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CDOT staffer Mike Amsden describes the city’s commitment to bicycling in a presentation about the progress of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. 

Yesterday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC) meeting was the first in a new format we reported on back in December. There was a meeting in March, but its schedule wasn’t announced. The new format resembles the original format in 1992, when Mayor Daley started MBAC, with formally defined membership. It’s now modeled on the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, according to Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of project development at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). She expounded:

We’ve added so many issues. When we started, biking in Chicago wasn’t a health issue, it was a recreation issue. Once it was linked to health, it brought in a whole new group of people that needed to be connected. Bring more voices, more diversity. Modeled after our MPAC which was formed in 2006 (also has technical and stakeholders committees). Some represent agencies, others are advocates, community members, all who want to make streets safer and usable by all travelers.

The council can be active again, vote, carry motion, write a letter. I think we were instrumental in creating changes, like at CTA and Metra [getting them to allow bicycles on buses and trains]. I think this Council can have a powerful voice. All the folks who have come over the years can still come and make presentations.

The first hour is for members to speak and present. The remaining half hour is for public comments and discussion. Hamilton answered affirmatively to Active Transportation Alliance executive director Ron Burke’s question about whether or not she anticipates the council being able to make recommendations.

Other highlights of the meeting included news about bike sharing, the Jackson Boulevard protected bike lane, Wells Street, and an introduction to the Green Lane Project (more on this here). All of these discussions, except for the Green Lane Project, were started from questions and comments by council members and other attendees.

Additionally, there was a presentation about the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 but it mirrored the presentation given at the public meetings held in May and early June. There was also a presentation about the Bicycling Ambassadors: the season has increased to March to October when it used to be May to September; they will conduct 85 enforcement events and 20 of these will be bike light distributions.

Bike sharing

Hamilton gave an update on bike sharing in response to Alex Wilson’s question. Wilson is a member of the stakeholder committee and represents West Town Bikes. She explained,

There’ve been issues raised about the procurement process and those have to be fully investigated, so that’s happening right now. We expect a positive resolution on that because it was a very careful process that was done, and a well-documented process. But we don’t think we’re going to be able to go out this year because of that. We think that by the time that gets resolved it will be too late in the season to make it viable to get the bike share out there, [we'd be] getting into the winter. You really want to hit when everyone’s getting out there to bike, make sure you get a really [good kickoff in the?] first year.

The investigation she refers to is being conducted by the Chicago Inspector General’s office. Bicycle Retailer and Crain’s Chicago Business have more details. This delay will affect the budget and deployment, as Hamilton describes:

We have two different grants. We have a CMAQ grant [Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality], which is $22m federal and local, and we have a TIGER grant, that we got later, this year, and that one is $4m federal and $1m local. Originally we were going to do a full CMAQ grant this year and roll out 3,000 bikes this year, 300 stations, and next year we’re going to do another 1,000 bikes with the TIGER. What we’re going to do is combine them now and do 4,000 [bikes] next year, so I guess we’re going to be going to CMAP [Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning] to make sure that the CMAQ committee understands this delay was no fault of our own, and we’re serious about going forward.

The original plan was to launch with 3,000 bikes and 300 kiosks in 2012, and then 1,000 and 100 additional bikes and kiosks in 2013 in a wider service area. See our previous coverage of bike sharing.

Jackson Boulevard

In response to my question about the status of the Jackson Boulevard protected bike lane, Mike Amsden said, “Our relationship with IDOT is still good, and they have legitimate concerns that we’re addressing, and I’m confident we can have it installed in the next few months.”

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Ogden Avenue, where the Jackson Boulevard protected bike lane ends. Photo taken in October 2011; the pavement markings are more completed today. 

The original project calls for a mix of protected and buffered bike lanes from Western Avenue to Halsted Street. However, the portion of Jackson Boulevard from Ogden Avenue, where the constructed parts end now, to Halsted Street falls under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). You can use this map to see which other roads in the city have different jurisdictions (click the checkbox next to Jurisdiction in the Table of Contents).

Wells Street

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Photo of the temporary separated bike lane on Wells Street outside of the Merchandise Mart by Adam Herstein. 

