Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

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The Wabash Avenue bike lanes, now classified as “buffer-protected.” Photo by John Lankford.

2012 was a banner year for bike lanes in Chicago. According to the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bikeways Tracker, by the end of the year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had completed or was in the process of building a total of 12.5 miles of protected bike lanes and 14.5 miles of buffered bike lanes. When Rahm Emanuel took office in last year our city had no protected or buffered bike lanes, but nineteen months later we’re now the national leader in providing enhanced on-street bikeways. That’s a huge achievement.

One issue that has come up is CDOT’s recent adoption of the terms “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes to refer to what the department formerly called “protected” and “buffered” lanes. This change in terminology also seems to indicate a shift in goals.

Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Report, released in May of that year, announced the bold objective of building one hundred miles of protected bike lanes within the mayor’s first term. The document defined “protected lanes” as “separated from traveling cars and sit[ting] between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic.” As Grid Chicago readers know, buffered lanes are instead located to the left of the parking lane, with additional dead space striped on one or both sides of the bike lane to distance the bike lane from motorized traffic and/or opening car doors.

However, in recent months CDOT staff began using the new terminology, which redefines “protected lanes” to include buffered lanes. The press release for the terrific new two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn Street confirmed that the agency is now counting “buffer-protected” lanes towards the hundred-mile target. This means that instead of building one-hundred miles of physically separated lens by 2015, the new goal is to build a total of one hundred miles of “barrier-protected” and “buffer-protected” lanes.

I certainly don’t blame CDOT for changing their target. Building one hundred miles of physically separated lanes, plus dozens of additional miles of buffered lanes, within four years always seemed a bit unrealistic. It took a Herculean effort by the department’s small bike program staff to install the current number of protected lanes, often working far more than a nine-to five schedule. And I for one would be delighted if Chicago reaches, say, sixty-five miles of protected lanes and thirty-five miles of buffered lanes by 2015. It would make a huge difference in the city’s bike-ability.

The question is, would it have made more sense for CDOT to simply acknowledge the shift to a more realistic goal, rather than redefining buffered lanes as “protected” lanes just so that the city will be able to claim they met the hundred-mile goal? Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly graciously took time out on last Saturday to share his perspective on the issue with me.

Continue reading Redefining “protected”: A look at CDOT’s new bike lane terminology

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Concerns from locals about protected lanes on the West Side boulevards

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Cyclist on Douglas Boulevard in the 24th Ward before protected lanes were installed.

Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of the local chapter of the African-American cycling group Red Bike and Green, recently emailed me that some local residents are “up in arms” about the protected bike lanes being built along the West Side boulevards. This 4.5-mile route leads from Garfield Park to 24th Street in Little Village. 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler has asked the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to suspend construction of the lanes on Independence Boulevard, which runs south from Garfield Park, until these issues are resolved. I called Eboni last night for more info and her perspective on the situation.

So what are people’s concerns?

Basically they’re creating a protected bike lane on one side [of Independence] by moving the parked cars to the middle on [the southbound] side, and on the other side going north they’re just doing it as a buffered bike lane, with the bike lane to the left of the parked cars. So essentially they started implementing this particular design for these bike lanes and then there was ticketing that wasn’t supposed to happen that all of the sudden happened because people didn’t know where to park. The lanes are half constructed. So all these tickets were issued and everyone’s up in arms in this particular community, which is mostly Lawndale. [The tickets have since been dismissed.]

A special concern is the number of churches that are along this corridor. They’re concerned about their congregation and their ability to park. And there’s also this concern about safety. Basically people kept saying at the meeting, you have to get out of your car in the middle of the street.

Continue reading Concerns from locals about protected lanes on the West Side boulevards

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Eyes on the street: Speed camera testing in East Village

In this 17 second video you can see the strobe light and how its flashes temporarily “blind” my camera. 

On our way from the SRAM office, where we interviewed two urbanism authors, John and I noticed a strobe light at 1446 W Division Street. It was extremely distracting and shone over the whole street when activated. Upon closer inspection I noticed it was a speed camera. The Chicago Department of Transportation is testing speed cameras from two manufacturers at four locations. Citations are not being issued. I couldn’t tell the pattern of light flashes, nor the direction of monitoring (eastbound or westbound). Red light cameras have strobe lights to illuminate the license plate, but they are hardly as distracting. This might be my perception based on the low frequency at which I see them; the speed camera’s strobe light flashed more than 10 times in the few minutes I was near it.

A worker sat in a car hooked up to the device holding a computer I presume was collecting data from the speed camera. A parent from the Near North Montessori school walking to his car told me that the strobe light was previously pointed in a direction that lit up the classrooms.

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Next step in building the Dearborn PBL: CDOT starts striping this weekend

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Intersection of Dearborn and Randoph streets. Photo by Steven.

Here’s some good news to kick off your weekend. CDOT announced today that they will begin striping the Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane this weekend and hopefully have the facility ready to ride by mid-December. Here’s hoping that backlash to this “game-changing” new facility will be minimal, so Chicago won’t have to endure another Battle of Dearborn.

Here’s the full text of the CDOT press release for your consideration:

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will take advantage of favorable weather this weekend to begin the installation of the Dearborn Street two-way barrier-protected bike lanes, beginning late Friday night, November 30th. It will be the first two-way bike route with dedicated bicycle traffic signals in Chicago.

“We are committed to improving the safety for all roadway users throughout Chicago,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “The Dearborn Street barrier-protected bike lanes will provide bicyclists with a safe and comfortable route, making a key connection for people who commute via bicycle through the heart of the Loop.”

CDOT will open the two-way protected bike lane for bicycle traffic only after all striping, signage, bollards installation and traffic signal timing are complete by mid-December, weather permitting.

For motorists, new left turn lanes and dedicated left turn arrows at westbound cross streets will allow for more efficient turns off Dearborn. Loading zones will also be clearly marked to ensure their proper use.

CDOT has been working to notify the neighborhood about the Dearborn project through meetings with the surrounding businesses, neighborhood organizations and local elected officials.

CDOT will begin work at Polk Street and continue north with the goal of completing the roadway striping this weekend and officially opening the new bike lanes by mid-December, weather permitting. The estimated construction schedule is as follows:

· Friday night (11/30) into Saturday (12/1): the west curb lane and the western-most travel lane on Dearborn Street between Polk Street and Madison Street will be closed. Motorists will be able to pull to the curb for delivery or loading operations, but parking will be prohibited on the west side of the street.

· Saturday night (12/1) into Sunday (12/2): the west curb lane and the western-most travel lane on Dearborn Street between Madison Street and Kinzie Street will be closed. Motorists will be able to pull to the curb for delivery or loading operations, but parking will be prohibited on the west side of the street.

· Parking will generally be prohibited on the west side of Dearborn throughout the weekend, as striping work is performed from Friday at 9p.m. to Monday at 5 a.m. As construction crews move north after finishing each block, the new parking lane will be reopened, which will be situated between the two-way protected bike lane and the motor vehicle travel lane.

This stretch of Dearborn Street will continue to be one-way northbound for vehicle traffic. With this project, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this summer, Dearborn will function as a two-way street for bicyclists, with southbound bicyclists located adjacent to the west curb and northbound bicyclists located between southbound bicyclists and parked cars. To install the protected bike lanes, one motor vehicle travel lane will be removed between Polk Street and Wacker Drive.

Every intersection will have bicycle traffic signals to provide guidance for southbound bicyclists, and to separate northbound bicyclists from motorists turning left off Dearborn Street onto westbound cross streets. The bike traffic signals were installed in mid-November, and will be activated when the bike lanes are complete.

“The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane project will balance roadway space to ensure pedestrians, transit users, bicyclists and motorists can travel along and across the street safely,” Klein said.

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Jackson Boulevard bike lane downgraded to buffered, to possibly be installed in spring 2013

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The street has lacked lane markings and a bike lane (a conventional bike lane existed prior to repaving) since it was repaved in October 2011.

A year and a half after one segment was completed, the Jackson Boulevard bike lane project may be finished, but with a lesser bike lane. Short of submitting a Freedom of Information Act for communications between the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation and other recipients, here’s what I’ve been able to gather so far.

The Jackson Boulevard bike lane between Ogden Avenue and Halsted Street “will likely be extended to Halsted in Spring 2013 as a buffer protected bike lane”, CDOT public information officer Pete Scales emailed me yesterday.

He means a buffered bike lane.

Only CDOT views a buffered bike lane as protected. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), of which Chicago is a member and Gabe Klein its treasurer, defines a buffered bike lane:

Buffered bike lanes are conventional bicycle lanes paired with a designated buffer space separating the bicycle lane from the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane and/or parking lane.

Klein told me in an email after I questioned the labeling practice, “The City of Chicago views ‘protected bike lanes’ as the master category, and within that there are ‘buffer protected’ and ‘barrier protected’ bike facilities. On some streets we will be going back and forth depending on the right of way, and potentially multiple times in a block as we get into more complicated installations.”

Conversely, a “protected bike lane”, or “cycle track”, is defined by NACTO as:

One-way protected cycle tracks are bikeways that are at street level and use a variety of methods for physical protection from passing traffic. A one-way protected cycle track may be combined with a parking lane or other barrier between the cycle track and the motor vehicle travel lane.

The second part of Klein’s statement is understandable: a project like Elston Avenue is considered a “protected bike lane” even though parts of it have no protection (between North and LeMoyne and between Augusta and Milwaukee). This new definition isn’t in line with the publications and communications so far published by the department or with NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Any street to receive only a “buffered bike lane” has strictly been labeled as such, and not with “buffer protected bike lane”. There’s nothing protective about 2-feet wider bike lane when riding between moving traffic and parked cars.

IDOT’s response to my inquiry was ambiguous: “That is certainly one of the issues we have discussed with CDOT and are working with them on, in terms of gathering data about safety impacts, traffic impacts and other operational issues.”

Active Transportation Alliance’s design guide follows NACTO’s definition. I recommend being as clear as possible and describing each project as a “bikeway” with certain various bikeway types within that project having names that are easily distinguishable (see page 103 in this PDF from the Active Transportation Alliance design guide). “Buffered protected” and “barrier protected” are unnecessary classifications for bikeway types already well-defined.

The federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) doesn’t define different bikeway types nor restricts the use of “buffered bike lanes” or “protected cycle tracks”.

Updated December 3 to fix tags and add link to MUTCD reference. 

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Meeting on Tuesday to discuss new segment and bridge on North Branch Trail

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The dark green lines on the map above show two independent segments of the North Branch Trail that the Chicago Park District and Chicago Department of Transportation want to connect. Starting in Clark Park, a new path would go under Addision Street, along the east embankment of the Chicago River, and then over a new pedestrian bridge to California Park.

Open house details

Tuesday, December 4
6 – 9 PM
Revere Park Fieldhouse Auditorium
2509 W. Irving Park Road
Chicago, Illinois 60618

From the meeting notice:

CDOT and the Chicago Park District cordially invite you to attend this public meeting, which will include an open house, project presentation, and an opportunity for questions and feedback. CDOT is currently designing a new segment of the North Branch Trail, which would link existing segments in Clark Park to the south and California Park (and onward to Horner Park) to the north. The new trail segment would run under the Addison Street Bridge for safe crossing, along the east embankment of the North Branch of the Chicago River, and cross the river on a multi-use pedestrian bridge. The creation of this publicly accessible open space will link major existing parks, create pedestrian and bicycle access that would otherwise be difficult and dangerous, and fulfill objectives of the Chicago Trails Plan and the Chicago River Corridor Development Plan.

What the new trail segment would look like, from Addison Street to Irving Park Road.

The map above is from the Chicago Bike Map app’s custom designed map.

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