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A properly installed sharrow, 11 feet from the curb. 

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An improperly installed sharrow, 9 feet from the curb, that hasn’t been rectified in over a year. 

A year ago I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation about some mistakes that were made in the installation of new bikeways. They replied October 25, 2011, with a description on how but not when they would be fixed. A year has passed and the fixes aren’t in. The first issue is “shared lane markings” (better known as “sharrows”) that were installed too close to parked cars after a construction project. The second issue is the case of bike lane signs far from any bike lane. Additionally, there are new (but longstanding) issues that are in need of resolution.

Sharrows too close

In the 2011 Chicago Bike Map, printed by CDOT, “marked shared lanes” are “usually established on streets with lots of traffic that are too narrow for bike lanes”. They consist of “special pavement markings [to] direct bicyclists to ride outside the ‘Door Zone'”. (The 2012 Chicago Bike Map omits these statements but they remain on the city’s bike map website and are printed in the federal manual of traffic control, MUTCD.)

After a long period in winter and spring 2011 of rough, grooved pavement in the southbound side of Milwaukee Avenue between Hermitage Avenue and Ashland Avenue, the road was resurfaced and eventually a new parking lane line was striped and sharrows laid down. The replacement sharrows, however, were placed too close to the parking lane line to keep this persuasion element of the sharrow design that can encourage cyclists to ride outside of the door zone. (The MUTCD recommends, and the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide requires, the center of the sharrow be placed 11 feet from the curb when there is parallel parking.)

Sharrows in the former construction zone between Hermitage Avenue and Ashland Avenue were installed 9 feet from the curb, two feet too close. Five sharrows are affected. CDOT’s response was “This is on our punch list for installations in 2011. Determining best course of action to correct.”

We originally reported this in September 2011 and notified CDOT a month later. The construction was done by Reliable Contracting & Equipment (and its subcontractors) to construct a new sewer main (see permit information) for the Department of Water Management. In addition to being placed too close to parked cars, the sharrows are of lower quality and different design than others installed around the same time. In fact, there are several sharrow designs that have been installed in the past year – by different companies or agencies – that point to a casual attitude to employing standards (see the complete variety of sharrows in Chicago).

The contract, number 21428, stipulated full restoration within 30 days. As we noted in our review of the project’s timeline, pavement markings were not fully restored until 58 days later.

Significance of sharrows and changing standards

Sharrows have marginal impacts on the lateral (side to side) positioning of bicyclists, keeping them out of the door zone. Some studies have shown that drivers pass bicyclists on streets with shared-lane markings with a bit more space than on streets without. Sharrows are not intended to be a facility type. Instead they’re a “stop gap” measure in a complete bike lane network. Chicago typically uses them where bike lanes cannot fit (unless parking was removed) and near intersections when bike lanes end because of the addition of turn lanes. There’s at least one occasion where bike lanes could have fit without removing parking: on Ogden Avenue between Monroe Street and Taylor Street.

It’s becoming more commonplace around the country to install sharrows (and its variations: see links in next paragraph) in the center of the travel lane if that distance is greater than the minimum 11 feet from the curb. CDOT started doing this in 2012 with “enhanced” shared lane markings on Wells Street and Desplaines Street. The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide says that the preferred treatment for streets with speed limits 25 MPH or lower should have sharrows in the center of the travel lane. The speed limit of much of Milwaukee Avenue is 25 MPH (although you wouldn’t know it because at any given location the nearest sign is far away).

When CDOT fixes the 5 sharrows on Milwaukee Avenue it should experiment by placing them in the center of the travel lane. Or upgrade them to use a different shared lane marking: Salt Lake City and Minneapolis have installed solid and wide green stripes down the center (one, two); San Francisco has installed a dashed block version (one, two). Public opinions on sharrows vary wildly. Read the comments in two posts on “Drunk Engineer’s” transportation satire blog, Systemic Failure, for some insight: Sharrows Suck and Sharrows Are Not A Bike Plan.

I talked to attorney Jim Freeman (a sponsor of this blog) about how sharrows fit into our laws.

There is no legal difference between a street with or without a sharrow with respect to a cyclist’s right to the street. All streets could have sharrows; no streets could have sharrows, and other than the exception below there is no legal difference for a cyclist [to define how or where they must ride].

The only legal difference is that a municipality or local government entity that installs a sharrow then becomes potentially liable for injuries to cyclists for defects in the roadway. This is part of the now important case of Boub v. Wayne Township. Bicycles are normally permitted, but not intended users of a roadway. In order for a cyclist to sue a governmental entity for a defect in a roadway the cyclist must show that he is not only a permitted, but intended user of the roadway. A cyclist can show that he is an intended user of the roadway by pointing to on street markings or signage indicating that the governmental entity intended that cyclists should use that roadway.

Freeman pointed out something else: Chicago Municipal Code says that bicyclists must give the right of way to other moving vehicles traveling in the same direction but signs on all Chicago streets with sharrows say “shared lane, yield to bikes”. It could be that a sharrow off by two-feet is a defect, especially when they are supposed to be placed in a way to safely guide cyclists in traffic.

Bike lane signs far from any bike lane

Also last year, a “bike lane ahead” sign was mistakenly installed on southbound California Avenue at Wellington Avenue. CDOT responded in October 2011 to say the sign would be removed – a year later it still exists. Southbound travelers won’t encounter a bike lane until North Avenue, 1.75 miles away.

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There’s no bike lane until North Avenue.

Another mysterious “bike lane” sign appeared on 31st Street at the ramp to Lake Shore Drive. CDOT first said they would likely remove this sign after trying to determine how it got there. However, it later said the sign would probably remain for the new bike lane going in there now (connecting the Lakefront Trail to Wells Street via King Drive).

