard that the street now looks less ugly (apparently the parked cars look fine, but small white posts are TERRIBLE to look at). Seems like a bad trade-off to make vs. riders’ safety.

    Ultimately, we need to move in the opposite direction, with concrete curbs replacing the posts. While it costs more to install, the protect level is much higher, and I doubt anybody would call them unsightly.

    1. The other explanation for why CDOT wants to move away from using so many posts is that it would save on installation costs, and there would be less posts to worry about replacing if they get taken out by cars.

      1. Sure, but that’s a reason to put in fewer posts on future lanes (they’ve already paid for the installation of these). Plus, the cost of removing the lanes has to pretty much wipe out the cost savings of maintaining them.

        Hell, if they think there should be fewer and don’t want to pay for maintenance, just don’t maintain the “unnecessary” posts. When they get run down (or run over?), just let them go. At least we’d keep some additional protection today.

        1. They’re trying to get the design right. They spend extra money on the first one to fine-tune the design before rolling out a hundred miles of it. They don’t want to leave something in place that people hated the look of. If people hate the design, the program fails.

          1. I know, and I’m not trying to be a jerk here. I’m just concerned that this will make the lanes even less effective. I’d much rather have them worry about the appearance when we *know* that drivers understand (and obey the rules pertaining to) these PBLs. 

            My fear is that this will only exacerbate the issue of drivers parking/driving in the Kinzie lane, and now they have a legitimate excuse. I’m all for making it as clear as possible.

  5. I hope we can transition from the paint-and-flexible-bollards stage to a safer AND more esthetically pleasing installment over the long run, as is illustrated by the images I took from the NACTO guide at the end of this post on Bike Walk Lincoln Park about types of bikeways. Maybe paint/bollards first, then planters, then a permanent curb when funding permits.

    http://www.bikewalklincolnpark.com/2012/02/bike-lanes-shared-conventional-buffered.html

      1. Those jersey barriers seems great to use when it’s necessary to separate a bike lane from fast-moving vehicles, as they would certainly provide a high level of protection. They would be overkill on a street like Kinzie, of course, where a permanent curb (or even planters as illustrated in NACTO) would provide fine protection for bicyclists and eliminate confusion by people parking cars. 

  6. I really appreciate the better sight lines at the bottom of the hill.  That was a really accident-prone spot where the cars would turn right so fast.

    I love the protected bike lanes — hope for many more in the future!

  7. Based on these markings, it would never occur to me that it was legal to park in the parking lane (unless some sign indicates that it’s allowed) — although after seeing enough people doing it, I would probably catch on.  I wonder if the driver of the car parked in the bike lane was confused.  A lot of drivers have never encountered markings like this — we don’t have any protected bike lanes in my part of the city, although we do have painted lanes — and posts and signs (especially signs indicating a bike lane) can really help with understanding, especially when the markings are new.

  8. there needs to be real physical protected separation. the posts can help wake a driver up when they’re sleeping, drunk, talking, dialing, txting, etc., so, in the absence of the full physical protection that is required, the posts should be every two or three feet — whatever will alert an errant driver that they are about to injure/maim/kill someone as early as possible.

  9. Why not just lay out a temporary, mobile curb? 
    Basically a continuous line of the wheel stops you see in parking lots. They’re heavy enough to stay in place without anchoring, so they’d be cheap to install. They come with holes for flex-posts in the top, so you can just stick them in to mark the curb as often as you like. They can easily be relocated when the time comes to invest in a permanent, landscaped median. That would provide a more accurate approximation of the final result, a safer barrier for cyclists without threatening drivers, and a more attractive look.

    1. The temp mobile curb is a good idea. 

      Santa Cruz, CA has a one-way street with a two-way cycletrack on it with these low-profile ‘temp curb’-type heavy rubber strips — no space between them. 

      The company that makes them is now supposedly out of business. 

      The rubber strips are not sufficient, but they’re a good start, and they would get past what i suspect would be the primary objection to protecting cyclists with a ‘temp curb’ — sleeping/texting/drunk drivers could actually harm their cars. 

      Harming cyclists is one thing, but harming your own car is something else altogether. http://g.co/maps/ym2qn

  10. Thanks for all the info. I’ve heard some concerns from other bikers that traffic’s so tight at spots in the morning that it might be difficult for emergency vehicles to get through at points. I could see that at points along the way. Has that come up before?

    1. This is the first time I’ve heard this concern.

      If it’s a concern now it was probably always a concern. The intersections of Clinton/Kinzie and Kingsbury/Kinzie (which is largely because of heavy pedestrian traffic, and this trickles to Clinton/Kinzie) are the points at which traffic is most backed up. The bridge also is a place where vehicles cannot pass each other.
      Before street configurations are modified – and bike lanes are crafted by planners and engineers consulting for CDOT – other engineers at CDOT (who used to work at OEMC) review the plans.

  11. A morning commuter mentioned it again just recently, but not sure if the observation was from before or after the changes.

