“Waving” hello to Jackson, a protected bike lane that undulates

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Jackson bike lane at Crane Tech High School, 2245 W. Jackson

Back when Chicago’s first protected bike lane (PBL) on Kinzie Avenue was a work in progress, I was a little skeptical of how well it would function.

But, aside from motor vehicles – especially mail trucks – occasionally parking in the lane, I think Kinzie has been a big success. It’s usually a pleasure to ride and it’s definitely gotten local cyclists excited about Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein’s plan to build 100 miles of protected lanes citywide by the end of the Emanuel’s first term.

So I’m going to withhold my final judgment on the city’s second PBL, currently under construction on Jackson Boulevard between Western and Halsted, until the last of the white lines, green paint, bike symbols and flexible posts are in place. Work started on Wednesday, October 5, and most of the street marking is already complete between Western (2400 West) and Ogden (1800 West); not much marking has been done between Ogden and Halsted (800 West). Here’s a Google map of the stretch that is mostly complete.

Some parts of the Jackson design are similar to Kinzie, with the bike lane next to the curb and parking to the left of the bike lane. But there are several interesting differences between the two street designs that will make Jackson unlike anything this city has seen before.

[flickr]photo:5976436143[/flickr]The ribbon cutting celebration for the Kinzie PBL

Jackson is two-way from Western to Damen (2000 West). On this stretch the eastbound bike lane is generally a PBL, located on the south side of the street, while the westbound bike lane is a conventional, non-protected lane. East of Damen, Jackson is one-way eastbound and there are bus stops on the south side of the street, so here the eastbound PBL switches to the north side of the street. Got it? More on this later.

Before test riding the new lanes-in-progress, I contacted CDOT spokesman Brian Steele for some background info. The current Average Daily Traffic (ADT, the average number of moving motor vehicles passing a given point in a 24-hour period) for Jackson is 5,000 – 6,000 west of Racine and 8,000 – 9,000 between Racine and Halsted. On August 18, CDOT counted 222 bikes on Jackson during rush hour, 7-9 am. It will be interesting to see if the percentage of bike traffic climbs sharply after the lanes are finished, as was the case on Kinzie*.

Steele says the Jackson bike lanes should be done by late October or early November. CDOT is planning to start work in November on the next two PBLs, on Elston Avenue between North and Division and on 18th Street between Canal and Clinton. Other future PBL locations haven’t been confirmed yet but Stony Island Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue and Blue Island Avenue have all been discussed as possibilities. Steele wasn’t yet able to get me a cost estimate for the Jackson bike lanes, which CDOT is building as part of a re-paving project. As soon as he gives us that number we’ll pass it along to you.

So far feedback about the incoming lanes on Jackson from adjacent property owners and business owners has been mostly positive, Steele says. “Some businesses near the eastern end of the PBL [near Greektown] had questions about parking and loading zones,” he writes. “Our plans call for no net loss of parking spaces, and all existing loading zones will be maintained.”

I took my first spin on the lanes in the late afternoon on Friday, October 7, and rode it again yesterday evening, Monday the 10th – due to the Columbus Day holiday no additional work had been done. On Friday I started my trip at the western end of the lanes by Felony Franks, 229 S. Western, a hotdog stand that employs ex-offenders.

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While the westbound conventional bike lanes are fairly consistent, the eastbound bike lanes switch between the Kinzie-style PBL configuration and “buffered” bike lanes, located next to the travel lanes but separated from traffic by striped pavement on either side, and possibly bollards. In these cases the bike lane was moved away from the curb to accommodate buses pulling over to pick up passengers, according to CDOT bikeways planner Mike Amsden. He says CDOT will post “as-built” plans for the bike lane once the facility is completed.

[flickr]photo:6232930210[/flickr]Buffered bike lane on 2300 block of West Jackson

East of Oakley by Crane Tech High School, 2245 W. Jackson, the bike lane jogs back towards the curb in an interesting S-curve with no parking lanes and a wide striped buffer between the lane and traffic. The frequent undulations of the bike lane creates a slalom effect which could be fun to ride, or annoying if you’re in a hurry. At Hoyne (2100 W.) Jackson bends south and a long dashed lane shepherds bikes through the unusual x-shaped intersection.

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Crossing the x-shaped intersection at Hoyne (2100 West)

Damen (2000 W.) is where the protected lane switches from the south to the north side of the street, forcing cyclists to ride diagonally across the street to switch lanes. My blogging partner Steven Vance and some of our readers are worried about this maneuver, arguing that it doesn’t meet the so-called “8-80” standard of creating bike facilities that are safe for children and seniors to ride. Currently dashed lines show cyclists where to ride to make the lane switch. Steele says CDOT may be painting this diagonal lane green to warn drivers that bike riders will be zigzagging across the road.

