An alternate title I thought of using: Three steps forward, five steps back?
Both Chicago’s Complete Streets policy and the Bike 2015 Plan talk about the need to “ensure that roadway construction zones are bicycle-friendly”, but this is not being practiced. Here are five examples. I previously discussed this problem, at length, in June 2011, in Making construction areas and detours bike-friendly. It included a short mention of the second bridge project in this post.
No more jersey barriers. See what this used to look like.
Conditions have improved slightly since I pointed them out in September. While cycling east, the bike friendly concrete deck on the side has always been accessible, but when cycling west, the concrete deck on the side here was not accessible. The improvement? Most of the concrete deck on the westbound is now accessible, right after a short jog on the open metal grate. I noticed this change on November 13, 2011. Step forward.
Halsted over the North Branch Canal
Photo of the new, blue bridge, days before opening.
I’m glad that the Halsted Street bridge over the North Branch Canal (just south of Division Street) opened Friday and has a 100% concrete deck – meaning no more open metal grates. Unfortunately the terrible detour over Chicago Avenue isn’t over (see Chicago Avenue below). That’s because construction will immediately begin on the Halsted Street bridge over the North Branch (just north of Chicago Avenue). I’m not pleased about the plan for 4-feet wide or centered bike lanes. Step forward, step back.
The pavement marking plans I requested from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) last week show a 6-feet wide northbound bike lane over the bridge that narrows to 4 feet as it approaches Division Street, seemingly to accommodate an 11-feet wide right-turn lane and 10-feet wide left-turn lane. (The 6-feet bike lane is currently striped, but not the 4-feet bike lane – maybe the plans I have are wrong.) The 4-feet wide bike lane continues north of Division Street, where currently a 6-feet wide bike lane runs. The centered bike lane is about 770 feet long.
This is location #2 in the list below (Milwaukee/Augusta, Street View), showing the centered bike lane design just described that I think needs review as well as some alternatives implemented in Chicago. The centered bike lane design might be acceptable if it was twice as wide and always colored, like this bike lane in Denmark.
The bridge is not completely open and the project not finished: only one lane in each direction is open and there are no permanent lane markings. Signage discourages crossing it going northbound. See what it looks like now. It definitely removes the feeling of claustrophobia the previous bridge had.
If you want to know what it’s like to ride in a 4-feet wide centered bike lane, go to Roosevelt Road between Clark Street and Wabash Avenue, in both directions. It’s not a comfortable place. Other examples of centered bike lanes include:
- Northbound Milwaukee Avenue at Elston Avenue – drivers constantly merge across the bike lane in order to turn right at Elston Avenue. This behavior is precisely why CDOT experimented with creating green bike lanes at right-turn lanes (and one left-turn lane). However, they have not published the results of their analysis on this project, conducted in 2009. See this intersection on Google Street View.
- Southbound Milwaukee Avenue at Augusta Boulevard/Kennedy Expressway – drivers merge from the left-most lane to the right-most lane in order to go down the on-ramp to the Kennedy Expressway, but not as often as they cross the bike lane at Location 1. This is a green bike lane location, but the most merges happen in the intersection, not before it. This intersection is ripe for through striping like this on Clybourn. See a car in the bike lane on Street View.
- Madison Street, from Michigan Avenue to Wacker Drive – a brand new bike lane, the Loop’s first, has you riding between traffic on both sides. (Street View is outdated.)
- Northbound Elston at Division Street – a green bike lane location that has the bike lane crossing over the right-turn lane. Street View.
- Southbound Milwaukee at Kinzie – a left-turn bike lane is extremely useful and I appreciate the space dedicated to people on bikes, but it can be difficult to get to: you must merge left while cycling uphill. (Street View is outdated.)
- Southbound Halsted at Roosevelt – drivers constantly merge across the bike lane in order to turn right at Roosevelt Road. From the start of the right turn lane to the stop bar is 325 feet, but the green section of the bike lane is 100 feet long. See it on Street View.
There are alternatives to the centered bike lane design. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), of which Chicago is a sponsor, presents four alternatives. I prefer the Dutch design, which keeps bike lanes somewhat protected even within intersections. Watch the video below that animates the conversion of an intersection like #4 above to a Dutch intersection, in the same space.
In the Netherlands, and much of Europe, the default rule at intersections is that you cannot turn right on red. Instituting this rule here we could help eliminate a lot of “right hook” crashes.
Halsted over the North Branch
Photo of the Halsted Street bridge near Chicago Avenue by Eric Rogers.
This is a good thing and I’m glad it’s happening. I don’t like how it continues the poorly designed detour route that doesn’t accommodate bicycling (see Chicago Avenue below). One way to get around this bad detour was to continue north on Halsted, over this bridge, and north on North Branch Street or Hooker Street, then east on Division to Halsted. This bridge is now closed and it’s not possible to access Goose Island from Halsted Street at Chicago Avenue, nor get to Division Street from Chicago Avenue. Step forward, step back.
Chicago Avenue + detour
Photo of an empty Chicago Avenue, taken in 2008, showing the original lane striping, by Wil Taubert.
Prior to the detour route from the Halsted Street bridge construction, there was one lane in each direction, each at least 16 feet wide. Disregarding the metal grate deck, that’s a fair width to share side-by-side with automobiles. Because of the detour, I presume, there is now one lane going west and two lanes going east, forcing each to be narrower than the two that previously existed. People cycling east can be passed without concern, but people cycling west may feel uncomfortable to “take the lane” – even though they have the legal capacity to do so. If you bicycle on the sidewalk (I’ve seen a few), keep in mind there’s a staircase at the end of your eastbound crossing and beginning of westbound crossing. Lastly, there’s no recommended detour route for people cycling: signs indicate that detours are for buses, cars, and trucks, only. Step back.
The driver of this car is passing me, westbound, with part of their car on the other side of the separating yellow curb, and too closely, at within 3 feet. View the full photo gallery.
I demonstrated by detour idea back in January 2011 on my personal blog, Steven Can Plan (the detour started in November 2010).
The second metal grate you encounter riding eastbound on Washington Street.
On my way to the Streets for Cycling Open House, a friend I rode in with told me about some new metal grates on Washington Street. Eek! I didn’t check them out for a couple weeks, but lo and behold, six new grates await people cycling into the Loop on Washington Street. Sections of the formerly 100% concrete deck on the bridge over the Chicago River were removed and replaced with four open metal grates, while two sections of the roadway on both sides of Wacker Drive were replaced with open metal grates. The bridge grates are unavoidable, but one can go around the ones at Wacker Drive. I contacted the CDOT spokesperson but he is on vacation until Tuesday. The Loop now has one fewer inbound, bike-friendly bridge. (Remaining include: Wells, State, Harrison, Lake.) Step back.
Ignoring Complete Streets policies is a problem that affects pedestrian access equally (or perhaps worse). If these issues concern you, we urge you to contact your aldermen and the Department of Transportation and ask that street projects respect the provisions of the Bike 2015 Plan and Complete Streets policy and ensure that people walking and cycling are accommodated safely and comfortably. I recommend that project managers receive advice from the Mayor’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Councils when it comes to designing the construction detours. Read all of our coverage of Complete Streets, including a recent ordinance that Cook County passed.
Updated 20:04 to embed the photo of Milwaukee/Augusta; added Halsted/Roosevelt intersection.