My last inquiry as to the status of these corrections – in June 2012 – went unheeded.

Four new situations that need fixing

After the rush to build new bike lanes on (1) 18th Street, (2) Elston Avenue, and (3) Division Street, conflicts with parking were left behind. Also, (4) missing bollards on Kinzie Street, removed for construction or because of damage, await replacement.

(1) On 18th Street between State Street and Wabash Avenue there is an incompatible overlap of paid parallel parking and the westbound bike lane. The overlap was created in November 2011 and exists today.

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18th Street: A hybrid bike/parking lane. With cars parked here.

(2) On Elston Avenue between LeMoyne Avenue and Blackhawk Street/Magnolia Avenue, at least 5 signs in both directions indicate this part of Elston Avenue is a charter bus stand. CDOT responded to my notification of this conflict on November 13, 2012, saying they “will look at whether signs need to be removed, or adjusted, or bollards need to be put in/parking adjusted.”

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Elston Avenue: A charter bus is parked right where the sign says it can, but where pavement markings indicate this is a bike lane. 

(3) On Division Street, the westbound bike lane turns into a marked shared lane immediately before California Avenue but the lane is shared with a parking lane, not a travel lane (though it looks ambiguously like a right-turn lane). It should go without saying that a parking lane cannot be a shared lane unless it is temporary and the lane is wide enough, like the bus-bike lane on Clark Street. Anyone who parks their car here could be subject to ticketing under ordinance 9-40-060, which states:

The driver of a vehicle shall not stand or park the vehicle upon any lane designated by pavement markings for the shared use of motor vehicles and bicycles, or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such lane.

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Division Street: The purple PT cruiser is parked in a marked shared lane right in an area where signs tell the driver to pay for parking at a pay box. Seen from further back.

(4) Many flexible posts are missing from the Kinzie Street cycle track. There are two parts to this situation: (a) CDOT did construction in the roadway and returned the road surface to as good or better condition. Construction in the roadway was finished by November 2, 2012; new asphalt and pavement markings appeared quickly, but the flexible posts that were removed haven’t been reinstated. (b) Flexible posts on the eastbound, east side of the bridge have been missing for many months: I documented the first damaged post in March 2012. At least one person reported this issue to CDOT (on November 5); all of them were removed by November 14, 2012.

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Kinzie Street: Awaiting flexible posts.

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Kinzie Street: Flexible posts on the eastbound, east side of the bridge, as of March 13, 2012. One post is missing and another is damaged.

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Kinzie Street: Many of the flexible posts seen in the previous photo have been removed, as of November 14, 2012. 

Have you reported some infrastructure installation in error only to see nothing done about it? Let us know in the comments below. It would be careless to let taxpayer dollars pay for these mistakes without resolve or to let contractors off the hook for work done improperly.

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  • http://en-pi.facebook.com/people/Dan-Korn/574476822 Dan Korn

    Any update on Jackson east of Ogden? It’s been in limbo for a year and a half now. I’m also anxiously awaiting any news about the Marshall Boulevard fiasco.

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

      No news on Jackson east of Ogden. The IDOT spokesperson gave me a boilerplate response and when I pressed him for me, he said, “I’ll have to look into it”. I’ve sent him a message seeking an update now.
      The Marshall Boulevard fiasco may also be happening on Desplaines Street now as a bunch of people are parking in that bike lane. https://twitter.com/akbussey/status/273066851582500866

    • Anon

      Ask the Gov’s office

  • Scott Sanderson

    There is a guy who parks his silver Infinity almost completely in the bike lane on Clinton right after you turn south from the Kinzie bike lane. I called the cops five times in one week, but every day it was still there with no ticket. He also only paid for two hours of parking based on the receipt on his dash.

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  • http://twitter.com/banoonoo Anna Schibrowsky

    So, a little off-topic, but what’s the status of enforcement on the new bike-lane-for-parking-your-car and parking-lane-for-driving-your-car on Desplaines? I’ve literally reported cars parked there 7 times in the last two days, but I haven’t seen any enforcement whatsoever. If I don’t see improvement soon, I may be driven to vigilante justice, possibly involving silly string.

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

      Until there’re signs that indicate it’s a bike lane, I don’t think it’s a complete bike lane. And until it’s a complete bike lane, it’s free game. That’s not any type of legal interpretation, but just my experience.

      • http://twitter.com/banoonoo Anna Schibrowsky

        Sorry I didn’t read all the way to Dan’s comment. Maybe the signs are it. It’s frustrating to see people ignoring the clearly painted bicycles on the road. And I want to try out the buffered bike lane experience. Here’s some more documentation of the situation: https://picasaweb.google.com/110717996769885327604/StuffInTheBikeLane?authuser=0&feat=directlink

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

          You have been busy!

          The way bike lanes have been built this year – which I characterize by putting stripes and symbols on the ground without accompanying signs and flexible posts and dissemination of information to the residents and visitors – is 1) confusing and 2) probably inefficient.

        • Adam Herstein

          All it takes is one or two people to park in the bike lane – then others will quickly follow suit, assuming it’s the correct thing to do.

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

            On Elston, the contractors painted “PARK” or “PARKING” where people should park their cars.

  • Matthew Bourque

    I’ve recently had a problem with a bus parked in the bike lane on this same part of Elston. In fact, it was parked right in the bike lane on the opposite side of the street from the bus shown in the photo in this post. I spoke with a couple of drivers there and they pointed out the “Charter Bus Parking” signs; not much to argue about with them – they’re right! The city is telling them to park in the bike lane.

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

      Yeah, it’s been a conflict since day one, when the bike lane was constructed back in May 2012. I’m happy CDOT’s acknowledged what I believe is a conflict, and I hope it doesn’t take more than a year to rectify.

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