    I commute via Kinzie at night (ca. 8:30 pm) to access the northbound lakefront trail (via Rush, then Illinois), so have focused more on how the lane ends abruptly at Wells, right when what I call “starring in a driver’s ed film” begins.

    1. I think the transition from protected bike lane west of Wells Street to no bikeway east of Wells Street is particularly poor. The lane here is hardly wide enough for a vehicle and a bicycle to share safely side-by-side, but a clear lane is rare: often people park their automobiles illegally against the curb within the first 50 feet of eastbound Kinzie Street east of Wells Street.

      1. This is one more reson I do not like protected bike lanes. It seems that every shared lane moves bikers between the far right lane out of the way of traffic turning right. Protected bike lanes put bikers on the far right, in the blind spot of right turning cars, just like the Wells. Add the cars creeping out from the right at every intersection and driveway and you have trouble. Why does everyone high five each other over these lanes?

        1. That’s one of the reasons I’m beginning to wonder if bike-only streets might be the best solution, esp. because I’m really worried about how much carbon-monoxide I’m breathing day in, day out. (Only recently learned of its very bad effects in chronic exposure.) Kinzie would be a good all-bike street–one bridge over the river for bikes, the rest could be for cars. I found Minneapolis’s “bike highway” intriguing.

          1. I’ve read that people who cycle daily develop stronger lungs that can better deal with the chronic exposure than people who didn’t cycle daily but breathed the same air. 

        2. People driving are learning to expect people cycling everywhere. As more people cycle, crash and injury rates start decreasing (they already have). 

          And CDOT is still learning how to make proper protected bike lanes. 

      2. I really like Hubbard as a safe, traffic-light night way from Garfield Park, and Kinzie’s the natural pickup by Blommer, but you’re spot on about the change east of Wells. On Kinzie there are also many taxis & out-of-town drivers pulling over unexpectedly and also back into traffic and cutting across all lanes to access ways north. On Illinois there are the buses and the wider feeling encourages cars to speed to Lake Shore Drive, so it’s a short, stressful stretch right where you could theoretically have a lot of recreational riders eventually using the city’s rental bikes.

        1. There’s also an issue between parking garage driveways and bicycling on Kinzie Street. This is an issue on Wells Street, which is getting an “enhanced marked shared lane” this year. 

  12. I recently had to go around a cab that had pulled into the beginning of the protected bike lane at Kinzie Chophouse.  When I told the driver that he was not suppose to be in the lane he got angry. (All the actual parking spots were empty) How about a bollard which would prevent this?

      1. Should 311 also be called for private cars when parked in any bike lane? For example, last night there was a car parked halfway in the bike lane under the bridge on Milwaukee just before Milwaukee intersects the Kinzie lane. (I’m surprised there’s any legal parking there because it’s always so hard to see anything under there even during the day.) If the vehicles aren’t “caught” what does 311 do with the info?

        Related to info I posted re. my usual route from Kinzie to the lakefront (via Rush & Illinois), I just wanted to mention a scary thing I see a lot on Illinois: bikers heading east on Illinois often use the left traffic lane rather than the bike lane because they anticipate (by blocks!) turning north on the lakefront path. Last night a guy was tight in with tons of cars & buses left heading out to the Drive & right crossing the bike lane to stop. He crossed the Lower Drive IN FRONT of the lanes turning left to access the lakefront path. I think bikers do it because the alternative eastbound bike lane on Illinois offers a similarly bad alternative. It dead ends on the east side of the Lower Drive, so if you want to go north on the lakefront path, you have to stop on the southeast corner & cross with pedestrians. Many don’t like to so attempt turn left from the “end” of the bike lane onto the bikepath across the two lanes of traffic heading out to Navy Pier. I’ve seen some hair-raising attempts at this left turn. Do you know if there are any plans to improve the mess of bad options under there? Sorry so long-winded (easier to draw than describe).

        1. 311? No, don’t call 311 to report automobiles parked in bike lanes. You must call the police, at 911. The reason you call 911 is so that the dispatcher can send a police officer out there to witness the infraction and then write a ticket. A call to 311 will likely just get you forwarded to 911 (that happened to me every time I tried to report to 311 an automobile parked in the bike lane). I wish there was another way (like calling Department of Finance, formerly Revenue, an agency seemingly more motivated to earn money).
          I think I understand your description of the maneuver on eastbound Illinois to northbound Lower Drive to Lakefront Trail. There are plans to build the Navy Pier Flyover, an expensive and overengineered solution to a problem that can be solved with a far less expensive and simpler solution. Does it impact the Illinois Street/Lower Drive intersection? I don’t know as I haven’t seen plans describing it.
          If you are cycling eastbound on Illinois Street and want to turn left onto northbound Lower Drive in order to access the terrible ramp for the Lakefront Trail at Grand Avenue and Lower Drive, I recommend you “take the lane”, and take the right-most left-turn lane. The alternative is to stick to the bike lane (which is centered and narrows to 4 feet – also a terrible design) and make a “box turn” (go across Lower Drive, stop, turn towards the left, and wait for the northbound light to turn green).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *