Harrison Street bridge: bike friendly but not during construction

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The westbound lane is inside the construction zone and westbound travelers must drive in a narrowed part of the eastbound lanes – this makes the concrete-filled side, which are the safest place for bicycling on the bridge, inaccessible. Eastbound drivers block the concrete-filled side. 

The City of Chicago and its contractors show again that they can’t be responsible for providing appropriate and safe detours for bicyclists in or around construction projects.

I was downtown this morning for a meeting and had another meeting in Pilsen. It was raining, which is easy to deal with if you have fenders, lights, and a jacket. But it makes open metal grate bridges very slippery! From State and Adams south towards UIC or Pilsen, there’s only one bridge that’s treated, and that’s Harrison. Concrete was added to each side of the bridge during a rehabilitation project in 2009. I headed that way.

I knew about construction on Congress Parkway (between Wabash Avenue and Canal Street), but I didn’t know that construction would partially close the westbound lane of the bridge, thus blocking access to the concrete-filled sides – the only place that’s safe for bicycling. This is in addition to the lane narrowing, made because of the construction zone that overtakes the two northernmost lanes on Harrison between Franklin and Wells Streets (see diagram below).

It appears to me that the reason for blocking the lane over the bridge is to prevent lane shifting at a non-ideal angle . But the westbound side of the bridge is not under construction and doesn’t need its de facto bike lane blocked to bicyclists. Instead of risking a fall by riding over the wet, open metal grate surface, I entered the construction zone and rode on the concrete-filled section.

Perhaps since there is no official bike lane on Harrison Street that the contractors were not required to respect bicycle access. But that doesn’t seem a likely cause of this situation as bike lanes are not respected in any other construction project.

Where in Chicago, during construction, have you noticed a sign indicating a bike lane or popular bike route is closed, ends prematurely, or has restricted (more difficult) access? What about a detour for people on bikes? Construction projects often mean metal plates on the road surface, narrowed lanes, blocked bike lanes, uneven pavement, ruts, potholes, bumps, etc… There’s no notice of these conditions, and no advice about alternate routes.

There are three actions I think should be taken regarding construction and bicycling:

  1. The westbound lane closure should be adjusted within two weeks to allow bicyclists access to the concrete-filled side. This will become even more important when it starts snowing. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) anticipates the construction will end in May 2012; the bridge will be wet from November to May.
  2. A bike lane should be built on Harrison Street, from Halsted Street to State Street.
  3. The relevant departments (Transportation, Streets & Sanitation, Water Management, etc.) should adopt a policy that requires construction projects they’re involved in to accommodate bicyclists, using a plan developed with the assistance of the Bicycle Program and the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

The Bike 2015 Plan includes a strategy that is not being followed. In Chapter 2, Objective 1, Strategy 1.5 reads:

Ensure that roadway construction zones are bicycle-friendly. Roadwork, including pavement cuts and temporary steel plates over road cuts, can cause bicyclists to fall or skid. The solution is to install temporary steel plates that are skid-proof and flush with the surrounding pavement. Restore pavement surfaces and markings, particularly along designated bikeways, to their original condition as soon as possible.

In the case of a pavement cut in the southeast-bound lane of Milwaukee Avenue between Ashland and Paulina Avenues, “as soon as possible” meant several months, as that is the duration the rough concrete persisted, making for a bumpy ride, dangerous cracks, and an effectively narrowed lane for bicycling.

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This diagram, using a satellite photo from Google Earth, shows the active construction area overlaid on the detour area. 

The eastbound side of the bridge is also affected! Because of the lane narrowing, people drive their cars on the concrete-filled section of the eastbound lane, blocking through-bicycle access.

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Detail view of the eastbound lane. 

Updated September 14, 2011, to add section about how the Bike 2015 Plan discusses accommodating cyclists in roadway construction projects.

Note to readers: I was originally going to write about Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, where CDOT staff announced new projects, including the locations of the next two protected bike lanes and the progress of a New York City-sized bike sharing program. But my frustration with the second-class treatment of bicycling as transportation continues to be provoked. I will give you this update on Monday.

11 thoughts on “Harrison Street bridge: bike friendly but not during construction”

  1. I think the Complete Streets Manual project being started by CLOCC and CDOT is supposed to address maintenance of traffic during construction for peds and bikes.

  2. I think the Complete Streets Manual project being started by CLOCC and CDOT is supposed to address maintenance of traffic during construction for peds and bikes.

  3. I think the Complete Streets Manual project being started by CLOCC and CDOT is supposed to address maintenance of traffic during construction for peds and bikes.

  4. I think the Complete Streets Manual project being started by CLOCC and CDOT is supposed to address maintenance of traffic during construction for peds and bikes.

  5. Harrison is one of our little bike highways out of the Near West Side to Printers Row and the museums both in the Loop and at the Museum Campus. I must admit the kids ride their bikes usually on this route and on the bridge it’s always all of us on the… sidewalk. 
    Not so good for grown-ups I guess. Hopefully someone can take notice of your suggestions because we find it to be a great quick quiet route west -east.

  6. Harrison is one of our little bike highways out of the Near West Side to Printers Row and the museums both in the Loop and at the Museum Campus. I must admit the kids ride their bikes usually on this route and on the bridge it’s always all of us on the… sidewalk. 
    Not so good for grown-ups I guess. Hopefully someone can take notice of your suggestions because we find it to be a great quick quiet route west -east.

  7. I was riding up Canal St from Adams up to Lake last night. The road is cut creating drops in the bike line with sewer drains sticking up. There are no signs warning bikers in the bike and at night, I didn’t see the drops until I was right up on them.

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