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The Damen zigzag

East of Damen by Malcolm X College, 1901 W Jackson, CDOT has already installed bollards. Again, the road is one-way eastbound here, and I cross paths with a wrong-way cyclist riding upstream with a milkshake in one hand. “Bike salmon” like him will probably be a bit of an issue on one-way streets with PBLs.

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After the bike lane markings end at Ashland I pass through the Jackson Historic District, a beautiful little block of old row houses shaded by a thick tree canopy. The street narrows here so that it is barely wide enough for two travel lanes. Steven is disappointed that this block will only have shared lane markings (AKA “sharrows”) on the street, not a PBL. The rest of the ride to Halsted on unmarked pavement is uneventful save for the delicious aroma of grilled lamb I encounter as I pull into Greektown.

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The Jackson Historic District, on the 1500 block of West Jackson

With all its twists and turns, Jackson is likely to be a bit of an odd ride. I think some people are going to love it and some may hate it. Me, I’m going to wait and see.

*Steven adds that the counted increase of cyclists on Kinzie Street does not necessarily mean additional people are riding. It could mean that people have switched their route from its previous east-west street to Kinzie Street. But that probably would mean that people are attracted to protected bike lanes.

Published by

John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

23 thoughts on ““Waving” hello to Jackson, a protected bike lane that undulates”

  1. I thought it was illegal for vehicles to change lanes in an intersection. Perhaps you could do some research on the topic… certainly it is for automobiles given the likelihood of a through traffic vs. right-turning vehicle incursion.

    1. Sorry Marcus, I don’t follow you. Why would a car switching lanes at an intersection be more likely to crash? Switching lanes in general requires caution, but what does the intersection have to do with it? I’ve never heard of this being illegal for cars to do this.

      1. It’s certainly illegal in California and many other states I’ve lived in, though I don’t know about Illinois.  Laws aside, I think the increased risk is obvious.  The lane changer needs to be aware of turning traffic, and it’s hard for turning traffic to anticipate the lane change, especially if signalling is lax. 

        1. Its actually not illegal. Thats a myth. Its discouraged, but not illegal.

          People think its illegal because generally intersections have a solid white line on approach, but its not illegal to change lanes across a solid white line. It has to be double white for it to be illegal.

  2. I really like the term “bike salmon.” Thanks for that, in addition to the other excellent info here…I’ll definitely be both riding to check out the new Jackson bike lane action…and working to get my new favorite phrase into every conversation I can.

    1. Thanks Johanna but I can’t take credit for “bike salmon” – I believe NYC Bike Snob coined that phrase. If you ride the lane, I recommend a visit to Felony Franks – their Misdemeanor Wiener is top notch.

  3. This looks really interesting, and I’m excited to see how it works. I must say that I’m not wild about bike lanes changing sides. The 2nd Avenue bike lane changes from the left side PBL to the right side standard bike lane, just north of Houston St. It is an awkward transition, and certainly not up to the 8-80 standard. A slightly more elegant example happens on Kent St in Brooklyn. I wonder if there is a good example of this type of transition. I imagine you’d need to have cyclists stop and then cross the street with the light.

    2nd Ave transition:
    http://bit.ly/p8aYpk

    Kent Ave transition:
    http://bit.ly/pnEWQ5

    Finally, and this is a bit nit-picky, the term PBT comes up 6 times in the article. I assume you mean PBL (protected bike lane), but if not, could you specify what a PBT is?

    1. PBT is a typo. I fixed it. 

      I rode through the Kent Avenue transition in August 2010. I don’t remember it being  unpleasant or difficult. I didn’t ride on the 2nd Avenue transition (that I can remember). It does look very weird and it appears that there’s a bike lane on either side of the street (after the PBL ends). The right bike lane ends at 1st Street. 

      I am very concerned about ensuring a design (at Damen/Jackson) that intuitively encourages people to use it safely and properly, but I’m concerned that there will be many people who will not do this, thus showing where the design can be improved. Then, will that design be improved?

      1. This is always the concern with these transitions. On Kent I’ve seen people Salmon the wrong way past the switch, rather than wait for the light to cross over. On 2nd Ave, your correct that there is a bike lane on both sides for a few blocks, the idea being that you can cross whenever you hit a red light anyway. I like that idea in theory, but it takes up a lot of space, and the crossover bike lane puts you in an awkward mid-street position in this instance, between through traffic and a heavily-used turn lane.

  4. Another great location for a PBLs (in my mind) is Clark Street from North to Armitage. It would connect to four heavily-used bike lanes (Clark, Wells, Lincoln, Armitage), offer an easy passage from Lincoln Park to the Gold Coast, and protect bicyclists/calm traffic on a terrible stretch of Clark St. that’s currently a drag racing strip.

    The BikeWalkLincolnPark site says they’ve spoken to Ald. Smith about it, and I really hope she and CDOT jump on board.

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