If you rode on Wells Street on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, then you may have noticed that there were orange cones on the left edge of the bike lane between Kinzie Street and Mart Center Drive outside the Merchandise Mart. If you ride Wells Street regularly then you know this part of the bike lane is constantly blocked by delivery vehicles, taxis, and other drivers. I asked a security guard standing on the sidewalk if the Mart installed the cones and she replied that they did and that the cones would not return after Wednesday. They were put in place during NeoCon, a furniture trade show, to force taxi drivers and other drivers to load and unload on Mart Center Drive, south of the building.

Kathy Schubert, a meeting attendee, asked if these could be made permanent. Mike Amsden, a bikeways planner for the CDOT, responded, “If you wait a week or two, we’ll be improving Wells Street with buffered bike lanes”.

He’s talking about a new bikeway on Wells Street between Chicago Avenue and Van Buren Street. The section between Chicago Avenue and the Chicago River will have buffered bike lanes. According to the Wells Street design drawings (.pdf), there will be a parking or loading lane against the curb that’s 8 feet wide. Then there will be a buffered bike lane that’s 7 feet wide. Then two travel lanes, the middle 11 feet wide, and the left curb lane 20 feet wide.

I’m not confident that this design will improve conditions for cycling on this block. While automobile drivers block the curbside bike lane today, in the future they will be merging and changing lanes across the buffered bike lane. There will be buses, taxis, and delivery vans moving between the middle travel lanes and the curb side parking or loading lane. A turn lane is being created for right turns into Mart Drive.

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A view looking south on Wells Street from Kinzie Street where a loading or parking lane along the Merchandise Mart may still cause conflicts, shifting them to 8 feet left of the curb. 

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Parking in the bike lane is common on Wells Street next to the Merchandise Mart. The bike lane will soon become a buffered bike lane and start 8 feet left of the curb. It will be 7 feet wide. 

The plans show that a remodeled Wells Street bridge over the Chicago River (see blueprint), with a concrete deck, and having a centered 5 feet wide bike lane flanked by travel lanes. The lane on the right side of the bike lane is a 285 feet long turn lane for right turns onto Wacker Drive. When the bridge is complete, there will be a bike box at Wacker Drive and dashed lines striped through the intersection.

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A drawing of an enhanced shared lane marking.

The section between Wacker Drive and Van Buren Street will have an “enhanced” marked shared lane (according to 42nd Ward Alderman Reilly’s email newsletter). I asked what this is. Amsden described it:

South of the river, the roadway characteristics changes quite a bit. It’s not a pleasant place to ride, but a lot of people are doing it. The shared lane marking has dashed markings along side of it, to really make the markings visible. This encourages cyclists to be there, and to say ‘hey’ to motorists that bikes should be here and it’s the safest place for them.

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People bike on Wells Street under the tracks in what will soon become an “enhanced” marked shared lane. The shared lane marking will be centered in the western-most lane (the left lane in this photo).

The new symbol includes the standard shared lane marking (also called a sharrow) centered in the right side travel lane (most sharrows are not centered) and flanked by four, 2-feet long dashes. These new symbols will be spaced every 150 feet. Intersections will have a standard sharrow and no through-intersection striping.

Study tours

One of the benefits of the Green Lane Project is being able to fund a study tour, where your city’s staff gets to visit a different city where they do things differently. A lot differently. CDOT’s managing deputy Scott Kubly and Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg are in Copenhagen, Denmark, with aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Ameya Pawar (47th Ward), and Harry Osterman (48th Ward). Ash Lottes opined, “Ah, to be saddled with the hardships of that gig”.

Updated at 20:45 to add the study tours section.

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  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    I agree with you on Wells near the Merch Mart. Cars parking in the bike lane is likely to ALWAYS be a problem unless there is a barrier.

    In the last few years, I’ve been riding Wells through the Loop more often, mostly at night and on weekends when traffic is light.  I’ve seen lots of other cyclists doing likewise.

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

      Mike said this: “It’s not a pleasant place to ride, but a lot of people are doing it”. I agree with him – Wells Street isn’t a pleasant place to ride. But it might be the most pleasant out of any of the other southbound streets on the west side of the Loop. 

      • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

        I agree. Wells isn’t really so bad, but compared to La Salle or Clark, it’s much better. My main gripe about Wells is the fact that trucks like to use the bike lane as a loading zone in the mornings.

  • Jennifer

    Well, at least the B-cycles are still available. Actually, does anybody know why the B-cycles are still available? Is Bike and Roll now just doing this on their own?

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

      B-Cycle, or any bike sharing company, can operate in Chicago. 

      But only one can have a contract with and federal funding via the City of Chicago. B-Cycle could possibly coexist with “Chicago Bike Sharing”. 

      A major disadvantage I think B-Cycle has is that it never got the full support (monetary or otherwise) from the City of Chicago. 

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      That was my guess.

  • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

    I always ride in the middle of the lane on Wells south of the river, because otherwise I’d be pushed too close to the L supports. CDOT should have made the entire right lane a bike lane, not just an enhanced sharrow lane.

    They also should make the bike lane in front of the Merchandise Mart a permanent protected bike lane, since this is one of the worst spots for cars parking in the bike lane.

  • http://zolk.com Kevin Zolkiewicz

    Have any other cities used this type of “enhanced” shared lane design before?

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  • http://www.bikewalklincolnpark.com Michelle Stenzel

    It’s funny how the morning southbound Wells Street commute deteriorates from “pleasant” south of Lincoln, to “busier” south of Chicago, to “tense” along the Merchandise Mart, and ending with “harrowing” south of Wacker. I’m always amazed at how many bicyclists choose to squeeze between the El columns and the row of parked cars. I’m not sure I’ll like the floating lane between moving car traffic all the way across the bridge, but it will be very nice to have big bike symbols and sharrows right in the middle of the lane through the Loop portion. It would be nice to also add a few of those signs that proclaim “Bikes can use full lane” like you suggested at MBAC, Steve. Why not, to reinforce the stencil on the street? They can’t be hugely expensive.

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

      Signs like that cost between $100 and $200. Add a few bucks for straps, and then $100 in labor ;)
      I get scared for the people who ride between the L columns and parked cars. I always ride in the middle of the lane on Wells Street, so having the symbols there is highly appropriate. I also change lanes at every other intersection to avoid the backups of turning cars (the turns alternate at every intersection because of the one-way streets).
      I still think we should upgrade it to a bicycle priority lane (see my comment to Kevin).

      • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

        I typically ride down the middle of Wells as well, since it seems the safest. I wonder how many drivers will actually pay attention to the enhanced sharrows.

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

      Kathy Shubert mentioned to me after the meeting that there wasn’t any news that she didn’t already know about.
      I disagreed, but only slightly. I said that we didn’t know about bike sharing, Wells Street, Jackson Boulevard, and other things (like the data collection). But these weren’t on the agenda (okay, the Green Lane Project was) – council members and members of the public asked about them.
      Charlie’s presentation about the Bicycling Ambassadors is pretty much the same every quarter, as is the bike parking report. The Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, as Mike admitted, had probably been seen by a large portion of attendees.

    • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

      I find that the closer you are to the Loop, the more harrowing your ride is.

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  • Kathy Schubert

    I rode southbound on Wells on Tuesday night and found the additional markings leading up the incline to the bridge. Unfortunately I also found a parked taxi letting passengers in while in the process of trying to cross into the curb lane. He was on a slant right in front of me. I pointed out to him that it was the bike lane. His passengers apologized, but he did not.

    As for the MBAC meeting, I guess the reason I thought the meeting didn’t present much new information was simply that there was no microphone in the room and my hearing is impaired.
    I never heard anything that wasn’t spoken from the podium which was near where I was sitting in spite of being told I wasn’t supposed to be “at the table.”
    I’m sure the City of Chicago has a speaker system in that room. Do I have to bring in the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to get it used?

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

      The microphone has been used in MBAC meetings before, and it hooks up wirelessly to a nice PA system in the room.
      I don’t know why they haven’t been using it. Some presenters feel they can be loud enough while not using it, but then our recording devices can’t hear them.

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